Just like that, it’s that time again, where the holiday season is upon us and the mad scrambles down store aisles to find just the right gifts for friends and loved ones commences. It’s a yearly ritual that always seems to come sooner than later. It’s also a sign that the year is coming to a close, and of course there’s no question that 2016 will remain in memory and history as one of the most turbulent, challenging, and painful times ever seen. It is for that reason that the holiday time should hold even extra special positive emotional weight, as community and solidarity run high among people during this time, acting as sort of metaphoric concrete that fills in the gaps that division among many created. And music too, is an eternal, external, and ultimately internal healing agent for the soul, regardless if times are happy or sad, joyous or maudlin. Music also reflects those aforementioned emotions and more. Here’s some of the best released this past year that will for sure excite even the most hardened by the whirlwind of the times and warm someone’s soul like kindling a hearth on the coldest December nights.
Check out our 2016 Holiday Geek Gift Guide for Music…
The Early Years
It’s no secret how legendary and influential England’s Pink Floyd remains. The band, best known for its explosion of its output of sonic masterpiece after sonic masterpiece during the 1970s and early 1980s (Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall), is where their success and for the most part public consciousness still remains on high, to this very day. But there is a large contingent of Floyd fans weaned on the FM radio push of the constant repetition of great, yet overplayed tracks like “Money,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “Another Brick in the Wall” who have no clue of the band’s early output, when they were more in a galaxian-styled zone sonically, spearheaded not yet by Roger Waters or David Gilmour, but by the band’s co-founder, the late Syd Barrett, who was early David Bowie before David Bowie in a way, and who used acid psychedelic rock to give a blueprint to what the band would become, a kind of spacey blues jam band. On The Early Years, which is without a doubt one of the most expansive box sets ever released on any band in any genre, the early Pink Floyd is showcased spanning over 28 CDs, with almost 12 hours of music, over 14 hours of live and TV performances, rare concert footage, 7-inch vinyl in faithfully reproduced sleeves, and tons of rare concert footage and other Floyd ephemera, this is without question for the die hard, the curious, and especially for those that had heard on the fringe about this era of the band, but have never fully experienced what it was all about. A nice deluxe package in every sense of the word.
The Complete BBC Sessions
Talk about another essential item for one’s record collection. This 3-CD set, expanding upon the original 2-CD release almost 20 years ago, showcases the mighty Zep in fine musical fettle, as they explode their way through their best known and adventurous tracks, circa 1969 – 1971. What’s most amazing, and of course, there’s not a lot of text one needs to write to explain how spectacular Led Zeppelin is and remains in many ways, is how the band is even at a higher peak in certain spots here than ever before and they ever would be again. It’s telling how this is an era for the band right before they would experience the supernova superstardom that put them right into rock and roll infamy more or less, and there’s still a kind of non-Jack Daniels soaked bloated huge airplanes and trashed hotel rooms style hungriness to the entire sonic proceedings, which really showcases each individual member and the synergy the band collectively almost effortlessly manifests. Most the entire early era of Zeppelin is showcased here, and it’s a nice treat to be able to hear well known songs having certain extensions to them, or additives, as in the case of the volatile version of the ferociously snarling whiplash of “The Immigrant Song,” replete with one of the most amazing Jimmy Page solos in the bands entire catalog (something non-existent on the original version of the song on Led Zeppelin III), or the amped up even more version of “Heartbreaker,” which the band goes right into full thrust after “Immigrant Song.” Alternate versions and a few unreleased tracks round out the collection, which of course is redundant to say how essential it is for one’s collection, but it is just that, essential, a true crowning achievement among many for one of the greatest bands of all time.
The solo work of the ex-Beatle, housed in a 4-CD collection, personally handpicked by the genuine article himself, almost plays out like a Best of the 70s collection (“Jet,” “Listen to What the Man Said,” “Band on the Run,” “Silly Love Songs,” “Let Em In,” “With A Little Luck,” etc). Filled with the expected selections and remixes and live material, it’s a truly expansive and in essence the only Paul McCartney release of this type and magnitude and pun intended, volume. While of course the collection itself is arguably not as good as his work in his former band, some of it stretching into Top 40 light pop variety, Paul McCartney’s solo work still hasn’t lost any of its luster, like the man itself, to all the millions of endearing fans who still support and cheer on the tunesmith/bass player, who is now nearing his mid 70s in age, and still going as strong as he did when he was in his moptop haircut. Pure McCartney is for the nostalgic and faithful fan at heart, which is essentially any Beatles fan.
