The Music Box's 2009 Holiday Gift Guide
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2009, Volume 16, #12
Written by John Metzger
Mon December 7, 2009, 06:30 AM CST
The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones
This past September marked 40 years since John Lennon told his pals that he was leaving The Beatles. As if on cue, Capitol Records dusted off the outfit’s extraordinary catalogue for a pair of boxed sets — one in mono and one in stereo — as well as a series of standalone CDs. This massive undertaking has been overdue for a long time, and not surprisingly, the brisk sales figures that followed almost single-handedly helped the music industry to live to fight another day. As always, though, some strange decisions were made, and these will force fans, particularly those who adhere to puristic philosophies, to make some tough choices.
When The Beatles launched its major-label debut Please Please Me in 1963, the world was a different place. Pop music was issued in mono rather than stereo. As a result, the first four albums that the group released — which, in addition to the aforementioned endeavor also includes With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, and Beatles for Sale — were presented in this format. Here is what further complicates matters: The way in which The Beatles’ music was packaged in England was very different from the way it was compiled in America. When the band’s catalogue finally was converted to CD in 1987, Capitol wisely mended its ways. It returned to the British versions of the outings and used the loose ends of the collective’s canon to create two new installments: Past Masters, Volume 1 and Past Masters, Volume 2.
With its latest salvo, Capitol essentially returned to its 1987 plan. Once again, The Beatles’ catalogue boasts the 12 full-length albums it issued in England as well as Magical Mystery Tour. The two volumes of Past Masters were pulled together into one package. Each of these efforts is available individually, and all of them are included in The Stereo Box. This is the first time that Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, and Beatles for Sale are available in this format. The songs sound terrific, and their presentation, which is crisper and cleaner than ever before, is revealing. Yet, anyone who prefers the traditional mono mix will have to spring for the expensive In Mono boxed set.
Not to be outdone, the Rolling Stones spent the past year revitalizing its back catalogue. The process began when the outfit moved from EMI to Universal, and the efforts — which range from its classic 1971 endeavor Sticky Fingers to its more recent gem A Bigger Bang — have been trickling out in a much quieter fashion since May. Like The Beatles’ project, The Rolling Stones’ albums don’t include anything extra. The difference, though, is that The Rolling Stones’ canon had previously been remastered and reissued.
Perhaps, the more enticing release for Rolling Stones fans is the boxed set rendition of its concert endeavor Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. Still, considering that the package contains three CDs and one DVD, there isn’t as much extra material as one might think. The bulk of the previously unavailable tracks was plucked from the sets that B.B. King and Ike and Tina Turner had performed to open the show. Nevertheless, there’s a reason that Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out is so highly cherished: The music hits hard and fast even as the Rolling Stones transforms its rough-and-tumble, bar-band act into a major concert enterprise.
Meanwhile, Paul McCartney has assembled Good Evening New York City, a two-CD/one-DVD presentation of his multiple-night engagement at Citi Field. The full-length performance replicates the set list he employed during the shows. His performance crackles with energy and emotion, and it is hands-down the best concert album he has ever released.
Purchase The Beatles - Stereo Box: Barnes & Noble
Purchase The Beatles - Mono Box: Barnes & Noble
This year marked the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, and everyone everywhere tried to capitalize on the occasion. Not surprisingly, only a few of the projects are truly worthwhile. First and foremost, Woodstock — 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur’s Farm, a six-CD boxed set from Rhino, compiled 77 tracks from the weekend-long gathering in upstate New York to create a comprehensive overview of the event. Nearly half of the material — including a lengthy romp through the Grateful Dead’s Dark Star and the complete performance of The Who’s We’re Not Gonna Take It — was previously unreleased. In addition, the label also reissued Music from the Original Soundtrack and More: Woodstock as well as its sequel Woodstock Two. Combined with a refurbished and expanded rendition of the seminal concert film Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Love as well as organizer Michael Lang’s eyewitness account in The Road to Woodstock of how the event took shape, there’s no reason for anyone to be left wondering how the festival’s legend grew so large. The music suffered at times from the surrounding chaos. Nevertheless, it undeniably was a momentous occasion.
Meanwhile, Legacy Recordings dug through its own archives for full-length performances from five of the artists that took the stage at Woodstock. Each of the sets by Janis Joplin, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, Johnny Winter, and Jefferson Airplane was paired with the album that the artist was promoting at the time. Plagued by bad weather and a lack of organization, the atmosphere obviously was less than optimal for eliciting flawless presentations. In truth, only Sly and the Family Stone’s appearance is indispensable. There are, however, enough highlights scattered among the rest of the endeavors — Jefferson Airplane’s mind-melting rendition of Wooden Ships or the steamy heat of Santana’s Jingo, for example — to please even the most casual classic rock fans.
Purchase Woodstock: The Director's Cut: Barnes & Noble
Purchase Woodstock — 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur’s Farm: Barnes & Noble
Purchase Michael Lang - The Road to Woodstock: Barnes & Noble
The Maturation of the Grateful Dead’s Road Trips
Like the Dick’s Picks collection of releases, the Grateful Dead’s Road Trips series took a little while to hit its stride. This year, in its second volume, the suite of albums enjoyed the benefits of a presentation style that was more seamless and comfortable than it initially appeared likely to provide. This translated not just to the albums themselves but also to their accompanying bonus discs. In a surprising move, Road Trips waded into the waters of the group’s latter-day concerts not once but twice. Its opening salvo featured an assemblage of material from the Grateful Dead’s run at Madison Square Garden in 1990, and its final offering boasted a compilation of songs from the outfit’s visit to Sacramento in 1993. Not surprisingly, the strongest outings in this year’s sequence of Road Trips packages were the ones that highlighted selections from its summer tour beneath the Wall of Sound in 1974, and songs from the sojourn that preceded the completion of Anthem of the Sun in 1968. In addition, the vault containing Jerry Garcia’s solo performances reopened once again, spawning a wonderful collection of acoustic music from May 1986 as well as an aggregation of jam-heavy moments from his electric band in 1978. Fourteen years after Garcia passed away, it’s clear that the Grateful Dead’s legacy remains alive and well.
