The 20 Best New Songs From Greatest Hits Albums

Consider the compilation album: Their primary purpose, of course, is to collect an artist’s most critically and commercially successful songs from years gone by. In this way, they simultaneously offer a chance for loyal fans to revisit their favorites and invite new listeners to get a taste of the best.

These albums also provide an opportunity to slip in extra, previously unreleased tracks. Sometimes they’re written specifically to fill space, other times they’ve been recovered from previous album sessions. On occasion, they end up becoming beloved hits on their own.

We’ve compiled a list of 20 of the best new songs that appeared on greatest hits albums, presented in alphabetical order.

“Fernando,” ABBA (from 1976’s Greatest Hits)

Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus wrote “Fernando” in 1975 for ABBA bandmate Anni-Frid Lyngstad to use on her second solo album, Frida ensam. The following year, ABBA recorded their version of the song, including “Fernando” on their hits compilation. With an earworm chorus and lyrics that conjured two freedom fighters recounting their days in the Mexican Revolution, “Fernando” became a massive international hit. The single sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and peaked at No. 1 in 13 different countries. It remains one of ABBA’s signature tunes and ranks among the best-selling songs of all time. (Corey Irwin)

“Who Made Who,” AC/DC (from 1986’s Who Made Who)

AC/DC had their cake and ate it too with Who Made Who, the compilation-cum-soundtrack to the 1986 Stephen King movie Maximum Overdrive. The five-times platinum LP redeemed the band after the underperforming Flick of the Switch and Fly on the Wall, and its new title track gave AC/DC their biggest hit in years. That’s no surprise, as “Who Made Who” is a classic, meat-and-potatoes rocker, built on a pulsating groove and a sprightly Angus Young riff that sounds an awful lot like a precursor to 1990’s “Thunderstruck.” The mid-’80s production sheen is obvious but not egregious, nor does it detract from Brian Johnson’s raspy roar or Young’s fiery guitar solo. It all made for a badly needed win that helped begin AC/DC’s course correction. (Bryan Rolli)

“Walk on Water,” Aerosmith (from 1994’s Big Ones)

Aerosmith was caught between two worlds, trying to maintain some semblance of their mid-’70s sleaze while churning out obligatory pop-rock hits to fulfill the Faustian bargain that enabled their remarkable late-’80s comeback. “Walk on Water,” the first track on 1994’s Big Ones compilation, is mercifully more rooted in the past. Joey Kramer’s freight-train grooves and cowbell boogie steal the show, and Steven Tyler’s dirty blues harmonica and lusty yelps hark back to the band’s hedonistic heyday. Underneath all the grime, “Walk on Water” still has the type of poppy, toe-tappin’ chorus that defined Aerosmith’s comeback-era albums (particularly Get a Grip), due in no small part to Tyler and Joe Perry co-writing the song with Night Ranger‘s Jack Blades and Styx‘s Tommy Shaw. (Rolli)

“Always,” Bon Jovi (from 1994’s Cross Road)

Bon Jovi outgrew their glam-metal pinup doll status on 1992’s Keep the Faith, which sold 2 million copies off the strength of its hard-rocking title track and the smoldering power ballad “Bed of Roses.” They waded further into adult-contemporary waters on “Always,” the string-laden piano ballad off 1994’s Cross Road compilation. Jon Bon Jovi sells his bathroom-stall poetry with the utmost conviction, alternating between an anguished whisper and a full-throated wail and chewing the fat on every bleeding-heart lyric. By the time the string section comes crashing back in over the final chorus, the song earns its emotional payoff. Listeners agreed, as “Always” soared to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and, in many ways, set the stage for future mega-ballads like Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” (Rolli)

“Tonight She Comes,” The Cars (from 1985’s Greatest Hits)

By the time the Cars reached the end of the promotional road for 1984’s Heartbeat City, they had earned a well-deserved break. Six singles from the album combined with their previous chart success gave them more than enough fodder for a hits compilation. “Tonight She Comes,” the lone new track on 1985’s Greatest Hits, demonstrates just how strong the Boston group’s mojo for a good hook was at that time – although it took some internal flexibility. Ric Ocasek had earmarked “Tonight She Comes” for his next non-band project, which would arrive the following year. Even though he was working solo, there was a good amount of overlap with his regular bandmates also chipping in on the sessions. This became a Cars song instead, and it proved to be a good move as the group scored their next Top 10 single. (Matt Wardlaw)

“When I Paint My Masterpiece,” Bob Dylan (from 1971’s Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II)

As this song shows, Bob Dylan was already wrestling with his legacy when the ‘70s dawned. Questions about where his career was headed were difficult, and the answers were slow to arrive. Ultimately, he decided to set “When I Paint My Masterpiece” aside, and the song ended up debuting as a cover by the Band. Dylan performed it with them during concerts later featured on 1972’s Rock of Ages, but he otherwise spent years ignoring this track before finally pulling “When I Paint My Masterpiece” off the scrapheap. Dylan went on to play the song hundreds of times in the decades that followed – and its searching theme continued to grow on him. “Even if you do paint your masterpiece, what will you do then?” Dylan ruminated in a New York Times interview from 2020. “Well, obviously you have to paint another masterpiece.” (Nick DeRiso)

