Our Picks for the Year’s Best Box Sets

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In 2023, we saw a plethora of new box set offerings, mostly those that revisited classic albums of the past while offering new expanded editions.

While it’s never easy repurchasing something one already owns, the abundance of new additions often makes it all but imperative to do so. Here, then, are some essential adds to your box set collection.

The Who
Lifehouse/Who’s Next
Polydor Records

The Who Lifehouse Who's Next box set

Like Brian Wilson’s Smile, The Who’s Lifehouse was one of those legendary albums that was aborted before reaching fruition. It eventually morphed into Who’s Next, a classic album in its own right and long regarded as a high point in The Who’s career.

It’s not that Lifehouse has remained hidden these past 50-plus years—it resurfaced when Pete Townshend reimagined it as a solo offering, Lifehouse Elements; also, various bootlegs have surfaced over the years. Nevertheless, this massive—and weighty—box manages to piece together all the original elements: Townshend’s Lifehouse demos, the original recording sessions in London and New York, various complete concerts, and added bonus tracks.

Who’s Next saw an expanded re-release in 2003, and those tracks are duplicated here, but given the array of extras—a 172-page graphic novel, sleeve notes and essays, rare photos, memorabilia, tour programs, and badges—it’s more than enough to entice any Who partisan. Consider it the ultimate indulgence.

Bob Dylan
The Complete Budokan 1978
Legacy Recordings

Bob Dylan The Complete Budokan 1978 box set

Originally released only in Japan, Bob Dylan’s Budokan concert was—and remains—one of the best representations of the iconic singer/songwriter in live performance. The songs were replayed close to the original versions, a rarity as far as Dylan’s live sets were concerned, and the wealth of material—drawing liberally from the music of his seminal years as he made the transition from budding folky to full-on rock star—made these performances absolutely essential.

Belatedly released in the U.S., it now has a fuller treatment courtesy of four CDs that share both the February 18 and March 1, 1978 concerts in their entirety, as well as plenty of memorabilia, including concert posters, flyers, and tickets. It may have been one of those “Ya had to be there” events, but no worries. Now it’s the next best thing. 

Eric Clapton
The Definitive 24 Nights
Reprise Records

Eric Clapton The Definitive 24 Nights box set

Spread over the span of six CDs and three Blu-Rays, Eric Clapton’s extended stand at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990 and 1991 gets the complete treatment here. It liberally expands the original release, which offered only a scant sampling of the guitarist’s shows at the London venue.

Here, the full breadth of Clapton’s then-current repertoire is shared—from blues standards to his work with Cream, his solo efforts, and those with Derek and the Dominos. It’s a veritable greatest hit considering the inclusion of such standards as “Wonderful Tonight,” “Bellbottom Blues,” “Layla,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” and others.  Clapton’s never been in finer form.

Joni Mitchell
Archives, Volume 3: The Asylum Years (1972-1975)
Rhino Records

Joni Mitchell Archives, Volume 3 The Asylum Years (1972-1975)

This latest entry in the Archives series bears notice as among the best box sets of the year. It finds Mitchell at the peak of her prowess. Having left Reprise Records and her fragile folk finesse behind, she transitioned from the role of a sensitive singer/songwriter into that of a sophisticated chanteuse.

The Asylum Years digs deep into the mid-‘70s period that produced the initial Asylum albums—For the Roses, Court and Spark, and The Hissing of Summer Lawns—courtesy of demos, alternate takes, and live tracks. As always, it offers some fascinating insights into Mitchell’s creative process.

Likewise, collaborations that include sessions with former beaus David Crosby and Graham Nash on early takes of “Cold Blue Steel,” “Sweet Fire,” and “For The Roses”; a pair of collaborations with James Taylor on “Electricity” and further efforts that enlisted Neil Young & The Stray Gators for work on “You Turn Me On I’m A Radio” and “Raised on Robbery” (the latter recorded during sessions for Young’s “Tonight’s the Night”) transform some otherwise familiar songs via arrangements that are wholly different and distinctive from those that emerged later on.

