Let them eat vinyl! Sure, they have a Spotify subscription and a healthy addiction to Bandcamp Friday, but drop a box of discs into their lap and let them take over the stereo for the afternoon. Here are my recommendations for 2020 sets.
“Sign o’ the Times (Super Deluxe),” Prince, $159.98
Argue over what Prince’s best album is later (shocking twist: It’s “Dirty Mind”). Right now fall into the paisley funk of the strangest, densest and most fun Prince reissue yet. Here’s a ridiculous statement that is still true: Many of the 63 previously unreleased tracks on the 13-LP/DVD set equal the original cuts. No, really! Live in the studio with the Revolution he glamslammed “Power Fantastic,” a legitimate free jazz excursion paired with quiet storm r&b. “Rebirth of the Flesh,” which was going to be part of an album under the pseudonym Camille, pumps with hard funk, Hendrix-style guitar, hip-hop verses and psychedelic carnival horns. Pulled from a number of aborted projects, the tracks here run from sketches to dance edits to live cuts to songs that could have topped the charts had Prince not locked them away. Diehards will faint. Casual fans will become diehards.
“12×7: The Singles Collection Box Set,” Amy Winehouse, $104.92
Winehouse swaggered into 2006 belting out “Rehab” like Moses coming down from the mountain. The song’s unflinching grandeur and moxie can blot out her other hits. This new box of a dozen singles and their B sides prove Amy’s authority ran from 2003 slinky soul gem “Stronger Than Me” to 2011 ska-kissed nugget “Our Day Will Come.” We should have gotten so much more from that defiant contralto, thankfully we get this simple box that puts an emphasis on the art and attitude that made her a legend.
“The Studio Albums 1978-1991,” Dire Straits, $110
This collects all six Dire Straits albums on eight LPs (the last albums take up two LPs apiece). For Brits, this music is sacred. But Americans mostly know blockbuster album “Brothers in Arms” and a few hits. Time for everyone Stateside to dig into the deep cuts. Records once dismissed offer wonders such as the slow sneer of country-blues tune “You and Your Friend” from “On Every Street” or the equally cool and patient “Follow Me Home” from “Communique.” Even the 14-minute “Telegraph Road” from “Love Over Gold” feels too short.
“The Complete Keen Years (1957-1960),” Sam Cooke, $44.58
Sam Cooke stepped away from gospel and into sessions for Keen Records. The results see a singer and songwriter inventing what we now know as soul. He debuted on the label with the tender and tremendous croon of “You Send Me.” That was his debut! His output for Keen, collected here on five discs and sourced from recovered original master tapes, runs 65 tracks from gossamer gold dreams such as “When I Fall in Love” to the strut and sashay of his big band take on “I’ve Gotta Right to Sing the Blues.”
“The Bowie Years,” Iggy Pop, $69.99
Everybody argues over when punk started. I’d like to talk about when hardcore started and submit Iggy Pop’s live version of “T.V. Eye” from a March 1977 Agora Ballroom date. It’s so menacing and also so arty. As a producer, Davie Bowie helped Pop get to where he needed to go, which is somewhere between new wave, hardcore and gonzo avant-garde. This seven-CD box looks at the two’s late-’70s collaborations over studio LPs “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life,” multiple live shows and a handful of alternative takes. When you’re done with Ziggy Stardust but not ready for Lou Reed’s really weird stuff, you’ll find yourself entranced by Pop’s insanity.