MUSIC GIFT GUIDE: New album box sets for every musical taste

Record labels have been busy this year digging through the vaults to assemble dozens of box sets and deluxe reissues. They make great Christmas gifts for family, friends – or yourself. Here are my top picks for 2022.

The Beatles: “Revolver” – “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is the Beatles album that revolutionized rock, but the album that preceded it, “Revolver,” was also stellar and provided a bridge between the band’s earlier impeccably crafted but more basic pop and the creative leap that was to come. This new six-disc set shows how songs like “Got To Get You Into My Life,” “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Yellow Submarine” were built over multiple takes, revealing musical elements within these songs that were buried in the final mixes. Along with the original album, this box has a mono version of “Revolver” and stereo mixes of a few songs.

Wilco: “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (Super-Deluxe Edition) – This superb eight-CD set offers a deep dive into the fascinating album where frontman Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting took a leap from its country-pop/rock foundation into all sorts of folk/rock/psychedelic quadrants, propelling Wilco to its place as one of rock’s best and most fearless bands. The first disc of the set is the familiar original album. Four discs – each essentially an alternate version of the album — explore the many iterations songs went through during the sessions. Alternate versions of many songs, including “Poor Places,” “War On War” and “Kamara,” are markedly – even radically – different, but often just as valid, as the album versions. A few worthy songs left off of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” are also included, along with an informative radio show and full concert from St. Louis. Several versions of this set are available, but if you can spring for this filler-free eight-CD set, it’s the way to go. 

Norah Jones: “Come Away With Me” 20th Anniversary Edition – Jones’ blockbuster debut album gets an extensive expansion in this three-CD set. Disc one is the original album, followed by a disc of demos and early takes and a third disc that is the first version of the album she recorded with producer Craig Street, but shelved. The generous number of unreleased songs, many of which were easily good enough for release, provide more than enough reason to come away with Jones all over again with this deluxe edition.

Blondie: “Against The Odds: 1974-1982” – This 128-song box set provides quite the comprehensive look at the original era of Blondie. The set includes all six albums from this vital period plus lots of alternate takes that offer interesting contrasts from the album versions.

 

Joe Strummer: “The Mescaleros Years” – The late rocker will justifiably always be seen as having done his best and most important work in the Clash. But this four-CD set demonstrates Strummer’s later stint fronting the Mescaleros produced some strong, thought-provoking music, too, as Strummer explored rock, Middle Eastern, reggae, Latin/world beat, pop, folk and other styles. All three of Strummer’s albums with the Mescalaros are included, but the real find is the fourth disc of demos and unreleased outtakes, which are well worth hearing.  

Rolling Stones: “El Mocambo” – The full March 4, 1977 secret show (plus 3 tracks from the March 5 concert) at the 300-capacity Toronto club finds the Stones sounding lean and hot and playing several songs rarely seen in their set lists. Too bad the full March 5 show isn’t included.  

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: “Live at the Fillmore 1997” – This set cherry picks performances from Petty’s 20-show run at the San Francisco venue in 1997. Favoring numerous rarely played covers by the likes of Little Richard, Bill Withers, the Zombies, and even a song from a James Bond film, along with plenty of originals, it’s a great summation of a high point in the career of Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Various Artists: “Pop Aid” – Earlier this year, the great power pop label Kool Kat Music and many of the best power pop acts worldwide united to assemble this three-CD, 63-song set to raise funds for the Ukraine. And these aren’t throwaway songs, as rockers by Deadlights, Arvidson & Butterflies, Thrift Store Halos and Lolas, along with Beatles-esque pop from Rogers & Butler, Richie Mayer, The Overtures and Rich Arithmetic are among the many gems on “Pop Aid.” Plus, your purchase of this set will go to a good cause.

Various Artists: “Tales From The Australian Underground 1976-1989” — This punk/alt-rock-leaning set offers songs mainly from Australian acts that never made waves beyond their home country. Tracks from the likes of La Femme, Numbers, Ups & Downs, The Leftovers, Bamboos, Someloves, and The Mark Of Cain, to name a few, are evidence enough that most of the world has only scratched the surface in discovering Australian rock.

