Purists frequently ridicule the greatest-hits or best-of album. Viewed as the death knell of a fluff celebrity’s career and/or a label’s obvious attempt to cash in on the remains of an artist’s contract, critics hold an abundance of darts to throw at the compilation’s reason for being. Considering how easy it is to shoot the idea down, especially in a day when Hillary Duff and Sixpence None the Richer can be thusly anthologized, the collection can alternately be viewed as difficult to execute. After all, what makes a greatest-hits record pleasurable to listen to varies little from a pleasurable album: good songs, good sequencing, good sound, good packaging. So, it makes sense that a proper greatest-hits record would only arrive occasionally, just like any good album.
Evidently, Greensleeves Records took note and wisely waited more than thirty years to produce its first collection of hits. The two-disc From Dubplate to Download: The Best of Greensleeves Records spans the U.K.-based label’s expansive documentation of Jamaican popular music, from the early success of Dr. Alimintado (“Born for a Purpose”) to its international breakout with Shaggy (“Oh Carolina”) to a contemporary hitmaker like Elephant Man (“Log On”). The compilation is overwhelming, because each song is a certified classic in both Jamaican music’s myriad genres and international popular culture: Yellowman’s “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng” has rung insistently in dancehalls and hip-hop clubs since 1983, and Mr. Vegas’s “Heads High” seems to experience constant reinvention with each new dance-music revolution.
What makes Greensleeves’ catalog so additionally remarkable is that not even early pioneers like Studio One and Trojan have such a consistent track record. Through a combination of savvy talent-scouting (nearly all of the artists featured here are internationally recognized) and constant market presence (Dr. Alimintado’s classic Best Dressed Chicken in Town LP has never gone out of print since its release in 1978, according to the label), Greensleeves has become a quiet giant in the industry. And From Dubplate to Download achieves what any great greatest hits compilation should: cement a reputation as being the best of the best.