Box Set Fever
February 27, 2006 7:41 AM   Subscribe

I've fallen in love with music compilations and boxed sets. From the new Nuggets box to Night Train to Nashville to No Thanks, I'm just cuckoo. There are so many, though, in so many different genres, it's difficult to seperate out what's really worthwhile. Their cost makes blind purchasing too dicey for my tastes. So I come to Mefi: what music compilations or box sets can you recommend?
posted by boombot to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The Philadelphia Folk Festival 4-disc set. A staple in the auditory diet of any folkie.
posted by The White Hat at 7:52 AM on February 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

In terms of traditional American music (sometimes called Roots), the gold standard is The Anthology of American Folk Music available from Smithsonian Folkways. Goodbye Babylon is great, old school (mostly pre-war) American Gospel across genre. It's a superlative collection, and continually surprising.

Revenant Records has several good compilations, both American Primitives sets are great, the first is again pre-war gospel, the second is assorted weirdness. But Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues, the work of Charlie Patton, is just outstanding. Not only is all of his stuff there, and great, but also very good assorted stuff by his contemporaries. The packaging is also really nice, including John Fahey's book on Patton.

In a different vein, and quite expensive used now, Tougher than Tough is a great Reggea comp.
posted by OmieWise at 7:52 AM on February 27, 2006

If you can find it, The Residents had their own record label, Ralph Records and released a double-vinyl compilation of their bands. I don't know if there is a CD release of it but I'd sure love one.

Very eclectic stuff from the mis-seventies to the early-eighties.
posted by sourwookie at 7:53 AM on February 27, 2006

The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Song Books box set from Verve.
posted by Lanark at 7:55 AM on February 27, 2006

My most worthwhile box set purchase was the Stax-Volt singles, '59-'68 collection. Worth its weight in gold, I think...
posted by lovejones at 7:55 AM on February 27, 2006

I'll second Tougher than Tough. It's probably my favorite box set. The The Arhoolie Records
40th Anniversary Box Set
is also amazing.
posted by Otis at 8:07 AM on February 27, 2006

Left of the Dial
posted by ereshkigal45 at 8:08 AM on February 27, 2006

Several of Rhinos boxed sets are great. Cowabunga (surf music), the Jackie Wilson boxed set, the Doo-Wop boxed set, and the Burt Bacharach boxed set all spring to mind.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:12 AM on February 27, 2006

I am a bit of a box set junkie, too.

Seconding the majestic Goodbye, Babylon set, as well as most everything on Revenant. (Favorites include the not-to-be-believed Charlie Patton box, as well as Grow Fins the fucking awesome set of Captain Beefheart rarities and outtakes.) Also second all three volumes of the Stax box sets. They are the jewels of my collection.

I also love the following (sorry for the linklessness):
- the 5-disc Creedence set
- the 10-disc Billie Holiday set
- the 3-disc Burt Bacharach set
- the 3-disc Philly Soul set (sooooo good)
- the epic, expensive, 4-disc Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant set on Bear Family (if you're a real devotée of American country music, and you happen to have a lot of money, you can do no better than the sets that Bear Family releases. 4 different Hank Snow boxes!)
- the 3-disc Sam Cooke set
- the 4-disc Pere Ubu set (though it's supremely ugly)
- not quite a box set, but there's a 2-disc Link Wray compilation on Polydor called "Guitar Preacher" which I return to again and again
- the 6-disc Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green era) set
- there's some great, cheap stuff on Proper Records and JSA Records, which are British companies that release 4-disc sets of (generally) American recordings. On Proper, the Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Spike Jones boxes are fantastic; on JSA, the Uncle Dave Macon and early gospel music one (can't recall the name) are excellent
- the 4-disc Patsy Cline set
- the Smithsonian Collection of American Folk Music, of course (and Revenant's follow-up 2-disc "Volume 4")
- the Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Brownie McGhee. and Blind Willie Johnson 2-disc sets on Columbia's very fine Roots 'n' Blues imprint
- the epic, fan-fucking-tastic 10-disc Hank Williams set
- the 4-disc Marvin Gaye set
- the 3-disc Phil Ochs set
- the 3-disc Roger Miller set
- the amazingly great 4-disc Los Lobos set (why do we not have weekly festivals to celebrate the greatness of Los Lobos? seriously.)
- the cheap (~$17) 3-disc sets of reggae on Trojan (Ska, Rocksteady, etc etc) are reliably very good

Damn. If my collection were in front of me, I'd have many more suggestions for you, but I gotta run right now.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:18 AM on February 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

