This may not have been the busiest year for box sets and other special packages, but it had its share of good ones. Here’s a look at some 2012 sets that would make fine gifts for music fans on your Christmas list.
The Rolling Stones - GRRR! Greatest Hits (ABKCO Music/Interscope Records)
The Rolling Stones have released multiple greatest hit albums and box sets, but GRRR! does something the other releases didn’t — put 48 of the best Rolling Stones songs into a single three-disc collection. It’s the perfect size and scope for the more casual Stones fan, plus there are two new songs — “Doom And Gloom” and “One More Shot” — both solid, if rather stereotypical Stones tunes. As for the rest of the songs, it’s pretty much one classic after another from one of Rock’s truly iconic bands. For the more hardcore fan, you can also pick up the five-disc “Super Deluxe” version, featuring 80 songs, two books, an old, unreleased track on 7-inch vinyl, posters, postcards and a bonus disc with the band’s first studio recordings. (There’s also a sweet all-vinyl box set available.) With apologies to Tony the Tiger, these packages are simply “GRRReat!”
Michael Jackson - Bad (Epic/Legacy)
Bad essentially marked the end of Jackson’s peak years. Within a couple of years after the 1991 release of his next album, Dangerous, Jackson’s career and life would start declining into a series of tawdry rumors and tabloid headlines. This deluxe 25th anniversary reissue includes the original Bad album — a satisfying follow-up to the Off The Wall and Thriller albums — plus a second disc of outtakes and bonus goodies like a poster and a pair of booklets with previous unseen photos. The major treat is a DVD of a concert from London’s Wembley Stadium (also featured on a third audio disc). It shows just what a charismatic performer Jackson was as he wows the crowd with his hit songs, fantastic dance moves and personal charm. It’s a stirring and fun reminder of what was lost with the passing of Jackson.
Paul Simon - Graceland 25th Anniversary Edition (Sony Legacy)
Graceland, with its mix of Pop and African musical styles, remains a landmark album and a high point in Simon’s amazing career. This lavish 25th anniversary box set begins with the original Graceland album and a second disc of demos. Then come the two centerpieces of the set. One is the excellent documentary, Under African Skies, which explores the making of Graceland and the controversy that surrounded the album. The set also features The African Concert, the 1987 film that documented the Zimbabwe concert in which Simon was joined by a number of the musicians involved in the Graceland sessions and subsequent touring. It’s a great show and, 25 years later, there’s no avoiding the influence and importance of Simon’s adventurous musical/cultural journey of Graceland.
Grateful Dead – All The Years Combine: The DVD Collection (Shout Factory)
This box set is pretty much the concert video mother lode for Dead fans.
The collection features 10 shows filmed between 1977-1991, a 1992 documentary and the excellent 1977 film, The Grateful Dead Movie. They’re all worth watching, but 1978’s “The Closing Of Winterland” concert and a 1987 Oakland Coliseum show stand out. The range of songs performed is pretty astonishing. The shows provide a great window into the Dead live experience and the adventurous nature of the legendary group.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band- 50th Anniversary Collection (Columbia/Legacy Records)
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band didn’t have to turn 50 to be a musical institution. That much was assured not many years after Allen Jaffe started promoting shows at a New Orleans gallery called Preservation Hall in 1962. The venue gave veteran local musicians who no longer got many gigs a place to perform and a house band to provide backing. Various versions of that house band went on to record numerous albums with a vast array of artists and this four-CD set is drawn from those many recordings. The songs essentially make for a great and highly enjoyable introduction to Jazz in many of its forms, all filtered through the unique musical melting pot that is New Orleans. May the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which continues to tour and record, live on for another 50 years.
Heart - Strange Euphoria (Epic/Legacy Records)
This three-CD/one-DVD set isn’t the standard career-spanning box set. Instead, the soon-to-be Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group’s principals, sisters Ann Wilson (vocals) and Nancy Wilson (guitar) take fans on the road less traveled through Heart’s career, debuting demos of key songs instead of the album versions, adding a good number of unreleased tunes and topping it off with a DVD of a cool 1976 television studio performance by the original band doing songs from its debut album, Dreamboat Annie.
Various Artists - Chimes Of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International (Universal Music)
Call this the mother of all tribute albums. Its four discs feature covers of songs by Bob Dylan from an amazing array of artists. The variety of music and the quality of the covers ranges widely, but there are more than enough winners to make this set well worth owning. Artists taking Dylan tunes for a spin on the collection range from peers (Pete Townshend, Joan Baez) to veterans (Sting, Joe Perry) to relative newcomers (My Morning Jacket, Diana Krall, Flogging Molly, Sugarland).
The English Beat - The Complete Beat (Shout Factory Records)
This five-disc box set offers a thorough examination of The English Beat, arguably the best, most versatile band to emerge from Britain’s Ska revival of the late 1970s/early ’80s. It starts with the band’s three studio albums — the classic 1979 debut, I Just Can’t Stop It, 1981’s Wha’ppen? and 1982’s U.S. breakthrough (and swan song), Special Beat Service. A fourth disc of remixes is pretty superfluous, but a fifth disc of live performances is a nice bonus.
Elvis Presley - Prince from Another Planet (RCA/Legacy Records)
These afternoon and evening concerts from June 10, 1972 have been released before, but these remastered versions sound better. What’s new is a DVD that includes a 20-minute mini-documentary, 12 minutes of an entertaining Presley press conference and 20 minutes of fan-shot 8mm film synched with the newly mixed audio. It’s enough to make this set worth owning, even if you have the concerts recordings.
The Doors - L.A. Woman (40th Anniversary Edition) (Elektra/Rhino)
The final Doors album, L.A. Woman, was arguably the band’s finest effort, featuring the classic title track, “Riders On The Storm” and “Love Her Madly.” This reissue starts with the original album and adds a second disc — an eye-opening alternative version of the album — making this 40th anniversary reissue essential for Doors fans. A 2012 DVD/Blu-Ray of the behind-the-scenes documentary, Mr. Mojo Risin’: The Story of L.A. Woman, is also available separately.
Led Zeppelin - Celebration Day (Swan Song/Atlantic Records)
For a time, it seemed the 2007 reunion concert at London’s O2 Arena might turn into more of a lasting reunion. That’s not happening, but the release of this two-CD/two-DVD set is a great parting gift. The entire concert is here on DVD and on the audio CDs, as the band (with John Bonham’s son, Jason, taking over on drums for his late father) rolls through a well-chosen, 16-song set and is in surprisingly fine form. The show has been widely bootlegged, but it’s nice to see this final “Led Zeppelin” concert in prime quality.
Los Lobos - Kiko – 20th Anniversary Edition/Kiko Live (Shout Factory)
Featuring the great original album, outtakes and a CD and DVD of a 2006 show in which Los Lobos played Kiko in its entirety, this is a reissue that every Los Lobos fan should own.
Taj Mahal - The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal: 1969-1973 (Columbia/Legacy)
Just because the two discs of songs here were left off Mahal’s excellent early solo albums, this is not throwaway stuff. Culled from sessions between ’70-’73, it’s populated with a host of worthy outtakes. The second disc, meanwhile, captures an inspired 10-song show from London’s Royal Albert Hall.