It's Christmas week and, just like every year, you're in a complete panic. "What do I buy my music-fan friend(s) for Christmas?" you ask. "They're in the record store/on iTunes/swarming a torrent every Tuesday when the new releases come out, so they've certainly gotten everything that came out this year that they wanted." And the answer to your question is the same as it has been every year before this one: Buy 'em a box set.
Of course, being 2009, it would seem that the struggling music industry would have squeezed the last sanguine drops from their desiccated turnip of deep catalog, and to some degree, that's a fair assessment. Does the world really need another Elvis Presley collection? Do Hall & Oates really warrant a four-CD treatment? But beyond those marquee collections are a surprising number of quality multi-disc sets, one of which surely fits the needs of someone on your list. The below list of some of 2009's most notable box sets should help get you pointed in the right direction. Don't say we never did you any favors.
There were quite a few box sets that grabbed headlines this year. (Did you hear the Beatles had some reissues?) They range from exhaustively specific (Tom Petty's live set, the audiophile plundering of Neil Young's early years, rarities from AC/DC), to superficially comprehensive (a long-overdue career-spanning set from Dolly Parton).
The Beatles, Stereo and Mono Box Sets
Hall & Oates, Do What You Want, Be What You Are
Dolly Parton, Dolly
Neil Young, Archives, Vol. 1
Elvis Presley, Elvis 75 — Good Rockin' Tonight
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, The Live Anthology
2009 was a great year for aging fans of alt-rock. Two cornerstones of underground music — Big Star and Kraftwerk — released box sets acknowledging their awesomeness; in the case of the former, it was a superlative collection of album tracks, outtakes and alternate versions, while the latter were treated to a long-overdue remastering of (almost) their entire catalog. Meanwhile, a band that continually threatens their legacy with ill-advised re-formations — Jane's Addiction — treated fans to an excellent box filled with rarities and a barn-burning live show.
Big Star, Keep an Eye on the Sky
Jane's Addiction, Cabinet of Curiosities
Kraftwerk, The Catalogue
Richard Thompson, Walking on a Wire
Various artists, Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968
Of course, most of those sets you've already heard about. There were a number of other commendable collections compiled for deserving artists that may not have gotten the same poundage of pixels and ink spent on them. Rock in Opposition legends Henry Cow probably deserve your out-there attention more than Kraftwerk, because anything that puts money in Dagmar Krause's pocket is money well spent. Even though Rod Stewart continues to destroy any credibility he may have had with "songbook" collections, a set of his rarities saw the light of day this year; only the first disc is worth listening to (the other three focus primarily on his late-'70s and '80s work), but that alone is worth the hefty price of the set.
Leonard Bernstein, Mahler: The Complete Symphonies & Orchestral Songs
Blackeyed Susans, Reveal Yourself
The Durutti Column, 2001-2009
Woody Guthrie, My Dusty Road
Henry Cow, The Road
Rod Stewart, The Rod Stewart Sessions: 1971-1998
Ken Vandermark, Resonance
Hey, did you hear? Vinyl's making something of a comeback! Odds are that if you've got a vinyl fan on your list, they're well aware of the existence of several of these monstrous sets, but haven't gotten the courage to shell out the bucks for them yet. Make their holiday perfect with a 180-gram yule log. Perfect seasonal accompaniment: the glacial, Norwegian beauty of Sigur Rós or Eluvium, both of whom saw their seminal albums remastered, pressed on super-heavy vinyl and bundled into book-style sets.
Animal Collective, Animal Crack Box
Cream, Waiting So Long
The Cure, Into the Dark
Dukes of Stratosphear, The Complete and Utter Dukes
Eluvium, Life Through Bombardment
Peanut Butter Wolf, 45 Live
Sigur Rós, In a Frozen Sea
The Velvet Underground, Singles 1966-1969
Tom Waits, Orphans
Various artists, Eccentric Soul: Twinight's Lunar Rotation
Need to go all out on a musical gift? Have an executive expense account you need to drain before Dec. 31? Try these out.
Miles Davis, The Complete Columbia Album Collection (70 CDs and a DVD; $360)
Yo-Yo Ma, 30 Years Outside the Box (90 CDs, 312-page book; $800)
Pixies, Minotaur (deluxe edition: five CDs, seven DVD/Blu-ray discs and an art book, $175; limited edition: five CDs, five LPs, seven DVD/Blu-ray discs, faux-fur-covered art book, two posters and a giclée print, $495)
Various artists, 111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon (55 CDs, $170)
CDs too passé? Vinyl too hip? How about a "palm-sized loop playback machine" that allows the owner to slowly lose their sanity?
Throbbing Gristle, Gristleismmusic@orlandoweekly.com