Box sets by the pound

By Tom Von Malder | Jan 09, 2013
Photo by: Tom Von Malder Eric Clapton performs in Mansfield, Mass.

Owls Head — Over the last year or so, there has been a tendency to release large anniversary sets, including Pink Floyd boxes complete with marbles and coasters. Recent releases include Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel and, naturally, Elvis Presley. Then there are complete album collections, including a Blue Oyster Cult box and the Johnny Cash mammoth box (reviewed in the last column). Perhaps the ultimate, though is the anniversary edition of King Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic,” originally a single album in 1972, but now a 14-CD and one Blu-ray disc release. Ultimately, the decision to spring for any of these deluxe sets -- and make no mistake, some are quite pricey -- comes down to the extras.

Eric Clapton: Slowhand, 35th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition (Universal/Polydor, 3 CDs, 1 DVD, 1 vinyl). Arguably, guitar god Clapton’s best solo album, and certainly his most popular -- Clapton’s early and really great period was all group-oriented, including Cream and Derek and the Dominos -- “Slowhand” was released in 1977. The title is the nickname Giorgio Gomelsky gave Clapton. Gomelsky managed and produced the Yardbirds, another early Clapton group (1963-1965). (In 1967, Gomelsky started Marmalade Records, which featured early recordings by Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, who became 10CC; see below.) “Slowhand” yielded three hit singles: Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight”; “Lay Down Sally” by Clapton, Marcy Levy and George Terry; and Clapton’s classic cover of J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine.” On the album, Clapton also covered Don Williams’ “We’re All the Way,” John Martyn’s “May You Never” and Arthur Crudup’s “Mean Old Frisco,” covering country, folk and blues in the process.

It was Clapton’s fifth solo album and peaked at number two on the Billboard album chart. This deluxe version includes the album remastered from the original analogue masters and expanded with four bonus tracks, a;; session out-takes. Three of which are previously unreleased. The unreleased tracks include a cover of Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot’s “Looking at the Rain” and Clapton’s own “Stars, Strays and Ashtrays.” The second disc is an audio-only DVD with the album in both hi-resolution stereo and 5.1 Surround Sound. There also is a vinyl version of the original album. The reason to get this version is the complete April 27, 1977 live show at Hammersmith Odeon on two CDs Ten of the 14 live tracks are previously unreleased, including covers of Bob Dylan’s “Sign Language,” Jimmy Cox’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” Clapton’s hit version of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff,” Willie Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway” and, from his Cream days, Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Badge” (Clapton co-wrote it with George Harrison). Previously released live tracks are versions of Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday,” “Further on Up the Road” and “Tell the Truth” from his Derek days. You cannot fault the music, but the printed material is somewhat disappointing, as it includes three replica tour programs and a 26-page booklet that looks at the recording process.

Peter Gabriel: So, 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (RealWorld, 4 CDs, 2 DVDs, 1LP). Released in 1986, “So” was Gabriel’s fifth solo album since leaving Genesis, and the first to have a title. Canadian Daniel Lanois produced the album, which topped the British charts and reached number two in America. Classic songs on the album include “Red Rain” (which I just heard on the radio tonight), “Sledgehammer,” “Don’t Give Up” (a duet with Kate Bush) and “In Your Eyes.” If you want extras, you get them here, in what is really a thrilling package. Not only is the original album remastered, but a second CD delves into the writing and recording of the album via a track-by-track evolutionary process, including the early moments when ideas were found and formed, through various stages of song development and recording. Another two CDs present previously unreleased audio from the Lykabettus Theatre show in Athens in 1987. In addition to songs from “So,” the concert includes “Shock the Monkey,” “Games Without Frontiers,” “Solsbury Hill” and “Biko.” The first of two DVDs is devoted to that Athens concert, with two hours of rare, previously unseen footage. A second DVD contains the Classic Albums presentation on “So,” a 90-minute documentary. All five discs are housed within a 60-page casebound book, including an introduction and DNA summary by Gabriel and rare, unpublished photos. The remastered album also is included on 180 gram vinyl, with the track listing changed to that favored by Gabriel. There also is an exclusive 12-inch AA side vinyl with previously unreleased tracks “Courage” and “Sagrada,” as well as an alternate piano version and Bvox mix of “Don’t Give Up.” Buyers also can download a studio-quality 24-bit version of the album.

