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Jellyfish, Fan Club

(Not Lame) We’ll open by offering up the rhetorical question that’s invariably asked by most everyone who isn’t a huge Jellyfish fan: isn’t it a bit ridiculous to compile a 4-disc box set of material for a band who only ever released 2 albums in their lifetime? The answer: of course it is. But it doesn’t mean that the band’s fans didn’t go absolutely out of their freaking minds when Bruce Brodeen, founder of Not Lame Records, set upon his labor of love and put together a fantastic collection of demos, live performances, alternate takes, and previously-unreleased songs. Jellyfish’s reputation within the power pop community had done nothing but grow since their demise in 1994, winning countless new fans long after they’d broken up and gone their separate ways; with Fan Club, listeners were able to explore the band’s entire history, evolution, and disintegration via their music as well through reminiscences from the members themselves within the liner notes. Anyone who’s a sucker for a pop hook should join Jellyfish’s Fan Club without hesitation. – Will Harris

Billy Joel, My Lives

(Columbia) It took a long time for Billy Joel to get his own box set, but My Lives isn’t the typical “greatest hits and rarities” outing. Joel oversaw this set’s creation himself and while there are some of the better-known hits included therein, Billy’s goal was to highlight his own favorite album tracks while throwing in a good dose of rare stuff as well. And by “rare,” we’re talking about a whole first disc’s worth of material that covers his early days with the bands The Hassles and The Lost Souls, plus a ton of demos detailing his early solo years, with tracks like “Only a Man,” “Oyster Bay,” “The Siegfried Line,” and “New Mexico.” Also included are demos for “Miami 2017” and “Only the Good Die Young.” Some of this stuff had been previously available on hard to find bootlegs and questionable imports, so it’s nice to have a lot of it here. There are five discs in all, with the fifth being an entire live concert, “Live on the River of Dreams” that’s a nice addition to this packed box. While this set isn’t really where the casual fan would want to start, diehards are definitely the ones who’ll get the most mileage out of it…and, hey, it was nice of Billy to create something for the fans that wasn’t just another regurgitation of his greatest hits sets. – Jason Thompson

Robert Johnson, The Complete Recordings

(Columbia / Legacy) Much – if not most – of the time, box sets are motivated less by artistic concerns than by commercial ones; labels know that a moldy outtake or two are often enough to persuade hardcore fans to part with $50 or $60, and they exploit this weakness time and time again. In this case, however, a box wasn’t just deserved; its contents provide something like required listening for the entire human race. Johnson’s brief career spawned a series of recordings, all of which are collected here, that have provided inspiration for countless artists of all genres. In short, all box collections should start here. – Jeff Giles

Led ZeppelinLed Zeppelin

(Atlantic) This box set was undoubtedly… well, in my mind, anyway…the first to really kick off the whole idea of what a great box set should be. Jimmy Page had gone in and re-mastered the band’s entire catalogue of tracks and set about assembling a set that he thought was the cream of Zeppelin’s crop. The new re-mastered sound was absolutely stunning, and the package was a gem, too. The best part was a terrific full-sized, full-color book with plenty of excellent photos and facts that many fans had probably not seen or read before. And while Zep didn’t have a shitload of unreleased material, Page did throw on the (at the time) commercially unavailable “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” “White Summer/Black Mountainside” and the killer “Traveling Riverside Blues,” which had been a long-time radio favorite. While the latter two tracks were issued again years later on BBC Sessions, the former is still most readily available here. This set is still a wonder to behold and well worth having. It’s certainly much better than the second box set that arrived sometime thereafter that was sold on TV. You really can’t go wrong with any Led, but if you want a great overview of the group, then start right here. – Jason Thompson

