Wondering what to give that oldies lover for the holidays? Here's a handy guide to Christmas / Holiday gifts for people who love oldies music from the '50s, '60s, and '70s, selected by me, your Oldies guide at About.com. These items are all brand-new for 2013, so you can be sure they haven't been given as gifts before! As always, if you have a suggestion for upcoming lists, feel free and e-mail me!
Nat King Cole's daughter doesn't speak Spanish, but that's okay; neither did her famous father, who recorded not one but three albums in the language during his career. Like dad, Natalie essays these phonetically -- and yes, that includes the inevitable posthumous duet with Nat, in this case his own "Acércate Más." (She also takes on "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas" alone.) The song selection is pretty standard: "Frenesi," "Amapola," "Besame Mucho." But there's also some nods to post-postwar music in covers of Santana's "Oye Como Va" and Juan Luis Guerra's "Bachata Rosa." A perfect gift for any Latino relatives who are also R&B fiends, which is quite a large subgroup indeed.
Call it rocksploitation, or maybe Fifties grindhouse. The generous 113 tracks on these four discs represent the seedy underclass of pre-Beatles American rock; exactly one of these tracks made it into the Top 40 (The Ran-Dells' novelty "Martian Hop"). The rest were regional hits at best, R&B workouts and rockabilly raveups and surf instrumentals, all of which were aimed squarely at Middle America's id. Released by two Rhino Records mainstays who jumped ship when the label was bought out, these songs are craftily segregated by trash appeal -- Disc 1 is about aliens, 2 deals with voodoo and zombies, 3 serves as a home for bad boys and girls, and disc 4 is all instrumental. So obscure are these rarities, in fact, that there's no booklet of historical research. Which only adds to the alternate-universe feel.
Whoever your #1 Elvis fan is, they no doubt have a favorite period already well-served by endless re-releases and comps. Sun Sessions Elvis? '68 Comeback Special Elvis? The King conquers Vegas? Memphis Elvis? Hawaii? It's been done. Except, that is, for his last truly great burst of creativity, the sessions he laid down at the legendary Stax label in the last half of 1974. Not on the same level as those other periods, perhaps, but certainly worthy of document, even though he didn't work with Isaac Hayes or hire all of Booker T. and the MGs outright. (Can you imagine?) "Elvis at Stax" chronicles his last great recordings thoroughly, featuring all 28 songs, 27 outtakes, and a lavish 48-page booklet. The remastered sound alone is worth the price.
Lewisohn authored the "Beatles Bible," more properly known as 1988's "Complete Beatles Recording Sessions," the first look at what actually went down inside Abbey Road studios. Now Mark takes on nothing less than the entire history of the band -- this first volume in a planned trilogy on the rise and rise of the Fab Four doesn't even make it to 1963, and Lewisohn spends 1000 pages getting there. But that's because he aims to recast the four moptops as human beings first and icons second. The result works more like a movie than a book, immersing Beatles fans into the actual culture that sculpted the group.
Atlantic, Chess, Vee-Jay -- most of the classic blues and/or R&B labels of the Fifties have had their sagas told over endless compilations. Modern, on the other hand, has not, perhaps because it recorded so many different kinds of music in the postwar period, or perhaps because it lacked a singular unifying artistic or commercial philosophy. Or maybe it was simple West Coast bias. In any event, they played their part, and an important one, from Roscoe Gordon and Lightnin' Hopkins to Etta James and Jesse Belvin to the Cadets and the Teen Queens. One Day Music follows up their excellent Roulette, Specialty, and Challenge label retrospectives with this 2-CD collection.
Detroit's recent bankruptcy is troubling because it was once the source of America's economic righteousness, but it's also the country's greatest source for its wildest and most primitive geniuses, the kind of musicians you'd expect to find in a town where you had to shout loud enough to be heard over steel. Miller is proficient in both punk and true crime, which means his oral history takes just the right tone, from the Stooges to Nugent to Kid Rock and the White Stripes. Motown fans will need to look elsewhere, but if you know someone who loves the Motor City for its guitar-slinging bad boys, this is the book you want to reward them with.
If fellow '70s pop chameleon Todd Rundgren was the technogeek that could, a studio rat carving out his own distinct niche in the record industry's sweatshops, then Harry Nilsson, despite having more top 40 hits, was the true troubled eccentric. So troubled of a near-recluse, in fact, that despite counting both Lennon and McCartney among his admirers, he remained a cult hero, a genius songwriter and fantastic interpreter whose dislike of the limelight left him a fascinating enigma. Shipton, who spent the better part of a decade studying Harry's music and interviewing his loved ones, finds the connection between his creative and destructive sides. A must-read for anyone who loves pop iconoclasts.
The world's been so caught up in the great phone wars that it's barely noticed an equally important and tangential revolution in portable sound. This unobtrusive 5-inch cube can replicate stereo system sound in almost any situation, and can do so while plugged in to whatever mobile device you've got on you -- phone, tablet, laptop, mp3 player, and even a thumb drive! Now you can play your oldies jukebox loud without having to lug speakers around.
As the title indicates, this bi-weekly magazine from the creators of Reader's Digest -- also available in Kindle! -- exists simply to evoke memories of a happier, simpler time: reminiscences from readers, photos, and vintage advertisements open a window on the postwar period of the Greatest Generation. Perfect for your family's matriarch, or patriarch, even if that's you!