Tag Archives: Bob Dylan box sets

Which is the best Bob Dylan box set? And which is the worst?

Which is the best Bob Dylan box set? Which is the worst? And how good are the in-betweens?

There have been eight official Bob Dylan box set releases (on CD in the UK)  – in addition to the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series standard box sets and their Deluxe Editions, both recently reviewed here on ROCK ART EDITIONS.

If you can, for a moment, ignore the music of each Bob Dylan box set and judge it purely as an artefact – that is, the packaging, cover art, books and memorabilia – you’ll find that they range from the excellent, through the good (but not great), to the disappointingly half-hearted.

Most aficionados already owned much of the music in every Bob Dylan box set, long before they were released. So, many bought each box set as an artefact, not a collection of music. (The sonic quality of Bob Dylan albums is expertly documented by Derek Barker of Isis in a lengthy survey, Bob Dylan Remastered, compiled with the help of Alan Fraser of Searching for a Gem.)

The Complete Album Collection Vol. One – the best Bob Dylan box set

Bob Dylan box set

Bob Dylan The Complete Album Collection Vol. One

The Complete Album Collection Vol. One, comprising 47 CDs, is the best Bob Dylan box set. It’s a fitting package for a peerless collection of music.

Joe Marchese was absolutely right in his perceptive review on The Second Disc: “excels in a flawlessly designed presentation worthy of its subject. It’s housed in a box with a lift-off cover, and every album is presented in a faithfully-reproduced LP mini-sleeve… the 268-page hardcover book is also a wonder to behold… track listings… original liner notes for every album… great selection of photographs and memorabilia images… Clinton Heylin has written an album-by-album chronology of over 40 pages’ length. As none of Legacy’s past Dylan reissues has included liner notes from a historical perspective, Heylin’s analyses are a crowning touch here.”

if you want to check out the package before buying, you can see the artwork, including the entire book, on the wonderfully detailed Discogs.

The Original Mono Recordings – another excellent Bob Dylan box set

Bob Dylan box set

Bob Dylan The Original Mono Recordings

The Original Mono Recordings is another superlative artefact. It delivers the first eight albums, from Bob Dylan to John Wesley Harding, in replica LP covers, original inserts and sleeves, housed in a slip holder which slides into a striking monochrome slipcase. The full colour book has new Greil Marcus liner notes.

Many will be hoping that it will eventually be discounted: the almost-identical Miles Davis mono box, which launched at the same high price (about £100), now retails for about £20.

Biograph – a good (but not great) Bob Dylan box set

Biograph (1985) included 21 rare/unreleased songs. A dummy run for The Bootleg Series, Biograph is – musically – a key Bob Dylan box set. The 3CD triple jewel box wouldn’t win any prizes for package design, but its 64pp booklet, with Dylan’s own “Deluxe Notes” (!) on each track, was revelatory. Cameron Crowe’s extensive essay take up the booklet’s first 41 pages. And the photos include work by luminaries like David Gahr, Ken Regan and Daniel Kramer.

The original release also has three picture discs, each with a different Dylan portrait.

Subsequent reissues of Biograph have different formats. The 1991 version is a true box set, with each of the three discs housed in its own card cover, all in a rigid cardboard box. The bookset edition (2011, pictured below) is equally tempting, though the bookset format has its critics.

Bob Dylan box set

Bob Dylan Biograph

Collectors’ Box – another good (but not great) Bob Dylan box set

Sonically innovative – it tested the viability of the SACD and Surround Sound formats – Collectors’ Box (2003) is another good but not great Bob Dylan box set.

Its 15 albums – selected who knows how? – are packaged in delightful digipak gatefold sleeves, with the original vinyl LP artwork enclosed as individual leaflets.

But the attractive design of the digipak sleeves is compromised by their being packed into an open-ended box, which is both rudimentary and a bit too small. There’s no accompanying book/let, disappointing in what was intended as a high-ticket premium product.

Bob Dylan box set

Bob Dylan Collectors’ Box

DYLAN Limited Edition Deluxe – yet another good (but not great) Bob Dylan box set

DYLAN, the “Limited Edition Deluxe” 3CD box, packages its discs in fine original card covers, complete with inner sleeves. The set of 10 photo cards is memorabilia worth having.

