So this is the “new normal?” Or is it a return to the “old normal?” Either way, regardless of how you spent this past year, regardless of your thoughts on the world, politics, and economics of the world, furrowing your eyebrows at this or that or embracing all the necessary and arguably unnecessary changes in the world, one needs a constant personal and universal soundtrack to keep going, to keep sane, to keep grounded and inspired. As the newest round of the holiday season gets ready to dawn upon us, music not only acts as the perfect and always obvious choices for even the most discriminating of tastes, but also something that brings much-needed relief and communion to end another challenging year and brace everyone for what lies ahead in 2022. So as always, here’s my picks for some of the sonic highlights released this year, spanning all genres and tastes.
This package, mainly comprised of songs that first found life as instrumentals years earlier, celebrates its 40th Anniversary this year and arguably stands as the last great Rolling Stones record, before the 1980s swallowed them and many of their musical brethren up in its web. From the now iconic opening chords of “Start Me Up” to the now equally iconic opening chords of the last track “Waiting on a Friend” and all in between, there’s a constant hot urgency to this record, understandably, since most of Tattoo You was conceived during what still stands as the the band’s most prolific and exciting era, the early – mid ’70s. Tracks like the raunchy “Slave,” with jazz monarch Sonny Rollins on sax and “Hang Fire” also cook, there’s really not a weak number on the album, and Messrs. Jagger, Richards, Wood, Wyman, and the late Charlie Watts all give their usual wobbly electrified Chuck Berry visions and manifestations in that inimitable and influential way that only they can.
This 4-disc deluxe remastered edition contains the original album on CD along with a bonus picture disc pressing of Tattoo You as well as previously unreleased songs, live versions, and much more. Plus there’s a 124-page book with over 200 rare photos from recording sessions and world tour and interviews, packaged in a special lenticular sleeve.
The last official release by The Beatles while they were still a band (even though Abbey Road had been recorded after), Let It Be gets a complete makeover and audio overhaul in this gargantuan set filled with over 25 extra songs, unreleased versions, and original and mono and stereo versions of the original Phil Spector 1969 – 1970 production, along with lavish art design and a 100-page book filled with anecdotes and rare photos and a foreword by Paul McCartney. The record itself was a sort of controversial affair when first released, amidst urban tales of band dissent and the like, but still remains a vital musical swan song for the foursome. Well-known number ones like “Get Back” and the only-Spector-could-produce it that way “The Long and Winding Road” mix nicely with the almost tailor-made for garage band songs like “Two of Us” and “Dig a Pony.” The set is released in concert (no pun intended) with the recently released Peter Jackson multi-part documentary Get Back, which showcases the making of Let it Be and more.
Recorded right before Neil Young’s massive breakthrough with Harvest a year or so after this concert, Neil Young Carnegie Hall 1970 showcases the artist during his first wave of American success, right on the heels of songs like “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down By the River,” and “After the Gold Rush.” All those and over twenty more round out this new collection, which finds Young playing trademark guitar, harmonica, and piano at the famed New York venue, accompanied of course by his pained high-pitched vocals, which complement the equally pained yet lyrical and sometimes even tender lyrics, also mixed in with the electricity and excitement of the fever pitch of the crowd, who even this early on, were passionate stalwart fans of the Canadian, who endures to this day stronger and more necessary than ever. 2 CDs or 2 Vinyl Platters make up the collection and is essential for those who found Neil Young since the very start of his career of his mainstream success, in essence, everyone.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts 2-CD Set
This concert happened during a turbulent year regarding careless nuclear energy activity as the 1970s came to a close. The Three Mile Island nuclear accident on March of 1979 had dangled America’s East Coast dangerously to the verge of a full-throttle meltdown and films like the gripping and chilling The China Syndrome also fanned the collective fears. By September of that year, the collective consciousness of most of the nation was to find a way to eradicate the entire usage and concept of nuclear energy all together in the form of a concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden called No Nukes, formed by MUSE, the Musicians United for Safe Energy organization, spearheaded by people like Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. The concert brought out most of music elite of the 1970s pop rock camp, like artists such as Crosby, Stills and Nash; James Taylor; Carly Simon; Gil Scott Heron, and others. Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band also performed that evening, which is fondly remembered still as one of the highlights of the entire show. Springsteen’s portion of that concert has now been released as part of a deluxe package, available in CD and Vinyl formats. Complete with photos, insightful liner notes, and expert sound quality, not to mention capturing The Boss and his E Street Band at a sonic peak, right after 1978’s Darkness At the Edge of Town and right before the 1980s beginning of the taste of superstardom with The River. All the expected tracks from Bruce’s early first era are included, such as the seminal Born to Run album and song, but there are other chestnuts here that make it all the worthwhile, like “The Detroit Medley” and an incredible version of the American classic “Stay” with Jackson Browne and Tom Petty. The live Springsteen oeuvre has arguably been a mixed bag at best on record, but this end of the ’70s performance at MSG finds a peak performance the listener will return to again and again.
