Boxed sets are now as much a staple of the holiday season as It’s a Wonderful Life — maybe because they’re so hefty and gift wrap-friendly. They’ re also relatively cheap to produce, making them as appealing to record companies as they are to consumers. You’d think they’d be easy to make, too. Just pick a popular classic-rock act, cull the hits and songs devoted fans will remember, compile a photo-heavy booklet, and presto — instant magic! Well, sometimes. The following guide mines the best of a mother lode of seasonal offerings.
Tina Turner The Collected Recordings — Sixties to Nineties (Capitol) The title isn’t quite right — her ”collected” recordings would fill a lot more than three CDs. But this box does represent the first time any collection has spanned Turner’s entire career, from her Ike days (disc one) through her all-out resurrection in the ’80s (disc three). Disc two, which compiles all-star duets and B sides, is the one fans will want: Turner has long been the queen of cheesy covers, and here are a slew of them, ranging from Led Zeppelin’s ”Whole Lotta Love” to Robert Palmer’s ”Addicted to Love.” Along the way, the box becomes a mini-history of the evolution of soul; the leap from the gritty Ike and Tina recordings to the sleek, video-ready ”We Don’t Need Another Hero” speaks volumes about what critic Nelson George has called ”the death of rhythm and blues” at the hands of generic production. Still, a surefire gift for boomers and wig cultists. A-
The Band Across the Great Divide (Capitol) Here’s a case of a box that’s either questionable or underhanded, depending on your viewpoint. Not so much for the music — Robbie Robertson and company’s stoic evocations of the American experience have aged like fine wood grain. But in 1989, Capitol did a good job compiling the essential Band on a two-disc set, To Kingdom Come. This latest effort recycles that package, adding an extra disc of hard-to-find recordings. Some of those are quite rare — early singles that show The Band as a nondescript soul bar band, as well as eight unexceptional live recordings. Other ”rarities” are hardly that, like the five tracks culled from the very available Last Waltz soundtrack. For absolute newcomers, the combination may be valuable, but putting out a one-disc Rarities collection would have been a better deal for those who have already forked over big bucks to relive The Band’s heyday. B
The Temptations Emperors of Soul (Motown) Has there been an R&B vocal group since the ’60s that didn’t owe something to these guys? With their seamless interplay of voices (Eddie Kendricks’ falsetto, David Ruffin’s soulful wail, Dennis Edwards’ urgent bellow), not to mention some of the smoothest choreography ever, the Temps were Motown’s flashiest male act of the ’60s. So these five discs, which cover ’59 to the present, demand respect. The collection follows all the rules of boxed — setitude-gobs of hits (”Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” ”Just My Imagination”), B sides, and rarities (including a 1989 cameo by Ice T). But at 6 1/2 hours, it also has a lot of padding. And once Ruffin and Kendricks have split by the end of disc two, there’s an ocean of routine soul to wade through, giving Emperors the feel of a hangover after a particularly joyous party. B-