Nick Lowe, The Doings

(Demon) On the American FM dial, Lowe is remembered for early ‘80s hitlets like “Switch Board Susan” and “Cruel to Be Kind” if he’s remembered at all, but his profile in his native Britain (and among power pop lovers all over the globe) has remained high throughout his career, hence The Doings’ ability to fetch absurd prices on the used market. This four-disc set may not be worth $200, but it was definitely worth snapping up during its brief production run, even at inflated import prices. Sadly, given the distressingly high number of Lowe’s studio albums that have also fallen out of print, dropping a couple hundred bucks on The Doings might actually be the most economical way of acquainting yourself with his genius. – Jeff Giles

Kirsty MacColl, From Croydon to Cuba

(EMI) There have been a lot of sad, tragic and pointless deaths throughout the history of rock ‘n’ roll, but there aren’t many that still make me tear up like I do when I think of Kirsty MacColl, who, while on vacation in Cozumel, Mexico, was struck and killed by a speeding powerboat which had illegally entered the area where she and her sons were diving. For someone who’d followed her career for more than a decade (I became an instant fan upon first hearing her cover of The Smiths’ “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby”), one of the saddest parts of her death was that, within a few months of her passing, she posthumously achieved her first U.S. success of note, with her song, “In These Shoes?” Let me guess: at the mention of the song title, you just went, “Oh, now I know who she is!” Except you don’t, really. But you should. And if you’d like the best possible Kirsty MacColl primer, you’ll want From Croydon to Cuba, which takes you on a three-disc voyage through her career, from “They Don’t Know,” which Tracey Ullman made into a U.S. chart hit in the ‘80s, through her work with The Pogues (“Fairytale of New York,” “Miss Otis Regrets / Just One of Those Things”) and Evan Dando (a cover of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day”), along with brilliant pop songs such as “Free World,” “There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis,” “Walking Down Madison,” “My Affair,” and many, many more. Kirsty MacColl was a brilliant songwriter and a lovely singer, and she deserves to be remembered by far more people than currently know her. Here’s the perfect way to remedy that. – Will Harris

The Misfits, The Misfits

(Caroline) Danzig and the boys made a few good tunes back in the day, and this box pretty much covers them all, several times over. When it came out, this was the only way to get the long-lost Static Age album, featuring the original "Attitude" and "Last Caress," covered by Guns 'N Roses and Metallica, respectively. No self-respecting punk fan can live without this, especially because it includes a replica of the "Fiend Club" pin, as well as boss coffin-box packaging. - Mojo Flucke, PhD

The Monkees, Listen to the Band

(Rhino) It’s been a long time since elitist music fans first started bitching and moaning about how The Monkees weren’t worth considering because they weren’t a real band, but even forty years later, the criticism hasn’t really wound down, and, frankly, it’s getting a little ridiculous. Even if they did start off without writing their own songs or playing their own instruments, we’re talking about a band with material that was provided by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, David Gates, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Carole Bayer Sager and Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Harry Nilsson, Michael Martin Murphy, and Paul Williams. In short, the music of The Monkees was damned good, no matter who was responsible for writing and playing it, and three out of the four members were really good singers, too. (We’re not naming names, so you’ll just have to guess.) While there’ve been several multi-disc collections over the years, this one was the first, and it’s arguably still the best, covering all the hits while introducing tons of rarities and previously-unreleased tracks. Unfortunately, Listen to the Band came out before the band’s reunion album, Justus, which means it’s not completely career-spanning, but the good news is that the only song on Justus that was really worth hearing was a remake of “Circle Sky,” the original version of which is on here. – Will Harris

Randy Newman, Guilty

(Rhino) Newman is more – much, much more – than just the guy behind “Short People” and “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”; the albums he released for Warner Bros. in the ‘70s and ‘80s are among the sharpest and most satisfying in all of contemporary pop music. His froggish voice and seemingly misanthropic point of view might be an acquired taste, but if you can make it through Guilty without laughing out loud, you may want to hire a therapist capable of working you through your deep emotional issues. The set may lean a little heavily on Newman’s unabashedly sentimental film scores for some, but the wealth of unreleased material should temper any complaints by longtime fans. – Jeff Giles

