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How Did The Eagles' Greatest Hits Become the Best-Selling Album of the 20th Century?

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It may not always seem like it, but most things in this world make sense. Occam has his razor, and what goes up must come down. Occasionally, however, a cosmic curve ball is thrown that makes you question just how logical our little universe really is. For example, the fact that the best-selling album in America in the 20th century was the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975.

Now, it’s not a bad album by any means. “Take It Easy” is a good song, as are “Desperado” and “One of These Nights.” But how has a run-of-the-mill best-of collection sold more than 29 million copies? How did it, in 1999, manage to surpass Michael Jackson’s Thriller—a moon-landing of an LP—as the best-selling album in American history? (Thriller would reclaim the top spot 10 years later, following Jackson’s death.)

The album's success was a mild surprise from the beginning. According to Rolling Stone, the band's record label, Asylum, had grown frustrated with how long the Eagles were taking to finish Hotel California and decided to crank out a compilation album in order to raise revenue in time for the end of the first fiscal quarter.

When Their Greatest Hits was released in 1976, “best of” albums were a relatively new phenomenon in rock and pop music. The album’s initial success prompted a trend piece in The New York Times, one that included primers on nine other new best-of compilations.

“It’s no wonder that record companies love to market these collections,” the Times’ Henry Edwards rationalized. “They cost almost nothing to produce; they sell with a minimum of advertising; and they are spared bad reviews by pop critics who, for the most part, ignore them.” (This didn’t prevent Edwards from slipping in some critical musings: “A genuine gift for melody coupled with vigorous playing and harmonizing occasionally enables the Eagles to overcome the vacuity of their recent hits.”) While Edwards understood why these albums were so beloved by labels, he couldn’t predict how fervently fans would eat them up.

Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 debuted at number four on the Billboard 200 album chart when it was released on February 17, 1976. Less than a month later, it reached number one and stayed in the top spot for five weeks before being usurped by Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! Still, Their Greatest Hits kept selling. And selling. And selling.

"It was never the biggest thing ever," Carl Mello, the senior buyer for Boston-based record chain store Newbury Comics told Rolling Stone, "but each year it just sold tons and tons and tons."

Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 came out just 10 months before Hotel California, and the timing proved to be serendipitous. Songs from that massively popular later album obviously weren’t included on Their Greatest Hits and, as Rolling Stone’s Steve Knopper wrote, this “forced new Eagles fans to pick up both LPs on record-store runs for decades.”

The Eagles broke up in 1980, but their sound was perfectly suited for rock radio. (When Their Greatest Hits was released, the Village Voice’s Robert Christgau wrote in a bite-sized review that the 10 collected songs were “probably a must for those who've concluded [The Eagles] are geniuses by listening to the radio.”) This carried over to the classic rock format that came to dominate the airwaves and, as anyone who has ever listened to the radio in the last 40 years can attest, an Eagles song is never too far away. (If you share The Dude’s opinion of the Eagles, however, this isn’t necessarily a good thing.)

This steady churn resulted in the album going platinum 26 times by the fall of 1999. Its success meant that record labels no longer hesitated to put out best-of compilations at any point during an artist's career. The Eagles, naturally, are a great example of this: The band managed to put out seven original albums in total; fans looking to buy an Eagles best-of album have 10 different collections from which to choose.

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
How Long Could a Person Survive With an Unlimited Supply of Water, But No Food at All?
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How long could a person survive if he had unlimited supply of water, but no food at all?

Richard Lee Fulgham:

I happen to know the answer because I have studied starvation, its course, and its utility in committing a painless suicide. (No, I’m not suicidal.)

A healthy human being can live approximately 45 to 65 days without food of any kind, so long as he or she keeps hydrated.

You could survive without any severe symptoms [for] about 30 to 35 days, but after that you would probably experience skin rashes, diarrhea, and of course substantial weight loss.

The body—as you must know—begins eating itself, beginning with adipose tissue (i.e. fat) and next the muscle tissue.

Google Mahatma Gandhi, who starved himself almost to death during 14 voluntary hunger strikes to bring attention to India’s independence movement.

Strangely, there is much evidence that starvation is a painless way to die. In fact, you experience a wonderful euphoria when the body realizes it is about to die. Whether this is a divine gift or merely secretions of the brain is not known.

Of course, the picture is not so pretty for all reports. Some victims of starvation have experienced extreme irritability, unbearably itchy skin rashes, unceasing diarrhea, painful swallowing, and edema.

In most cases, death comes when the organs begin to shut down after six to nine weeks. Usually the heart simply stops.

(Here is a detailed medical report of the longest known fast: 382 days.)

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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