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Posted: December 02, 2009

The best of the box sets for the holidays

Tom Petty, Hall and Oates, Radiohead and AC/DC -- plus the return of KBCO's Studio C series

Mike Cote

Note: As the ColoradoBiz newsletter went to "press," we were still waiting to get our hands on a copy of KBCO's Studio C Volume Twenty-One, a compilation of live tracks recorded at the Boulder radio station that goes on sale 8 a.m. Saturday at Ultimate Electronics. Proceeds of the exclusive $12 CD -- it sells out within hours -- benefit the Boulder County AIDS Project and Food Bank of the Rockies. For a details on the lineup -- which this year includes Denver heroes, the Fray -- check out KBCO.

TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS The Live Anthology (Reprise)

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If you're a diehard Tom Petty fan the standard edition of The Live Anthology - even at 48 tracks -- will only make you pine for the ridiculously elaborate deluxe set available only at Best Buy. But leave it to the guy who successfully battled his record company 30 years ago from raising the list price of his new LP a dollar (Hard Promises: just $8.98) to release a four-disc set that you can get on sale for about $20.

As Petty says in the liner notes, this Heartbreakers career retrospective eschews the "greatest hits live" approach, with little more than a dozen songs in that category. Instead, along with "Breakdown," "Refugee" and "I Won't Back Down" you get scores of eclectic covers that underscore the band's sense of adventure: the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil," Van Morrison's "Mystic Eyes," Booker T. and the MGs' "Green Onions" plus obscure Petty originals ("Surrender," "Drivin' Down to Georgia") and deep album cuts (Petty's early stab at country, "Louisiana Rain," complete with fiddle; an epic-length version of "It's Good to Be King.")

If the stocking-stuffer version of the year's best box set doesn't cut it for you, you can upgrade to the deluxe edition (list: $125 but advertised for $99) that adds a fifth CD with 14 more concert recordings, a Blue-Ray audio disc with all 62 tracks, a concert DVD, a documentary DVD, a four-song vinyl LP, a lavish book and assorted memorabilia.

DARYL HALL AND JOHN OATES Do What You Want Be What You Are: The Music of Daryl Hall and John Oates (RCA/Legacy)

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It's cringe-inducing to know it took a campaign by Rachael Ray to get Hall and Oates some attention as worthy candidates for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Philadelphia duo racked up lots of blue-eyed soul and hook-heavy pop hits -- 22 Billboard Top 20 singles - but not the critical respect they deserved during their ‘70s and ‘80s heyday. This four-disc box set should go a long way toward correcting that; it's packed not only with radio heavies like "She's Gone," "Sara Smile" and "Maneater" but with plenty of well-chosen album cuts, studio outtakes and live tracks.

A concert version of Hall's "Every Time You Go Away" becomes a sprawling blues and gospel workout, offering a snapshot of how a couple of guys best known for studio precision can really cut loose on stage. Although some of the mid'80s tracks sound dated thanks to the robotic production style of the era ("Adult Education" is a child of its times), there's no mistaking the consistently excellent song craft. A pair of stellar recordings from the duo's more recent efforts originally deemed not worthy for inclusion on album (a cover of the local Philly hit "Storm Warning" and the original "All the Way from Philadelphia") make you wonder how many more would-be hits Hall and Oates have hidden in the cupboard.

RADIOHEAD Amnesiac (Special Collectors Edition); Kid A (Special Collectors Edition); Hail to the Thief (Special Collectors Edition) (Capitol)

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Since Radiohead parted ways with Capitol, the label has been repackaging the Brit band's entire catalog, hoping to capitalize on its rabid fan base. The last batch in the series, offered in two-CD and two-CD, one DVD editions, includes Amnesiac, Kid A and Hail to the Thief. Each set packages a disc's worth of B-sides, alternate cuts and live recordings (plus promo videos and TV appearances from "Later ... with Jools Holland" in the three-disc editions) with the original studio releases.

This trio of albums continued the edgy experimental soundscapes the band first unveiled on OK Computer. Fans who collected the band's EPs over the years will have this material, but it's great to have it all in one place for the uninitiated who want to explore deeper. And it's a kick hearing a studio audience cheer and clap along to electronic music for the disconnected as if it's a Kiss party anthem. Thom Yorke as Paul Stanley.

AC/DC Backtracks (Columbia)

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Even if you buy only the basic edition of AC/DC's rarities CD and DVD set, you still get some surprises, such as original lead singer Bonn Scott singing a wimpy ballad (?!) called "Love Song" and then-star of "Last Action Hero" Arnold Schwarzenegger rocking with the band in a video for "Big Gun" (the future "Governator" in Angus Young school-boy shorts.) One CD collects tracks from the original Australian studio albums left off the U.S. editions; the other collects live tracks from throughout the band's career from "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" in 1979 to "Safe in New York City" from 2000.

AC/DC is expecting at least 50,000 fans are willing to shell the big bucks for a "deluxe" edition that includes a DVD of a 2003 Munich show, a vinyl album of more rarities, a coffee table book and other goodies - all packaged in a guitar amplifier that actually works. For those about to rock indeed.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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