Enabling the Aux HDMI Ports on an LG Hotel Television

I’m away from home this week, working in Texas and staying at a large hotel chain. I’ve been messing around with my Raspberry Pi a bunch lately, so I decided to bring one with me, assuming that the television in my room would have one or two unused HDMI ports that I could connect to. It did — it’s a 40″ LG television, with two HDMI ports available on the side.

When you press the “Aux” button on the remote…

…this is the menu that pops up.

And when you select the second HDMI port, this is what you get:

Nothing.

I rebooted the Raspberry Pi, but still could not get any video. To make sure everything was working, I disconnected the HDMI connection from the wall and plugged the Raspberry Pi into that port and it worked just fine. For some reason, the hotel chain had disabled the HDMI ports on the side of the television.

There’s another connection on the back of the television, an RJ-11 connection that looks like a phone cord. It connects to what looks like a small IR port on the front of the television. Once I disconnected the RJ-11 (phone jack) from the back of the television and hit the “Aux” bottom on the remote again, I got a different menu on the television.

From this menu, I was able to select and use the television’s other inputs.

Success!

The bad news is, with the cable disconnected, you can no longer change cable channels. The good news is, you can easily restore the television back to its prior state by reconnecting the RJ-11 cable. After doing it once I found I was able to easily reach up and disconnect the cable without moving the television or messing with any of the other cables.

Before leaving the room, be sure to reconnect the cable so the next person who stays there has a functional (but crippled) television. I’m not entirely sure what the rationale is in regards to locking customers out of the television’s additional HDMI ports, but if you need to enable them, now you know the trick.

Curtain Quickly Closing on the Elio

It’s been three years since I first discovered the Elio. “The Elio is a three-wheeled car that runs on gas, gets 84 mpg, and when it comes out, will cost $6,800,” I wrote in April of 2014, glossing over the fact that the car will also have a 5-star crash rating. “The Elio is set to hit roads in 2015,” I noted, and based off what I knew at the time, I put down a $100, non-refundable deposit to reserve my car.

In that same post I dreamed about how much money driving an Elio would save me. My Subaru WRX STi gets approximately 20 miles per gallon and uses premium, non-ethanol gas (the expensive stuff). The Elio’s light body and small build make it four times as efficient, claiming 84 miles per gallon. Using 2014 gas prices and assuming I would drive to work every single day, I estimated yearly gasoline savings of more than $1,700 a year — and this was before I re-enrolled in college. A round trip to OU from my house is 90 miles. In 2016 I drove to school and back twice a week for 32 weeks — that’s an additional 5,760 miles! I’m no math major, but it seemed to me this car was going to pay itself in savings alone very quickly.

Three years later, and the Elio hasn’t saved me a dime. In fact, I’m still $100 in the hole.

The future of Elio depends on where you get your information. ElioMotors.com claims that the Elio is “U.S. made by American workers at the former GM plant in Shreveport, Louisiana”… but the reality is, Elio hasn’t made any cars at the Shreveport plant, or anywhere else. In fact, the company is struggling to pay rent. According to Jalopnik.com, “since last October, Elio hasn’t paid their monthly tab to RACER Trust — which provided a $23 million loan to facilitate its move to a shuttered General Motors plant in town. As a result, Elio currently owes more than $1.7 million in back payments to RACER Trust. While the default interest rate of 18% will continue to add up until payments resume, the company now has another year to pay back the principal on the loan.”

It gets worse. From the same article:

“The SEC document says if Elio receives $25 million in funding by the end of July, then Elio must pay back RACER its overdue bill — now totaled at $1.75 million — and on top of that, the default interest rate of 18 percent will begin to accrue starting in August. But now, Elio has an extra year to pay back the full loan. So here’s the question: Who’s going to immediately float Elio $25 million?”

Despite taking thousands of non-refundable down payments ranging from $100 to $1,000 from customers, Digital Trends claims Elio “had just $101,317 in cash on September 30, 2016,” and appears to have less than that now. “The same document,” according to the article, “declares recurring net losses caused an accumulated deficit of over $123 million.”

In the rental contract Elio signed for using the GM plant, the company promised the bring 1,500 new jobs to Caddo Parish, Louisiana. According to TheHayride.com, so far, they haven’t hired anyone. The agreement states that Elio must either “produce 1,500 jobs in Caddo Parish by July 1, 2017, or cough up a $7.5 million fine.” Elio missed the deadline.