But the package is a misfire: the box has a bizarre combination of a cloth exterior and a (faux) velvet lining. The 40pp booklet is thin and over-reliant on photos at the expense of text. The CDs are disguised as mini-vinyl discs. Oh dear… .

And the “Limited Edition” has no indication of how many were made: 50,000? 500,000? 5 million?

For me, DYLAN, the package, doesn’t work.

Bob Dylan box set

Bob Dylan box set: DYLAN

50th Anniversary Collections – the worst Bob Dylan box sets

The three successive 50th Anniversary Collections contain some desirable music, and they are collectable, because of their tiny edition sizes.

As artefacts, though, they hardly warrant discussion. Their packaging is perfunctory. They are lo-cost packages housing music released, we are informed, by Sony, to ensure that their 1962, 1963 and 1964 Dylan recordings didn’t fall into the public domain, following changes in European copyright law.

Sony reportedly manufactured just 100 copies each of the four-CDR “1962” set and the six-LP “1963” set, and 1000 copies of the nine-LP “1964” release and sold them only in Europe. (Buyers and traders should not rely on these second-hand figures: I have no way of checking their accuracy.)

Bob Dylan box set

Bob Dylan The 50th Anniversary Collection 2012

Bob Dylan box set

Bob Dylan 50th Anniversary Collection 2013

Super Deluxe Edition has a review of the 1963 release by astute Editor Paul Sinclair which has more information, including a track list.

Bob Dylan box set

Bob Dylan 50th Anniversary Collection 2014

In safeguarding its 1965 recordings, Sony got wise and made money, too. The result: the The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 The Cutting Edge Collector’s Edition, 18 CDs in a sumptuous, ultra high-priced limited edition box.

So, to sum up: the Complete Album Collection Vol. One is the best Bob Dylan box set (as an artefact); the 50th Anniversary Collections are the worst.

Are any of the Bob Dylan box sets a worthwhile investment? Because of their rarity value, the 50th Anniversary Collections could appreciate significantly in value. Ditto The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 Collector’s Edition.

Is any other Bob Dylan box set likely to grow in value? I don’t see much evidence so far.

Copyright: text © Gerald Smith, ROCK ART EDITIONS 2016; pictures © Sony Music Entertainment. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets: desirable? Good value? Worthwhile investment?

How desirable are the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets?  Do they offer good value?  Are they a worthwhile investment?

The last Bob Dylan article in ROCK ART EDITIONS concluded that the ten standard releases in the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series are noteworthy for their “definitive photos and exquisite packaging”, as well as their music.

This follow-up article turns to the visual art of the four Deluxe box sets, focusing on their “rock art” – slipcases, books, photos and packaging.

The music – which ranges from very good to celestial – is largely ignored in this article.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets: Vol. 8 Tell Tale Signs

After releasing Vols. 1-7 in a standard 2CD-in-slipcase format, Columbia Legacy innovated for Vol. 8 with an added-value option, an “Expanded Deluxe Edition”, with a third CD and more artefacts.

The release introduced a handy new format in a rigid card slipcase, in an attractive new size, 8 5/8″ square x 1 5/8″ thick. The slipcase holds two hardcover books. A 60pp book with liner notes and photos is a bigger version of that in the standard-size 2CD release. The extra book, Collected Single Sleeves, is a 160pp hardback, with reproductions of the paper covers which housed Dylan vinyl 45rpm records released around the world.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series deluxe box sets

Tell Tale Signs Deluxe Edition

The Bob Dylan online store offered an incentive to customers ordering from them: an exclusive 7″ single. And the first 5,000 orders were also rewarded with a Theme Time Radio Hour poster.

Sony probably had mixed feelings when evaluating the success of the release. It must have been a commercial success – it seems to have sold out pretty quickly. But it attracted hostility from some hardcore Dylan fans. Many, perhaps shocked by the novel nose-bleed price level, labelled it a “rip-off” – bad news if the intention was to roll out subsequent releases.

The naysayers perceived Vol. 8 as an attempt to extract an unwarranted premium price for CD3. The problem was probably not the new price level (about £100 in the UK, from memory), but limited added value: the extras didn’t warrant the price differential over the 2CD release.

