To say that the year 2020 has been chaotic at best is an understatement of the highest order. Between an ongoing world pandemic to civil unrest, a “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore” stance of all things racist and unfair, to a domestic Presidential election that left many flummoxed and drained and finally relieved, 2020 will be a year for the ages in the collective memory and history of the planet. And as always, music has acted as an almost collective balm for healing, inspiration, guidance, and direction during these unprecedented times. The beauty of music is that it always serves some sort of a purpose for the listener, giving forth to them a multitude of sonic choices and ultimately solutions within and without. Now more than ever, with a holiday season of uncertainty just on the horizon and one filled with an imposed and rightfully so global bondage on all of us, there’s still the divine union of giving gifts to loved ones and friends. And what better gift to give than the timeless gift of music? So, as is our annual wont, here’s the latest installment of musical selections and suggestions to help guide your choices, as always, served up with a little tequila in the eggnog.
Check out our 2020 Holiday Geek Gift Guide for Music.
If there is a record more fast, more loud, more filled with raw guttural power that hits like a sledgehammer to the bones each time than this one, it hasn’t been made yet. Ace of Spades by Motorhead hits 40 this year, and has gotten the deluxe, remastered, and filled with live and unreleased tracks treatment. But unlike a lot of over-bloated collections that try to dress up a single album in full pomp and remastered circumstance, it’s more than welcomed here. The late Lemmy barrels over you constantly and consistently, he wails like a banshee who is coming to literally run you over with his nonstop relentless musical attack. The entire band doesn’t let up for a second; even when the record ends and one hears the fadeout and the white noise of nothing, you can still hear the sound of Motorhead in your own head ringing loud and clear for days afterwards. Would you want it any other way? The 2-CD set contains a 20-page media book with never seen before photos and a new master of the album created from the original tapes, along with a live album of a previously unreleased Belfast concert from 1981. The limited edition box set also includes more live concerts; a 10-inch EP of of previously unreleased, demo instrumental tracks from 1980; unreleased tracks, B-sides, outtakes, and rare tracks; a DVD compilation of rare TV appearances from 1980-81, a 40-page booklet, a comic, and much more.
Marred by the unexpected and tragic death of their drummer Neil Peart, there’s an unfortunate sadness that now permeates the band. But the song remains the same. 40 years on and packaged to the hilt with the deluxe treatment expected for releases like this, Permanent Waves was a watershed crossroads moment for Rush in many ways. Kicking off with the now legendary “Spirit of Radio,” a critique and celebration of a medium that never really embraced the band, the 1980 album begins the sort of “second act” for the Canadian trio, as they started to trim the arguable musical “fat” lengthy arrangements of their prior releases, releases in which they combined the best of rock and roll with the best of progressive rock, now creating a more leaner, tighter, yet still albeit right in their sound musical pocket. And although there’s still one more gasp of the earlier years in the complex and innovative “Natural Science,” Permanent Waves gives a musical peek to what lay ahead for the band and what remained with them until they retired in the mid 2010s, a sound and style which introduced them to newer audiences and broke through their fringe success to become one of rock’s greatest acts. Info on the 2-CD Deluxe: Includes a 20-page booklet of reimagined artwork by original designer Hugh Syme along with unreleased photos from the band’s archive; Disc 1 has the 2015 Abbey Road Mastering Studios remaster of the album available for the first time; Disc 2 has unreleased live tracks from several concerts on the band’s 1980 World Tour.
A few key dates from Frank Zappa’s 1981 tour (2 Shows on October 31, 1 Show on November 1) are showcased here on this expansive set, complete with expert remastering, sagacious liner notes, and a physical “Count Frankula” mask and cape to boot. Highlighting the 1981 album You Are What You Is, and containing a band that’s comprised of legends like Steve Vai on guitar and longtime Zappa stalwart Chad Wackerman on drums, this 6-CD set is everything a Zappa fan would expect and more, filled with musical gymnastics that range from sublime to the ridiculous and from powerful to even insightful. There’s also 78 unreleased live tracks. And while Zappa’s euphonious peccadilloes might deter some as repetitious, arrogant, and off-putting at times, it’s exactly for those same reasons that made him such a spearheader of his innovations. An essential sonic diary, one to be played loud and often.