“I Shall Be Released,” Bob Dylan (from 1971’s Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II)

The Band’s 1969 interpretation of “I Shall Be Released” is memorable for its mournful lilt and Richard Manuel‘s vulnerable-sounding vocal, like a group of weary travelers desperate for the end of the road. Dylan’s 1971 recording of his song found him singing with fellow Greenwich Village folkie Happy Traum while taking a different, breezier approach. Other versions of the track would appear later on, including when it was performed live near the end of The Last Waltz in 1976. Dylan’s original 1967 collaboration with the Band would later appear on the first installment of his bootleg series, Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991. (Rapp)

“September,” Earth, Wind & Fire (from 1978’s The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1)

New Earth Wind and Fire collaborator Allee Willis had the same question many fans did upon hearing “September” for the first time: “I just said, ‘What the fuck does ‘ba-dee-ya’ mean?'” she told NPR in 2014. Vocalist Maurice White was singing this nonsense phrase over and over as Earth Wind and Fire constructed the song atop a chord progression from guitarist Al McKay. Willis assumed the words would eventually be replaced. “It took me about a month to calm Allee down,” White later wrote in his memoir. “She perceived it as a slight to her lyric-writing abilities.” White’s instincts were correct, as the multi-million-selling “September” soared into the Top 10 on multiple charts. “He essentially said, ‘Who the fuck cares?'” added Willis, who went on to co-write “Boogie Wonderland” for the group. “I learned my greatest lesson ever in songwriting from him – which was never let the lyric get in the way of the groove.” (DeRiso)

“Say It Isn’t So,” Hall & Oates (from 1983’s Rock ‘n Soul Part 1)

Hall & Oates were riding high at the peak of their success, with millions of albums sold and 11 Top 10 hits under their belt. Naturally, a greatest-hits compilation was released to capitalize on the duo’s popularity. “Say It Isn’t So” was one of two new tunes written for the LP. Penned while Hall & Oates were touring behind 1982’s H20, the song was inspired by their changing life experiences. “The idea was that John and I were outside of things,” Daryl Hall later explained to Songfacts, “and I think that was coming out of a combination of people’s perceptions of us at that time. We were getting a lot of flack from various things, and being on the road and feeling sort of separate from the outside world – because we were sort of in this ‘road bubble,’ and also the bubble of our success.” (Irwin)

“Rainbow Blues,” Jethro Tull (from 1976’s M.U. – The Best of Jethro Tull)

While 1972’s Living in the Past was a hodgepodge compilation that pulled together material from numerous sources, M.U. – The Best of Jethro Tull arrived four years later as a proper highlight reel of their successful singles. The compilation showed that they’d made a lot of headway in less than a decade. Tucked near the end was “Rainbow Blues,” a previously unreleased song that had been sidelined during the sessions for 1974’s War Child. Martin Barre has described the sessions for War Child as being very “pop orientated,” and you can hear that in the springy sounds of “Rainbow Blues” with its energetic flute trills from Ian Anderson. If that’s their version of having the blues, it’s not a bad place to be. (Wardlaw)

“The Night Is Still Young,” Billy Joel (from 1985’s Greatest Hits – Volume I & Volume II)

Predictive details about a too-early retirement could be found on this lyric sheet, as Billy Joel inhabits the lowest part of his vocal register during verses that describe the lonely life of a business traveler who’d just like to say goodnight in person. It takes a little while to get there, but “The Night is Still Young” then soars into choruses touched with heart-splashing desire. (Asked about the song years later, Joel’s characteristically blunt drummer Liberty DeVitto said it was “a little long for me.”) Tucked away on Greatest Hits: Volume I & Volume II, “The Night is Still Young” was one of two new singles meant to entice completists who already had all the other tracks. They both reached the Top 40, but execs at Columbia needn’t have bothered. Joel’s first career-spanning comp sold and sold and sold, eventually reaching rare double-diamond status. (DeRiso)

“Primal Scream,” Motley Crue (from 1991’s Decade of Decadence 81–91)

Motley Crue had just achieved world domination with 1989’s Dr. Feelgood when they pissed it all away by firing Vince Neil, then waited five years to release a flop grunge album with a new singer. The tragedy is that of all the rockers who ruled the Sunset Strip in the ‘80s, the original Motley lineup might have had the songwriting chops and business savvy to weather the grunge storm. The proof is right there in “Primal Scream,” a supersized party-metal anthem full of ironclad hooks, thunderous grooves and a delicious slide-guitar solo. As catchy as “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Kickstart My Heart” but far tougher and more musically sophisticated, “Primal Scream” predicts a world in which Motley Crue conquered the ‘90s like their hard-rock brethren in Aerosmith and Van Halen, rather than crashing and burning like Warrant and Poison. (Rolli)

“You Know You’re Right,” Nirvana (from 2002’s Nirvana)