In addition, the live concerts from Carnegie Hall in New York, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, and London’s Royal Festival Hall offer additional illumination on where Mitchell was heading during this particular phase of her career. With five CDs and an expansive booklet, The Asylum Years is the essence of essential.

Stevie Nicks
Complete Studio Albums & Rarities
Rhino Records

Stevie Nicks Complete Studio Albums & Rarities

With Fleetwood Mac seemingly on a permanent hiatus given the recent passing of mainstay Christine McVie, Steve Nicks, the band’s most prolific solo star, effectively reboots her career by bringing to bear her wealth of individual releases, plus an entire disc devoted to rarities.

Granted, Nicks could come off as somewhat twee at times in the context of her day job, but over the expanse of these nine albums, she is easily assured and making memorable music in her own right. While her fans likely own these albums already, the two discs plied from the vaults and a stash of rarities make it a true temptation. 

John Prine
The Oh Boy Singles
Oh Boy Records

John Prine The Oh Boy Singles box set

A special 7-inch box set encased in a cover modeled after John Prine’s prized 1935 Wurlitzer Jukebox, this collection features the eight singles Prine released on Oh Boy Records, each packaged in their original artwork. The set even goes so far as to feature working lights that illuminate the jukebox, a booklet with a forward written by music producer Jim Rooney, two “Handsome Johnny” jukebox coins, a vintage Oh Boy Records catalogue, and more.

The jukebox was a gift from his friend and fellow songwriter Steve Goodman as a thank you for co-writing Goodman’s first country hit, “You Never Even Called Me by My Name,” after Prine refused to take credit or accept any royalties for writing the song. Given the songs shared here, all credit is decidedly deserved.

I’m Still Waiting
New West Records

Acetone I'm Still Waiting box set

This 11-LP box set celebrates the little-known Los Angeles band Acetone. Produced by the surviving members of the band, Mark Lightcap, Steve Hadley, and Brady Brock of New West Records, the project had been two years in the making.

The box includes Acetone’s long out-of-print studio albums Cindy (1993), If You Only Knew (1995; available on vinyl for the first time), Acetone (1997), and York Blvd. (2000). Also included is the band’s debut EP Acetone (1993), their mini-LP of classic country covers I Guess I Would (1995), as well as a nine-song bonus LP titled Prime Cuts, featuring eight unreleased recordings.

Additionally, the box set includes a 60-page book featuring extensive liner notes written by J Spaceman of Spiritualized and Spacemen 3 and Drew Daniel of Matmos and The Soft Pink Truth. With a wide range of influences ranging from the Everly Brothers and Isaac Hayes to Brian Eno and the Meat Puppets, the band’s trajectory came to a sad close following the release of York Blvd. in 2001, when their frontman, Richie Lee, committed suicide.

I’m Still Waiting is being released in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the band’s debut, and the records are all available for the first time since their original release. For those on a limited budget, take note: Each of the albums will soon be available individually as well. 

The Doors
Live at the Matrix, 1967
Elektra/Rhino Records

The Doors Live at the Matrix 1967 box set

These heretofore unreleased recordings of early Doors are culled from first-generation 7-inch reels capturing Jim Morrison & Co. in all their uninhibited primal glory over three nights at the infamous San Francisco nightclub known as The Matrix. It’s a revelatory set of songs, one that encompasses tracks from their initial landmark albums. Morrison is in pure primal form, and the band is tight and taut across the expanse of these 37 songs.

At least two of the tracks are released for the first time—the rather rote instrumentals “All Blues” and “Bag’s’ Groove.” That’s great for completists, but devotees will instead likely relish early takes on such Doors classics at “The Crystal Ship,” “20th Century Fox,” “People Are Strange,” “Back Door Man,” “Break On Through (to the Other Side),” and, naturally, “Light My Fire.” These Doors swing in a special way.

