To commemorate the end of the century, Sony Music assembled the 26-disc box set Sony Music 100 Years: Soundtrack for a Century
. The title was imposing, as was the idea behind it -- to chronicle the life of the oldest record label in the music industry. To be clear, Sony Music has not existed for 100 years, but the heart of its catalog, Columbia Records, was founded early in the 20th century. Sony realized that most consumers wouldn't invest in a 26-disc box, so they simultaneously released a series of 12 genre-specific, double-disc sets that culled highlights from the box. As it turns out, the double-disc sets are every bit as impressive as the big box, perhaps more so, because they're easily digestible. Even so, the scope of the 51-track Pop Music: The Golden Era 1951-1975
is impressive. Columbia and its subsidiaries may have moved slowly into rock & roll, having their first rock hits in the early '60s, but that actually makes this collection more effective, since you can hear traditional pop give way to rock and soul by the end of the first disc. And that's the best thing about Pop Music: The Golden Era
-- it's a genuine narrative, beginning with Frank Sinatra
and Tony Bennett
and ending with Patti Labelle
and Earth, Wind & Fire
. Between those bookends are pop classics of all stripes, from a head-spinning array of artists. Sure, it's possible to spot omissions from that list, but it gives the general feel of pop's progression, and it offers nothing but good listening as it does so. And that's a testament not only to the artists, but to Columbia, Epic, and Sony, since few other labels have captured the times quite so well.