Cheap multi-album box sets bring joy to those of us who still buy CDs
The last decade or so has been a golden era for fans of classic rock (and a lot of Eighties and Nineties rock and pop) who still enjoy listening to music on CD. Cheap catalog box sets have exploded across the landscape.
All six of Van Halen’s David Lee Roth-era albums; the first six Ramones albums; all eight Ozzy-era Black Sabbath albums; all 10 of ZZ Top’s Warner Bros. albums; all six Eagles studio albums; and on and on…the discs themselves are in slim cardboard sleeves, occasionally replicating the original LP gatefolds (yes, you can see the lavish Mexican food spread from ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres), all tucked into a sturdy clamshell box. Similar, larger and more elaborate boxes have been created to encompass Earth, Wind & Fire’s discography (13 discs), Judas Priest’s (19 discs), Blue Öyster Cult’s (16 CDs and a DVD)…you get the picture.
And those are the relatively fancy boxes. The major labels have also been repackaging catalog titles under the “Original Album Classics” or “Original Album Series” name for several years – five CDs in a simple slipcase. It’s a quick and easy way to pick up most of a band’s output for between $15 and $20 a set. I love these boxes. I have close to three dozen of them, by artists from Bad Company to Dwight Yoakam.
Recently, I decided I needed to add another catalog box to my collection: Deep Purple’s The Complete Albums 1970-1976. It’s a 10-disc set, originally released in 2013, that includes Concerto for Group and Orchestra, In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head, Made in Japan, Who Do We Think We Are, Burn, Stormbringer, Come Taste the Band, and Made in Europe – all their classics, plus Concerto for Group and Orchestra, which I refuse to believe anyone has ever listened to all the way through. The thing is, it goes for anywhere between $55 and $75 on eBay or Amazon, and I didn’t feel like paying that much for music I’d already been listening to, in one format or another, for about three decades. It wasn’t like I was unfamiliar with the Deep Purple oeuvre; I just didn’t happen to have the music on my shelf. So when I spotted an eBay seller who had the box for $21.80, and was offering free shipping, I stopped scrolling and hit the Paypal button.
The cheap box was coming from China. There were multiple Chinese sellers (some on the mainland, some in Hong Kong) offering versions of it, in fact, at prices within pennies of each other. I placed my order on January 28, and the box was in my PO box on February 7. It looked and felt identical to the Black Sabbath and Van Halen boxes I own, except the sticker on the front, delineating its contents, was in Japanese with English beneath. The albums inside were in the same type of cardboard sleeves as any other box of this type. The discs played perfectly.
There are many, many “deals” of this type out there. David Bowie’s Five Years (1969-1973), Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976), and A New Career in a New Town (1977-1982) boxes are all available from Chinese sellers for less than $35 each. There’s some kind of 30CD Queen box for under $60; a 13CD box with every Metallica album from Kill ’Em All through Death Magnetic, in mini-LP sleeves, for $35; and on and on.
Here’s the thing, though. Do I think any money is actually going to Deep Purple from my purchase of their catalog? Almost certainly not. So the question is, are we, the consumers, obligated to buy the more expensive and undeniably legit American versions? I’m really not sure. This is classic rock catalog we’re talking about. Those bands have already made all the money they deserve. If they spent it on coke, or bad real estate investments, or alimony, that’s not my problem, is it?