There are box sets, and then there are BOX SETS.
The former are for fans. The latter are for obsessives.
And there’s definitely a market for obsessives, given the kinds of CD and DVD boxes available for this holiday season.
Consider a collection of Grateful Dead live performances, “30 Trips Around the Sun,” that compiles 30 concerts from the band’s 50-year career. Even at $699.98, it’s sold out — a testament to the passion with which many Deadheads follow the band.
If you’re looking for more “Jagged Little Pill” than you enjoyed in 1995, Alanis Morissette has released a four-CD version that includes demos, acoustic renditions and live concert recordings.
Or, if you’re a fan of “Mad Men,” you can have the entire TV series — all seven seasons — as well as a pair of lowball tumblers, some coasters and a groovy book. (No, not “Meditations in an Emergency,” just a nice folio.)
Some of these collections can be pricey. But David Bianculli, the founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching, told NPR’s “Fresh Air” that, when it comes to video, some of these boxes are bargains.
“One, you never know when a show on a streaming service will disappear,” he said. “And two, these shows are great fun to watch, no matter how many times you watch them.”
There are various reasons for going all-out on certain collections, says Tom Cording, vice president of media relations for Sony/Legacy, which issues archival material from such labels as Columbia and Epic. Market research, availability, timing and simple gut instinct all play a role, he says.
“A lot of times, it’s the producers and (artists and repertoire) folks going through tapes, going through masters, and they’ll make a discovery,” he said. “It’s voila — a lightning bolt.”
The artists (or their estates) get their say as well. It took years for the various players involved with Erroll Garner’s “Concert by the Sea” to agree to terms for the recent release, which includes the entire concert, not just the 11 cuts featured on the 1955 LP release.
But the opportunities are promising, Cording says: a chance to preserve and remaster vintage tapes, as well as release them to music fans who may be unfamiliar with particular work.
It’s easy to count on some fan bases. Columbia has released an 18-disc “Collector’s Edition” version of its Bob Dylan collection, “The Cutting Edge.” It features every session Dylan did for his three essential mid-’60s albums, “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde.” The label is pressing 5,000 copies at $599 a pop. (Don’t worry; there are three other editions available, one of which is on vinyl.)
Cording admits to being surprised by some box sets’ popularity. One of last year’s releases, a collection devoted to guitarist Mike Bloomfield, was expected to post modest sales. Instead, it sold out of its first pressing. A Blue Oyster Cult complete album collection also did very well.
These days, of course, anything digital can be streamed, so the box set is a kind of throwback — an artifact of days when records and videos needed to be physical items. But let’s face it: Would an obsessive settle for anything less?