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Quick Dives: Miles Davis: The Electric Years, Vinyl Me Please Super Deluxe Boxed Set Explored

Mark Smotroff explores the underlying value proposition to a super deluxe edition boxed set…

By Mark Smotroff

This exploration of the lovely 11-disc, 7LP super deluxe boxed set issued in the past year by the good folks at Vinyl Me Please — titled Miles Davis: The Electric Years — will be effectively more of an exercise in mathematics and consumer logic than a deep exploration of the music. If you are a fan of Miles’ music reading this and even considering buying a collection of this scale, chances are that you know that these albums are generally great, frequently groundbreaking and always fascinating.  

This set presents a fine cross-section of the music made during Davis’ so-called “electric” phase when he plugged his horn (and other supporting instruments) into amplifiers, special effects, distortion and such.  Most notably, this is when he began a journey into what became known as “jazz-rock fusion,” music covering a span between 1969 and 1974.  But if you listen closely you’ll hear that it was more than that moniker reveals.  Some of this music gets down right funky and freaky. Heck, some of it sounds like what you might expect to hear during the space sections of a classic Grateful Dead concert!

Included are: In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Live Evil, Tribute To Jack Johnson, On The Corner, Big Fun and Get Up With It.

All the albums in Miles Davis: The Electric Years are AAA (all-analog process) remastered. The packaging for each LP is exemplary, featuring glossy laminated covers which are arguably finer and nicer than the originals. The vinyl pressings are high quality, 180-gram black vinyl that is dead quiet, well centered and which feature period-accurate labels aligned with the albums’ original issues — for example, on Bitches Brew, they recreated the “two-eye” Columbia Records labels which graced the earliest pressings. 

One curious factor about this set is it seems to be the first time (in my recent memory, at least) where we find the albums are being mastered from effectively second generation analog copies of the master tapes. Not the original master tapes and not a digital copy.

The VMP website explains: “All seven of the albums in this VMP Anthology are AAA, cut directly from fully analog tape-to-tape transfers of the master tapes by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound.” I can understand and speculate how that phenomenon might have happened in these 21st Century times.  I would guess that Miles Davis’ parent label (Sony / Columbia Legacy) probably would not allow the master tapes out of their archives at any cost these days. These are old tapes which still have a great deal of historical (and probably financial) value.  So a back up copy was created rather than relying on a digital transfer. This of course does make original pressings that much more desirous to certain types of analog purist collectors. And that doesn’t mean these don’t sound good.  I listened to most of the albums at least in part and everything sounds just lovely. Nothing problematic has jumped out at me thus far, especially when contrasting with my original pressings. 

Mint, sealed copies of Miles Davis: The Electric Years are selling on Discogs for between $500 and $800 which is a bit nutty in some regards. You see, VMP’s first run (which sold out) went for about $400 … or less if you were a member! However, given there is a waitlist, its fair to assume that the company will be repressing the set.  Click here to jump to their webpage for further album information. 

So lets run down the approximate cost of tracking down as pristine as possible copies of these same albums via Discogs, the current pre-eminent online music marketplace, just to give you an idea what you might have to pay for assembling a comparatively similar package to the VMP set. This is of course not including those of you who, like myself, might rather search around in the wilds of thrift shops, garage sales and flea markets looking for more affordable options. if you don’t have that time or inclination, shopping at a favorite store or online shops is your next best bet (and I do encourage you to support your favorite local retailers when ever possible!!).

Anyhow, here are the titles and their Discogs average price  for “Near Mint” copies at the time of this writing

In A Silent Way – Six copies sell for $100-150 each

Bitches Brew –  32 copies sell from about $55 each into the hundreds!

Live Evil – 2 mint copies sell for more than $100 each.

Tribute To Jack Johnson – 1 mint copy sells for $25!  Its worth noting that there were two different covers / editions of this album. This was a popular and fairly common album so its not surprising these are less pricey.

On The Corner – This album didn’t sell well originally so of the nine originals on Discogs, they are selling for $80 – $200.

Big Fun – The four near mint copies list between $50 and $200

Get Up With It – the four near mint copies list between $60 and $115

So… lets be realistic and consider that many shoppers would try to get the best price possible on buying these albums. If you were to order all seven albums in their original form in best possible condition at the lowest prices listed there on Discogs, your order would total up to just under $450 plus individual shipping for each LP probably driving up the cost factors further.  

In that light, Vinyl Me Please’ retail price of $399 with free shipping included feels like a very fair deal for such high quality reproductions of all of these albums. And again, if you are VMP member, the price is $349. Also in this light, it makes the prospect of buying the after-market copies at perhaps inflated prices a bit dubious (again, they are going for between $500 and $800 on Discogs!). For those prices, you might as well look into finding some really sweet “OG” pressings! 

Either way you get it, the VMP collection will arrive to you packaged in a lovely deluxe hard shell archive-worthy box which includes a 24-page booklet featuring listening notes and period photography. It also includes access to VMP’s podcast discussions on each of the albums. 

All this considered, Miles Davis: The Electric Years feels like a rather strong value for those who want a deep dive immersion into this period of Miles Davis’ music.  

[Mark Smotroff has been reviewing music at AudiophileReview for many years but can also be found at AnalogPlanet.com. In the past he has written for Sound & Vision, DISCoveries, EQ, Mix and many more.  An avid vinyl collector and music enthusiast who has also worked in marketing communications for decades you can learn  more about his background at LinkedIn.]

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