James Brown "Star Time" box set. The only box set I have ever purchased.
posted by zonkout at 8:18 AM on February 27, 2006

Also: Plunderphonics.
posted by zonkout at 8:21 AM on February 27, 2006

Oh, I'm surprised that Dr. Wu didn't mention the 4 disc Citizen Steely Dan box set.
posted by OmieWise at 8:22 AM on February 27, 2006

eh, I already have all the albums... ;)
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:27 AM on February 27, 2006

Swinging Mademoiselle, Vols. 1 and 2.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 8:42 AM on February 27, 2006

I am lusting after One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found, which came out last year.
posted by matildaben at 8:46 AM on February 27, 2006

omigod, I can't believe I failed to mention the gorgeous majesty of Zombie Heaven, the 4-disc Zombies box set. Contains the entirety of Odessey and Oracle, one of rock's greatest albums, in its original running order, plus TONS of other goodies.

When I first saw this box, I thought, "What? The Zombies merit a box set?!" And then, after I first listened to it, I developed a strong, still-unquenched desire to live in Zombieland forever and ever.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:29 AM on February 27, 2006

Atlantic Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 is great. I've heard good things about The Complete Stax-Volt Singles 1959-1968 (but there's quite a bit of overlap between the two since Stax/Volt was distributed by Atlantic).

Motown's Hitsville USA is great and covers Motown's best years. The first disc or so of volume 2 is pretty good, but drops off a lot. It looks like they've discontinued it in favor of Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collection 1972-1992.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:36 AM on February 27, 2006

You're probably not looking for dance music, but I'd suggest Sasha & Digweed's Northern Exposure series, any of the Global Underground series (but especially earlier ones) and the Back to Mine series.

Those are all high quality compilations that really reflect the best of the best dance music (and not necessarily the most popular)
posted by empath at 9:39 AM on February 27, 2006

Anthology of American Folk Music is the best box set I've ever bought. Chronicles early American folk from the late 1920s and early 1930s. Weird, weird stuff and very influential.

I also second the Stax-Volt singles collection and the new Girl Sounds box, both are really awesome. If you liked Nuggets, make sure you get Nuggets II, which I think is better. Just avoid the Son of Nuggets crap.
posted by Falconetti at 9:51 AM on February 27, 2006

David Bowie's Sound and Vision box set actually merits purchase even if you already have all of his albums. If you don't have any Bowie albums, it's also a great starter set (it has a good mix of greatest hits and B-sides and rarities that aren't available elsewhere).
posted by Prospero at 9:52 AM on February 27, 2006

Police. Message in a Box.
Jellyfish. Fan Club. (good luck on finding it under $150)
posted by nimsey lou at 10:07 AM on February 27, 2006

The Complete Motown Singles, Volume 1, 1959-1961 (6 discs, Hip-O Select/Motown) is incredible. I like it better than the Hitsville USA sets.

I've always had a place in my heart for the Smashing Pumpkins' The Aeroplane Flies High, as a companion piece to Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness.
posted by carsonb at 10:09 AM on February 27, 2006

Re:the Anthology of American Folk Music , there is a very interesting story.
posted by wheelieman at 10:19 AM on February 27, 2006

Opps, I meant to post
posted by wheelieman at 10:20 AM on February 27, 2006

I second Falconetti. The American Anthology of Folk Music is extremely awesome. This is the very collection Bob Dylan grew up listening to and pushed him toward folk music.
posted by mto at 10:22 AM on February 27, 2006

I'm a fan of "music picked out by (some artist)" type collections. I have a bunch of them from the Artist's Choice, Back to Mine, and DJ Kicks collections.

The content on them is all over the map, but they've introduced me to a lot of good, interesting music that isn't popular enough to make it into a "Best Of" style compilation.
posted by I Love Tacos at 10:26 AM on February 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Probably my favorite of the Artist's Choice collection, is this one, chosen by the rolling stones.
posted by I Love Tacos at 10:28 AM on February 27, 2006

Hitsville as mentioned above is great for a typical-to-above average Motown fan...the Complete Motown Singles collection however is for people who are willing to spend $1000 over the next few years to collect every single Motown released. Something a little more accessible is a box set that overlaps but also completments the Hitsville Box, aptly named the Motown Box. I second the "One Kiss Can Lead To Another" box set, and would add the Phil Spector "Back to Mono" set, as well as Beg, Scream and Shout. Of course that's my personal style, I'm really into northern soul, Motown, 60s pop, etc.
posted by apple scruff at 10:40 AM on February 27, 2006

OK, I know it dates me, I don't care: ABBA's "Thank You For The Music" (4 disks)...including a ton of stuff I didn't know about when I started listening to them in college. And Carly Simon's "Clouds In My Coffee" (3 disks) -- which some people think has a lot of stuff missing, but for me, it's got all the stuff I love and lots I never knew about.
posted by lhauser at 1:00 PM on February 27, 2006

I have the Rhino Instrumentals.

