If the likes of Costco and Amazon have taught us anything, it’s that there’s strength in the bulk deal. There are similar benefits in music, by way of the oft-overlooked box set.
The concept may send your imagination back to the ’90s, when outfits like Columbia House offered CDs for a penny and you couldn’t help but entertain the thought of a 10-disc classic rock collection. The box set pushes on, re-energized by vinyl sales and a return to the cassette tape. Sure, you could stream the lion’s share of these, but the box set often offers something more than just the music, in the form of reflective writing, coffee table-friendly photography, and a tangible presentation you won’t want to put down.
Here are a few that should stand out to every music collector:
Most famous for Jimi Hendrix setting fire to his electric guitar (literally, not figuratively), the Monterrey Pop Fest box set is much, much more. It’s a panoramic snapshot of one of the best eras in rock ‘n’ roll, with ovation-worthy performances by Otis Redding, Lou Rawls, The Byrds, and more. The four-disc set radiates energy throughout, as any good live recording should. The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s outstanding cover of Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone is worth the price of admission alone. Baby Boomers won’t shut up about this golden period of rock and after a listen to this jam-packed fest, it’s hard to blame them.
Many know of gospel legend Mavis Staples but fewer know that she was in a stellar family band early on. This box set captures some of that formative magic through a talented quartet spanning two generations. The tightness of the group’s sound can’t be overlooked, the byproduct of family ties as well as sheer ability. If you feel like going to church but can’t muster the strength to leave the house, throw this collection on. The mix of soulful hymns and classic R&B is divine. It even includes one of the earliest known recordings of the group, set appropriately to a 7-inch vinyl record.
The Beatles turned out hits with mechanical ease. It’s as if the band was programmed from the start to set the pop-rock bar so high you could barely make it out. Complete with a staggering 14 albums, along with some additional material, the expansive Stereo Box Set is a reminder of the British quartet’s mastery of music. Must-have albums like Abbey Road, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are included in their entirety. Bonus swag within this limited-edition set includes a sharp coffee table book with words from acclaimed BBC producer Kevin Howlett.
Prince is among the best of all time, period. But the late great is also the product of an incredible Minneapolis sound that exploded in the 1970s. This collection, from the creative folks at Numero Group, shows just how vibrant that scene is, capturing a unique moment in sonic history when dance music was meshing with glam-rock and groove-laden funk. You’re sure to come away with a few favorite new artists and massive respect for the climate that helped launch The Purple One into our living room speakers.
One of the more bizarre box sets out there, Zaireeka touts added amusement in that it’s highly interactive. The four albums are made to be played simultaneously, meaning you’ll be adventuring to cue up four boomboxes or record players and starting them all at precisely the same time. When done properly, the records align for some heady experimental rock. Listeners are even encouraged to play various combinations of the included records, allowing the listener to play DJ. The wild concept could only have been devised by frontman Wayne Coyne, who apparently was inspired in his youth by cars in parking lots playing the same music in synchronization, often unintentionally.
Jazz admirers and record crate diggers alike will find joy in this box set. It catalogs some of the best work of Bee Hive Records, established in 1977 just outside of the Windy City. The 16 LPs reveal a polarizing point in the genre where bigger acts went mainstream and what many would argue as the real jazz scene was left in the dark. Bee Hive brought these innovative sounds back to life, focusing on the thoughtful jazz of folks you may or may not know, like Dick Katz, Ronnie Matthews, and Arnett Cobb, to name a few. It’s a great look at the acoustic side of jazz, which struggled for popularity at the time but only because people were too focused (mistakenly) on shag carpeting and disco.
When it comes to highly influential North London band The Kinks, there are a handful of box set options. Yet, this one offers a great combo of historical context, unreleased singles, and that vintage Ray Davies sound. The deluxe set expands upon the album of the same name, the last to be released by the original four-piece in 1968. Because it was released alongside some amazing fellow music (literally the same day as The Beatles’ White Album), the record was somewhat overlooked, to begin with. Revisiting it today reminds us that it’s one of the greatest ever, and it comes with tons of extra tracks and remastered material to boot.
A Phish box set seems like the only format for a band known to turn out 40-minute renditions of studio tracks. However, selecting one amid the Vermont jam band’s sprawling library is a tough task, made even harder by the countless live recordings that exist within the fanatical Phish-sphere. But Hampton Comes Alive, released in 1999, is a stellar collage of the band’s signature live gusto and jazzy rock fusion. It’s also full of fantastic covers, including Bold as Love by Jimi Hendrix, Cry Baby Cry by The Beatles, and Sabotage by The Beastie Boys. Ever-appreciative of its massive fanbase, Phish opted to include some fan art and photos in this six-disc set.
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