Fans of Elvis Presley, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and the Rolling Stones know what to put at the top of their wish lists this Christmas.
Multidisc box sets from each of the stars will provide hours of listening through the holiday season, if not into the New Year. For those who are disappointed by Santa’s presents, there’s consolation in that some of the wallet-busting prices will drop in the post-Christmas sales.
“The Complete Elvis Presley Masters” (RCA/Legacy) runs to more than 35 hours and is suitably king-size (after a few turkey and peanut butter sandwiches maybe). On the plus side, it has more than 800 tracks, including some of the finest in rock, and 100 rarities, making it a must for Elvis completists. On the negative side, it contains dross (“Froggy Went A Courtin’, Rehearsal Jam”). More songs are being found each year as albums are released in new editions, so it won’t be comprehensive for long. Rating: ***. The first edition, at $749, is getting hard to find, though a second edition is in the works for January 2011. There are shorter Presley box sets such as the four-CD “Elvis 75” (Sony) $40, which cherry-picks well. Rating ****.
“The Genius of Miles Davis” 43-CD set (Columbia/Legacy) also costs $749. This pulls together eight earlier box sets, now getting tough to find, covering Davis’s best Columbia period. The plus point is the exceptional package in a trumpet case, with a T-shirt and a replica of Miles’s mouthpiece. Rating: ***. There are better and cheaper sets available, such as last year’s 70-CD “The Complete Columbia Album Collection” (Sony), which some online retailers now price at about $240. Rating: ****.
“The Original Mono Recordings” by Dylan (Columbia/Sony Legacy) costs $130 and does what it says in the prosaic title. The set presents his first eight albums on CD in their pristine form. Without the fake stereo effects, the words shine, much as they did on “The Beatles in Mono” set in 2009. Rating: ****.
“The Rolling Stones 1964-1969” and “The Rolling Stones 1971-2005” (Universal) are the equally unimaginatively titled box sets of the better Stones albums -- all presented in their original vinyl form. Expect to pay about $310 and $419, respectively, and get in return 23 studio LPs, two “Big Hits” collections and two rare EPs. Rating: ***.
“Signature Box” (EMI) is the Lennon contribution to the box-set melee: 11 CDs priced about $150. The set has everything from bleak masterpieces such as “Isolation,” not recommended at Christmas, to “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” which is only bearable at this time of year. Rating: ***½.
“Apple Records Box Set” (Capitol) is $330 or less: a replica fruit crate containing 17 discs by artists chosen by the Beatles for the band’s record label. James Taylor’s eponymous LP and classical composer John Tavener have big potential, while some of the rest (Billy Preston, Badfinger, Mary Hopkin) simply cast light on the Fab Four’s passing enthusiasms. Rating: **.
“Sandy Denny Deluxe Box Set” (Universal, $350) pulls together recordings by the British folk-rock singer, whose sweet voice boosted Fairport Convention and Fotheringay. “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” is one of the best songs of its era, though seven versions will be too much for some. Rating: **½.
Also recommended: Bruce Springsteen: “The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story” (Columbia, $100, rating ***½); “Michael Jackson’s Vision” (Epic/Legacy, $40, rating ***½); Jimi Hendrix, “West Coast Seattle Boy” (Experience Hendrix/Legacy, $70, rating ***.)
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)