Need a solid last-minute holiday gift for the music fans in your life? Look no further …
Check out some box set gift ideas below for the music enthusiast on your list. Most of them are also available in various configurations such as single/double CDs, LPs and digital formats, catering to fans of all sizes and intensity …
The lowdown: Rolling Stone placed this seminal 1968 debut release from The Band on its 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time list. While best known song “The Weight” wasn’t a huge hit here upon release, a later version by Aretha Franklin proved successful. Since then, everyone from Weezer and Travis to The Staple Singers, Jackie DeShannon and Diane Ross & the Supremes with The Temptations have tackled the classic tune. The quintet’s former employer, Bob Dylan, had a hand in writing three of the songs during The Basement Tapes sessions (“This Wheels on Fire,” “I Shall Be Released,” “Tears of Rage”) and painted the memorable album cover.
What’s inside: Music from Big Pink has been remixed and expanded for an excellent 50th Anniversary box set. It includes the album on CD and 2LP, plus a Blu-ray featuring a new stereo and 5.1 surround sound mix in High Resolution Audio by Bob Clearmountain taken from the original four-track analog masters. Rolling Stone writer David Fricke, in an informative booklet essay, writes that primary composers Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel “wrote like determined modernists with public domain souls.” There also is a 7-inch vinyl single reproduction of “The Weight/I Shall Be Released,” plenty of Elliot Landy’s black and white photos and studio master tape box reproductions. Five bonus tracks comprising outtakes or alternate recordings from the same sessions and an amazing previously unreleased a cappella version of “I Shall Be Released” are all worthy additions.
(Apple Corps Ltd./Capitol/UMe)
The lowdown: Among The Fab Four’s most successful and eclectic albums, The Beatles sported a plain white cover and topped the Billboard chart in December 1968. With John, Paul, George and Ringo exerting more influence in the studio and recording in various combinations, the 30-track double LP included such enduring classics as “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (with Eric Clapton guesting on guitar), “Blackbird,” “Birthday,” “Helter Skelter” and more.
What’s inside: Producer Giles Martin and engineer Sam Okell did a pristine new mix in stereo and 5.1 surround audio. The 50th Anniversary super deluxe box set is astounding; the 27 Esher acoustic demos, revelatory. Most of the 50 session takes are previously unreleased and equally fascinating. The six CDs and Blu-ray disc (high resolution PCM stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby True HD 5.1, direct transfer of the original mono mix) come housed in a lavish, slip-sleeved 164-page hardbound book filled rare photographs, handwritten lyric reproductions, print ads, introductions by Martin and Paul McCartney, a detailed making of the album and songs, time period perspective and background from Beatles author/historian Kevin Howlett, journalist/author John Harris and British museum curator Andrew Wilson.
The lowdown: For most of the Nineties, David Bowie’s tours were all about the “here and now,” with a few hits tossed into the set once in a while (and those were often heavily reworked onstage). Yet when the rock legend headlined England’s Glastonbury Festival for the first time in 29 years on June 25, 2000, he had relented on those restrictions. The two-hour, 21-song set finds Bowie in fine form and features well-known singles like “Rebel Rebel,” “The Man Who Sold the World,” “Changes,” “China Girl,” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Fame” and “Let’s Dance.” During the show, he reminisces about that first festival appearance, admits to being fearful about how he’d fare and states the underrated “Absolute Beginners” was one of his personal faves from the ‘80s (this writer’s too).
What’s inside: The liftoff box set has both the 2CD and single DVD in separate cardboard gatefolds emblazoned with Bowie quotes. Originally aired and broadcast in truncated form on the BBC, this is the first time the set has been available in full. The resulting sound is excellent. The liner notes include Bowie’s Glastonbury preparation diary, originally published in Time Out Magazine, where he muses about his career, a then-new Woody Allen flick and the impending birth of his daughter. Caitlin Moran, an English journalist/broadcaster, who reviewed the original show for London newspaper The Times, provides a brief recollection of attending the gig.
