We’re getting ready to unveil our favorite music of the year, with best-of lists just over the horizon. But before we get there, considering there’s no better gift than music, we’re looking back over some of the best music box sets of 2023, including expanded versions of classic albums, overviews of eras, labels and concerts, rare recordings and more.
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ABC – Lexicon of Love (40th Anniversary Edition)
ABC’s Martin Fry is one of the great British singer/songwriters of the 1980s, packaging his keen observations of human behavior and openly wounded reflections on love and heartbreak through gorgeously arranged art-pop. Arriving just a little after the album’s 40th anniversary, the box set edition of Lexicon of Love features the classic album—which includes singles such as “The Look of Love (Part One)” and “Poison Arrow”—alongside demos, remixes, live recordings and other rare recordings, as well as an accompanying Blu-ray featuring Atmos and 5.1 surround mix by Steven Wilson. It’s an extensive but well deserved retrospective version of an album that remains as incredible as ever.
The Beatles – 1962-1966/1967-1970 (2023 Edition)
The Beatles’ updated versions of their career-spanning companion “Red” and “Blue” albums are both great introductions to the catalog of one of the greatest rock bands of all time, as well as simply a great collection of songs. The 2023 versions of the two compilations adds to that solid foundation with 21 additional songs between the two—including their “final” song, “Now and Then,” which Paul McCartney finished with the aid of AI. The albums were also de-mixed and then re-mixed by Giles Martin (son of producer George Martin), which gives each song added clarity and sharpness. While they’re still far from the complete catalog, these career summaries have never sounded as good, and for that matter, are a few steps closer to telling the whole story.
Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach – The Songs of Bacharach & Costello
Back in 1998, Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach released a collaborative album, Painted from Memory, a celebrated album that brought two legendary artists from seemingly different musical spheres together for a set of lush pop that even won them a Grammy award. The Songs of Bacharach & Costello builds on that album’s legacy with covers of the duo’s compositions, live recordings, and even Costello’s recordings of other Bacharach classics. As Jim Beviglia said in our review of the set, “the evidence here suggests that Costello deserves a prime spot on the list of Bacharach’s most fruitful musical partners, from Dionne Warwick as an artist to Hal David and Carole Bayer Sager as lyricists.”
Devo – 50 Years of De-Evolution
This year marks Devo’s 50th anniversary as a band since first forming in Ohio back in 1973. The group’s early new wave and post-punk records have left an immeasurable impact on popular music, while their oddball avant garde sensibility put a unique conceptual spin on rock music, and 50 Years of De-Evolution offers an expanded overview of the band’s unique career arc. Featuring four LPs of hits and rarities, the box spans the whole of their career, including demos and rare mixes. It also features a Devo air freshener and a paper hat designed to look like their signature energy domes.
Bob Dylan – Fragments – Time Out of Mind Sessions (1996-1997): The Bootleg Series, Vol. 17
Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind is one of his most storied albums, a haunting late-career masterpiece produced by Daniel Lanois that finds the iconic troubadour finding new inspiration in a kind of bluesy darkness. Fragments – Time Out of Mind Sessions (1996-1997): The Bootleg Series, Vol. 17 builds on both that album’s legacy as well as Dylan’s own continuously expanding Bootleg Series with an ample set of bonus material that reveals both some of the unplanned magic that occurred in the studio as well as simply the richness of the material itself—a creative rebirth captured in abundance.
The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots 20th Anniversary Edition
In 2022, Flaming Lips’ celebrated album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots turned 20, which they recently played in its entirety on tour, in addition to releasing this expanded box set reissue of the sci-fi psych-pop concept record. In addition to the original album, the box set version features b-sides, demos, radio sessions and other tracks, including collaborations with Sparklehorse and The Chemical Brothers. It also features a book and a poster, all of which adds up to an even more epic treatment to an already heroic saga.
