With Christmas so close, it’s not surprising that the music industry has bombarded us with costly box-sets. My own response is schizophrenic: positive, because I love things like an extra five discs’ worth of the Allman Brothers’ Live At The Fillmore, but negative because it’s getting way too expensive. The latter is compounded by something else, something cynical.
Think back a few years ago, when some rock columnist brilliantly conceived of the notion of “Fifty Quid Man” in reference to those over 35 or 40 who would pop into HMV or some other record store and plunk down £50 or so on a mix of new DVDs and CDs. What has changed is that they’re more likely to drop that money (or more) at amazon.co.uk, but the impetus remains the same: the record companies are exploiting those with a bit of disposable income and a predilection toward physical formats, while there are still enough of us alive to clear out a limited edition of worthwhile quantities, e.g. 2000 numbered LPs.
What has changed besides where we buy – records shops are closing as fast as hi-fi stores – is the trend for the younger listener to eschew physical formats entirely. They simply don’t want to house shelves full of discs, a loathing of baggage due to living in cyberspace. DVDs and Blu-rays, probably more so than music carriers, will eventually succumb to streaming if the UK ever gets broadband speeds equal to those in, say, Estonia, but Blu-rays still (for my money) deliver the best images.
Back to music, though. This month alone, without referring to amazon’s suggestions, I’ve sprung for two more Led Zeppelin deluxe boxes, two more McCartneys, the Allmans’ Fillmore sets as CDs and Blu-rays (don’t ask…), the 5CD box set of Japan-only Beatles CDs, the Beatles mono LP box, a ludicrous Neil Young multi-disc box of his latest album, including a 45rpm 7in singles version, and I’ve just learned of a Kinks’ 50th Anniversary box.
Also out are sets for Deep Purple (“Mk I” line-up – their first three LPs, with extras, mono AND stereo, etc, on five CDs), the complete Four Seasons catalogue in a box, a 50th Anniversary Who hits package, a four-CD Captain Beefheart box set, one for the Hollies’ 50th, a hundred-track Monkees box, George Harrison’s Apple period in a box, the latest in Bob Dylan’s “Bootleg” series, an eight-CD Rory Gallagher box, new Rolling Stones releases from the vaults, including early gigs from the 1970s, and much more.
To be fair, the music industry is emulating every other industry that realises you cannot beat an anniversary as a reason to produce costly limited editions. For most of the above, the hook is the “50th Anniversary”, as we are now in the midst of the half-century point since British rock bands “invaded” America and changed musical history forever.
The Beatles came first, so their catalogue already has been reissued in its entirety, unless EMI and Apple can come up with another combination. By my reckoning, their mono, stereo, albums and singles catalogues have all been remastered. The Stones, the Kinks, the Who, the Yardbirds, the Animals … it’s gonna be an expensive couple of years. Then it will be time for Woodstock’s 50th, followed by a half-century of disco and punk.
As it’s now an addiction, I will continue to succumb to the lure of the box set, despite the nagging feeling that I will never get to listen to all of them. But as the Italians say, “Non vedo l’ora”.*
With Latinate sarcasm, I hasten to add.
© Ken Kessler 2014
*”I can’t wait”