John Coltrane A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle CD | Vinyl
One of the great jazz records of all time is captured in an electrifying live set recorded in the Northwest in 1965. For John Coltrane, who had done adventurous albeit genre-stretching work for almost 20 years by the time he released A Love Supreme, it became a record and an achievement that most Coltrane enthusiasts swear is his magnum opus (for me it’s Ole Coltrane). And indeed, it’s a record that transcends the listener, a record that requires a skillful patience, and charts through musical territory and heights but yields rewards unlike even the most amazing of albums, particularly in the jazz genre. Now with this historic sonic document, in which like-minded sax guru Pharoah Sanders joins the group, what it might lack in sound quality, it more than makes up for it in terms of its historic vision, which no one must have known at the time, and which adds even more to its allure and depth in its presentation. To sum up, if you give someone only one jazz album this holiday season…
Fans of the American Elton John cum Paul McCartney will be in full drool mode over this set, which houses all of the Piano Man’s 1970s output: the first 6 studio albums and 2 live albums. It’s an output that was like a literal conveyor belt coming from a hit factory; memorable track after memorable track spanning over records starting with 1971’s Cold Spring Harbor and culminating with Songs From the Attic, released ten years later. If you are a Billy Joel fan, you know the hits, you know the records, you probably owned them perhaps when they were first released, or your parents did or someone you knew. But even if you aren’t a fan of Billy Joel, there’s no escaping how instantaneously familiar these songs are to the ear. An unreleased live performance from 1975 at The Great American Music Hall rounds out this all Vinyl collection, which is done up to recreate each album in its original release form and also includes a 50-page book, filled with rare photographs and the like.
Albums included: Cold Spring Harbor (1971 / 1LP), Piano Man (1973 / 1LP), Streetlife Serenade (1974 / 1LP), Turnstiles (1976 / 1LP), The Stranger (1977 / 1LP), 52nd Street (1978 / 1LP), Songs In The Attic (1981 / 1LP), Live at The Great American Music Hall (1975 / 2LP).
James Bond Theme Songs (Various Artists) The Best of Bond…James Bond 2-CD | 3-LP Vinyl
Released in conjunction with the current global James Bond blockbuster No Time to Die and including the title track from that film by Billie Eilish and other songs like Adele’s “Skyfall,” this updated set, with the iconic gun barrel cover, is an essential collection for anyone with a penchant for Ian Fleming’s suave superspy. The songs are almost as classic as the films themselves: Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger”; “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings; “Nobody Does it Better” by Carly Simon from The Spy Who Loved Me it goes on and on. It’s one memorable track after the other that will not only bring back fond memories of 007, but may make one pull out their DVDs and Blu-rays and revisit the entire series, grab a dry martini, and settle in.
