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Much like DVD's, music gifts represent one of the safest choices each holiday season, assuming you know what you're looking for. This year there are several intriguing box sets to choose from, including one featuring the Chairman of the Board himself. Aside from that, there's a single CD out there for just about everyone on your list, and even a few cool music DVD's. See our recommendations below.
|"I hope you enjoy my new box set."|
For decades, box sets were for classic rock enthusiasts only, but that tide has turned in a big way lately. Last year saw the release of “Just Say Sire,” a set dedicated to the, sniff, last record label that mattered, and Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the ‘80s Underground surfaced as early as 2004. The dinosaurs, of course, haven’t completely left the building, but boxed sets are getting a very youthful makeover. Or, to be more accurate, they focus on an alternative scene that once represented youth culture. Ain’t it always the way?
The Doors: Perception
This one carries a hefty price tag, which means most Doors fans will be reluctant to buy it, but they all will want to own it. All six Doors albums are remastered for a second time (which makes this a re-remaster, we suppose), then fitted with extra tracks galore. On top of that, each disc has a respective DVD containing 5.1 Surround Sound mixes, videos, and lots of other fun knick knacks.
Robert Plant: Nine Lives
A much bigger musical bang for your buck than the Doors set, Nine Lives contains all of the Led Zeppelin frontman’s solo albums, each one decked out with extra tracks and the occasional remix. What makes this set so enticing, though, is the DVD, which includes all of Plant’s music videos. Are you in the mood? We knew you were.
A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box
The definition of Goth has changed considerably over the years; it used to just involve disaffected teens wearing black and listening to dour music, but now kids are taking it way too seriously. If you know someone who purports to be Goth but thinks that the best Goth artist ever is Evanescence, get them this box, STAT. It’s three CD’s worth of the darkest, gloomiest music of the last two or three decades, with tracks by the usual suspects (Bauhaus, the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Sisters of Mercy) as well as a few less likely – but not inappropriate – inclusions from artists like the Chameleons, Echo and the Bunnymen, and…Flesh For Lulu? Really? Oh, well. There’s also a DVD of 12 videos from various artists on the set. It might not be the present for the holly, jolly individual in your life, but if you have a special someone who wears Doc Martens, favors dark clothing, and has a line of credit at Hot Topic, this should definitely be in their music collection.
Frank Sinatra: Vegas
Give it up one time for the Chairman of the Board, won’t you? Francis Albert Sinatra is gone, but given that his status as a musical icon is right up there with the Beatles and Elvis, he won’t soon be forgotten…particularly not with Rhino Records putting out sets like this one. Sinatra: Vegas is a 4-CD/1-DVD set that gives us five different glimpses of ol’ Blue Eyes…two shows from the ‘60s, two from the ‘80s, and a DVD with a performance from the ‘70s. Thankfully, this is one occasion where what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas. While the performances find Sinatra’s voice varying in quality – the earlier shows are inevitably the better shows – you can bet that, after every one of these concerts, audiences walked out saying, “He’s still got it!” Well, duh. He’s Frank Sinatra!
The Bee Gees: The Studio Albums: 1967 – 1968
Stop laughing, you bastard! Just because “the man” has convinced you that the Bee Gees are uncool doesn’t mean it’s true. In fact, if you were to poll 10 music critics on the street -- and you’ll be able to spot them, because they’ll be wearing Velvet Underground t-shirts and going on about what an awesome album Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica is -- at least nine of them would tell you that the Bee Gees’ greatest recorded moments were actually in the late ‘60s. Rhino Records has teamed with the brothers Gibb themselves to begin a massive reissue campaign, and it starts with these three albums – The Bee Gees 1st, Horizontal, and Idea – collected into a box set, with each album tricked out with both mono and stereo versions of the songs, plus a second disc for each, chock full of B-sides, rarities, demos, and heretofore-unreleased material. If you know someone who loves the Beatles and the Beach Boys but doesn’t own these albums, buy this for them; they’ll love you for it.
Johnny Cash: At San Quentin (Legacy Edition)
This is it, Cash fans, the entire 100-minute show on two CD’s, with a DVD that includes the documentary film shot by the UK Granada TV crew (the folks who unwittingly elicited the now-famous middle finger photograph). The supporting players all appear here, including Carl Perkins (“Blue Suede Shoes,” “The Outside Looking In”), the Statler Brothers (“Flowers on the Wall,” “Less of Me”), and a set from the Carter Family that features June gabbing at the prisoners for over two and a half minutes. Along with a 39-page booklet that covers the show from various perspectives, this will make the Cash fan in your life giddy.
|Single CD’s for the _____ in your life:|
Sullen teen: My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade
It’s a lazy analogy, but a fitting one: The Black Parade, My Chemical Romance’s third album, is their American Idiot. They even snagged Idiot producer Rob Cavallo to twirl the knobs. The kids may not recognize the obvious cribbing of Pink Floyd or Queen, but the music is pretty damn good and if nothing else, it will open a door in their heads to explore something deeper and darker than, say, Linkin Park.
