I’ve spent the last week or so going back and forth between lavish box sets from Paul Simon and Paul McCartney. These are not the box sets of yore. Simon’s is organized around the 25th anniversary of his landmark album, “Graceland.” McCartney’s concentrates on his 1971 album, “Ram.” Each comes in a real box. There’s nothing flimsy about these constructions. After Sting’s 25th anniversary solo box last fall, I didn’t think you could do much better. But these two are every bit the equal of that one, and then some.
The Simon box has the not only the remastered album but also Joe Berlinger’s insightful documentary, “Under African Skies.” Berlinger went to to South Africa with Simon last year and filmed a reunion of all the musicians who played on “Graceland” in the first place. The documentary functions well on two planes: one, it shows the development of the songs and how Simon and co gave birth to them. Second, it takes an unvarnished look at the criticism Simon got at the time for plundering African music styles. The latter seems silly in retrospect. Simon simply brought these sounds to America. The “Graceland” set also comes with a really cool USB in the shape of a small hockey puck, containing all the “Graceland” tracks and info. There’s also a vinyl set– which I don’t have, but bought for a friend who has a turntable.
“Ram” got poor reviews in 1971, but went on to become a classic. Of course, there was tremendous backlash against McCartney after the Beatles broke up. But the box set is gorgeous. First of all, you get interview material that was either lost or never published. There’s mono version of the album and an orchestral version that are just super. There’s a bonus CD with the first solo McCartney hit, “Another Day,” one of his very best compositions. There’s also handwritten lyric sheets. A lot of time was put into this package. For McCartney fans, it’s Nirvana– not to mention internet codes for downloading all this stuff for “free.”
So it’s Christmas a little early this year. I wish someone at Motown Universal would do something like this for Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. But in the meantime, for a people of a certain age, these are great gifts.