By 1973, coming fresh off the dynamos that were Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, the Rolling Stones seemed to be smoking a post-sonic fuck cigarette with Goat’s Head Soup in many aspects. At once quieter, introspective and rocking in its own hermetically sealed way, Goat’s acts almost like a way station after the punches of what came before, and in a way, remains an album that’s almost a curio in the band’s oeuvre, but in no way does that mean it should be neglected. If anything, the release of this deluxe version, including the obligatory unreleased tracks (35 of them!) over 3 CDs and 1 Blu-ray, and all the other expectations of something of this music ilk, should reintroduce or introduce a record that underwhelmed Stones fans somewhat during its original release but still has more than ample shelf life to it. The set also includes 120-page book of photos and essays and 4 reproduced 1973 tour posters that are rolled up within the packaging (the way posters should be packaged!).
Iggy Pop, the real wild child who used his TV eye to search and destroy for fast chasers and ne’er do wells down on the street is exhibited in a sprawling and euphorically exhaustive 7-CD box set, showcasing the work he did with the late chameleon David Bowie. Bowie had produced Iggy and the Stooges’ 1973 Raw Power and although the original mix was arguably a muddy sonic mess, the rag-tag machete charm of the record firmly affixed it in the pantheon of “all time great records” blah, blah, blah. A few years afterwards, the two got together again to make records and trips to Berlin that both were a bit more self-serving and aimless than successful, but again had the rag-tag machete charm on both counts. And it’s because of those factors that make this deluxe set worth owning. Filled with unreleased tracks and existing tracks and curios and photos, etc., this is like glimpsing a stained unkempt sonic book of sorts and the one part confusion and disillusion and two parts grimy satisfaction is what will keep interest in this set up on high. The set also includes a 40-page hardcover book with article and interviews.
Allman Brothers Band Trouble No More
50th Anniversary Collection 5-CD Box Set
This new collection is a nice compact and not laden with too much filler compendium of the premier “Southern Rock” ensemble who sported one of the great guitarists of all time in the late Duane Allman, who passed away 50 years next year. Either one will go with the constant jams and boogie rock that permeates through most of the tracks, whether they are slow or fast numbers, or they won’t. The band has always been either labeled an endless mindless jam band or an exquisitely tight juggernaut, fusing a sort of a jazz improvisation with a more midwestern kind of rock and roll approach. I agree with the latter and this collection is a perfect way to digest the band for those in either camp. This set is packaged in a 2-panel softpack with slipcase and contains an 88-page booklet featuring unreleased band photos and newly shot photos of memorabilia.
Aptly titled and relentless throughout, Rock Legend houses the very best of a band that although many still remember on the basis of one mid 1970s hit song, remains a titan of the genre. Led by the late bassist/singer/frontman Phil Lynott and showcasing the “he played a mean guitar” noodlings of Scott Gorham and later Gary Moore, Thin Lizzy was equal parts boom, bombast, and power. It was straightforward rock that made no apologies; either you were a metaphorical mate of a listener to them and went with their reckless take no prisoners kind of approach in their music or lyrics, whether they were talking about drinking, boozing, carousing and fucking, or you didn’t. They could care less anyway, they were too busy barreling down the track fast and loud, reasons alone which makes this collection essential and a must. This collection includes 99 tracks, many of which are previously unreleased demos, radio sessions, live recordings, and rare single edits, while the DVD contains the hour-long BBC documentary Bad Reputation.
