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The Best Of: 90s Compilations

Hit Machine vs 100% Hits

In the 1990s, Australia took its lead from the UK's Now That's What I Call Music series and two rival compilation series were born: 100% Hits, which launched in 1991, and Hit Machine, which followed in 1993. Just as they had in the 1980s, the major record companies fell into two groups — EMI, Warner and Polygram were behind 100% Hits; Sony, BMG and Festival put out Hit Machine — and most of the big hits of the day could be found on one or other of the franchises, which timed their releases to come out more or less head to head. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to go back to mid-1993, when Hit Machine joined 100% Hits on the compilation chart and compare each set of albums. I'll give my verdict on each album and determine my preference, and I'll ask for your votes on the Chart Beats Facebook page. Let the debate begin!

Chart debut: June 27, 1993

Peak: number 1 (13 weeks)

Biggest hit: "Informer" by Snow (number 1 for five weeks)

Smallest hit: "This Isn't Love" by Boom Crash Opera (number 69)

Best song: "Looking Through Patient Eyes" by P.M. Dawn

Worst song: "Detachable Penis" by King Missile

100% Hits was so well established as a brand by this point that even a fairly average set of songs dominated the number 1 spot on the compilations chart for three months. Filled with mid-level hits, Volume 8 left most of its heavy-hitters until the end. Ugly Kid Joe aside, the run of five songs from "Mr Wendal" to "Oh Carolina" constituted the album's biggest hits — some very odd sequencing indeed. Similar to Hit Machine '93, the album covered off all genres.

Chart debut: July 18, 1993
Peak: number 2
Biggest hit: "Easy" by Faith No More (number 1 for two weeks)
Smallest hit: "Happy Boy" by The Beat Farmers (number 156)
Best song: "No Limit" by 2 Unlimited
Worst song: "Happy Boy" by The Beat Farmers

Clearly wanting to make a good first impression, the launch edition of Hit Machine crammed in 21 songs, although it's a pity five of them weren't actually hits, with the tracks by David Bowie, The Black Sorrows, Sound Unlimited, Things Of Stone And Wood and The Beat Farmers all missing the top 50 — the latter didn't even make the top 100. The rest of the tracklisting was a pretty good summation of the diversity of the ARIA singles chart at this point, with pop, rock, dance and hip-hop all covered, and as a pop fan, I was well catered for.

Chart debut: April 10, 1994
Peak: number 1 (three weeks)
Biggest hit: "Boom! Shake The Room" by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (number 1 for one week)
Smallest hit: "Sister Havana" by Urge Overkill (number 104)
Best song: "Relight My Fire" by Take That featuring Lulu
Worst song: "Pure Killer" by Defryme

Hit Machine was getting into the swing of things by now — coming out slightly before 100% Hits to claim time at number 1, and including a stack of hits and some (mostly) well-chosen misses (although what anyone was thinking with that random Urge Overkill song is unclear). Despite the track sequencing being haphazard — dance, then rock, back to dance, R&B, more rock, pop, dance again, rock, hip-hop — there were few missteps. And with Urban Cookie Collective, M-People, Culture Beat, Take That, Depeche Mode and 2 Unlimited leading the way, it triumphs in the tightest race yet.

Chart debut: April 24, 1994
Peak: number 1 (10 weeks)
Biggest hit: "It's Alright" by East 17 (number 1 for seven weeks)
Smallest hit: "Where Would We Be Without A.B." by Doug Parkinson (number 100)
Best song: "Things Can Only Get Better" by D:Ream
Worst song: "Where Would We Be Without A.B." by Doug Parkinson

Imagine putting together a strong tracklisting just to blow it all with that Doug Parkinson/Gary Sweet/Dennis Leary triple play at the end. I can understand the inclusion of "Asshole" (and putting it last made sense), but were it not for the other two tracks, Volume 11 would have been in a much better position to take out this battle. ​That said, while the rock (a Screaming Jets song I didn't mind, a nice Crowded House ballad), R&B (Tevin! Janet!) and Chaka Demus & Pliers' best single were on point, the dance selection paled in comparison to Hit Machine's offering.