Jason Isbell – Southeastern (10th anniversary)
We recently included Jason Isbell’s outstanding 2013 album Southeastern in our Treble 100 series, its beautifully written and devastating songs showcasing some of the strongest material in Jason Isbell’s career (not that his albums since have been anything but outstanding, of course). The 10th anniversary expanded version of the album builds on the original dozen songs with original demos and a live performance of the album in Knoxville, recorded in 2022. Add to that scans of handwritten lyrics and new liner notes from writer Charles Hughes, and it amounts to an outstanding update to a timeless album.
Fela Kuti – Box Set #6 (Curated by Idris Elba)
Over the past 13 years, Knitting Factory has been releasing box sets featuring selected records in Fela Kuti’s ample catalog, with albums selected by curators that have so far included Brian Eno, Erykah Badu, Chris Martin and Femi Kuti. The sixth installment is curated by Idris Elba and highlights some of the deeper cuts in the Fela Kuti catalog. While previous installments featured records such as Zombie and Roforofo Fight, Elba’s selections go a little deeper, including gems like Open & Close, I Go Shout Plenty and Music of Many Colours, his collaboration with jazz artist Roy Ayers.
Magnolia Electric Co. – Sojourner
Back in 2007, between studio albums as both Magnolia Electric Co. and under his own name, Jason Molina released a limited edition CD box set called Sojourner, which collected four separate studio sessions, including a full-band set with Magnolia Electric Co. recorded with Steve Albini and a shorter session in the famed Sun Studios. This year, the four-disc box set was reissued on 4xLP vinyl in a wooden box with foldout constellation map. It’s beautifully presented, and all four records are essential listening, especially The Black Ram, which was never released as a separate studio album but certainly ranks among Molina’s finest hours.
Bob Marley – Catch a Fire
Bob Marley’s first album for Island Records, Catch a Fire, helped introduce him to a global audience, a breakthrough that helped raise his own profile as a giant of reggae as well as his band The Wailers as one of the greatest in any genre. Released for its 50th anniversary, Island/Universal’s latest reissue of the album adds two extra full-length LPs, one featuring a live set from London in 1973 and another featuring “Sessions,” comprising alternate, instrumental and extended versions of songs from the original album, plus a bonus 12-inch EP of live recordings. Make no mistake, Catch a Fire is a must-have in any format, but this one adds so much more to the story.
Charles Mingus – Changes
Jazz legend Charles Mingus, like many of his peers, released music in different eras on different labels, including Columbia, Mercury and Impulse! His relationship with Atlantic Records was one of his earliest, resulting in classic albums like 1956’s Pithecanthropus Erectus, but he returned to the label later on in his career, which saw him issue seven more albums in the ’70s—all of which are collected on Changes. The box set is named in part for two albums he issued during this run, Changes One and Changes Two, which featured some of his boldest and most essential late-career recordings. Yet the entire run is outstanding, including the fusion-oriented Three or Four Shades of Blues and the masterful Cumbia & Jazz Fusion.
Joni Mitchell – Archives Vol. 3: The Asylum Years (1972-1975)
Joni Mitchell’s first decade of releasing music rivals that of nearly any other singer/songwriter, not just of that era but pretty much any era. Yet while her late ’60s material began to showcase her undeniable talent, she hit her stride in the early ’70s, delivering a masterpiece with Blue before indulging in richer, jazz-influenced arrangements in For the Roses, Court and Spark and The Hissing of Summer Lawns. The third entry in her Archives box set series focuses on this era, featuring alternate versions, demos, live recordings and outtakes, building on an already strong foundation of records with a wealth of bonus material.
Neutral Milk Hotel – The Collected Works
Neutral Milk Hotel only released two studio albums during their brief time together, but The Collected Works reveals just how much more they managed to write and record in that time. In addition to their two proper albums, the box also features the Everything Is EP, the Ferris Wheel on Fire EP, three seven-inch singles plus the Live at Jittery Joe’s live album, as well as two 24×24-inch posters. The fuzzy, lo-fi psychedelic pop and folk the band created is reason enough to pick this up, but the package was strong enough to earn the band their first ever Grammy nomination.
