Our Holiday Gift Guide concludes with a variety of music-related gifts selected by our editors to fit a variety of budgets and interests. Look for our other gift guides for more gift ideas related to Television, Videogames, and Movies.
Indie/alternative music gifts
A steal at under $50, the limited edition Matador at 21 (Matador, $49.98, Amazon) box set celebrates the 21st birthday of the indie label with six discs of music from throughout the past two decades. Though only one disc -- containing live recordings from a 1999 Matador concert -- contains previously unreleased material, the rest of the CDs house classics from bands like Pavement, Superchunk, Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, Interpol, and more, and the box also includes a nifty set of Matador poker chips and an 85-page book. (You can find the set for much cheaper at Matador's own webstore, though they were out of stock at press time.)
You can't order it until December 1st, but since only 333 copies of the unglamorously-titled The White Stripes Vinyl Starter Merchandise Collection ($499, Third Man Records) will be made, the collectors' set may not last long. The box only contains one record -- a White Stripes 7-inch single containing a never-before-released song and two other holiday tracks -- but fans of the duo will enjoy showing off their White Stripes-themed portable turntable, custom headphones, vinyl carrying boxes, and more goodies. For a more conventional gift for fans of the band, consider Under Great White Northern Lights (DVD: Warner Bros., $19.98, Amazon; Blu-ray: $24.98, Amazon), a documentary chronicling the Stripes' unconventional 2007 Canadian tour, where they snuck in surprise performances at locations like a bowling alley and a city bus.
Does any band deserve a 544-page book devoted to their work? Perhaps, if that band is The Smiths, and that book is Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths (Plume, $30, Amazon), which not only explores the history and music of the legendary Manchester, England band but also encompasses frontman Morrissey's lengthy solo career. Author Simon Goddard has crafted over 600 entries covering every song, album, and collaborator in the Morrissey canon, and the book is packed with enough Moz trivia to satisfy the most die-hard of fans.
If you prefer that your sensitive alternative rockers be photographed rather than written about, consider Death Cab for Cutie (Chronicle Books, $29.95, Amazon), a 192-page hardcover volume packed with hundreds of images of the Washington state band. Photographer Autumn de Wilde was in the studio with the group as they recorded their album Plans, and stayed with them throughout their subsequent tours; the result is a collection of candid and posed photos taken both on-stage and off.
Another new music photography book features a more compelling subject: the band Joy Division. The aptly-titled hardcover Joy Division (Rizzoli, $45, Amazon) paints a stark portrait of the influential Manchester band through hundreds of black and white photographs, coupled with reproductions of show flyers, concert tickets, excerpts from Ian Curtis' notebooks, and other rarely-seen ephemera.
A different continent and time period are at the focus of Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution (Harper, $14.99, Amazon). Author Sara Marcus examines the rise and fall of the "riot grrrl" counterculture movement from 1989–1994, a feminist counterpart to the grunge scene that gave rise to bands such as Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy, and Bratmobile.
The Small Stakes: Music Posters (Chronicle Books, $24.95, Amazon) is a collection of over 150 amazing silk-screened indie rock music posters designed by Jason Munn, aka The Small Stakes. Of interest not just to fans of bands like Built to Spill, the Pixies, Flaming Lips, Broken Social Scene, and She & Him, but also to anyone interested in contemporary graphic design, the book features 6-color printing and a forward by Death Cab for Cutie bassist Nicolas Harmer.
