A greatest hits album (sometimes referred to as a "best of" album) is a compilation album of successful, previously released songs by a particular music artist or band. To increase the appeal of the album – especially to people who already own the previously released material – it is common to include remixes or alternate takes of popular songs or new material, with new songs often being released as singles (and themselves sometimes becoming successful). Madonna's The Immaculate Collection is the best selling greatest hits compilation by a solo artist; all of the songs on it are presented in different versions than the original hit versions. The Eagles' Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) is the best selling greatest hits compilation by a group and also one of the ten best selling albums in history. Johnny Mathis's Johnny's Greatest Hits (1958) is generally considered the first greatest hits album. It was popular, remaining on the Billboard Top Albums Chart for a then record-breaking 490 continuous weeks. Greatest hits albums are typically produced after an artist has had enough successful songs to fill out an album release. Some artists, such as The Beatles, Kenny Rogers, Aerosmith, Kiss, Los Tigres del Norte, Queen and Billy Joel, have released multiple greatest hits albums through their career. Some greatest hits albums are released only at the end of the artist or group's career, as was Modern Talking's The Final Album. Creed released a greatest hits album after they decided to break up. Creed has since reunited and released their latest album, Full Circle, in 2009.
In British pop music, when a band releases a greatest hits album, in most cases after three or four studio albums, it is usually taken as a sign that the band are about to split up. Examples include greatest hits albums by Atomic Kitten, Steps, S Club 7, Blue, Spice Girls and Take That, although the latter band would reform nine years later. Recent exceptions to this "rule" include Westlife, Girls Aloud, McFly and Sugababes, who have released new material after their greatest hits collections.
Some bands refuse to release a greatest hits album, notably AC/DC and Metallica. Manic Street Preachers initially refused to do a greatest hits, but in the end Forever Delayed was released. Radiohead also refused to do such a compilation, but upon their departure from Parlophone Records, Radiohead: The Best of was released without their cooperation. The country music star Garth Brooks long opposed the release of a greatest hits collection, but agreed to it in 1994 but only for a limited time (his release, The Hits was quickly deleted, but not until selling well over ten million copies). Joni Mitchell also resisted releasing a greatest hits album for many years, reportedly fearing that the availability of a greatest hits compilation would lead her record label to take her actual studio albums out of print, but she agreed to release Hits in 1996 along with a second album titled Misses, which compiled non-hit songs that Mitchell personally selected as being representative of her work.
Greatest hits collections can also boost a falling music career. The Beautiful South's first greatest hits album, Carry on up the Charts, was originally strongly opposed by the band. However, upon release it became one of the fastest selling albums in chart history.
A few artists feel that their individual songs should ideally be listened to in context of the other songs in their original albums, and taking out simply the greatest hits of that context would diminish all the work put into the album as a whole.
Another criticism has been including one or two new songs with a package of hits. This trend started in the early 1980s, and made it necessary for collectors to purchase the "greatest hits" album if they wished to have the complete catalog of an artist's songs, even if those collectors owned all the albums containing the pre-existing hits. However, with online music stores now available, people can just download the new songs.
In 2005, some greatest hits albums became ridiculed because many young "pre-mature" artists were releasing them. The likes of Hilary Duff, 'N Sync, and Mandy Moore released greatest hits albums though they might have had only a handful of hit singles in their short careers. This is not, however, a new phenomenon: Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, for example, issued Greatest Hits in 1971, three years after their first top 40 pop hit. Jason Donovan had a hits album out in 1991, only two years after he debuted; Ol' Dirty Bastard released The Dirty Story: The Best of ODB after two albums and three singles.
The quality of a greatest hits package released early in an artist's career depends upon the artist. Elvis Presley released Elvis' Golden Records in 1958, which only covered 1956–1958, although this album still sells today, remaining in print on Compact Disc, despite the countless Presley hits collections issued since. The Bee Gees released Best of Bee Gees in 1969, only two years after their international debut, yet 9 of the 12 tracks were hit singles in America. Sly and the Family Stone released their Greatest Hits album in 1970, after only three years. Ringo Starr's Blast From Your Past and John Lennon's Shaved Fish came out in 1975, after five-year solo careers (both had been in The Beatles). All of these compilations were well-received and continue to garner critical kudos.    
In Japan, it is common for artists to have "greatest hits" compilations released early in their career. Many acts release a compilation after three albums, which commonly means after only three year of career in the music market. Ayumi Hamasaki, Mai Kuraki, Hikaru Utada, Glay and Greeeen are a few examples. Many times, the decision of having a greatest hits released is due to the popularity of the artist at the moment, which results in bigger sales. It is also common for the Japanese artists to have many compilations throughout their careers.
A recent trend is for television shows to release greatest hits DVDs as a way to get new viewers interested in the show. Two examples of this are the Family Guy's Freakin' Sweet Collection and South Park: The Hits. Several video game companies have game rereleases after they have sold a certain number; Sony's PlayStation has a "Greatest Hits" banner; Nintendo has the Player's Choice label; and Microsoft has the Xbox Platinum Hits label. The European title (and original North American title) for Guitar Hero: Smash Hits was Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits.
A greatest hits album (sometimes referred to as a "best of" album) is a compilation album of successful, previously released songs by a particular music artist or band. To increase the appeal of the album – especially to people who already own the previously released material – it is common to include remixes or alternate takes of popular songs or new material, with new songs often being released as singles (and themselves sometimes becoming successful).