Friday, October 24, 2008

Can a box set be too big?

In a word: Yep.

I don’t say this lightly. There is something about a box set that makes me salivate. I’m Pavlov’s dog for a good box set. I love Springsteen’s “Tracks.” I can listen over and over to all 5 CDs in the Brubeck “For All Time” box set. (Which isn’t really a box set. It’s just five previously released CDs crammed into a box. I like it anyway.) I’m a sucker for box sets of label histories, like the 8-CD “80th Anniversary of RCA Victor.”

And yet…

I remember the early days of For something like $15 a month, you got unlimited downloads. Yes, unlimited. We all knew that couldn't last forever, and it didn't. Anyway, at first I downloaded a CD a week and savored it. Then two a week.

Then I got greedy.

One day, I downloaded all 15 CDs of Monk’s “Complete Riverside Recordings.” It was pure gluttony. I couldn’t possibly digest it all. What’s worse, after a while it all started sounding the same. (And, of course, there were no liner notes, no booklet. I had no idea what I was listening to.)

Then I hit on a solution. Monk recorded a lot of single-LP albums for Riverside. What if I deconstructed the box set into its component parts? That is, what if I discarded the “rare and unreleased” tracks and the outtakes and simply kept the individual tracks together as they originally appeared on Monk’s albums?

Suddenly, I was enjoying my massive download. Suddenly, I had a whole bunch of Monk’s most classic albums, just as he had recorded them -- “Monk’s Music” and “5 By Monk By 5” and “Brilliant Corners,” etc. – instead of an indigestible box. I like that.

But did I lean my lesson? Not really.

Recently, I found a 10-CD Monk box at my local drugstore for exactly $10. How can you not buy a 10-CD set for $10? (How in the world can they even afford to offer a 10-CD set for $10? I don’t get it.) So I bought it. No liner note, no booklet, no idea in the world when the discs were recorded or with whom. And yes, I found myself choking on on Monk all over again.

I’ve learned my lesson this time. Really.

Then again, there’s this really neat 10-CD Duke Ellington set, "The Private Collection," and it only costs $40, and you can never have too much Duke…

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