Boxed sets are awesome because by definition they come in boxes. And there's something undeniably cool about holding this big, lumpy box in your hands. I'm not even a big Judas Priest fan, but when I hold Metalogy in my hands with its studded sides I feel like a better person, a valuable member of society. My vote counts. Ditto that Talking Heads box, not to mention all those boxed sets of old folkies singing about black lung and bluesmen whose women keeping leaving them for dudes with money. I can't tell any of it apart--and neither can you--but the presentation makes it better music!
So with that in mind, I went looking through the past year for boxed sets that make me a better person and could in turn make you better as well. Self-betterment, finding a cure for cancer and outlawing trans fats remains the common goals of this column.
Five Boxed Sets that would look swell in your collection:
Forever Changing: The Golden Age Of Elektra Records 1963-1973: Thankfully the smart people at Elektra and Rhino records realized the "Golden Age" for Elektra Records occurred in the beginning and not the subsequent decades when they got noticeably worse. They didn't try and torture us like, say, Bob Dylan, who always manages to stick crap from his '80s output in with the stuff that people actually buy Dylan records for. Forget the "freaky folk" movement of today. Embrace Tim Buckley, David Blue, Diane Hildebrand, Love, the Stooges and Steve Noonan today.
Various Artists--The Brit Box: UK Indie, Shoegaze, And Brit-Pop Gems Of The Last Millennium: I just love their funny accents and their way with hair. Ever since the Beatles created British music, Brits have tried their hand at learning the electric guitar and keyboards with great enthusiasm. While those well-versed in this stuff will see much of it as obvious and already in their collection, it's kinda hard to argue with anything that includes Placebo, Gay Dad, The Smiths and, well, Gay Dad. Who doesn't like to type that name?
Robyn Hitchcock--I Wanna Go Backwards: I've never met two people who agreed on what constituted the "best" of Robyn Hitchcock. It's such a personal decision, like choosing topping on a pizza. Someone likes pineapple--and they should be murdered in their sleep. Now, some folks like Hitchy with the Soft Boys. Others prefer him with the Egyptians. Some don't like anything he does anymore, whereas some of us still find plenty to admire. And then there are those who prefer him solo. His albums have gone in and out of print with bonus tracks added and subtracted to annoying degrees. This box doesn't help there. But it does issue his first solo album Black Snake Diamond Role along with 1984's I Often Dream of Trains and 1990's Eye along with two CDs of outtakes, some even previously unreleased. Look at it this way, it's more mess to clean up.
Magnolia Electric Co.--Sojourner: Jason Molina is one of my favorite songwriters of the past decade, mostly because he records what sounds like the same song over and over. And since I like that tune, I'm not complaining. You might. But if you like long, languid songs that sound like someone stole the methamphetamine and left you to die under a desert sky, well, then you'll love this boxed set with four CDs recorded in four different spots--including Sun Studios in Memphis, Steve Albini's place in Chicago, even Molina's bedroom. There's a DVD and a medallion and it comes in a pine box, so you can bury a rodent if necessary.
The Complete On the Corner Sessions: Miles Davis is to jazz what gates are to a gated community. He defines it. So a six-CD set that collects every last burp of his early '70s On The Corner sessions comes available and naturally no one can actually listen to all of it without going insane but that doesn't stop people from trying. Lots of people hated this album when it first came out. But they're all dead now. And history is written by those who own the copyrights!