December 2004
By Steven M. Housman

Music Box
Tuning in to the Holiday Season

Here we go again. What do I buy him/her/them for Christmas? I’m glad you’re reading this - you’ve come to the right place for suggestions. Of course, my pick is always the gift of music. This year, the choices are vast, including some hits from the past. If money is an issue, a single CD can be bought for as little as fifteen dollars, and that’s including tax! If you have a bit more to spend, here are some wonderful recently-released box sets that are worthy of your hard earned cash.

Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection

Where were you when you first heard “I Want You Back” in the fall of ’69? I was in grammar school, and the very same age as the person who became one of the most celebrated and tortured pop figures of all time. I knew, even at eleven years-old, that I was hearing something very special. But I wasn’t alone. Over the next twenty-five years, Michael Jackson, with and without his brothers, would dominate the radio airwaves, music sales, television, books and magazines around the world. Not since the Beatles has a musician dominated the mainstream of pop culture to this magnitude, and continued to do so to this day. On the 35th anniversary of that first recording comes a five-disc box set encompassing the career of the self-proclaimed “King of Pop.” This set, so immaculately produced and jam-packed with so many hits, really does astonish you to realize the wealth of this man’s work. For those who think they’ve heard everything this man has to offer, think again. There are a dozen never-before-released tracks mixed in on the first four discs, from 1969 to 2004, while disc five is a previously unreleased DVD of a 1992 concert that shows us (literally) why this man remains one of the world’s greatest entertainers. There are 57 audio tracks and the concert carries 16 tracks. In addition to the five discs, there is a detailed 60 page booklet that includes rare photos, memorabilia, and an extensive essay, timeline and discography. If you can ignore the tabloids for a few hours, and take a look at and listen to this set, you’ll realize why this man is considered to be the consummate performer. They call this collection “Ultimate.” Frankly, I feel that’s not enough.

Ray Charles: Genius & Soul - The 50th Anniversary Collection
Rhino Records

Since the passing of Ray Charles last June, the public has been treated to his last recording, Genius Loves Company, released in August, and the wonderful biopic Ray, with accompanying Soundtrack, starring Jamie Foxx, who has created the earliest Oscar buzz of the season. At the time of these releases, I had reviewed each CD, respectively. Now, in time for Christmas, this new five-disc collection covers the wonderful music that Charles created and recorded over the past 50 years. It includes some rarities, and every wonderful hit song, including “What’d I Say,” “Born To Lose,” “Georgia,” and the 1989 Quincy Jones-produced jewel “I’ll Be Good To You” featuring Chaka Khan. While you’re listening to this brilliant set, there’s a gorgeous 80 page booklet with rare photos and liner notes which is butter to this hot box set of popcorn. This collection is a must for anyone who appreciates the true genius and legend that is Ray Charles.

Blondie: The Singles Box (Import)
Capitol Records

I am a huge Blondie fan, so this set is a collector’s item for me, along with the many remixes of some of Debbie Harry’s greatest hits. Also, remember that this is an import from Holland, so what may be an obscure album track to us here in the USA (“Suzy and Jeffrey,” “Kung Fu Girls”), may have been a huge club and radio single on the other side of the pond. There are 14 discs that comprise three to five songs per disc. Some discs carry three different tracks, while others (e.g., Disc 10) carry five versions (12” version, Spanish version, 12” Instrumental version…you get the idea) of the international smash “Call Me.” The US “hits” included here are three versions of the disco anthem “Heart of Glass,” the smash “The Tide is High,” two great versions of “Rapture,” and other favorites such as “Dreaming,” “Atomic,” and “Sunday Girl” which includes a French version as well. As I said, this is strictly for serious collectors. If you know of a die-hard Blondie/Debbie Harry fan, chances are this newly released box set would be welcome under their tree.

Earth, Wind & Fire: The Essential Earth, Wind & Fire

Listen up boys and girls, before there was OutKast singing their platinum anthems “Hey Ya” and “The Way You Move,” there was Earth, Wind & Fire, who many consider to be the originators of funk married to soulful melodic harmonies. This two-disc set is absolutely “essential” to anyone who appreciates this genre of music. I, for one, love it. The masterpieces are all here, including the driving “Shining Star,” That’s The Way of the World,” “Reasons,” “Sing A Song,” “Getaway,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “September,” the gorgeous “Fantasy,” and the ultimate EW&F ballad, “After The Love Is Gone.” All in all, there are thirty-four tracks that’ll absolutely blow you away, and remind you that this wonderful music didn’t begin with the “kids” today, it started with us “kids” a generation ago, when music was music!

Straight From The Heart: Various Artists
SHOUT Records

Various artists indeed. It doesn’t get more varied than Captain &Tennille, Dionne Warwick, Olivia Newton-John, Tom Jones, Linda Ronstadt, and Helen Reddy. And that’s just a few who are pictured on this multi-covered box set cover! Three discs and sixty songs make up this glorious collection of some of the greatest hits from the 60’s and 70’s. “Guilty Pleasures” are what’s inside this box, and perhaps that would have been a more apropos title. How many people do you know that will admit to holding such songs near and dear to their soft hearts as Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” The Association’s “Cherish,” and Climax’s “Precious And Few?” As for the songs we feel less guilty about, but just as strongly, are such gems as Nilsson’s gorgeous opus to lost love “Without You,” Mama Cass’ haunting vocals on “Dream A Little Dream Of Me,” Janis Ian’s declaration of self discovery “At Seventeen,” Blood, Sweat & Tears’ anthem “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” Kenny Rogers takes us “Through The Years,” B.J. Thomas’ finest “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” and the track that wraps the three discs, Jackie DeShannon’s spectacular rendition and particularly timely “What The World Needs Now Is Love.” In between, there are a few dozen other tracks that probably meant something to you when you first heard them, and still do to this day. “Feelings” anyone? I wish I could mention all sixty tracks. There is a smorgasbord of songs on this collection that is sure to please even the fussiest of receivers Christmas day. If not, just take track one from disc three and say, what’s the “Worst That Could Happen?” Perhaps “You Light Up My Life” is the response and greatest gift you’ll receive in return.

