Sometimes good things come in small packages; other times, they come in large, super-deluxe boxes. For music obsessives, bigger is better, and 2014 did not disappoint when it came to box sets. We polled our writers and editors and whittled the selection down to this list of our 10 favorites.
10. George Harrison, The Apple Years: 1968-1975
If you fancy yourself a scholar of the Fab Four and all their endeavors before and after, this is essential listening to aid you in getting a little closer to appreciating Harrison’s growth as an artist and as a human being. Grab it in one fell swoop with this set or hope that the discs get released individually. Either way, Harrison will be waiting for you with arms wide open and a roguish smile on his face.—Robert Ham
9. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III Deluxe Editions
For years, Zep-heads have tolerated the murky fidelity of the ‘90s remasters, but thanks to a new expanded reissue campaign led by guitarist-producer Jimmy Page (which will eventually trace the band’s entire studio output), Led Zeppelin I, II and III finally punch and shimmer instead of fizzling in fuzz. But the true gems here are the unheard b-sides, particularly the closing duo on Led Zeppelin III. That album threw critics a curveball back in 1970, toning down their blues influences and infusing folk and Celtic strains; the two unheard tracks from that LP help fill in the missing transitional blanks: “Jennings Farm Blues” is a psychedelic blues workout, an electrified version of “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” that offers some rhythmic variations on that acoustic barnburner. Meanwhile, “Keys to the Highway/Trouble in Mind” takes a more subdued approach to their beloved traditional blues, with Plant tossing out sensual, tremolo vocals and excellent harmonica over an acoustic Page riff.—Ryan Reed (Read Ryan Reed’s full review here)
8. Bruce Springsteen, The Album Collection, Vol. 1: 1973-1984
This box set consists of the first seven albums The Boss recorded for Columbia—Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle, Born To Run, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, The River, Nebraska and Born In The U.S.A.—remastered on vinyl along with a 60-page book of photos and press clippings from Springsteen’s greatest artistic period.
7. Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Super Deluxe Edition
Along with all the material released on the album, B-sides abounded. To get them, however, you’ll have to spring for the Super Deluxe Edition, which boasts 4 CDs and a DVD and includes tracks like “Jack Rabbit,” “Whenever You’re Ready (We’ll Go Steady Again)” and the kiss-off “Screw You (Young Man’s Blues).” Alternate versions of “Grey Seal” adorn the set with a piano demo which has been previously released and the original version from 1970. Additionally, a Christmas single from 1973 is included, featuring “Step Into Christmas” and “Ho! Ho! Ho! (Who’d Be A Turkey At Christmas)”. The best of-the-period studio track is the guitar-laden version of “Candle In The Wind,” also previously released, that makes one appreciate even more the talent that John could bring to a ballad beyond his comfortable piano backing. Nine tracks from the album are covered by modern artists and included on the second disc of both the deluxe and super deluxe editions. Ed Sheeran chimes in with his take on “Candle In The Wind” that straddles the line of pop and country. The highlight of the batch is Imelda May’s honky-tonk rendition of “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘N Roll),” which absolutely soars. Guitars swirl throughout; horns add a nice element during an instrumental bridge, and May ends the track with an emphatic yowl.—Eric Luecking
6. The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground Super Deluxe Edition
This six-disc box set features three mixes of The Velvet Underground, including a fresh remaster and Lou Reed’s “Closet Mix,” so called for its intimate character and because guitarist Sterling Morrison famously said it sounded like it had been recorded in a closet. The fourth disc contains several tracks originally meant for the band’s fourth album but that were shelved during a contractual dispute with record label MGM. Some of those songs, like “Rock & Roll,” were later included on other albums. The final two discs contain new mixes of live performances recorded at The Matrix in November of 1969.—Dan Holmes
5. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, CSNY 1974
To say that CSNY 1974 is much better than expected is a huge understatement. It’s easy to be cynical and argue that with all the trashing the tour received over the years from the artists themselves, the music on this set has very little to live up to. But, as with last year’s expanded reissue of Bob Dylan’s Self-Portrait album, it’s heartening to see how the passage of time can diminish the power of peripheral baggage that surrounds pop stars and their actions to allow us to hear old music in a completely new way. Graham Nash and Joel Bernstein, CSNY 1974’s producers, had a lot of music to choose from when they considered which performances to select from the nine concerts they recorded (each of which ran three-plus hours), but it’s impossible to deny the power of the music that makes up the box set—whatever tweaking of sound and culling of poor performances may have taken place. CSNY 1974 offers a deep and vulnerable portrait of band at the very height of its powers.—Douglas Heselgrave (Read Douglas Heselgrave’s full review here)
4. The Kinks, The Anthology 1964-1971
After a half-century, it may get more and more difficult to convince yourself you need to crack open your wallet for the latest Kinks greatest-hits compilation, but go ahead and make the exception for The Anthology 1964-1971. This five-CD box set—released in honor of the band’s 50th anniversary—contains 25 previously unreleased tracks for Kinks obsessives to sink their teeth into.
3. Slint, Spiderland Remastered Box Set
The extra goodies will intrigue, but there’s no danger of them overshadowing Spiderland’s core six cuts. Basement practice versions of songs like “Good Morning, Captain” and “Washer,” along with a handful of riff tapes, are welcome oddities for Slint disciples—many of whom have already bought up this limited-edition box. In addition to the music, the set also includes Lance Bangs’ documentary Breadcrumb Trail, which chronicles the band and the making of the album, and a 104-page booklet with photos and a forward from Will Oldham (who also shot the record’s now-famous cover photo).—Mark Lore (Read Mark Lore’s full review here)
2. Sleater-Kinney, Start Together
The limited-edition colored vinyl box set featuring all seven Sleater-Kinney albums has (unsurprisingly) been sold out for months now, but if you weren’t able to snag it in time, keep your eyes peeled for the black vinyl version of the set coming out later this month, which includes a book of previously unreleased photos from the band and a one-sided 7” of “Bury Our Friends,” the band’s new single, with their autographs etched into the B-side.
1. Bob Dylan and The Band, The Basement Tapes Complete
For music collectors of a certain age, the release of The Basement Tapes Complete has been a long time coming, and the opportunity to hear everything that Bob Dylan and his friends recorded at a rented house in upstate New York in 1967 is the realization of a decades-old dream. Advance press has touted the issuing of this six-CD set as having the significance of finding the Holy Grail or discovering the lost city of Atlantis. The nearly 150 songs collected on The Basement Tapes Complete provide perhaps the greatest insight into an artist’s creative process that we’ve ever been allowed to share in. The amount of material in the six-CD set is staggering and should have things that even the most ardent Dylan enthusiasts haven’t heard.—Douglas Heselgrave (Read Douglas Heselgrave’s full review of The Basement Tapes Complete here.)