Rock fans are easy to buy for. Even if you give the wrong rock book or CD box set, the gifts are easily exchangeable, even without a receipt. And, what's more, they're easy to...

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Rock fans are easy to buy for. Even if you give the wrong rock book or CD box set, the gifts are easily exchangeable, even without a receipt. And, what’s more, they’re easy to wrap! Publishers and record companies make the bulk of their sales in November and December, and release prime products then just for Christmas gift-buyers.


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Every year, pricey, hefty rock books arrive with a thud, just in time for Christmas. Some of the usual suspects — er, I mean, subjects — are represented again this year, most notably the Beatles, with three worthy titles.

But overall, there isn’t an absolute must-have among this year’s coffee-table books, like, for instance, 2000’s “The Beatles Anthology” (re-released in paperback in 2002).

The rock book of 2004 isn’t a coffee-table book at all but rather a little, 293-page autobiography, “Chronicles Volume One” by Bob Dylan ($24, Simon & Schuster). Not only is it a fast-moving, entertaining tale of his early years, but it also knocks over shelves of scholarly Dylan studies, which are full of speculation, extrapolation, assumptions and misconceptions.

“Chronicles” is the only Dylan book fans really need, until Volume Two comes along. It offers the best insight into his creative process and tells his true story. Dylan displays the gifts of a great writer — eloquent descriptive powers, an ear for dialogue, a breezy, readable style and deep personal insights.

The most impressive rock-related coffee-table book this year is “Art of Modern Rock: The Poster Explosion” ($60, Chronicle Books), a massive, 492-page collection of rock posters by more than 200 artists around the world. Every page of this high-quality book is filled with color reproductions of amazing posters, in a wide range of styles. These are not your father’s psychedelic posters from the ’60s, but contemporary, cutting-edge work from some of the world’s most creative graphic artists. All you can say is “Wow!”

Of the Beatles titles, the most charming and uplifting is the relatively small “Postcards From the Boys” by Ringo Starr ($24.95, Chronicle Books), made up of postcards sent to him over the years by John, Paul and George, with his notes on each. Fans already know how clever and funny the Beatles are, and this volume also underscores how much they loved each other. Best of all, it’s for fans of any age, even kids.

“The Beatles: 10 Years That Shook the World” ($39.95, DK Publishing) is meant to impress, with its big size and some 450 pages of photos and text, both original to the book and reprints from the British pop monthly MOJO. There’s lots of interesting reading, but the pictures make the book because there are many unfamiliar ones.

“Each One Believing” by Paul McCartney ($35, Chronicle Books) centers on his solo tours, with photos by his official tour photographer, Bill Bernstein. The spare text is mostly drawn from interviews with McCartney in cities around the globe.

“U2 Show: The Art of Touring” by Diana Scrimgeour ($35, Riverhead Books) is a serious, even scholarly, examination of rock touring generally and U2’s in particular. It has page after page of concert photos from throughout the band’s career, 1979 to the present (including in Tacoma in 1992). Unfortunately, the photos all look the same after a while, which is why this book is strictly for rabid U2 fans and serious students of rock touring.

“So What! The Good, The Mad, and The Ugly: The Official Metallica Illustrated Chronicle” ($29.95, Broadway Books) is a love letter to Metallica from its fans, and vice versa. The colorful book draws on the resources of So What!, Metallica’s official fan magazine, so there are plenty of up-close and personal photos, and lots of gushing about how great the band is. It’s well designed and full of interesting material. Any Metallica fan will love it.

Box sets

The big story in box sets is the controversial “The Beatles: The Capitol Albums Vol. 1” ($69.98, Capitol). It makes available, for the first time on CD, the first four Beatles albums as they were originally released in America in 1964. The Beatles never liked them because Capitol played with the sound — adding echo and fake stereo effects — and made four American albums out of three English releases.

In 1987, after the Beatles gained control of their catalog, they took the American versions off the market. Those versions haven’t been available again until now.

Some critics are upset that the Beatles’ wish to never again release the American albums has been violated. But it’s not as if the discs are unavailable (tens of millions of copies were sold). And frankly, as a fan, I love them all — the American versions, the British versions, the stereo, the monaural. Also, as a fan, it’s a thrill to hear the albums again as I remember them from 40 years ago.

On the correct assumption that Grateful Dead fans will buy a good Dead product, no matter what the price, comes “Beyond Description (1973-1989)” ($149.98, Rhino), a 12-CD box that picks up where “The Golden Road (1965-1973),” the 2001 set, left off.

The new one has the 10 albums released from 1973 to ’89, with bonus tracks on every one, including a whole extra CD with the two live albums, “Reckoning” and “Dead Set.” There are two quality booklets, on the band and on the albums. There are 15 hours of music and 161 songs, including 65 previously unreleased. Give the Deadheads what they want — this beaut of a box.

For more adventuresome rock fans, there’s “Left of the Dial: Dispatches From the ’80s Underground” ($64.98, Rhino), a four-CD collection of 82 mostly obscure cuts by some well-known bands — including R.E.M., the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Pretenders and They Might Be Giants — and by truly “underground” ones (including Olympia’s Beat Happening). This is a bracing collection, because there are so many intense punk-rock cuts and lots of smart, funny songs that didn’t get enough attention from radio in their day. It’s an eye-opener that makes you realize that, musically speaking, the ’80s weren’t so bad after all.

“The Immortal Soul of Al Green” ($69.98, Capitol) is a four-CD, 75-song collection of the great soul singer’s works from his most creative period, the 1970s. It contains all his signature songs — “Take Me to the River,” “Let’s Stay Together,” “Love and Happiness,” etc. — plus every other important cut he made for Hi Records at that time. They’re arranged chronologically, so you can hear his development from gospel singer to R&B superstar.

“Five Guys Walk Into a Bar” by Faces ($59.98, Warner Bros./Rhino) is a cute little four-CD release that covers the years when the band (originally called the Small Faces) had a lead singer named Rod Stewart. He’s in his element here, rocking out with his mates and having a grand time. There are lots of obscurities, including rehearsals, live cuts and alternate takes. It’s not a comprehensive overview of the band, but more a selection of interesting cuts for dedicated fans.

“Paul Simon: The Studio Recordings” ($149.98, Warner Bros.) is made up of his nine studio albums, all expanded, with a total of 30 bonus tracks, including six previously unreleased songs. The depth of his creativity is amazing, with good cuts on even the two disappointing albums, “Songs from the Capeman” and “You’re the One.” A great gift for a true fan.

Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312,