Music in a Box

If you have the cash, you can buy one of these special collections

It's been a long time since holiday gift-getters could be satisfied simply with two front teeth.

Nowadays, among other things, all we want for Christmas are discs of digital music to feed the insatiable and quickly multiplying assortment of electronic gadgets with which we surround ourselves: We want ever more glittering jewels (as in jewel cases) to line up proudly on those adorable blond IKEA shelves we couldn't resist.

If that sounds a bit Scrooge-like, scoring a couple of the following items will brighten anybody's disposition.

And despite the increasing dominance of music that exists simply as files on a computer or an iPod, record companies and retailers are doing their best to convince us that the holiday season requires purchases of elaborately packaged compendiums that span a given artist's entire career or examine a specific musical genre or era in minute detail.

Thus, here is Tucson Weekly's annual roundup and guide for giving and getting new CD box sets.

Please remember: This is not a comprehensive list. There are numerous intriguing box sets out there, far more than we have room to address here. Seek, and ye shall find.

It should also be noted that several promising sets had yet to be released at press time, including offerings from Robyn Hitchcock (five discs, $57.98, was in stores on Nov. 13); Genesis (five CDs and five DVDs, $99.98, in stores Nov. 20); Donald Fagen (seven discs, $59.98, Nov. 20); The Brit Box, featuring Brit-pop bands of the 1980s and '90s (four discs, $64.98, Nov. 20); the various Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks (four discs and 1 DVD, $74.98, Dec. 4); and Pink Floyd (16 discs, $235.99, Dec. 4.).

Speaking of pricey boxes: If you won the lottery this year, or if you feel like taking out a second mortgage on your home, record companies have provided lots of high-ticket products for you to invest in, such as the $170, 13-disc Tony Bennett collection, titled simply The Classic Collection; a $162, six-disc Gene Vincent box, Outtakes; and the Style Council's The Paper Sleeve Box, a limited-edition, 10-disc, Japanese import that goes for $418.

Compared to those, the 60-CD Beethoven: Complete Masterpieces collection is a true bargain. This German import can be had for between $120 and $150 from various online sellers.

With the exception of the Beethoven compilation, the prices listed in this article are all suggested retail prices. Wise shoppers know they can seek out better deals online and offline, as well as from dealers who trade in previously owned copies.

Luther Vandross, Love, Luther

EPIC, 4 CDS, $49.98

It's about time the career of the silky-smooth soul singer Vandross, who passed away in 2005, was commemorated with a box set. More than 50 songs trace Luther's singing life, from heart-breaking love songs and funky dance numbers to the Burt Bacharach classic "A House Is Not a Home" (Luther's is the definitive version) and his touching "Dance With My Father." Lots of goodies are here, including previously unreleased demos, alternative versions, live cuts and duets with the likes of Beyoncé, Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick, Gregory Hines and Aretha Franklin. The booklet includes rare family photos and a beautiful poem from Luther's mother.

Nick Drake, Fruit Tree

Fontana Island, 3 CDS/1 DVD, $59.98

This box set of recordings by the late English folk-rock singer Nick Drake--who remained almost unnoticed by the listening public before his 1974 death--already is a classic, having been first released in 1986. Now that Drake's introspective, beautiful music is more popular--it appears in TV shows and commercials--the set is being reissued in a slightly different form. It contains the three brilliant studio albums Drake saw released in his lifetime: Pink Moon, Bryter Later and Five Leaves Left. But, unlike the earlier edition, this one lacks the outtakes and rarities CD Time of No Reply (now only available separately) and instead adds a DVD containing the BBC documentary A Skin Too Few.

The Fall, The Fall Box Set

Castle Music UK, 5 CDS, $73.98

Abrasive post-punk pioneer Mark E. Smith is pretty much the only consistent member of The Fall--which has been pissing off the world for 30 years now. He "sings" in his trademark indecipherable yowl and expresses typical cynicism throughout these 91 career-spanning songs, fully re-mastered, in case you cared. Among the treasures for fans of old-school British punk rock are assorted singles, B-sides, remixes, alternative versions, album tracks and live recordings. Up yours, Maggie Thatcher!

Various Artists, Trojan Slack Reggae Box Set

Trojan, 3 CDS, $21.99

Perennially, some of the best box-set deals come from the legendary Jamaican reggae label Trojan Records, which repackages music from its archives in bare-bones (no liner notes or extra photos), bargain-priced collections according to the style of reggae (dub, rockers, mod, ska). This one, something of a sequel to The Trojan X-Rated Box Set of 2002, features potty-mouthed dance-hall performers pushing the boundaries of taste with X-rated lyrics. It collects 50 songs from the likes of Yellowman, Derrick Morgan, Sister Wendy, Gospel Fish, and Chaka Demus and Pliers. For adults only! Other new Trojan products this year include box sets devoted to country reggae and to tunes that were hits in the United Kingdom.

Various Artists, Heavy Metal

Rhino/Warner, 4 CDS, $64.98

Speaking of metal, this box set takes the 2007 prize for most novel packaging--it looks like the head from a Marshall guitar amp. From Iron Butterfly's proto-metal "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" to Sepultura's "Dead Embryonic Cells," the 70 cuts here follow the evolution of the style from 1968 to 1991. (Leaving the decade and a half since for Volume 2, perhaps?) Also featured are tracks by groups Megadeth and Helloween, both of which are honored with their own box sets this season. Liner notes include essays written by rockers Ronnie James Dio and Lita Ford, as well as a history of metal by critic Mick Wall. This collection relies way too much on '80s hair metal (Skid Row, Poison, Cinderella), but it has the good taste to include "Big Bottom" by mock-metal geniuses Spinal Tap. You'll be banging your head well into the new year.

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