The Rolling Stones
DVD/CD Box Set
An unprecedented one-time performance by the band in Havana, Cuba, The Rolling Stones are still able to pull the stardust out of the gas tank and blaze a performance and show that they are still rolling along, pun firmly intended. Going through all their hits (no need to name them, just turn on your radio and you’ll hear a rundown of them in their studio versions) with the “you’ve seen it and heard it all before and then some,” there’s still that magical quality that The Stones can pull out of their sleeves, and they can still rev up a room, a crowd, or one’s individual soul. There’s a reason why The Rolling Stones have still been going, working on their sixth decade soon if they can still muster it up. With genuine visual and aural articles like Havana Moon, it looks like they still can.
The RCA and Arista Album Collection
Made up of 17 CDs (16 albums, with one, Take No Prisoners, as a 2-CD set), this expansive oeuvre covers the entire output by the late legendary progenitor of punk music. Starting with his adventurous self-titled 1972 release to the barely heard but challenging Mistrial from 1986, and with things like Transformer (with some of Lou’s biggest radio hits like “Take A Walk On The Wild Side” and “Satellite of Love”), the moody masterpiece Berlin, and the white noise on amphetamines shake you by the shoulders till you bleed of Metal Machine Music in between, this collection — sonically curated and overseen by Reed before his passing in 2013 — also includes an 80-page book, filled with rare photos and artwork and interviews and anecdotes by the man himself. There’s also five 8×10 prints and a reproduction of a rare RCA promo poster thrown in for good measure. A great testament to a true legend of the craft, now all housed together under one sonic roof.
The RCA Albums Collection
Containing a mindboggling 60 CDs (!) — in commemoration of the King of Rock and Roll’s 60th Anniversary with the label — this collection is one of the most thorough offers of Elvis Presley’s music. Tons of hours of RCA recordings, containing pretty much all of the man’s hits, from “Hound Dog” to “Suspicious Minds” and everything but everything in between and more. There’s also live recordings to all 17 of his film soundtracks, all containing original album art (which is painstakingly and lovingly rendered) and inserts right down to the original stickers. This is a collection of the highest order which will take care of any longtime or contemporary fan of the Memphis legend (who died 40 years ago next year), in one glorious fell swoop.
Acoustic Recordings 1998 – 2016
Best known for his kind of electric bath of blues with The White Stripes and other projects, Jack White turns the amp off for a bit with this collection of recordings, done in the acoustic variety. Variety is the keyword, as the eclectic jabbing of White’s best known and plugged in work is still prevalent here on the acoustic side, and it retains the sly and ominous power that’s always at the core. Made up of album tracks, B-sides, and rarities, it’s a well rounded collection by a well rounded artist who maybe wears his musical influences on his sleeve, but ultimately, it’s on a coat woven by him.
The Ultimate Soundtrack Collection
With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story right around the corner about to blast its way into theaters for the holiday season and looking to dominate the marketplace as the next obsessive Star Wars project in the storied franchise, hark back to the original trilogy and the music masterful multiple Oscar-winning conductor John Williams created for it, music that is as familiar to one’s auditory system as “Happy Birthday.” All the soundtracks for the first six Star Wars films are included, along with an audio CD with Harrison Ford and John Williams interviews, a DVD, and a special highlighting the music in Star Wars and Williams himself, and a poster and collectable stickers. Spanning 10 CDs, the Star Wars Ultimate Soundtrack Collection is as big as the Empire itself and as uplifting as the Rebels are.
