I can feel your anxiety from here.
Christmas is just over two weeks away and you’ve still got shopping to do. You opted for the “lots of little presents” route, instead of the “one big enchilada” route, and now you find yourself a few gifts short of a stocking. Worse, you’ve got one or more rockers on your list, and they’re such ungrateful snobs that you’re afraid to get them anything having to do with music for fear of the inevitable snarky comment ending with the word “lame.”
What’s an elf to do?
Relax- I’ve got you covered.
Here is a handy gift guide with ideas for that hard-to-please guitar hero in your life. This assortment of albums, books, DVDs and other trinkets will have at least one gift idea that you can use. Except for hip hop fans. I wouldn’t know what to get one of them other than maybe a yacht, a case of Cristal, and some bangin’ booty, and you should be all aces.
Without further ado, here are some last minute shopping ideas for the music fans on your gift list:
Dreamhouse, by Steve Poltz
This is my 2010 Record of the Year– a supremely enjoyable disc that is distinct yet listenable, and catchy yet original. Mind you, this is neither heavy nor metal. Quite the opposite, It is the ultimate Sunday morning audio companion, although it also works particularly well for long drives, afternoon runs, and uncomfortable conversations with your children about what you found in the back of their dresser drawer. Purists and listeners from many genres will drool over the quality of both the songwriting and the production. Poltz’ unique tunings and extraordinary finger picking technique create a sonic atmosphere full of rich textures and light melodies that wash over his smart, vibrant lyrics. It is a gorgeous listening experience that intensifies with each play.
One of the most unique aspects of the album is the warmth it exudes- this is due to the old school production by Canada’s Joel Plaskett (himself a talented [and tragically underrated] singer-songwriter). Produced on two inch, sixteen track reel-to-reel tape rather than digitally, Dreamhouse captures that FM sound from the Seventies, creating an intimate theme throughout. The attention to detail within each song is impressive, with each flourish, lick, and note having a rich purpose that serves its song perfectly.
“I Love What You’ve Done With This Place” is my personal favorite. “Digging for Icicles,” a song about a couple meeting in a car crash, is another stand out, and “License Plate Eyes” has the power to improve any mood. This won’t appease death metal or gangsta rap stalwarts, but most other musos will dig this in a big way.
American Slang, by The Gaslight Anthem
This is my Rock Record of 2010. What a listen. It combines the teeth-gritting, blue collar swagger of Bruce Springsteen with the added blitz of jagged guitars and machine gun drums that make the songs both dirty and danceable. Now, I am possibly the worst dancer in the history of human movement, so if I say a record is danceable, it is a momentous statement. And no, you will never see me dance.
“Bring It On,” “American Slang,” “Stay Lucky,” and “Boxer” are my favorites. Good luck finding a rock fan who can’t find something on American Slang to love.
Dethalbum II, by Dethklok
In the interest of full disclosure, strictly speaking, the band Dethklok does not exist in the real world. Dethklok is a virtual band that exists only in cartoon form on the Adult Swim mega-successful “Metalocalypse.” Yet the songs from this fictitious international thrash band are as legit as any music released in the past ten years. The follow-up to their debut (Dethalbum) has earned impressive reviews from some of rock music’s most discerning critics, routinely receiving four and five star reviews for show creator Brendon Small’s ferocious musicianship. Admittedly, the lyrical content of Dethalbum II veers towards the capricious, but the thunderous grooves of these songs drive like supernovas hurtling through the cosmos. While drunk. Drunken supernovas hurling through the cosmos, while being chased by cops. Really fast cops, obviously, because supernovas can really hustle.
The record reached 15 on the Billboard Top 200, demonstrating that there’s an audience for good music, no matter what the source. Dethalbum II is fun as hell and just as catchy. It is best suited for thrash fans, but anyone who likes their rock heavy will appreciate this album. “The Cyborg Slayers” is my favorite song- pure brutality.
Lisbon, by The Walkmen– jumpy, spacey melodies for fans of The Libertines and Band of Horses
Halcyon Digest, by Deerhunter– plush, ghostly sound textures for fans of Dead Confederate and Radiohead
Right Hook of Love, by Wirepony– slamming garage rock with more hooks than a coat room
When Giants Walked the Earth, by Mick Wall
When Giants Walked the Earth is the most well-researched, evenhanded, and insightful account of the Led Zeppelin story that has ever been written. While many had assumed that the book to end all Zeppelin books was written by Stephen Davis over twenty years ago, Giants shows that there’s much more to be discussed. This is not simply a re-telling of a familiar story- stunning new revelations, inventive flashback sequences, and Wall’s insight borne out of thirty years in the music industry make this a fresh take on arguably the most fascinating band on the planet. Amid a library wing of books about Led Zeppelin, Giants has emerged as the definitive chronicle of “the last great band of the Sixties; the first great band of the Seventies.”
The stories of Led Zeppelin’s rise to the the throne of rock and roll Valhalla are juicier than raw meat, jaw-droppingly depraved, and often culminating with tragedy and violence. Wall’s prose is fast-moving, readable, and full of his unique observation and insight that elevate this book to the highest level of rock literature. This will make an ideal stocking stuffer for music fans and in particular, the rockers in the house.
