There's nothing like a good overview to put things in perspective, something that applies in music more than anywhere else. For example, you've heard everything on Crunk Hits (TVT, $19.98) a million billion times these past couple years: Usher featuring Lil Jon & Ludacris' "Yeah!," Lil Jon & tha East Side Boyz featuring Ying Yang Twins' "Get Low," Chingy's "Right Thurr," Ciara featuring Petey Pablo's "Goodies," Khia's "My Neck, My Back," Killer Mike featuring Big Boi's "A.D.I.D.A.S.," Lil' Flip's "Game Over (Flip)," Three 6 Mafia featuring Lil' Flip's "Ridin' Spinners." Even so, it's damn convenient having all of them together on one disc, especially when it means you now need only own the albums they originally appeared on for research purposes.
Jazz heads might well say that research is most of what Andrew Hill's Andrew!!!, Booker Ervin's Tex Book Tenor, and Jackie McLean's Consequence, all recently reissued by Blue Note ($17.98 apiece), are good for. Each disc was made in the mid-'60s, but only 1964's Andrew!!! was released soon after it was taped—Tex Book Tenor was recorded in 1968 but shelved until 1976, while Consequence remained unissued until 1979, 14 years after it was laid down. Today, it's hard to hear why: All three records are terrific. Andrew!!! (God, I love typing that) is the ringer, with Bobby Hutcherson confirming it as a record primarily for vibes maniacs, though he lays comparatively low on the methodical "Le Serpent Qui Danse." Ervin's disc is loose and rangy, befitting the saxophonist's Texas background, and Consequence jumps out of the gate with "Bluesanova," which sounds exactly like its title indicates—hard-bop meets Brazil on equal ground.
The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 3: 1963(Hip-O Select, $99.98) is the latest five-CD box in what will be a 12-volume series containing every A- and B-side Motown ever released through 1971. A limited edition (only 7,500 copies are available from www.hip-oselect.com), 1963 is less fascinating than its two predecessors (which covered 1959–61 and 1962, respectively), where hearing Berry Gordy and crew trying nearly anything just to see what stuck had its own charm. Here, the odd gospel and novelty cuts mostly distract from the killer Motown formula that takes shape one giant stride at a time: The hits include Martha & the Vandellas' "Heat Wave" (a 7-inch vinyl single of the song and its B-side, "A Love Like Yours," is included in the booklet), Marvin Gaye's "Pride and Joy," Little Stevie Wonder's "Fingertips Pt. 1," the Miracles' "Mickey's Monkey," and, after three years of trying, the Supremes' breakthrough, "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes."
Like Gordy, Seymour Stein was one of the music industry's great "record men," and if Sire, the label he ran, wasn't Motown (what was?), it was still one of the smartest imprints of its era. The three-CD, one-DVD Just Say Sire (Rhino, $51.98) offers a wide-ranging ramble down the corridors of college-radio past a lot more intriguingly than Rhino's '80s college-rock box of last year, Left of the Dial. Maybe one reason the Sire box works better (despite being equally uneven) is that it pokes its head up from underground a fair amount: If Stein ensured his legend among rock lovers by signing up many of punk and new wave's early greats, beginning with the Ramones, he ensured his position as a moneymaker while in the hospital by taking a visit from a young dancer and singer named Madonna, whose debut single, 1982's "Everybody," leads off the set.
Madonna and the Ramones aside, Stein's greatest find was Talking Heads, who were such obsessive craftspeople they refused to sign with the label for two years after Sire offered them a contract. The band then proceeded to rattle off a quartet of albums (77, 1978's More Songs About Buildings and Food, 1979's Fear of Music, and 1980's Remain in Light) that stand with any four consecutive albums ever made by anybody. (The Velvet Underground and Public Enemy aside, these are almost certainly the greatest first four albums in all of pop music.) The lavishly packaged Brick (Rhino, $149.98) contains every studio album of the Heads' career, and even if you never play 1983's Speaking in Tongues, 1985's Little Creatures, 1986's True Stories, or 1988's Naked more than once each (Tongues is certainly worth more than that, and all of them have their moments), you might not mind the price. Not only is the box itself an amazing aesthetic object (white plastic with song titles raised and inlaid on the packaging), the sound quality of the remasters smashes every other pressing of the band's work with a giant hammer. To hear Fear of Music ring out this clearly and vibrantly is to hear rock music sound as good as it is ever going to sound.