Every year, box sets and other special releases make great gifts for music fans. Here’s a look at some of the best sets from 2013.
Beach Boys: “Made in California” (Capitol/UME Records) – This six-CD box has its share of new goodies, including many unreleased tracks (usually alternate takes of songs that surfaced before on other albums) and a set of live cuts that smartly focuses on cover songs and lesser known originals. It’s not the first Beach Boys box, but it provides a good overview of the many ups and downs of the group’s 50-year history. Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Stephen Stills: “Carry On” (Atlantic/Rhino Records) – This four-disc set does a fine job of summing up a career that has seen Stills write several absolute classics – including “For What It’s Worth” with Buffalo Springfield, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” for Crosby, Stills & Nash and the solo hit “Love the One You’re With” – and plenty of other enduring songs. Most come from his especially prolific period from the mid-1960s through the ’70s. Dive in and chances are you’ll gain a new appreciation for Stills’ talents. Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Miles Davis Quintet: Live in Europe 1969 : The Bootleg Series Vol. 2 (Columbia/Legacy Records) – Together only in 1969 and 1970, this unit (keyboardist Chick Corea, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette) was the least documented of Miles Davis’ groups. “Live in Europe 1969” changes that with three concerts on CD and one on DVD that hint at how rapidly Davis was evolving musically heading into his landmark 1970 rock-influenced album, “Bitches Brew.” Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Sly & the Family Stone: “Higher” (Epic/Legacy Records) – This four-disc set has the hits, many great album cuts and 17 unreleased tracks, a few of which stand up to Sly & the Family Stone’s prime material. Top off this set with a photo-filled book with insightful track-by-track commentary and you have a first-rate survey of this group’s influential and still-vibrant mix of rock, R&B, funk and gospel. Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5.
Creedence Clearwater Revival: “Boxed Set” (Fantasy Records) – This is actually the same set as the “Creedence Clearwater Revival” box set from 2001. Featuring all of the band’s albums and a disc of pre-CCR songs, it’s a great set (although one wonders if there was unreleased material that could have been added to enhance the package the second time around). So don’t be fooled by the new packaging. Make sure your intended gift recipient doesn’t already own the 2001 set. Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
The Who: “Tommy” (UME Records) This new four-CD box set version of the band’s landmark 1969 rock opera, “Tommy,” includes a nearly complete set of Pete Townshend’s “Tommy” demos that put many of the songs in a new light, plus an inspired 1969 concert performance that brings “Tommy” to vivid life on stage. Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5.
The Clash: “Sound System” (Epic/Legacy Records) – This 12-disc set starts with all five of the band’s classic albums. But the real treasure is three CDs of B-sides, outtakes and live performances. Some of these tracks surfaced earlier on the “Clash on Broadway” box and the “Black Market Clash” reissue, but quite a few were unreleased (love the four versions of “London’s Burning” and curiosities like the chilled-out extended version of “Sean Flynn” and the island pop of “Idle in Kangaroo Court”). It’s more than a casual fan would want, but the Clash is one band whose hugely influential career deserved to be this completely chronicled. Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5.
The Band: Live at the Academy of Music 1971 (Capitol/UME Records) – “The Last Waltz” may be more famous, but the best Band live album was 1972’s “Rock of Ages.” This four-CD set expands greatly on the original, adding the complete Dec. 31, 1971, performance that featured a four-song encore with Bob Dylan. The songs are great, the playing often magical and the horns – written by the great Allen Toussaint – add considerably to many songs. A great live album is now superb. Rating: 5 stars.
The Beatles: “On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” (Capitol/UME Records) – Die-hard Beatles fans have long known the 1994 two-CD “Live at the BBC” was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to performances by the group for the BBC. This excellent second volume debuts a number of rare covers, including Chuck Berry’s “I’m Talking About You,” the Donays’ “Devil in Her Heart” and even the Stephen Foster standard “Beautiful Dreamer,” along with plenty of familiar Beatles originals. Maybe someday a box set (probably upwards of 10 discs) of all of the Beatles’ BBC material will be released. But “BBC 2” has the best of the performances that didn’t make the original two-CD set. Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Eric Clapton: “Unplugged” (Reprise/Duck Records/MTV) – This new edition greatly expands on the original 14-track album. A second disc features six worthy songs not included on the album. Even better, a DVD includes video of the show, plus the full 14-song rehearsal performance. For fans of Clapton in an acoustic setting, this is a must-own deluxe edition. Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5.
Roy Orbison: “Black & White Night”/“The Last Concert”: 25th Anniversary Edition (Legacy Records) – Package these two releases together and you’ll have a great gift for any fan of Orbison. The “Black & White Night” DVD captures the exquisite 1987 TV concert special with a star-studded cast of guests. “The Last Concert” – recorded Dec. 4, 1988 – demonstrates that Orbison was in firm command of his amazing voice right up to his untimely death. Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5.
Elvis Presley: “Elvis At Stax: Deluxe Edition” (RCA/Legacy Records) – Presley returned to where it all began (Memphis) for his final recording sessions in July and December 1973. Originally, 28 songs from these sessions were released across three albums. This deluxe package assembles these songs and 27 outtakes that have surfaced on various posthumous releases. This gives these final recordings (which spanned R&B, country, pop, gospel and rock) a coherence and context they never before had. Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5.
Other possibilities include:
Legacy Records continued its “Complete Album Collection” series this year. The big entry is the Bob Dylan set, which features all 41 of his albums. There are also sets compiling Paul Simon’s 12 solo albums, Harry Nilsson’s RCA albums, Herbie Hancock’s 28-album Columbia Records catalog, Taj Mahal’s Columbia Records catalog and mono versions of the nine albums Miles Davis released between 1957 and 1964. Universal Records got into the act with the Moody Blues “Timeless Flight” set that has 11 CDs of studio and live tracks, three discs in DVD-audio and three DVDs of videos and concert performances. If someone on your shopping list is a fan of any of these artists – and is missing some of the albums in these sets – any of these could be just the ticket for this year’s gift.
Other two-disc sets that make good gifts include: the deluxe edition of Nirvana’s final album, “In Utero,” which has a healthy number of outtakes and demos; the deluxe edition of “Texas Flood,” the debut album from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, which adds a 1983 concert to the package; a two-CD/one-DVD Julio Iglesias greatest hits set, with a DVD of his “Starry Night” concert; and a reissue of super group Mad Season’s lone album, “Above,” which features the original album and a DVD with performances from two concerts.