The music gift guide to get you through 2021

Stephen Thomas Erlewine
·9 min read
Lead art for 2020 gift guide lists
(Jillian Goeler / For The Times)

Music fans may be hard to please come this holiday season. There are no concert tickets to stuff into their stocking, and they likely already subscribe to a streaming service, which means they have access to zillions of songs. But nowadays, that just means artists and their record labels are extra motivated to unearth, and lavishly package, the demos, alternate takes, live recordings, videos and scrapbooks that will superserve even the most know-it-all music geek. So dig into the season's most-wanted box sets, audio gear, music books and even instruments, and start the holidays on the best possible note.

See the full L.A. Times 2020 gift guide here.

Elton John 'Jewel Box' CD set

Elton John, "Jewel Box" Elton John has a box set for every occasion.
(Mercury)

Elton John has a box set for every occasion. The hit-heavy "Diamonds" is designed for everyday use, but the rarities-laden "Jewel Box" is reserved for aficionados who understand the appeal of rare gems. The heart of this eight-CD set is a wealth of early demos and midcareer B-sides, many getting their first-ever reissue here.

$103.99 | 👉 Purchase here

Thelonious Monk 'Palo Alto' CD

Thelonious Monk concert
(Impulse! Records)

Recorded by a janitor at Palo Alto High School on Oct. 27, 1968, and hidden away until this year, this Thelonious Monk concert is the archival jazz find of the year. Playing with a quartet featuring tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse during a year that also saw him releasing the classic "Underground" and "Monk's Blues" LPs, this is a casual portrait of a jazz giant at cruising altitude.

$17.13 | 👉 Purchase here

Prince 'Sign O' the Times (Super Deluxe Edition)' CD set

Prince, "Sign O' the Times (Super Deluxe Edition)."
(Warner Records)

In its original double-LP incarnation, "Sign O' the Times" seemed to barely contain Prince's imagination. As a lavish super-deluxe box set containing two live shows, a bunch of B-sides, and three discs of unheard songs from Prince's legendary vaults, the album now seems like the apex of the Purple One's creativity.

$159.98 | 👉Purchase here

'Joni Mitchell Archives, Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967)' CD set

Joni Mitchell, "Joni Mitchell Archives, Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967)"
(Rhino Records)

Joni Mitchell finally opens up her vaults with this five-disc box, which effectively functions as a prehistory to her official discography, rounding up radio appearances, live performances, home recordings and demos recorded between 1963 and 1967. It's a historically important chapter in her career, but these hushed, intense performances are compelling recordings in their own right.

$55.99 | 👉Purchase here

Dolly Parton's 'Songteller: My Life in Lyrics' autobiography

Dolly Parton, "Songteller: My Life in Lyrics"
(Chronicle Books)

Dolly Parton's skills as a storyteller are evident in how she spins a yarn onstage and how her songs thrive in the hands of other singers. "Songteller: My Life In Lyrics" pushes this gift to the forefront, offering a handsomely illustrated autobiographical journey punctuated by the lyrics of the songs her life inspired. It's an idiosyncratic approach at a memoir that excels both as an attractive coffee table book and as proof of Parton's vivid lyricism.

$50 | 👉Purchase here

Bob Mould, 'Distortion: 1989-2019' CD set

Bob Mould, "Distortion: 1989-2019"
(Demon/Edsel)

Weighing in at 24 CDs, "Distortion 1989-2019" dwarves all the other pop/rock box sets of 2020, but its towering size suits its subject. After breaking up Hüsker Dü, Bob Mould never stopped making music, playing intense, melodic rock on his own and with Sugar, while also taking detours into electronic music. All of his journeys are chronicled on "Distortion: 1989-2019," revealing the continuity, consistency and depth of Mould's catalog.