If and when Paul Elio gets out of the car business, his ability to keep a straight face would make him one hell of a poker player. “I feel very confident with what I know today that we’re going to get this off the ground,” said Elio this past May. Publicly, the company never breaks character. The last email I received from Elio covered how affordable these vehicles will be to insure. Not once has Elio ever hinted publicly on their website, blog, or mailing list that there’s any behind-the-scenes turmoil going on. In fact, the company’s website will still gladly take a down payment from you for a new Elio.

Let me save you $100.

I love the idea of an Elio. I can’t imagine anything cooler than driving to work, school, or cross-country in a three-wheeled vehicle that feels like a car — a car that gets twice the miles per gallon my last motorcycle got and that I can drive year round. The backseat has enough room to take a kid to the bus stop or a suitcase full of clothes for a road trip. The dual front-wheel-drive tires are designed to pull the Elio through snow and ice like a futuristic sled. With hybrid and electronic cars still in their infancy, I feel like the Elio is a way to lower my carbon footprint, just a little bit.

The only problem with the Elio, as far as I can tell, is that they’re never going to build them.

When Buying a Fake Bird, Save the Receipt

The first time I saw a plastic bird being used to shoo away real ones was on top of our local grocery store. It took three visits for me to realize that the very still bird that was always perched in the exact same spot wasn’t real.

For some reason, the front porch of our home attracts barn swallows. Each spring, the swallows return to build a nest in the exact same spot. I let it go for a couple of years — live and let live, I say — but then the jerks began taking advantage of my generous nature. I didn’t mind hearing “cheep cheep cheep” every time I left the house, but after a while the little buggers started dive-bombing me every time I walked up the sidewalk. In addition to the attacks and the noise, the birds coated everything on the front porch with poop. Our chair, our statue, and even the porch lantern are covered in an avian fecal winter wonderland.

Last fall after the birds moved out I sprayed down the abandoned nest using the garden hose. Beginning this spring, I monitored the porch more closely. Any time I saw the slightest hint that the birds were rebuilding, I’d re-spray the corner clean. Surely, I thought, after knocking down the beginnings of a nest ten times, the swallows would get the hint and move along.

We went out of town for four days and returned to a completely built nest, filled with eggs.

Not wanting to knock down a nest full of eggs, I went with Plan B and ordered the Bird B Gone Hawk Decoy from Amazon for around $13. According to Amazon, the Bird B Gone Hawk is designed to strike fear into the hearts of all lesser birds. Before it arrived, I stumbled across an animated owl at a garage sale for only a dollar. I went from owning zero fake birds to two in 48 hours.

Side by side, the fake owl is the more impressive of the two. It’s motion sensitive, which means each time I enter or exit my house, the owl goes “hoo, hoo” and its head spins around like Regan’s in The Exorcist. The plastic hawk is not animated, although its “mock predator eye and shiny reflective surface” (read: plastic) is supposed to be enough to deter birds from approaching.

One morning before work I placed the owl in the corner under the nest and the hawk in the bushes in front of the house.

I came home to discover the owl’s head covered in a layer of white poop, looking like a snow-capped mountain. “Hoo, hoo!” it said as I approached the front door. The owl tried to rotate its mechanical head, but with so much bird poop both on and in the gears, the movement was less than smooth. The hawk fared better; he was leaning at a 45 degree angle, but still inside the bushes. I’m not sure if it was knocked over by the wind or by another animal, but I have my suspicions.

The only effect my two fake birds seem to have had is that now the real birds are more aggressive. They don’t attack the fake birds so much as they now continually attack me. Instead of hanging out in their nest, they now perch on the edge of gutter, dive-bombing me every time I walk up or down the sidewalk.

So there you have it. This was a few weeks ago. I went outside to take a picture of the nest for this post and was attacked by a swallow. If anyone wants a poop-covered owl, a plastic statue of a hawk, or a used sparrow’s nest, shoot me an offer.

The Popcorn Kid

My friend Guy recently sent me a link to an obscure sitcom that only ran for six episodes back in 1987: The Popcorn Kid.

The Popcorn Kid starred Bruce Norris as Scott Creasman, a high school junior who works at the Majestic, an old-style, single screen movie theater located in Kansas City, Missouri. Scott works in the theater’s concession stand along with three of his classmates. There’s Willie Dawson, the African-American star football player; Gwen Stottlemeyer, the sensible, intelligent, and down-to-earth girl; and Lynn Holly Brickhouse, the ditsy and beautiful blonde cheerleader. Also working at the Majestic are Marlin Bond, the projectionist who perhaps has spent too much time cooped up in his booth; and Leonard Brown, manager of the theater and pseudo father figure to the kids.