The debut album by one of the greatest if not most underrated guitarists of any age, the self-titled Rory Gallagher is at once a sonic reading of what came before, with his work in the late 1960s blues juggernaut Taste, to what followed, foursomes and trios led by Gallagher with knockout rhythm sections and piano playing. Gallagher, who inexplicably has only had cult success in America yet remains lionized rightfully so all over the rest of the world, especially in his hometown of Ireland, nonetheless remains a vital force in rock and roll and electric blues. He was a master showman who although had humble looks and a physical charisma that borderlined on Peter Frampton eternal nice guy-itis, could firmly stand his own as a premier player with any of them, and that includes anyone in your personal top ten guitarists of all time list. This Deluxe edition of the original release, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, is an absolute treasure trove in every way for a Rory Gallagher fan: scores of unreleased tracks, a large book filled with photos and info about the album, the time, and the man. The icing on the cake is a DVD of an unreleased, almost 60-minute performance of Gallagher’s first solo concert. In short, incredible, expansive, amazing, and an essential requisite for any collection.
Comprising of the band’s first eight albums, this 10-CD collection showcases the relentless blues-rock attack of Ten Years After. Fronted by the late Alvin Lee, the fretboard alchemist whose penchant for speed, soul, and fiery licks and chords created, behind a guttural backbeat that never lets up, out of control blues like a freight train through a plate glass window. Ten Years After may be only remembered as an AM one-hit wonder to some (“I’d Like to Change the World”), or a band that gave one of the greatest highlights at the 1969 Woodstock Festival with the show stopping “I’m Going Home,” but this expansive collection reveals that there are multitudes of amazement to be found with a deep dive. The set is rounded out by the inclusion of a live album and a bonus disc of recordings from 1972 entitled the Cap Ferret Sessions, which were discovered by Alvin Lee’s widow and were revealed to be not demos or half-baked recordings, but fully realized recordings that had only been unreleased because of space limitations on their albums at the time. Use headphones for this one, and crank it as loud as you can take it for maximum effect, Ten Years After and their fans wouldn’t have ever had it any other way.
An absolutely titanic set created for an absolutely titanic band. Emerson, Lake & Palmer almost singlehandedly invented Prog Rock. While to some that may have begun the ruination of what people like Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry called Rock and Roll as we knew it, ELP still took those primal elements and created a sort of reverse primalism in their sound, an almost suffocating tightness mixed with just the right gravitas, pomposity, and sheer chutzpah to create a trio of doom of sorts that arguably blew away most bands of this tonal ilk. But also in its wake, created almost a subgenre unto itself, as bands after bands still tread along on the musical influential backs of ELP in terms of musical gymnastics in terms of arrangement, performance, and production. This set is emblematic of the band and is absolutely loaded with all their 11 original studio releases on CD for almost the band’s first three decades, remastered here, along with a previously unreleased, gatefold, triple vinyl LP album. There’s also original album art recreated, along with a plethora of cool vintage band geek stuff, like recreations of original early 1970s tour posters and programs, photos, and unreleased tracks and key quotes from the late Keith Emerson and Greg Lake and the very much still alive and clobbering away at the skins drummeister Carl Palmer; plus, a metal & enamel ELP logo pin badge
Vince Guaraldi Trio A Charlie Brown Christmas 2021 Edition Cassette
The seminal and quintessential perennial holiday favorite A Charlie Brown Christmas finds its way onto an archaic for some, nostalgic for others, and unknown to a few sonic medium: the cassette. Those who still even have access to play cassette tapes will find this release in a limited edition silver shell casing and ultra remastered versions of all the classics, classics which have become as familiar as the animated Peanuts holiday special itself. The Vince Guaraldi Trio instantly sets a certain tone and feel for the songs, the special, and the listener, which ranges from memorable to delightful to emotional, sometimes all at once. A wonderful curio of a gift for those who don’t even have a cassette player, but still love the endearment the Peanuts gang and the album brings every holiday season. Note – if you purchase the cassette from Amazon, it comes with a free MP3 version of the album, so you’ll be able to listen digitally.
