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"The Best Music Boxed Sets for 2010" (Various formats)
Wayne Klein
Studio: Various
Release Date:
Special Features:

DVDs, bonus tracks, flac files (varies)


Another year (thankfully in this case with the economic downturn that we're in) bites the dust and I'm hoping for a better year for those saying prayers for those who have lost their jobs, health benefits, etc. and hope that 2011 will improve for everyone. With the close of another year and Christmas upon us I thought I would take a look at the dying music landscape and see what pickings there are for the best releases in 2010 that you can get for a loved one. ***

1.)- "Apple Boxed Set" (Apple/EMI Import) ***

Expensive (buy it through it is less if you can) but worth it, this boxed set picks the cream of the Apple label. As most folks are aware The Beatles elected to create a label minus the pressures and compromises of a major label. Unfortunately, the unraveling of the The Beatles relationships contributed to the premature end of Apple along with a lack of consistent leadership in the UK, the label started off with promise but quickly degraded into nothing more than a vanity label. ***

This boxed set features ALL of the Badfinger releases (not The Iveys release--the first album the band made before their name change). "Magic Christian Music", "No Dice", "Straight Up" and "Ass" all receive strong remasters by the EMI team that did the Beatles releases last year. All feature different bonus tracks from the original CD releases and use better source tapes than the DCC release that was remastered by Steve Hoffmann and was the standard for "No Dice" and "Straight Up". "Ass" sounds worlds better as the original release suffered from excessive noise reduction which made the tapes sound dead plus includes five bonus tracks (although it is missing the original bonus track). There is also a bonus CD available only in this set (although they are available as mp3 digital downloads NOT flac lossless files) with 20 bonus tracks some of which have NEVER been released. ***

There's also Jackie Lomax's release on Apple which sounds marvelous as well as Billy Preston's two albums. The only drawback is that you get a couple of acquired taste albums--the Radna Krishna album released by Apple as well as contemporary composer John Tavener's two albums (Tavener's approach is a bit avant garde at times), Doris Troy, Mary Hopkins' two Apple releases (and some Hopkins' bonus tracks on the Apple bonus CD) and an Apple sampler release that includes many singles not included on these albums. We also get James Taylor's debut with bonus tracks.

This set includes the following discs:

James Taylor "James Taylor"/Badfinger "Ass"/Badfinger "Straight Up"/ Badfinger "No Dice"/ Badfinger "Magic Christian Music"/ Billy Preston "Encouraging Words"/ Billy Preston "That's The Way God Planned It"/ Doris Troy "Doris Troy"/ Mary Hopkin "Earth Song Ocean Song"/ Mary Hopkin "Post Card"/ John Tavener "The Whale/Celtic Requiem" (Two albums on one disc) /Jackie Lomax "Is This What You Want"/ Modern Jazz Quartet "Under the Jasmine Tree/Space" (Two albums on one disc) The Radha Krsna "Temple"/ The Best of Apple Records "Come And Get It" (Including some exclusive Apple singles that have never appeared on CD before) Two disc with previously unreleased and released tracks

Special Features: The bonus CDs are nice with Badfinger, Lomax, Hopkins and other alternate tracks that didn't make the main albums. Each CD has a booklet with an essay discussing the making of the albums in a cardboard gatefold sleeve. I feel that the packaging could be slightly better for the set. ---

Final Words:

Expensive but recommended for fans however if you want only one or two artists I'd suggest picking up the individual releases and downloading the tracks from the internet. ---

2.)-"Station to Station Deluxe Edition" -David Bowie (EMI)***

"Station to Station" remains one of Bowie's seminal albums and marked another major stylistic shift for one of the few artists in the 70's that showed the musical chameleon-like ability of bands like The Beatles to change and progress over time. There are two variations of this set; the five disc set with a three vinyl set and a three CD set with much of the same musical content (although of differing quality but we'll come back to that). ***

