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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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Do 'Close Door' Buttons in Elevators Actually Do Anything?
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When you’re running late for work, one small comfort is finding an empty elevator waiting for you at your office building. You scurry inside, and since no one else is waiting to enter, you jab the 'close door' button. The doors comply, the elevator starts moving, and you breathe a sigh of relief.

This is a familiar scenario for many, but it’s also a big fat lie. That’s because most of the door-close buttons in U.S. elevators don’t actually work. In fact, they’re programmed that way.

But before you get ready to send off a strongly worded email to your office building’s elevator manufacturer, you may want to hear why this is the case. When the Americans With Disabilities Act was first passed in 1990, certain requirements for elevators were outlined, such as the installation of raised buttons, braille signs, and audible signals.

The act ensured that someone with a disability would have enough time to get inside, stipulating that elevator doors must remain fully open for at least three seconds and thereby preventing the button from cutting that time short. Some elevator manufacturers took it one step further by deactivating the button entirely.

Since the life span of an elevator is about 25 years and the Disabilities Act has been around for 28 years, it’s safe to assume that most of the elevators in operation today do not have a functioning 'close door' button, The New York Times reports. Only firefighters are able to close elevator doors manually through the use of a key.

It's important to note that there are exceptions to this rule, though. As the New York Daily News noted, New York City elevators are required by law to have working 'close door' buttons, even though some operate on a long delay (so long, in fact, that it calls the button's usefulness into question).

However, you’re in luck if you’re taking a lift (which, of course, is British for “elevator”). 'Close door' buttons are fully functional in most elevators in the UK, according to The Telegraph. A spokesman for the Lift and Escalator Industry Association told the newspaper that not all elevators have the button, but when they’re present, they do work. Again, the time it takes for the doors to shut after pressing the button varies from lift to lift.

While U.S. elevator manufacturers have a seemingly good reason for disabling the 'close door' button, some may question the point of propagating the myth and installing a button that serves no purpose in the first place. In response, some would argue that placebo buttons serve an important psychological function in society.

"Perceived control is very important," Harvard psychologist Ellen J. Langer told The New York Times. "It diminishes stress and promotes well-being."

That’s right: By believing that you’re in control of your fate—or at least how quickly you can make it up to the sixth floor—you’re better off. It doesn’t end with elevators, either. Buttons placed at city crosswalks are often disabled, and the thermostats in many office buildings are rigged so that the temperature can’t be altered (even if the numbers appear to change).

Some might swear up and down that elevator 'close door' buttons work, but this, too, could be your brain deceiving you. As author David McRaney wrote in an essay: “If you happen to find yourself pressing a nonfunctional close-door button, and later the doors close, you’ll probably never notice because a little spurt of happiness will cascade through your brain once you see what you believe is a response to your action. Your behavior was just reinforced. You will keep pressing the button in the future.”

According to The New Yorker, these buttons are designed to alleviate some of the subconscious anxiety that comes from stepping inside a tiny box that's hoisted up some 20 or 40 or 80 floors by a cable: “Elevator design is rooted in deception—to disguise not only the bare fact of the box hanging by ropes but also the tethering of tenants to a system over which they have no command."

So now you know: Next time you’re running late to work, take comfort in the fact that those few extra seconds you would’ve saved by pressing a functioning 'close door' button aren’t worth all that much in the long run.

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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What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
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Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

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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