$134.99 | 👉Purchase here

LEGO Beatles Art set

The Beatles are the only musicians who are part of LEGO Art, standing alongside entries from Star Wars and Marvel.
(LEGO)

LEGO Art represents a bit of a departure for the brickmakers. The series is designed as a way for adults to relax while creating their own bit of pop art to hang on their walls. Since the four Fab portraits from the interior of the White Album have adorned walls since the record's 1968 release, it's only appropriate that the Beatles are the only musicians who are part of LEGO Art, standing alongside entries from "Star Wars" and Marvel. Buy one to create an individual portrait, grab four to re-create the White Album.

$119.99 | 👉Purchase here

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise-Canceling headphones

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise-Canceling headphones
(Sony)

If you're looking for a way to shut out the outside world — and who isn't? — Sony's WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise-Canceling headphones might be your ticket to deliverance. Lightweight and bearing a BlueTooth connection, this headset offers studio-quality audio but is comfortable enough to wear at home.

$348 | 👉 Purchase here

Billie Eilish Signature Fender Ukulele

Billie Eilish Signature Fender Ukulele.
(Fender)

Usually, musicians opt for guitars when developing their own signature instruments, but Billie Eilish isn't an ordinary musician. With Fender's help, Eilish created her own signature ukulele, putting her "blohsh" art on a four-string ax with a distinctive Fender head.

$299.99 | 👉 Purchase here

Meghan Trainor, 'A Very Trainor Christmas' CD

Meghan Trainor, "A Very Trainor Christmas"
(EPIC RECORDS GROUP)

There's always been a hint of old-fashioned showbiz to Meghan Trainor, so it's no surprise that "A Very Trainor Christmas" contains a bit of razzle-dazzle: She hams it up with Seth MacFarlane on "White Christmas," for one, but she also cuts loose with Earth Wind & Fire on "Holidays."

$12.98 | 👉 Purchase here

Heaven's Door Trilogy Collection Pack whiskey

Heaven's Door Trilogy Gifting Pack.
(Heaven's Door)

Whiskey is so important to Bob Dylan he not only developed his own line of bourbon but he revived his SiriusXM "Theme Time Radio Hour" to celebrate the libation. There's no better way to sample his own Heaven's Door whiskey than the Trilogy Gifting pack, which pairs a straight bourbon with a double barrel whiskey and a straight rye.

$59 | 👉Purchase here

Jeff Gold, 'Sittin’ in: Jazz Clubs of the 1940s and 1950s' book

Jeff Gold, "Sittin' in: Jazz Clubs of the 1940s and 1950s"
(Harper Design)

Night clubs were at the epicenter of jazz's growth in the post-World War II era. Jeff Gold's vivid and beautiful "Sittin' in: Jazz Clubs of the 1940s and 1950s" captures that heady time through photographs, evocative memorabilia and incisive text, including interviews with Quincy Jones, Sonny Rollins and scholar Dan Morgenstern. The images set the scene, but the text tells the history of the hopping clubs that populated the major cities of America during those thriving years.

$39.99 | 👉Purchase here

'The Decade That Rocked: The Photography of Mark 'Weissguy' Weiss' book

"The Decade That Rocked: The Photography of Mark 'Weissguy' Weiss"Mark Weiss of heavy metal and hard rock in the 1980s
(Insight Editions)

Mark Weiss captured the hedonism and excess of heavy metal and hard rock in the 1980s like no other photographer. Drawing on his work for Circus magazine and digging deep into his archives, Weiss serves up candid and staged shots of Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, Motley Crue, and Guns N Roses, images that tell the sleazy tale of the Sunset Strip and hair metal better than any individual album.

$50 | 👉 Purchase here

Kevin Cummins, 'While We Were Getting High: Britpop and the 90s' book

Kevin Cummins, "While We Were Getting High: Britpop and the 90s"
(Cassell)

While he was the chief photographer at NME, Kevin Cummins acted as the chronicler of the rise and fall of Britpop, a period he documents on "While We Were Getting High: Britpop and the 90s." Interspersed with surprisingly candid reflections by the likes of Noel Gallagher and Suede's Brett Anderson, the book is filled with indelible images of Oasis, Blur, and Pulp while also living up to the wistfulness of its title.

