Top 10 Box Sets
Unlike with greatest-hits albums, we want a little more than just the songs we know from box sets. We expect all the popular tracks and singles, but if we’re going to pay $50 for a set, there should be at least a handful of previously unreleased gems scattered in there somewhere. It doesn’t make much sense for an artist who’s released three albums to get a box set, but for someone like, say, Eric Clapton — who’s played with countless bands and has released lots of solo records, some way better than others — the box set is a perfect forum to document a long, varied career. Clapton’s ‘Crossroads’ made our list of the Top 10 Box Sets, but what else did? Read on.
This four-disc box from 1991 spans King Crimson’s entire career up to that point — from 1969’s debut album ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ through 1984’s ‘Three of a Perfect Pair.’ The last disc features nine songs recorded in concert, a playground for the wildly improvisational band. Most of the band’s concept albums shouldn’t be broken up, but ‘Frame by Frame’ constructs a great primer from the pieces.
Scattered among the 47 songs on this three-disc box are demos (including an economical four-minute version of ‘Free Bird’), alternate mixes (a less-funky ‘What’s Your Name’) and live cuts (almost nine blazing minutes of ‘T for Texas’). There’s plenty of studio tracks here too, and it unfurls like a three-and-a-half-hour history lesson on one of southern rock’s greatest treasures.
Like the ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’ collection (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Box Sets), this four-disc Allman Brothers set chronologically chronicles one of southern rock’s best bands. But there’s also plenty of material by Gregg and Duane’s earlier groups, as well as solo cuts by Gregg, Duane and Dickey Betts. Previously unreleased live recordings by the band also show up.
The Band’s musical history stretches back so far, this hefty five-CD, one-DVD collection doesn’t even get to their debut album until the second disc. First, there are cuts by Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, both of whom the Band backed. There are also live cuts with Dylan from the ’60s and ’70s, studio outtakes, alternate mixes and some grand cuts from ‘The Last Waltz,’ the going-away party the Band threw for themselves in 1977.
The Byrds released a dozen albums during their nine-year existence. Only half of them are worth hearing. But there are some good songs buried on those dud albums. This four-disc box pulls their very best, starting with the first singles, released when they were still called the Beefeaters. Because reissues of the Byrds’ albums included most of the leftovers, the previously unreleased material on ‘There Is a Season’ is mostly live.
‘Peel Slowly and See’ (1995)
For our list of the Top 10 Box Sets, we stayed away from collections that merely throw together a bunch of albums by an artist. But we made an exception for the Velvet Underground’s monumental ‘Peel Slowly and See,’ which compiles all four of the influential band’s studio records. But each is augmented with demos, live versions and alternate mixes. Plus, there’s an entire disc of demos recorded before their debut album.
‘Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968′ (1998)
The original ‘Nuggets’ was a 27-song, double-record compilation released in 1972. In 1998, that essential album became the first disc in a four-CD set of garage-rock classics from the ’60s. More than 120 songs by bands like the Electric Prunes, the Standells and the Seeds are gathered on this terrific collection of guitar-powered tracks by mostly obscure bands.
Like his disciples the Byrds (see No. 6 on our list of the Top 10 Box Sets), Bob Dylan has made some spotty records. This three-disc collection (the first CD box set) grabs a little bit from every era up through the early ’80s. ‘Biograph’ doesn’t play out chronologically, but instead by theme, and there’s plenty of previously unreleased gems sprinkled in along the way. Most of his best-known songs are here too, making it a perfect starting point for new fans. And this was before his late-’90s comeback.
There are way too many Stones anthologies available. Most of them aren’t worth your time. But this three-disc, 58-song collection of all their singles (A and B sides, with a few exceptions regarding ’70s B sides because of contractual reasons) released between 1963 and 1971 is a terrific overview of the first part of their career. All of the songs are available elsewhere, but this mostly mono set puts them all in one place and in perspective.
Very few artists have had careers as wide-ranging as Clapton’s, so this four-disc set is perfectly suited to the format. And it’s as much an Eric Clapton box as it is a Yardbirds box, a Cream box and a Derek and the Dominos box. In fact, his solo career doesn’t even get covered until midway through the third CD. Plus, there’s some live and previously unreleased songs. Superb.