It may be too early for most of us to think about Christmas gifts, but record companies are working overtime to make sure lots of tempting choices are available when it comes to CD box sets.
Among the major artists who'll be featured in box sets between now and the end of the year: Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra and the Police.
"I think what this demonstrates is that the box set craze is still with us," said Peter Howard, editor and publisher of the ICE Newsletter, an excellent monthly guide to CD releases.
"Some people felt a couple of years ago that it had peaked when there was a flood of sets involving 10 or 12 major artists," he added. "But the albums keep coming and there's still a lot of great box sets yet to be done--everybody from U2 to Van Morrison.
"I see what is happening this year as typical of what we'll see for the Christmas sales period for the next five to 10 years."
Here's a rundown of some of the most anticipated packages:
Elvis Presley's "From Nashville to Memphis--The Essential '60s Masters I"--This five-disc collection covers Presley's studio work from early 1960, when he returned home from the Army, to the 1969 Memphis sessions that produced some of his most distinguished works, including "Suspicious Minds."
The RCA set--which is a follow-up to last year's hugely successful "The King of Rock 'n' Roll--The Complete '50s Masters"--includes 19 previously unreleased/alternate selections, including Presley's appearance in the early '60s on Frank Sinatra's TV show in which Presley sings the Sinatra hit "Witchcraft" and Sinatra sings the Presley hit "Love Me Tender." Due Sept. 28, the set doesn't include Presley's live, soundtrack and TV recordings.
Led Zeppelin's "The Complete Studio Recordings"--A Zeppelin fan's dream: all the band's albums in a single, 10-disc package and all tracks remastered by Jimmy Page and engineer George Marino. It's due in early November from Atlantic.
The four-disc "Led Zeppelin" collection, which was released in 1990, is one of the most successful box sets ever. A two-disc follow-up, containing studio recordings left off that album, is expected late next month.
Paul Simon's "Paul Simon 1964/1993"--A three-disc retrospective due in late September from Warner Bros. Records, the set contains material from the Simon & Garfunkel and the solo days.
Frank Sinatra's "The Columbia Years: The Complete Recordings 1943-1952"--Sinatra is best known today for his post-1952 recordings on Capitol and Reprise, but he recorded nearly 300 songs for Columbia Records and they are contained in this massive, 12-disc set. The package, which is due in early October and will retail for almost $250, will include 25 previously unreleased tracks.
The Police's "Message in a Box: The Complete Recordings"--The four-disc album will contain all the rock group's albums plus rarities, including B-sides and material previously unreleased in this country. The album is due late next month.
Box sets are also expected before the end of the year from Joan Baez, Otis Redding, the Moody Blues, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (including an hour of new music), and possibly Janis Joplin, the Who and Steely Dan. In addition, there'll be another Motown collection ("Hitsville II: The Motown Singles Collection 1972-1993"). While technically a "greatest hits" package, a three-disc Prince collection, due Sept. 21, will certainly have the feel of a box set.