Chart debut: October 3, 1993
Peak: number 1 (one week)
Biggest hit: "All That She Wants" by Ace Of Base (number 1 for three weeks)
Smallest hit: "A Prayer For Jane" by Jo Beth Taylor (number 61)
Best song: "Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use)" by Sub Sub featuring Melanie Williams
Worst song: "Three Little Pigs" by Green Jelly

Sneaking out a week earlier than its rival, Hit Machine 2 gave the series its first chart-topper, but only for a week. To HM2's credit, it included "Mr Vain" and "All That She Wants" before either reached number 1 — a risky move. Despite those two and more excellent pop from Taylor Dayne, Dannii Minogue, Sub Sub and SWV, there was some real dross. I'm not just talking about the stuff you'd expect me not to like (Baby Animals, Jimmy Barnes, Rage Against The Machine, Ween). Even a lot of the pop, R&B and dance tracks were duds, like those by the ever-shirtless trio of Peter Andre, Jeremy Jordan and Freedom Williams.

Chart debut: October 10, 1993
Peak: number 1 (nine weeks)
Biggest hit: "What's Up?" by 4 Non Blondes (number 2)
Smallest hit: "The Honeymoon Is Over" by The Cruel Sea (number 41)
Best song: "The Floor" by Johnny Gill
Worst song: "Get A Haircut" by George Thorogood

What 100% Hits Volume 9 lacked in songs I really loved, it made up for in consistency. In other words, there might've been fewer 10/10 songs, but there weren't really any 1/10 songs either, although "Get A Haircut" and "Shock To The System" come close. And I was never a fan of number 2 hits, "What's Up?" and "Sweat (A La La La La Long)". On the plus side, there was everything from Lenny Kravitz and The Cranberries to the boy band double of East 17 and Silk to an excellent Duran Duran tune. I didn't even mind the contributions by Diesel (one of his best) and Tina Turner (a return to her mid-'80s form). So by virtue of having less crap, rather than a blistering set of songs, this receives my pick.

Chart debut: December 5, 1993
Peak: number 2
Biggest hit: "The Key: The Secret" by Urban Cookie Collective (number 4)
Smallest hit: "Last Train" by Christine Anu / Paul Kelly (number 93)
Best song: "The Key: The Secret" by Urban Cookie Collective
Worst song: "Going Down" by Jon Stevens

It's pretty telling that even though the third Hit Machine once again beat 100% Hits into stores, it couldn't take out the number 1 spot. Decidedly lacking in big hits, the compilation features seven songs that didn't actually make the top 50. And while some of them — "Breakadawn" by De La Soul and Deborah Conway's "Alive And Brilliant" — should've been bigger, there's a lot of filler and nowhere near enough killer. Best moments are the Eurodance triple of Urban Cookie Collective, Haddaway and DJ BoBo, and SWV's "Right Here" (which, despite not credited as such on the back cover, was the "Human Nature" remix).

Chart debut: December 12, 1993
Peak: number 1 (two weeks)
Biggest hit: "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" by Meat Loaf (number 1 for eight weeks)
Smallest hit: "Spaceman" by 4 Non Blondes (number 85)
Best song: "Go West" by Pet Shop Boys
Worst song: "Spaceman" by 4 Non Blondes

Things didn't get off to a good start with number 1 hog Meat Loaf — although having the year's highest-selling single was a huge selling point as 100% Hits went into double digits. What pushes this over the line for me isn't the songs I loved — by Gabrielle, Pet Shop Boys, Crowded House and Caligula — but the fact that I didn't mind inclusions by artists who weren't my thing. If I had to listen to Stone Temple Pilots or Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example, I'd choose "Soul To Squeeze" or "Plush". Good one-hit wonder action from Efua and Tony! Toni! Toné! (in Australia) as well. Fun fact: in a case of self-sabotage, Volume 10 was knocked off the top by The Best Of 100% Hits: 1993.

Chart debut: July 10, 1994
Peak: number 1 (one week)
Biggest hit: "The Sign" by Ace Of Base (number 1 for four weeks)
Smallest hit: "Renaissance" by M-People (number 60)
Best song: "Sing Hallelujah" by Dr Alban
Worst song: "More Wine Waiter Please
" by The Poor

I came into this round expecting the fifth Hit Machine to get my pick. It only contains one flop (which happens to be a great tune), the sequencing problems of the previous instalment were fixed resulting in a much better flow and it has a bunch of great songs ("The Sign", "Pray", "The Way You Work It", "Anything"), but there is too much rubbish. Substandard covers of "Mama Said Knock You Out" and "I Can See Clearly Now", dull remakes by Celine Dion and Pauline Henry, gimmicky hip-hop from 3 The Hard Way and Tag Team, the inferior mix of "Satisfy The Groove" and the abomination that is "Doop". Close but no little yellow circle.

