All I want for Christmas is a 90-CD, ¤650 box set
I got to disc five of Miles Davis: The Complete Columbia Album Collection and had to throw in the towel. There were still another 65 CDs to go, not to mention the DVD, the 250-page book, the biography, the discography and all those rare photos. But the time I did spend on it – gazing at those awesome original covers again, reading the essay by noted French critic Frederic Goaty and a “capsule descriptions” of each and every album – was interesting enough.
But is it worth ¤360? The price varies from place to place, but it’s not cheap anywhere. It’s also one of the most beautiful musical artifacts ever released. But no one really thought people would pay so much money for a box set, and surely 70 CDs was a bit of an overload. Apparently not, by the buzz surrounding it. You can only really go this supersized with an artist of Miles Davis’s stature. And that's the real
beau- ty of this box set. Yes, it’s a massive price for a collection of music, but each CD comes to about ¤5.70 when bought this way.
“There are committed fans who view these projects as pieces of art, as celebrations of iconic artists,” says Adam Block, who helped compile the release for Sony. “There is one Picasso. There is one Miles Davis. Obviously, a box set of such extraordinary depth is not for everyone. While there is a specific consumer for these kinds of elaborate projects, it’s a global consumer.
“Miles Davis is one of very few artists whose work transcends time and generations. Also, with something this extravagant, there is a collectability quality that appeals to fans outside music.”
The Davis box set is a welterweight compared to Yo Yo Ma’s. 30 Years Outside the Box by the world-famous cellist contains 90 remastered CDs and a huge hardbound book in a velvet-lined case. There are archival photos a-plenty, tons of essays and original liner notes. Each copy has its own number. Retailing for about ¤650, it’s perhaps the dearest musical item on offer at the moment, but it will sell – not in the millions, but to the limited market it’s aimed at.
Obviously, there’s a good reason why such “enhanced, velvet-bound” behemoths are released around now. You can’t wrap a download. And buying someone a voucher for iTunes really doesn’t really cut it.
As gifts go, these offerings are a considerable step up from a Penney’s tie or bottle of Old Spice, but the figures show that box sets – particularly the really glitzy ones that look amazing – sell by the truckloads in December and then fall down to a trickle during the other months of the year.
You’d be surprised at some of the acts who can carry off even a 10-CD box set. Shakin’ Stevens may be only dimly remembered as a guy in denims who looked a bit like Elvis and had a few hit singles in the 1980s, but he still packs out London’s 02 and wows crowds at the Glastonbury Festival. Stevens’s Epic Masters collection takes in nine of his studio albums (all with extra content) as well as an extra disc of 12-inch remixes of his hits.
The box set I’ve been telling everyone within earshot would make a perfect present for the discerning music columnist is Keep an Eye on the Sky, a four-CD, 98song career retrospective by one of the true greats: Big Star.
Of course, “peace on Earth” is the only present anyone should ask for. But until then, Big Star will do just fine. firstname.lastname@example.org
No need to blow your own horn, Miles – this box set does it for you