While a number of box sets this year have left critics underwhelmed, there have been a couple released in 2012 which should deeply satisfy serious music fans - although at a hefty price. And speaking of hefty prices, on Christmas of this year, what is surely the pinnacle of box sets - as well as the most expensive! - will be released. But more on that later.
Fans of country music and country-inflected pop must have been awfully good this year, because Santa has delivered a pair of outstanding collections by two of country's greatest. Glen Campbell, the supremely talented guitarist and singer who rode to fame on the merits of 1960s and '70s singles like "Gentle On My Mind," "Galveston, "Wichita Lineman" and "Rhinestone Cowboy," has released an impressive new box set titled, "American Treasure."
Like 2003's "Legacy" collection, "American Treasure" brings together tracks from as early as 1961, through Campbell's better-known hits, and is augmented by well-chosen album tracks. But it also includes a DVD culled from the performer's late '60s "Goodtime Hour" variety show and (most interestingly for musicologists like Craven) a CD devoted to the many 1960s hits on which Campbell played as part of the "Wrecking Crew," that amazing band of sessions players who dominated California's studios during the heyday of rock n' roll. Included on this disc are songs like "Tequila" by the Champs, Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas," and three hits by the Monkees. "American Treasure" is a limited edition box set priced at $150.
Even more overwhelming is the new Johnny Cash box set, "The Complete Columbia Album Collection." If you listened without pause, it would still take you more than two days to make your way through this massive slab of classic Cash material, which represents his career from his earliest days as a rockabilly star through 1990s "Highwayman 2," Cash's second album as part of the Highwaymen, the country super-group he formed with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Its $329 price tag may make some gulp, but the collection is still a bargain, as it contains 63 albums, many of which have never been released on CD until now.
However, as hefty as those two sets are, they can't compare with a box set being released on Christmas Day. The Residents are a bizarre and well-loved group of avant garde performance artists-cum-rock stars who released their first single, "Santa Dog," on Christmas Day, 1972. Since then, they have built a devoted, worldwide cult audience by way of albums like "Third Reich n' Roll," "Eskimo" and their "American Composers" series of musical re-imaginings.
To celebrate their 40th anniversary, they will be releasing "The Residents' UBS (Ultimate Box Set)" on Dec. 25 - and when they say "ultimate," they ain't kidding. The new collection offers more than 100 Residents albums, on vinyl and CD, and collectors' items (including one of the iconic eyeball masks for which the band is as much known as for their music) - so much material, in fact, that the compilation is being issued in a 28 cubic-foot refrigerator! Only 10 sets are being sold. Interested? One of these box sets will only cost you $100,000.
Craven knows a couple diehard Residents fans who are probably even at this moment asking themselves how much they could get for a kidney...
Notes is supported by the Gay and Lesbian Fund, promoting literacy through community libraries in Colorado.
Craven Lovelace produces Notes, a daily cultural history of popular music, for KAFM 88.1 Community Radio, kafmradio.org. You can visit cravenlovelace.com for more of his musings on the world of popular culture.