Music boxes

November 30, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Originally, boxed sets were conceived as a way to sum up a career that was too big for a single "Greatest Hits" collection.

That's still the case to some degree, but there's also a strong historical element to the current generation of boxed sets. AC/DC's "Bonfire," for instance, pays tribute to the band's original singer, Bon Scott; while "The Philly Sound" documents the heyday of producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. There are even sets, such as the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds Sessions," that take an educational aim, offering an inside view of the making of a landmark album.

Already thinking about Christmas shopping? Here's a look at this season's boxed sets -- what they offer, what they lack, and whether they're worth the price.


Bonfire (EastWest 62119)

Bon Scott was AC/DC's original singer, a raw-voiced, hard-driving screamer whose randy, rowdy antics personified the band's hard-rockin', hell-raisin' aesthetic. He died of alcohol poisoning in 1980, just as "Highway to Hell" was making the band an international sensation. But his legend lives on, as this set makes clear.

Largely conceived as a tribute to Scott, "Bonfire" is meant for AC/DC fans who already have everything else the band has done. So instead of the usual compilation of classics, the emphasis here is on concert recordings and rarities. It may not be the band's best work, but it does give a good sense of the

power this crew could uncork onstage.

* What You Get: Lots of previously unreleased live stuff with Scott, including the promo-only "Live from the Atlantic Studios," and "Let There Be Rock: The Movie." Plus assorted rarities, and a "collectors edition" version of "Back in Black."

* What You Miss: The original hits, apart from "Back in Black."

* Packaging: A 12-by-5 long box, with individual jewel boxes inside. Plus booklet, poster, decal, bottle opener/key chain, guitar pick and temporary tattoo.

* Number of Songs: 42.

* Number of CDs: Five.

* Typical Retail Price: $51.99.

* Rating: *** (out of four)

The Beach Boys

The Pet Sounds Sessions (Capitol 37662)

Even if you don't consider the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" one of the greatest albums in rock history, there's no denying its influence. From the Beatles' Paul McCartney, who credits "Pet Sounds" with spurring the Fabs on to the heights of "Sgt. Pepper," to such latter-day auteurs as Fleetwood Mac's Lindsay Buckingham, the sonic universe Beach Boy Brian Wilson created for this album has inspired several generations of rockers.

In that sense, "The Pet Sounds Sessions" stands as a sort of how-to for prospective producers. In addition to the finished tracks (which we get in both stereo and original mono), we hear the songs taking shape through numerous rehearsal tapes, as well as work-in-progress vocal takes. This is far more detail than casual fans could ever want, but musicians and amateur musicologists will find it as revealing as it is instructive.

* What You Get: The whole album, in both stereo and mono mixes, plus work tapes and alternate versions.

* What You Miss: Actually seeing Wilson in the studio.

* Packaging: A 12-by-5 long box, with jewel-boxed CDs and an incredibly detailed booklet.

* Number of Songs: 13 whole songs, plus 67 additional tracks.

* Number of CDs: Four.

* Typical Retail Price: $65.99.

* Rating: *** 1/2

Ray Charles

L Genius & Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection (Rhino 72859)

Even though Ray Charles is one of the singular talents in American popular music, much of his back catalog has been out of print for decades. "Genius & Soul" goes a long way to redress that, giving us the first true overview of the blind singer and pianist's career.

From early singles that found him imitating Nat "King" Cole to such seminal R&B singles as "I Got a Woman" and "What'd I Say," and from crossover pop classics like "Georgia On My Mind" and "I Can't Stop Loving You" to collaborations like "Seven Spanish Angels" with Willie Nelson, this set shows how Charles wound up as one of the few ever to top the Pop, R&B and Country charts.

* What You Get: All the hits, major and minor.

* What You Miss: His instrumental recordings.

* Packaging: Jewel boxes in a 5-by-10 long box; booklet has Braille on back cover.

* Number of Songs: 102.

* Number of CDs: Five.

* Typical Retail Price: $69.99.

* Rating: ****

John Coltrane

The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Sessions (Impulse 232)

Taking its cue from the revelatory Miles Davis collection, "The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965," this set offers a comprehensive, chronological view of one of saxophonist John Coltrane's most astonishing performances. Recorded over four nights in November 1961, these sessions found Coltrane leading a remarkably unconventional group, including two bassists, an oud player, even an contrabassoon player at one point. Sometimes the whole group went at it; sometimes, just two or three players. But no matter what the lineup, the playing was never less than astonishing.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.