Recorded a little more than two months before Kurt Cobain‘s death, “You Know You’re Right” was the only completed song from a brief, final session between Nirvana tours on Jan. 30, 1994, at a Seattle studio. By all accounts, the song came together within just a few hours. For years, a live bootleg version (from October 1993) and a Hole cover sung by Cobain’s widow Courtney Love during her band’s 1995 MTV Unplugged performance, were the only known recordings of “You Know You’re Right.” When the Nirvana compilation was released in 2002, it was the one previously unreleased song included among hits like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “All Apologies.” (Michael Gallucci)

“Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (from 1993’s Greatest Hits)

Some hits appear out of the blue, while others brew over time like “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” The bones of the song were constructed during sessions for Petty’s 1989 solo album, Full Moon Fever. He’d written most of the lyrics but was still missing a chorus when he played the tape for Greatest Hits co-producer Rick Rubin, who liked the track and suggested that Petty try finishing it up. Released as a single, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” ended up as a tremendous success, rising to No. 14 on the Billboard chart. Petty’s first Top 20 hit of the ’90s then quickly became a fan favorite at concerts. A memorably morbid music video accompanied the track, featuring Petty and a corpse lover. (Rapp)

“Slip Slidin’ Away,” Paul Simon (from 1977’s Greatest Hits, Etc.)

“Slip Slidin’ Away” is what it might sound like if you bottled the feeling of floating down a calm river — a smooth, flowing sensation that invokes contemplative thoughts. Initially considered for inclusion on Simon’s 1975 album Still Crazy After All These Years, “Slip Slidin’ Away” features backing vocals from the Oak Ridge Boys, who lend an appealing, old-timey quality behind Simon’s gentle lead. The song was a smash hit upon its release in 1977 and was often included at both Simon’s solo concerts and his performances with Art Garfunkel. (Rapp)

“Murder Incorporated,” Bruce Springsteen (from 1995’s Greatest Hits)

A leftover from the Born in the U.S.A. sessions, “Murder Incorporated” was at one time considered for the title of Springsteen’s seventh album. Thematically, it fits the LP’s growing disillusionment with society at large (“Downbound Train,” the title track), but musically it’s much closer to gnarly rockers like Darkness on the Edge of Town‘s “Adam Raised a Cain” than the arena-sized production of Born in the U.S.A.‘s “Glory Days.” When Springsteen and the E Street Band reunited after a seven-year break, “Murder Incorporated” was the first song they played together, for the song’s music video. (Gallucci)

“Here at the Western World,” Steely Dan (from 1978’s Greatest Hits)

This track remained on the cutting-room floor during sessions for 1976’s The Royal Scam and then was passed over again on Steely Dan’s signature 1977 album Aja. That could be because “Here at the Western World” delves into a deeply familiar theme for Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, who once again cast a gimlet eye on contemporary society’s drug-addled depravity. When it became clear to ABC Records that Steely Dan wouldn’t be providing a quick follow-up to Aja, however, the label put together a cash-in compilation and then rounded it out with “Here at the Western World.” (Elsewhere, they also included the Duke Ellington goof “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo,” but not “Deacon Blues” or Steely Dan’s then-current hit “FM,” but that’s a complaint for a different time.) Greatest Hits became a platinum-selling Top 40 hit, and that bought Steely Dan time to create their next bitterly sarcastic indictment with “Babylon Sisters.” (DeRiso)

“On the Radio,” Donna Summer (from 1979’s On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes I & II)

Disco queen Donna Summer was tabbed to write a song for the 1980 coming-of-age film Foxes, starring Jodie Foster and Scott Baio – then she kept it for herself. “On the Radio” found Summer once again joining forces with composer and record producer Giorgio Moroder, and they liked the results so much that this track was included on a hits package before the film’s release. (An extended mix of “On the Radio” ultimately appeared on the Foxes soundtrack). With heartfelt lyrics sung over a bouncing, ebullient arrangement, “On the Radio” was a hit with listeners across the country, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. That helped propel On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes I & II to multi-platinum sales. (Irwin)

“Lifetime Piling Up,” Talking Heads (from 1992’s Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads)

Though 1988’s Naked proved to be the swan song for Talking Heads, there was more music to be heard. The double-disc Popular Favorites 1976-1992: Sand in the Vaseline led off with a pair of previously unreleased demos from their early years, then things got interesting as Talking Heads found momentary union amid building strife. They finished off three existing songs that had been in various phases of completion, including “Lifetime Piling Up.” Dating back to the Naked period, this track is the best of the trio, as vocalist David Byrne puts his nervous thoughts down in a way that feels like anxiety captured in the song. The new material was a welcome yet sad coda, offering a final glimpse of a group that had hardly run its course creatively. (Wardlaw)

“That Girl,” Stevie Wonder (from 1982’s Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I)

Just a few years after Stevie Wonder completed his once-in-a-lifetime run of classic ’70s albums, he documented the period with the two-LP collection Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I. The songs span 1972’s Music of My Mind through 1980’s Hotter Than July, with four new tracks added to each of the LPs’ four sides. It says a lot about Wonder’s still-strong commercial appeal in 1982 that three of those songs were released as singles and two of them were Top 20 hits. The first and best of them, “That Girl,” went to No. 1 on the R&B chart and spent nine weeks at the top, a record for Wonder. (Gallucci)

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