These box sets, some of our favorites from 2008, are all packed with tons of classic tunes and appealing extras. They’ll be the perfect gift for the music lover on your list -- or a little something special for yourself.
The Soul of Rock and Roll
(Monument/Orbison Records/Legacy, $60)
The owner of rock’s most haunting and powerful voice finally gets a proper box-set treatment with this 107-track marvel. Produced by Orbison’s widow, Barbara, the four-disc collection covers the entire expanse of a five-decade career marked by musical triumph and personal tragedy, stretching from his earliest work for Sun Records to his posthumous radio smash “You Got It.”
The Story So Far …
(Sony Classics, $55)
Hailed as one of the giants of musical theater, composer/ lyricist Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story, Sweeney Todd) is the subject of this richly textured career overview. This collection features the best of Sondheim’s 15 stage shows as well as his work for film and TV. But the true treasure trove comes in a batch of 30-plus previously unreleased songs, including demos from Sondheim’s personal collection and a handful of pieces from projects that never came to pass.
Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia
Though often overlooked for soul-music capitals like Detroit or Memphis, the City of Brotherly Love was a major R&B player throughout the 1970s. This multidisc collection puts the focus on the legendary Philadelphia International record label -- the brainchild of producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff -- featuring the sophisticated, dramatic songs of artists like the O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, and many others.
The Gonzo Tapes: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson
(Shout! Factory, $60)
The private archive of late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson is explored in this lavishly packaged collection of personal audio recordings and interview tapes. The five-disc set documents Thompson’s groundbreaking work from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, capturing everything from his fl yon- the-wall coverage of the Hells Angels to his chronicling of the historic 1972 presidential campaign and beyond.
(Rhino Entertainment/Atlantic Records, $140)
Prog-rock fans can rejoice, as the early work of Genesis is lovingly detailed on this 12-CD/DVD set. Capturing the Peter Gabriel–led era of the band — and also featuring drummer and eventual front man Phil Collins — the collection includes the band’s entire studio catalog from this period as well as rare tracks and hours of new and previously unreleased video footage.
People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs 1913–1938
(Tompkins Square, $52)
Rescuing a selection of early-twentieth-century songs about “death, destruction, and disaster” from the dust bin of American music history, the fledgling Tompkins Square label has fashioned a remarkable folk collection here. Produced by Grammy-winning archivists Christopher King and Henry “Hank” Sapoznik (and featuring an introductory essay by Tom Waits), the three-disc set is a veritable history lesson set to music, pulling together topical tunes — about everything from the Titanic to the death of Knute Rockne — and timeless tales of calamity and catastrophe.
To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story
Nina Simone bore the brunt of racial injustice and let it fuel her vivid, visceral art, captured here in this essential retrospective on one of the great vocalists and social activists of the last 50 years. The track list includes a handful of unreleased recordings and a bonus DVD featuring an Emmy-nominated 1970 television documentary about the singer.
The Complete ’68 Comeback Special: 40th Anniversary Edition
The King’s historic return to the stage after a decade in Hollywood is recounted in exhaustive detail on this new four-CD 40th-anniversary box. Including all the recordings made for the famed 1968 NBC television special that reintroduced him to the world, the set is a powerhouse collection of gospel, blues, pop, and rock that captures Presley at the peak of his powers.
The Complete Motown Singles Volume 10: 1970
(Hip-O Select, $120)
Hip-O Select’s latest collection captures the famed Detroit label at a crossroads. The year 1970 seemed to crystallize the social, political, and racial unrest of the previous decade, something that was reflected in the music of Motown’s rapidly maturing stars, including Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Their work, along with songs by label stalwarts like the Supremes, the Temptations, and the Jackson 5, are captured on this limited edition six-disc set.
The Monthly Mix
A playlist to get you through the holidays, whichever ones you celebrate. By Zac Crain
Snow Patrol, “Take Back the City”
(A Hundred Million Suns, 2008)
Vince Guaraldi, “Christmas Time Is Here”
(A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965)
My Morning Jacket, “One Big Holiday”
(It Still Moves, 2003)
They Might Be Giants, “Feast of Lights”
The Ramones, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)”
(Brain Drain, 1989)
Eisley, “The Winter Song”
(Maybe This Christmas Too? 2003)
Goldenboy, “Sing Another Song for the Winterlong”
(Blue Swan Orchestra, 2002)
The Decemberists, “Record Year”
(Always the Bridesmaid Vol. III, 2008)
Frank Black/Black Francis, “The Holiday Song”
(Frank Black Francis, 2004)
Julian Koster, “Silent Night”
(The Singing Saw at Christmastime, 2008)
[dl] Big Screen
Three of this month’s new releases have been adapted from page-turning works of fiction. But which flicks are worth seeing -- and which are better on paper? By Joseph Guinto
By J. Rentilly
“In grade school, I pulled a chair out from under a girl named Barbara Curry. Of course, that made her extremely angry, so I had to run, and I was caught by my English teacher, Miss Cosburn. She frog-marched me to the classroom of another English teacher, who was looking for somebody to be in a play that was going to compete in a statewide contest. I did the play, we won the contest, and I became an actor. That’s how life works.” -- Morgan Freeman, on how he got turned on to acting