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Gift Guide 2017: The Best Box Sets

Deluxe, rarities-filled packages for serious collectors, die-hard completists and fans of Elvis, Bowie, Dylan, Weird Al – and even Freddy Krueger

rolling stone boxset gift guide

Even in this age of streaming and dead-to-dying brick-and-mortar stores, the most obsessive music and pop culture fans are determined to stay at least a little bit analog. The best time to indulge that collectors’ urge, of course, is over the holidays – with lush, extras-packed box sets that zoom in on a specific, magical moment in an artist’s career, or encapsulate an entire oeuvre. Whether the intended recipient just can’t get enough of David Bowie, Elton John, the Smiths, Weird Al or razor-fingered Freddy Krueger (yes, really), we’ve found a box set just for them.

rolling stone boxset gift guide

Various Artists, ‘7-inches for Planned Parenthood’

Available both as a digital download and a box of curated 7-inch singles, this collects songs by artists such as Mitski, Feist, Bon Iver and Sharon Van Etten, as well as comedy and readings from the likes of Margaret Atwood and Tig Notaro. All proceeds go to Planned Parenthood​, and it’s full of great moments, like Sarah Silverman hilariously describing a ​lunch with Kanye West, St. Vincent and John Legend dueting on the Minnie Ripperton ballad “Loving You” and Sleater-Kinney blasting through the anthemic tempest “Here We Come”. $100; 7inchesforplannedparenthood.com

rolling stone boxset gift guide

Elton John, ‘Diamonds’

The ultimate Elton collection, spanning 50 years of beloved hits, from “‘Your Song” to “Tiny Dancer” to “Candle in the Wind” and beyond. The 2-CD and double-LP versions are definitive, and the three-CD deluxe edition comes with a 17-song bonus disc of deeper cuts selected by Elton himself, including the beautiful “Skyline Pigeon,” from 1973’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player,” and the title track to his 1992 gem The One. $60; eltonjohn.com 

rolling stone boxset gift guide

Elvis Presley, ‘The Boy From Tupelo’

Presley’s essential first recordings are compiled in this museum-grade package. The set includes the Memphis Recording Service acetates Presley had cut on his own dime ($3.98 a pair, to be exact), the entire legendary Sun Sessions, aborted takes and every known concert and radio recording from the period. $30; amazon.com

rolling stone boxset gift guide

David Gilmour, ‘Live at Pompeii’

Gilmour played two 2016 concerts at the nearly 2000 year-old amphitheater, where Pink Floyd had performed 45 years earlier. The transcendent event is captured here on two CDs and a spectacular Blu-Ray DVD (shot in 4k by director Gavin Elder). Selections run from Gilmour’s excellent recent LP Rattle That Lock to Floyd classics like “Great Gig In the Sky” and a powerful version of “Wish You Were Here.” The visual experience captured on the DVD is as mind-blowing as you’d expect. $70; davidgilmour.com

rolling stone boxset gift guide

The Smiths, ‘The Queen is Dead’

The U.K. alt-rock heroes were at a peak on this 1986 LP, which contained such classics as “Big Mouth Strikes Again” and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” This 3 CD/1 DVD or 5-LP box contains a remastered version of the original LP, demos and B-sides a stellar ’86 concert from the U.S, tour to support the album. The DVD features the 2017 master of the album in 96kHz / 24-bit PCM stereo and The Queen Is Dead – A Film By Derek Jarman.  $40; rhino.com

rolling stone boxset gift guide

David Bowie, ‘New Career In A New Town’

Bowie made some of his most visionary and influential music from 1977 to 1982, the period chronicled in the latest installment in Rhino’s career-spanning archival series. This eleven-CD box, thirteen-piece vinyl doorstop features the landmark “Berlin trilogy” of Low, Heroes and Lodger, as well as 1982’s Scary Monsters. The collection also has a “Heroes” EP (containing German and French versions of the hit), an expanded version of the live album Stage, a new remix of Lodger by co-producer Tony Visconti and Re:Call 3, a compilation of single versions, non-album tracks and B sides. It also includes a hardcover book with insightful, lively liner notes full of behind-the-scenes stories by Visconti, as well as images of handwritten lyrics, alternate album covers and rare and previously unpublished photos galore. $198 vinyl, $107 CD; amazon.com

