Time for another set of shopping suggestions that will take you far off the beaten path, the 2008 "alternative" musical holiday gift guide. Should this year's list leave you cold, you can find links to past alt-guides going all the way back to 2003 here. And while I'm at it, below is the first one of these I did six years ago.
When this ran in 2002, it earned me a nasty letter from the state attorney general's office; seems it's against the law to say, do or publish anything that can be deemed as "promoting" the sale of bootlegs. I am but the messenger.
Gifts that rock: What do you give music fans who think they have everything?
By David Menconi, News & Observer
Dec. 9, 2002
Giving the gift of music is easy -- almost too easy. But away from the clamor of the top of the charts, a whole wide world of less-obvious musical artifacts awaits. Some of the following is weird, some is wonderful and some is even both.
- Various artists, "The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever" (no label). Hands down, the coolest record of the year. "Best Bootlegs" is a 17-track compilation of mash-ups, in which deejays combine the vocals and music of different songs. So Nirvana is paired with Destiny's Child, the Strokes with Christina Aguilera, Public Enemy with Herb Alpert. Brilliant enough to restore your faith in the possibilities of popular music. The catch is that as an unauthorized bootleg, "Best Bootlegs" is hard to find. RoughTrade.com sometimes has it (although it was unavailable last week), and some independent stores can order it. If you can find a copy, it will cost about $30 -- but it's oh so worth it.
- Bernard Harris, "Basses Covered" (EFL, BernardHarris.com). For that aspiring bassist in your life, to show just what the instrument can do. Except for a few embellishments, Raleigh musician Harris makes all the music on these 16 tracks with bass guitar. Impressive light jazz, and listenable enough to transcend its gimmick. It costs about $15.
- Various artists, "Like, Omigod! The 80s Pop-Culture Box" (Rhino). There has been no lack of '80s-music compilations in recent years. But if you care enough, go whole-hog with this lavishly packaged seven-disc monster that offers up 142 tracks of fromage. The booklet will bring back many painful memories of "Miami Vice," Mr. T, Martha Quinn (oh, the horror!), and the musical selections offer some worthy tracks to go with the cheese. But at the end, it will leave you with one question: What the heck were we thinking? Widely available for $80 to $90.
- Rondellus, "Sabbatum" (sabbatum.com). Ever wonder what Black Sabbath songs would sound like translated into Latin and rendered in the style of period liturgical music? Me neither, but here's the answer. "Sabbatum" has a dozen Sabbath chestnuts (including "War Pigs"), as covered by the Estonian medieval music band Rondellus. Easily available for $20.
Other strange cover-type records include Tolga Kashif's "The Queen Symphony" (EMI Classics), Queen songs arranged into symphonic suites; Camper Van Beethoven's song-for-song remake of Fleetwood Mac's 1979 album "Tusk" (Pitch-A-Tent), a true landmark in pointlessness; and Hayseed Dixie's "A Hillbilly Tribute to Mountain Love" (Dualtone), bluegrass covers of songs by the Cars, Aerosmith, J. Geils, Queen and even Spinal Tap.
- "The Happy Holiday Hearth" (Rhino). Destined to be the cool party artifact for holiday gatherings, this DVD turns your television set into a "virtual fireplace." It's as mesmerizing as a real fire, too, and plays 23 Christmas songs (the renditions are a bit corny). Widely available for less than $10.
- Various artists, "La Musica Della Mafia" (Malavita.com). For that "Sopranos" fan on your list, while waiting for the new season to come out on DVD. Subtitled "Il Canto Di Malavita," this compilation offers 18 ballads (plus a half-dozen spoken-word interludes) about "blood, honor and discretion." It will make you feel like you're on the set of "The Godfather." Available for less than $15.
- Elvis Presley, "Having Fun with Elvis on Stage" (Collectors Choice Music). Long out of print, this collection of The King's between-song chatter is frequently cited as one of the worst albums of all time. And now it's back, albeit as a $29.95 import. If you'd rather have an Elvis artifact that's actually good, check out "Elvis: The Great Performances" (Rhino), a three-DVD set compiling many of his prime performances on television and in movies. It will run you about $40.
- Ray Charles animatronic doll. If you're thinking about one of those singing fish, consider this instead. If nothing else, the music you get ("What'd I Say" and "America the Beautiful") is better. Also new this year are talking bobblehead dolls for all four cast members of "The Osbournes," which all say pretty much exactly what you'd expect. With shipping and handling, the Ray Charles doll will set you back $35.98.