Why not let MusicRiot sort out your last-minute Christmas presents for the musichead in your life? We asked some of our contributors to recommend a few stocking fillers from the world of music for you. Our only conditions were that it was music-related and reasonably affordable. Here’s what they came up with (in no particular order apart from the old cantankerous curmudgeon who always insists on having the last word). If you’ve got any better ideas then let us know; there’s still plenty of time.
2011 was Queen’s 40th anniversary and they did not let it go unnoticed! With remastered versions of all their studio albums, each including a bonus EP of outtakes, live material and alternate recordings, any Queen fan, casual or die-hard is sure to be more than satisfied. As well as this, they’ve released “40 Years of Queen” a book detailing their entire career and more, full of stunning photos. The legendary Wembley Stadium concert has also received a 25th anniversary reissue in double CD and DVD format. If there’s not enough there please then you’re just plain greedy.
With the passing of Clarence Clemons this June, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band have remained surprisingly resilient and optimistic with a world tour and studio album planned for next year. While no new material exists right now, an EP of Christmas songs recorded by Clarence in 1981 has surfaced and stands as a perfect gift for any Springsteen fan this year. From last year remains a box set of Bruce’s first eight albums in very pretty miniature record sleeves for a startingly generous price: you’re getting nine discs for around £15!
Gaga is especially known for having such a strong connection with her fans and so has not left them longing for anything this Christmas (except for any announcements about her next tour). The Born This Way album became more of an event than a record upon release and since then every track has received countless remixes, enough to constitue a whole album. On top of this, a film of her Monster Ball Tour at Madison Square Gardens has been given a DVD release and so has a book filled with 450 magnificent photos of the woman herself in collaboration with photographer Terry Richardson. Featuring a surprisingly personal account of the last year or so of Gaga’s career it’s something any Little Monster would die for.
Nicola Roberts ‘Cinderella’s Eyes’.
Cheryl Cole may be in it for the L’Oreal ads, r’n’b guest spots and Stateside fame (good luck with that one Cheryl) but ex Girls Aloud Nicola Roberts’ startlingly fresh, odd, sad, euphoric debut (try the Metronomy produced ‘Fish Out of Water’ and tell me you’re not instantly captivated) is about the music and has a British pop sensibility that goes way back. Open your heart.
Forget about the apps, the specially commissioned instruments, the orange afro wig and the David Attenborough narrated live performances and just listen to the music. This is a wondrous album, an album that can move and disturb and, on at least 4 songs, sing along to. ‘Mutual Core’ is an unruly rave anthem ‘Hollow’ terrifies and ‘Cosmogony’ is so completely gorgeous it’ll hurt your chest. Bjork’s influence on contemporary music over the last 20 years has been profound and Biophilia is her most accessible and cohesive album in over a decade.
St Vincent ‘Strange Mercy’.
Annie Clark’s third album is her most satisfying so far. Guitars take the place of strings and the Disneyesque sound stages which over ran St Vincent’s previous long player with tremendous success. Cheerleader and Northern Lights buzz and snarl so tightly you can only imagine that this is what Courtney Love always wanted to sound like but never quite managed to. The vocal performance on the closing track ‘Year of The Tiger’ has seduced me like no other this year.
Anita Blay’s sound has changed considerably since her early electronic East London hipster demos (marvellous by the way) but her knack for writing the perfect 3 and a half minute pop song has not. Put it on and wonder why Cocknbullkid and her perfectly realised debut isn’t number one.
Cat’s Eye’s ‘Cat’s Eye’s’
David Lynch released his debut album this year and this is what is should have sounded like. 60’s girl group melancholia, woozy and narcotic with asteroids falling in slow motion from the sky. An amazing record that takes you into another world that you won’t ever want to leave. Beware.
40 Year Anniversary set – Alligator Records
Alligator Records is a blues label which reached 40 years in the business this year and released a double CD compilation as a celebration. This is a great present for anyone who thinks that all blues tunes are the same; they’ll never say that again after listening to this because the variety is incredible. The selection ranges from acoustic country blues through boogie-woogie and soulful blues (Mavis Staples, no less) to the flash and trash of Lonnie Mack and Stevie Ray Vaughan and, unusually, features many female blues artists including the wonderfully-named Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women. If you’re into blues already, it’s still a great buy because you might know the songs and the artists but not necessarily in the combination that they appear here. You can find it on the Alligator Records website http://www.alligator.com/albums/Alligator-Records-40th-Anniversary-Collection/ .
The Life Equation – Akira the Don
This was a 5 star review when it was released and it’s still 5 stars now. This is a great album and anyone who’s into music should hear it and pass it on to everyone they know as an example of genuinely creative music and lyrics which acknowledges all of its reference points from the 60s onwards. If you ignore all the other recommendations, you should listen to this. There are at least 2 kitchen sinks thrown in here but it’s an absolutely glorious noise and I don’t understand why he’s not huge. Check out the website http://www.akirathedon.com . And I have to admit it was Plus One who recommended this in the first place.
Ska’d for Life – Horace Panter
Published in 2007, this is an inside view of the rise and fall of The Specials written by Horace Panter (aka Sir Horace Gentleman), the former Specials bass player. This is a genuine “fly on the wall” view of The Specials but it stands out from other insider books because Horace Panter is a genuinely nice bloke. There are plenty of opportunities to dish the dirt on the other band members, but none are taken as Horace gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, however bad their behaviour; it’s not difficult to see why his band name was Sir Horace Gentleman. It’s refreshing to read a music biography which isn’t trying to sensationalise events or cover up the indiscretions of the subjects and that’s why this is such a great read.
Reelin’ in the Years – Mark Radcliffe
Damn, that’s another book idea that I’ve been beaten to. If you used to listen to Mark and Lard on Radio 1 or listen now to Radcliffe and Maconie on 6 Music, then you’ll probably like this. It’s written in the Mark Radcliffe radio presentation style and the theme is a single representing each year between 1958 and 2010. The twist is that they aren’t the songs you would expect and you get a lot of wordplay and music trivia built around them. It’s a bit of light-hearted entertainment although it does feel a bit hurried towards the end. You might want to check out anything written by Stuart Maconie as well.
Post-Everything – Luke Haines
I’m totally sick of reading these biographies and autobiographies (usually ghost-written) which try to convince you that the subject is a cross between Mother Theresa and Paul McCartney when you already know that they spent 10 years buying up the entire output of Colombia (and I don’t mean coffee) and used their road crew as mules at Customs. This is a proper music memoir by someone who’s been there and wants to tell us all about it while settling old scores for good measure. It’s funny, it’s vicious and it’s authentic; what more do you want. If it’s for someone you really like, you could even buy them his first book “Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall”.
The Nightfly – Donald Fagen
None of your X Factor nonsense here. This is an album (that’s a load of songs put together in some sort of order that makes sense when you listen to it); it came out in the 1982 and it was nominated for 7 Grammys . This is how we used to do it when we made proper music with real instruments and people wrote songs themselves instead of relying on someone who churns them out to order so they sound like everything else in the charts. It’s even a concept album; it’s about the experiences of an American teenager in the period from the mid-50s to the mid-60s. Don’t do any of that download nonsense with this; buy the CD and get all the artwork and information that goes with it. If you don’t like this, you don’t like music. And remember; Jessie J has probably never heard of Donald Fagen.