The Deluxe Edition of Tour Of The Universe Barcelona 20/21:11:09 (EMI, $47.98, Amazon) is a 2-DVD + 2-CD set of live recordings from Depeche Mode's recent world tour -- specifically, a pair of performances in Spain. Also included are a tour documentary, short films by Anton Corbijn that were displayed during the concerts, and all of the music videos from the group's most recent album, Sounds Of The Universe
Another live DVD from a veteran band is R.E.M. - Live From Austin TX (New West, $19.98, Amazon), which contains an Austin City Limits performance from 2008. The band tackles classics like "So. Central Rain" as well as cuts from their most recent album, Accelerate, and the DVD adds three songs to the setlist that weren't included in the original PBS broadcast. And speaking of ACL, the new coffee-table book Austin City Limits: 35 Years in Photographs (UT Press, $40, Amazon, pictured at right) offers a visual chronicle of what is now television's longest-running music program, with photos of artists ranging from Johnny Cash to David Byrne.
If Starbucks can sell music, then it's only fair that Wilco can sell coffee. Just in time for the holidays, Jeff Tweedy & co. are now showcasing their coffee expertise by selling their own Wilco Coffee Lovers Bundle ($50-$56, Wilco Store). The gift set includes two pounds of Wilco-selected whole beans (an Ethiopian coffee roasted by Chicago's esteemed coffee purveyors, Intelligentsia), two Wilco mugs, and a mystery gift. (We're hoping for Wilco biscotti.)
The beverage of choice for Tool, Puscifer, and A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan is not coffee but wine. In fact, Keenan has a second career as a winemaker, owning Stronghold Vineyards and Merkin Vineyards and winery Caduceus Cellars in the unlikely wine stronghold of Arizona. Recently released on DVD, the 2010 documentary Blood into Wine ($19.95, Amazon) chronicles Keenan's rather successful attempts at vinting, and features appearances by Tim & Eric, Patton Oswalt, Bob Odenkirk, and Milla Jovovich.
A fascinating artifact of the underground music scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine '79-'83 (Bazillion Points, $29.95, Amazon) compiles every issue of the zine founded by Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson in a 576-page volume. Anyone interested in bands like Black Flag, the Misfits, and Minor Threat would enjoy (re)experiencing that music from a contemporary perspective.
Neither hardcore nor punk, but operating during that same late-'70s/early-'80s time period, was the influential Scottish band Orange Juice, led by Edwyn Collins. The new box set Orange Juice: Coals to Newcastle (Domino, $69.99, Amazon) collects every track recorded by that post-punk band on six CDs and one DVD. Included in the set are a rare performance video, appearances on The Old Grey Whistle Test, other recordings made for the BBC, singles, and expanded versions of each the band's four albums.
Any major fans of indie-rock duo Fiery Furnaces might want to treat themselves to a gift: Matthew Friedberger: Solos 8 LP Subscription ($70, Thrill Jockey), a series of eight separate solo albums that will be released by that band's Matthew Friedberger throughout 2011. The subscription entitles you to a new limited edition (of just 700) vinyl LP in each odd-numbered month from January through November, with the last one coming with two additional bonus albums that will only be available to subscribers. Each of the six main albums will find Friedberger playing just one type of instrument, starting with the piano-based Napoleonette.
Rock 'n' roll music gifts
A true Boss fan may have already picked up last week's major release, but if not, The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story Deluxe Edition (Columbia, $119.98, Amazon) uses three CDs and three DVDs to provide a comprehensive look into Bruce Springsteen's creative process during the late 1970s. The box starts with Springsteen's 1978 album Darkness On The Edge Of Town and adds two discs of previously unreleased tracks culled from the same recording sessions -- music that is already being hailed by critics as the great lost Springsteen album -- and supplements that music with a feature-length documentary, two DVDs of live performances, and an 80-page book.
As The Beatles proved last year, people will indeed pay for monaural recordings. The latest artist to jump on the mono reissues bandwagon is Bob Dylan, and The Original Mono Recordings Box Set (Sony, $129.98, Amazon) contains his first eight LPs in their entirety, housed in reproductions of the original packaging. Dylan fans would also be interested in Bob Dylan in America (Doubleday, $28.95, Amazon), a new book by historian Sean Wilentz. The widely-praised, 400-page book focuses on different aspects of Dylan's 50-year music career, serving as both biography and music criticism, and is especially notable for its account of the recording of Blonde on Blonde.
