This Year's Crop of Deluxe Music Box Sets Offers Quick and Easy Last-Minute Gift Ideas

The Beatles, R.E.M. and Ornette Coleman are among 2018's best box-set music releases

Dec 19, 2018 at 9:44 am

click to enlarge The Beatles' "White Album" box set - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
The Beatles' "White Album" box set
One of the best and easiest gifts to get at the last minute for the holidays is a good old hard copy music release. Everybody likes music and it’s nice to unwrap something that’s not a gift card. If you’re shopping to impress, a box set can drop jaws, particularly if you splurge for a “deluxe” edition. Every year sees the release of a variety of repackaged music from across the musical spectrum, containing thick stacks of vinyl (or CDs, if you so desire), unreleased material, posters, hardbound books and/or any number of bonus trinkets.

So if you’re running out of time, visit your local independent shop to see what’s in stock or, if you must, get a fast shipment from an online seller. Most of these sets are available in various formats — from lavishly packaged collections to more modest (and affordable) versions. The only person on your list who might not appreciate a box set is a streaming-only anti-hoarder, but some of the splashier and more extravagant deluxe releases below might shake an appreciative smile out of even the most stubborn digital native.

• The Beatles — ‘White Album’ Anniversary Editions

Fifty years ago, The Beatles released their sprawling self-titled epic — colloquially referred to as “The White Album” — and, never ones to miss out on a chance to make a little extra money/reward fans new and old, there are various editions of a newly expanded reissue available. The band proves once again that there is endless unreleased Beatles material to be mined — this time around there are numerous studio outtakes and the coveted acoustic “Esher Demos” the musicians made for songs that appeared on the album, plus a handful that didn’t, including “Child of Nature,” which John Lennon would resurrect as his solo classic “Jealous Guy.”

The “White Album” Super Deluxe edition is six CDs and one audio Blu-ray disc, packaged in a 164-page book containing exhaustively detailed background and context written by Paul McCartney and others, as well as a poster, additional artwork and more. There is also a three-CD/four-LP vinyl box set of the reissue available.

• Guns N’ Roses —Appetite for Destruction: Locked N’ Loaded

This year’s reissue of Guns N’ Roses’ 1987 landmark debut album missed having a tidy anniversary with which to peg it, but they made up for it with a massive edition that includes four CDs, a Blu-ray disc, seven 12-inch vinyl LPs, seven 7-inch singles, a hardcover book and fun extras like skull rings, posters, a replica of the band’s early stage banner and actual-size replicas of the band members’ tattoos.

Packaged in a faux-leather-coated wooden cabinet, the $750 edition of Locked N’ Loaded takes the term “box set” to new levels. But if that price point is too steep, the collection is also available in a $179 version with many of the same goodies and all of the music — the remastered Appetite, the band’s early EPs and numerous unreleased tracks from Appetite-era sessions.

Ornette Coleman —The Atlantic Years

If you have a Jazz lover on your list, you don’t have to worry quite as much about things like skull rings and temporary tattoos being included. A 10-LP set on 180-gram vinyl will get their ears perked up. And when it features music by one of Jazz’s most exploratory pioneers, Ornette Coleman, you may well find your way onto their own list — of “all-time favorite gift-givers.”

The Free Jazz maverick recorded his most seminal work for Atlantic Records in the span of just 22 months, between 1959 and 1961. The saxophonist’s six studio albums from that period lived up to the prophetic title of his 1959 debut for the label, The Shape of Jazz to Come. Rhino Records’ The Atlantic Years also includes over two hours of outtakes and other material never before issued on vinyl, all packaged with replica sleeves and with a booklet filled with rare photos and new liner notes.

• R.E.M. — R.E.M. at the BBC

Alternative music pioneers R.E.M. made a lot of appearances on British radio and television throughout their storied career. R.E.M. at the BBC includes full concerts that were broadcast between 1984 and 2004, as well as shorter sessions from as recently as 2008, including a 1998 studio appearance on John Peel’s radio show.

There are condensed two-CD and two-LP versions of R.E.M. at the BBC, but hardcore fans will appreciate the comprehensive Super Deluxe edition. In addition to eight CDs featuring every note the band performed for the BBC, the collection includes a DVD of interviews and live performances, including the retrospective Accelerating Backwards film (a compilation of BBC TV appearances) and several songs from R.E.M.’s appearances on Later… with Jools Holland.

Various ArtistsA Kaleidoscope Of Sounds (Psychedelic & Freakbeat Masterpieces)

This one might take some work to find, as it’s available only as a U.K. import and only a few thousand copies were pressed. But if you want to blow the mind of that snobby obscure music lover in your life, it should definitely do the trick.

Released this summer, A Kaleidoscope Of Sounds is a 14-track compilation of rare British Psych and Mod Pop/Rock singles from the 1960s. Featuring tracks like The Birds’ “Say Those Magic Words,” Caleb’s “Baby Your Phrasing is Bad” and Les Fleur De Lys’ “Mud In Your Eye,” the collection is presented on seven vintage-styled 7-inch vinyl singles. In the promotional materials for the collection it is mentioned that it would cost about $15,000 to purchase the originals individually, which is fairly irrelevant, but still a nice fun fact to deliver to the music-nerd recipient when you give them the gift.

• Tom Petty — An American Treasure

The Rock world lost one of its most consistent and prolific songwriters when Tom Petty died last year and An American Treasure — the first posthumous release of Petty material — drives that point home over the course of four CDs. Far from a “greatest hits” compilation, the box set features 60 tracks, many previously unreleased. A mix of live recordings, demos and alternate studio takes, the collection spans Petty’s career, kicking off with “Surrender,” from an early 1976 session with the Heartbreakers, and closing with a live performance of “Hungry No More” from 2016. In between, there are songs from Petty’s solo albums, sessions with his pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch (one dating back to 1974), collaborations with Stevie Nicks and Roger McGuinn and live material from nearly every phase of his career.

The Super Deluxe edition of An American Treasure comes with a lithograph of Shepard Fairey’s cover artwork, an 84-page book with bonus photos and reproductions of Petty’s handwritten lyrics to four songs.

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