Christmas is just a week away, and chances are there's someone you haven't checked off your gift list. A musical present can be a great option if you're in a pinch and don't want to be a Grinch. Plus, shopping at a locally owned record store can help make Madison's economy a bit more jolly.
While it's important to keep the gift-getter's tastes in mind, talking to a record-store clerk can be an excellent way to brainstorm ideas or tap into a musical subculture that confuses you but amazes your cousin or roommate.
For example, what's a good gift for that college-aged nephew you see once a year? Steve Manley, owner of B-Side, suggests the Matador at 21 box set for indie rockers who are just coming of age. "[It's] a six-CD box with remastered songs from the label's 21-year history, plus a CD of unreleased recordings, an 80-page book and 36 custom poker chips," he explains. "Pretty fancy for well under $50."
Strictly Discs owner Ron Roloff suggests a lesson about rock 'n' roll's roots from the Legendary Story of Sun Records set, which contains choice cuts from Howlin' Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and other groundbreaking artists who worked with Sam Phillips' seminal Memphis label.
Ear Wax Record Shop owner Rob Cleveland has all sorts of music-themed stocking stuffers for the college crowd. For starters, he's got a bobblehead doll of punk heroine Wendy O. Williams and plenty of badass accessories, like belts made out of bullets. But his top recommendation doesn't sound very punk rock at all.
"I've got this real neat puzzle that students who are into kitschier stuff will like," he says. "It's put out by a vinyl pressing plant, Pirates Press. They took a huge picture of all the records they've done, and it's like 3 feet by 4 feet, which has got to be great for parties."
The front of its box boasts 14 hours of puzzle-building fun and taunts prospective buyers with a sticker that exclaims, "You're not going drinking until you finish this thing!"
If you're looking for a bigger-ticket item for a college student, consider a turntable and a gift certificate for some vinyl, says MadCity Music Exchange owner Dave Zero. Or take the advice of Exclusive Company clerk Gordon Dale and find out which albums have been popular over the last several months.
"The new Eminem record has been one of our top sellers since it came out, things like the new Cee Lo and Kid Cudi and even My Chemical Romance are doing well, and Kings of Leon is a big all-around seller," says Dale. "I've also been trying to push the Sleigh Bells record that came out this year. It's got these weird electronic moments and blown-out dancey beats that are really great."
Talk to Cleveland, Manley, Roloff or Zero, and you'll get plenty of other nominations from 2010's crop of new releases: Brian Eno's Small Craft on a Milk Sea, Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the Thermals' Personal Life, Electric Wizard's Black Masses and Endless Boogie's Full House Head, to name a few.
But what about your mom or grandma, who may not be into dancey beats or endless boogies? Roloff suggests Kris Kristofferson's Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends, a new collection of the singer-songwriter's demos from 1968 to 1972. Meanwhile, Manley recommends browsing the jazz bins.
"Mom might enjoy the new Norah Jones collection called ...Featuring or the Ella Fitzgerald four-CD set Twelve Nights in Hollywood. It's received tons of good press, and it's also available in a single-disc, condensed form for those on a tight budget."
Zero reminds shoppers that there are tons of rock-lovin' moms and grandmas, too. "We've got a lot of really cool moms who shop here. Something for them might be Bruce Springsteen's [CD-DVD combo] The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story or The Witmark Demos by Bob Dylan."
But the best advice you can get from your local record-shop clerk might be what to get for the person who seems to own every album ever made.
Here's a hard-to-find item: Each Christmas season since 2001, Roloff has assembled a "holiday groove" compilation for this breed of music junkie. He makes a limited quantity for visitors at Strictly Discs, but fans from at least 15 different countries have requested them, he says.
"It's all holiday music, about 15 to 20 tracks of it. Historically, it's featured a lot of old-school jazz, blues and soul, primarily black music. Most of this stuff is way, way off the beaten path."
Manley suggests the original, three-disc vinyl set of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass. Even if your would-be recipient already owns the classic, "It's most likely in less-than-great condition," he says. "It's just been reissued in the exact same package as the original, except the new one is a numbered limited edition."
Better yet, ask your record clerk what's on his or her wish list. It's bound to spark a terrific conversation and generate at least a few gift ideas. "I would want Weezer to stop playing and Kanye West to shut up and Pitchfork to stop," Zero quips. "Oh, and I'd like the new Neu! box set in vinyl, too."