October 2, 2008 by A.C. Rhodes
And who’s overdone it?
Category: Question of the Week
“And who’s overdone it?”
Isn’t that like asking, who put all this damn water in the ocean? I thought that was the whole point of artist box sets.
The only box sets I own that mean something to me are the Doo Wop and Sugarhill Records boxes (I’d say the Harry Smith folk anthology too, but I still only own a pieced-together downloaded version; I will eventually buy the thing).
But anyway, the prize for “overdone” has to be the Funhouse box — the concept and appeal of which eludes me entirely.
Oops, forgot to also mention the Spector box which I like (though still not as much as the double LP best of), and the Disco Box which is really well done (not that I ever listen to it, though I have used it extensively DJing weddings). I guess I’m saying I’m mostly interested in producer and label and genre box sets (rather than artist collections). Would love a Timbaland box, for instance, and a Shadow Morton box and an Arthur Baker box… that sort of thing. (Though in saying that, I wonder if I’d actually listen much to any of them; I’d like to have them around, display them in my living room.)
The Complete Funhouse Sessions was so hilariously overdone, as were all of those Rhino Handmade sets. I’m fairly certain it was done partly in parody of the countless Miles Davis The Complete _____ Sessions, and partly in keeping with the fannish, collector zeal that spurs those sets.
I recently spent a day trying to listen to the whole Stooges box, and finally got bogged down in the endless variations of “Dirt” on disc 7. And it might be another year before I can listen to “TV Eye.” The experience can be relived on my blog starting at http://alexvcook.blogspot.com/2008/08/fun-house-indeed.html
I’d say the artist for which it’s been overdone is Elvis Costello. It seems his whole back catalog gets lovingly repackaged and augmented every two years. There will come a time soon when every mic check and backstage cough by Elvis Costello will be ensconced in gatefold sleeve and copiously annotated.
The most gorgeous ones I’ve seen are the Charley Patton – Screamin and Hollerin the Blues box (includes cutouts of the old 78 labels and a copy of John Fahey’s out of print book on Patton) and the 10 CD Albert Ayler Holy Ghost Box, both of which I have gotten through inter-library loan at one point or another
The Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music is one of the only ones I own, and one of the few that combine artifact, idiosyncrasy of design. encyclopedic breadth and a compelling listen all the way through. I am a fan of all of Harry Smith’s facets, and am therefore biased, but I think you kinda need that big red box full of alchemical drawings and clawhammer banjo murder ballads on your shelf to keep the demons away.
The holy grail of unseen and unheard (at least by me) box sets are the Throbbing Gristle TG24 suitcase of cassettes documenting all their performances, concert flyers and ephemera, and the 100 CD Merzbox by Merzbow. I’ve had friends claim to have laid eyes on them, as if they were Bigfoot.
Here is an account of someone trying to make it through the entire CD version of TG24
and I keep hoping that Genesis Breyer P-Orridge puts it out in a special issue TG branded iPod, with the lightning bolt symbol emblazoned on the thumbwheel
And the classical world trumps the pop world easily in producing giant box sets
Mozart Edition: Complete Works (170 CD Box Set)
I will say that subscription services, with their unlimited legal instant access to everything has both allowed me to indulge in the masochistic fun of listening to these things (I’m waiting for the right time to indulge in Anthony Braxton’s 9CD Nine Compositions (Iridium) 2006 sitting there, begging to get clicked on) and effectively eliminated any slim chance of me buying or tracking down a physical copy of one of these things.
OH and to answer the original question, a mammoth T.Rex collection running from My People were Fair… to Dandy of the Underworld would be lovely.
It could be packaged in a hollowed-out TV set.
There is so much unreleased Van Halen material that I wonder why they haven’t stepped into the box set arena. From early Mammoth days, to the Gene Simmons demos, to any live DLR-era set, this is a band that’s prime for consideration and has enough unreleased shit to make it worthwhile.
