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Classic rock boxed sets

Classic rock boxed sets — A review of compilations from the Beach Boys, Ted Nugent, and more

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Classic rock boxed sets

Three things the world no longer needs: mad bombers in Manhattan, further TV appearances by Dan Cortese, and more boxed sets exploiting the seemingly bottomless pit of classic-rock archives. The first two may be hard to stop, but you’d think the record business would have run out of superstars for multidisc boxed sets. But nooo — overstuffed CD compilations of music once found in used-LP bins continue to dribble out. Sometimes it’s enough to make you wish the CD had never been invented.

Well, let’s not get too jaded — at least not when confronted with one or two boxes that truly deserve to exist. The Beach Boys’ music has been repackaged more often than Richard Nixon, but the five-disc Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys is a treat nonetheless. Starting with a rough, early-’60s demo of ”Surfin’ U.S.A.” and ending with 1988’s execrable hit ”Kokomo,” this is the first collection to give shape to the band’s entire career. It’s still easy to be awed by the warm vocal massage and impeccable studio care (of mastermind-guru Brian Wilson) on ”Good Vibrations,” ”Don’t Worry Baby,” ”Heroes and Villains,” or later-period work like the gorgeous ”Surf’s Up.” Plowing through the 142 cuts, you can hear Wilson’s much-chronicled fall from sanity and the group’s valiant and often touching efforts to pick itself up by its sandal straps with a good record or two (1972’s forgotten ”Marcella,” for instance).

Collectors alone will drool at the slew of rarities, which include bizarre outtakes from Brian’s never-released big-band album, a bonus disc of studio and live outtakes, and 30 pieced-together minutes from Brian’s mythical, never-completed 1967 album, Smile. The latter is, not surprisingly, a letdown: What we get after 26 years are precious choirboy harmonies, loads of coy sound effects, and cutesy songs like ”Do You Like Worms.” Another cautious warning: The early hits — from ”Surfin”’ roughly through ”All Summer Long” — sound a little thin on digital. And you can skip the self-parodic more recent work that fills out the last half of disc four. But hearing the glories of the Beach Boys — those majestic harmonies, the cathedrallike production, that white-bread sexual yearning underlining it all — handily wipes away the current image of brain-addled Brian and the sad casino-touring band the other Boys have become.

Another pleasant treat is Mott the Hoople’s two-disc The Ballad of Mott: A Retrospective. Contrary to the back-cover notes, this British band, featuring sardonic singer-songwriter Ian Hunter, didn’t ”define rock & roll in the ’70s,” but they did make sharp, biting glitter rock that practically cackled. Those familiar only with the band’s David Bowie-penned hit ”All the Young Dudes” (1972) are in for a treat; check out boogies like ”Drivin’ Sister” or Hunter’s withering takes on the rock biz. The two discs could have easily been pared down to one, but Mott’s is period music that easily transcends its time.

Now that we’ve got that out of our system, let’s get cynical, to paraphrase the yet-to-be-boxed Olivia Newton-John. The Hollies were one of the great British pop bands of the ’60s and ’70s, but the three-disc 30th Anniversary Collection 1963-1993 should please only collectors and diehards. (And what is it with 30th anniversaries in rock & roll anyway?) Its entire first disc is devoted to the band’s earliest hits — mostly innocuous R&B covers, few of them hits in the U.S. It also skimps on their ’70s singles (although the harmonies and strings of ”The Air That I Breathe” still sound magnificent) and ends with three dismal new recordings, including a dreadful version of ”Purple Rain.” Their resilient hits — ”Carrie Anne,” ”Bus Stop,” ”Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress,” and the rest — have never sounded better, but you’ll have to wade through three overly padded CDs to hear them.

And speaking of padded: When it comes to Ted Nugent’s boxed set, Out of Control, the only things truly out of control are the Nuge’s ego (the booklet includes 40 photos of him) and the very concept of two discs’ worth of his pinched voice and numbing guitar ejaculations, which sound painfully grating in the cold light of digital. If you’re in the mood for cheese-ball ’70s hard rock that’s obsessed with the ”awe-inspiring female animal” (Ted’s words, from his liner notes), stick with old Kiss records and a 45 of Nugent’s only decent song, ”Cat Scratch Fever.” Speaking of which — where is that Kiss box?

Good Vibrations: A-
Ballad of Mott: B+
30th Anniversary: C
Out of Control: D