Five years ago, when CBS released Bob Dylan's "Biograph," consumers suddenly had a way to do their Christmas shopping in one fell swoop. In fact, since the advent of box sets, all you have to do is provide the wrapping paper. The five-album Dylan set sold more than 300,000 copies, as did Polygram's 1988 Eric Clapton box, "Crossroads." Sure, box sets are big and expensive, but they also provide valuable overviews. With the appearance of CDs, many artists' catalogues have been reissued in their entirety; in the case of an artist with a dozen or more albums, a retrospective set can actually be a cost-effective way of celebrating one's fandom (and one's past). Here's a rundown on what to expect between now and Jan. 1.
This week, Motown releases "The Marvin Gaye Collection," a four-CD collection that includes 34 unreleased tracks. The set, with a 32-page booklet from Gaye biographer David Ritz, is broken down thematically: "20 Top 20s," "The Duets," "The Balladeer" and "Rare, Live & Unreleased." Next year, Motown will release "The Motown Collection," a 120-track, five-CD set with every No. 1 single ever released by the label, as well as many No. 2s and No. 3s (all in their original mono).
On Oct. 9, on what would have been John Lennon's 50th birthday, Capitol/EMI will release "Lennon" (four CDs, no vinyl or cassette): The 74 tracks are drawn from every post-Beatles album, as well as singles, promo versions and live tracks (three with Elton John). Sixty-one are Lennon solo or co-compositions, and the set will include a 96-page book with complete lyrics and cover art reproductions, as well as bio and liner notes by Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn.
Speaking of Elton John, he's the focus of an upcoming four-CD-only box from MCA, "To Be Continued." It will include material from both MCA and his recent Geffen albums.
Oct. 23 will bring two sets honoring Led Zeppelin and the Byrds. Atlantic's Zep-doodah (four CDs or cassettes, six LPs) will feature 54 tracks selected and sequenced by the band and digitally remastered by guitarist Jimmy Page himself. Only two tracks are unreleased (from 1969 BBC broadcasts), but the set includes some rare B sides, as well as a 36-page booklet with essays by Cameron Crowe, Kurt Loder and Robert Palmer.
Columbia's "The Byrds" (four CDs) covers that band's quarter-century career and includes four new studio tracks recorded by David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn in Nashville last month. Altogether, there are 17 unreleased cuts, including two done live at last year's Roy Orbison tribute (where the Byrds also recorded "Mr. Tambourine Man" with Bob Dylan).
"The Legendary Roy Orbison" (CBS Special Products, four CDs/cassettes, no vinyl) is a career retrospective that kicks off with his 1956 Je-Wel debut, "Trying To Get to You" and includes 75 tracks from Sun, MGM, RCA and Monument. Along with a 32-page booklet by Colin Escott, there are a number of rarities and obscurities, such as the 45 version of "Oh, Pretty Woman" with the lyrics changed from "come with me" to "come to me" to avoid the double-entendre.
"The Carpenters," to be released Nov. 6, is a four-CD box from A&M, compiled by Richard Carpenter (Karen died in 1983). Besides the abundance of pop hits, the set will include alternate takes, television performances, tracks from Karen Carpenter's never released solo album and several rare cuts from the sibling duo's first band, Spectrum.
In this, his 75th year, Frank Sinatra will be the source of not one, but two box sets. "The Capitol Years" (five LPs, 3 CDs/cassettes) features, appropriately, 75 songs from his decade at the label, when, with the help of arranger/conductors Nelson Riddle and Billy May, Sinatra transformed the "saloon song" into a staple of American music. A 36-page book features notes by Nancy Sinatra, critic Will Friedwald and former A&R man Pete Kline. In November, Reprise will release a four-CD greatest hits package from the label Sinatra formed after leaving Capitol.
After sets devoted to Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters, MCA has released its latest Chess treasure, "Bo Diddley: The Chess Box," a 45-song collection honoring the man with the signature beat and guitar sound. There are 13 rarities, nine unreleased cuts and a 24-page booklet by Robert Palmer. MCA has also issued a three-CD box called "The Complete Layla Sessions," in which Eric Clapton working as Derek and the Dominoes gets the "remastered original" treatment; the set includes scores of alternate takes and six newly uncovered and quite lengthy jams between Clapton, Duane Allman and Dickey Betts.
PolyGram weighs in Nov. 13 with "Tales From the Brothers Gibb: A History in Song, 1967 to 1990, Volumes 1-4." The 74-track, four-CD/cassette collection includes a few new demo and live versions of hits, as well as a recent live medley of hits the Gibb brothers wrote for other artists, and you can go through two whole CDs before you even touch "Saturday Night Fever." PolyGram, which did a masterly historical series of seven double albums tracing Hank Williams's career, will also be releasing "The Singles Collection," a three-CD/cassette box containing every single Williams ever released, 84 songs in all.