Home Music Music Lists

The Best Box Sets of 2020

Here are the year’s best archival deep dives

Photographs used in illustration by Getty Images, 2; AP

We certainly have more time than usual to drill down and rediscover works by great artists, and 2020 offered a treasure trove of options, including expanded editions of classics by Prince and Tom Petty, rich overviews of Bob Marley, John Prine, and Richard and Linda Thompson, and much more.

From Rolling Stone US

Prince, ‘Sign O’ the Times (Super Deluxe Edition)’

Prince’s 1987 double album was an eclectic funk-pop-rock-R&B-gospel-novelty hodgepodge of songs about love, sex, and Jesus that ended up being a masterpiece. It seems like even more of an achievement after sifting through the nearly four hours of previously unreleased tracks like “Love and Sex” on Sign’s super-deluxe reissue. He had no singular vision at the time: He was recording songs for a double LP called Dream Factory; a triple LP titled Crystal Ball; a novelty side project where he sped up his voice like a Chipmunk and called himself Camille; a stage musical he wisely abandoned; a project for Bonnie Raitt; a collaboration with Miles Davis; and on and on. It’s impossible to trace his thought process, which makes it all the more exciting to find the diamonds he left in the vault. K.G.(FIND IT HERE)

Paul McCartney, ‘Flaming Pie: Deluxe Edition’

In the mid-Nineties, McCartney revisited his Beatles years for the Anthology doc, got knighted, and hosted a freewheeling radio show, Oobu Joobu. Those experiences put him in an excellent frame of mind for whipping up 1997’s Flaming Pie, a sturdy George Martin-produced potpourri of rockers, ballads, and jams, including high-water marks like the gloriously soppy “Beautiful Night,” and the John Lennon-inspired title track. McCartney puts Flaming Pie under a microscope on the super-deluxe reissue with home recordings, studio run-throughs, outtakes, and a whole lot of Oobu Joobu. His home demos are sparse and intimate, but what pulls it all together are the inclusions of excerpts from the radio shows and a one-hour documentary guided tour of his home studio. It’s a box set where the extra pieces really help complete the puzzle. K.G.(FIND IT HERE)

Elton John, ‘Jewel Box’

Elton already has one career-spanning box set behind him, the out-of-print To Be Continued…, but Jewel Box goes out of its way to be a very different beast. Its eight discs include a substantial chunk of unheard early material, but they sit alongside an even bigger batch of songs that have already been released in one form or another, either on albums or singles. Jewel Box doesn’t just clean out the closet but the whole house. The jewels of the box are those pre-fame recordings from the late Sixties, which take up three discs. As a psychological study, Jewel Box is fascinating; it’s Elton imagining an alternate universe in which “(Gotta Get a) Meal Ticket,” and not “The Bitch Is Back,” is his most beloved rocker, or “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself” tops “Crocodile Rock” as a crowd-pleasing jaunty rocker. D.B.(FIND IT HERE)

Bob Marley, ‘The Complete Island Recordings’

To commemorate Marley’s 75th birthday, the reggae legend’s entire catalog in getting a deluxe reissue on CD and vinyl half-speed remasterings. Beginning with classic Wailers albums like Catch a Fire and Burnin’, both from 1973, which brought Marley’s music to a large international audience, and moving through Seventies gems like Exodus and Natty Dread up to the final recordings before his death, 1980’s Uprising, and the posthumous Confrontation, Marley created one of the most peerlessly influential catalogs in pop music. This reissue series includes his mega-platinum greatest-hits album Legend, as well as the live sets Live! and Babylon by Bus. In early 2021, a limited edition run of Marley’s albums, pressed and numbered at Tuff Gong International headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica, will also be available; included in that batch will be the original Jamaican version of Catch a Fire. J.D.  (FIND IT HERE)