Life, by Keith Richards
The eagerly-anticipated biography of Rolling Stones founder, guitarist, and substance-abusing cornerstone exceeded all of my expectations, which were relatively high in view of the critical acclaim this book has received. I most enjoyed the way Richards tells stories, both fascinating and mundane, with a perspective that is candid and down-to-earth. There are no airs of self-importance here- just some great stories that make you feel like Keith himself is talking to you over some double screwdrivers in the back booth of a club long after the gig has ended and the equipment loaded.
In particular I enjoyed Keith’s discussions of his own influences and the iconic music he subsequently created. Far from a jaded elder statesman of rock, he is a rabid music fan in every sense of the word, and his knowledge of blues is both passionate and encyclopedic. There is much to tell in a 49 year career, and Richards comfortably spins his yarn with depth, honesty, and loads of mind-blowing stories.
This book is for anyone who likes to read.
Hit Hard: A Story of Hitting Rock Bottom at the Top, by Joey Kramer
Joey Kramer has been Aerosmith’s drummer since the band’s inception, but this book is not the story of Aerosmith. As Kramer himself notes, others have already documented the band so well that he could add little to the account. Instead, this book focuses on Kramer’s personal experiences both inside and outside of the band, highlighting the physical and emotional abuse of his youth that later manifested as addiction and depression in his adult years, even while riding a worldwide resurgence in popularity for his band. As the millions poured in, his unhappiness and dysfunction increased exponentially. The story is light on self-pity and heavy on self-reflection, which makes it a keeper.
Kramer’s journey from a small kid getting beat up by his father to a multimillionaire rock icon is an engaging tale that I was surprised to enjoy as much as I did. His observations and experiences with Aerosmith are entertaining and at some points, thoroughly uncomfortable (like the conversation with guitarist Joe Perry, early in the band’s history, when Perry dismisses him with a rhetorical, “Why do we have to be friends?”). Ultimately it is Kramer’s evolution towards self-awareness that makes Hit Hard so satisfying.
A relatively fast read, this is especially suitable for the music fan who has a trip coming up that involves some air travel.
Bob Dylan in America, by Sean Wilentz– highlights the “Blonde on Blonde” sessions with vivid new insight.
Threepenny Memoir, by Carl Barat– the ex-Libertines member pens a surprisingly addictive (pun intended) memoir about his youth, the Libertines, Dirty Pretty Things, and quite a few horrific stories about Pete Doherty. Good luck putting this down once you start.
Ladies and Gentlemen The Rolling Stones
Yes, there is a decided slant towards classic rock in this list, but the fact is that nearly fifty years into the genre, rock and roll’s most legendary bands have again captured the attention of popular culture. This documentary showcases the Rolling Stones’ four Texas shows on their 1972 tour of the US, supporting “Exile on Main Street.” Wanton drug use and other examples of rock and roll excess are generally absent here (life behind the band’s velvet rope has already been well-documented in Cocksucker Blues), but the live footage features the band at one of their loosest, most fertile periods.
This is for Stones fans and music collectors who have been waiting 30 plus years for this movie to come out on DVD. The last time anyone could get their hands on this was in Australia in the 1980s. Extras are OK, but for Stones freaks only.
Metallica/Slayer/Megadeth/Anthrax: The Big 4 – Live from Sofia, Bulgaria
You knew we were going to get to some more metal, didn’t you? This live concert DVD (available in blu-ray) captures the four titans of thrash metal playing together for one night on June 22 in Sofia, Bulgaria. The behind the scenes footage and rehearsal clips alone are worth the price, but the live shows are explosive. I checked out the Deluxe Boxed Set, which contains five hours of music, in addition to the kind of kitschy schwag that one tends to expect with these things (A guitar pick! A color booklet!). But the sound quality is supreme, there are an astounding number of interviews, and the set lists will have thrash fans throwing up horns so much that they’ll need to get checked for tennis elbow. Which they’ll probably call “Devil’s Elbow,” or something cool like that.
For rockers and thrash fans- especially Megadeth and Metallica fans, as those bands get the best overall treatment in the DVDs.
Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?
The astonishingly talented and ultimately tragic Harry Nilsson receives a reverential and thoroughly entertaining documentary from director John Scheinfeld. Once known (by The Beatles) as “The Beatles favorite American musician,” Nilsson penned hopelessly catchy songs such as “Coconut” (“put de lime in de coconut…”), “One,” and “Everybody’s Talkin’.” He was John Lennon’s friend, confidant, and toxic twin, but it is his friendship with Ringo that I found most touching, and quite sad. Nilsson died of a heart attack in 1994, adding to his cult status. There are loads of interviews from his friends, ranging from songwriting giants Jimmy Webb and Randy Newman to people like Robin Williams and members of Monty Python.
This is for everyone. It is awesome.
Michael Jackson: This is It– MJ fans cannot get enough of this DVD, capturing the tour rehearsals leading up to his unexpected demise in 2009
Rock Prophecies– venerable rock photographer Robert Knight visits rock legends, “discovers” a 16 year old guitar phenomenon, and reveals an unexpectedly pained personal tale of living with a parent suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Happy and safe holidays to all my friends, colleagues, authors, readers, family, and friends!