The hottest rock music book of the moment, however, is Life (Little, Brown and Company, $29.99, Amazon), the new memoir from one of rock 'n' roll's greatest icons of excess, Keith Richards. You'd expect the Rolling Stone guitarist's life story to be an interesting one, and Life doesn't disappoint; critics have been raving about the 576-page book, which seemingly holds nothing back in its tale of addiction, stardom, and music.
Richards' guitar talents -- among other topics -- are discussed in The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock 'n' Roll Rivalry (Voyageur Press, $35, Amazon), in which Chicago music journalists Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis (who also host the weekly public radio program Sound Opinions) debate the relative merits of the two great bands. Packed with photos and historical detail, the book should interest music fans on either side of the issue.
While The Beatles' members' solo works can't quite live up to the greatness of their recordings as a group, there are still plenty of highlights to be found in the John Lennon Signature Box (Capitol, $189.99, Amazon), a new collection that includes all 5 of Lennon's official solo albums (remastered for this set), plus three LPs recorded with Yoko Ono, a two-disc collection of demos, and a 65-page book. If your gift recipient prefers Paul to John, there's also a new deluxe edition box set of Band On The Run (Hear Music, $99.98, Amazon), which includes a remastered version of Wings' 1973 hit album, bonus audio tracks, a 120-page book, an audio documentary, and a variety of video extras in a 3-CD + 1-DVD collection.
Of course, the Beatles were not just musicians but also entrepreneurs, starting their own label, Apple Records. The new Apple Records Box Set (Capitol, $336.98, Amazon) contains remastered versions of 14 albums released on the label -- including LPs by James Taylor, Badfinger, and Billy Preston -- plus a best-of disc and a 2-disc compilation of bonus tracks.
There are plenty of vintage Beatles posters -- and much more -- in the descriptively titled The Art of British Rock: 50 Years of Rock Posters, Flyers and Handbills (Frances Lincoln, $35, Amazon). The book's 200+ pages are filled with full-color reproductions of ads for bands from The Who and Pink Floyd to The Clash, Duran Duran, New Order, Cocteau Twins, Massive Attack, and much more.
Speaking of Pink Floyd, fans of that group may be interested in a new compilation showcasing the band's original lead singer, Syd Barrett. Functioning like a greatest hits album for the troubled artist, An Introduction to Syd Barrett (EMI, $18.98, Amazon) features 18 remastered tracks with Barrett on vocals, including Pink Floyd songs from their debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn and early singles like "Arnold Layne," plus a variety of solo works.
While that Barrett set could have been bigger, you can't say the same thing about David Bowie's Station to Station Deluxe Edition (EMI, $165.98, Amazon), a reissue of his sometimes overlooked (but stellar) 1976 album that comes with 5 CDs, 3 heavyweight vinyl LPs, and a DVD -- among other things. Among the included goodies are a remastered 5.1 mix of the album, a previously unreleased 1976 concert, and a booklet of never-before-seen photos.
Though Grateful Dead fans prize the band's live performances over their studio recordings, the band did release some solid albums, especially early in their career. The Warner Bros. Studio Albums 180-gram Vinyl Box (Rhino, $134.98, Dead.net) collects five Dead albums from 1967 to 1970, including what is probably their best LP, American Beauty. The heavyweight vinyl records contain the original mixes for most of the albums, and come in replicas of the original packaging, with new liner notes and photos.
On the off chance you know some die-hard Monkees fans, well, there's even a reissue for them, too. Head Deluxe Edition ($59.98, Rhino) is a 3-CD box set rerelease of the soundtrack for Head, the Monkees' cult classic movie. In addition to a remastered version of the original album, the compilation includes 21 previously unreleased tracks, outtakes, rarities, and live performances, and a lengthy 1968 radio interview with Davy Jones.