Nirvana – In Utero (30th Anniversary Super Deluxe)
We went on record earlier this year in our Treble 100 series in declaring In Utero the actual best Nirvana record (honorable people can disagree about these things). But there’s no disputing that it’s now a classic album, and certainly one of the greatest alternative albums of the ’90s. The 30th anniversary Super Deluxe version features b-sides and other rare tracks, plus two full live performances and a 48-page book, reprinted gig flyers, ticket stubs and more. A fitting celebration for a grunge essential.
Prince – Diamonds and Pearls (Super Deluxe Edition)
The ’90s was one of Prince’s most prolific eras, yielding massive collections like Emancipation and Crystal Ball alongside darker and weirder studio albums like Come. With Diamonds and Pearls, however, he was still a major presence on the pop charts with singles such as “Gett Off.” The Super Deluxe Edition of the album explores the depths of the era, which saw him incorporating greater elements of hip-hop and contemporary R&B in his unique fusion. Like previous Super Deluxe installments, Diamonds and Pearls features 33 previously unreleased songs from the Vault, including songs written for other artists like Martika, and two discs’ worth of live material—all of which only makes an already massive body of work feel that much richer.
The Replacements – Tim (Let It Bleed Edition)
Let’s start with the fact that The Replacements’ Tim is one of the all-time great college rock (or alternative rock, or simply rock) albums of the 1980s, continuing a streak that began with 1984’s Let It Be. Then add a new mix from Ed Stasium that brings greater clarity to an already spectacular set of songs. Add in CDs featuring bonus live set, unreleased demos, recordings from an aborted session with Alex Chilton and extensive liner notes, and you pretty much have an essential for any fan of one of the great American underground bands of all time.
Sonny Rollins – Go West: The Contemporary Records Albums
In 1957 and 1959, respectively, Sonny Rollins released two albums for Contemporary Records: Way Out West, recorded in a single-day session with drummer Shelly Manne and bassist Ray Brown; and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders, which featured six other musicians who had recorded for Contemporary. Though these two records make up his sole legacy on the label, they’re a stunning pair of hard bop records, Way Out West in particular among his best moments, a trio record released when smaller ensembles were far from commonplace on jazz records. This box pairs those two albums with a third disc of alternate takes, plus an expanded booklet with new liner notes, making for a great revisitation of a fascinating if brief era from a jazz giant.
Pharoah Sanders – Pharoah
Pharoah Sanders teamed up with Luaka Bop for the release of his collaboration with Floating Points, Promises, in 2021, after which he gave his blessing for the deluxe, expanded release of his 1977 album Pharoah. One of his most meditative and beautiful recordings, Pharoah has been expanded into a deluxe box set featuring a 24-page book with extensive liner notes and photographs, plus “Harvest Time Live,” which includes two different live versions of the album’s standout, side-long opening track.
Superchunk – Misfits & Mistakes: Singles, B-Sides & Strays 2007-2023
Superchunk have a long history of releasing comprehensive compilations of all their non-album singles, b-sides, compilation appearances and other tracks, including 1992’s Tossing Seeds and 1995’s Incidental Music. Misfits & Mistakes is the most overstuffed compilation to date, in large part because it comprises 16 years of music. On four LPs, they included a vast wealth of material that includes standout singles like “Learned to Surf” alongside covers of songs by The Misfits and The Cure. Besides, we all know you can never have too much Superchunk.
Various Artists – Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection
A benefit concert organized by Stax Records to commemorate the anniversary of the Watts riots in Los Angeles, the Wattstax Festival went down in history as one of the largest gatherings of Black Americans, boasting more than 100,000 attendees. Held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the 1972 concert featured performances from Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Carla Thomas, William Bell, Rufus Thomas, The Bar-Kays, Albert King and more. The entire program is collected in Craft Records’ Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection, collecting a once-in-a-lifetime event on 10 LPs and 12 CDs. (CD version also contains previously unreleased Summit Club recordings.)
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.