Bob Marley & The Wailers The Complete Island Recordings 11-CD Box Set
Most people only know of the work of this global colossus from the Legend compilation and that’s okay. But now there is an opportunity to savor and explore the entire output of reggae king Bob Marley’s work on The Complete Island Recordings box set. Marley, who died 40 years ago next year and would have been 75 this year, remains an important figure of hope, a champion of peace, and an explorer of all things positive. Most importantly, he never soapboxed his messages or did it in a holier-than-thou stance. The messages of peace and love, in his more than capable hands, made them rise from the banality of pretentiousness and obviousness on its intrinsic levels to an all-together communal atmosphere which brought him and the listener to a transcendent plane. Judge for yourself with this superb package and marvel even more at the spellbinding music included within, cannabis wholly optional to do so. This set contains all 9 Bob Marley & The Wailers studio albums that were recorded for Island Records, along with 2 live albums Live! and Babylon By Bus.
Released in conjunction back on October 9th for what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday and released right before the anniversary of his tragic death 40 years ago on December 8th, this package highlights the solo career of the erudite Beatle, who transcended the image of his tenure in that group to become like the aforementioned Bob Marley as a beacon for world peace. But unlike the aforementioned Bob Marley, Lennon was a much more complex and troubled artist than Marley ever was or ever could be. Give Me Some Truth gives everything you want and more and is similar to the Lennon collections released in the past, the lot of the expected hits and misses, unreleased tracks, and warm and sympathetic sound remastering, and informative liner notes and photos in a 124-page book. A Lennonphile might walk away wanting more, but the bottom line is that this is a great surface scratcher for any fan of the man who wants a few musical peeks into what lies further beneath that surface. There’s also a foldout 2-sided poster, 2 postcards, and a “GIMME SOME TRUTH.” bumper sticker.
One of, if not the biggest band of the 1980s, and almost became an archetype for that decade’s kind of sound, style, and fashion sense, Def Leppard remains a band which stretched way beyond its kind of post late 70s British metal to all four corners of the globe. However, to most fans who still can’t get all that sugar off them that the band poured on them so voluminously, the original band, before the success, is an enigma, a musical anomaly. Shame, because talk about missing out. It’s those early years where the band was still lean and hungry, still sounded like they had things to prove, still sounded like they had the swagger, and almost had touches of Thin Lizzy/Judas Priest brilliance. And it’s these years that have been encased in this 5-CD box set with all the trimmings to satiate the biggest Leppard fan and to turn curious heads of the uninitiated. The set includes remastered editions of the band’s first 2 albums, On Through The Night (1980) and High `N’ Dry (1981), along with B-sides, rarities, and re-mix versions, Radio One sessions, Live from Reading, and an unreleased and newly mixed 1980 live show from Oxford.
This 8-CD box set is like one of those world beer samplers, some go down great and tasty, some go down bitter, some go down nauseating, some go down sweet, some go down satisfactory, and some don’t go down at all. That pretty much sums up the work of Elton John and this set, which in that regard then has something for everybody. Choked with tons of unreleased and well known tracks and packaging as well crafted as the man and some of his work, Jewel Box is all anyone would ever need regarding the works of Elton John and longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin. Yes, they are still standing, but one might need to sit down in order to get through this entire collection. The set also contains a hardcover book, which includes written commentary by Elton John, wrapped in a slipcase.
Amy Winehouse, who died a decade ago next year, still remains a controversial and easily misunderstood artist. Shrouded in a reckless life that overshadowed her resplendent talents for singing, which was like a cross between the best and worst of Billie Holiday and more contemporary latter-day R&B peers of her era, Winehouse could belt out numbers with the best of them and as good as the best of them. This collection should if anything, make people remember and realize that when one sifts through all the tabloid junk and scrapes all that negative patina off the image of the woman’s music, what remains is a vital, fragile, and sublimely lofty and even tender body of work that holds even more emotional weight to it now than it ever did before. This 5-CD set includes the albums Frank, Back To Black, and Lioness: Hidden Treasures, along with In addition the 2007 Live In London concert as well as a collection of remixes.
