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.
As if to dispel any doubts about the slogan “Entertainment Through Pain,” the set opens up with “Hamburger Lady.” It is a vivid description taken from a letter Genesis P-Orridge received from a hospital orderly/fan, describing a burn victim. This poor woman was so badly disfigured that she was cruelly nicknamed the “Hamburger Lady.” The delivery of this tale is set to some of T.G.’s ugliest music ever, which is perfectly appropriate considering the subject matter.
In true subversive style, they chose to follow “Hamburger Lady” with “Hot On The Heels Of Love.” This is their “should have been” hit single, from 20 Jazz Funk Greats. “Hot On The Heels Of Love” takes the Giorgio Morodor disco beat that was so popular in 1979, and turns it on its head. It cracks me up every time I hear it, but if it had been played in the discos that year, I think it could have been a hit.
The material chosen for Greatest Hits leans strongly towards their later period. In addition to “Hot On The Heels Of Love,” there are three more cuts from 20 Jazz Funk Greats. These include that album’s title track, plus “What A Day,” and “Six Six Sixties.” The set also includes the final two singles the band released, “Adrenaline,” and “Subhuman.”
Besides “Hamburger Lady,“ there are two more tunes that originally appeared on D.O.A.: The Third And Final Report. These are Chris Carter’s ode to ABBA, “AB/7A,” and the live “Blood On The Floor.” Rounding out the package is “Tiab Guls,” a backward version of “Slug Bait,“ which appeared on The Second Annual Report in three edited together versions. Finally we come to the single released between the first two albums, “United,” which is a wonderful slice of primitive synth-pop circa 1977.
With the passing of Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson last year, it seems the surviving members of Throbbing Gristle were given pause, and decided to reissue their ground-breaking late seventies albums themselves. Their homegrown Industrial Records label has been reactivated, and each release has been remastered, and a second disc of contemporary curios has been added. In the case of the four studio albums, the second discs were primarily made up of live recordings from the year in question, plus any non-LP singles that happened to come out at the time as well.
The bonus disc included with Greatest Hits contains nine tracks, all of them obscure enough to warrant inclusion here. There is the never released single version of “The Old Man Smiled” from Heathen Earth for example. And quite a few oddball non-LP B-sides, and weird mixes are included also. As is the case with all of these reissues, the printed material Cosey has included from her personal collection adds insight and context. In something of an inside joke the album was dedicated to Mr. Quiet Village himself, Martin Denny.
All five of these expertly repackaged editions of Throbbing Gristle’s Industrial Records output are really dedicated to their lost friend and colleague, “Sleazy,“ though – who passed away in 2010.
There is nothing sleazy about what T.G. accomplished during their time together however. Although they only lasted as a functioning unit from 1977 to 1980, they produced some of the most unforgettable music ever. T.G. tried so many different things as a group, that pinning them down to any specific style or genre is simply impossible. But for the curious, I would recommend Greatest Hits as a great place to start. They managed to choose a fairly representative mix of their music here, and who knows – one may even come away with a new appreciation for the concept of “Entertainment Through Pain.”