In the strange history of recorded music, we have now reached the point where an album is almost a stocking-filler. At a supermarket, a chart CD will set you back only a tenner. At Fopp, the last bastion of the proper record shop, it may well be £8.
Long ago, on another Sunday newspaper, I started a Campaign For Cheaper CDs. It was 1992 and a typical new album was £15, or £30 in today’s money, so, in real terms, the price has plummeted by two-thirds in a generation. If it’s a mixed compilation you’re after, you can find a very decent one for a fiver. Where you might have given somebody one album in the past, you can now afford two – one they’d choose themselves, perhaps, plus one you hope they’ll love.
Dreaming of a White Album Christmas? The Beatles’ (above) ninth album is back fifty years on in several formats, best of all a three-CD set
Here are my suggestions for all the family, including a few box sets, which can cost anything from £30 to £160.
You can’t go wrong with new compilations from the mellifluous Katie Melua (Ultimate Collection, two LPs) or the more vinegary Paul Heaton (The Last King Of Pop). For familiarity with a twist, try Bitter-Sweet, on which Bryan Ferry reinvents 13 of his own songs, inspired by playing a Weimar-era nightclub crooner in the TV drama Babylon Berlin. The first time you heard Dance Away, you probably didn’t think ‘This needs to be done in the style of Thirties Berlin’, but it works, with the change of genre bringing out Ferry’s gift for gorgeous sorrow.
Never easy, and I say that as a dad myself. If I wasn’t doing this job, I’d be hoping for Springsteen On Broadway (out Dec 14), the songs and stories from a magnificent show. Or a box set – either More Blood, More Tracks (six CDs), Volume 14 in Bob Dylan’s series of bootlegs, or The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (three LPs, five CDs, three 45s), a bumper edition of the concept album Ray Davies called ‘the most successful flop in history’. It finally went gold last month, as it turned 50.
The Carpenters’ hits have been given a revamp with backing from The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, perfect for the grandparents. Karen Carpenter (above)
For the grandparents
The latest equation in music goes like this: old songs + orchestra = hit. Hence The Carpenters With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: every sha-la-la-la, with added violins. Unmasked (five discs) is a rare box set devoted to a songwriter rather than a performer – Andrew Lloyd Webber. Gleaming originals such as Yvonne Elliman’s I Don’t Know How To Love Him are joined by remakes, with Lana Del Rey adding flavour to You Must Love Me, and Beyoncé, belting out Learn To Be Lonely. Remember Chas Hedges with a copy of Gold by Chas & Dave. It will turn your Christmas dinner into a pub singalong.
For the tweens
You probably can’t save your children or grandchildren from Ed Sheeran, but you can administer an antidote: George Ezra, whose album Staying At Tamara’s is just as homespun, more reflective and more uplifting. If the kids like the Now collections, give them Now That’s What I Call Now, which picks one song from each of the 100 Nows so far – and is thus a primer in pop history.
For the teens
If they’re introverted, treat them to Dawes, the LA quartet whose run of superb albums continued with Passwords. If they’re more outgoing, try Wolf Alice’s Visions Of A Life, which won the Mercury Prize on the strength of its ‘confidence and adventure’.
For the students
Your in-house intellectual is as hard to please as his or her dad. But they should be delighted with Transangelic Exodus by Ezra Furman, who is both gender-fluid and, more importantly, great company. He’s a storyteller in the tradition of Lou Reed, without any of the serrated edge.
For anyone who likes good music
For sheer craftsmanship, Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s Wapentak is hard to beat. For dancing round the tree, you can’t do better than Honey, the return of Swedish star Robyn. For something to discuss, Merrie Land, by Damon Albarn’s supergroup The Good, The Bad & The Queen, is a brave look into Brexit and its causes.
For the whole family
The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ is back in several formats, best of all a three-CD set. Small children will love The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill. Grown men and women will adore While My Guitar Gently Weeps, with Eric Clapton guesting. And all ages will enjoy Blackbird and Back In The USSR.