The deluxe edition includes the following: *Original album/ * Previously unreleased 'Live Nassau Coliseum '76' concert * /Station To Station - RCA CD Master */ 5-track Singles versions CD E.P. incl. previously unreleased version of Station To Station, and for first time on CD, Word On A Wing */ 3 x 12" heavyweight vinyl */ DVD with new 5.1 mix */ 24-page booklet, including: never before seen Steve Schapiro photo, Geoff MacCormack photos, Andrew Kent live Nassau photos & extensive memorabilia from the archives */ Cameron Crowe sleevenotes * 6 panel folded poster */ Onstage folder */ Replica Backstage pass */ Replica Biog * /Replica Ticket */ Replica band line-up * /3 press shots * /Replica Fan club folder */ Replica Fan Club Membership card */ Fan club certificate */ 2 small Collectors cards */ 2 photo prints */ Replica 4-page biography */ 2 badges ***

This is a fairly expensive set but for long time fans it will be worth it but it seems that including the vinyl AND CD is a bit redunant. Why not release a separate vinyl version and CD version? I believe that there was probably going to be three versions originally but cut back on because of the economy. ***

The 3 CD version includes the following: /Original album, / Previously unreleased 'Live Nassau Coliseum '76' concert, / 6-page booklet / 3 postcards ***

All of this is included in a small CD sized boxed set. ---

Sound Quality: The original "Station to Station" CD sounds extremely good and is nearly a digital clone of the original West German release. It sounds like some of the drop outs were fixed by Peter Mew but, aside from that, it hasn't been messed with. ***

The concert IS compressed with little to no dyanmic range but it is still listenable. I do wish that it was mastered with more dynamic range. It still sounds pretty good at lower volumes and on less revealing systems (for example in the car it sounds REALLY good and when transferred to an ipod it sounds better than an mp3 file). Again, I do wish the mastering was better but, overall, this is a good set. ---

Final Words: Either set is a good gift but the more expensive one has a DVD-A 5.1 mix and lots of cool extras. The vinyl might be unnecessary for a lot of music fans and the CDs the same since usually vinyl and CD fans are usually (but not always) mutally exclusive. ---

3. "Shoot Out the Lights" (2 CD Deluxe Edition)-Richard and Linda Thompson (Rhino Hand Made) ***

They should have called their concert appearances "The Divorce Tour". "Shoot Out the Lights" remains a seminal 80's album and one of Richard and Linda Thompson's finest achievements. Although it wasn't written about their martial discord, "Shoot Out the Lights" certainly reflected the aftermath of failing marriage. A spare, brilliantly written/performed/produced album and one of the Thompsons' towering achievements. ***

This release is available for a limited time from rhinohandmade. ---

Sound Quality:

The first disc sounds very similar to the stand-alone release from a couple of years ago. I can't prove it but I suspect this is the same mastering as before. The second disc sounds surprisingly good considering all the different sources used. ---

As many fans know this was the second attempt to make the album the first was with Hugh Murphy (and Gerry Rafferty)and Richard wasn't happy with the result. He, Linda and producer Joe Boyd started all over again. The first disc is the original album (unfortunately none of the earlier tracks are here and "Living in Luxury" hasn't been added back to the CD. It was never on the album but was a b-side to the single).

Special Features:

The second disc consists of the surviving live recordings taken from the multitracks for the San Francisco, Santa Cruz appearances and from soundboard cassetttes. The multitracks were damaged for most of these performances (some of them irrepairably)but Ed Haber working with the Rhino team managed to restore some of these for this set. Sound quality is surprisingly good given the various sources and damaged state of some of these tapes and Haber along with input from Richard and Linda Thompson has assembled the best surviving performances for an 11 track CD: ***

1. Dargai/ 2. Backstreet Slide/ 3. Pavane/ 4. I'll Keep It with Mine/ 5. Borrowed time/ 6. Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?/ 7. I'm A Dreamer/ 8. Honky Tonk Blues/ 9. Shoot Out the Lights/ 10. For Shame of Doing Wrong/ 11. Dimming of the Day (and a "hidden" track at the end of the CD--"Price of Love"--from a cassette recording so the quality does fall a bit). ***

All of these have never been released before and since the only other full length concert recording is from a 1975 show, it's nice to have these tracks as well. Sadly, Joe Boyd DIDN'T record the L.A. shows which were by all accounts outstanding so this is all we have with good sound (at least "offically"). ***

The CDs are housed in an oversized hardcover book with a deluxe booklet including comments/interviews from the Thompsons' band, Haber as well as Joe Boyd. The original lyrics are also included presented in the same typeface and design as on the inner sleeve for the original vinyl album (and on the booklet for the earlier CDs as well). It's kind of big to store with your regular CDs but you could do what I did and just rip the songs from the CDs for listening in the car. I'm sure some folks might not like the design but I did--it isn't as big as most "boxed sets" and it adds quality to it in my opinion. ---