Chart debut: July 3, 1994
Peak: number 1 (two weeks)
Biggest hit: "Whatta Man" by Salt 'n' Pepa with En Vogue (number 2)
Smallest hit: "Talk To Me" by GANGgajang (number 88)
Best song: "Stay" by Eternal
Worst song: "I'm Gonna Release Your Soul
" by Dave Graney & The Coral Snakes

100% Hits wised up and used the Hit Machine playbook against it. It was released first — it debuted at number 2 while Volume 11 was still on top — and extended to 20 tracks (even if there was barrel scraping involved). The result: a chart tussle, which subscribers can follow on the 1994 chart gallery. But its duds weren't as objectionable as HM5's, and besides the K-klass, D:Ream, Tevin Campbell and Roxette songs you'd expect me to like, I enjoyed the tracks by Engima, Caligula, James and Electric Hippies. Terrible artwork, though.

Chart debut: October 9, 1994
 number 1 (one week)

Biggest hit: "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" by Crash Test Dummies (number 1 for three weeks)

Smallest hit: "My Heavy Friend" by The Truth (number 105)

Best song: "You Gotta Be" by Des'ree

Worst song: "Swamp Thing" by The Grid

That's right, dance fan that I am, the banjo-happy "Swamp Thing" beat The Black Sorrows and Crash Test Dummies to take out the title of my least favourite song on what was an otherwise pretty decent Hit Machine. Elsewhere, tracks by Corona, The Prodigy, Southend, Culture Shock and a sadly overlooked Rockmelons remix gave this the edge over 100% Hits, but it wasn't just the club fare I liked. From radio-friendly Roachford to the duelling divas Kym Mazelle and Jocelyn Brown, this was a good bunch of tunes. I even didn't mind the Defryme song. An easy victory.

Chart debut: September 25, 1994
Peak: number 1 (four weeks)
Biggest hit: "Absolutely Fabulous" by Absolutely Fabulous (number 2)
Smallest hit: "Take Me Away" by D:Ream (number 52)
Best song: "Son Of A Gun" by JX
Worst song: "Love Is Strong" by The Rolling Stones

Not surprisingly, it's the rock, which accounts for almost half the tracklisting, that makes this the lesser of the two compilations for me. That said, "Black Hole Sun" is one of two grunge songs I like and I can tolerate "Shine". But it's also the fact that the songs from other genres generally aren't as good — dull Joshua Kadison, second-rate R&B from Kulcha and Marcia Hines' disappointing comeback single. On the upside, there were underrated singles by D:Ream and Jon Secada, and power ballads by Marcella Detroit and The Pretenders. 

Chart debut: December 11, 1994
 number 3

Biggest hit: "Confide In Me" by Kylie Minogue (number 1 for four weeks)

Smallest hit: "Undone - The Sweater Song" by Weezer (number 63)

Best song: "Ain't Nobody" by Jaki Graham (even though the Love To Infinity single remix is better)

Worst song: "Tighten Up Your Pants" by Audio Murphy (terrible!)

Although it still played second (or should that be third?) fiddle to 100% Hits (both Volume 14 and The Best Of 94) on the ARIA chart, Hit Machine was once again more pleasing to me, kicking off with Kylie Minogue's comeback smash and taking in C&C Music Factory, Boom Crash Opera, Coolio, Roachford and more — who said I don't have diverse taste? (Me, probably). If there's one track that sums up why I prefer HM7 it's the underrated "Walkaway Lover" by Toni Pearen — a big hit with me, even if not as popular nationally.

Chart debut: December 4, 1994
Peak: number 1 (two weeks)
Biggest hit: "I Swear" by All-4-One (number 1 for five weeks)
Smallest hit: "Born Dead" by Body Count (number 52)
Best song: "Rockin' For Myself" by Motiv8
Worst song: "Born Dead" by Body Count

Volume 14 not only doubled up on several tracks with The Best Of 94, but through some quirk of record label deals, also contained "7 Seconds", which featured on HM7, too. Hitting number 1 for one week shortly after release and then not again until two months later, the album had its highs (All-4-One, Motiv8, Tinman, Warren G, Pet Shop Boys and The Cranberries), but, for me, was ultimately let down by tracks — many of them big hits — I didn't like (Crystal Waters, Lucas, Kulcha, Red Dragon, Alicia Bridges). I'd be interested to know what would've included if 100% Hits 14 had stretched to 20 tracks like HM7 since only "Born Dead" peaked outside the top 50 (unlike its rival, which had four flops). 