The music on the standard Tell Tale Signs is among the high points of the whole series. CD3 in the Deluxe Edition was, frankly, rather marginal. And the second book was an odd choice, appealing to a minority of purchasers. The book was also sold separately as a “limited edition”, undermining further the allure of the Deluxe box. I bought (for £15) the copy I happened upon in London.

The release of a single CD version of Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Vol. 8 Tell Tale Signs – another  novelty – probably confused buyers further.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets: the template is fixed

In hindsight, Columbia Legacy made errors with the Deluxe edition of Vol. 8.  But they proved there’s a market for high-priced, added-value product and worked out a template for subsequent releases: a rigid card slipcase, measuring 8 5/8″ square; two hardback books, the first an expanded version of the mainstream CD-sized version, also housing the discs, and a second with extra photos, vinyl cover art, studio logs and the like. They probably learned that they needed to offer more obvious added value.

Columbia Legacy also demonstrated their marketing nous by standardising the size and formatting of deluxe boxes.  It tempts collectors to buy the complete set… by buying Vol. 8 Deluxe Edition, many Dylan fans unconsciously signed up for subsequent deluxe box sets.

The next Bootleg Series release, Vol. 9 The Witmark Demos, probably came too soon to apply these lessons. It was only released as a CD-sized two disc package with card slipcase and matching booklet: a first-rate release, but not Deluxe. (In Concert – Brandeis University 1963, a seven track promo CD was offered as an exclusive incentive by Amazon, but it wasn’t part of the Vol. 9 package).

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets: Vol. 10 Another Self Portrait

Vol. 10 Another Self Portrait improves on the Deluxe model established with Vol. 8. It has two extra CDs of music, “the first complete release of the August 1969 Isle of Wight Festival performance newly re-mixed from the original source” and a “remastered version of the 1970 Self Portrait album, in its entirety with original sequencing.”

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series deluxe box sets

Another Self Portrait Deluxe Edition

The musical extras might be underwhelming, but the packaging isn’t. The attractive rigid slipcase houses two excellent hardcover books. A bigger version of the standard version liner notes includes the revisionist essay by Greil Marcus (author of the notorious “What is this shit?” 1970 Self Portrait review in Rolling Stone).  It has the same exquisite front cover photo as the CD-sized booklet (uncredited, but probably by John Cohen). The second book, Time Passes Slowly – Photographs And More, is an “Exclusive Deluxe-Bound Book” of 127 pages of rare and unseen photographs, as well as magazine covers and sleeve art from worldwide Dylan releases.

The first 5,000 customers ordering from the Bob Dylan online store also received a fine poster promoting the original release of Self Portrait.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets: Vol. 11 The Basement Tapes Complete, Limited Deluxe Edition

With Vol. 11 The Basement Tapes Complete, a “Limited Deluxe Edition” of 6CDs, Columbia Legacy perfected the deluxe edition format. And hit the mother lode, commercially and creatively. Sony’s bean counters must have been as pleased as the legions of Dylanistas.

Steve Berkowitz, Sony’s Co-Producer for the whole series, claims that The Basement Tapes is the most sought-after bootleg in all rock music.  He’s absolutely right: gems from The Basement Tapes kick-started the (unofficial) bootleg industry nearly 50 years ago.  It has engaged hardcore rock fans ever since.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series deluxe box sets

The Basement Tapes Complete (Deluxe Edition)

Vol. 11 The Basement Tapes Complete sets a new benchmark for deluxe back catalogue product.  The musical content of The Basement Tapes Complete is so important, so revelatory, that Columbia Legacy could probably have sold the CDs in plain paper bags, without any embellishment. To their credit, they created a very high spec package, too.

The slipcase holds two books. The one holding the six CDs has the liner notes, with several long features including a nine-page essay by Dylan guru Clinton Heylin on the origins of the recordings. The cover has the original Reid Miles artwork from the 1975 album release, with Dylan pretending to play a mandolin. (The same cover is used on the standard-sized booklet of the 2CD “Raw” version of Vol. 11.)

The second book in the package, Lo & Behold: Photographs & More has exquisite photos by Elliott Landy, as well as pictures of tape reels, record sleeves and magazine covers. The “exclusive 120 page deluxe-bound book containing rare and unseen photographs and memorabilia” is a beauty, a very desirable bonus.