AC/DC: Still Rockin’, Still Vital
In crafting its latest endeavor Black Ice, AC/DC used the same blueprint it has been following for years. Capitalizing on the attention that it received, the outfit subsequently rummaged through its archives to create Backtracks, a boxed set of previously unreleased material that clearly is aimed at its most fanatical followers. The basic collection will be sufficient for most people. It features 12 studio cuts, some of which pre-date AC/DC’s emergence on the world stage, as well as a DVD that contains two documentaries and a slew of music videos that span the group’s career. The 15 concert cuts that compose Backtracks’ second disc, however, form the package’s true heart and soul. Those fans with slightly deeper pockets will find the additional live material, studio selections, and music videos contained in the collector’s edition of Backtracks to be enticing. Of course, there’s also a ridiculously expansive, limited-edition set, which tosses a coffeetable book and assorted memorabilia into the mix. If the price tag on the latter version of Backtracks seems overly steep, consider this: The whole kit and caboodle is housed in a working amplifier.
Purchase AC/DC - Backtracks: Barnes & Noble
Elvis Is Still the King
An absurd number of compilations that are devoted to the work of Elvis Presley have been issued over the years. Surprisingly, though, none of them have been truly comprehensive or complete. The four-CD boxed set Elvis 75: Good Rockin’ Tonight, which is slated for release on December 8, contains 100 tracks that span Presley’s career. Consequently, it comes closest to achieving this goal. The collection features the first recording that Presley made for Sun Studios in 1953 (My Happiness) as well as the bizarre remix of A Little Less Conversation that was tacked onto the conclusion of Elvis: 30 #1 Hits in 2002. In fact, the latter outing served as something of a template for Elvis 75: Good Rockin’ Tonight: Twenty-eight of its 30 tracks are included in the newly minted package. Earlier this year, Legacy Recordings also issued an expanded edition of Presley’s From Elvis in Memphis. In addition to his superlative comeback effort, the two-disc affair contains all of the other studio material that he recorded in 1969.
Purchase Elvis Presley - Elvis 75: Good Rockin' Tonight: Barnes & Noble
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Celebrates 25 Years
Aside from its annual showcase on VH-1, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame largely has kept the pomp-and-circumstance of its induction ceremonies locked tightly away in its vaults. As part of its 25th anniversary, however, the prestigious institution has decided at long last to share its treasure trove. Nearly 10 hours of footage has been incorporated into the three-DVD collection Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum: Live. The package contains an assortment of induction speeches, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and rehearsal performances. The real treat, of course, is the array of intriguing collaborations that have taken place of the years, including Santana and Peter Green tackling Black Magic Woman and Eddie Vedder sitting in with The Doors on Light My Fire.
50-Year-Old Jazz Classics and a Comprehensive Boxed Set
Even when he was alive, the career of Miles Davis was sliced, diced, issued, and reissued, as leftover tracks frequently were bound together to create new albums. Some of the collections were mediocre, at best, but most of them were outstanding. With the release of The Complete Columbia Album Collection, all of the recordings that Davis made during his 30-year tenure with Columbia Records have been assembled in a single place. Considering that this includes 52 efforts spread across 70 discs, it’s safe to say that this is a boxed set that is astounding and monumental while also quite daunting to approach. In addition, The Complete Columbia Album Collection also includes a 250-page book about Davis and his work; a DVD loaded with previously unreleased material that was filmed during the trumpeter’s tour of Europe in 1967; and the first-ever audio representation of his Isle of Wight performance in 1970.
For those on a tighter budget, Legacy Recordings has spent the past decade or so augmenting all of Davis’ classic albums with tons of bonus material. This year, the label celebrated the 50th anniversary of the release of Sketches of Spain and Kind of Blue, two very different efforts that nevertheless share a few commonalities. Each collection was expanded with complementary material from the era in which it was recorded.
The same approach was also taken with several other outings from 1959. Mingus Ah Uhm, one of the more accessible outings in Charles Mingus’ canon, features several tracks — including Fables of Faubus — that quickly became standards in his repertoire. Also included in the two-disc collection is the entirety of its successor Mingus Dynasty. Meanwhile, during the same year, Tito Puente found himself at the center of the uprising of the Latin music scene. In its latest incarnation, his classic endeavor Dance Mania was paired with its sequel as well as with other key tracks from his catalogue.
The best reissue of the bunch, however, is Dave Brubeck’s Time Out. The pianist and bandleader playfully toyed with space and time to create a song cycle that is as intricate and complex as it is easy to embrace. Instead of being padded with selections already on the market, Time Out was equipped with an assemblage of previously unreleased concert cuts that further demonstrate his keen ear for rhythm and melody.
Purchase Miles Davis - The Complete Columbia Album Collection: Barnes & Noble
For additional information, please also see our other Best of 2009 Lists.
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