Finally, consider two new DVD sets for anyone who enjoys watching jam sessions featuring older rockers. The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Concerts (DVD: Time Life, $39.99, Amazon; Blu-ray: $44.99, Amazon) is a 3-DVD or 2-Blu-ray set containing an expanded version of the recent Emmy-winning HBO special of the same name, featuring performances by Mick Jagger, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Paul Simon, Ozzy Osbourne, and more. And Eric Clapton - Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010 (DVD: Rhino, $29.99, Amazon; Blu-ray: $34.99, Amazon) contains over 4 hours of concert footage from Clapton's Chicago festival held in June, where participants included Steve Winwood, BB King, Jeff Beck, Sheryl Crow, and Buddy Guy in addition to Clapton himself.
Hip hop and pop music gifts
Part streets-to-stardom memoir, part deeper exploration of his music to date, Jay-Z's Decoded (Spiegel & Grau, $35, Amazon) is the hip hop icon's first foray into the literary world. The well-designed book has been receiving strong reviews so far, and though the rapper's story is a compelling one, the most intriguing aspect of the book is the inclusion of heavily annotated lyric sheets, which reveal new aspects of his songs.
Jay-Z is just one of many artists included in the Anthology of Rap (Yale University Press, $35, Amazon), a 920-page collection that serves as validation for the idea of rap music as poetry. The book includes lyrics from hip hop classics dating from the 1970s to the present day -- from the Sugarhill Gang to the Wu-Tang Clan to T.I. -- and adds essays by the likes of Henry Louis Gates Jr., Chuck D, and Common.
For a more focused hip-hop book -- it covers just a single album -- go with Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Continuum, $10.95, Amazon), one of the newest installments in Continuum's 33 1/3 series. Music writer Christopher R. Weingarten devotes 144 heavily-researched pages to paint a highly detailed and illuminating portrait of the production of the rap outfit's landmark 1990 album.
New Yorker music writer Kelefa Sanneh authors Atlanta: Hip-Hop and the South (Chronicle Books, $29.95, Amazon), an examination of Atlanta hip-hop culture featuring over 150 photographs by Michael Schmelling. A key player in the Southern rap scene, the Georgia metropolis has spawned acts like OutKast and Ludacris, who are among the artists interviewed in the book.
Released December 7, Dan Charnas' The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop (NAL, $24.95, Amazon) focuses on the four-decade transformation of hip hop culture from New York block parties to multi-million-dollar industry. Filled with anecdotes culled from interviews with hundreds of rap insiders, the 672-page hardcover aims to trace the complete history of the genre's winners and losers.
The first of what is sure to be many posthumous releases under Michael Jackson's name, Michael Jackson's Vision (Sony, $39.98, Amazon) seems less a cash-in and more a necessity, a product that would have surfaced even if the King of Pop were still alive. Included in this 3-DVD set is every single music video from Jackson's career -- 35 in all, many of them classics of the form. A bonus disc adds seven additional videos, including his duet with Paul McCartney ("Say Say Say") and several videos featuring The Jacksons.
Recorded during her recent international tour, the DVD/Blu-ray Beyoncé: I Am... World Tour (DVD: Columbia, $19.98, Amazon; Blu-ray: $31.98, Amazon) arrives in stores December 7th. The set includes 30 tracks edited together from various performances, and the disc includes a bonus behind-the-scenes documentary entitled Mic and a Light.
Finally, as most boys do when they turn 16, Justin Bieber has created his own line of fragrances and nail polishes. Sadly, you'll have to brave the Black Friday crowds at Wal-Mart to pick up his "My World"-scented wristbands and dog tags (prices TBD), and you'll have to wait until December to score the first six colors -- including "Give Me the First Dance" and "One Less Lonely Glitter" in his new nail polish line (also a Wal-Mart exclusive) from Nicole by OPI.