Phil Collins – Plays Well with Others (Click here for 4-CD set)
The lowdown: Between serving as the drummer/singer for Genesis from the 1970s onward and his own massively successful solo career during the ‘80s, Phil Collins somehow always found time for session work and production on other musicians’ albums. This 4-CD, 59-track compilation assembles highlights for the first time in one place.
What’s inside: The mini-hardbound book has CDs inserted in the page sleeves with photos and a liner notes essay. Divided into three studio CDs and one live CD, Collins handles the rhythm (and many times sings) alongside Brian Eno, John Cale, Rod Argent, Robert Fripp, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Adam Ant, Band Aid (he was the only musician on “Do They Know it’s Christmas” besides Midge Ure), Eric Clapton, Chaka Khan, Howard Jones, Paul McCartney, Tears for Fears and more.
The concert recordings were culled from charity show The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball and Party at the Palace, where Collins shares stages with George Harrison, the Bee Gees, Clapton, Annie Lennox, Bryan Adams and Joe Cocker. Even the most ardent Collins followers will likely be surprised by some of these collaborations.
The lowdown: Before the young Irish alternative/pop band hit pay dirt with its 1993 debut effort, few female artists could boast as heavenly and distinct a vocal style as Dolores O’Riordan. The foursome struck an immediate chord in America, where the majestic “Linger” and effervescent “Dreams” singles both went top 20 at Modern Rock radio (the former did even better as a pop crossover) and eventually propelled the album to quintuple platinum status here.
What’s inside: The deluxe 25th Anniversary box set — mostly prepped before the untimely death of O’Riordan last January — comes in a lift top package with the original remastered album and three other CDs encompassing session outtakes, B-sides, the band’s debut EP, and early demos. Each disc has a different photo on the carboard sleeves. Black and white art cards and a poster are included. Meanwhile, the mini-hardbound book contains more rare pics and the complete Cranberries backstory by Dr. Eoin Devereux, music author and Sociology instructor at the University of Limerick (The Cranberries’ hometown).
The Eagles – Legacy
(Warner Music Group)
The lowdown: One of the world’s best-selling bands, The Eagles were initially together from 1971-80 before reuniting in 1994. The Grammy-winning, Rock and Roll Hall of Famers racked up 18 top 40 hits, including five chart toppers.
What’s inside: Legacy comprises 12 CDs — all seven studio albums, three live albums, singles and B-sides compilation. “The Hell Freezes Over” concert is featured on DVD in DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital and PCM Stereo; “The Farewell Tour: Live from Melbourne” is on Blu-ray in DTS 5.1 surround and linear PCM stereo 48K/24-bit. Both “Hell” and “The Millennium Concert” were remastered by Bob Ludwig. Two mini notebook-styled cases slide into the tasteful looking box set; a third mini hardbound book includes a career overview essay, multiple band photos, memorabilia reproduction photos and credits. Legacy is a comprehensive look at the group’s career — all in one place.
The lowdown: While much media attention has been focused on the recent U.S. tour, where Lindsey Buckingham was sacked in favor of Neil Finn and Mike Campbell, the British-American band also celebrated its golden anniversary this year. 50 Years – Don’t Stop is a remastered three-disc compilation covering multiple lineup changes and career facets until 2013. Some people who joined The Mac journey with Buckingham and Stevie Nicks’ arrival for 1975’s Fleetwood Mac might be surprised to hear Mick Fleetwood and John McVie’s early beginnings as a blues band.
What’s inside: The three CDs are front slotted into a foldout wallet-styled package with modest liner notes.
The lowdown: Released in 1971, Imagine was John Lennon’s second solo album since the Beatles’ dissolution. It topped the Billboard chart, spawned the major hit title track and was his most successful studio effort until Double Fantasy in 1980. The ballad “Jealous Guy” would become his most covered solo tune.
What’s inside: A truly immersive experience for the diehard Lennon enthusiast, the clarity here is astounding. The collection takes the listener into every single aspect of recording with Lennon, producer Phil Spector, special guest George Harrison, studio musicians Nicky Hopkins, Alan White and others. Newly remixed and remastered, the 140 tracks across four CDs and two Blu-ray discs, consist of unheard demos, rare outtakes and isolated track elements and grouped into Ultimate Mixes, Raw Studio Mixes, 5.1 Surround Sound Mixes.
