Our music critics’ picks of ’60s and ’70s music collections released this year include a new anniversary edition of The Band’s “Last Waltz” farewell, along with music of Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Lou Reed and Pink Floyd.
Do you have a baby boomer on your holiday list? If so, you’ve got a lot of great choices this year for CD box sets. Here are a few suggestions from our music critics.
The Band, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison … : “The Last Waltz” 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Rhino
With “Americana” so widespread now, folks tend to forget the genre was pretty much invented by The Band — Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko — who braided rock ’n’ roll, rockabilly, country, folk and gospel into a wondrous hank of yarn — pun intended — that helped Bob Dylan tell his electric story. This deluxe reissue of The Band’s improbably star-studded 1976 farewell concert at Winterland, in San Francisco — with Dylan, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Paul Butterfield, Neil Diamond, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, Ron Wood, Mavis Staples, Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young and The Band’s original leader, Ronnie Hawkins — includes four CDs documenting the concert (minus a few fugitive tracks known only to bootleggers) and some rehearsal takes; a Blu-ray DVD of “The Last Waltz,” the film Martin Scorcese directed of an edited version of the concert, often called, with good reason, the greatest concert film ever made; and a 58-page book of photographs and text. From the opening crunch of “Up on Cripple Creek” to the final winsome twangs of Robertson’s sketch for the film-theme waltz, this odyssey defines a classic era. The set is also available as a two-CD package, in vinyl and in a collector’s edition limited to 2,500 copies.
Paul de Barros
Bob Dylan: The 1966 Live Recordings (Sony Legacy)
This 36-disc box set collects every known official recording from Bob Dylan’s 1966 tour. There have been Dylan box sets before, and there will be more to come. With Europe’s copyright protection stretching only 50 years, many artists, including Dylan, will put out early live tapes if only to “reclaim” their copyright.
But whatever the motivation, “1966 Live” captures one of the most important tours in rock history, and it’s an absolute gem. This is when Dylan took his decision to “go electric” on the road worldwide, with The Band backing him. Only one of these concerts has been officially released before — the legendary Manchester show where a fan shouted out “Judas.”
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The sound quality is incredible, with most of these taken from soundboard recordings. A few audience tapes are used too, and that’s actually a nice touch because they make this a complete tour document.
Every show has moments of majesty, and scattered boos, as Dylan confronts audiences that aren’t ready for him to move away from folk. But move he must. This wonderful set provides a front seat to drama, as Dylan changes himself, and changes rock history. Could any box set do better than that?
Charles R. Cross
David Bowie: “Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) (Rhino/Parlophone)
Continuing the career overview that began with 2015’s “Five Years,” this box set chronicles the period when David Bowie left behind his glam-bedecked Ziggy Stardust character and evolved into the sophisticated Thin White Duke persona. Rock’s top chameleon released the albums “Diamond Dogs,” “Young Americans” and “Station to Station” during this period. Key tracks include the hard-edge “Rebel Rebel,” the breezy “Changes” and the sharp funk of “Fame” (the latter co-written with John Lennon). You’ll find them all here on this 12-CD/13-vinyl-LP box, and with a few variations. “Station to Station” is presented in two different mixes, as is “David Live” (the 2010 mix of the latter album is exclusive to the box). Another box exclusive is “The Gouster,” a previously unreleased album Bowie recorded in 1974. Some tracks were rerecorded for later release, but this is the first time the album has been presented in its original configuration. There’s also a compilation of non-album singles and B sides for aficionados who’ve been waiting to acquire that edit of “Diamond Dogs” previously available only in Australia.
Gillian G. Gaar
Lou Reed: “The RCA & Arista Album Collection” (Sony Legacy)
One of the most delicious box sets of the season doesn’t have any unreleased music on it, but that’s not to say it isn’t a pleasure. “The RCA & Arista Album Collection” brings together 16 Lou Reed albums (on 17 discs), with all the restoration work overseen by Reed himself in his final years (he died in 2013, just four months after he finished this project).
Admittedly there are some weak spots in Reed’s catalog (“Metal Machine Music” is often listed at the top of rock’s “unlistenable albums”), but for the most part he was consistently at the top of his game. And sometimes, as on “Coney Island Baby,” “Perfect Day” and “Walk on the Wild Side,” Lou Reed’s game was at the top of the entire rock world.
Some of these CDs have been out of print for a while, and every one sounds great. Only one-third of the vinyl version is now available. Buy this for the Lou Reed fan in your life, or for yourself, and you’ve created an instant “Perfect Day.”
Charles R. Cross
Pink Floyd: “The Early Years: 1965-1972” (Legacy/Pink Floyd Records)
This set gives new meaning to the word “lavish.” Never before have the first seven years of the legendary progressive-rock band Pink Floyd been covered in such depth, starting with the period when the group was still called Pink Floyd Sound, when the group’s primary creative force was the mythic Syd Barrett (who left in 1968 after having a mental breakdown), and before Pink Floyd had released what would be its most acclaimed album, “Dark Side of the Moon.” There are a total of 130 tracks and more than 15 hours of video, spread over 27 discs, on CD, DVD and Blu-ray. Most prized among the 20 previously unreleased studio tracks are two from the Barrett era. The bulk of the unreleased material is live audio and video, ranging from early TV appearances (including an hourlong set for a San Francisco TV station in 1970) to a 1972 performance at the amphitheater of Pompeii. The set also documents numerous other projects, like providing the music for live broadcasts of the 1969 moon landing and contributing music to Michelangelo Antonioni’s cult film “Zabriskie Point.”
Gillian G. Gaar