Rage Against the Machine: XX, 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Epic/Legacy, 2 CDs, 2 DVDs and 1 vinyl). The quartet, produced by Rick Rubin, presented music with barely contained aggression in this, its eponymous 1992 debut. The band’s propulsive mix of rap, metal and funk became very influential for dozens of bands that followed. Outstanding tracks include “Bombtrack,” “Killing in the Name,” “Bullet in the Head” and “Take the Power Back.” The box set includes a vinyl version of the album; the album on CD with three bonus live tracks; a CD of the original demos; a DVD with a June 6, 2010 London concert (70 min.), plus 12 music videos (51 min.) and 10 live clips, recorded in California, Germany, England and the Netherlands between 1994 and 1997 (43 min.); and a DVD with the group’s first public performance at Cal State North Ridge in 1991 (52 min.) and 10 more early performances from 1992 through 1994 (51 min.). There also is a poster, a postcard and a 40-page booklet with liner notes by Chuck D.

King Crimson: Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, The Complete Recordings (Panegyric/WHD/Inner Knot import, 13 CDs, 1 DVD and 1 Blu-ray disc). This mammoth set presents just about everything done by the short-lived quintet line-up of King Crimson that consisted of Bill Bruford (drums), David Cross (violin, flute, mellotron), Robert Fripp (guitar, mellotron, devices), Jamie Muir (percussion)and John Wetton (bass, vocals). The line-up was announced in July 1972, the first full rehearsal was Sept. 4 and the final performance was Feb. 10, 1973. The album, presented here in both a remastered version of the original 1973 stereo mix and the 2012 stereo album mix by Fripp and Steven Wilson, was recorded in January and early February 1973. The album includes the two-part title track, one of which opens the album, while the other closes it, as well as “Book of Saturday,” “Exiles,” “Easy Money” and “The Talking Drum.” The box set contains every known live performance and studio recording by the band. These include two discs recorded at the Zoom Club in Frankfurt, Germany; a live studio session in Bremen; shows at Hull Technical College and Guilford Civic Hall. The Guilford show is from the soundboard, while the others are restored bootlegs, as are shows at Oxford New Theatre, Glasgow Green’s Playhouse and Portsmouth Guildhall during their tour of England. There is a disc of album session reels, assembled and produced by David Singleton, and a disc of alternate takes and mixes. The DVD contains the complete album in 5.1 MLP Lossless and DTS Surround Sound album mix; 43 minutes of previously unseen filmed performance; the original album 30th anniversary mix; alternate takes and mixes in 24/48 hi-res stereo; and the 2012 stereo mix in 24/48 and 24/96 hi-res stereo. The Blu-ray disc contains everything on the DVD, plus hi-res stereo of the session reels disc, hi-res dual mono tracks from the Bremen studio show and 24/96 transfers of the original vinyl pressings. There also is a 36-page booklet with photos, a timeline/diary and a transcript of an extensive Fripp interview with Singleton, as well as a new essay by King Crimson historian Sid Smith. Physical extras include a print of the original album sleeve, individual band member postcards, a reproduction of a tour handbill and a reproduction of a Rainbow Theatre concert ticket stub. As exhaustive as this all is, there also is downloadable audio from the Rainbow Theatre show, although the audio quality is very poor.

