We missed concerts. And album release parties. Even televised performances in front of live audiences.
Now it’s the holiday season, and another round of the COVID blues is upon us, thanks to the surge in cases, government rules and CDC recommendations. We need music more than ever.
So we’ve compiled a gift guide for music lovers on your holiday shopping list. Stuff that won’t need to be returned the day after the gifts are opened. Some recordings, books, gift cards and even special items for fans of two special artists, Taylor Swift and Bob Dylan.
Prince, “Sign o’ the Times” super-deluxe reissue: Expanded to 92 tracks, his best studio album is given a gloriously glam redo that abundantly shows how hyper-productive, insanely creative and stylistically diverse this one-man Minneapolis band was in 1985-87. A live European concert and a DVD of Prince’s 1987 New Year’s Eve gig with guest Miles Davis at the then-recently opened Paisley Park are testament to his spectacular prowess as a performer and bandleader. This super-deluxe set is indisputable weighty evidence that Prince was the complete rock star. $160
Elvis Presley, “From Elvis in Nashville”: Whether you consider this 1970 material overlooked or underrated, there is no question that the King did some of his best singing ever in these Nashville sessions, which led to three albums after his run of made-in-Memphis hits in ’69. Whether on outtakes or previously released versions, Elvis’ passion, commitment and versatility shine through on “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” a spontaneous and rollicking “I Got My Mojo Workin’,” and many other remarkably Southern soul tracks in this four-CD compilation. $45
The Replacements, “Pleased to Meet Me” deluxe: Minneapolis’ ne’er-do-well rock legends are apparently doing well as a Warner Bros. catalog act. Their second box set in as many years expands their transformative, Memphis-made 1987 album into a three-CD, one-LP collection. Highlights include newly unearthed demos with soon-to-be-fired guitarist Bob Stinson and the era’s many unreleased songs, such as “Birthday Gal” and “Election Day.” It’s a bit much, but die-hard ’Mats fans still can’t get enough. $65
Bob Mould, “Distortion”: Alongside his ultra-roaring 2020 album, “Blue Hearts,” the ex-Minneapolitan indie-rocker also bundled together his post-Hüsker Dü catalog into two tidy, deeply detailed packages. The 24-disc CD set has everything, from 1989’s “Workbook” on up to 2019’s “Sunshine Rock.” The eight-LP, 140-gram vinyl set only goes up to 1995 but is probably more enticing to fans who already — and only — own that stuff on CD, including the output by his other power trio, Sugar. $135 for CD set, $187 for LPs
Sade, “This Far”: What a perfect year to revisit the healing, empowering, soulful albums by one of pop/R&B music’s most soothing voices. All six of her studio LPs from 1984 to 2010 — also of the era to now be buried in fans’ CD or cassette bins — have been remastered and pressed to 180-gram vinyl for this collector’s set. $180
Mariah Carey, “The Meaning of Mariah Carey”: As you might expect from Andy Cohen’s book imprint, this memoir is confessional with lots of juicy revelations, including the soaring singer’s self-esteem and identity issues (Dad is Black, Mom is white) when she was young and the abuse she received from relatives, classmates and first-husband Tommy Mottola. In the end, therapy and motherhood were as important for her as all those No. 1 hits. $30
Dolly Parton, “Songteller: My Life in Lyrics”: Although this is sprinkled with vintage personal photos and stories, this isn’t an autobiography but rather the country great’s thoughts on some of her biggest songs as well as their lyrics. Fun facts include that she wrote her first song (“Little Tiny Tasseltop”) at age 6, and Dolly didn’t know that Whitney Houston had recorded the Parton-penned “I Will Always Love You” until she heard it on the radio. Some fans may appreciate the audiobook read by the author with her distinctive twang. $50
Jimmy Page, “Jimmy Page: The Anthology”: In this gorgeously photographed coffee-table tome, the guitar god shares all about his instruments, equipment and outfits (he bought lots at London vintage shops). In capsule reports, he recounts the particulars of his session work as well as Led Zeppelin and post-Zep projects. While he’s generous with info for gear geeks, Page defers to Robert Plant on what any Zep songs mean. $60
Lenny Kravitz, “Let Love Rule”: The rock star points out that his life was filled with opposites: Black and white (his parents), Manhattan and Brooklyn (his residences), Christian and Jew (his parents again), hippie and heavy-metal (his influences). And this memoir may be the opposite of what fans might expect because it essentially ends with the release of Kravitz’s breakthrough album, “Let Love Rule,” at age 25. However, Kravitz spins a compelling back story, with the skillful help of David Ritz, accomplished collaborator on star autobiographies by Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Morris Day and more. $30
Tom Morello, “Whatever It Takes”: He says the guitar chose him but he chose to be an activist. This photo book tells the story of the Kiss-loving musician from Libertyville, Ill., who got a degree at Harvard and became a potent force in such fiery bands as Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave and Prophets of Rage. With lots of photos and concise but insightful words, Morello traces his growth as a musician, activist and human. $45
Kathy Valentine, “All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ’n’ Roll Memoir”: The bassist and co-songwriter in the Go-Go’s turned in one of the year’s best musician autobiographies. From her humble Austin, Texas, punk-rock roots to being in the first all-women band with a No. 1 album — with lots of infighting and Hollywood in-crowd mingling along the way — it’s a bluntly told but lovingly proud and ultimately triumphant memoir. $27
Dan Wilson, “Words + Music in 6 Seconds” card deck: The Semisonic frontman and co-writer of Adele and Chicks hits turned his popular series of Instagram video snippets into a 74-card deck featuring short, inspirational messages to spark creativity for other tunesmiths and writers. $55