As the seasons start getting closer and the prospect of gift giving starts to clear off the cobwebs and come front and center to everyone’s consciousness yet again, there’s always the enigma of what to get, and more importantly, will the recipient be satisfied? There are however universals that always crack the corners of the mouth for a smile, music releases and their sometimes re-released box sets being some of them. So that being said, and what remains our annual wont, here’s our picks for some great music recently released and upcoming. And as always, this one goes to eleven.
Check out our 2017 Holiday Geek Gift Guide for Music…
The follow up to the Canadian power trio’s breakthrough record 2112, A Farewell to Kings still follows the Ayn Rand kind of narratives and sensibilities employed on said previous record, but presents them in a more sharper and well rounded manner. This is the first record in which Rush starts to strip down and trim away the progressive jam fat that permeated earlier albums, albeit slightly. The title track, “Cinderella Man,” and especially the epic “Cygnus X-1” showcase the band’s now legendary and expected propensity for hyper jams and muscular instrumentation. A year later, with the release of Hemispheres, the band would inch even closer to the kind of mainstream success the band first found on 1980s Permanent Waves and then crystallized on 1981’s Moving Pictures. This 40th Anniversary deluxe package goes the whole route in terms of presentation and selection, with the sonic cherry on top being a complete concert from 1978, newly mixed by Terry Brown, responsible for producing the band in their crucial, essential, and now legendary early formative years.
The seminal Beatles album, which for many remains their true masterpiece, was originally released during the Summer of 1967, and it quickly came to be regarded in almost Torah-like proportions by the many youth movements that began burgeoning and crystallizing during that mid to late era of the decade. The entire Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band record now plays out almost like a Beatles Greatest Hits colleciton, with songs like the title track, Ringo Starr’s charmingly warbly “A Little Help From My Friends,” the piquant and string-laden “She’s Leaving Home,” the imaginative and psychedelic driven “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” and what is arguably the band’s magnum opus of their entire catalog, the majestic “A Day in the Life.” This special release is brimming with bonus material, ranging from loads of outtakes and alternative takes, a 1992 documentary, original promotional films, all digitally re-mastered, and a 144-page book overflowing with every form and angle of minutiae and information. Simply put, this is a googlefold essential piece of music history and highly recommended for any Beatles fan hands down.
Metallica’s Master of Puppets is not only in the pantheon of being one of the greatest metal/thrash records of its respective genre, but it’s also one the greatest albums of all time regardless of genre. It represents a tragic yet sure footed end for the band in its first wave due to the death of bassist Cliff Burton not long after the record’s release and it also signified a beginning for the band, as scores of new rabid fans were picked up via this 1986 release. And what a release it is. Not losing one iota of its power and intensity over the last decades, Master of Puppets, right out of the starting gate, still hits like an anvil to the face, a Thor-sized hammer to the gut, and never, ever lets up. From the non-stop jackhammer of “Battery” to the incredible title track, which has to be one of the band’s top three songs ever recorded, to the dare I say almost steamroller ballad of “Sanitarium,” there’s a kind of soft center in the record too which gives, shall I dare say again, heart to it. And heart is something that most records which borrowed heavily from Master of Puppets, and most just about blatantly ripped off the band’s signature sound, look and feel, just couldn’t get right because of the lack of said heart. In the 21st century, Master of Puppets has entered musical folklore, and this deluxe package, which goes total balls out with a 108-page book with all the expected goodies, three records, ten CD’s (!), a cassette (remember those?), DVDs, handwritten lyrics, and more, provides every amount of respect and passion for it like true Metallica fans give it and have given it for 30 plus years and on.