The Jam: Classic Album Selection (Six albums 1977-1982) (Polydor/UMC import, 6 CDs). Let’s stick to imports for a bit. The Jam were a British power trio that evolved from punk to the glory pop/soul of  “That’s Entertainment” and “Town Called Malice” under the leadership of guitarist/singer/songwriter Paul Weller, who went on to form The Style Council and has subsequently had a very successful solo career. Bruce Foxton was the bassist and second vocalist, while Rick Buckler was the drummer. The band was huge in England, where they led the mod revival movement by incorporating mainstream 1960s rock and R&B influences (they covered both “In the Midnight Hour” and “Love Is Like a Heat Wave”); but the band had limited success in the United States. The music was always solid to great, but the accents were heavy and the slang foreign -- the third album was called “All Mod Cons” as in all modern conveniences, such as would be in an apartment for rent listing. Boston was one of the cities that took to The Jam and I was fortunate to catch one of their live shows; they would usually only perform five or six North American shows in a tour. This box set collects all six of the band’s studio albums for a great price. Among the hits, in addition to the two previously mentioned songs (both great and among my all-time favorites), are “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight,” “Eton Rifles” and “Going Underground.” Their sixth, and final, studio album, “The Gift,” topped the British charts and, after the group split up, all 15 of their singles were reissued and all placed within the top 100. Other likeable songs include “In the City,” “Non-Stop Dancing,” :The Modern World,” “Here Comes the Weekend,” “David Watts,” “English Rose,” “Billy Hunt,” “Start!” and “The Gift.”

The Jam: A Gift, 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of The Gift (Polydor/UMC import, 3 CDs and 1 DVD). And if you really like The Jam, you can break the bank for this pricey, but really nice box set version of their sixth studio album. (By the way, thanks to my friend Ken, then living in California, I have an autographed version of “The Gift” vinyl album cover.) The first CD includes the original album, plus singles and B-sides. The latter include the 12-inch version of “precious, two versions of “Pity Poor Alfie,” their great “Beat Surrender” single, their soul covers “Move On Up” and “War,” and a cover of “Stoned Out of My Mind.” The second CD contains 15 demo versions, while CD three is a December 1982 concert at Wembley Arena with 23 songs. The DVD includes live video of nine songs from March 1982 in Birmingham; three promo videos, including “The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow,” another great song; the band playing songs from the album on a Danish TV special and their Top of the Pops performance of “Precious” and “Town Called Malice.” The discs are housed in a marvelous, 72-page hardback book, with a forward by Weller, a new essay and interviews. There also are three large postcard prints and a replica 1982 tour program. It took two tries, but I am so glad a got a hold of a copy of this.

10cc: Classic Album Selection (Five albums 1975-1978) (Mercury/Universal import, 6 CDs). This British art rock band adopted the name 10cc in 1972, after the individual members -- Graham Gouldman, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley -- had recorded together on projects for three years. The three were childhood friends from the Manchester area. This collects the band’s third through sixth albums, all released on Mercury Records, as well as the double live CD “Live and Let Live,” released in 1978. The first of the studio albums, “The Original Soundtrack,” opened with the two-part, eight-minute, multi-part mini-opera “Une Nuit a Paris/One Night in Paris/Later That Same Night in Paris,” but it also contained their smash hit, “I’m Not in Love,” notable for its dreamy layering. Godley and Creme set off on their own (the triple vinyl album “Consequences” was the first fruit) after friction developed during the recording of “How Dare You!.” Gouldman continued under the 10cc name and had a hit with “The Things We Do For Love.” The live album was recorded in 1977with the new line-up.

10cc: Tenology (Mercury/Universal import, 4 CDs and 1 DVD). This well-done, limited-edition collection contains some of the material from the first two albums (not included in the above box set), such as “Donna,” their first single, and “Rubber Bullets.” Other early singles included here are “The Worst Band in the World” and “Headline Hustler.” The set includes all of their hit singles, B-sides, some deep album tracks and a few unreleased tracks. The singles are presented in chronological order on the first two discs, including two post-1983 singles. Disc three contains album tracks, with 18 songs from the six studio albums. Disc four is devoted to the B-sides and rarities, including the previously unreleased “People in Love” and “The Recording of Dean and I.” The DVD consists of promo videos and live recordings. There also are five postcards and a hardcover book contains lyrics and a history of the band, including material from new interviews with band members.