Willie Nelson, The Complete Atlantic Sessions

(Atlantic) Funny how we view all the old outlaws of country music as infallible, even though they’ve all had their duff spots over the years. Funnily enough, I spent years thinking that Willie Nelson’s work on Atlantic Records fell into that category; it was released on CD some years back, but it was promptly deleted and sent into cut-out bins, and, well, that struck me as something less than a mark of quality. What a fool I was. Nelson called Atlantic Records home for the release of a mere two albums, only releasing Shotgun Willie (1973) and Phases and Stages (1974) before the label decided to close its Nashville office, but what incredible albums they are. Nelson returned to his old-school country roots with Shotgun Willie, then confused everyone by following it with a concept album, but both are definitive albums within the man’s career, offering plenty of loving, drinking, and fighting…and not necessarily in that order. With The Complete Atlantic Sessions, you get both these albums, several unreleased tracks from the same time period, and a complete concert from Nelson and his band, all of which add up to an indispensable addition to your country music collection. – Will Harris

Bruce Springsteen, Tracks

(Columbia) Since the days of vinyl and magnetic media (um, cassettes and 8-tracks), fans of Bruce Springsteen have always been on an endless collector's quest to find the scores of demos, alternate takes and b-sides that he's been storing up in some Rumson, NJ vault since his career first started back in the early Seventies. The problem was that the sound quality was usually lacking. Bruce Springsteen finally threw his fans a huge bone in the form of the four disc box set, Tracks. While there will always be quibbling about what could have been included, this was about as perfect as a box set could be, with something to please fans of just about any era of his 30+ years. Personal highlight is Disc 2's sprawling run of tunes from the unreleased The Ties That Bind album, which other songs from the same sessions would go on to become The River. They find Bruce toying with a power pop/new wave sound and finds him at his loosest and maybe the most fun sounding of his entire career. While the casual fan may find this all too overwhelming (and would explain Sony's decision to release the highlights CD, 18 Tracks) die-hards find this essential and no doubt are waiting for the inevitable Tracks 2. – Kurt Torster

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Live/1975-1985

(Columbia) “Ladies and gentlemen…Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band,” the calm voice of a faceless PA announcer breathes, as the opening piano notes of “Thunder Road” begin the incredible retrospective journey that is Live/1975-85. From intimate clubs like The Roxy in 1975, where Springsteen plays “Thunder Road” solo on a piano, to Meadowlands Arena in 1981 for a full-on band assault of “Cadillac Ranch” and “Candy’s Room” to the mega Born In The U.S.A. tour in 1985 and nearly every hit finding the LA Coliseum stage that year, Jon Landau mastered a beauty here. The Boss tells stories (“Growin’ Up”), opens his diary (“Because the Night”), and simply rocks out with the force of 100 men (“Born to Run”), all to wild applause of fans from coast to coast over a decade of non-stop touring. It’s a box set like no other: all live, all real, and with all albums (up to the release date) well represented. Covers of Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” are impeccably-done, if unexpected, nuggets that sound as fresh as any original. This was the perfect Christmas gift for a pimply-faced kid in working class America back in 1986 who would have otherwise had to work two weeks for enough money to buy a 3-album set, and it remains indispensable in 2007. – Red Rocker

Steely Dan, Citizen Steely Dan

(MCA) Steely Dan, like label mate Elton John, is one of those entities who’ve had their entire catalog issued and reissued on CD at least three times. In the last batch of reissues, band founders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker even jokingly alluded to this situation in the liner notes to one of the CDs. If you want all the Steely Dan albums from Can’t Buy a Thrill to Gaucho in one go, then this is the set for you. The albums are presented in chronological order (though a couple tracks from Aja were shifted around, presumably to uniformly fill out the space on their respective CDs that the album is split across) and the sound is pretty damn pristine, though they’d get reworked again for the third reissued series after this set was originally issued. Not a lot of rare stuff was recorded by the band, so what you do get here is “Here at the Western World,” previously available on the 1972-1978 compilation; a live take of “Bodhissatva,” and an absolutely hilarious early version of “Everyone’s Gone to the Movies” previously unheard at all. The included booklet is filled with great photos and the band’s history, with the usual perverse Steely Dan humor thrown on top. – Jason Thompson