Pink Floyd’s legendary guitarist goes it alone and revisits a seminal landscape in Pompeii, where Pink Floyd had recorded the memorable Live at Pompeii concert film back in 1972. Performing a mix of the expected Floyd songs and adventurous solo material that only the absolutely diehard fans will recognize, this Pompeii concert is certainly less youthful than the Floyd predecessor of sorts, but still retains almost the same kind of energy and verve as the aforementioned concert. The difference this time, of course, is that David Gilmour is in total control and it the lone star of the show. With an eager backup band getting every note right and crossing every musical T and dotting every musical I, Gilmour musically waxes faithful on his axe throughout, still showcasing why he’s arguably one of the top ten rock guitarists in history, Live at Pompeii never really rises above simply a revisiting of sorts, a nostalgia act, but still fanciful and appealing in many ways. An overall handsome production in both the visual and aural, Live at Pompeii is available in CD and Blu-ray formats separate and together.
In 1977, England’s punk trio The Jam came and blazed its own trail in a musical genre that was fast becoming saturated with scores of like sounding bands. Kind of an early precursor to power pop/new wave in many ways, The Jam took the three-chord punk playbook and threw in a little bit of Beatles and Kinks, eschewing the kind of American garage punk influences most bands were going for at the time who played punk. Instead, front man Paul Weller infused a musical amalgam right at the start, which elevated The Jam from simply remaining a zeitgeist band of punk music. The band’s debut In the City and the follow up, This is the Modern World, already employs the changes and remains two of the great and in many ways underrated records of the era. This deluxe package houses the two classic records in one, complete with extras like unreleased demos and live tracks, a DVD with a performance from 1977 and promo material, a 144-page book with photos, liner notes, and more.
Compiled by R&B stalwart Erykah Badu, comes the fourth box set (this one focusing on his late 70s material) showcasing the legendary African figure Fela Kuti, who singlehandedly invented Afrobeat music. Almost like a Malcolm X to Bob Marley’s Martin Luther King Jr. sensibilities, Kuti went from starting in the 1960s as one of the top-shelf practitioners of African “highlife” music, which was an embryonic version of his pioneering Afrobeat to come, to becoming one of the key political and social figures in Africa of all time. Fela was an artist whose craft transcended him and the listener to areas which took them outside the music, and put mirrors up not only to the inequities of his country’s slanted Governments and biased, violent attitudes towards communities, but to create our jolting recognizing of them as well. Creating a style in which a repetitive backbeat and bottom end bassline hypnotically and endlessly keeps a center to each and every song, songs which take their time and are sonic crosses mainly between the best of James Brown and Jazz/Funk/R&B tones, but ultimately shining as a true original and brave voice, Kuti, who died 20 years ago this year, remains the larger than life figure he was when alive, a fearlessly jaw droppingly prolifically brave artist who literally almost died for his causes. Most social musicians talk the talk, but Kuti walked that walk, to the point where he almost had to crawl after all the resistance by mainly his Government, who he threatened musically and who felt threatened. The man’s music sounds and rattles with an urgency that is still light years ahead of when it was originally recorded and yet as relevant as ever, perhaps even more so. This box set, and frankly pretty much all of Fela Kuti’s music, is not just a collection of great music, but an aural social and history lesson as well. The music will keep you dancing for days, but, the meaning “deep groove” never took on a truer meaning than it does here.
The 40th anniversary edition of Rocket to Russia, one of the great records by the storied NYC punk foursome, also includes a complete live show from Scotland, scores of unreleased tracks and alternates, deluxe packaging, and an overall treatment of respect to a band that at the time, it would have been unthinkable that they would get a sonic treatment like this in the 21st century. Loaded with scores of memorable short but sweet and on fire energetic Ramones ditties like “Cretin Hop,” “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” “Teenage Lobotomy,” “We’re A Happy Family,” “Rockaway Beach,” and they-made-it-their-own-instantly cover versions of classic songs like “Do You Wanna Dance?” and the hyper and perfect for the band “Surfin’ Bird,” Rocket to Russia remains one of the extreme highlights of the band’s large and powerful catalog.
