Santasma 

A roundup of box sets, the traditional no-brainer gift for music fans

Elvis Presley Young Man With the Big Beat

The year after he recorded his final historic Sun sessions was a crucial one for Presley. He was a long way from home and making records in New York and Hollywood instead of Memphis. He was a major investment for a company ready to sink large sums of money into their new commodity. And he was on his way to becoming one of the planet’s biggest stars. This five-CD box documents the King throughout 1956, the year “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog” changed popular music forever. All of Presley’s studio recordings from that year are here, as are live cuts, outtakes and interviews, which together chronicle those game-changing 12 months so thoroughly, you’ll start to feel like you were stalking Elvis’ every hip-shaking move. (RCA/Legacy)

John Fahey Your Past Comes Back to Haunt You (The Fonotone Years 1958-1965)

John Fahey was a folk revivalist, a blues purist and an occasional musical weirdo. But more than anything, he was a spectacular guitarist, a profound and proficient instrumentalist whose style spanned continents and genres. This terrific five-disc box includes 115 songs from his earliest years, most of them on CD for the first time. Fahey’s fans range from Pete Townshend to members of Sonic Youth, and you can hear that influence on this set. Whether he’s picking an old blues standard, rewiring 50 years of American music in his own compositions, or making his single guitar sound like an entire symphony of instruments, Fahey (who died a decade ago at the age of 61) is a marvel, tossing off riffs, leads and strums like they were part of his lifeblood. (Dust-to-Digital)

Ben Folds:

The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective

Before he became an online hit thanks to his funny and clever Chatroulette videos, and before he became a Sing Off judge, piano-pounding Folds was one of modern rock’s most tuneful smartasses, releasing four increasingly ambitious albums with his Ben Folds Five trio. This three-CD survey of his career includes all the highs (the indie-skewering breakthrough 1995 single “Underground,” the abortion melodrama “Brick”) and lows (last year’s misfired collaboration with writer Nick Hornby). There’s a whole disc of live songs, which are loads of fun, and a disc of rarities like demos and alternate mixes, which aren’t. Still, Folds has a quick mind and quick fingers, both of which are on ample display on this overdue overview. (Epic/Legacy)

Various Artists:

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. (Phil Spector/Legacy)

Ray Charles

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 excellent 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 – “Hit the Road Jack,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “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. (Concord)

Paul Simon

Songwriter

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 musician 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. (Columbia/Legacy)

More by Michael Gallucci

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