Johnny Cash The Complete Mercury Albums (1986-1991) 7-CD Box Set
The Man in Black’s later career records are now available in one complete collection and while of course arguably they aren’t on the same level and par as the vaunted work he did for Columbia Records in the 1950s to the 1970s, this complete 7-CD Mercury Album collection does make a nice counterpart and bookend to a Cash completist who has the Columbia releases. This latest collection still exemplifies Cash at what he does best, utilizing his bassy boom of a voice, coupled with Americana-styled songs that upon listening instantly manifests the classic Cash sound to a listener. And even though one can hear the energy and verve of Cash a little more on the down low here, it’s still ample enough sounds and songs to make one realize just why Johnny Cash was such a Herculean talent in American music. The ring may not be on fire at this point, but it’s still smoldering hot.
Glenn Gould A State of Wonder
The Complete Goldberg Variations 1955 & 1981 2-CD Set
Glenn Gould, the late Canadian pianist who almost singlehandedly created a sound and vision for classical piano, playing in the same adventurous and innovative manner that people like Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix did on their instrument, is spotlighted on A State of Wonder. It’s a record which time and time again adroitly and expertly jaw drops the listener with Gould’s renditions of Bach’s “The Goldberg Variations,” pieces which Gould had been performing since 1960, a few years after he made his sensational debut as an absolute wunderkind of his craft. Playing in a manner of intense taste, with breadth and a limitless abundance of hyper-freaky confidence, Gould nevertheless is not too “highbrow” even for the layman, and that he could achieve such a difficult musical task was arguably his greatest gift. Gould stretched his music like he stretched himself (he was an eccentric to the nth degree) and thusly, stretched the listener to realms and heights they didn’t even realize music could even aspire to. This is not just music, but an epic event akin to a miniseries, with every musical frame laid out for full attention. Massive rewards are paid luxuriously to those who give it such.
Celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, this live album by Jazz genius Don Ellis is electric jazz with a capital E. The work and style of the late Ellis was one inspired by the unconventional musical meters of Dave Brubeck, whose “Take Five” showed that music can transcend it’s basic 4/4 meter and still remain a swinging powerhouse of sound. Ellis took that ball and ran with it, and for most of his career made adventurous and vital Jazz that always stretched limits and created constant challenges for his band, himself and the listener. The 1970 Live at Fillmore came on the heels of massive late 1960s success for Ellis and gives a taste of what was to come for Ellis in the new decade, a decade that gave him his musical zenith with his score of the Oscar winning 1971 film The French Connection, and his untimely passing in 1978. But here on Live at Fillmore, he’s just that, a live wire on the trumpet who confidently and assuredly takes the listener on wild expansive musical explorations, and really, who wouldn’t want to take that trip?
Now in its fourth decade and marking the return of wild man lead guitarist Angus Young, grit master singer Brian Johnson, study rhythm bassist Cliff Williams, and four on the floor thudmeister drummer Phil Rudd comes Power Up, the 17th studio album from Australia’s esteemed ear bleeders, AC/DC. You usually know exactly what you are going to get when you take an AC/DC record out of the box and Power Up is no different. And that’s exactly how their millions of fans want it, lean, straightforward, and full of amped up, revved up sonics, simple formula and ridiculously successful. This latest offering by band is also released in a limited edition “light up” deluxe version in which the iconic AC/DC logo actually illuminates on the packaging and plays the opening of one of the albums’s songs, “Shot In The Dark.” The limited edition, which houses the new album in a CD soft-pack with a 20-page booklet with exclusive photos and a USB charging cable so the logo will remain lit up and flashing, is a fun novelty that will surely delight the legions of fans. And while you’re are at it, they should pick up a copy of Back in Black, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.
Blackmore’s Night Here We Come A-Caroling CD | Vinyl
Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and singer Candice Night give a quasi-medieval touch that is their stock and trade on some traditional Yuletide classics on the green-colored vinyl release just in time for the holidays entitled Here We Come A-Caroling. The former Deep Purple guitarist, who co-founded Blackmore’s Night with now-wife Night, lays his firm guitar touches on this gleeful album, a record for fans of the group and for those who want to transcend the ad nauseum playing of the constant traditional Christmas music that apes them wherever they go and listen to something a little different, tasteful and full of the cool bombast that keeps Blackmore one of the all-time greats. The new Christmas album is also available on CD and MP3/streaming.
