Boxed sets gaining popularity
Reminisce about the early-’90s pop scene and what comes to mind? Nirvana. Lollapalooza. Gangsta rap. And, of course, the Kansas boxed set. For a while there, ”all the labels went box-set crazy,” admits senior VP of Legacy Recordings Jeff Jones. ”Sales have been dropping over the last five years. In today’s marketplace, you have to be very selective about which artists deserve boxed sets.”
The boxed set’s tarnished reputation may account for the smaller number overrunning stores this fall — and, perhaps, for a new twist. Rather than simply recycle familiar tunes, labels are assembling multi-disc anthologies of material no one’s heard before. Take, for instance, the much-rumored package of previously unreleased Bruce Springsteen material, culled from his entire career. Speculation has it that the box, a November release with the working title of Tracks: 1973-1998, will cram 65 cuts onto four discs. Collectors tired of scuzzy bootlegs should also revel in the four-CD The John Lennon Anthology, with 100 outtakes and home recordings, and Miles Davis’ four-disc The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, which expands the seminal 1970 album with nine never-heard leftovers.
Those who want to hear music deemed worthy enough to have been released the first time around will have choices too. The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection finally compiles all the best-known versions of Bacharach’s catalog into one triple-disc cocktail. On the four-CD Tommy Boy’s Greatest Beats, the label chronicles its street-beat hits, from Afrika Bambaataa to Naughty By Nature. Ray Charles’ urban-cowboy years are compiled in the four-disc The Complete Country & Western Recordings 1959-1986, while Randy Newman’s career is anthologized in the four-disc Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman. Lovers of camp and cabaret will want Judy, a Judy Garland overview with four CDs and a videocassette (featuring excerpts from her TV variety show). And Frank Sinatra’s 20-CD The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings — a.k.a. The Suitcase — is being reissued in a less expensive, less luggage-like configuration.
Even as the public’s interest in these musical tombstones wanes, you’d think the artists involved would be jazzed. But that’s no guarantee, either. Asked what versions of his songs he fancied seeing in his package, Bacharach says, with marked indifference: ”They should pick whatever they want. There are a lot of things to get obsessive about, but that’s not one of them.” What think, Burt? What the world needs now is…fewer boxed sets?