Electronica and dance music gifts
Founded by English DJs Matt Black and Jonathan More (better known as Coldcut), the electronic music label Ninja Tune is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Ninja Tune: 20 Years of Beats & Pieces (Black Dog, $29.95, Amazon) is a 192-page book (part of the same Labels Unlimited series that previously examined Warp and Rough Trade) chronicles the label's history -- which has included releases from the likes of Cinematic Orchestra and Roots Manuva -- through exclusive interviews and tons of photographs. If you are feeling ambitious, seek out the now-sold-out Ninja Tune XX Limited Edition Box Set (originally $160, Ninja Tune), which contains that same book plus 6 CDs and 6 7-inch singles and includes many tracks otherwise unavailable.
The Record Players: DJ Revolutionaries (Grove Press, $26.99, Bleep) is a celebration of the heroes of DJ culture. Authors Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton (who previously wrote about the history of DJs in Last Night A DJ Saved My Life) interview 50 top turntablists, including DJ Shadow, Fabio, Derrick May, and Andrew Weatherall, discovering what it means to be -- and live like -- a DJ.
As long as you are shopping at the Bleep store, pick up their brand-new Bleep / Manhattan Portage DJ Bag ($74.99, Bleep). Made by the New York messenger bag company specially for Bleep, the durable bag holds 15-20 LPs and comes with a shoulder strap and a zippered compartment.
Of course, you're also going to need a way to play all those LPs. The turntable of choice for DJs the world over has long been a Technics SL-1200, but you'll need to buy one soon if you've been holding out: Panasonic has just announced that they will be discontinuing their entire iconic Technics line of analog direct-drive turntables, the machines a victim of their own durability. So the Technics SL-1200MK2 ($995) or SL-1200MK5 ($1095, pictured) is not only a practical gift choice for would-be DJs this year (if you can find one in stock somewhere); it's also soon to be a collector's item.
While a little plastic box that plays ambient droning noises in a continuous loop may not be the most obvious gift choice, the new Buddha Machine Generation III: Chan Fang (FM3, $20.99, Bleep) is the best-looking and best-sounding version yet of the Buddha Machine (from Beijing duo FM3), which has become a cult gadget since it first debuted five years ago. Cheer up your room or cubicle with the Chan Fang, which comes in five colors and features longer sound loops, all utilizing the traditional stringed Chinese instrument known as the Qin.
Jazz and vocal music gifts
The Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition ($89.99, Sony, pictured at right) is a new box set special edition release of Miles Davis' 1970 double album. One of jazz music's most legendary releases, the rock-influenced Bitches Brew is presented here in an extensive package, which includes the original album on both CD and high-quality vinyl, a DVD of a 1969 live performance, a book, poster, and more. If you are looking to create a bigger impression with your gift, however, consider The Genius of Miles Davis ($749, Sony) meta-box set, which includes all eight previously released Miles Davis box sets -- that's 43 CDs in all.
Released last month to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the jazz label's independence, CTI Records - The Cool Revolution (Sony, $49.98, Amazon) spans 4 themed discs and 39 of the label's best tracks, remastered for this release. The music runs from cool jazz to Brazilian sounds, from artists such as Eumir Deodato, Chet Baker, Nina Simone, Grover Washington, Jr., and more.
When it comes to vocalists, few singers have the voice -- or the life -- of Frank Sinatra. In a new biography, Frank: The Voice (Doubleday, $35, Amazon), author James Kaplan manages to capture the singer's life story "with all the emotional detail and narrative momentum of a novel," writes Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. Possibly the best (if not the longest, at 800 pages) biography of Sinatra to date, Frank traces his up and down journey with a particular focus on his recording career.
Sinatra fans will also welcome Frank Sinatra: Concert Collection (Shout! Factory, $79.98, Amazon), a 7-DVD box set containing over 14 hours of Sinatra live and TV performances dating from the 1950s to the '80s. Some of the concerts included have never been released before, while others are new to the U.S. (and all are otherwise out of print, meaning that if you want to watch Frank, this is the way to do it).
