En español | It's the time of the season when record labels deliver their most lavish packages unto holiday shoppers. Whether they satisfy collectors, commemorate the greats of yesteryear, smack our nostalgia bone or simply pour old wine into new bottles, box sets are gift statements that definitely keep on giving.
Promise Keeper. "More than rich, more than famous, more than happy, I wanted to be great," says 61-year-old Bruce Springsteen of his late-20s self in the documentary DVD that's included in The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story. Packaged as a fabulously fake six-pocket spiral notebook, this impressive rock artifact contains three CDs and as many DVDs pertaining to the creation of Springsteen's 1978 bid for serious-artist status. Besides a remastered Darkness, you'll find The Promise, a double-album's worth of tracks that didn't make the cut for one reason or another (also available separately) and two concert films, from back then and just last year. Whether or not Darkness is part of your rock DNA, this celebration of Springsteen's first truly adult album should be a revelation.
Fame Game. The Boss is also one of the prime movers on The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts, a three-DVD set documenting two 2009 concerts held in Manhattan's Madison Square Garden. Produced by Rolling Stone magazine's Jann Wenner, this oldies event on overdrive delivered such memorable moments as song co-writers Springsteen and Patti Smith wailing "Because the Night" together with U2, with whom Mick Jagger and Fergie later performed a sexy "Sympathy for the Devil." If you've ever wanted to hear Jeff Beck reprise his "Superstition" solo with Stevie Wonder, see Simon reunite with Garfunkel or hear Ozzy Osbourne wail "Iron Man" with Metallica, here's your chance.
Family Album. Each of the four Brothers Gibb is represented by a separate CD in the Bee Gees' Mythology, a pop bonanza celebrating the two surviving brothers' 50th year in the music biz. Barry's disk contains the most hits; Robin's is the most chronological and eccentric; the late Maurice's uncovers the most forgotten gems; and the one devoted to Andy, who died in 1988 at age 30, still suggests a pop promise unfulfilled.
Chairman of the Box. Frank Sinatra: A Concert Collection packs five concerts and seven TV specials — 14 blue-eyed hours in all — onto seven DVDs. They capture Sinatra in his mid-'60s prime through a rare 1985 Tokyo concert of surprising quality. Start with his three A Man and His Music specials, in which Sinatra swings and croons in top form accompanied by the Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins orchestras. And to learn how he got there, pick up Frank: The Voice, James Kaplan's beautifully written account of the enigmatic singer's life through 1954.
Off the Rails. Soul Train was always about a lot more than just music. Created by Don Cornelius in 1971, the variety show celebrated the extravagantly stylish clothing, hair and dance trends enjoyed by young black Chicagoans until 2006. So of course you could pick up The Best of Soul Train for riveting performances by the Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, James Brown and others on three DVDs. But the real fun is in these complete programs' mesmerizing line dances, sweetly awkward interviews and vintage Afro Sheen commercials.
One-Track Mind. Bob Dylan's first eight albums, from the eponymous Bob Dylan to John Wesley Harding, delivered a mad rush of folk-rocking Americana, political savvy and brash poetry. They sound amazing, too — especially in mono, the way they were intended, as demonstrated by the new single-channel reissues collected in Bob Dylan: The Original Mono Recordings (and also sold separately). Or take a funkier shuffle through Bob's back pages via The Witmark Demos, 1962-1964, which consist of 47 Dylan originals banged out with casual panache in a music publisher's office.
Blues You Can Use. "Are you sick of the sound of the electric guitar yet?" asks Eric Clapton as he takes the stage to close the daylong blues orgy captured on Crossroads: Eric Clapton Guitar Festival 2010. Actually, no. With more than two dozen blues guitarists on hand — ranging from old-schoolers such as Buddy Guy, B.B. King and Robert Cray to relative whippersnappers such as John Mayer, Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall II — there's hardly time to tire of any single voice. After the fathers and sons do their things, Clapton and Steve Winwood settle in for an extended ramble through "Voodoo Chile," "Had to Cry Today" and "Dear Mr. Fanasy."
Experience Required. Jimi Hendrix died young and left a beautiful body of work behind. West Coast Seattle Boy — The Jimi Hendrix Anthology adds to it significantly, with four CDs' worth of mostly unreleased recordings and Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child, a DVD documentary narrated from the guitarist's point of view by Parliament Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins. The music ranges from Hendrix's earliest recordings with the Isley Brothers and Little Richard to extended studio jams, a searing New Year's Eve performance and many tantalizing works-in-progress.