Live and Swingin': The Ultimate Rat Pack Collection
When the footage of this long-ago charity event was found in a dusty vault a few years back, it was heralded as the Rat Pack Hope Diamond. As it well should be, since the once-lost footage of Frank, Dino, and Sammy on that fateful Father's Day in 1965 is the only remaining visual relic of their live, onstage camaraderie. Emceed by a young Johnny Carson (who'd been hosting The Tonight Show for only two years), the highlights of the disc include Dean Martin's slurred performance of "Send Me the Pillow You Dream On" and Sinatra making jabs at the "no good" band, which happened to be the Count Basie orchestra led by Quincy Jones. The package is accompanied by a CD of excerpts from a one-week stand at Chicago's Villa Venice in 1962. In a word: Delovely.
This chronological compilation of Michael Jackson's top hits is a fascinating document for two reasons. First, it clearly demonstrates how the King of Pop single-handedly established the music video as a cultural phenomenon -- transforming it from the dingy LiteBrite sidewalk on "Billy Jean" to the digital wizardry of "Black or White." And by closing Number Ones with such disappointing recent efforts as "Blood on the Dancefloor" and "Earth Song," the DVD also shows the grievous decline of Jackson's career (not to mention the downright chilling transformation of the man himself). All told, the gems on the first half of the comp make it well worth the sticker price, even if the lemons at the end leave a sour taste.
Riding in Vans With Boys
Using as its models Zeppelin's Song Remains the Same and Dylan's Don't Look Back, the usual tour documentary paints an indulgent portrait of a guitar hero pitted against the world. Riding in Vans With Boys lightens this tradition by documenting the antics of Kut U Up, a third-tier SoCal pop punk act who spent two months opening blink-182's Pop Disaster Tour. The film's low-rent guffaws offer a choice of a) drunk guys hurting themselves; b) drunk guys hurting each other; or c) drunk guys smashing stuff. And, hold on to your hats, sometimes there are even drunk guys pooping where they aren't supposed to! These zany bits are set to a score of Green Day, Jimmy Eat World, and blink-182.
Queen: Video Hits Vol. 1
After years of being available only on VHS, the squeaky clean DVD remaster of Video Hits Vol. 1 is a glittery visual token of the band's peak. The perks of the 2-disc set include ample "behind the scenes" footage, a handful of extra tracks, and impressive surround sound. Made long before the advent of high-budget MTV videos, the campy magic of Queen's frosted lenses and psychedelic camera effects have aged beautifully, not to mention the previously unseen footage of "Bicycle Race" with its troupe of nude ladies on bikes. Although every one of the 22 tracks was a hit for the band, the visual standouts are "Killer Queen" and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."
Frank Sinatra: Classic Duets
Not to be confused with the below-par (and wildly popular) sides the Chairman cut with Bono, Streisand, and other mismatched colleagues a decade ago, this Capitol CD gathers together 21 late-'50s collaborations -- some of them good, most of them terrific -- between Sinatra and a swingin' lineup of contemporaries. Louis Armstrong's trumpet playing on "Birth of the Blues" is itself worth the price of admission. But Ella and Frank lazily harmonizing on "Moonlight in Vermont" ain't exactly chopped liver, and a bantering medley/duel with Dino is a delight. Taken from a short-lived TV variety show and never previously released, the selections capture Sinatra, orchestrator Nelson Riddle, and singing partners Peggy Lee, Lena Horne, and Elvis Presley (!), among others, at the top of their game.
Clubbers celebrate the holidays along with everyone else, though you can hardly work Bing Crosby or Duke Ellington into a DJ set without causing quizzical looks from the dance floor. So here comes local electronica label Six Degrees right down Santa Claus Lane with their answer -- a passel of Yuletide favorites remixed by clever elves in house, hip hop, and downtempo music. Since the holidays bring out the cheesy sentimentalist in everyone, these renditions by Dan the Automator, Robbie Hardkiss, and Mocean Worker of faves like Dean Martin's "Jingle Bells" and Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" will do the trick at your holiday party for both the parents and the disaffected rebel nephews.
Ghosts of the Great Highway
Mark Kozelek's new band, Sun Kil Moon, sounds like, well, Mark Kozelek. But the exquisite Ghosts of the Great Highway teems with the ravaged spirit and expansive feeling sometimes hidden deep inside songs by Kozelek's former band, Red House Painters. He still relies on the same hushed formula: soft melodies, gentle orchestration, and creepy guitars. Even the crunchy, cranked-up songs like "Salvador Sanchez" and "Lily and Parrots" are seductively slow and sedate -- the very soundtrack of desperation. The literary Kozelek makes brooding beautiful, with lyrical turns, dampened solos, and his hypnotic, charged vocals -- singing so fluid and even, it becomes dominant and tortured. The San Francisco songwriter understands the dramatic, as six of the 10 songs drone on for more than five minutes. Ghostsis something to be cherished, an exhausting, cathartic affair that blurs the boundaries of quiet, begging the question: Who actually kills whom?