An iTunes gift certificate may eliminate the need for holiday guesswork, but there's also something a bit cold, impersonal and "I'd rather not waste much time on you" about it.
Fortunately there's a world of eclectic alternatives, at least if you're fairly well-acquainted with the musical preferences of your giftee. (Hint: The Seasons of Death box set may not be ideal for the Katy Perry fan on your list.)
Here, then, for your holiday consideration is a selective guide to some of the more interesting — and, in some cases, perverse — music-related treasures out there. So have fun, choose well, and don't forget to ask about exchange policies.
Box me in
Let's begin with arcane physical music delivery devices, otherwise known as compact discs. You're generally pretty safe going with a box set, not only because it makes you look more generous, but also because your recipient is less likely to already own it.
For many, this year's one-box-fits-all gift will be Bob Dylan: The Original Mono Recordings (9 CDs, $129.98), which covers the artist's first eight albums from the '60s. Meanwhile, a trio of John Lennon sets should please roughly the same demographic. The most ambitious among them is the Signature Box (11 CDs, $189.99), which brings together the former Beatle's eight solo albums, a bunch of non-LP singles, and a bevy of early demos. It also includes a sparser remix of John and Yoko's Double Fantasy, which pumps up the vocals and tones down the production.
For those more interested in recent decades, Matador at 21 (6 CDs, $49.98) celebrates the fact that the East Coast's answer to Sub Pop Records can now drink legally. Indie rock fans who worship at the altar of Belle & Sebastian, Pavement, Yo La Tengo and the New Pornographers will love you for this, even if they're suffering from too much ennui to show it.
There's more, of course, including Michael Jackson's Vision (3 DVDs, $39.98); Africa: 50 Years of Music, 50 Years of Independence (18 CDs, $139.98); and the efficiently titled Nile Rodgers Presents the Chic Organization Box Set Vol. 1: Savoir Faire (4 CDs, $54.98).
And what holiday would be complete without the most angry and brilliant comedian of all time haunting your living room from beyond the grave? Move over, Lenny Bruce; quiet down, Sam Kinison; Bill Hicks is now getting the deluxe treatment with The Essential Collection, (2 CDs + 2 DVDs, $39.98), which pays appropriate tribute to Hicks' satirical genius. With a bunch of unreleased material as well as classic routines like "Your Children Aren't Special," "Kennedy and the Warren Commission," "Pussywhipped Satan" and "Goodbye You Lizard Scum" — yes, we'll miss you too, Bill — how can you go wrong?
Accessories and excess
One thing that's certain this holiday is that at least a few people on your gift list will want their teeth to be every bit as white as the teen pop idols whose posters decorate their bedroom walls. I know I do. The solution, of course, is the Turbo Tooth Tunes Battery Powered Toothbrush, which turns brushing time into party time.
What's ingenious about this is that the harder you brush, the louder the tune: Brush hard enough to draw blood and you can almost hear it! Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montana and, for the truly old-school among us, Cheetah Girls models are going fast. You can find them at Amazon and other online sites, generally in the range of $10 to $20. Stay away from the used ones if you can.
Of course, even the finest Jonas Brothers toothbrush will do nothing for your Faygo-swilling Juggalo cousin, which is why you'll want to pick up some 2010 Insane Clown Posse collectable Christmas ornaments. Pick your favorites from among Hatchet Girl, Hatchet Man, Juggalo Love (eww), Wraith, Jake Jeckel, Riddle Box, Ring Master, Great Milenko and Carnival of Carnage. Each comes with a free translucent gift box, so that you can enjoy the festive holiday spirit all year long. I'm not sure you'll find the one you're looking for at the mall Hallmark shop, so your best bet is eBay, where they sell for $14.95 (no bidding required).
Meanwhile, for those who can read, this year's literary offerings include Keith Richards complaining about the size of Mick's "tallywacker" and Justin Bieber pondering the state of his hair. Me, I'd go with Jay-Z's Decoded. Listing for $35, it's beautifully designed and written, focusing more on hip-hop history and analysis rather than the usual autobiographical excess.
Finally, we come to the Beats by Dr. Dre Beatbox. which was unleashed last month by Monster Cable, Interscope Records' mogul Jimmy Iovine and the good doctor himself. I'm not sure about their pricey line of headphones (which now includes a Bieber-endorsed model), but this hefty iPhone megadock is genuinely amazing. With serious bass that stays clean even when you crank it to 11, it's better than the best Bose system and makes all other iPhone music accessories pale in comparison.
The one drawback, besides the $399 price tag, is that none of the included adapter inserts fit the iPhone 4. The best workaround for that is to pick up a $30 CablJive DockXtender from Amazon, which has the added benefit of enabling you to use music docking stations without having to take your phone out of its case.
Seriously, go to the Apple Store or Best Buy and give it a listen. It's the gift I would want for myself this year, if I had rich relations and hadn't already bought one.