Every year, a fresh collection of box sets and other special releases make their way to store shelves, offering some great gift ideas for the music fan in your life. If you’re looking to pick up something last minute, here’s a look at some of the best (mostly historical) sets from 2013. If you go the “gift of music” route, we highly recommend visiting one of Cincinnati’s great independent record shops.
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 that original album, adding the complete Dec. 31, 1971 performance, which featured a four-song encore with Bob Dylan. The songs are great, the playing often magical and the horns — arranged by the great Allen Toussaint — add considerably to many songs. Live at the Academy of Music 1971 takes a great live album and makes it an irrefutable classic.
BEACH BOYS — MADE IN CALIFORNIA (CAPITOL/UME RECORDS)
This six-CD box has its share of new goodies, including many unreleased tracks (mostly alternate takes of songs that have 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.
THE BEATLES — ON AIR - LIVE AT THE BBC VOLUME 2 (CAPITOL/UME RECORDS)
Die-hard Beatles fans have long known the two-CD Live At The BBC release in 1994 was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to performances by the group that aired on 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 and witty banter with the radio hosts. Maybe some day a box set (probably necessitating upwards of 10 discs) of all of The Beatles’ BBC material will be released. But On Air has the best of the performances (37 all together) that didn’t make the original two-disc set.
ERIC CLAPTON — UNPLUGGED (REPRISE/DUCK RECORDS/MTV)
This new edition greatly expands on the popular, original 14-track album, with a second disc featuring 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.
THE CLASH — SOUND SYSTEM (EPIC/LEGACY RECORDS)
This 12-disc set starts with all five of the band’s classic albums and includes tons of cool little trinkets. But the real musical treasures are found on the 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 are previously 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 deserves to be this completely chronicled.
CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL — CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL (FANTASY RECORDS)
This is actually the same 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 collection, 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 original.
MILES DAVIS QUINTET — LIVE IN EUROPE 1969: THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 2 (COLUMBIA/LEGACY RECORDS)
Together only in 1969 and 1970, this unit (Davis, keyboardist Chick Corea, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette) was the least documented of 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 as he headed into his landmark 1970 Rock-influenced Fusion classic, Bitches Brew.
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 the late, great Roy 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 until his untimely death two days after the concert.
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 of 1973. Originally, 28 songs from these sessions were released across three albums. This deluxe package assembles those songs plus 27 outtakes that have surfaced on various other posthumous releases. This collection gives these final recordings (which spanned, R&B, Country, Pop, Gospel and Rock) a coherence and context they never had before.
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. Topped off with a photo-filled book with insightful track-by-track commentary, this is a first-rate survey of Sly’s influential and still-vibrant mix of Rock, R&B, Funk and Gospel.
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” — plus plenty of other enduring songs. Most of these tracks 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.
THE WHO — TOMMY (UME RECORDS)
This new four-CD box set version of the band’s landmark 1969 Rock opera, Tommy, includes the remastered original album a nearly complete set of Pete Townshend’s Tommy demos that put many of the songs in a new light. There is also an inspired 1969 concert performance that brings Tommy to vivid life on stage.
SOME OTHER POSSIBILITIES
Legacy Records continued its “The Complete Album Collection” series this year. The big entry is the Bob Dylan set, which includes 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 releases and mono versions of the nine albums Miles Davis released between 1957-1964. Elsewhere, Universal Records released The Moody Blues’ Timeless Flight set, which has 11 discs of studio and live tracks, three discs in DVD-audio and three DVDs of videos and concert performances.
Two-disc deluxe sets make good (and often more affordable) gifts, too. This year, you can pick up the deluxe edition of Nirvana’s final album, In Utero, which features 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 hits collection, 1 Greatest Hits, with a DVD of his Starry Night concert video; and a reissue of supergroup Mad Season’s lone album, Above, which includes the original album and a DVD with performances from two concerts that featured Alice in Chains’ late frontman Layne Staley, plus members of Screaming Trees and Pearl Jam.