Want to make the music lover on your shopping list very, very happy? Invest in one (or more) of the big, beautiful CD (and sometimes DVD) music boxes newly available for gifting this season.
While career overview sets are fewer, the slack is being taken up with collections of never-heard-before (unless you were there) concerts, sure to delight devotees. Except when noted, these 15 boxes are available wherever fine music is sold (or downloaded), and will set you back between $40 and $120.
"Do What You Want Be What You Are — The Music of Daryl Hall and John Oates" (Legacy): What rhymes with Philadelphia, in a really wonderful way? The buoyant, heart 'n' soul music of these native sons, the best-selling duo of all time. This four-CD set traces Hall and Oates' development from teen Motown/Philly R&B wannabes to sensitive pop-folk storytellers to inventors of a unique mash-up of doo-wop, rock, Philly soul, folk (and briefly, even a bit of disco) that would cross over radio formats to capture the mass public's ear for decades. Tellingly, included songs that didn't hit big sound as strong as ones that did. And what's not to love about their several salutes to the old hometown, like that amazing live rendering of "Me and Mrs. Jones" — one of several unearthed concert cuts that cap each disc.
"Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert" (Abkco): This now-legendary 1969 show from Madison Square Garden might never have been released, had not a bootleg from the same tour achieved major sales. These recordings were originally made for the Maysles Brothers' documentary "Gimme Shelter." This new box follows the Abkco label's "hands-off" policy with Stones reissues — no tweaking whatsoever to the compressed two-track mix in its possession. Sound is definitely livelier on the five previously unreleased tracks (including an excellent "Under My Thumb"/"I'm Free") tacked onto the CD and also scoring a pretty cool 30-minute DVD of movie leftovers patched together by the Maysles team. A third CD belatedly introduces the warm-up acts at the Garden show — B.B. King anda typically rushed Ike and Tina Turner.
"Frank Sinatra: New York" (Reprise): This four-CD plus DVD collection captures the 20th century's supreme male standards-bearer and saloon singer in recurring concert visits to NYC, with few repeats of material 'cepting the inescapable "My Way." The first disc is intimate and casual, reuniting Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey in 1955, then shifting to a '63 command performance at the United Nations where he's accompanied by pianist Skitch Henderson. That's just appetizers for the walloping, big-band song and schmooze-athons that follow — CDs of 1974 shows at Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden, his return to Carnegie in '84 and then, as piece de resistance, a DVD of a 1980 Carnegie Hall performance.
Ella Fitzgerald, "Twelve Nights in Hollywood" (Verve): My vote for best box set of 2009, this newly unearthed treasure trove of 1961 and '62 performances captures the First Lady of Song at her most relaxed and entertaining, working with a small combo at an intimate, 200-seat nightclub. Unlike male counterpart Sinatra, who occasionally backed a bad horse to stay current, Ella never strays from American songbook and jazz classics, from the whimsical "Ac-cent Tchu-ate the Positive" and "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," to the ruminative "Round Midnight," and "Come Rain or Come Shine."
"The Doors: Live in New York — Felt Forum" (DMC/Rhino): This indulgent, six-disc set preserves all four shows recorded by the psychedelic blues masters over two January 1970 nights at MSG's smaller sister venue. While there's plenty of jamming and Jim Morrison smoldering, contents are best consumed in smaller doses, so repeats of megahits like "Light My Fire" and "Break On Through" don't burn out too many of yer brain cells.
"Grateful Dead, Winterland June 1977 — The Complete Recordings" (Grateful Dead Productions): In the group's well annotated history, this three-night home engagement stands as one the Dead's best. The band seems in perfect synchronicity, mind-melding and flowing, with instruments dynamically balanced and vocals sublime. Each night, tellingly, you'll hear Bob Weir apologizing for delays because they were trying to get the sound "perfect." Exclusively at www.dead. net.
AC/DC, "Back Tracks" (Columbia): For me, the smaller, (double CD plus DVD) version of this AC/DC box still seems like a very full meal. Hey, I love these guys to death (in both original Bon Scott and post-1980 Brian Johnson-fronted versions), even though almost every gut-busting, bone-crunching, foot-stomping, spitfire blues rockin' song of theirs sounds alike. First disc holds studio rarities ("Crabsody In Blue" is amazing), second CD showcases live killer dillers, likewise split between the Bon and Brian years. Then the elaborate music videos of the DVD zoom in on the band's unique metal mirth.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, "The Live Anthology" (Reprise): Definitely splurge for the deluxe (Best Buy-exclusive) large box version of this concert cache, capturing this ever reliable, smart and energized Americana rock band in shows from 1978 to 2007. Along with the core five CDs, the big box also packs a Blu-ray disc with high resolution versions of the same 62 songs, taking almost five hours to play!Other deluxe box allures include a remastered vinyl copy of the band's 1976 official live bootleg, plus previously unreleased DVDs of their New Year's Eve 1978 show and the 1994 ("Wildflowers"-era) documentary "400 Days."
"Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum Live" (Time Life): All killer, no filler, this nine-DVD collection gathers the greatest and rarest of performances that honorees and admirers have served up the past 25 years at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies (plus the Hall's opening concert). Early achievers like Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley and Etta James appear now and then in these vaguely themed packages, destined to be pitched on late-night infomercials.
But the talents who keep popping up for salutes, often in interesting collaborative jams, are album rock-era stars like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, John Fogerty, Bonnie Raitt and Billy Joel. Don't miss the entertaining, full-length induction speeches, like Joel's for Ray Charles and Bono's for Springsteen, hiding in the "bonus" sections of the discs. Available at www.RockHall DVDs.com or www.TimeLife. com.
Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, "The 2000 Year Old Man" — the Complete Collection" (Rhino): Many recordings from the golden age (1960s-70s) of comedy albums now seem dated. But what's a few more years gonna do to mess up the largely improvised "memories" of Mel Brooks as the world's oldest man — the ultimate Jewish mensch who knows firsthand what really happened in the Garden of Eden, who dated Helen of Troy's sister, rode with Paul Revere and considers Saran Wrap the greatest invention of all time. A bonus DVD packs their TV appearances and a new R&B schmooze reflecting on the sociological import of their unlikely success.
More to score
Dolly Parton, "Dolly" (RCA/Legacy): Forget the caricature she became, and get to know the real Dolly P. Country music's most durable female star got and stayed there the old-fashioned way, with her own, beautifully wrought story songs. Pay attention, Carrie and Taylor!
"The Rod Stewart Sessions 1971-1998" (Warner Bros.): It took steel, um, whatever's, to put out this collection of early and alternative versions. Especially given that the lyrics Rod was ad-libbing in the studio sometimes make him look like a ninny or homophobe. Fortunately, there's also gold in them thar hills.
"Elvis 75 — Good Rockin' Tonight" (RCA/Legacy): The umpteenth box set from The King marks what would have been his 75th birthday. If you're a longtime fan, you've got all this. If not, it works as a fine career overview.
Richard Thompson, "Walking on a Wire — 1968-2009" (Shout! Factory): Considered the most cynical bard and most compelling guitarist in all of folk rockdom, this cogent, four-CD overview covers the territory very well — from Fairport Convention and the Richard and Linda Thompson years to his still amazingly productive, stinging present.