Final Words:

A seminal album "Shoot Out the Lights Deluxe" could have been better but what we do get is terrific. Recommended for fans. ---

4.)-"Band on the Run Deluxe Edition" -Paul McCartney & Wings (MPL/EMI) ***

Like the Apple releases, "Band on the Run" has been remastered by the EMI team and there are THREE versions of this in release: 1) the four disc edition in a large format hardcover book with a limited edition number assigned. One of these discs includes previously unreleased versions, b-sides, audio documentary and the DVD documentary "One Hand Clapping"; 2) a three disc version in a traditional CD sized cardboard packaging with a deluxe booklet which includes a DVD "One Hand Clapping" a documentary that fans have been waiting for and a disc of previously unreleased tracks, b-sides, etc.; 3) a single disc set that includes the original UK version of the album (the UK version was used for all of these sets which means it's missing "Helen Wheels").

Sound Quality: The four disc set also includes flac files for lossless digital downloads and these sound terrific. They sound better than the CD mastering which although good suffers from peak limiting and isn't quite as good as the Gold standard Steve Hoffmann's DCC mastering. ---

Special Features: The documentary and bonus musical disc are essential the audio documentary disc which is in the deluxe edition has been released before (on the 25 Anniversary Edition) and isn't. ---

Final Words: While this edition of "Band on the Run" isn't the best sounding, it is good sounding and features some terrific extras. I'd recommend the four disc edition for the collector but for most folks the three disc set will more than suffice. ---


5.)- "The John Lennon Signature Collection" (Apple/EMI) ***

"Suddenly your 30 and there's so much more to do"/"Life begins at 40"-John Lennon ***

Released as part of the celebration of what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday, the "John Lennon Signature Box" gathers the 5 solo studio albums Lennon made between 1970-1975, Lennon's recordings that were exclusive to his singles, John and Yoko's 1980 album "Double Fantasy", the posthumous release "Milk and Honey" and a disc of previously unreleased demos/alternate takes from 1970-1971 in a handsomely designed box. ***

Missing from this set are the trio of avant garde albums that Lennon and Ono recorded together prior to 1970--"Two Virgins", "The Wedding Album" and "Life with the Lions". Also missing is "Live Peace in Toronto" and while we get "Double Fantasy" we don't get the "Double Fantasy Stripped" disc which features the album without the overdubs which is a missed opportunity and it SHOULD have been included but both EMI and Ono want you to shell out the extra bucks for that album (which means if you buy this set you'll have two discs with the original "Double Fantasy" mix). ---

Sound Quality:

The remastered sound done by the same team that did The Beatles remasters from last year are a marked improvement over the original late 80's CD releases for the first 5 albums. These will sound different from the 2000 reissue of those albums because those were remixes. These are the original mixes that Lennon prepared. The remixes had their merit as well since often the remixing improved the overall clarity of some albums (Particularly "Mind Games") but they were flawed as they were heavily compressed (which makes things louder and sacrifices the dynamics, i.e., the range between the quietest and loudest moments on an album. It's the dynamics that often give the music it's power for example without the dynamic build up of sound from "A Day in the Life", the song would lose much of its power). They also suffered from harsh peak limiting which causes digital distortion. ***

For these new remasters the EMI team went back to the original mastertapes, cleaned them up, eliminated any imperfections due to edits and used every device they could to come as close to the sound of the master tapes as possible. The results are better low end, more detailed and powerful bass and drums and improved clarity in the vocals and instrument separation. Noise reduction was used minimally (the overuse of which was a flaw with the U.S. and UK original CDs of these albums particularly for "Mind Games" and "Imagine"). ***

"Double Fantasy" and "Milk & Honey" were NOT worked on by the Abbey Road/EMI team but were remastered by George Marino for this set. While they are an improvement over the 2001 remasters for both albums,I don't think that they show quite as much improvement over the original CD issues of these albums. In a comparison to both "DF" and "M&H" 2001 editions and these, the ones included here don't sound signficantly different--not quite as loud perhaps but not Marino's best work either. Both suffer from hard limiting and compression and do not sound as good as the EMI/Abbey Road work done on the first five albums and singles on the first bonus disc. ---

