For a group as uncompromising and iconoclastic as Throbbing Gristle, the very idea of releasing a greatest hits albums seemed ludicrous. In fact, when I first saw it many years ago, I thought it was a joke. I recognized the song titles on the back cover, but still suspected that something funny was going on. This was the band whose (originally non-LP) single “United” actually received a fair amount of air-play in 1977, and so was added to their second album. The joke was that the 4:05 original had been electronically speeded-up to run for exactly sixteen seconds. The idea of T.G. simply collecting previously released songs and putting together a hits package just seemed like something they would never do.
And yet, that is exactly what this is. Throbbing Gristle’s Greatest Hits features 11 songs, and is actually a pretty effective overview of their career - for the uninitiated at least. Former model (and lone female member of the group) Cosey Fanni Tutti graces the cover. I wonder how many copies of this album her lovely countenance sold, her perfectly vapid gaze into the camera probably launched a thousand fantasies. The subhead: “Entertainment Through Pain” was likely seen as mere titillation, adding more fuel to the subversive fire.
I really have no idea what prompted this collection. Were they simply “playing the game” for fun? It’s a pretty standard move in the music industry to release three studio albums, then recycle the material (usually just in time for Christmas) in a greatest hits format. The thought of putting the legacy of T.G. behind them may have been another motivation. Because by the time Greatest Hits was released, the group were most definitely over.
The most intriguing aspect though is that this actually works as a great introduction to the band. A lot of thought obviously went into which songs would be used, and into the order in which they are presented. Any fan making a mix tape to share with their friends would have probably come up with a very similar selection.