Agree about Elvis Costello. I was such a huge fan for years I tried to collect as many of the import 7″ singles as I could get my hands on, and many of them were really good, but all these reissues with dozens of extra tracks and outtakes… I’m sure there are a few interesting revelations in there, but who wants to find out?
I thought the James Brown box was one of the best ever and I do like box sets that collect all the albums in one place, like the wonderful Led Zep one in the 90′s. But some have the annoying habit of breaking up the continuity of the original records and continue the tracks on the subsequent disk, like the Steely Dan box and the Creedence box. When that happens I just buy the remastered cd’s individually. Maybe I’m too testy about this but it drives me nuts.
Also they screwed up the Talking Heads box with a lack of track info and The Velvet Underground Peel Slowly set had a ruined re-mix of the third Velvet’s album that rendered it nearly unlistenable. I did like that punk collection of the ’70s that Rhino had but the Pistols were missing. I bought the Joy Division box when it came out but the packaging fell apart so I ended up getting the recently remastered cd’s. The Nirvana box looks and sounds terrific but it’s for hardcore fans only and I am looking forward to hearing the new Pogue’s collection that recently came about.
I’ve really never understood the point of box sets. Almost always, they seem completely pointless to me. If you’re so obsessed and fanatical about an artist that you’d want that much stuff, wouldn’t you already *have* it? What is the point of having it all in one place? Does anybody actually listen to it all in one sitting? And if you’re just buying the box for the unreleased outtakes (which, in most cases, were unreleased for pretty good reasons), wouldn’t a separate album of *just* outtakes make more sense? Mostly, I think they’re for suckers.
That said, I’ve kept a few — Does the Chuck Berry *Chess Box* on vinyl count? Beyond that, I’ve got a 4-disc James Brown set, a 4-disc Dion set, a 4-disc Bob Wills set, and — maybe most strangely, but mostly because I’d stupidly gotten rid of their albums years ago — a 4-disc Joy Division set. And probably a couple compilations, and maybe a handful of 3-disc things, if those count. That’s about it.
The box set I *would* want to own (maybe even BUY) would collect Bob Seger’s pre-stardom singles (with the Seger System, Last Heard, etc.) and hard to find albums. But even in that case, a single disc of great tracks would probably be way more user friendly (and possibly even desert-island worthy.)
Another thing that sucks about them: They really turn music listening into WORK. They are just no fun. (To the industry, of course, they’re mainly just a canny marketing scheme to repackage stuff that’s already been sold before. Basically, they look good under a Christmas tree. Which is why so many of them are released in the mid/late autumn.)
And actually, I lied — I did also keep some weird box sets of avant garde malarkey that got sent to me while I was at the Voice: 3-disc Rhys Chatham, 4-disc Bunny Brains, 4-disc Deathprod (???!!!), 4-disc *The Conet Project: Recordings Of Shortwave Numbers Stations*, 3-disc *Ohm: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music 1948-1980.* Give or take the last one (which collects historically relevant stuff that I can’t really imagine otherwise owning), it’s obviously fairly ridiculous that these sets even *exist*, and it’s sure not like I’d recommend that anybody spend actual money on them. But they do sound nice in the background. They may be even more useless than a *Funhouse* box (which is the musical equivalent of water torture), but I’m happy to own them. (I do have *some* collector geek tendencies.)
“Another thing that sucks about them: They really turn music listening into WORK. They are just no fun.” I disagree. Part of the appeal is the ability to plop in a disc, grab a seat on the couch and curl up with some well-written liner notes. I don’t call that work, I call it heaven. Last year, I was at the in-laws dutifully watching everyone opening their presents in order.
It was a real joy watching the kids of course, but the moment I unwrapped a present that held Pink Floyd’s “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn,” I became a child myself. I wanted to leave the living room and go back up to my wife’s old bedroom and absorb myself with the Floyd. My brother in-law, the fine young man that got me that gift, straight up told me that it was unusual that I wanted that gift.