The debut album by one of the most influential American bands of all time and released 50 years ago this year, The Doors (the album and the band) was at once a feast for the senses, an eclectic mix of blues and early rock and roll, mixed with a goth sound before goth was ever invented, and with dashes of early 20th century poetry and literature, like Rimbaud meets Muddy Waters or Leadbelly meets Aldous Huxley. Songs which have become a staple of classic rock radio and its ilk, such as “Break on Through,” the Oedipus and lengthy “The End,” the almost sing-a-long strains of “Soul Kitchen,” and the album’s centerpiece, the adventurous and tightly sprawling “Light My Fire,” remain on musical high, and this self-titled album sounds fresh, even fresher in a way and with more of an urgency than when it first came out during that crucial and integral Summer of 1967. Re-mastered and loaded with extras and rarities, this package remains another of the most essential for any record collection.
Note – The follow-up, Strange Days, has also gotten an expanded treatment, which is available in a 2-CD digipack and includes stereo and mono mixes of this sophomoric release, which remains one of the band’s more underrated, yet still on par with the others, efforts.
Hot on the heels of his slow but highly confident climb in the music industry with his uncensored, R&B, Sly Stone & Jimi Hendrix-style stripped down and bounced up style with tracks like the party anthem “1999,” Purple Rain put Prince into a uniquely dazzling class altogether. Coming out like a treble clef shooting out of a .44 caliber Magnum, “Let’s Go Crazy” starts the groove frenzy right away and keeps it hot throughout. By the time the intellectually funky track “When Doves Cry” and the string-arranged, volcanic turbulence of the title song are reached, the listener has been thrust into an almost transcending of their own consciousness thanks to its guitar fervor (supplied by Prince) and the almost contemporary (at the time) vibe straight out of the most erotic moments of the notorious film Caligula. The record is unabashedly 1980s, but it’s much more than that, as it remains a classic piece of recorded music that set a template which Prince would follow again and again on subsequent releases, but never reaching the apex set by Purple Rain. The deluxe expanded edition includes unreleased tracks, to the hilt re-mastering of the album overseen by the late master himself back in 2015, and a DVD of a rare performance by Prince and the Revolution from 1985.
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the legendary original Star Wars: A New Hope and also acting as a kind of tie-in to the upcoming installment in the Star Wars series The Last Jedi comes this superbly rendered deluxe triple vinyl set from Walt Disney Records. Composed by John Williams, who remains one of filmdom’s exalted masterminds, this package contains music and themes that have at this point been almost seared into the global fabric of everyone’s consciousness. But more than that, this set includes a 48-page hardcover book jam packed with rare photos, two essays, behind the scenes anecdotes and glimpses of production, and scoring sessions. But the icing on the cake for Star Wars collectors far and wide is the vinyl has 3D holographic etchings included therein which can be viewed when one holds it up to a light source. Unique and essential for the Star Wars fan who thinks he or she has everything. (Note: The item is being released on December 1st, but you can preorder now via the link.)
Released 30 years ago this year, U2’s The Joshua Tree made the band, which already had been successfully snowballing rapidly in a cult sense, global superstars. The first three tracks on the record alone — “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “With or Without You” — remain the band’s apex for many fans. There’s a kind of confidence here, an effortless musical prowess that was heard in strains on U2’s prior releases, but really stunning how they were able to come into their own on this release, and chart a new territory that they are still treading on, 30 years later. Loaded with a complete 1987 Madison Square Garden live performance and B-sides and remixes and an 84-page book filled with rare personal photos to round out the package, it’s a must for any U2 fan worldwide.
For gift selections for the heavy metal enthusiast in your life, check out Geeks Of Doom’s Metalhead’s Holiday Gift Guide 2017.
Remember, if all else fails, there’s also the Amazon.com Gift Card, you can have emailed to the recipient (arrives immediately) or you can print out the gift card at home and give it to the intended that way. If you order in enough time, you can get the physical gift card sent to you.