The characters’ roles are established in the pilot episode. Scott works at the Majestic, and wants to work in the movie business somehow, someday. He’s got a crush on the airheaded Lynn Holly, even though it’s obvious to the audience (and everyone else) that he is destined to end up with Gwen (who shows affection toward Scott). Willie is always late to work because of football practice. Marlin the projectionist plays an aloof Kramer-esque character, constantly quoting scenes from movies that must have gone over 90% of the viewing audience’s head, and manager Leonard is a stereotypical cranky-but-means-well manager who reminded me of Red, the father from That ’70s Show.

Of the six episodes that exist, none are particularly deep, even by sitcom standards. In the pilot episode, off-camera owners threaten to convert the Majestic into a modern multiplex, until Scott earns the theater a stay of execution by convincing the owners the landmark Majestic is worth more as a tax write off. Two of the six episodes revolve around Lynn Holly: in “There She Is, Vic Damone,” Scott tries to find Lynn Holly’s talent to help her win a beauty pageant, and in “The Break Up,” Lynn Holly breaks up an boyfriend who has graduated high school and joined the marines, and Scott ends up as the convenient scapegoat. In “Career Day,” the students decide what they want to do after their stints at the Majestic, which leads to conflict between Scott and his father.

The final two episodes are also the strangest. In “A Day in the Life of Ed Asner,” the theater puts on a film festival in honor of Ed Asner. After Asner arrives at the theater, a tornado appears out of nowhere, which cancels the festival and forces all the employees (along with Asner) down into the basement. Marlin convinces Asner to reenact a scene from one of his old films, and then the episode ends. Some of the jokes in this episode are weird, while others never pay off.

In “A Car, a House, a Mouse and a Louse,” the sixth and final episode, the Majestic is robbed by the world’s most polite and innocent crook. First, the crook has Leonard open the theater’s safe. When that nets next to nothing, he then has Scott retrieve the cash register till from the concession stand. When even that gets him next to nothing, he has all the employees (along with one customer) empty their pockets, which nets the criminal $22. In a final act of desperation, he takes the hubcaps and stereo from Willie’s newly acquired ’53 Chevy. By the end of the episode, I began to wonder how the Majestic was able to keep the lights on while supporting six full time employees. Perhaps the fact that there wasn’t a seventh episode was my answer.

For a show that almost entirely took place in a movie theater, The Popcorn Kid never mentioned any modern movies. It would have been great to see posters from 80s films and maybe even episodes that references those films, but instead we get Milton showing The Day the Earth Stood Still and a tribute to Ed Asner. I get that the Majestic wasn’t your average, mainstream multiplex, but for a show filmed in 1987, save for the neon pink lights and Lynn Holly’s hair, The Popcorn Kid doesn’t feel very 80s at all.

Compared to more successful sitcoms, episodes of The Popcorn Kid lack the punch we’re used to. The conflicts aren’t resolved in any grand way. When saves the Majestic from a modern face lift, it is done off screen and over the phone. When he shares the good news with his co-workers, they barely offer a half-hearted “hooray.”

It’s obvious that the show was just ramping up, and it’s easy to imagine where things might have gone in future episodes. The love triangle between Scott, Lynn Holly and Gwen obviously would have developed over time. Maybe Scott would have become a supervisor at the Majestic, and Willie might have developed into more than just a high school athlete. As it is none of that happened, and the employees of the Majestic remain trapped in the spring of 1987, trying to make it through another day at the concession stand forever.

If you want to check out the show for yourself, here is a YouTube playlist that contains all six episodes. Enjoy!

Link: The Popcorn Kid (YouTube)

That Time I Threw a Nice Lady Across Jack in the Box

I met Von Brown in person for the first time on August 25, 1997, although we had spoken over the phone dozens of times prior to that. Von worked as a Computer Specialist for the FAA in Denver, Colorado, while I worked for the help desk in Oklahoma City. I worked there from the spring of 1995 until the summer of 1996, at which point I myself was hired as a Computer Specialist for the FAA and moved to Spokane, Washington. Both Washington state and Colorado were a part of the Northwest Mountain Region, and so even after I moved, Von and I spoke over the phone and collaborated on projects frequently.

In the summer of 1997, our agency was in the throws of upgrading tens of thousands of workstations from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. Both Von and I had volunteered to travel to Seattle and assist with upgrading the machines there. After speaking to one another over the phone for more than two years, I finally got to meet Von in person. She was roughly the same age as my parents, petite, and as sweet as they come.

After meeting Von in the lobby of our hotel, the next order of business was to find somewhere to eat dinner. We hopped in the rental car, and began driving. Back before I had a GPS, I was always afraid to wander too far from my hotel. The first restaurant we passed was Jack in the Box, and so that’s where we decided to eat. (I’m sure the decision was more mine than Von’s.)

