TO BOX or not to box? That is the question. The answer: whenever possible. How else to explain the glut of non-inexpensive box sets available on the verge of a recession? We've moved from greatest-hits packages to career retrospectives that include both hits and misses (though not Ms. -- there has yet to be a major set on a female performer).

This year's sets come in three basic packages: the standard album-sized box with three or four CDs or tapes (many sets have no vinyl version), the half-box, which looks more like a book than a record, and the cube, which houses four or five CDs. It used to be rare to see sets on the charts, but at least five are currently on the stairway to sales heaven in Billboard's charts (Led Zeppelin at #26, Robert Johnson at #102 and Elton John at #94; two new Sinatra boxes have entered at #125 and #142).

Some are just de rigueur compilations; others dig into the vaults for worthwile rarities; the best also offer contextual booklets. So, with only a few days to go before Christmas, here are some gift boxes ready to wrap, or to be picked up with that gift certificate you've been hinting at.