Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Clapton scored with box set

Eric Clapton's "Crossroads" was a blockbuster
when it hit store shelves in 1988 as one of the first
compact disc box sets.


There have been scores of successful CD box sets over the years, but one of the first to achieve the fete was Eric Clapton.

Clapton's "Crossroads" was packed with solo goodies as well as material from the guitarist's days with the Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek & the Dominoes. The four disc set, released by Polygram Records in 1988, followed Bob Dylan's "Biograph," issued three years before.

Where "Biograph" collected 53 Dylan recordings in seemingly random order, "Crossroads" took aim at both fan appeal and commercial success. Certified three times platinum in 2005, it's safe to say Clapton's set achieved both goals.

Keen to hear Clapton's best work of the previous 25 years gathered into a single chronological collection, I was quick to pick-up my own copy of "Crossroads." I wasn't disappointed.

All the hits were there along with a number of previously unreleased recordings, including "Roll It Over" by Derek & the Dominoes, featuring George Harrison.

The box contains 73 tracks, including "For Your Love," by the Yardbirds; "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room" by Cream; "Can't Find My Way Home" by Blind Faith and "Layla" by Derek & the Dominoes. Solo hits like "I Shot the Sheriff," "Lay Down Sally" and "Promises" account for more than two dozen songs included in the set.

Originally issued in a 12 x 12 box with a 30-page booklet, consumers saw value in the $60 box set, compared to obtaining the tracks separately.

When "Crossroads" took-off commercially, Clapton's career, which had been in the doldrums for a few years, also took-off.

Noting the success of the Clapton set, record companies used it as a blueprint for future retrospective boxes.

Like fans across the country, I began paying attention to box sets, especially those which included both hit songs and rarities.

Counting "Crossroads," here are the Top Ten CD box sets I found to my liking:

THE BYRDS- (Columbia Legacy, 1990)- Not without reason, the Byrds were America's Beatles. Superbly talented players and songwriters, the original group consisted of Jim McGuinn (guitar), David Crosby (guitar), Gene Clark (percussion), Chris Hillman (bass) and Michael Clarke (drums). You remember them for "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Turn, Turn, Turn" and other hits. This marvelous four CD box contains 90 tracks including four numbers McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman recorded in Nashville in 1990, re-establishing the group's legacy. Now out-of-print, this box has been replaced by "There Is A Season," although it has a different track listing.

THE YARDBIRDS- Train Kept A-Rollin' (Charly Records, 1993)- Including the virtuoso guitars of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page at one time or another, the massive influence of the Yardbirds cannot be denied. This 90-cut set includes all the recordings made between the group's inception and mid-1966. After the group and producer Giorgio Gomelsky parted ways they became the new Yardbirds and evolved into Led Zeppelin.

THE WHO- Thirty Years of Maximum R & B (MCA Records, 1994)- Comprised of Roger Daltry (vocals), Pete Townshend (guitar), John Entwistle (bass) and Keith Moon (drums), the Who made some fierce rock 'n' roll during the 60s and 70s. The best of it is gathered in this four-disc collection which includes stunningly well-recorded material from an early version of the group called the High Numbers. With 95 tracks, this four disc set finds the perfect balance between hits and previously unreleased material.

BOB DYLAN- The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Columbia Records, 1999)- With 58 tracks, this three-CD set begins with Dylan's self-titled debut album and continues to "Oh Mercy," issued in 1989. Much of Dylan's material has been bootlegged and this release was meant to satisfy demand from fans for such material. Most of the songs are outtakes from recording sessions. The set opens with "Hard Times in New York Town," recorded in a Minnesota hotel room on Dec. 12, 1961.

THE DOORS- Complete Studio Recordings (Elektra Records, 1999)- This box contains all six studio albums the group recorded before the untimely demise of lead singer Jim Morrison. A 7th disc showcases live cuts and demos from the 1965-70 period, including the bonus cut, "Woman Is a Devil" from 1969. The Doors seem to be rediscovered by every generation and one listen to this timeless set will demonstrate the group's enduring popularity.

THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE- (MCA Records, 2000)- What can be said about the immortal Jimi Hendrix which hasn't already been said? This four-CD, 56-song box lets the music do the talking. The set opens with "Purple Haze," not the hit from 1967, but an alternate take from Jimi's first official recording session with the Experience. As the discs play, we hear the extraordinary progression of a musical genius in a recording career which was remarkably short and remarkably fruitful.

GRATEFUL DEAD- The Golden Road (Warner Brothers, 2001)- America's greatest live band for three decades before founder Jerry Garcia died in 1995, this 12-disc box set contains nine albums the Dead recorded from 1965-1973. The Dead's output during this period is remarkable in both quality and quantity. In addition, early studio sides and live cuts are collected on the two-disc "Birth of the Dead." Most of the albums also contain bonus material. Other Dead recordings are compiled on a second box set entitled "So Many Roads" on Arista Records.

CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL- (Fantasy, 2001)- CCR's finely-crafted studio and live albums are collected here in all their glory, each one illustrating the multi-talented John Fogerty. That's not exaggeration considering Fogerty composed, arranged, produced, sang and played guitar on nearly all these tracks. The box set also features a disc of pre-Creedence recordings by Tommy Fogerty & the Blue Velvets and the Golliwogs.

THE BEATLES- In Mono (Apple Records, 2009)- Of course, The Beatles Stereo Box is essential, but "In Mono" is revelatory. That's because the the Fab Four put considerable effort into the monaural mixing of their recordings until stereo finally dominated in 1969. Consequently, a powerful sound emanates from the speakers compared to primitive stereo on the early albums. When the "White Album" was released in 1968, only the stereo version was released in the U. S. Many Americans have never heard the distinctly different mono mixes contained on this set. If you know every Beatles song in stereo by heart, you'll be in for a surprise.

Of the myriad CD box sets released since the 1980s, these are the ten I consider to be the most worthwhile. I could easily have named twice as many by including the likes of John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Buffalo Springfield, the Zombies, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, etc., but that's what's so challenging about about compiling a Top Ten list.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to listen to an Eric Clapton compact disc or two.

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