After ordering our dinner, the two of us walked through the mostly empty restaurant and picked a place to sit. We ended up sitting in an atrium with one entire wall made of glass. Von sat with her back to the wall of windows; I sat across from her, looking out the window.

What happened next happened very quickly, and I will never forget it.

Out of the corner of my eye, through the windows behind Von, I saw what I thought was a large black bird flaying through the parking lot toward us. It took a second for my brain to realize that it wasn’t a bird, but a black Honda Civic, flying through the air in our direction.

The car landed maybe fifty feet away from us in the parking lot and began to “barrel roll” toward the restaurant. As I leaped to my feet, Von must have heard the crash and instinctively ducked her head down. In the trunk of the car, a toolbox opened and metal wrenches and sockets began smashing into the restaurant’s windows. My natural reaction was to get Von away from the windows, so I grabbed her by her shirt and, much like a bowling ball, sent her sliding across the restaurant’s floor.

Suddenly, all the noise stopped.

I yelled at the kid behind the counter to call 911, helped Von up off the floor, and then headed for the exit.

Through the glass door I could see the car. It was resting twenty feet away from the restaurant, and upside down. Gas was pouring out of it, and I was afraid the car was going to explode. Roughly twenty feet to the left of the car laying in the parking lot was a guy. He was on his back with his knees bent and appeared dazed, but alive.

I pushed the door open and when I did, it hit a woman. She had been thrown from the car, and had landed head-first on the curbed sidewalk around the restaurant. The impact had split her head open, and I could see her brains. You don’t forget a thing like that. I knelt down beside her and tried to talk to her. She made some sounds, but she couldn’t understand me, and vice versa.

I vaguely remember Von coming up behind me, and me telling her she didn’t want to go out there. I stepped back inside, and she gave me a hug.

In my mind, emergency vehicles arrived almost immediately. Unfortunately for us, one of the first things they did was surround the entire parking lot in yellow accident scene tape, which prevented our car from leaving.

One thing I vividly remember is watching one of the firemen reach inside the upside-down car, unbuckle a child’s car seat, and remove a young child from the car. The id looked to be three or four years old, and had been hanging upside down inside the car the entire time. The kid was completely unharmed.

I spoke with one of the officers on the scene and told him everything I had seen. One of the officers told me that the tint on the restaurant’s windows had kept the tools from sailing through them and sending metal and glass everywhere. A few weeks later when I was back in Spokane, I received a phone call from a different officer, asking me to make a statement over the phone. They told me the woman had died at the scene, the driver was in the hospital, and the kid was fine. He also told me neither of the adults were wearing a seat belt, which is why they were ejected. The driver had come around the corner too quickly, lost control of his car, and slid through the ditch, which is what sent the car into the air.

After almost an hour inside the restaurant, the officers removed the crime scene tape surrounding the parking lot and allowed us to leave. Von and I left Jack in the Box and headed back to the hotel with one heck of a story.

Star Wednesday: Sy Snoodles

By the time Return of the Jedi left theaters, Kenner saw its cash cow begin to fade. Ostensibly to squeeze every last cent out of the trilogy’s fan base, Kenner began releasing action figures for any character who appeared on screen for more than a second, including this one: Sy Snoodles.

Sy Snoodles was the lead singer of Max Rebo’s band, the house band in Jabba the Hutt’s palace. The band’s performance lasts just over a minute in the film, with Ms. Snoodles appearing on screen for approximately 20 seconds.

As a kid who loved both Star Wars and movie special effects, I found Sy Snoodles fascinating. Most of the creatures that appeared in Jabba’s palace were either people in costumes or hand puppets, but the body shape of Sy Snoodles obviously prevented this solution. Bringing the character to life involved connecting rods from Sy’s legs to a dancer’s legs beneath the stage, with a second puppeteer above on a catwalk pulling wires and a third that controlled Sy’s lips.

The end result was an alien-looking character that seemed alive without the use of CGI.

George Lucas has publicly stated that he was “never satisfied” with Sy Snoodles, and in the revised special edition of Return of the Jedi he took advantage of (then) modern technology to replace the original version of Sy with a new, CGI version — sans the feather on her head.

The original Sy Snoodles action figure was not available in a normal single-figure blister pack, and was only available in a three-figure multi-pack that also included Max Rebo and Droopy McCool. The pack was released in 1984 (a full year after Return of the Jedi hit theaters), and by then my interest in new Star Wars toys had begun to fade. I picked up a loose Droopy McCool years ago at Vintage Stock, and found this Sy Snoodles figure at a retro toy store in Denver. Based on that, I just ordered Max Rebo and his electronic organ off of eBay. Finally guys, we’re putting the band back together.