Then there’s The Evolution Mixes, a track-by-track audio montage which takes each song from demo to master recording through rehearsals, recordings, multitrack exploration and beyond. A glossy hardbound book housed inside a pull-out case includes a preface by Ono, archival interviews with the principals involved, lyrics, multiple photos and other ephemera. The discs come in a trifold cardboard folder.
The creative process is portrayed visually during the “Imagine” and “Gimme Some Truth” home movie-styled films, joined together for the first time on DVD, Blu-ray and digital platforms. Also supervised by Ono, the films were reassembled from the original 16mm negative reels to HD, cleaned and digitally restored frame-by-frame. The “Imagine” film soundtrack was remixed in 5.1 surround sound; “Gimme Some Truth” soundtrack also was remastered. Both physical releases feature exclusive, never-before-seen extras including previously unheard “raw” studio mixes and a photo shoot with David Bailey.
Public Image Limited – The Public Image is Rotten (Click here for 7-disc box set)
The lowdown: Following the demise of the Sex Pistols, John Lydon formed Public Image Limited (PiL) in 1978. The experimental post-punk band released eight studio albums and notched some U.S. dance and alternative radio hits before going on a 20-year hiatus. The Public Image is Rotten marks the group’s 40th anniversary with a thorough 5CD/2DVD box set.
What’s inside: Housed in a lift off box, it features all seven discs in individual sleeves, four color/black and white art cards from throughout PiL’s history and a cover poster. The audio CDs contain a singles collection (1978-2015), B-sides, rarities and radio sessions, 12″ mixes, unreleased mixes and tracks and a 1989 New York City concert from The Ritz. The DVD comprises promo videos, footage from the BBC’s Top of The Pops and Old Grey Whistle Test programs, a 1988 Tallinn Rock Summer Festival concert appearance in Estonia and another 2013 show at the Enmore Theatre in Australia. The mini hardcover book is chock full of British music press clippings, a career timeline and discography. The 76-minute Estonia show finds Lydon sporting colorful dreadlocks and a jester-type outfit as he skulks around the stage and acts menacing.
That set includes covers of the Pistols’ “Holiday in the Sun” and Lydon’s “World Destruction” paring with Afrika Bambaata.
The lowdown: During much of the 1960s, Elvis Presley’s recording career was bogged down by a series of movies where the music was often tailored to the plotlines. When the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll agreed to do “Singer Presents … Elvis” — an NBC television program that was part musical, dance and Sixties weirdness (and later came to be known as The ’68 Comeback Special) — it rejuvenated The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s career. Now for the program’s 50th Anniversary, RCA/Legacy has given the historical music event a lavish box set treatment. (On a related note, click here to read Rock Cellar’s interview with Comeback Special director Steve Binder).
“The Searcher,” a new Elvis Presley documentary directed by Thom Zimny (click here for Rock Cellar’s interview with Zimny) that premiered on HBO last spring, has a companion 3-CD soundtrack featuring 55 hits, lesser known album tracks, a few rehearsal tunes and takes on two discs and a third disc of Searcher score material by Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready plus some of the artists that initially influenced Elvis (Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, Bill Monroe, The Staple Singers).
What’s inside: The deluxe 5CD 2 Blu-ray set collects all known ’68 Comeback Special audio and video components in one package for the first time. The Wrecking Crew Sessions CD includes various studio takes. All the discs are inserted into a folder. A large booklet provides a timeline, rare photos and engrossing interviews with surviving production staff (director Steve Binder, producer Bones Howe), Priscilla Presley, Bruce Springsteen and others.
Fans can view all the sit down and stand up shows and rehearsals (in standard definition 4:3 Blu-ray for the first time), then compare what was actually used in the edited special. Watching a relaxed Elvis joshing around with his old bandmates during the sit down shows and singing the “If I Can Dream” finale is worth the price of this package alone. A must for die-hard Elvis fans.
The Searcher package comprises a 40-page book with an essay and rare photos.