Madonna's The Immaculate Collection (1990) 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) (1976) is the best selling greatest hits compilation by a group and also one of the ten best selling albums in history. Greatest hits albums are typically produced after an artist has had enough successful songs to fill out an album release. Some artists, such as Selena, David Bowie, Cliff Richard, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Kenny Rogers, Aerosmith, Kiss, TLC, Dolly Parton, Journey, Los Tigres del Norte, Queen, Take That, Kylie Minogue and Billy Joel, have released multiple greatest hits albums through their long careers. Some greatest hits albums are released only at the end of the artist or group's career. For example, My Chemical Romance released a greatest hits album May Death Never Stop You: The Greatest Hits 2001–2013 in 2014 after they disbanded. Other artists have released hits albums in the middle of their careers. Carrie Underwood released her greatest hits album, Decade #1, in 2014 after ten years of recording music since winning American Idol, which proceeded her RIAA-certified platinum album Storyteller in 2015, and her 2018 album Cry Pretty.
Some bands refuse to release a greatest hits album, notably AC/DC, Tool and Metallica (AC/DC, however, has released two compilation albums in the past: in 1986 Who Made Who and in 2010 Iron Man 2, which are both movie soundtracks). Manic Street Preachers initially refused to do a greatest hits, but in the end Forever Delayed was released in 2002. A later release, National Treasures - The Complete Singles (2011), was selected and endorsed by the band. Radiohead also refused to do such a compilation, but upon their departure from Parlophone Records, Radiohead: The Best Of was released in 2008 without their cooperation. This was initially to be the case with Oasis, but realizing that the release was inevitable, the band took direct involvement with the album, titled Stop the Clocks (2006) and selected the track listing, track order, artwork and title. Oasis later endorsed a second collection, Time Flies... 1994–2009 (2010) although, as a singles collection, they had less control over its contents.. 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). Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, known for her eclectic interest in different musical styles, 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. She agreed to release Hits in 1996 along with a second album titled Misses, which came out that same year, and the latter compiled non-hit songs that Mitchell personally selected as being representative of her work. Mitchell's assumptions proved correct as both releases earned mixed to positive critical reviews.
One of the most notorious examples of a greatest hits compilation released against the artists' intentions is U.K. rock group The Rolling Stones' compilation Hot Rocks 1964–1971 (1971). The music magazine Rolling Stone remarked that the album served as a "beautifully packaged... purely mercenary item put together by the Stones' former record company to cash in on the Christmas season and wring some more bucks out in the name of the Mod Princes they once owned." After their manager tricked the band into signing over the copyrights to their 1963-1970 song catalog, the band did succeed in changing management and record labels. However, they could neither prevent the release of Hot Rocks nor its successor, which was titled More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies) (1972). A testament to the selling power of greatest hits albums, Hot Rocks remains the best selling album of the Rolling Stones' career. Note that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards continue to collect significant songwriting royalties from the Hot Rocks sales, but not the ownership royalties.
Greatest hits collections can also boost a falling music career. The Beautiful South's first greatest hits album, Carry On up the Charts (1994), was originally strongly opposed by the band. However, upon release it became one of the fastest selling albums in chart history.
Often, a greatest hits VHS or DVD collection was released, which featured the music videos to the hits (long before streaming websites like YouTube existed). These were often released concurrently with a greatest hits album (a more recent example being the Oasis release Time Flies... 1994–2009). However, sometimes, a greatest hits VHS or DVD can be released as a solo release without a companion album (a good example being the Guns N' Roses VHS/DVD Welcome to the Videos, released in 1998. Guns N' Roses would eventually release a greatest hits album in 2004). Another example of a video greatest hits without a companion audio album would be Positive Mental Octopus by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, released in 1990. However, in 1992, the band released a video called What Hits!?, which contained all the videos from Positive Mental Octopus (1990) and also had an accompanying album. Occasionally, a DVD release will feature music videos for singles that were not included on the greatest hits album. Whilst the greatest hits album might only contain a small number of singles, a DVD release will often contain all the band's music videos up until that point. Two examples of this are Blur's The Best of DVD (2000) and Jamiroquai's High Times: Singles 1992–2006 (2006). Queen have released Greatest Video Hits 1 (2002) and Greatest Video Hits 2 (2003).
Several bands that have experienced highly varied chart success (such as being labeled 'one hit wonders' or 'two hit wonders') have released albums using comedic titles (including things such as puns) in reference to that fact in their "best of" albums. Two examples are Men Without Hats, a Canadian new wave group, who released Greatest Hats (1996) as well as the Michael Stanley Band, a U.S. rock n roll group, who released Greatest Hints (1979). Notably, the U.S. progressive rock band Dream Theater directly poked fun at itself with the release Greatest Hit (...And 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs) (2008), which came out on Rhino Records on April 1, 2008; the album referred openly to how their single "Pull Me Under" has such outsize knowledge compared to the rest of the band's discography.
Some radio stations are emerging that only play greatest hits albums as their source material.