$40 | 👉 Purchase here

Andy Neil, 'Ready Steady Go! The Weekend Starts Here: The Definitive Story of the Show That Changed Pop TV' book

Andy Neil, "Ready Steady Go! The Weekend Starts Here: The Definitive Story of the Show That Changed Pop TV"
(BMG Books/BMG Books)

No other British television show captured the style and spirit of the go-go 1960s like "Ready Steady Go!" The show's brief, colorful history is told in a vibrant fashion by Andy Neil, who balances affectionate reflections by Mick Jagger and Ray Davies with a host of photos, news clippings and narratives. As a bonus, a complete episode guide with show-by-show breakdowns is tucked at the back of the book.

$49.99 | 👉 Purchase here

Elvis Presley, 'From Elvis in Nashville' CD

Elvis Presley, "From Elvis in Nashville" This four-disc set chronicles Presley's June 1970 sessions in Nashville
(Sony Legacy)

This four-disc set chronicles Presley's June 1970 sessions in Nashville, where he knocked out a bunch of material later released on "That's the Way It Is" and "Elvis Country (I'm 10,000 Years Old)," among other LPs. Stripped of overdubs and orchestrations, these recordings are lean and rocking, highlighting how Presley could be just part of his crack studio band.

$40.99 | 👉 Purchase here

'Bobby Bare Sings Shel Silverstein Plus' CD

Bobby Bare, "Bobby Bare Sings Shel Silverstein Plus."
(Bear Family)

Plenty of people had hits with Shel Silverstein's songs, but he had no better interpreter than Bobby Bare, a gentle giant of 1970s progressive country. The pair grew close as both friends and collaborators, resulting in Bare recording more than 100 Silverstein tunes between 1972 and 1983. All those recordings are in this eight-disc box, a set that highlights the duo's knack for lullabies, legends and down-and-dirty country.

$196.50 | 👉 Purchase here

Aretha Franklin, 'Aretha' CD set

ARETHA by Aretha Franklin - 2020 - Four Audio CD.
(Atlantic Catalog Group)

The first major archival release since Aretha Franklin's 2018 death, the four-disc box set "Aretha" chronicles the Queen of Soul's career, starting with her early, jazzy sides for Columbia and culminating with her bright, bouncy hits from the 1980s. That alone makes it worthwhile, but longtime fans will likely be tempted by the set showcasing 19 unreleased songs, alternate takes and live versions of her classic Atlantic sides.

$59.98 | 👉 Purchase here

Maria Sherman, 'Larger Than Life: A History of Boy Bands from NKOTB to BTS' illustrated book

Maria Sherman, "Larger Than Life: A History of Boy Bands"
(Black Dog & Leventhal)

Boy bands are typically seen as passing fashion, but Maria Sherman's "Larger Than Life: A History of Boy Band"s illustrates how there's a definite teen-pop lineage that connects '80s sensations New Kids on the Block to BTS, the leading lights of K-Pop. Part historical analysis, part guide, "Larger Than Life" never sneers at its subject: It takes the music and the phenomenon seriously, while still having fun with the scene.

$24.99 | 👉 Purchase here

Elvis Costello & the Attractions, 'Armed Forces (Super Deluxe Edition)' vinyl box set

Elvis Costello & the Attractions, "Armed Forces (Super Deluxe Edition)"
(UMe 2020)

Elvis Costello is no stranger to deluxe editions, reissuing expanded editions of his catalog at both Rykodisc and Rhino, which may be why he's taken a different tactic for the Super Deluxe Edition of his landmark third album, Armed Forces: It's available only digitally and as a lavish vinyl set supplemented by seven notebooks of liner notes. All the bonus tracks from the 2002 Rhino edition are here, but the real attraction is three concerts from 1978 and 1979, live shows that find Costello at a fast and furious peak.

$139.99 | 👉 Purchase here

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.