This holiday season the pop music connoisseur can choose from several new compilations of old favorites, ranging from the lounge lizard classics of Sinatra and Queens’ own Tony Bennett to the classic roots rock of Silver Bullet Bob Seger and the more modernist stylings of REM. And if it makes you feel old to be reminded that the latter band formed 31 years ago, so be it —it’s not necessarily the end of the world as you know it. Happy Holidays!
EM “Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011” (Warner Bros.)
When REM lead singer Michael Stipe announced this past September that his band was calling it quits after more than 30 years of performing, the public reaction was rather muted. Perhaps this wasn’t so surprising since despite all of their success, REM always maintained a bit of an “underground and waiting to be discovered by the masses” image. Stipe, a terrific vocalist and composer, never tried to be a larger-than-life leader of his band the way that Bono has helmed U2 and Mick Jagger has fronted the Rolling Stones.
“Part Lies” is a two-disc, 40-song package that compiles tracks from both the band’s early days on IRS Records, and from Warner Brothers, their recording home for the last 22 years. It’s fun to hear “Radio Free Europe” and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” alongside “Losing My Religion,” “Everybody Hurts,” “Shiny Happy People,” and the delightfully lighthearted and catchy “Stand,” which a lot of us remember as the theme from Chris Elliot’s early ’90s Fox Television sitcom, “Get a Life.”
Also included here are REM’s contributions to the 1999 Jim Carrey biopic of the late comedian Andy Kaufman, “The Great Beyond” and the title track, “Man on the Moon.”
“Ultimate Hits: Rock & Roll Never Forgets” (Capitol)
While it never reached the intensity of the great 1960s Beatles-Rolling Stones debate, in the 1970s and early ’80s rock fans argued the merits of New Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen versus Michigan’s Bob Seger. While at the peak of his fame, Seger walked away from the entertainment industry to raise his family in the Detroit suburbs. Now that his kids are grown, Seger has returned to performing.
“Ultimate Hits” covers a 20-year period of Seger’s career ranging from 1968’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” to 1987’s “Shakedown,” which was used in a key scene of the Eddie Murphy flick, “Beverly Hills Cop II.” Of course there are such crowd-pleasers as the youthful reminiscence “Night Moves,” the wistfully philosophical “Against the Wind,” and the defiant “Like a Rock.” Toss in “Fire Lake,” “Still the Same,” “Hollywood Nights,” “Turn the Page,” “Mainstreet,” “You’ll Accompany Me” and “Old Time Rock and Roll” — the tune to which Tom Cruise danced in his Hanes in his 1983 breakthrough film, “Risky Business” — and you have very solid collection.
The downside is that Top 20 hits “Even Now” and “American Storm” are missing, as are Seger’s terrific in-concert covers of Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.”
Tony Bennett “Duets II” (Columbia)
It’s hard to believe that 85-year-old Astoria native Tony Bennett had his first-ever No. 1 album when “Duets II” hit the top of the Billboard album charts last month.
There is no doubt that one reason for the quick sales was the appearance of one Stephanie Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga. Tony sounds as if he’s struggling to keep a straight face as Gaga, who does possess a fine voice, ad-libs new lyrics to “The Lady Is a Tramp” in which she mentions her love of Coney Island and the Yankees. “Jeter’s just fine,” Bennett quickly replies.
On a more somber note, the late Amy Winehouse made her final recording for Bennett’s album, dueting with him on “Body and Soul.” She sounds eerily like the late Dinah Washington, who also died from a drug overdose, a few weeks after the assassination of JFK.
Tony sounds most comfortable sharing the mike with Michael Buble on “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and old buddy Willie Nelson on a tune he successfully revived in 1976, “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”
The effects of age have frayed his magnificent voice some but Tony clearly steps up his game when he shares the studio with the operatic stylings of Josh Groban on “That’s All I Ask” and Andrea Bocelli on “Stranger in Paradise.”
Frank Sinatra “Best of the Best” (Capitol)
This double-CD lives up to billing as it compiles the biggest hits from Sinatra’s 1950s work on Capitol and his tenure at Reprise that spanned from 1960 through 1993.
“Best of the Best” highlights the philosophical Frank with classics such as “Young at Heart,” “All the Way,” and “It Was a Very Good Year,” as well as his upbeat side with hits “Nice ’N’ Easy,” “My Kind of Town,” “Summer Wind,” “That’s Life,” “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Come Fly With Me.” Good luck trying to avoid snapping your fingers when listening to these tunes.