The Style Council,
The Complete Adventures of The Style Council

(Polygram) I’m already fully prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of those who would complain about the inclusion of a Style Council box set on this list when the Jam box set, Direction Reaction Creation, remains MIA. Here’s the thing, though: those who most loudly complain about how awful The Style Council were are the ones least likely to have actually listened to them. In fact, when Paul Weller left The Jam and teamed up with Mick Talbot to form The Style Council, Weller’s fans heard the first single, “Speak Like A Child,” and said, “Well, I’m not having any of that,” then tuned out for good. With The Complete Adventures of The Style Council, you’re able to explore the band’s entire history, and now that you’re older, you’ll almost certainly find that the jazzy stylings of the Council come a lot closer to fitting your listening pleasure nowadays, particularly the material from Confessions of a Pop Group, which will make for a perfect Sunday morning soundtrack. The big selling point of this set when it originally emerged was that it provided a belated release for the band’s final album, Modernism: A New Decade, but don’t get too excited; listening to it is an interesting experience, but the idea of Paul Weller playing house music is about as successful as you’d always suspected it was…which is to say, “Not very.” – Will Harris

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, SRV

(Epic / Legacy) The liner notes read: I use heavy strings, tune low, play hard and floor it. Floor it. That’s technical talk. Without question, there is an ass-load of Stevie Ray Vaughan greatest-hits collections on the market, most of which followed his untimely death in 1990, but here we have three sprawling CDs and a fantastic 5-song DVD from a 1989 session of “Austin City Limits”. Talk about raw! SRV was a regular on “ACL,” and much of this box set is from those many performances, but also included are all the studio versions of hits and album cuts, as well as several takes from his 1990 appearance on MTV’s “Unplugged,” taped only months before his death. In fact, there are three cover tracks at the end of Disc 3 that were recorded during the final performance at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin the day his plane crashed. The insert booklet alone makes this collection worthy – it has personal testimony from Mick Jagger, Carlos Santana, David Bowie, his brother Jimmie Vaughan and others – but it’s the music that stacks up mightily, covering Vaughan’s earliest stuff from 1977, when he was a mere apprentice honing his young Delta blues and classic rock skills, all the way through that final show. This is where any attempt at rifle-scoping Vaughan’s brief yet vast career should begin and end. – Red Rocker

The Velvet UndergroundPeel Slowly and See

(Polydor) You a fan of the V.U.? You want tremendous value? Check it: all four original studio albums (with the third presented in its “Closet Mix”), an entire first disc featuring John Cale, Lou Reed, and Sterling Morrison practicing in a loft in 1965, rare live tracks, a couple Nico album cuts that Lou Reed played guitar on, rare acetate tracks scheduled for White Light/White Heat but never recorded for the album proper, some favorites from the V.U. and Another View albums, and a whole boatload of amazing demos recorded during the Loaded sessions. You absolutely must hear “Satellite of Love” and “Sad Song” recorded by the band if you’re only familiar with the Lou Reed versions. This is mind-blowing, epic stuff for any Velvets fan. Also included is a thorough and incredible 60-plus page book filled with rare photos, items, and history. Plus, you get a re-peelable banana on the front of the box. It’s the best thing Colorforms never made! Seriously, though, this is probably the apex of the box set mountain with nothing gone to waste and everything to gain. An absolute must. – Jason Thompson