Free NES/SNES Controllers (Review)

In early June I ran across an ad on Facebook for free USB NES controllers. The offer was posted by Epictronics, who said all one had to do to qualify for the offer was “Like” their company on either Facebook or Instagram and cover shipping costs. Not a bad advertising gimmick in my book.

I don’t need another USB game pad, but they’re handy to have around, especially when setting up and playing with Raspberry Pis. Besides, Epictronics had me at “free.” Two minutes after seeing the ad I had already Liked their Facebook page and was busy filling out my order. Along with an NES game pad, I noticed the company also offers a free SNES game pad! Cover the additional shipping and you can add that to your cart, too!

(Note that the URL works whether or not you have liked Epictronics on Facebook or Instagram. Your morals are your own.)

It didn’t take me long to figure out how Epictronics can afford to offer “free” (there’s those quotes again…) game pads in exchange for Facebook and Instagram likes. Shipping for one free controller is $10; for two, it’s $16. Conveniently, Epictronics accepts PayPal for their free game pads. The website was optimistic in predicting the controllers will take 2-3 weeks to arrive to the US. My package from Wang Shang took 5 weeks.

The controllers arrived inside an unpadded plastic bag, wrapped in a thin sheet of foam. Each controller came in its own baggie. The USB cord attached to the SNES pad was neatly coiled and tied with a bread tie, while the NES controller had no tie and the cord was just coiled up inside its bag.

When placed next to authentic NES controllers, you can see that the mold for the new controller is essentially identical. The color is a lighter shade of gray and the word “Nintendo” is missing from the label, but from five-feet away it would fool anyone who hasn’t seen on since the console’s original heyday.

Once you actually pick up the controller, all bets are off. The first thing you’ll notice is that the controllers are so light that you would swear they’re empty inside. The NES controller in particular feels about half as heavy as an originally controller. My thumbs instantly noticed that the A and B buttons were convex instead of concave, which doesn’t feel right. None of the buttons, including the d-pad, feel like the original. On the USB controller, all of the buttons have a poppy feel to them, where the originals felt more mushy. I do have to say the almost 5′ long cord was nice.

Installation could not have been simpler. Windows 10 recognized the controller as a “usb gamepad” almost immediately, and that was that. Ten seconds later, I fired up MAME and played a quick round of Donkey Kong using the NES pad. The buttons felt a little “punchy,” and I suspect they might require breaking in.

Bottom line? You get what you pay for. There are much better USB game pads on the market for just a few dollars more, and if you’re a stickler for authenticity, companies like RetroUSB sell USB adapters for most vintage controllers.

I can only recommend these “free” controllers if, like me, you have half a dozen Raspberry Pi systems that you’re constantly reloading and testing. They’re okay for testing purposes or for letting the kids play with, but real gamers will want a real game pad pretty quickly after using one of these.

RIP Uncle Buddy

If I could only share one story with you about my uncle Buddy, this would be the one.

Around the time Susan and I began dating in 1993 I attempted to impress her with the fact that I visited Chicago “all the time.” What I neglected to tell her was that every time I had ever visited Chicago, I had done so while riding in the back seat of my parents’ car. Susan called my bluff and suggested the two of us should hop in her new car and visit the Windy City on our own. I panicked, and asked my dad for directions (“take I-44 to St. Louis and hang a left at the arch”). Somehow, without a GPS or much common sense, the two of us found both the “big arch” and, eventually, Chicago.

I don’t think we called ahead and told any of my relatives that we were coming to Chicago, but that didn’t really matter as there was always a place to crash once you got there, especially at my grandma’s house. Grandma O lived on the first floor of a two-story house and my aunt Linda and uncle Buddy lived upstairs. Between the front porch, the couches, and my aunt and uncle’s spare bedroom, there was always room for visitors.

Because of our complete lack of planning both my aunt Linda and grandma had to work the day after Susan and I arrived, but uncle Buddy was off and agreed to take us around Chicago.

Let me take a moment to paint this picture. My uncle Buddy was a big guy with tattoos on his arms and damaged vocal chords from accidentally drinking lye as a child. To a twenty-year-old me, he looked like the bad guy in every 70s biker flick (which is funny, once you got to know him). Buddy married my aunt Linda in the late 1980s, so it’s entirely possible that I had only met Buddy a couple of times in person prior this trip, and Susan had never met him at all. So for someone who barely knew us to step up and say “I’ll show you town” on a whim was pretty neat.

