The perennial enthusiasm for musical box sets—whether as gifts for loved ones or for ourselves—seems to continue unabated this year, partly because the format allows record companies to repackage and market material that already has been recorded; partly because these totemic items remain coveted by collectors and fans; and partly because milestones requiring retail recognition continually pile up as time passes.
For music-history buffs, available this year are 20th-anniversary re-releases of Nirvana's Nevermind and U2's Achtung Baby, a 25th-annversary edition of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, and 40th-year nods to Derek and the Dominos' Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Jethro Tull's Aqualung.
The big box-set news in the Old Pueblo this season is the 12-LP Calexico collection, Road Map 1998-2011, which rounds up previously self-released tour albums (heretofore available only on CDs at live gigs) from throughout the popular Tucson band's storied and still-thriving career. You may have seen it mentioned in these pages before. We haven't actually heard it, because the release date is Nov. 22, but anticipation among music buffs locally and far afield is high, possibly because only 1,100 copies will be released worldwide.
The hand-numbered Calexico box is vinyl-only, increasing its fetishistic value. It includes bonus MP3 downloads; a screen-printed, linen-wrapped slipcase; and a 40-page booklet featuring all sorts of ephemera, as well as liner notes by rock critic Fred Mills, my friend and colleague. If you feel like investing $130, you can order it by going to calexico.myshopify.com.
Herein, we examine only a small selection of some of the season's other promising doorstops. Savvy shoppers may be able to find these items priced lower than the amounts listed here. (Beware: Other sellers may charge more, too.)
The Smile Sessions Box Set
CAPITOL; 5 CDS, 2 LPS, 2 7-INCH SINGLES; $139.99
The holy grail. For the first time, the Beach Boys faithful get blessed with the collected sessions for the band's legendary 1966-1967 sessions for the never-completed SMiLE album. The archival music comprises multiple session takes, and there are oodles of art and collectible extras, as well as a 60-page booklet featuring extensive essays, comprehensive documentation, and liner notes by all the surviving band members, including Brian Wilson.
Old School: 1964-1974
BIGGER PICTURE; 4 CDS, 1 DVD, 1 LP, 1 7-INCH SINGLE; $259.99
There are big production values in this box set. It comes in what is basically the top half of a school desk and focuses on Cooper's early career, with four discs of music dating to 1964 to 1974. Rarities, demos and spoken word abound, and the vinyl LP is a complete "bootleg"-style concert from the 1971 Killer tour in St. Louis. Also included are a 64-page, full-color yearbook-style book, two tour programs, ticket stubs and lots of other goodies.
Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1
SONY LEGACY; 3 CDS, 1 DVD; $34
Many, many box sets exist for Miles fanatics, and a handful were released this year alone. This is one of the best, though, and a great deal. As the title suggests, this documents live performances on the continent with one of Davis' best bands—featuring saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and amazing drummer Tony Williams—transitioning from hard bop and cool jazz, and looking toward a proto-fusion future. With a DVD featuring 11 live cuts.
Your Past Comes Back to Haunt You
DUST TO DIGITAL; 5 CDS; $87.21
The holy grail, part two. Released 10 years after Fahey's death, this set documents early recordings by the legendary, mercurial acoustic-guitar genius, encompassing 115 remastered tracks, most of which are available on CD for the first time. An accompanying book features several essays by music scholars, friends and collaborators, as well as the transcript from a previously unpublished 1967 interview.
Take a Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia
SONY LEGACY; 11 CDS, 1 DVD; $148.78
Is Aretha not the pinnacle of soul music? This set includes her seven full-length albums for Columbia, recorded in the 1960s before her world-changing work for Atlantic. Also collected here is previously unreleased material, such as the album A Bit of Soul, as well as her collaborations with producers Bobby Scott and Clyde Otis. A bonus CD includes singles produced by Bob Johnston and rarities that were "sweetened" and released after Aretha left the label. The obligatory 48-page book includes tributes from partners, collaborators and artists she influenced. Some fans will be drawn to the DVD, which shows the Queen of Soul alone at the piano, performing several songs on The Steve Allen Show in 1964.
Smokestack Lighting: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960
HIP-O SELECT; 4 CDS; $72.10
Arguably the greatest blues singer, Mississippi's Chester Arthur Burnett began recording 60 years ago in Memphis. The 97 tracks here (including many rarities) document the first decade or so of the legend's work, and trace his transition to playing in Chicago. A 45-page booklet is filled with historic photos and two sets of liner notes. Life isn't complete without hearing Wolf singing the Willie Dixon-penned classics "Wang Dang Doodle," "Back Door Man" and "Spoonful."
The Dark Side of the Moon: Immersion Box Set
CAPITOL; 8 CDS; $119.99
The Floyd have kicked off a massive reissue project that will eventually provide exhaustive editions, such as this one, for each of the band's albums. The best-selling 1973 classic here gets the deluxe treatment with digitally remastered versions of the original, as well as alternative mixes, outtakes, rare and unreleased audio and video material, a 40-page booklet, photos and various collectible merch.
HOLLYWOOD; 10 CDS; $49.99
Marking the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the legendary British hard-rock band, this box set (the first of three volumes) collects the deluxe, remastered two-CD re-releases of Queen's first five studio albums. Each reissue is available separately, too, in case you only like, say, Sheer Heart Attack or A Day at the Races. Completists will want to seek out Volumes 2 and 3, which will expand on the legacy by collecting subsequent releases in a similar format.
The Rolling Stones
The Complete Singles (1971-2006)
HIP-O; 45 CD SINGLES; $162.74
It's the Stones, man! Most of their seminal singles are included here in remastered versions, each contained on a separate disc packaged like an old 45-rpm record. They're all contained in one lavish box that also includes a 32-page hardback book packed with memorabilia, period photos and an exclusive interview with former bassist Bill Wyman.