Blue Oyster Cult: The Columbia Albums Collection (Columbia/Legacy, 16 CDs and 1 DVD). Back to domestic releases, but continuing multi-album sets, this fine box includes all 14 of Blue Oyster Cult’s Columbia albums, including the live “Some Enchanted Evening,” which also comes with a DVD. The first two albums each come with four bonus tracks, while “Secret Treaties” has five. Early favorites include “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll,” “Dominance and Submission,” “Harvester of Eyes,” “The Red & the Black,” “Godzilla” and the mega-hit “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Just by the titles, you can tell the band used a lot of science fiction imagery. Most of the songs were written by vocalist Eric Bloom (who I got to meet backstage at a Portland, Maine show), drummer Albert Bouchard and Crawdaddy magazine writer Sandy Pearlman. The albums “Agents of Fortune” and “Spectres” both have four bonus tracks, while “Some Enchanted Evening” has seven bonus tracks, including the band’s covers of “Born To Be Wild” and “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place.” There is a disc with 19 rarities, including a Stephen King spoken intro and a cover of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” The final disc contains 13 radio broadcast performances. The set also comes with a 40-page booklet with liner notes by Lenny Kaye and detailed recording information for each album. There also is a code to download four live concerts, one each from 1980, 1981, 1983 and 1986.

Louis Armstrong: The OKeh, Columbia & RCA Victor Recordings, 1925-1933 (Okeh/Columbia/RCA/Legacy, 10 CDs). These discs collect Armstrong’s work as leader of the Hot Five and Hot Seven from 1925 to 1928. His vocalizing and solo improvising on cornet showed the world how to swing. Seminal recordings here include “Heebie Jeebies,” “Cornet Chop Suey,” “Muskrat Ramble,” “Potato Head Blues,” “Twelfth Street Rag,” “S.O.L. Blues,” “That’s When I’ll Come Back To You,” “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” and “Savoy Blues.” The fourth CD is devoted to his work with pianist Earl Hines in Louis Armstrong & His Stompers (“Chicago Breakdown”), Carroll Dickerson’s Stompers, the Hot Five (“West End Blues,” “Basin Street Blues”) and the Savoy Ballroom Five with Don Redman (“No One Else But You,” “St. James Infirmary” and others). In 1929, the newly formed Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra began recording in New York, represented here by discs five and six, including “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue,” “When You’re Smiling,” “After You’ve Gone,” “I Ain’t Got Nobody” and “Body and Soul.” Discs seven and eight include 1931 and 1932 Chicago recordings, including “Them There Eyes,” “Stardust,” “Georgia On My Mind” and “Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea.” Discs nine and 10 include his RCA recordings -- three dozen tracks. The box set does not include the various recordings on which Armstrong appeared as a sideman. Discs one through seven reprise the first seven volumes, now out of print, from the Columbia Jazz Masterpieces series, released from 1988 to 1993. A 44-page booklet contains rare photos and recording session credits.

Duke Ellington: The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection 1951-1958 (Columbia/Legacy, 9 CDs). After World War II, the vast majority of swing bands and orchestras disappeared, owing to gasoline rationing, the Petrillo Ban (a 1942-44 union action banning all commercial recordings by members of the American Federation of Music over royalties), a focus on young new vocalists and the rise of small combo bebop and the new rhythm & blues. Ellington fared better than most, as he was a skilled composer as well as bandleader, and he was able to take advantage of the new long-playing vinyl record format with his extended-length compositions and concepts he came and collaborator Billy Strayhorn came up with. The first disc here contains newly-recorded versions of his familiar themes, including “Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady” and “Solitude” (there are three bonus tracks as well), as does the second with the two-part “Controversial Suite” and the six-part “Liberian Suite.” The LP “A Drum Is a Woman” was a tribute to the Afro-Caribbean jungle roots of jazz. The album “Such Sweet Thunder” was inspired by the works of William Shakespeare, particularly “Romeo and Juliet.” The disc “Ellington Indigos” juxtaposed his standard songbook with evergreens by Rodgers & Hart, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter and others (what we now call the Great American Songbook). “Black, Brown and Beige” was a collaboration with gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, and “Bal Masque” was a tribute to the songs of the big band swing era. Finally, “Duke Ellington’s Spacemen: The Cosmic Scene” looked toward the upcoming Cold War space race. The booklet includes liner notes by two-time Grammy Award-winning writer Loren Schoenberg, artistic director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

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