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Rewinding October | The Top Box Sets

Unpack the latest offerings from Frank Zappa, Freddie Mercury and Steve Miller.

At this time of year, the box sets start to come thick and fast. Before I dig into this week’s offerings (R.E.M. and Bob Dylan, for those keeping score at home), here’s a look back at the best of the past month. Click on the cover art to read the full original review and hear the albums in full:

Frank Zappa
Halloween ’73

WHO IS HE? The late, great musical icon and iconoclast. The father of the Mothers of Invention. The childhood pal of Captain Beefheart. The owner-operator of the most recognizable moustache in music. The chart-topping brains behind the Top 40 hit Valley Girl. The man who took on the PMRC. And most importantly, the sardonic singer-guitarist, classical composer and ultra-prolific producer who released 62 albums in his lifetime (and left an archive that has spawned over 50 posthumous releases so far).

WHAT IS THIS? The latest in a continuing series of posthumous treats presented by Zappa’s family-run trust: A four-disc box set documenting two previously unreleased All Hallows performances in Chicago, along with an entire disc of freewheeling rehearsals and a Zappa Halloween mask for your own personal mischief-making. If the whole concept sounds familiar, that’s probably because the Halloween ’73 set is also something of a sequel to the Halloween ’77 box that arrived two years ago.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Actually, a lot like 1974’s Roxy and Elsewhere double-live set — or to be more specific, the more complete 2018 box Roxy Performances. This should come as no big surprise, since these shows took place little more than a month before the Roxy gigs, so the bulk of the band is identical and portions of the set lists are noticeably similar. Not that I’m complaining. Nor should you. As always, the playing is superb, the set lists are killer, Zappa’s guitar playing will kill your mama and his between-song patter is typically dry and wry.

Freddie Mercury
Never Boring: The Solo Box

WHO IS HE? The late, great Queen frontman who’s currently enjoying his latest posthumous romp in the spotlight, thanks to the acclaimed 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.

WHAT IS THIS? A three-CD/one-DVD compilation featuring upgraded and updated versions of his two solo albums — 1985’s synth-pop outing Mr. Bad Guy and 1988’s Barcelona, an orchestral collaboration with opera diva Montserrat Caballe — along with a disc of non-album singles, various mixes and edits, plus a couple of rarities.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? A mish-mash of sounds and styles and sources and settings. Which, to be fair, is pretty much the way the mercurial Mercury approached his solo career.

Steve Miller Band
Welcome to the Vault

WHO IS HE? Some people call him the space cowboy. Yeah. Some call him the gangster of love. Some people call him Maurice. He’s also a joker, a smoker and a midnight toker. But you can just call him Steve Miller, the beloved American singer-guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who’s responsible for far more radio hits than I care to list here.

WHAT IS THIS? The 75-year-old superstar’s latest anthology Welcome to the Vault, which compiles more than 70 live performances and studio cuts (the majority of which are previously unreleased) on three CDs and one DVD.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? A continuation of his 1994 Steve Miller Band box and his 2017 Ultimate Hits Deluxe Edition anthology. Like those sets, The Vault takes a similar deep dive into Miller’s back catalogue and archives, drawing from some of the same sources to showcase his evolution from rough ’n’ tumble journeyman bluesman and hippie-dippie psychedelic rocker to the ’70s and ’80s hit machine behind The Joker, Abracadabra, Take the Money and Run and Jet Airliner, among others.

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