One of the many songs made famous by Sinatra was "Send in the Clowns," penned by prolific songwriter Stephen Sondheim, who has won more Tony Awards than any other composer (to go along with his Grammys, Oscar, and Pulitzer). You can add bestselling author to his list of honors, thanks to Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes (Knopf, $39.95, Amazon), which collects the lyrics to every one of Sondheim's musicals from 1954-81 -- including those for scrapped songs which never made it into the productions -- and adds autobiographical anecdotes, photographs, and more.
Americana and country music gifts
The almost accurately titled Number One Hits (Curb, $18.98, Amazon) is one of several greatest hit albums released by country music star Tim McGraw, but has the advantage of being the newest (it arrives in stores on November 30). Why only almost accurate? It contains a brand-new song, "Felt Good on My Lips," which so far has peaked at #13. Otherwise, the two-disc, 24-song collection includes hits from "Don't Take the Girl" to "Southern Voice."
The Rounder Records Story (Rounder, $49.98, Amazon) is a four-disc, 87-song box set encompassing the forty-year history of Rounder Records. The tracks span genres like roots rock, bluegrass, New Orleans R&B, singer-songwriter, blues, country, and rockabilly, and feature artists such as Alison Krauss, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Son Volt, Cowboy Junkies, Professor Longhair, and Ed Haley.
Gifts for any music fan
An easy, space-saving way to rip any of your vinyl albums to MP3, the minimalist, battery-powered Crosley Revolution Portable USB Turntable (Crosley, $149, Turntable Lab) can handle 7" and 12" platters at either 33 or 45 rpm. Connect it via USB cable to your PC or Mac to rip digital copies of your LPs, or use the built-in FM transmitter to listen to your records on any nearby radio. (There's a headphone jack, too, if you prefer that route.)
In Listen to This (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27, Amazon), New Yorker music critic Alex Ross analyzes music in all its forms, from modern classical to modern rock. The 18 essays -- most of which were originally published in the magazine -- jump from Sonic Youth to Chinese classical composers to Radiohead to Brahms, finding the commonalities in each, and making for a mix even more eclectic than any iTunes playlist.
If expense is no object, consider the best in-ear headphones on the market: the Shure SE535 Triple High-Definition MicroDriver Earphone (Shure, $499, Amazon), which offers far better sound quality than any MP3 player deserves. Available in clear or metallic bronze (pictured), the sound-isolating earbuds come with nearly-indestructable, Kevlar-reinforced cables; even better, the cables detach (and can be easily replaced) should you manage to be the one person who does destroy them.
While many of the higher-quality iPod speaker sets can run in the same price range as those earbuds, there's one device that is almost universally praised for its sound quality that surprisingly comes in a lot cheaper than its competitors. The Logitech S715i Rechargeable Speaker (Logitech, $149.99, Amazon) is a six-speaker portable iPhone / iPod dock that's actually small enough to take with you, and it features an eight-hour rechargeable battery and a basic wireless remote.
For a one-of-a-kind holiday gift, consider doing your shopping at the Icons & Idols Auction (auction bidding, Julien's Auctions), to be held December 3-4 in Beverly Hills (online and phone bidding is also available). Among the hundreds of music memorabilia items up for bid are handwritten working lyrics and drawings by John Lennon, personal clothing worn by Cher, Madonna, and Elvis Presley, and more than 100 items associated with Michael Jackson, including one of his signature gloves, a red "Beat It" jacket, and an outfit designed for his pet chimp Bubbles (which we're certain will look fantastic on your own pet chimp).
What's on your wishlist?
What music gifts are on your wishlist this year? Do you have any other suggestions for music-related gifts? Let us know in the discussion section below, or visit our Movie Gift Guide, TV Gift Guide or Game Gift Guide for other gift ideas.