Various Artists: “Bubblerock Is Here to Stay Volume 2 – The British Pop Explosion 1970-73” — This three-CD set examines what was a musically diverse and rich early 1970s British pop scene with mostly pleasing results.

Tragically Hip: “Fully Completely” – The great Canadian band’s third full-length album – one of the Hip’s best and a million seller in Canada – gets a reissue on high quality vinyl. The set adds an energetic and musically tight 1992 concert at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern and some bonus tracks.

 

Some other worthy box set reissues include: Elton John: “Madman Across The Water” (adds demos, BBC concert); Guns N’ Roses: “Use Your Illusion” and “Use Your Illusion II” (adds 2 concerts); The Cure: “Wish” (adds demos, remixes); Flaming Lips “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” (adds outtakes, 2 radio concerts and more); Little Feat: “Waiting For Columbus” (adds 3 full 1977 concerts); Queen: “The Miracle” (adds unreleased tracks, numerous alternate takes); Rory Gallagher: “Deuce” (adds alternate versions; radio performances); The Monkees: “Headquarters”(adds unreleased tracks, demos); Kiss: “Creatures of the Night” (adds demos, alternate takes, live tracks); Dexy’s Midnight Runners: “Too Rye Ay As It Should Have Sounded” (new mix and unreleased tracks, live cuts); Rush: “Moving Pictures”(adds 1981 concert); Imagine Dragons: “Night Visions” (adds unreleased tracks, concert, remixes); The Beach Boys: “Sail On Sailor 1972” (includes the albums “Carl and the Passions – ‘So Tough’” and “Holland,” outtakes and 1972 concert); David Bowie: “Divine Symmetry” (1971 demos for “Hunky Dory,” live radio performances); Frank Zappa: “Waka/Wazoo” (includes the albums “Waka/Jawaka” and “The Grand Wazoo,” outtakes, alternate takes, full concert); Frank Zappa: “The Mothers 1971” (The 4 legendary 1971 Fillmore East concerts plus the 1971 Rainbow Theater concert that ended when Zappa was pushed off the stage and seriously injured); Frank Zappa: “Zappa/Erie” (3 1976 concerts from Erie, PA and bonus cuts).  

Two-disc deluxe reissues have become a popular, less pricey alternative to box sets. The deluxe reissues listed here come with generous amounts of bonus material that nicely supplement the original albums:  John Mellencamp: “Scarecrow” (adds two unreleased tracks, live cuts); Michael Jackson: “Thriller” (adds demos); Soul Asylum: “Grave Dancer’s Union (adds unreleased tracks, live cuts); The Clash: “Combat Rock” – The Peoples Hall Special Edition (adds unreleased tracks); Spice Girls: “Spiceworld” (adds live tracks); The Fall: “The Light User Syndrome” (adds live cuts, alternate versions); INXS – “Shabooh Shoobah” (adds unreleased tracks); The Communards: “Red” (adds remixes, live cuts); Third Day: “Third Day” (adds live tracks); Christina Aguilera: “Stripped” (adds unreleased tracks); Ellie Goulding: “Halcyon Nights” (adds unreleased tracks); The Muffs: “Really, Really Happy (adds unreleased tracks, demos); Ultravox: “Rage In Eden” (adds concert, remixes); Supergrass: “Supergrass” (adds alternate versions, live cuts); Amy Grant: “Behind The Eyes” (adds unreleased tracks); Diesel: “Hepfidelity” (adds unreleased tracks); The Chemical Brothers: “Dig Your Own Hole” (adds unreleased tracks, alternate versions); Redd Kross: “Neurotica” (adds demos); Collective Soul: “Disciplined Breakdown” (adds concert, unreleased tracks); Eminem: “The Eminem Show” (adds live tracks, unreleased tracks); Pavement: “Terror Twilight” (adds demos, a scrapped recording session); Regina Spektor: “11:11” (adds concert); Roxette: “Look Sharp!” (adds demos); Waterboys: “A Rock In The Weary Land,” “An Appointment With Mr. Yeats” and “Egyptology” (unreleased tracks added to each).

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment
  • or

Right Now On

Now Playing

By Film...

By Theater...