The next morning the three of us hopped on the train and headed downtown. We ate lunch at Ricobene’s, and I will never forget it. Susan and I both bought gigantic chicken Parmesan sandwiches that were bigger than our heads. There was no way either of us could finish our sandwiches, so we took our leftovers with us in a paper sack. After lunch the three of us went to the Field Museum and then the Shedd Aquarium, all while carrying around those heavenly-smelling to-go sacks. After a few hours, all that extra marinara sauce and grease began to leak through until the bottoms began to give way. Eventually the bags completely disintegrated and we were forced to dump our soggy sacks and sandwiches into a trash can. If I close my eyes, I can still smell them.

I have lots of memories of uncle Buddy and food. I remember another time Susan and I arrived in Chicago and my uncle said he would throw something on the stove for us for dinner. Thirty minutes later we were upstairs eating fettuccine Alfredo covered with the biggest prawn you ever saw. My uncle Buddy loved to cook and loved food. He loved my aunt Linda, and he loved all of us, too. And we loved him.

Now or Never

I have had many conversations with doctors in regards to my weight throughout the years. Some were lighthearted, like the short chats I used to have with my fellow morbidly-obese doctor back in the early 2000s. “You need to lose some weight,” he would say. “You first!” I would counter, and then we would both share a good belly laugh. Conversations with other doctors were more awkward. My last doctor regularly competed in Iron Man competitions. Googling his name turns up hits of marathon photos. Every conversation I had with him about my weight ended with a condescending “tsk.”

Last month Susan changed doctors, and I changed along with her. I made an appointment with the new doctor this week for a general physical (including lab work) and to discuss some lingering aches and pains and concerns of mine, mostly weight-related. The new doctor responded in a way I hadn’t seen before — with kindness, sympathy, concern, and just a touch of sadness. She went over my concerns with me and explained, if I don’t change my ways, what comes next. I appreciated her frankness, but her sadness had a deeper effect on me.

I have spent the past twenty years trying to lose weight. In that time I have made a million deals with the devil and not once has he come through for me. I have tried many things, including weight-loss surgery, and none of them have panned out for me. It has been a long battle of mind-over-matter that, quite frankly, I lost. To have a doctor tell you you’re fat is one thing. To have one give you one final chance before putting you on a litany of medications is another.

This is it. It’s now or never.

My 24 Greatest “Greatest Hits” CDs

Over the weekend my family and I drove to Denver and back to attend my friend Robb’s wedding (and did a few other things while we were in town, too). Many years ago prior to embarking on a cross-country road trip, picking out the CDs I was going to take with me was an important part of the trip-planning process. Today there is physical price to pay for cramming thousands of songs onto our phones, but back then, more CDs meant more space. Back in the 1990s, the solution to this problem was to purchase lots of “greatest hits” and “best of” compilations that packed lots of great songs onto a single CD.

The first CD wallet I ever owned for my car held a total of 24 discs. In honor of that wallet and my recent trip to Denver, I present to you (in no particular order) 24 of my favorite “greatest hits” CDs. My self-imposed rules for this list were that I had physically purchased the CD at some point in the past, and that each disc was a “greatest hits” album that contained songs from a single performer.

