The music lover guide to holiday gifting

by Ryan Snyder

Elvis Costello — The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook ($340, HIP-O) Elvis wants to make one thing perfectly clear: Do not buy his new box set The Return of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook. Despite his best efforts to wrangle the price down, the label wouldn’t budge a cent and the Brit crooner is taking a hard-line stance. It could also simply be a calculated effort to drum up publicity for his upcoming tour that utilizes the song-title-laden wheel from which the set draws its name. In any event, the box includes a live CD and DVD, a 10-inch vinyl record with four new songs, a poster and postcard, and a 40-page tour diary with entries from each stop written by the man himself. Yeah, way overpriced. Instead, he actually has another suggestion.

Louis Armstrong: Ambassador of Jazz (Universal I.S. $149.99) In shooing buyers away from his collection, Costello even goes so far to say the music here is better. As cool as Declan is, it’s unlikely that anyone will argue with that. Packaged in a sweet-looking, weathered suitcase, the 10-disc collection includes enough memorabilia to start a mini Satchmo museum. There’s a 200-page photo and essay book, handwritten sheet music, old studio schedules and a lot more.

Boddie Recording Box (CD: $50, LP: $60, MP3: $35, Numero Group) If the heart rate of beat colliers everywhere inches upwards upon discovering ancient breaks and soul credited to “Unknown,” then the newest compilation from Chicago archivists Numero Group is their P90X. The label that saves more lost soul than Harold Camping has moved on to the Cleveland Sound, and here they’ve compiled several discs worth of insanely good singles produced by the Motown of C-Town, Boddie Recording Co. the collection is populated by disregarded names from the ’60s and ’70s like Frank Pighee & the Soulettes, the Jubilee Specials, Eddie & the Ant Hill Mob and, yes, several tracks by unknown artists. The arrangements are leaner than the lavish productions of Chicago, but the pool of talent from which the Boddie brothers drew was as deep as these cuts themselves.

Lady Gaga x Terry Richardson ($50, Grand Central) When one of your most iconic photographs is a vernacular shot of yourself, wearing only a poo-eating grin and giving a big thumbs up while receiving lip service from a model, you’ve earned the title “controversial.” The man in question is Terry Richardson and there isn’t a single lenslinger more appropriate to have unfettered access to Lady GaGa for nearly a year during the Monster Ball tour and the recording of Born This Way. It’s a 350-page, no-holds-barred pictorial of one of the most enigmatic performers in pop and for GaGa fans, practically a must-own.

The Smiths: Complete — Limited-Edition Deluxe Box Set ($500; CD-only: $69, Rhino) The underlying theme of this year’s crop of box sets seems to be completionism; publishers are dumping entire catalogs into cool looking boxes, slapping price tags on them and throwing them on a truck for everyone from Sting to the Smiths. In regards to the latter, for the low, low price of half a grand, the true Smiths fan can own every piece of musical ephemera from their icons save for the guy darting onstage to bear-hug Morrissey. Johnny Marr himself worked the boards to remaster all eight of the band’s LPs for this set, the $69 economy-sized version of which includes CDs only. The big prize, however, contains the band’s albums on CD and vinyl, along with all 25 7-inch singles and The Complete Picture DVD compilation.

Dead Letters by Paul Grushkin ($30, Voyaguer) Other than the white beards and globetrotting tendencies, Jerry Garcia had one other thing in common with Santa Claus: enormous amounts of fan mail. While kids would decorate their envelopes with crayon drawings of reindeer and maps of their living rooms for old St. Nick, Deadheads were artists of the more psychedelic sort. In Dead Letters, historian Paul Grushkin has compiled hundreds upon hundreds of ornately designed letters and full-illustrated mailers that the most hardcore of the hardcore sent to express their Dead-ication, but also how badly they needed to be miracled to the 1970 Capitol Theatre show.

All Access: The Rock ‘N’ Roll Photography of Ken Regan ($75, Insight) Picture Keith Richards cooking eggs in the kitchen of Andy Warhol’s home, or Bob Dylan first meeting Reuben “Hurricane” Carter at Clinton State Prison, or KISS in full regalia posing with their families. As far as candid images of rock icons go, photographer Ken Regan is the da Vinci of his trade. Not only at the practice of clicking camera buttons itself, but the more understated art of weaseling one’s way into these artists’ lives. In this coffee table monster, one can not only see his images, but read about how he attained them.

Nevermind: 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition ($149.99, Geffen) Mind you there is a Deluxe Edition of the 20th Anniversary reissue of Nirvana’s Nevermind, but for a look at a potential alternate reality as far as contemporary music is concerned, the Super Deluxe Edition is requisite. Among the five-disc collection that includes the full studio release, boombox recordings and live B-sides, this is the only version to include the Butch Viig mixes that actually predate the eventual Andy Wallace mixes. Listening to the two versions through headphones with decent enough dynamic range, and it becomes apparent that Nevermind may not have had the oomph to make the kind of resounding cultural impact it did when Cobain decided to go with the Wallace mixes.