The WhoThirty Years of Maximum R&B

(Polydor) While this set gets a bit long in the tooth and bloated near the end, the first two discs are what rock and roll excitement is all about. You get such early groovers as “I’m the Face” and “Here ‘Tis” as well as re-mastered single and album favorites. You also get a groovy mash-up of both the studio and “Rock and Roll Circus” versions of “A Quick One While He’s Away,” as well as a slightly different version of “Join Together,” live takes of “Bargain” and “Dreaming from the Waist,” the oddball “Life with the Moons,” and plenty more. One can easily trace the somewhat quick decline of the band after Who’s Next with this set, which is somewhat sad, and the inclusion of such live covers as “Bony Moronie” and “Twist and Shout” is questionable, but, hey, it’s a box set, so go nuts with it, right? God knows The Who have been recompiled more times than necessary, so look at this as just a deluxe version of that ethic. But the damn thing didn’t need to end on the cover of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” By that point, Pete Townshend sounds all out of fight. – Jason Thompson

XTC, Coat of Many Cupboards

(Caroline) Over the years, Andy Partridge’s many Fuzzy Warbles collections of demos from throughout his career have served to lessen the uniqueness of Coat of Many Cupboards, but at the time, XTC’s box set was a fascinating look into the evolution of one of the most highly-respected bands to emerge from UK during the late 1970s. Though Partridge and Moulding would readily admit that their time on Virgin was ultimately far from spectacular, you can’t tell it from the care that’s been taken in compiling this collection. Coat of Many Cupboards begins with the original CBS demo of “Science Friction,” ends with the audio portion of a rare television appearance by the band in 1992, as they perform “Books are Burning” for “Live on The Late Show.” In between, we’re offered kind of an alternate-universe look at XTC’s career, with home demos and work tapes representing the band’s material as often as final studio versions. It’s not necessarily a comprehensive retrospective (though it does thoughtfully include selections from the band’s psychedelic alter ego, The Dukes of Stratosphear), but it’s one that fans will find fascinating. Will Harris

Yes, Yesyears

(Atco) Rhino has since superseded this excellent four-disc overview of the quintessential prog rock band’s career with a five disc collection covering the band’s history on into the new millennium. However, this 1991 collection is the superior of the two. In spite of missing out on a whole decade’s worth of music, what this collection does have is stronger selection of songs – the sublime “Awaken,” the pretty b-side “Abilene,” the astounding “Ritual” portion of the band’s gargantuan epic double album Tales From Topographic Oceans, and some early BBC performances are just some of the tracks that one-up 2002’s In A Word. The story that emerges from these four discs is that of a band who picked up on the tuneful innovations of the Beatles and took vocal harmony to places beyond the surf of the Beach Boys. From there, some wild twists and turns were taken with European classical sensibilities while still retaining a solid rock n’ roll back beat and soulful guitar playing. (No prog rock band has yet equaled Steve Howe’s slide guitar display on “Going For The One” for sheer rollicking excitement.). It all comes full circle by the end of the set, with “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” serving as the band’s proudest pop pinnacle. – Michael Fortes

The Zombies, Zombie Heaven

(Big Beat) The Zombies are rightfully remembered for radio hits like “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” and “Time of the Season,” but within the US, they tend to be remembered solely for those songs. It’s criminal, really…and if that sounds like hyperbole, then it’s apparent that you’ve not listened to Zombie Heaven. It’s gradually been recognized over the years that The Zombies were responsible for creating one of the ‘60s greatest albums, Odessey and Oracle, but this 4-disc set offers that record and more. You get 41 unissued tracks (outtakes, early demos, home recordings, etc.), a 30 track compilation of live recordings which date from 1964-1971, and a 64 page booklet with rare photos, memorabilia, and liner notes which include reminiscences from all of the band members. Zombie Heaven is the classic example of a set where you can’t imagine you’d ever want so much material from a band you’ve heard so little from, but then you get it and realize that, damn, you love these guys! – Will Harris

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