British pop-loving, Tinfoil-wearing conspiracy theorist: Muse – Black Holes and Revelations
Fox Mulder would love these guys. They write songs about Martian soldiers (“Knights of Cydonia”), warmongers (“Take a Bow,” “A Soldier’s Poem,” “City of Delusion”), and communications from alien races (“Exo-Politics”). Most importantly, they rock like nobody’s business. Entertainment Weekly said that if prog is the new punk/pop, then Muse are its Green Day. We’ll take that analogy a step further: Black Holes and Revelations is this generation’s Signals. Or is it Moving Pictures? Either way, it’s damn, damn good.
|Hard-Fi – Stars of CCTV
Arctic Monkeys – Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
Former poodle cut-wearing hair metal fan: Def Leppard: Yeah!, or Hysteria Deluxe Edition
Yeah! is one of the greatest exceptions to the covers-album rule (i.e. they suck) that you will ever find. The songs are a well-chosen list of familiar and obscure (the Faces’ “Stay with Me” is here, but the Bowie song they decided to cover is “Drive-In Saturday”), and even the mid-tempo songs like the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” kick ass. Better yet, package Yeah! with the killer two-disc deluxe edition of their 1987 masterpiece Hysteria, which contains five B-sides, five live cuts (including a great medley-filled “Rock of Ages”), and all of the super-rare remixes for the hit singles. Stand up, say yeah.
|Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers, Jet – Shine On|
Parental figure who refuses to acknowledge any music released after 1979: Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere
We speak of experience on this one. The mother of senior editor David Medsker absolutely flipped when she heard “Crazy” on the radio. “That sounds like Al Green!” she gushed. He lent her the album, expecting her to turn her nose up at it, and surprise, surprise, she liked the whole damn thing (except for “Feng Shui”). And for those keeping score at home, Medsker’s mother is far, far more critical than he could ever hope (or want) to be. So if his mom approves of it, so will yours.
|The Feeling – Twelve Stops and Home|
Thin, neat, single friend: Scissor Sisters – Ta-Dah
All dance pop should be this good. The kind of album that Rufus Wainwright would make after partying with the Pet Shop Boys, Ta-Dah is 31 flavors of fun, from the delightful first single “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’” (co-written by Elton John) to Ana Matronic’s Blondie-esque “Kiss You Off.” There’s even a history lesson in “She’s My Man,” a Pointer Sisters soundalike (you read that right) about a vicious female New Orleans pirate who was widely assumed to be male. A bit naughty, a lot of fun.
|Mylo – Destroy Rock & Roll|
Footloose and fancy-free friends: Various Artists – The Sex, The City, The Music
We know: we had you at “the sex.” Given that these are CDs, however, you won’t be surprised to find that this new series from EMI is more about the music -- the dance music, to be specific -- than the horizontal bop. Still, if you start moving your body to these beats in close, sweaty proximity to a partner, who knows where things could lead? These are single CDs, by the way, each spotlighting a different city – Berlin, Istanbul, Barcelona, St. Tropez, Shanghai, New York, Moscow, Paris, and Las Vegas – and they also each include a warning which reads, “The City Series is only for the street conscious, trend-savvy tastemakers that are seeking to explore cutting-edge sounds. Oh, yes, you have been warned.” The booklets also highlight the so-called “hot spots” in each city, including bars, clubs and music festivals as well as hotels, restaurants and places to shop. You probably won’t recognize most of the names, since they’re mostly native to the respective cities being spotlighted, but you’ll be shaking your ass so much that you won’t care. That, and you’ll probably be drunk, anyway. (We know how you party folk are.)
Upscale friend who regularly jumps from one hip musical trend to the next: Various Artists – Seriously Good Music
You know exactly what we’re talking about. They listen to NPR, they hear a story about how the such-and-such music craze is sweeping the country, and suddenly it’s their favorite type of music ever…this week. Well, here’s the perfect chance for them to get quick crash courses in some of these genres. Petrol Music – who also helped with the sex / city / music discs we spoke of a moment ago – have put together single-disc compilations of the best of modern artists working in lounge, cocktail, bossa nova and Latin music, plus not one but two collections of today’s performers of salsa music. The use of phrases like “modern artists” and “today’s performers” is to ease the sting when you pick up the lounge music and don’t see folks like Martin Denny or Esquivel, but rest assured that the mere act of spinning these discs will serve as ample salve.
Eagle Vision Classic Album Series on DVD
Yes, the series itself is not new, but 2006 saw the release of some legendary albums covered by the Eagle Vision crew, including U2’s The Joshua Tree, Steely Dan’s Aja, and Queen’s A Night at the Opera. Featuring interviews with the principal band members, producers and musicians who found inspiration from the albums in question, these sets are a music geek’s dream come true.