Classic Album Collection
The Monkees, who are incredibly celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, following a tour and even a successful new album entitled Good Times and which charted high and even got a glowing review from The New York Times, have released a 10-CD collection of all nine of their albums originally released circa 1966 – 1970 (the 10th CD is filled with B-sides, non-album tracks ,and later hits from the 1980s like “That Was Then, This Is Now”). Upon listening to these gems of recordings, one realizes how memorable, irresistible, and essential they are, and how in a strange way, time and hindsight has elevated The Monkees from just an archaic version of a “boy band,” which they were originally marketed as being, to a vibrant and unrestrained creative force and ensemble, and that what they may have lacked in an experience of musicianship, they more than compensated by a propensity for a zestful and spontaneous approach because of the lack of experience. Saddled with memorable hits (“Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone,” “Daydream Believer”), the extremely underrated soundtrack to their extremely underrated masterpiece 1968 film Head, and tracks not-often heard that range from adventurous to perfunctory and all in between, this in essence complete collection of the band in their original stages shows why the allure of The Monkees still retains in the musical consciousness after 50 years, and why it wholly and rightfully deserves to do so.
The King of Comedy
Original Film Soundtrack
Not only the dark horse film in the stable of the masterworks by Martin Scorsese, the underrated yet critically lauded King of Comedy is perhaps the best of all the director’s films. The dark 1983 bizarre comedy starred Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis in roles that flip the normal conventional perceptions attached to their stereotypes on screen. But along with a riveting and slightly off-kilter rambunctious story about celebrity and what one will do to achieve it, the film also has a soundtrack featuring artists as diverse as Robbie Robertson, BB King, Talking Heads, Ray Charles, Rickie Lee Jones, and Van Morrison. Like the film, the soundtrack was even more under the radar for decades until it finally surfaced in a CD package this year. To those familiar with it and who hold the film close to their favorites of all time vest, this is a cause for celebration, as it is for soundtrackphiles. For others who aren’t as familiar with it, as they aren’t as familiar with the film either, both are almost mandatory pieces of media that needs to be found and explored, as both yield vast riches, totally emblematic of the Scorsese brand, style, and legend.
Live at the Hollywood Bowl
Originally released in 1977 in a somewhat different form both in its packaging and its sonic quality, Live at the Hollywood Bowl gives us The Beatles storied and spirited performances in Southern California at the famed Hollywood Bowl circa 1964 and 1965 have been energized, cleaned up, re-mastered from Capitol Records vault tapes, and presented in a manner that is sure to please all fans of all levels of the Fab Four from the Beatlemaniac to the light treader. Filled with hits from the band’s early era, in which every other note performed puts the already hyped up crowd into aftershocks of high frenzy, it’s a great and now properly done and handled sonic document for the masses and the ages.
Time Stand Still
Blu-ray | DVD
Released to great fanfare a few months ago, this visual chronicle from Rush’s 2015 40th Anniversary tour (purported to be the Canadian progressive rock trio’s last) shows the band in many different lights and stages, literally and metaphorically. Narrated by actor Paul Rudd, this DVD/Blu-ray release contains rare backstage footage, revealing interviews, and bonus content of Rush going through some of their best-known 80’s and 90’s material, which found the group a little more stripped down than its musically complex past yet still moderately rooted in the blues idiom. Time Stand Still is an aptly named documentary (the title derives from one of their best-known 80s songs) about a band who truly stands still in their own timeless zeitgeist, a zeitgeist built in essence brick by brick, from strong word of mouth, muscular musicianship, and stellar song crafting, something Rush and their fans, wouldn’t have any other way.
Bob Dylan: No Direction Home
10th Anniversary Edition
Blu-ray | DVD
This documentary, celebrating its 10th year and directed by Martin Scorsese, presents a passionate portrait of a true American folkhero, who used his talents for singing and writing songs of truth, hope and redemption, which put a mirror up to ourselves and society. Scorsese does the same in presenting Bob Dylan, and the film has a lauded reception which was the impetus to release this deluxe package, which includes rare and candid footage of the musician backstage and in the studio, tons of new footage and interviews with Scorsese and others, more extended than those shown in the cut finished film. No Direction Home is another feather in the cap and success in a long line of them for Scorsese and its main subject, and it’s recommended as not only for Dylan’s history, but for an important facet of music history as well.
For gift selections for the heavy metal enthusiast in your life, check out our Metalhead’s Holiday Gift Guide 2016.
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.