Gift Guide for music lovers: Prince, the Beatles, Elton John, the Roots, Linda Ronstadt, and more
A music gift guide with box sets, single disc re-issues, music documentaries, and a festival getaway.
Music gift-giving can be tricky in the Streaming Age.
Why not just give your loved one a Spotify or Apple Music subscription? Ten bucks a month, for access to a bajillion songs. Not a bad idea, but impersonal, with nothing to unwrap.
This list (in alphabetical order) is of more thoughtful choices, which lean toward tactile experiences with a product you can hold as you listen, focused on individual artists or evocative of a time and place. Along with box sets, there are single-volume reissues, music books, and documentaries. Gift a musical Christmas ornament, or break the bank on a festival getaway.
All prices are Amazon-based, unless otherwise noted. Many boxes come in multiple configurations and a range of prices, from single CDs to expensive packages with piles of vinyl. — Dan DeLuca
The Bakersfield Sound: Country Music Capital of the West, 1940-1974 (Bear Family). While Nashville was becoming Music City, Bakersfield was the center of a rowdier California honky-tonk culture, a place for “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music),” in the words of Joe Maphis‘ 1953 hit. The 10-CD box features big stars such as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and lesser-knowns like Ebb Pilling and Billy Mize. $188.59. — D.D.
The Beatles, Abbey Road. The last album the Beatles recorded as a band gets the 50th anniversary treatment. There aren’t too many outtakes, but Giles Martin and Sam Okell’s new mixes are worth hearing. $12.95-$86.93. Also of note for Fab Four fans: Peter Asher’s book The Beatles From A to Zed: An Alphabetical Mystery Tour (Henry Holt, $27), is delightfully discursive and full of memories and trivia from the Peter & Gordon singer. — D.D.
Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection (Earwig). This hugely entertaining four-disc set brings to light a largely unheralded chapter of Chicago blues history. Early tracks by familiar names such as Earl Hooker, Hound Dog Taylor, and James Cotton mix with work by lesser-known talents, and the selections extend beyond blues to gospel, soul, and early hip-hop. $100.17. — Nick Cristiano
Nat King Cole, Hittin’ the Ramp: The Early Years, 1936-1943 (Resonance). Long before Nat King Cole became a pop icon in the 1950s, he was a jazz pianist, in the tradition of Earl “Fatha” Hines. This vast seven-CD set captures Cole’s hidden jazz history, from his recording debut at 17 to his signing with Capitol Records in 1943. It’s full of sassy, two-beat wonders and period exuberance. Cole already projects strong leadership and elegant crooning. $71.70-$188.99. — Karl Stark
Miles Davis, The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions (Craft). This six-LP box collects the music that the jazz trumpeter recorded between 1954 and 1956 with a band that included John Coltrane and drummer Philly Joe Jones. It brings music reissued on CD in 2006 back to its original format. $103.99. — D.D.
Bill Evans, Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate (Resonance). This double-CD set captures pianist Bill Evans and his trio on Oct. 23, 1968. The sets represent a working night for a supreme musician. His feel for impressionistic chords across 17 standards unfolds with luminous intensity. Evans’ approach feels a bit formulaic here, but what a powerful formula it was. $22.38. — K.S.
Debbie Harry, Face It (Dey Street). Blondie singer Debbie Harry’s memoir tells of growing up in the North Jersey suburbs and using guile and talent to become a pop star. Once there, she conveys what it feels like to “survive and find a way to create while you’re hurtling through space.” $32.50. — D.D.
» READ MORE: Blondie’s Debbie Harry decided to write a book before she forgot it all
Elton John, Me (Henry Holt). Never mind the Elton John Rocketman biopic. The unexpurgated Me is celebrity-filled and open about a life of excess, from copious cocaine consumption to oh-so-British games of strip snooker. It’s also an honest, rewarding memoir. $30. — D.D.
The Kinks, Arthur, or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire (BMG) Along with the Who’s Tommy, Arthur was one of two great concept albums of 1969. Exploring middle-class frustration, songwriter Ray Davies was at the peak of his powers. $16.99-$117.64. — D.D.
Land of 1000 Dances: The Rampart Records 58th Anniversary Collection (Minky). Founded in 1961 in Los Angeles, Rampart was home to mostly Latino artists who played joyous garage rock, such as Cannibal & the Headhunters’ 1965 cover of Chris Kenner’s “Land of 1000 Dances.” Fabulous stuff. $42.98. — D.D.
New Wave Ornaments. Christmas craftsman Matthew Lineham makes tree ornaments with punny names depicting 1980s music stars. “Chilly Idol,” “Skate Bush,” “Elfish Costello.” You get the idea. $10 each. mlinehamart.com. — D.D.
Prince, 1999 (Warner Bros.). Prince was a hoarder, and as super deluxe editions of classic albums go, this one lives up to its name. It’s loaded with high-quality unreleased songs that ingeniously work his trademark funk-rock sacred-profane axis. $69.98-$225.60. — D.D.
Amy Rigby, Girl to City: A Memoir (Southern Domestic). A superbly told tale of a self-scrutinizing woman’s rise to 1990s indie rock stardom. Girl makes the much-chronicled New York of the late 1970s come freshly alive. An extra $8 at amyrigby.com garners a collection of outtakes and rarities. $17-$25. — D.D.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. This winning music doc clues viewers in to Ronstadt’s enormous 1970s popularity and broad musical interests, from country rock to Mexican canciones to Gilbert & Sullivan. DVD, $19.99. — D.D.
The Roots, Things Fall Apart (Geffen / Urban Legends) This year’s Roots Picnic marked the 20th anniversary of Things Fall Apart, the Philadelphia hip-hop band’s breakthrough album. This three-LP set displays its breadth and scope, with an outtakes disc. $40.42 — D.D.
Sounds of Liberation, Sounds of Liberation and Unreleased (Dogtown /Brewerytown Beats). 1970s band Sounds of Liberation began in Germantown and Mount Airy and featured saxophonist Byard Lancaster and guitarist Monette Sudler. Two ultrarare albums were issued on vinyl this year. Available at Brewerytown Records and dogtownrecords.com. $20. — D.D.
» READ MORE: Fifty years later, the sole surviving member of Philly funk band Nat Turner Rebellion finally sees its debut album released
Vinyl Me, Please. A subscription service that sends out a record a month for $25, based on musical taste. If you don’t like the choice, swap it out. 1970s Philly soul funk band Nat Turner Rebellion was a record of the month this year. vinylmeplease.com. — D.D.
Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky. On a music cruise, one could drown or get seasick. This beachside festival seems much safer. It features Wilco, plus Courtney Barnett, Sharon Van Etten, Kamasi Washington, and Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog. Double-occupancy suites at the Hard Rock Hotel in Rivera Maya, Mexico, Jan. 18-22 start at $1,599 for four nights. Brandi Carlile’s sold-out Girls Just Wanna Weekend happens there the following weekend. wilcosskybluesky.com. — D.D.