  1. Duran Duran – Decade: Fourteen tracks, twelve of which are classics (I skip “Skin Trade” and “All She Wants Is”). If you owned a radio in the 1980s (or watched MTV for more than ten minutes) then you remember “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Rio,” and “Is There Something I Should Know.” Like all of the discs on this list there aren’t a lot of deep cuts here, but everything on the disc is a classic.
  2. Beach Boys – 20 Good Vibrations: I had this album (or one similar to it) on vinyl when I was a kid. It’s hard to imagine anyone unfamiliar with most (if not all) of the songs on this album — everything from “California Girls” to “Surfin’ U.S.A.” make appearances. Rounding out 19 classic tracks is the more modern “Kokomo“, probably the newest Beach Boys song I know.
  3. The Cars – Greatest Hits: The Cars have released several greatest hits, best of, and anthology collections throughout the years, but Greatest Hits is just what it advertises. Everything from “Shake It Up” to “Just What I Needed” and “Let’s Go” make appearances. You’ll have to buy one of the larger compilations to get tracks like “Moving in Stereo,” “Candy-O,” and “Cruiser,” but there’s not a sour moment on the included thirteen tracks.
  4. Journey – Greatest Hits: With songs like like “Don’t Stop Believin’,”Any Way You Want It” and “Separate Ways,” this album contains an hour’s worth of road trip sing-along songs. The only danger with packing this one is there’s a good chance your passengers may hold their lighters up during “Faithfully” and “Open Arms” and burn your headliner. I can’t think of a single other Journey song I wish they had included.
  5. Billy Idol – Idolize Yourself: With cuts like “White Wedding” and “Mony Mony,” pretty much every Idol classic is included. Growing up, I owned Vital Idol, another Billy Idol compilation that lacked “Rebel Yell” and pre-dated “Cradle of Love,” both of which appear here. Non-fans may bail early when later tracks like “John Wayne” and “New Future Weapon” arrive, but the first 13-14 tracks will have you dancing with yourself.
  6. Blondie – The Best of Blondie: – I grew up listening to my dad’s copy of this album. Originally released in 1981, I don’t see a reason to buy anything newer. With hits like “Call Me,” “One Way or Another,” and “Heart of Glass,” This one has all the hits I need. Plus, it always impresses my kids when I know every word to the rap from “Rapture” and I get to explain to them that Fab Five Freddy was a real guy.
  7. Prince – The Very Best of Prince: – If this disc has any drawback it’s that it only contains four tracks from Purple Rain, which is practically a greatest hits offering in its own right. Along with “When Doves Cry” and “Purple Rain,” you get tracks before that like “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” and ones after like “Raspberry Beret,” “Kiss,” and “U Got the Look.” There are a few too many New Power Generation tracks toward the end for my taste, but that doesn’t detract from the dozen solid tracks that precede them. (PS: It’s pretty hard to find Prince tracks on YouTube.)
  8. Styx – Greatest Hits: – This album contains every Styx song I love including “Renegade“, “Sail Away,” and “Mr. Roboto,” and a couple that are just okay. This album surprises everyone with how many Styx songs they know.
  9. Huey Lewis and the News – Time Flies…: Released in ’96, Time Flies includes twelve solid Huey Lewis hits including “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” “Workin’ for a Livin’,” and “Heart and Soul,” and four previously unreleased tracks that I could mostly live without. Still, a dozen clean, fun tracks on the road makes for an hour of entertainment.
  10. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Chronicle: This is the only Creedence album I ever owned. Twenty great songs; not a bad one in the bunch. “Long As I Can See the Light” will break you down on a long, dark road, while “Travelin’ Band” will bounce you right back.
  11. The Police – Greatest Hits: There are other great songs from both Sting and the Police, but this is a great collection of their hits from the late 70s/early 80s. It’s got most of the classic radio singles like “Everything She Does is Magic” and “Message in a Bottle” without all the solo-Sting stuff that nobody (except Sting) wants to hear. The album’s one shortcoming is that the classic “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” has been replaced with an inferior and unnecessarily updated version, a downright baffling decision.
  12. Phil Collins – Greatest Hits: A quick scan on Amazon reveals that Phil Collins has released almost as many greatest hits packages as he’s had great hits, and that’s saying something. The CD I own contains sixteen tracks and pre-dates “I Can’t Dance,” which is just fine with me. “Take Me Home” and “I Wish It Would Rain” are just two of the album’s stand out tracks. To this day, I’ve yet to meet anyone actually name “Sussudio.”
  13. Billy Joel – Greatest Hits Vol. 1&2: Maybe it’s cheating to include a double-disc package, but let’s assume I would cram both discs into one sleeve. This compilation kicks off with “Piano Man” and never lets up. No matter what happens, “She’s Always a Woman to Me“. Two solid discs of classic road trip songs.
  14. Elton John – Greatest Hits Vol. 1: This is a CD you can find for 99 cents in every pawn shop (it’s the one with Elton in a white suit, hat and sunglasses sitting at his piano). It contains 11 classic classics from the man himself including “Daniel” and “Rocket Man“. The only glaring omission from this era is my favorite Elton John song, “Tiny Dancer.”
  15. Elvis – Elv1s: I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Elvis, but it’s tough to go wrong with 30 #1 hits from the King. My only complaint about this one is there are a lot of slow jams that may mess up your road-trip vibe. With 30 songs on a single disc to choose from, the slow ones are easy enough to skip — besides, what’s a road trip without “Jailhouse Rock” and “All Shook Up“?
  16. The Beatles – 1s: Another collection of number one hits, this time from our four friends from Liverpool. Today I keep a dozen Beatles albums on my phone at all times, but back when space was at a premium, this was a great way to keep 27 classic Beatles tracks on a single disc. Includes two of my favorites, “Day Tripper” and “Paperback Writer.”
  17. Hall and Oates – Greatest Hits–Rock ‘n’ Soul, Part 1: There are a couple of different greatest hits packages from this popular duo, but this is the one I grew up with. Here you get 11 solid tracks and a live version of “Wait for Me” that is just as good, if not better, than the original. If I were ever going to sing karaoke I would sing either “She’s Gone” or “Sara Smile,” but since I never will, the next best thing are my car performances.
  18. Heart – These Dreams: Seventeen classic Heart tracks, including tracks from the 70s (“Heartless” and 80s (“Alone“). Like the Police greatest hits, Heart opted to include an alternate version of one of their most popular tracks, this time a live version of the rocker “Barracuda.” This is easily fixable today, but back in the day it was pretty annoying not to have the original cut.
  19. Whitesnake – Whitesnake’s Greatest Hits: I almost didn’t list this one because, to be honest, I’d almost prefer to have the band’s 1987 self-titled album with me instead. Of course you get “Still of the Night” and “Here I Go Again” along with a few older tracks like “Slide it In” and “Slow an’ Easy,” but you lose tracks like “Bad Boys” and “Children of the Night,” two of my favorites.
  20. Rick Springfield – The Best of Rick Springfield: Yet another musician who has recorded a ton of songs that don’t appear on this compilation, but everything I want from Rick is here. Plenty of rock anthems to sing along to in the car here including “Love Somebody,” “I’ve Done Everything For You,” and of course, “Jesse’s Girl.” Unless you’re a fan of Springfield’s newer work, this CD is all you need.
  21. Men at Work – Contraband (The Best Of): Often written off as a one hit wonder by 80s revisionists, Men at Work had a long series of hits, all of which appear here. Sure, “Man Down Under” made the cut, but you also get “It’s a Mistake,” “Be Good Johnny,” and one of my favorite songs of all time, “Overkill.”
  22. Michael Jackson – Number Ones: The third artist on my list who can release an entire album full of number one hits. Occasionally I skip some of the tracks like “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” just because I’ve heard them a million times, but “Thriller,” “Smooth Criminal,” and “Dirty Diana” always get play.
  23. Joe Jackson – Steppin’ Out: Unrelated to Michael, I discovered Joe Jackson through his single (and one of my favorite songs of all time) “Steppin’ Out.” It wasn’t until I purchased this CD that I discovered “Sunday Papers,” the sentimental “Be My Number Two,” and early punk track “Look Sharp!
  24. Queen – Greatest Hits: Yes, we’ve all heard “We Are the Champions” and “Another One Bites the Dust” a zillion times, but so what? “You’re My Best Friend,” “Killer Queen,” and “Bicycle Race” are all road-trip classics. And just when you think your eyelid are drooping and you don’t think you can drive another mile, throw on “We Will Rock You,” pull out the air guitar, and nail that solo as you put the pedal to the metal and cruise off into the sunset.