After the breakup of The Beatles, no one seemed to be more free from its supposed shackles of Lennon/McCartney than George Harrison. Relegated to usually a tune or two on Beatles albums, Harrison always seemed like a third wheel in a band that had a dynamic duo in constant full force and scope. Almost immediately after the Beatles’ breakup in the Summer of 1970, Harrison came out with this triple threat of a release entitled All Things Must Pass, not a sly reference to his sentiment on his former musical life ending. Like a floodgate finally being released and torrents of water allowed to run and flow rampant in any direction it chooses, All Things Must Pass is a perfect musical metaphor for the aforementioned statement. With a host of top-shelf players, who were also Harrison’s musical friends and cohorts, there’s a tonal muscularity that is almost shocking on first hearing of the album. No one could have ever anticipated that the “quiet Beatle” had so much eclecticism in him; even the poor and weak numbers still have a scruffy heart about them, a lot more sincere than Paul McCartney’s solo album, also released in 1970 and also with a kind of ragtag low-fi equals hi-fi quality, but with not a lot of the charm that oozes effortlessly upon a hearing of All Things Must Pass. This super deluxe in every way package includes 70 tracks with 42 unreleased and utmost expert sound remastering including a Blu-ray audio version of the album, all housed in a slipcase with a lavish 56-page scrapbook with rare visual and textual remembrances and a replica of the poster included in the album’s original release.
Released in 1988, only five years before his untimely death at the age of 52, this show nonetheless still finds Frank Zappa, the master of no-nonsense nonsense rock and roll, at the top of his game. There arguably never was a “bad” live Frank Zappa show. His painstaking yet always organic approach and feel to his music, craft, and discography always ensured a live album release was going to be top shelf, and there were plenty of them released throughout his lifetime (Roxy and Elsewhere, Zappa in New York, and the You Can’t Do That On Stage series to name a few). Comprised of recordings mostly done on the East Coast, Zappa and the band are in complete fine musical fettle and run through a litany of the man’s choice moments and showcase the transonic gymnastics of not only the in-command guitar playing of Zappa, but also his band, as it always had been. Like his keen musical acumen in his choices, Zappa also always employed some of the best people to play along on those choices, this album notwithstanding. Highlights include the first-ever release of his “Beatles Medley,” his adventurous stylings of Zep’s “Stairway to Heaven,” and his mind-blowing and passionate version of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post.”
Celebrating its 50th Anniversary next year and not dulled or dated one musical iota, Black Sabbath‘s Vol. 4 remains one of the most musically brutal of the band’s entire catalog, and that’s a compliment of the highest honor. Right out of the gate, as the black doom soot comes like an arrow through the eyes with the opening chords of “Wheels of Confusion,” Vol. 4 sets its tone and mark immediately. Master of reality Ozzy Osbourne acts as a macabre pied piper and the listener is more than willing to follow the hazy gloomy road he and the band treads upon. Guitar strongman Tony Iommi has arguably never been better; of course all the albums by the original Sabbath lineup are superb mindfields of aural fortitude, but there’s something about his playing on Vol. 4 that is like a musical Marquis De Sade, a torturous yet satisfying experience. Likewise the rhythm section of bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward crunch so hard in the backbeat that your windows will be wobbling in time with the music in some spots. There’s a reason why so many bands have imitated and continue to imitate the sounds and attitude of Black Sabbath and why almost all of them fail to attain that same woozy drunken glory that the genuine article always seemed to spout like running water. All one has to do is hear this record, look up to the sky, and see how high the band set the bar. This 4-CD deluxe package includes alternate studio recordings, rare unreleased tracks, chillingly powerhouse live performances (even recreating a 1973 show from the Vol 4 tour), and the usual expected cornucopia of rare photos, quotes by the band, a poster, and rare unreleased artwork of the album, originally titled after one of Vol 4‘s most memorable and emotional tracks, “Snowblind.”
Note: When purchasing music in physical formats from Amazon, be sure to look for the “AutoRip” logo near the top of the product page by the format selections. If you see that logo, that means if you purchase the physical format, you will also get a FREE MP3 version of it. (See their terms & conditions for more details.)
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.