In the 1990s Brian Eno released an Instrumental and Vocal pair which went out of print and are hard to find. I have the Vocal but discarded the hideous packaging.

Nuggets and the Phil Specter have been on my list for a long time; One Kiss Can Lead to Another is now on it too.
posted by Rash at 1:15 PM on February 27, 2006

Trojan Records Box Sets - there are 57 of them, all 3CD boxes, and they're (probably) all great.

Improvised Music From Japan 10CD Box - sold out, but worth trying to track down a second hand one.


Gold Leaf Branches - beautiful, beautiful 3CD set of avant folk weirdness.
posted by nylon at 1:54 PM on February 27, 2006

The Anthology of American Folk Music is great. Berlin Super 80 is a great collection of German fringe stuff from the early 80s - Einstuerzende Neubauten and their peers (there's a DVD, which I haven't seen, but there's also a CD.) For modern psychedelic space rock, Hall of Mirrors is a pretty good selection of [mostly] American stuff along the lines of what you'd hear at Terrastock, while the Invisible Pyramid - Elegy box is [mostly] foreign, with each track dedicated to an extinct species. Those Were Different Times is a collection of stuff by the Electric Eels, Mirrors, and Styrenes, incredible pre-punk bands from the scene that spawned Rocket from the Tombs and Pere Ubu. I don't own either the Chrome Box or the Merzbox, but I wish I did. Choomej - Throat Singing from the Center of Asia is, well, a great collection of central Asian throat singing. No New York is a classic - compiled by Brian Eno, featuring no wave by Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (with Lydia Lunch), Mars, DNA, and James Chance and the Contortions.
posted by ubersturm at 2:41 PM on February 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ditto on "Back to Mine" especially the ones by Lamb and Morcheeba. The concept of these albums is music the DJs would play when their friends come back to their place to wind down after a long night of partying. A good variety of chill music.

Also the Verve Remixed series is incredible. Contemporary electro-jazz remixes of classic jazz songs.
posted by radioamy at 3:15 PM on February 27, 2006

I've got to strongly second Zombie Heaven. When I got it, my reaction was, "What's wrong with American Radio? Why has this been kept from me for so long?" (Exactly like when I heard The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society for the first time.)

Check out Tony Conrad's Early Minimalism if you're into, well, minimalism.
I don't have Tropicalia (30 Years), but I have the five albums that comprise it, and they are essential.

I wish I owned the box sets for: Galaxie 500, Velvet Underground, Kronos Quartet, Serge Gainsbourg, Talking Heads, Fela Kuti (there's a few), Sugarhill Hip Hop, and The Weird Tales of the Ramones.

And I'll nth the Anthology of American Folk Music. And if you like Nuggets you'll probably like its progeny--Pebbles and Rubble.

Not a lot of people are suggesting compilations. I can't sing enough praises for Soul Jazz Records. Expensive, but worth it. Look for New Orleans Funk and the follow-up, Saturday Night Fish Fry. And the Dynamite and Studio One comps for reggae, ska and rocksteady. If you're looking for obscure soul, the Numero Group puts out meticulously researched comps of stuff you won't believe they unearthed.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:34 PM on February 27, 2006

The three Nordic Roots compilations from Northside Records are way cool. For under US$20, you can get a good idea of the many kinds of divine madness present on the Scandinavian Folk Music scene.

Really. They are much, much cooler than they sound.
posted by QIbHom at 1:51 PM on February 28, 2006

I own two: Laurie Anderson's United States Live and the Allman Brothers' Dreams. Both goodies.
posted by flabdablet at 3:47 AM on July 31, 2006

As far as cost goes, check out Real cheap there. They have the Yazoo and Ethiopiques compilations and those are pretty much universally excellent. They also might still have the Stax collections.

I also recommend the Numero Group CDs. Some nice stuff.
posted by dobbs at 5:37 AM on July 31, 2006

Lee Perry's Arkology is excellent, as is Raymond Scott's Manhattan Research, Inc.. And I'll second the Folk Anthology and Plunderphonics sets.
posted by hellbient at 9:55 PM on August 19, 2006

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