A box set as major label purpose statement seems ridiculous. Most majors swoop in on independent labels and snatch up buzz bands, just in time to release said band's middling crossover attempt.

Except that Sire began as an indie label in the late 1960s, and founder Seymour Stein retained an amazingly prescient ear for musical movements. As evidenced throughout the newly released Just Say Sire: The Sire Records Story, Stein had a near-singular (among majors) ability to be on or ahead of trends. In one year alone in the late 1970s, Sire released some of the best punk/new wave records ever—Ramones, Dead Boys, Saints, Radio Birdman, Undertones, Richard Hell, Talking Heads. Then within four years of that, Sire recognized a direct line of pop art smarts from Madonna to Depeche Mode; Echo & the Bunnymen to the Smiths; Pretenders to the Replacements; Ministry to My Bloody Valentine; Ice-T to Wilco—bands that weren't just successful, but influential. There is not now, and probably never will be again, a major label that comes close to replicating Sire's art/commerce pogo.

But this set won't work as a consistent history. Sire was never really a Stax/Motown/Casablanca/Sub Pop type of genre tent. There are flat-out stinkers included here. The fourth disc DVD is half heavy with forgettable also-rans from the early 1990s, when Stein finally began to slip. Tracking down rare live clips or some fun old Sire TV commercials would've upped the collector factor.

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Packaging wise, the artist testimonials get a bit bum-buffing, though sometimes reveal genuine affection for the label's head—another anomaly for a major label. The sudden appearance of this set may be a reintroduction to the imprint, as Warner basically 86'd Sire amid a flurry of mergers over the last decade, bringing it back in late 2003 with Stein in a reduced role.

None of which sullies the fact that it is nearly impossible to imagine what the pop music landscape, from indie to major, would look like had Sire never existed.

editor@thestranger.com