Welcome to Club Verboten
DCC Compact Classics

The wildest mix of songs has to be this four-disc compilation that was recently released. There are 63 selections that span several decades, including performances by everyone from Lotte Lenya to Helen Reddy. It even includes Jim Bailey performing “Don’t Rain On My Parade” as Barbra Streisand to every gay man’s anthem, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Am What I Am.” Disc four is a gorgeous mix of classical instrumental’s including, Peter Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland. This beautifully wrapped package also comes complete with a booklet that contains over 60 rare photographs. There’s something for everyone. Diversely Delicious!

The Essential Trance Collection
Topaz Records

Here are six discs that cover seven hours of the most hypnotic music of the trance genre. Each of the six discs are meticulously mixed by six different DJ’s including trance masters, Scott Stubbs, DJ Moda and Blue Amazon. Your body and soul will certainly be transported out of this world the moment you pop these discs into your player. The listener should start making his way back to earth by Memorial Day!

The Rolling Stones - 40 Licks: Special Limited Edition
Virgin Records

This is without a doubt one of the best packages assembled from one of the greatest bands in the history of the rock era. From the tough bass of “Street Fighting Man” to the tender “As Tears Go By” to the raunch of “Honky Tonk Woman,” this set has arguably the best diverse collection of the Stones’“hits.” An important point for the gift-giver not to overlook is that this is a limited album-sized box set that includes a collector’s booklet with exciting historic photos. This colorful collection should deliver plenty of “Satisfaction.”

Like Omigod! The 80s Pop Culture Box (Totally)
Rhino Records

This is the definitive 80’s collection. If you can’t find something on this seven-disc 142 pop song collection, you were either born too early or too late. Disc 1, Track 1 opens with the peak of punk pop, Devo’s “Whip It.” The songs that are covered here include everything from Blondie’s “Call Me” to Nena’s “99 Luftballoons.” And I’m not even scratching the surface. I can’t mention the entire track listing, but chances are they’re right here in this collection. Check it out, totally!

And for the Diva-hearted, these box sets are a must:

Aretha Franklin - The Queen of Soul: The Atlantic Recording 1967-1977
Rhino Records

From “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You)” through “Day Dreaming,” “Think” and “Until You Come Back To Me,” just to name four. This is a superior four-disc set that would easily answer the foolish question why they call this woman “The Queen of Soul.” This is a must for the gift-receiver who deserves a lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

The Supremes
Motown Records

One of the best packages compiled for the greatest girl group in pop history. It’s obvious Motown didn’t ask for Miss Ross’ input. The reason being, Flo and Mary also have their turn on lead vocals. This set may not explain the question “Where Did Our Love Go,” but to the listener, it’s “Reflections of the way life used to be.”

Barbra Streisand - Just For The Record
Columbia Records

If the Streisand fan in your circle doesn’t already own this slice of heaven, what are you waiting for? With 4 discs covering 96 tracks, all the hits, non-hits, and even rehearsal demos are here, some of which have never been released. The elaborate booklet alone is like buttah. If you ever wondered why Babs was named the finest female pop vocalist of the 20th century, this audio biography of song should satisfy your curiosity.


Sonny & Cher: The Ultimate Collection

No, I am not straying away from music CD’s. I’m merely pointing out a multiple DVD release of one of the greatest musical duo’s of the pop era. For anyone who was of age to see The Sonny & Cher Show in its first-run airings on the CBS television network in the early 70’s, you probably hold fond memories of watching one of the most beloved celebrity couples week after week. This three DVD set holds over nine hours of the celebrated variety show, with hours of bonus footage and extras. I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s the additions and extras that make DVD’s so extraordinary, and this set is no exception. Disc One begins with the first regular season episode from December, 1971, when “All I Ever Need Is You” was peaking at Number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Cher’s first Number 1 smash, “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” had reached the top just a few weeks earlier. Within weeks of the show’s broadcast debut, Cher hit the top ten again with “The Way of Love” and with Sonny on “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done.” Throughout the three discs, all of the duo’s hits are included, along with Cher’s solo hits that were brought to the show every week, including her Number 1 pop hits “Half Breed” and “Dark Lady,” and a smattering of torch songs from the great American songbook. If the songs aren’t enough, guest stars including Burt Reynolds, Merv Griffin, Michael Jackson performing with the Jackson 5 and solo on his smash hit “Ben,” Tina Turner, Donny & Marie and Farrah Fawcett-Majors (yes, she had the hyphen at the time), plus many more, make this set worth watching. You want more? How about Cher’s controversial wardrobe designed by Bob Mackie? Do you remember “V-A-M-P, Vamp?” The character of “Laverne” ring a bell? The monologues, the tense-filled roller coaster ride during the separation, the “return” of Sonny & Cher after the divorce, to Chastity’s appearances, both live and via home movies celebrated by song. Nick & Jessica, are you taking notes? The extras include Cher’s commentary, the Producer’s commentary, the 1969 TV Pilot, Karaoke, Music Videos, Original TV Trailers, and entire Discography. This ultimate collection is the ultimate gift for the ultimate fan. It sparkles as bright as Cher’s sequins. You wanna get a rise out of someone Christmas morning? Stuff this in their stocking!

For those who may not be able to find some of these wonderful sets at your local retailer, I suggest logging on to They will ship an item within 24 hours of order and are priced competitively.

Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas to all,


© 2004 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.