By Steven M. Housman
Tuning in to the Holiday Season
Here we go again. What do I buy him/her/them for Christmas? Im glad youre reading this - youve 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 thats 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 wasnt 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 mans work. For those who think theyve 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 worlds 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, youll realize why this man is considered to be the consummate performer. They call this collection Ultimate. Frankly, I feel thats not enough.
Ray Charles: Genius & Soul - The 50th Anniversary Collection
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 Whatd I Say, Born To Lose, Georgia, and the 1989 Quincy Jones-produced jewel Ill Be Good To You featuring Chaka Khan. While youre listening to this brilliant set, theres 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)
I am a huge Blondie fan, so this set is a collectors item for me, along with the many remixes of some of Debbie Harrys 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, Thats 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 thatll absolutely blow you away, and remind you that this wonderful music didnt begin with the kids today, it started with us kids a generation ago, when music was music!
Straight From The Heart: Various Artists
Various artists indeed. It doesnt get more varied than Captain &Tennille, Dionne Warwick, Olivia Newton-John, Tom Jones, Linda Ronstadt, and Helen Reddy. And thats 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 60s and 70s. Guilty Pleasures are whats 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 Vallis Cant Take My Eyes Off Of You, The Associations Cherish, and Climaxs Precious And Few? As for the songs we feel less guilty about, but just as strongly, are such gems as Nilssons gorgeous opus to lost love Without You, Mama Cass haunting vocals on Dream A Little Dream Of Me, Janis Ians declaration of self discovery At Seventeen, Blood, Sweat & Tears anthem Youve 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 DeShannons 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, whats the Worst That Could Happen? Perhaps You Light Up My Life is the response and greatest gift youll 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 Dont Rain On My Parade as Barbra Streisand to every gay mans anthem, Gloria Gaynors I Am What I Am. Disc four is a gorgeous mix of classical instrumentals including, Peter Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland. This beautifully wrapped package also comes complete with a booklet that contains over 60 rare photographs. Theres something for everyone. Diversely Delicious!
The Essential Trance Collection
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 DJs 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
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 Stoneshits. An important point for the gift-giver not to overlook is that this is a limited album-sized box set that includes a collectors booklet with exciting historic photos. This colorful collection should deliver plenty of Satisfaction.
Like Omigod! The 80s Pop Culture Box (Totally)
This is the definitive 80s collection. If you cant 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, Devos Whip It. The songs that are covered here include everything from Blondies Call Me to Nenas 99 Luftballoons. And Im not even scratching the surface. I cant mention the entire track listing, but chances are theyre 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
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.
One of the best packages compiled for the greatest girl group in pop history. Its obvious Motown didnt 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, its Reflections of the way life used to be.
Barbra Streisand - Just For The Record
If the Streisand fan in your circle doesnt 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 CDs. Im merely pointing out a multiple DVD release of one of the greatest musical duos 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 70s, 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 dont know about you, but for me, its the additions and extras that make DVDs 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. Chers first Number 1 smash, Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves had reached the top just a few weeks earlier. Within weeks of the shows broadcast debut, Cher hit the top ten again with The Way of Love and with Sonny on A Cowboys Work Is Never Done. Throughout the three discs, all of the duos hits are included, along with Chers 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 arent 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 Chers 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 Chastitys appearances, both live and via home movies celebrated by song. Nick & Jessica, are you taking notes? The extras include Chers commentary, the Producers 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 Chers 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 Amazon.com. 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.