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CD, DVD boxed sets worth a look or listen

By Todd Leopold, CNN
AC/DC's new boxed set, "Backtracks," highlights a number of rare and live tracks.
AC/DC's new boxed set, "Backtracks," highlights a number of rare and live tracks.
  • Plenty of interesting CD, DVD boxed sets available in time for holidays
  • "The Beatles in Mono" collects Fab Four's mono mixes
  • Criterion has a 25-disc Akira Kurosawa collection

(CNN) -- The boxed set: Criticized for its brick-like presence. Victim of grammatical ineptitude (it's usually called the "box set," which is what? A collection of boxes?). Subject of a hilarious Barenaked Ladies song.

And, sometimes, repository of surprise.

Yes, in these downloadable times, the CD and DVD boxed set seems quaint, an item for libraries and completists. Will anyone watch the entire run of "Hogan's Heroes"? Is there really enough Big Star material to fill a four-disc collection?

Still, this year saw the release of a number of worthwhile CD and DVD boxed sets. As we head into the final shopping weekend before Christmas, here are a few worth checking out from beginning to end. (Prices listed are full retail, but feel free to shop around.)


"Backtracks," AC/DC (Sony Legacy, 2 CDs and 1 DVD, $39.98)
AC/DC's heavy metal hits are well known, but their rarities and certain singles have been the province of hard-core fans -- until now. "Backtracks" includes a disc of studio obscurities, a disc of live cuts and a DVD of videos. (A special edition, available directly from, is housed in a fully operational amplifier; it's $179.) It's worth banging your head over.

"The Beatles in Mono," the Beatles (Capitol/EMI, 13 CDs, $298.98)
The Beatles used to mix the majority of their material twice: once in stereo and once in mono. The latter was actually the preferred form, as many listeners didn't own what used to be called a hi-fi. With the remastering of the Fab Four's catalog, the original mono mixes are now completely available on CD, in some cases for the first time. It's an expensive box (and, moreover, the mono albums aren't for sale individually), but for the hard-core fan, it's worth it.

"Twelve Nights in Hollywood," Ella Fitzgerald (Hip-O Select, 4 CDs, $69.98)
In 1961 and 1962, Verve Records taped the peerless Ella Fitzgerald at a Los Angeles nightclub. It's taken just under 50 years, but a healthy sampling of Fitzgerald's performance is finally available on CD. (An LP released at the time was poorly mastered and sank with little trace.) This was Fitzgerald at her peak, performing songs such as "Come Rain or Come Shine," "Mack the Knife" and (of course) "Too Darn Hot."

"Dolly," Dolly Parton (Sony Legacy, 4 CDs, $49.98)
If you think Dolly Parton is just "9 to 5" and "Islands in the Stream," take a listen to this expansive collection of 99 tracks, covering the late '50s through the early '90s. Yes, the later pop hits are here, but the meat of the selection comes from her country years with Porter Wagoner and as a solo act, including "Coat of Many Colors," "Last Thing on My Mind" and "The Bridge." And she's not only a fine singer but a terrific songwriter.

"Woodstock 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur's Farm" (Rhino, 6 CDs, $79.98)
This summer marked the 40th anniversary of the world's most famous rock festival, and though it's never been hard to find the movie soundtrack albums around, this giant set features much more than those recordings ever did. Though there are key omissions -- Ten Years After is particularly conspicuous -- the music has never sounded better. (For those who want the complete Woodstock experience, a DVD boxed set of the movie is also available. Throw in some mud and brown acid, and you're practically back in 1969.)


"AK100: 25 Films of Akira Kurosawa" (Criterion, 25 DVDs, $399.95)
Outside of an accompanying book, this monumental box doesn't come with many extras. But who needs extras when you have some of the greatest films of the 20th century -- "Seven Samurai," "Rashomon," "Throne of Blood" -- by one of the century's greatest filmmakers? If you don't have much Kurosawa in your collection, here's a place to start.

"Andy Richter Controls the Universe" (Paramount, 3 DVDs, $39.98) and "Andy Barker, P.I." (Shout! Factory, 2 DVDs, $24.99)
After Andy Richter left the role as Conan O'Brien's sidekick, a spot to which he has returned, he did these two vastly underrated comedies. In "Universe," he's a tech writer who goes on flights of fancy; in "Barker" (co-produced by O'Brien), he's a CPA mistaken for a private detective. Inspired silliness reigns in both, and it's too bad neither got enough of an audience for a long run.

"Paul Newman: The Tribute Collection" (20th Century Fox, 17 DVDs, $89.98)
This collection of Newman films is a decidedly mixed bag -- "From the Terrace" and "What a Way to Go!" are not among his best work -- but it also includes a two-disc "Hustler," two-disc "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and the two-disc edition of perhaps his greatest performance, "The Verdict." For those who admire Newman, a nice career overview.

"Thirtysomething: The Complete First Season" (Shout! Factory, 6 DVDs, $59.95)
You can see the influence of the prototypical series of the '80s in countless dramas that have followed, from the delicate soundtrack (by W.G. Snuffy Walden) to densely written characters (Aaron Sorkin should pay royalties). But Marshall Herskovitz's and Edward Zwick's show still stands alone for its ability to develop drama from the everyday, without leaning on cops or doctors. (Future seasons saw the arrival of ad exec Miles Drentell, one of the great characters in TV history.)

"The Wizard of Oz" (Warner Home Video, 5 DVDs, $69.92) and "Gone With the Wind" (Warner Home Video, 6 DVDs, $69.92)
Two classic movies from that classic year for movies, 1939, get lavish 70th-anniversary editions. "Oz" Video has a number of new extras from previous editions, including some "Oz" films from the silent era. "GWTW" includes art cards, a journal and a book of production art. Both are also available in two-disc versions (as well as Blu-ray).