“The second disc is the same as the first…but it’s the mono version.” He advised me.
“Dude, if I have to explain it, it ain’t worth telling you.” was my reply to the young ‘en.
I agree it’s a bit strange to refer to box sets as “work.” In many ways, they’re less work, at least if you feel like junking out on a particular artist or genre. In fact, the “avant garde malarkey” Chuck cites (the “Ohm” set and all that) is a perfect example (those are exactly the kind of box sets I would like to own more of). I find all that music interesting (even if only as background ambience) but can’t even imagine trying to track the stuff down or build up a collection of it piecemeal. Assembled together on a single, easy-to-store box (with liner notes for context) makes eminent sense to me.
Actually, maybe what Chuck means with the “work” comment isn’t the practicalities of listening, but that they just make listening to music kind of boring, i.e., to sit and listen to so much of one thing in one sitting. In most cases, I would actually agree with that (definitely for most artist box sets). Anyway, I hardly ever sit down and just “listen” to music (unless it’s to take a nap). I’m just not the right mindset for box sets; music is what I do the dishes to and what I listen to on the way to work. Usually.
Yeah, I hardly ever only “listen” to music either (except when I’m taking notes when I can write about it — which is *literally work!); it’s on when I’m doing other stuff. (So, in general, I have even less use for DVDs than Box sets, usually). But Scott has a point about those ambient noise music boxes I named — since they basically just create an enveloping environment to wash dishes or sleep or read the paper to, a box of them might actually make more sense than a box of music with actually discernible and distinguishable songs on it. And what I mainly mean by my work comment, beyond just the boringness of having to junk out for hours on just one artist (which I basically *never* want to do — why would I, when there are thousands of other good artists out there?), is that boxes are just these great big giant THINGS that you have to, like, SURVIVE.
The whole point seems to be GETTING THROUGH them. Like running a marathon or something. And sure, when you finally make it through all that stuff, it feels like you’ve really *accomplished* something. But it’s hard for me to imagine how the process of making it through can actually be “fun.” Personally, I prefer EPs. Always have, always will.
(As for junking out on an entire genre, that would probably make more sense; I wouldn’t do it often, either, but it happens once in a blue moon — I’ve been listening to a lot of blues and country from the Great Depression this week, for instance. Thing is, whenever I get one of those doo-wop or girl group or garage or metal boxes in the mail, almost all the great songs are already on compilations I already own, in less glutonous helpings, or on albums by the artists in question, or on 45s. So owning them again just strikes me as redundant. Sure, there will be an obscure surprise or two here and there — but never enough for me to want to sit through everything *else.*
I did make it through Dust-To-Digital’s beautful *Art of Field Recording Vol 1* last year, lots of which was amazing and almost none of which I’d previously owned, but the slog still *definitely* felt like work, and it took several months. *Still* haven’t made it through the Bear Family’s *Round The Town* early 20th Century British music hall box, which looks even more like a work of art, and that thing came out eight whole years ago! I keep telling myself that I will someday before I die, though.) (I’d forgotten about those two boxes because they’re on my LP shelf, due to their 12-inch shape, rather than on my CD shelf.)
Someone put out a friggin’ Chic Organization set already.
I bought a four-CD 13th Floor Elevators box for a friend’s birthday recently – just the three albums and the live record, no liner notes, no bonus tracks, the box was even kinda flimsy and poorly designed and of dubious pedigree and yet it was kinda perfect. He and I had talked about them before, I had a ton of credit at the used CD store, and he had a birthday party, so voila.
I want to see a Fortune Records box set of the best and rare stuff!
Or an Oblivians box set.
Obviously the Prince vault stuff–I mean the great stuff he won’t release because his ego cannot take the fact that his old stuff just destroys the crap he makes now.
Or some of his live tapes. Amazing sessions.
Prince has vault material that make Purple Rain stuff sound weak.
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