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Rolling Stones, ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’

The Stones’ flower-power experiment gets an expanded 50th anniversary edition with mono and stereo mixes on CD and vinyl, allowing us to relive their uniquely acrid version of psychedelic sprawl. The mono mix faithfully restores the album to the fidelity the band intended, and the album cover art recreates the LP’s original 3-D cover art. $72; amazon.com

rolling stone boxset gift guide

Bob Dylan, ‘Trouble No More’

The latest edition of the Bootleg Series is one of the most fascinating, a deep dive 8 CD/1 DVD exploration of Dylan’s strange wanderings through evangelical Christianity from 1979 to 1981. The first two discs cull 19 tracks from shows throughout that period, while a full concert from Germany in 1981 sees him merging back with his secular songbook. Highlighted by fourteen unreleased tracks like the excellent, reggae-steeped soundcheck jam on “Ain’t No Man Righteous, No Not One,” the whole thing is a boon to Dylan fanatics, and there’s a two-CD version available for the merely curious. The DVD contains “Trouble No More: A Musical Film,” a film that incorporates never-seen footage from Dylan’s 1980 tour. $120; amazon.com

rolling stone boxset gift guide

Hüsker Dü, ‘Savage Young Dü’

In recordings that span their first three years of hardcore punk’s breakneck Beatles, this three-disc treasure trove of archival audio and remastered material finds the Minneapolis loud-fast diplomats going from walking to running. Its nearly 70 tracks include embryonic demos, songs that only exist on blown-out live cassettes, a lightning-speed cover of “Chinese Rocks” and unheard early moments that reveal shades of the Ramones, the Damned, the Heartbreakers and Elvis Costello. Their rarely-heard debut 7-inch – “Statues” b/w “Amusement” – even features their trademark white-noise used to more post-punky ends. In lieu of the Hüskers’ broiling, convulsive 1980 SST live album Land Speed Record is a cleaner recording of most of its tracks from a show recorded weeks later. $85 vinyl, $40 CD; numerogroup.com 

rolling stone boxset gift guide

Weird Al Yankovic, ‘Squeeze Box’

Until Saturday Night Live fully liberates its archives, there may be no more artful satirical document of the last 35 years than the collected studio albums of “Weird Al” Yankovic. These 14 studio albums – available on CD or vinyl, both housed in a cardboard accordion – are a catalog of our obsessions, quirks, cultural shifts and fads, like a perpetual “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Of course, the famous Michael Jackson and Nirvana parodies are here, but possibly the better historical record are twists on Men Without Hats, El Debarge, Fine Young Cannibals, Billy Ray Cyrus, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and Taylor Hicks. Bonus disc, Medium Rarities, is mostly ignorable, but does, crucially, feature the original version of “My Bologna” recorded in the bathroom of his college radio station’s building and his lost parody of the Beatles’ “Tax Man” (“Pac Man”). $400 vinyl, $300 CD; amazon.com

rolling stone boxset gift guide

Various Artists, ‘Box of Souls: A Nightmare on Elm Street’

The recent flood of
horror vinyl soundtrack reissues hits an absurd, ambitious peak with a set
combining the scores from the first seven films in surrealist slasher franchise
A Nightmare on Elm Street. Seven different composers are compiled here,
all joined by moody original artwork from Chicago graphic designer Mike Saputo
and a certain burned sadist. The Charles Bernstein score to the 1984 original
is the highlight, an 8-track recording full of dark drones, dubby reverb,
playful melodies and post-Carpenter synths – anyone who enjoys Stranger
Things
can find some original vintage here. For the 1985 sequel, Hellraiser
composer Christopher Young provided a supremely creepy score with the buzzy
orchestral fury of Iannis Xenakis or Stanley Kubrick fave Gyorgy Ligeti; and
parts of Craig Safan’s experimental electronic suite for 1988’s A Nightmare
on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
sounds more like Twin Peaks than Twin
Peaks
composer Angelo Badalamenti’s strange soundtrack to Part 3. $250; mondotees.com

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