Special Features:

The downside is that the bonus tracks that were included on the 2000 remixes aren't always here and none of them are attached to the original disc (some may prefer these that way although I don't since some of the bonus track editions were a bit odd to me). Some of the songs (such as some of the singles like "Power to the People") are included on the two disc singles/demos disc included here. The 13 previously unreleased tracks on the second bonus disc are quite good some of which are radically different arrangements ("I Don't Want to Be a Soldier"), some subtly so ("Mother" with guitar on the track as well as piano, drums and bass)and the veresion of "Serve Yourself" is superior to the one on the "Lennon Anthology" in my opinion. While "India" and the demo for "Nobody Told Me" are quite good as well. I do wish that the unfinished "Now and Then" (which the rest of The Beatles briefly thought about completing for the "Anthology" series) ***

The packaging is quite nice and includes a booklet with an essay, reproductions of original artwork and lyric sheets about Lennon, brief essays by Yoko, Julian Lennon and Sean Lennon. There's also a card for internet content included as well and a lithograph which is in a drawer at the bottom of the box. The CDs themselves are housed (without protective sleeves I might add--which is a negative given how much you may pay for this set)cardboard sleeves similar in design to The Beatles remasters. The drawer is not the best idea as the lithograph can easily become stuck and, quite frankly, it seems unnecessary and silly as the litho will fit on top of the CDs in the box proper. ***

The booklets are quite nice and include an essay on the making of the album as well as the original lyrics (except for "Rock 'n' Roll")and credits. ---

Final Words:

Will you like this set? If you prefer the remixes probably not but, if you want Lennon's original album mixes restored and presented with top notch sound and attention to detail, you will. The "bonus disc" with the demos/alternate takes aren't essential but they are nice to have and compliment the "Lennon Anthology" from a decade ago. ***

These sound exceptional although, like most remasters, there are some flaws one could nitpick about. These reissues beat the original CD issues of the original mixes. Overall this is a nice set and would make an excellent gift for Lennon/Beatles fans particularly the latter who enjoyed the Beatles remasters. ***

It's sad that we'll never know what Lennon had to say about being 70. Recommended. ---

6.)- "Bob Dylan: The Original Mono Recordings"-Bob Dylan (Sony) ***

The success of The Beatles "Mono" boxed set inspired other major labels to release the mono mixes of vintage recordings. This set is worthwhile because some of the early mono albums were considered the essential versions of the albums. This collects Dylan's first eight albums with all of the original mono mixes released on CD for the first time. The albums in this set include: ***

*Bob Dylan /The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan /The Time They Are A-Changin' /Another Side Of Bob Dylan /Bringing It All Back Home /Highway 61 Revisited /Blonde On Blonde /John Wesley Harding ---

Sound Quality:

None of these are fold down mixes (which is where you take a stereo recording and combine them to "create" a mono mix--it's different and not as good sounding as dedicated mono mix in most cases) and they all sound quite good. Unlike a lot of new remasters these aren't brickwalled and the sound quality is quite good. ---

Special Features: had a special limited edition live vintage recording included as part of the package (I would point out however that this "limited edition disc" is, reportedly, getting a regular release some time next year). The live recording sounds quite nice and fits in well with the other albums sound wise. ***

We get replicas of the original artwork for the vinyl versions for each disc and they are presented as cardboard sleeves. We also get a 60 page booklet written by critic Greil Marcus and housed in a hard cardboard box for these releases.

Final Words:

An exceptional set inspired by "The Beatles in Mono", "Bob Dylan: The Original Mono Recordings" sounds marvelous and is a nice package. We get an excellent booklet written by Greil Marcus that's filled with insight into the artist. I personally felt that this set probably should have had the limited edition disc as part of the regular set but that's a minor quibble.