Here are a few honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut. Like all the albums listed above, I own all of these on CD and have them on my phone as well.

  • Fat Boys – The Best of the Fat Boys: While technically there’s nothing wrong with this greatest hits package, it’s a little light on tracks from the first two albums and contains all the group’s novelty tracks including “The Twist,” “Wipeout,” and “Are You Ready For Freddy.” Plus, there’s just so much of the Human Beat Box my wife can handle on a road trip.
  • Weird Al – Greatest Hits: The problem with this disc isn’t what’s on it, it’s what’s not on it. Weird Al is one of two artists (along with the Beastie Boys) of which I have purchased every single studio release. I’ve converted them all to mp3 and have them all stored on my phone. Limiting Al to only ten tracks (even if they include classics like “Dare to Be Stupid” and “One More Minute“) isn’t just a crime… it’s WEIRD.
  • Def Leppard – Vault (Greatest Hits): The problem with Def Leppard is that I like the earlier stuff and not the later stuff. “Photograph,” “High and Dry,” “Foolin’” and even “Rock of Ages” are still classics, but by the time the band dips into “Animal” and pouring sugar on each other, they lose me. I’d rather just bring along the first two albums.
  • Rod Stewart – Greatest Hits: Nothing bad to say about this one. If my CD wallet held 25 discs, this one would have made the cut.
  • Public Enemy – The Best of Public Enemy: Another album with very little fat on the bone. In 11 tracks, PE takes listeners from “Welcome to the Terrordome” and ends with “Bring Tha Noize,” with all the band’s best classics in between. Like the Fat Boys, the only reason it’s not on in the virtual CD wallet is because my wife can’t take me shouting “Fight the Power” over and over on long stretches of highway. I have the first four or five PE albums on my phone at all times and will have played something from each of them by the time I get to Arizona.

    That’s the end of my list! What other greatest hits albums should have made the list, and which ones shouldn’t have?