I went into Home Depot this year a week or two before Halloween and saw Christmas trees and light-up Santas. How many years will it be before the Christmas season starts at Labor Day? Here at All Ears, the obsession with buying and giving consumer products starts after Thanksgiving, as God said it should, and in that spirit I offer the following possibilities:
The Complete Motown Singles: Vol. 11A (Hip-O Select): One can only imagine how good you’d have to be to deserve the complete run of this series, which with this installment reaches 60 discs strong. But this is an interesting place to start — well into the label’s illustrious career, but not past its prime, as little ditties like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and the Temptation’s “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” demonstrate. There are also entries from non-iconic Motowners like Kiki Dee and Bobby Darin.
Roy Orbison, The Soul of Rock and Roll (Legacy): Surely the most essential box for rock ’n’ rollers this year, this four-disc set offers a comprehensive career-length retrospective of one of rock’s greatest vocalists, from early rockabilly days through the 1980s rediscovery that deservedly put him before a new generation of fans. It’ll do fine while we wait for the record-by-record archival series a songwriter of this stature deserves.
Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison and Johnny Cash’s America (Legacy): The first is a long-overdue box dedicated to an album that deserves the adjective “landmark” both for the artist and those who followed him, a set that’s full of unreleased material and includes a colorful documentary, to boot. The latter is mainly a documentary affair, pairing a film full of testimonials (from Al Gore to Snoop Dogg) with a soundtrack CD boasting a few unreleased tracks.
The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Power of Negative Thinking (Rhino): Rhino follows their string of JAMC album reissues with this jam-packed box that ignores familiar LP tracks in favor of every b-side the band put out, plus a truck’s worth of rarities, demos, and singles that weren’t on albums. No, it’s not the most essential set of the year, but it will make some mascara-wearing guy you know very, very happy.
Nina Simone, To Be Free (Legacy): The first-ever box to range through all the periods of this thorny chanteuse’s career. It could easily have been longer but squeezes plenty of unheard stuff in among old favorites like “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” including a couple dozen live tracks and a 1970 TV special on a bonus DVD. `See “How it would feel to be free,” October 1, 2008, for more info.`
Philip Glass, Glass Box (Nonesuch):. This 10-disc retrospective doesn’t cull the archives to offer musical rarities for lifelong Glassites, but it does an admirable job of paring a staggering amount of music down to a digestible, novice-friendly set. Given the prolific composer’s output, look for Glass Box 2 in about five years.
Genesis, 1970-1975 (Rhino): Whether you think of this set as Chapter One in a great band’s career, or (my take) the strange prologue to Peter Gabriel’s winding path, it’s certainly comprehensive. Presenting the original albums plus surround-sound remixes and bonus stuff, it gives hardcore fans the latest-greatest sound quality while revealing for the rest of us — in live-performance footage included on the packaged DVD — the kooky costume and makeup ensembles that would probably inspire retroactive ridicule had Gabriel not gone on to do such amazing things as a solo artist.
Cuba: Punto and Trova of Sancti Spiritus (Musiques du Monde): On a mere two discs, this welcome set presents ample servings of many Cuban genres, featuring quality recording and accompanied by an impressively informative set of notes.
Hunter S. Thompson, The Gonzo Tapes (Shout! Factory): You say the new-to-DVD documentary about the Fear and Loathing author isn’t enough for you? Try this five-CD presentation of the journo’s home tapes, many of which informed the film but, presented in their entirety, offer a somewhat more direct and intimate picture of the man.
The Smiths, The Sound of the Smiths (Rhino): No, this standard-sized package may not look that impressive when adorned with a bow under the Christmas tree. But if your kid brother doesn’t know one of the greatest bands of the ’80s, you’d be better off buying him this than shelling out for a showier set by a band he won’t cherish for the rest of his life. Am I right? •