Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Box Sets - Soul and R&B

Let me start by saying up front that I am an absolutely huge fan of sixties soul music. I have vinyl copies of many of the Motown three-disc anthologies- Stevie Wonder, Four Tops, Temps, Supremes, Marvin Gaye, etc. and they are all good stuff. So I don't own any of the four-disc CD sets by these artists, but if you've got a favorite, there's sure to be some non-hits in those boxes that are fun to hear.

I do own a bunch of soul sets that I thoroughly enjoy, so I'll talk about some of those.

Beg, Scream and Shout! The Big 'Ol Box of Sixties Soul 1997. This is a huge six CD box that is a treasure trove of hits and lesser hits that is just about as good as it gets. With artists appearing no more than once on the set, there are some unusual choices from big artists that won't please everyone, but the set more than makes up for it with rare 45s and great minor hits. There are numerous original versions of songs made into hits in the seventies by Linda Ronstadt, J. Geils Band, and Janis Joplin, to name but a few. If you're open to discovering some great old songs you've either never heard or forgotten, mixed up with big hits from most major artists, and including a healthy dose of Memphis-style "deep soul", this will keep you very happy for a good long while. One of the best box sets ever.

Hitsville U.S.A. The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971 1992
Easy one-stop shopping for most of the biggest Motown hits, and a few interesting lesser-known artists. This really focuses on what you're already familiar with, and as such it's packed with great songs. Nicely done in chronological order.

The Complete Stax//Volt Singles 1959-1968 1991
This nine-disc set is definitely diving into the deep end. There's great songs here by Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, Booker T & The MGs, Sam and Dave, and many more. The ones you know are outnumbered by the ones you've likely never heard (unless you lived in the southern US and listened to the black radio station), and that is either what you like about this set or it's what you hate about it. I love it, but even I have a hard time spending a lot of time with it. But every time I throw a disc on, I'm amazed at the quality of what this label did overall, and the sound they got in the studio is just wonderful. Funky stuff, but only recommended to the hard core.

Soul Spectacular! The Greatest Soul Hits of All Time 2002
This four-disc set is a great crowd-pleaser. It overlaps Beg, Scream and Shout a lot (they are both Rhino products), but if you want a taste of that set with less cost, here you go. There's less of the obscure on this set, but it otherwise hits most of the big hits, licensing issues keeping a few out.

Can You Dig It? The Seventies Soul Experience 2001
Yet another Rhino product, and another killer. A six CD set companion to Beg, Scream and Shout!, this one proves soul was still quite alive in at least the first half of the seventies. Mixing big hits with lesser-known fare, the formula works again. The last two discs are a little heavy on the burgeoning disco era, but they avoid most of the worst of that genre. Not as easy to recommend as the sixties stuff, but an excellent package for the soul fanatic.

Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures Taken From The Vaults... Vols. 1-4 1997-2004
This one isn't actually a box set but four individual compilations. But oh, my, what an amazing collection of hidden jewels. Each of the four discs contains 2-5 songs you've maybe heard before, and twenty more that it is hard to believe weren't hits. Gave Godin was an English music journalist and soul fan that compiled these mostly rare recordings. Let's just say that Mr. Godin loved his work, and was particularly good at it. All four discs are to die for, and if you're not convinced, you can buy any one and see what you think. I think you'll buy the rest.

There's a few I've left out, so I may have to return to this theme again, but I can't end until I've mentioned
James Brown Star Time 1991
Yes, four discs of James Brown may be too much for some. But this, for me, is the best single-artist four CD set ever. The first two discs are the sixties and early seventies hits, and are just essential. There's a few extended versions and interesting alternatives, but it's the singles you want, and they're all here. The later seventies and eighties tracks on the last two discs explore Brown's love and mastery of funk, and there's only 2-3 non-essential tracks here. Unless you already own a ton of JB, this box is a terrific buy.

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