Talk about high concept. It's Christmastime, which means we'll be hit with the usual barrage of greatest-hits albums, this year by the likes of Gloria Estefan, Randy Travis, and other key players of the good old '80s. And since that decade was all about greed, what better way to commemorate it than with shameless best-of packages designed to shovel up those lucrative holiday sales?
You can, for instance, relive the '80s roots revival on the Fabulous Thunderbirds' Hot Stuff: The Greatest Hits, 11 slabs of beer-and-potatoes roadhouse boogie that qualify the well-meaning T-Birds as the world's luckiest bar band. Remember the early days of explicit rap? In light of N.W.A and other hard-core storytellers, the 2 Live Crew's ''Me So Horny,'' ''We Want Some Pu--y,'' and other dubious highlights of The 2 Live Crew's Greatest Hits really sound like novelty ditties now. And with regard to zany Thatcher Britain, you can trace the deterioration of punk into arch but danceable new-wave Goth on Julian Cope's seamless Floored Genius: The Best of Julian Cope and the Teardrop Explodes 1979-91 and Siouxsie and the Banshees' uneven Twice Upon a Time/The Singles.
At least Randy Travis had hits, as amply demonstrated on his two-volume Greatest Hits. Spare, earnest, and Dobro-fueled, songs like ''On the Other Hand'' and ''Forever and Ever, Amen'' dragged country back to its bare roots in the mid-'80s, and they still sound high and lonesome, if clean-cut. But Travis would have been better served by a single CD instead of two separately sold volumes, especially as each Hits disc is a shameful 36 minutes long. Gloria Estefan's Greatest Hits fails to answer the key question of whatever happened to Miami Sound Machine, but it does cram in ten top 10 hits by the heir to Karen Carpenter. Estefan has a pleasant, assured voice, although she has too often been saddled with Nilla-wafer ballads and salsa arrangements straight out of a Days Inn lounge. Of the four new tracks, one is a yuletide ballad, meaning Estefan has it both ways: a hits album with a Christmas song. Now, that's marketing! Thunderbirds: B- 2 Live Crew: C Cope: C+ Siouxsie: C Travis: both A- Estefan: B