The Beatles - 1962-1966 / 1967-1970 - EMI [$24.99 each]
The double-CD sets 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 (colloquially referred to as the “Red” and “Blue” albums due to their packaging colors, respectively) remain the ultimate assemblage of the utter best of the Beatles’ magnificent catalog. Originally released in 1973 and now reissued by the band’s boutique label Apple as part of its extensive remastering campaign (in the sort of tight, environmentally-friendly slipcases that nevertheless invite the threat of packaging tears every time one attempts to remove a disc), both collections were sorted out by Beatles manager Allen Klein, who rounded up all the band's canonical self-penned singles and cherry-picked the highlights of its album cuts. His choices remain impeccable: you can quibble that these sets don’t include your favorite Beatles tune (it doesn’t include mine), but all the group’s high points are accounted for and each album save for the underwhelming Yellow Submarine soundtrack is represented. Expansive without being unwieldy, the combined sets yield a sum total of over two-and-a-half hours of music spread over four CDs. That’s admittedly still a ton of music to get through, but it’s realistically as ruthless an approach to trimming the band’s output down one can implement without excluding anything vital.