Collectors Choice's 2005 release Greatest Hits is the best career overview yet assembled on Billy Swan, the roots rocker who straddled the line between country, old-time rock & roll, and the pop charts in the '70s. Swan is best known for his number one 1974 single "I Can Help," a bouncy throwback to late-'50s rock & roll that owed a lot to Elvis Presley. It was sunny, infectious, and irresistible, making it an unexpected hit, and while he followed its blueprint for the rest of his '70s recordings, he never had another hit of the same magnitude, probably because he was too devoted to the style and sound of early rock & roll. That made him a better fit for the country charts, but listening to Greatest Hits several decades after these tunes were recorded, Swan seems less like a country artist but like one of the first roots rockers who would later pop up in the '80s. Like those roots rockers, Swan could write exceptional originals in the vein of classic rock & roll, while picking excellent cover songs, both familiar and obscure -- plus, he was savvy enough to switch up the arrangements on some of the more familiar material, as when he gave "Don't Be Cruel" a brooding, downbeat arrangement. These are the skills that make Greatest Hits so much fun for anybody with an affection for old-time rock & roll. While this disc doesn't have all of his charting singles from the '70s, it's an expertly chosen, very listenable 20-track set that captures the essence of his career. Plus it has good sound and excellent liner notes from Todd Everett, making it far and away the best Billy Swan compilation yet assembled. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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