The second part of a roundup of the gift-giving season’s best box sets.
Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection
Before he wigged out, Phil Spector was the mastermind behind some of the greatest pop singles ever made. You’ll find many of them on this seven-disc set, along with lots of other cuts – 87 in all – by his stable of singers. The box includes the first six albums released by Spector’s Philles Records, plus an extra CD of instrumental B-sides. The Crystals (with and without Darlene Love) are the stars of three of the albums and show up on a 1963 compilation, but best is the Ronettes’ 1964 debut, which includes the timeless “Be My Baby,” “Walking in the Rain,” and “Baby, I Love You.” There’s some filler here (most of Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ first album is forgettable), but the hits – “He’s a Rebel,” “Da Doo Ron Ron” – are the foundations of Spector’s sturdy Wall of Sound.
Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles
Even though his most influential and celebrated work was recorded for Atlantic a decade earlier, Ray Charles’ tenure with ABC Records in the 1960s and early ’70s yielded some terrific material, including the classic Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. This five-disc box gathers all 53 singles, both A- and B-sides, from his dozen years at the label. There are plenty of hits here – including “Hit the Road Jack,” “Georgia on My Mind,” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” – but you’ll also find some buried gems from Charles’ most prolific and experimental period. Playing around with jazz, soul, gospel, pop, and country, he refused to settle into just one groove on these 106 tracks, upending the very genres he was supposedly paying tribute to. Now that’s genius.
Paul Simon chose the 32 songs featured on his latest compilation, a two-disc set that focuses on his nearly 50-year career as a songwriter. And as you would expect from an occasionally cranky artist who draws a line between artist and entertainer, it’s not filled with his big hits (though some of them, like “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” are here). Several of Simon’s best songs are featured in different versions — live takes of “The Sound of Silence” and “The Boxer,” Aretha Franklin’s cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – and there’s a sizable chunk of space devoted to his recent solo albums, which most fans would agree are far from his finest. Still, Songwriter‘s self-curated collection reveals a personal insight into Simon’s storied past