They say Christmas is for children, but not in the music business.
Record sales keep falling as kids download music off the Internet. The record companies are, understandably, panicked. But that may be good news for us mature music fans. The working assumption at the labels is that grownups don't know how to download, and we still consume music the old fashioned way. We go to a store and buy it.
Of course, a lot of the music we buy is the same music we bought on vinyl, 8-track, cassette and CD. At Christmas, the record companies have to come up with resourceful ways to get us to buy it again, or better yet; buy it as presents.
In the spirit of the season, I am here to help them.
The Beatles have become as perennial as Rudolph the Reindeer -- with good reason. No "baby boomer" isn't happy to get Beatles music in his stocking. A real gem this year is the DVD "Concert for George" -- a tribute to the late George Harrison by his closest friends, including Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. They perform George's songs soulfully and speak of him lovingly.
Watching Eric, Paul and Ringo perform "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," you can't escape feeling that the sun is setting on a generation of musicians whose like we'll never see again. If this doesn't move you, you have a heart of stone.
The Beatles also have a new version of the "Let it Be" album. It's called "Let it be Naked," and it strips away the choirs and strings that were added to the original record after the Beatles broke up. You get to hear the songs as the Beatles recorded them -- just the band playing and singing in the studio and on the Apple roof.
No matter how well you know "Get Back" and "Let it Be" and "The Long and Winding Road," it's great to have a chance to hear them with fresh ears.
After the Beatles, who else but the Rolling Stones? The Stones have a new four DVD live set called "Four Flicks," which is a lot of fun, but I have to say that the gift item I have not been able to put down is a big, fat, sort-of autobiography by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood called "According to the Rolling Stones."
It's basically the world's longest magazine interview, with the four Stones telling stories into a tape recorder. But there's no more entertaining bunch of storytellers, and anyway, Dad needs a big book to sit in his chair and get lost in while the kids are opening their iPODs and knocking down the Christmas tree.
Beatles, Stones -- let's complete the holy trinity. Bob Dylan's 15 best albums has been re-mastered in super-audio format and stuck in a box. There is no greater catalog in the rock era. This is more than a gift. It's a dowry.
For the sophisticates, there is the beautiful metal Charlie Parker box with all of his Verve master takes. New generations keep discovering Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Charlie Parker is where modern jazz begins. It is a fantastic present.
I should also mention a box set of the albums Joni Mitchell made between 1980 and 1995. A lot of this music is not as well-known as her '70s work, but it's deep and varied and full of unexpected pleasures.
The same could be said of the great Nina Simone, whose seven mid-'60s Philips albums are collected in the set called "Four Women." If someone on your list fell in love with Norah Jones this past year, get them the Nina Simone box and blow their minds.
By the way, when the record companies talk about reaching the older audience, they don't mean only "baby boomers." Older is anyone born before 1974. What child of the '80s would not like to open his sticking and find the amazing 4 CD box set from Talking Heads. It's a beautiful object with great book inside.
Talking Heads were the one band that completely took advantage of the creative possibilities of the era from the birth of punk and new wave through the early MTV-video days. I think they fall between the cracks a little bit, but this set makes a very strong case for their being one of the best rock bands America ever produced.
I always thought that when Talking Heads broke up, REM picked up on some of their energy and attitude. The new REM greatest hits album "In Time" comes in three different configurations.
The single CD version has 18 great songs such as "Losing My Religion," "Man On The Moon" and "Everybody Hurts." It would make a very nice gift for your cousin. Then there's a two CD version that contains a second disc with 15 B-sides and rarities and live tracks. That would be a good gift for your brother or sister. REM have been working at such a high level for so long that we might take them for granted. Don't. We'd sure miss them if they were gone.
There's greatest hits albums, too, from all the new stars of ten years ago. That's right, hard as it is to believe it's time for best-offs from Sheryl Crow, Counting Crows, Tori Amos, Wyclef Jean, No Doubt and Red Hot Chili Peppers. It's enough to make you feel old.
Which, if you're a music fan, is what you want to be.