If I were to buy only one of the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets, it would be The Basement Tapes, because of its essential, often unheard, music and fine packaging. In my view, it’s the Deluxe Edition with most added value.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets: Vol. 12 The Cutting Edge Deluxe Edition

The music of The Cutting Edge is an alternative history of Peak Dylan, out-takes from his top three albums, all recorded in a whirlwind of creative genius in a short period in the mid-1960s.

The Deluxe Edition’s six CDs consist of alt versions of songs that were immortalised on the trio of albums, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde. One disc is devoted entirely to different versions of Like A Rolling Stone.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series deluxe box sets

The Cutting Edge Deluxe Edition

Alone among the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets, The Cutting Edge gives you an entrée into Dylan’s creative process, as he chops and changes between different tempi, instrumentation, arrangements and lyrics.

The packaging follows the by-now-familiar deluxe format: slipcase, two hardback books, one with liner notes and the CDs, the other a collection of Bob Dylan photos. The first book is a bigger version of the liner notes booklet issued with the 2CD version and the bonus  book is the 120-page Mixing Up the Medicine: Photographs and More.

Having cemented the high value deluxe format with The Cutting Edge, Sony pushed the envelope again with an ultra deluxe edition, pitched at an atmospheric price point. The Collector’s Edition 18CD version was released in a numbered limited edition of 5,000, complete with the package number on the Certificate of Authenticity, and only available from the official Bob Dylan website.

Packaged in an attractive, hefty box, the Collector’s Edition comes complete with the two books of the Deluxe Edition (though Mixing Up the Medicine: Photographs and More is longer – 170pp).

Its massive collection of 18 CDs is housed in a third “book”. The product is enhanced by memorabilia, including nine x 7″ vinyl mono singles, housed in repro paper sleeves; a piece of celluloid with a few random frames from Don’t Look Back; and semi-transparent item separators featuring artwork promoting the mid-1960s releases.

The music of Bob Dylan has always been at the centre of music biz innovation: Great White Wonder kick-started the bootlegging revolution.  The Bootleg Series created a new “official” product category.  The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 opened up a higher value niche.  Vol. 12 Collector’s Edition has kick-started yet another segment of the market, for very high value product.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets: desirable?  Value for money?  A worthwhile investment?

So, are the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets desirable?

Yes: very desirable, both as beautifully designed artefacts and as collections of music.  They have found a ready market among Dylan devotees.  Some are more desirable than others, of course.  My favourites are Vols. 11 and 12.

Good value for money?  Deluxe Vol. 8 was released at the new high price to a chorus of outrage. But it quickly sold out. Subsequent releases contain rather more added value.  The Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets are affordable.

Value is in the eye of the beholder: if you think these box sets will give you pleasure, you’ll probably buy them.

But are they a worthwhile investment?  How likely are they to rise in value?

One or two might.  The first of the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series deluxe box sets – Vol. 8, Tell Tale Signs – has (limited) potential for growth – because it was released as a “limited edition”. Since its 2008 launch, it has roughly doubled in value. But only to about £160, according to the Discogs website. Hardly an “investment”, unless you risked buying a few cratefuls at discount on release!

It’s difficult to see increases in value in the deluxe editions of the other volumes, certainly not while you can still buy them new, from major retailers.  They’re not my idea of a worthwhile investment.

The Collector’s Edition of Vol. 12 is a true limited edition – Sony pegged the edition size at 5,000 copies and indicated that it would never be exceeded. As it’s a definitive record of Peak Dylan music, as well as a very fine artefact, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t appreciate in value.

Conclusions: Bob Dylan Bootleg Series deluxe box sets are desirable and reasonably good value, but they have limited investment potential.

Fans are eagerly awaiting the release of many more volumes in the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series. Most will buy the standard 2CD versions, but a growing number will switch to the Deluxe Editions. And I’d guess Columbia Legacy will roll out the ultra deluxe format of Vol. 12 Collector’s Edition: expect more very high-priced limited editions.

Columbia Legacy/Sony Music Entertainment are outstanding curators of Dylan’s legacy. Their Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets are fine luxury products. Though it’s unfashionable to heap praise on record industry “suits”, I raise my glass to Sony’s long-term Bootleg Series Co-Producer, Steve Berkowitz.

Copyright of this article, Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Deluxe box sets: text © Gerald Smith, Rock Art Editions, pictures © Columbia Legacy/Sony Music Entertainment. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.