The Kinks
The Journey — Part 2

The Kinks The Journey Part 2 box set

One can never get enough of the Kinks, and this two-disc follow-up to the initial Journey boasts an abundance of classic Kinks cuts. Arranged in the form of a narrative, this two-CD set takes the band from their early years through their later efforts on RCA, when a creative conceptual motif dominated their efforts.

There are plenty of hits to focus on—“Till the End of the Day,” “Lola,” “A Well Respected Man,” and “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” among them—but like the first volume, it also delves into some deep cuts and heretofore unreleased live tracks as well.

Dave Davies shares the spotlight with brother Ray, courtesy of his own “Creeping Jean,” “Lincoln County,” and “Susannah’s Still Alive.” The liner notes feature reflections from both brothers, offering a glimmer of hope that maybe the two will regroup now that they are on common ground. 

Jethro Tull
The Broadsword and the Beast — The 40th Anniversary Monster Edition
Chrysalis Records

Jethro Tull The Broadsword and the Beast The 40th Anniversary Monster Edition

Granted, Jethro Tull had largely been considered past their prime when The Broadsword and the Beast was unleashed on the world in April 1982. Ian Anderson and Martin Barre were the only members remaining from the band’s classic lineup, and other than a handful of minor entries—“Pussy Willow” chief among them—it could boast nothing that came near to enduring classics like “Aqualung,” “Locomotive Breath,” or “Cross-Eyed Mary.”

Not that the group had forgotten them completely; live recordings taken from a concert in Germany still show them as enduring and an indelible part of the setlist. Other addendums include demos, outtakes, early mixes, a series of interviews with all involved, and, of course, an obligatory tour program and assorted mementos.

Given five CDs and three DVDs, the 40th-anniversary edition of The Broadsword and the Beast comes across as a sprawling epoch of sorts, but even with all the frenzy and flourish, it can still be considered a curio at best, one destined for devotees.

Bryan Adams
Live at the Royal Albert Hall

Bryan Adams Live at the Royal Albert Hall box set

Live at the Royal Albert Hall is culled from three nights at Royal Albert Hall in London in which Bryan Adams plays his classic albums Cuts Like A Knife, Waking Up the Neighborhood, and Into the Fire in their entirety.

In this CD/Blu-ray set, Adams is in fine form, delivering a decidedly determined performance that proves even now, long past his heyday, he’s still in fighting form. Granted, his return carries more than a whiff of nostalgia, but the songs still hold up with resilience and resolve. Here’s proof that memories still matter.

Also of note:

Jason Isbell
Southeastern Remastered
Thirty Tigers

Jason Isbell Southeastern Remastered box set

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit have no shortage of live offerings, but this is the first time they’ve been added to a reboot of an original offering. A disc of demos adds to the enticement.

Steve Hackett
Foxtrot at Fifty + Hackett Highlights: Live in Brighton
Inside Out Music

Steve Hackett Foxtrot at Fifty + Hackett Highlights Live in Brighton

One of the seminal guitarists of early Genesis history, Steve Hackett, has built his latter-day career replaying the band’s early classic catalog. This two-CD/Blu-Ray set revisits Foxtrot, one of their best, on its 50th anniversary and includes a documentary as an added enhancement.

David Bowie
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (the Motion Picture)
Parlophone Records Ltd.

David Bowie Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (the Motion Picture)

David Bowie’s alter-ego’s classic performance at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on July 3, 1973, makes a welcome return courtesy of this two-CD/Blu-ray box that boasts all the songs shared at that historic performance as Ziggy prepared to bid the world a fond farewell.

Jeff Beck makes a cameo appearance, but the spotlight stays on Bowie as he acts out what is arguably his most immortal role. Call it glam, call it a slam, but it was never a sham. Truly Bowie at his best.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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