Album Box Set Gift Guide

This week Sound Opinions offers its annual gift-giving guide. Jim and Greg will run down their picks for box sets that are sure to please, and those that are sure to be re-gifted.

Gift Boxes
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Cash: The Legend Johnny Cash

Cash: The Legend

One of numerous Johnny Cash box sets, Cash: The Legend was released in time for the hoopla surrounding the Cash biopic, Walk the Line. Jim first points out that he doesn't like the way the set is organized. He loves the first disc, but is not sure about the rest of the choices. Greg, the show's resident Cash expert, thinks this box set is better than most, but is still flawed. It lacks many of Cash's Sun recordings, as well as his most recent work with super-producer Rick Rubin. This is a Burn It for both critics. Jim's Buy It picks for Cash fans are Love, God, Murder and Unearthed. Greg gets to pick the song this time around, and, much to Jim's dismay, chooses "The Wanderer," a track written by U2.

Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959) Ray Charles

Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings

Ray Charles is another deceased musician who has recently been brought back to life in the media. Last year, Charles was profiled in his own biopic, Ray, and this year his music was featured in a song that was number one for most of 2005 -- Kanye West's "Gold Digger." Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959) is a six-disc overview of Charles' early period. Charles was signed to Atlantic Records by Ahmet Ertegun in the 1950s, and according to Greg, these Atlantic recordings came to be what we now know as R&B music. The music, originally produced by Jerry Wexler, will appeal to the soul aficionado, but neither Jim nor Greg can recommend this set as a Buy It for a casual listener. Both say it's a Burn It. The song Greg chooses is Charles' original 1954 performance of "I’ve Got a Woman," as opposed to Jamie Foxx's rendition you hear on "Gold Digger."

Brick Talking Heads


Talking Heads, a band that came out of the New York punk scene in the 1970s, present their music in this one-stop-shop set. Brick contains all of the Talking Heads recordings re-mastered in 5.1 Digital Surround Sound by the band's keyboardist, Jerry Harrison. Jim is impressed with the comprehensiveness of this set, but admits that he doesn't even own a surround sound system. Greg was also hoping for more outtakes and rarities, explaining that the set's introduction, written by hipster author Dave Eggers, does not make it worth the $150 price.

Born to Run Bruce Springsteen

Born to Run

To Jim's dismay, Greg brought in the 30th anniversary re-issue of Born to Run, which he calls, "iconic". This 1975 record by Bruce Springsteen, was simultaneously on the cover of Time and Newsweek, and went on to sell over eight million copies. Jim notes that this record came out as the same time of many of the bands in the NY punk scene, and has Springsteen looking back on life, while rockers like The Ramones were looking forward. Jim says, to much of our horror, that Meatloaf was a better artist. That's right... Meatloaf. Greg admits that in his later years, Springsteen was a choreographed artist, but when this album came out, he was still experimental and learning his craft. Greg thinks the l part of this set, or as he calls it, "the manna," is the DVD of the live Springsteen performance. Greg rates the Born to Run: 30th Anniversary Edition box as a "Buy It," and Jim surprisingly rates it a "Trash It."

My Lives Billy Joel

My Lives

Finally, something Jim and Greg can agree on: Billy Joel is a hack. The cover of My Lives, painted by Joel's daughter, actually makes him look worse than normal, according to Jim. The reason this box set is so skippable, according to Greg, is that it is comprised entirely of outtakes. The boys play "Only the Good Die Young," and as if that wasn't bad enough, it's the reggae version. Both Jim and Greg give the box set a "Trash It" rating.

Weird Tales of the Ramones The Ramones

Weird Tales of the Ramones

Jim calls The Ramones "one of the most important bands America has ever produced." This box set, Weird Tales of the Ramones, contains more outtakes than ever, and makes the set worth owning, even though he would have rather seen "Rock and Roll High School" included as the bonus DVD. The most important part of the set, according to Jim and Greg, is the 54-page comic strip-style liner notes, with contributing artists like Jamie Hernandez, John Holmstrom, Bill Griffin, and Sergio Aragonés. Greg notes that most box set liner notes are written by pompous critics, and feels that these should win a Grammy award for their style and flair. Both Jim and Greg heartily give this a "Buy It" rating.

One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Groups Sounds Lost and Found The Ronettes, The Shirelles, The Chiffons, Mary Wells, Cher, Dolly Parton & Twiggy

One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost & Found

Jim and Greg give the box set One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Groups Sounds Lost and Found their vote for best packaging. The four discs of girl group songs are contained in a highly girly hat box. However, while this is an exciting set to un-wrap, according to our hosts, the song collection is disappointing. That's largely because Rhino Records was unable to get the rights to songs produced by Phil Spector, the man Jim calls the architect of this genre. Spector gave his signature "Wall of Sound" effect to The Beatles and girl groups like The Ronettes (featuring Spector's then-wife Ronnie Bennett). Lost and Found only has a one obscure Ronettes track, however, and none of the major hits from The Shirelles or The Chiffons. Rather, it is packed with "second-tier" groups like The Honeys and The Goodees. In addition, it includes solo artists like Mary Wells, Cher, Dolly Parton, and even super-waif Twiggy, who were all trying to cash in, unsuccessfully, on the girl group sound.

A Musical History The Band

A Musical History (Remastered)

A Musical History from folk-rock group The Band is one of the most comprehensive sets featured on the show. It contains five CDs with more than one hundred songs, as well as a DVD and a book. Greg suspects that the release of this set is lead singer Robbie Robertson's attempt to set the record straight on The Band's history. The many disputes over songwriting credits have been made quite public by some recent biographies, as well as Martin Scorsese concert film The Last Waltz. This set follows the long chronology of this group from its initial incarnation as The Hawks to their role as touring band for Bob Dylan on the 1966 Electric Tour. It also features tracks from The Basement Tapes, a famous bootleg of songs Dylan and The Band recorded while living in Woodstock, New York. Jim and Greg are both really impressed with how packed this set is, and are careful to point out that although Robertson has painted himself as the "auteur" of the group, The Band had many great vocalists including Richard Manuel and Levon Helm, the group's drummer. Pressed to come up with another singing drummer, Jim can only think of Genesis' Phil Collins.


Jim's Desert Island Jukebox pick for this week is "Mink Dress" by Plasticland. The song is one of many psychedelic tracks found on Children of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the Second Psychedelic Era—1976-1996. This Rhino compilation is one of many Nuggets installments, the first being the two-vinyl set compiled by Lenny Kaye in 1972. While there are some gems on the most recent collection, it is pretty much a mess according to Jim, a huge fan of the psychedelic genre. "Mink Dress" is one of the standout tracks. Plasticland was started by Glen Rehse and John Frankovic in Milwaukee in the '80s. Despite their Midwestern roots, Rehse and Frankovic were drawn to the colorful '60s-era British Psychedelia. Their song follows in the tradition of "Arnold Layne" by the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and explores the songwriter's fascination with women's clothing—in this case, a mink dress.

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