Chart debut: April 9, 1995
 number 1 (nine weeks)

Biggest hit: "Another Night" by MC Sar & The Real McCoy (number 1 for six weeks)

Smallest hit: "Voodoo Lady" by Ween (number 58)

Best song: "Sky High" by Newton

Worst song: "Cotton Eye Joe" by Rednex

This is the point where the tide turned in Hit Machine's favour and the "newcomer" became the dominator as it kept 100% Hits Vol. 15 in the runner-up spot for most of their chart runs. (Check out the weekly charts in the 1995 gallery.) And it gets my pick by the narrowest of margins, because for every "Another Night" or "Sight For Sore Eyes" there's a "Short Dick Man" or "Hot Hot Hot". And that bloody Rednex song. Dodgy dance tracks aside, there are solid inclusions from Kylie Minogue, Tina Arena and CDB, while after losing its way with the Supergroove/Ween/Boom Crash Opera section, it rallies with some of the album's best tracks: "Cruise Control", "Sky High" and "Sooner Or Later".

Chart debut: April 16, 1995
Peak: number 1 (two weeks)
Biggest hit: "Here's Johnny" by Hocus Pocus (number 1 for six weeks)
Smallest hit: "Just A Step From Heaven" by Eternal (number 62)
Best song: "Nothing In The World" by Mozaic
Worst song: "She Don't Use Jelly" by The Flaming Lips

So. Many. Questions. Was Tom Jones upfront due to a contractual obligation? Why else would you lead with some old fogey when you had chart-toppers Sheryl Crow and Hocus Pocus, and an almost #1 by Nicki French (who was also on HM8)? Were Stiltskin, Bomb The Bass, R.E.M. and Max Sharam frontloaded to tap into the Triple J market since the first Hottest 100 album had been so huge? Was it wise to include six-month-old no. 1 "I'll Make Love To You" (presumably the first time rights were available) and not a newer tune? The reason Vol. 15 loses: although there aren't as many objectionable tracks, there is an awful lot of mediocrity, with my first 10/10 not until track 11.

Chart debut: July 2, 1995
 number 1 (five weeks)

Biggest hit: "Mouth" by Merril Bainbridge (number 1 for six weeks)

Smallest hit: "Old Pop In An Oak" by Rednex (number 70)

Best song: "Back For Good" by Take That

Worst song: "Old Pop In An Oak" by Rednex

Hit Machine continued its ascendancy with a blistering six-song start to its 19th volume, and I don't even like Tokyo Ghetto Pussy or that Real McCoy song much (and I can't stand The Outhere Brothers). But it really had A-list stuff, with eight top 10 hits to 100% Hits 16's three, and two chart-toppers to zero. In terms of what floats my boat, the female vocalist selection was on point, with Christine Anu, Annie Lennox, Tina Arena and Merril Bainbridge. And although I could've done without The Murmurs and Jimmy Barnes, there's not much else I would've skipped when I was playing this in the record department of Grace Bros, where I worked casually at the time. Another easy win.

Chart debut: July 9, 1995
Peak: number 2
Biggest hit: "Sukiyaki" by 4PM (number 3)
Smallest hit: "Reach Up (Papa's Got A Brand New Pig Bag)" by Perfecto Allstarz (number 94)
Best song: "The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind" by Kenny "Dope" presents The Bucketheads
Worst song: "Funtime" by Boy George

It's telling that after the debacle of Vol. 15's sequencing, 100% Hits went with Hit Machine's model — 20 tracks, dance at the start. But Volume 16 came off second best — in chart peak and my estimation. Looking at those dance tunes, Perfecto Allstarz (which I like). Alpha Team, DJ BoBo and Clock could not compete with HM9's selection. Except for a few standouts (JX, 4PM, BIIM), this was second string stuff, no matter the genre. Boy bands? Take That > East 17. Guitary female singers? Heather Nova > Sheryl Crow. '80s legends? The Mentals > Duran Duran (why?!). Location-themed songs? Tina Arena > Joshua Kadison.

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