20 songs culled from a live performance with the San Francisco Symphony that kicked off the opening of that city’s Chase Center, this is prime Metallica filled with the music of prime Metallica, something that has been as off and on as a young kid playing with a light switch in recent and distant memory and has polarized fans with a grand canyon sized gap that has remained that way since The Black Album. However, there should be a temporary restraining order between those Hatfields and McCoys, who should actually agree on the musical surefooted days of yore hunger that’s presented here from Messrs Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett, and Trujillo. There’s also, as is for the most part always attached to all musical portraits of bands that have been around for three decades or more, the sign of a veteran world weariness of course, but for the diehard and faithful, they still get everything they want and more here, and never let it be said that the band still can’t raise excitement. Metallica celebrates their 40th anniversary next year, one can hope that this release here isn’t the beginning of a last gasp. Deluxe packages of S&M 2 include more expansive editions and Blu-ray performances and the like.
Black Sabbath Paranoid
50th Anniversary CD | Vinyl
To some, this is the seminal masterpiece by the foursome of doom, a heavy, heavy, apocalyptic sonic treatment that if anything, sounds more relevant than ever in today’s world and acts in many ways as a soundtrack to this hyper haywire globe we all live on. Literally stabbing in the metaphoric heart subjects like politics, war, nihilism, drug addiction, humanistic tendencies, and general apathy and of course mental illness like paranoia mixed with apoplectic rage, Paranoid talks about all of the above lyrically and musically. It’s the album that really put Black Sabbath over the bloody map and if it doesn’t retain the sludge abnegation of the world and its ills in terms of the sound and production that it had on their self-titled first album, Paranoid begins the band’s trek on focusing and reining in their signature sound a bit and all for the better in some ways. (The band would fuse the two styles on the equally powerhouse Volume 4 a few years later.) But here it’s a virtual loud and gloomy free for all in the music department and the synergism of Ozzy, Tony, Geezer, and Bill create sonic cinder blocks in one’s brain that smash together again and again for maximum effect. The set, which also includes live concert performances, comes in vinyl and CD versions, all recommended and none disappointing.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020, Bitches Brew crystalized everything that was (pun intended) brewing and leading up to it in the then still burgeoning jazz fusion scene that was just about to explode post the influence of this record. When broken down, there are so many factors that make Bitches Brew the marvel that it is and remains, the lineup, Miles’ playing, the peak/valley intensity of the songs, songs in which at once are robust and frightening, sheer power literally pushing against speakers and the listener’s mind’s eye with such force it’s like a rocket propulsion spitting out nuclear fission right in one’s face. I’ve always said that this record isn’t for everyone, and I don’t mean that in an egotistical sense. The record is so intense, some might not be able to take it, but all are encouraged to try and strap in and let Miles and company take you to where you may not have wanted to go, but won’t ever, ever want to leave when you get there. From the dazzling cover art of the 2-record set on the vinyl gatefold to every song within, Bitches Brew remains forever a record that if it was anointed a grade, one would have to make a higher grade than an A+ in order to really justify it’s phenomenal scope and outreach. It’s that good.
– Roger Waters: Us + Them CD | Vinyl | Blu-ray | DVD
– Pink Floyd: Delicate Sound Of Thunder (Restored, Re-edited, Remixed) Blu-ray | DVD
– Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets: Live at the Roundhouse Blu-ray
– Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame In Concert Blu-ray
– The Eagles: Live From The Forum MMXVIII Blu-ray & 2CD | DVD & 2CD
– Bush: Live In Tampa Blu-ray
Check out all of our Holiday Gift Guides for more ideas, and 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 directly to you or to the recipient.