10 Classic Rock Box Sets That All Fans Should Own

If you like visiting the few brick-and-mortar retailers who stock classic rock music, you probably have a fondness for classic rock box sets. These wonderful retrospective collections allow you to bliss out to five hours of music (at least) by a single artist. Nothing beats this kind of deep dive, particularly if you’re easily obsessed and money is no object.

Most of our favorite artists’ music is now streamable, so the business argument for the retrospective box set is not as persuasive as it once was. However, if you’re still in the game and want to collect stuff that is truly essential listening, we highly recommend these collections. Prices and availability may vary, but their listening value is beyond estimation.

‘The Early Years 1965-1972’ by Pink Floyd (2016)

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Pink Floyd

“The Early Years 1965–1972” is a box compiling the music Pink Floyd made until “The Dark Side of the Moon” made them one of the most popular bands ever. It contains a jaw-dropping 33 discs in every current format imaginable (compact disc, DVD, Blu-ray, and vinyl), plus lots of memorabilia if you like that sort of thing. It took the number one spot on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of best reissues of 2016, calling it “the ultimate saucerful of secrets: the definitive alternate history of this band’s odyssey from madcap psychedelia to megastardom.” As far as classic rock box sets go, this is a must-have!

‘The Jimi Hendrix Experience’ by Jimi Hendrix (2000)

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“The Jimi Hendrix Experience” has four discs and includes alternate versions, live performances, and rare tracks. David Fricke of Rolling Stone said in his four-star review that this box is nothing less than “the Rolls Royce of posthumous Hendrix sets.” While many other releases are eligible for that distinction, there’s a good argument to be made that Fricke was 100% correct. Spanning blistering live performances from 1966 to Hendrix’s final multi-track recording session in 1970, it may not be the last word on everything Hendrix, but it shows that there was way more to the guy than just the radio songs everyone knows.

‘Neil Young Archives Vol. 1: 1963–1972’ by Neil Young (2009)

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“Neil Young Archives Vol. 1: 1963–1972” is the first in a series of archival boxes by the singer-songwriter. It covers his earliest recordings, his work with Buffalo Springfield, album tracks, and outtakes from his solo career. Some of the outtakes had gone unheard for decades, and the first time you hear them on this set – particularly the poignant, previously unreleased Buffalo Springfield instrumental outtake, “Slowly Burning” – you will be baffled that they were never included in the official discography.

The set is sadly out of print, but if you can find a copy whose price aligns with your family’s monthly budgetary needs, buy it. It’s worth every penny.

‘Playback’ by Tom Petty (1995)

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“Playback” compiles the music Tom Petty recorded for the MCA label in the first decades of his career, spread across six compact discs. While the last three compile B-sides, rarities, and other decent souvenirs, the first three discs will have you returning for more. Those compile his best material from 1976 through 1993, and literally every one of those 50 songs is essential, such as “Refugee,” “The Waiting,” and “Free Fallin’.” The first three discs of “Playback” never get old, and you will probably listen to them for the rest of your life.

‘Lynyrd Skynyrd ‘ by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1991)

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A definitive collection of the Southern rockers’ hits and fan favorites spanning the years 1970 through 1977, this 1991 set could use a little sonic TLC, and frankly, there are a couple of omissions to the tracklist that are almost unforgivable.

For example, you know how every time you see a band play at a nightclub, all the drunks yell, “Free Bird”? Well, it’s the live 1976 version of that song inspiring them, and that version not appearing on this set is astounding in its negligence. Having said that, the period covered in this box contains all of the band’s best studio material, and some outtakes and early songs are excellent additions to the group’s catalog, so we forgive them.

‘Pandora’s Box’ by Aerosmith (1991)

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“Pandora’s Box” spans Aerosmith’s early days before they became mega-super-ultra-popular in the late 1980s. According to the band’s most diehard fans, there’s no substitute for the music these Bostonians made in its first decade-plus, which is the period to which “Pandora’s Box” is dedicated. Expect to hear everything from “Dream On” to “Sweet Emotion” and even their cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” along with the raft of B-sides, outtakes, and live performances that every box set should have.

‘The Beatles in Mono’ by The Beatles (2009)

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“The Beatles in Mono” comprises all of the recordings The Beatles made in the pre-stereo format that put everything onto one channel.

When the group’s original albums were released in the U.K., all of them were in mono, with stereo still considered a very expensive curiosity only for those with the most high-end home audio system. When the Beatles and producer George Martin made final mixes of their classic albums, all were in mono, with the stereo mix being almost an afterthought. This box is the only way to hear those albums, as they were intended to be heard upon their release.

Albums like “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” were only released in stereo, so they don’t appear in this set. Otherwise, everything in this collection is precisely what you would have heard from your friend’s single monaural speaker in 1965.

‘The Great Deceiver’ by King Crimson (1992)

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“The Great Deceiver” is a four-CD box set by King Crimson consisting entirely of live recordings from 1973 and 1974, almost all of which had been unreleased when the box debuted.

There are no hits, but this band never had hits. Instead, it’s five hours of live mayhem from a band that never performed their songs the same way twice, and a considerable chunk of the music consists of improvisational instrumentals that the band came up with on the spot, never to play again.

While most box sets are supposed to be repositories for an artist’s singles and best-known album tracks, almost nothing is familiar here. But if you’re interested in a band letting itself completely off the chain and exploring the furthest reaches of the cosmos, little else comes close.

‘The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings’ by The Allman Brothers Band (2014)

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“At Fillmore East” by the Allman Brothers Band was recorded at the legendary New York City theater of the same name. It was culled from performances over two nights in March 1971 and features extended versions of “Whipping Post,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” and other songs that didn’t totally get across on their much more restrained studio albums.

It’s considered one of the greatest live albums of all time, and it’s been expanded repeatedly for reissues in the past. But in 2014, “The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings” was released, which featured the March 1971 shows in their entirety and their June 27, 1971, performance on the night the Fillmore East closed forever. Like King Crimson, this band never performed the same song the same way twice either, and every minute of all five discs is worth hearing.

‘First Time In a Long Time: The Reprise Recordings’ by Fanny (2002)

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Fanny was an all-female hard rock band that was active in the 1970s. It was founded by sisters June and Jean Millington, and June is quite simply a world-class guitarist who does outstanding slide work. They were signed to Reprise Records in 1969, lasting only for a few years, but in that time, they made four great studio albums.

“First Time In a Long Time: The Reprise Recordings” anthologizes them alongside tons of live and unreleased music that’s nothing less than a revelation if you’ve never heard the band before. Later all-female groups, such as the Bangles and the Go-Go’s, said Fanny was a major influence, and while they were sadly too ahead of their time to be appreciated in the 1970s, this box set does them justice and is a fitting tribute to their legacy.