Boxed CD sets and collector's editions are to music fans what Trix cereal is to that crazy white rabbit. What?! A previously unreleased track? What?! Never-before-seen footage of a concert in Iowa where nothing at all significant happens? Can't resist ... must buy expensive boxed set ... .
For all the clever packaging and often shocking sticker prices, some boxed sets and rereleases are worth dropping the dough, and the others, well, let's just say sometimes labels want to generate more revenue by repackaging old stuff. Avoid giving the music lovers in your life more of the same with these CL-approved sets, each containing treasures that make old fans' hearts flutter and provide worthy introductions for newbies.
Johnny Cash: The Legend, $49.98
A frills-and-all box honoring the late Man in Black's formative years had been conspicuously absent until the release of The Legend, this four-disc package that compiles highlights from Johnny Cash's massive Sun/Columbia catalog. The discs are divided thematically (hits, favorites, standards and duets) and feature Cash's first Sun singles ("I Walk the Line," "There You Go") on up to later duets with wife June Carter Cash and stepdaughter Carlene Carter. The set is housed in a book-like package that includes several pages about Cash's life and extensive photos. It's a fitting companion piece to American's 2003 Cash: Unearthed set and just in time to coincide with the upcoming Cash biopic, Walk the Line. Judging from that film's stone-faced promos, you'll be better off riding with The Legend than the icy big-screen facsimile.
Run-DMC Deluxe expanded editions, $11.98-$18.98 each
Picture this: Your uncle -- or your brother, or even you -- is the type of guy who hates "Rap City." He's always complaining about how wack rap music has become and how it lost its soul. What better gift to give your favorite hater than one of four slammin' LPs by Run-DMC? (Or if you really like him, all four in a faux boxed set.) As everyone knows, Run, DMC and Jam Master Jay are the personification of quality hip-hop, from the dope beats and hardcore rhymes to the unlaced Adidas and all-black jumpsuits. Their first four classics (Run-DMC, King of Rock, Raising Hell, and Tougher Than Leather) were recently reissued, with each disc containing bonus tracks (check for the original "Slow and Low" on King of Rock before the Beastie Boys covered it), liner notes and vintage photographs. It's enough to make you break out the Cazal sunglasses and pose in a B-boy stance.
One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found, $69.98
Post-Elvis and pre-Beatles, the pop nuggets of the early 1960s are often left to collect dust in their grooves except when other musicians are looking for a great tune to cover. Doubt us? "When I say I'm in love, you best believe I'm in luv, L-U-V?" Famous song intro by '70s punks the New York Dolls, right? Wrong: "Give Him a Great Big Kiss," a 1965 hit by queens of teenage tragedies the Shangri-Las. One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found features nearly 120 tracks on four discs, daintily packaged in cases that look like compacts and a "diary" of liner notes that fit neatly into a hat box. The words "girl group" in the title are misleading: There are plenty of the Cinderellas, the Chiffons and the Angels, but the set also features solo artists including soulful Dusty Springfield, songwriter Carole King, spunky Little Eva, country queen-to-be Dolly Parton and Cher. Other than an early Ronettes song, Phil Spector groups don't really appear (licensing issues), but the marketing machine of the music industry is evident from the photos of go-go boots and black eyeliner to the carefully crafted, ridiculously catchy two-and-a-half-minute pop tracks.
"The Dick Cavett Show": Rock Icons, $39.98
Like the Bob Newhart of TV talk shows, Dick Cavett hosted his self-titled program (canceled and renewed numerous times) with deadpan, slightly awkward delivery tempered with a literate sensibility. Though he seemed square, he welcomed some of the most hep performers of the Woodstock generation -- Jefferson Airplane, an especially emaciated and effeminate David Bowie, Sly of the Family Stone, a refreshingly frank George Harrison, and slightly befuddled Paul Simon, among others -- and proved a gracious host, for the most part successfully threading interactive, unhurried conversations. Of particular note are a squirming Mick Jagger forecasting his longevity and recurring guest Janis Joplin jousting with other interviewees. One Cavett caveat, however, is that the nine shows of "The Dick Cavett Show": Rock Icons DVD are in their entirety, so you have to wade through some dated guests for the admittedly tinny but propulsive performances.
Ray Charles: Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959), $149.98
Offering 164 tracks spread across seven CDs and one DVD -- housed along with a book of exhaustive liner notes in a box replicating a '50s portable phonograph -- Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959) features the masters of the master and the genesis of his genius. The chronological sides offer a comprehensive survey of Georgia-born Ray Charles as a blazing belter, pioneer of soul phrasing, and as adept at jazz as jumping R&B. The seventh disc's demo recording session dialogue and especially exhilarating DVD of a 1960 Newport Jazz performance with the Raylettes call into focus all facets of Charles' dramatic evolution working with Atlantic Records' founder Ahmet Ertegun before crossing over to pop.
New Order: Item, $24.98
This surround-sound, two-DVD set encompasses 23 time capsules of pioneering Manchester electro-pop quartet New Order's insistent singles and video artistry. On New Order's Item, the group showcases all its videos spanning 1983-2005, including the sincere homage to the early '80s New York club scene in "Confusion," the cheeky '80s hair-metal spoof in "Touched By the Hand of God," and Dadaist treatments of hits "True Faith" and "Blue Monday '88." It also includes alternate and brand-new videos made just for this collection. The accompanying New Order Story documentary, peppered with archival/video fragments, was originally a l993 laser-disc "videostory" with a contrived faux game show framework (band members are quizzed on New Order facts) and breathy, melodramatic art-student narrative. All that, however, is worth ignoring while unfurling two hours of fractured glimpses into New Order's humility, hostilities, humors and the rice paper-thin fissures between the three.