7.)-"The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story"-Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band (Sony) ***

During the time that Bruce Springsteen was embroiled in a lawsuit with his management company he couldn't release any music. He recorded about three albums worth of material and pared it down to a single disc "Darkness on the Edge of Town" one of The Boss' masterpieces. Fans have traded these tracks for years but this is the first time (aside from a couple of tracks that ended up on Springsteen's catch all boxed set "Tracks") that they have appeared in highly quality from the original master tapes. Many of these recordings weren't quite finished or Springsteen wasn't quite happy with the vocal performances or overdubs and went back to add new overdubs and vocals where possible. Some purists may balk at this but the fact is that ALL of these tracks are essential for Springsteen fans. ***

After the success of the deluxe "Born to Run" Sony and Springsteen elected to reissue this in a deluxe package. ---

Special Features:

"The Promise" is available in two versions; 1) deluxe edition which features "Darkness on the Edge of Town" 2) the two disc "The Promise" release featuring mostly unreleased tracks many with new or additional overdubs 3) Three DVD or Blu-rays listed below. ***

Blu-Ray 1: The Promise: The Making of "Darkness on the Edge of Town"-An good documentary on the making of the album. ***

Blu-Ray 2: Darkness on the Edge of Town (Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ, 2009)

1. Badlands/ 2. Adam Raised A Cain/ 3. Something In The Night/ 4. Candy's Room/ 5. Racing In The Street/ 6. The Promised Land/ 7. Factory/ 8. Streets Of Fire/ 9. Prove It All Night/ 10. Darkness On The Edge Of Town/

Thrill Hill Vault (1976-1978)

1. Save My Love (Holmdel, NJ 76) 2. Candy's Boy (Holmdel, NJ 76) 3. Something In The Night (Red Bank, NJ 76) 4. Donít Look Back (NYC 78) 5. Ain't Good Enough For You (NYC 78) 6. The Promise (NYC 78) 7. Candy's Room Demo (NYC 78) 8. Badlands (Phoenix 78) 9. The Promised Land (Phoenix 78) 10. Prove It All Night (Phoenix 78) 11. Born To Run (Phoenix 78) 12. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) (Phoenix 78)

Blu-Ray 3:

Houston '78 Bootleg:

House Cut 1. Badlands 2. Streets Of Fire 3. Itís Hard To Be A Saint In The City 4. Darkness On The Edge Of Town 5. Spirit In The Night 6. Independence Day 7. The Promised Land 8. Prove It All Night 9. Racing In The Street 10. Thunder Road 11. Jungleland 12. The Ties That Bind 13. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town 14. The Fever 15. Fire 16. Candy's Room 17. Because The Night 18. Point Blank 19. She's The One 20. Backstreets 21. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) 22. Born To Run 23. Detroit Medley 24. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out 25. You Can't Sit Down 26. Quarter To Three ***

All of this is packaged in a deluxe oversize hardcover book which features reproductions of notes from Springsteen's notebook. There's also a very good essay included by Springsteen as well as many previously unreleased photos. ---

Final Words:

This is a very good set with previously unreleased tracks, concerts and a very good essay. It's nice that Sony has reissued this in multiple versions because not everyone will want all the DVD/Blu-rays but might just want the music only. The deluxe set will be essential for fans of Bruce. ---

9.)- "Mythology"-Bee Gees (Rhino) ***

This four CD boxed set highlights the Brothers Gibb (which is what Bee Gees really stands for those who don't know) with one disc devoted to each brother including their youngest brother the late Andy Gibb who died at the age of 30. While this doesn't substitute for the deluxe reissues of the other Bee Gees albums AFTER "Odessa" that Rhino Hand Made released nor the first boxed set that included the band's first four albums with stereo/mono mixes as well as bonus tracks. "Mythology" covers some of the same ground as those sets which might make this redunant for those fans who purchased the previous sets. ***

Nevertheless, this set is well worth picking up for many fans as to whether or not this will be essential for those fans who picked up the previous sets, that'll be up to the individual but as a gift it's a solid set. Each disc was picked by the surviving Bee Gees or their immediate family members for this set. ---

Sound Quality:

The mastering here is good and doesn't suffer from the most extreme sins that major labels have committed over the last decade BUT it isn't what I would call audiophile quality. ---

Special Features:

Unfortunately there isn't a DVD or Blu-ray with live appearances or a documentary on the band's career but we do get a booklet that includes tributes by George Martin, Brian Wilson, Elton John, their long time manager and former head of their label Robert Stigwood and Graham Nash. There are a lot of previously unseen photos. What would have been nice would have been a disc of rarities/previously unreleased tracks or a DVD/Blu-ray of live performances or documentary. ---

Final Words:

"Mythology" IS still a good set with plenty of good stuff on it.


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