Boxing the Rock

Giving the gift of music? Here are five of the year's best multidisc sets (and one of the worst).

For a gift of music that makes a real statement  this - Christmas, you have to dig deep into your wallet and - pony up for a  hefty multidisc boxed set.
For a gift of music that makes a real statement this Christmas, you have to dig deep into your wallet and pony up for a hefty multidisc boxed set.
Since the advent of downloading and CD burning, the humble little CD has fallen from the ranks of "Nothing says I love you like . . ." gifts to the mere-stocking-stuffer department. These days, for a gift of music to make a real statement, you have to dig deep into your wallet and pony up for a hefty multidisc boxed set. Here are a few of this year's more notable efforts in the genre, just in time for holiday-shopping season.

Various Artists, Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans
(Shout!) $59.98

The skinny: You'd have a hard time convincing us that the Big Easy's not the pound-for-pound champ in the "most musical city in America" stakes, and this four-CD set comes as close to having it all as any. From Jelly Roll Morton and Kid Ory to Earl King and Irma Thomas to the Iguanas and the Rebirth Brass Band, this Crescent City compendium's breadth is truly impressive . . .

Drawbacks: . . . In fact, a little too impressive. We would have left off the Cajun and zydeco stuff that most people think is from New Orleans but isn't, in favor of more of the city's own jazz and R&B.

Advantages: Great offbeat selections like Dave Bartholomew's Afro-Cuban style "Shrimp and Gumbo" and Lil' Queenie and the Percolators' long-lost "My Darlin' New Orleans."

Corny verdict: We're gonna "Tell It Like It Is" -- if the "Rocking Pneumonia and Boogie Woogie Flu" has made "You Feel Like Funkin' It Up," "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say" to "Let the Good Times Roll" with this top-notch box.

Various Artists, Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the '80s Underground
(Rhino) $64.98

The skinny: The precursors to grunge, alt-rock, indie rock, ska revival, and today's "nü-wave" stud this four-CD treasure trove of Reagan-era underground glory, which does as much to show today's kids who today's bands ripped off as James Brown and other vintage soul-and-funk boxed sets did to our rap-attuned ears back in 1990.

Drawbacks: A little too catch-all for some. As one Amazon poster points out, "Great box sets like No Thanks! and Nuggets have unifying musical themes. The closest Left of the Dial has to a theme is that these artists weren't Madonna or Michael Jackson or any of the other zillion-selling money machines of the '80s."

Advantages: On the other hand, we see the scattershot approach as a (D.) boon. Where else would you find the Cure, the Pogues, the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and the Butthole Surfers' "Moving to Florida" in the same package? That was the way WRUW and WCSB played 'em back in the day; that's the way they should be packaged today.

Corny verdict: "Going Underground" sounds "Just Like Honey" on this "Teen Age Riot" that will keep your "Senses Working Overtime."

Various Artists, The Hip Hop Box
(Hip-O) $59.98

The skinny: Get your old-school fix anytime you want with this four-CD set that spans the history of hip-hop from Kurtis, Afrika, and the Sugarhill Gang right up to Fiddy and the Roots.

Drawbacks: Way too much focus on the East Coast, even if LL Cool J, Missy Elliott, the Beastie Boys, Slick Rick, and Jay-Z were left off, no doubt for some legal reason or other. Also, there's an error of inclusion -- MC Hammer's "Turn This Mutha Out." There are hundreds of better choices.

Advantages: A pretty decent rundown of a portion of the genre's history.

Corny verdict: Even if there's relatively little from south or west of "Tennessee," this "Rapper's Delight" can still "Fight the Power" with its "Body Rock" and put plenty of "Flava in Your Ear."

George Jones, 50 Years of Hits
(Bandit Records) $30.98

The skinny: 50 of the best from the hard-drinking Pride of Beaumont and King of the Honky-Tonkers, including "She Thinks I Still Care," "You Comb Her Hair," "These Days I Barely Get By," "He Stopped Lovin' Her Today," and "A Good Year for the Roses."

Drawbacks: Pretty skimpy on notes.

Advantages: Not just a heaping helping from the best male country singer of the century, but also a good overview of the last half-century of country, gospel, rock, and rockabilly.

Corny verdict: "The Grand Tour" of the Possum's career shows "The Cold Hard Truth" about "Why Baby Why" this "White Lightnin'" -- and "Wild Irish Rose" -- drinkin' man will make most of today's country sound feeble "Once You've Had the Best."

Various Artists, Get Down Tonight: The Disco Explosion
(Shout!/TJL), $49.98

The skinny: A three-disc set that has a pretty broad definition of disco. The Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb on Me" always seemed more like funk, while Bananarama's "Venus" struck us as pop/new wave. Between those extremes, though, the mainstream of the genre is well represented by the likes of "Y.M.C.A," "Get Down Tonight," "Fly Robin Fly," and "The Hustle."

Drawbacks: A disco box with no Bee Gees? You must be jivin'.

Advantages: With the exception of the Bee Gees, this is all the disco you'll ever need, packed into one slim volume.

Corny verdict: A great set to spin long "After Dark" on one of those "Boogie Nights" to keep the "Boogie Fever" high, among those of the "Super Freak," "Dancing Queen," and "Disco Lady" persuasions.

Bon Jovi, 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong
(Island) $59.98

The skinny: Oh, yes, they can. They can, and they are.

Drawbacks: Its very existence.

Advantages: Surely there's some ne'er-do-well on your Christmas list who deserves this musical lump of coal.

Corny verdict: "You Give Love a Bad Name" when you give someone this box for Xmas.