So you’re at the bar and suddenly, the jukebox cranks out a song that inspires a fellow imbiber to passionately assert some band’s superiority over another tangentially related band. Rock and Roll Cage Match is the ideal book for such opinionated pontificators. In cogent, lively essays, stellar writers decide 30 musical feuds, some real (Jay-Z vs. Nas, Blur vs. Oasis, Lennon vs. McCartney), some creative (Simon & Garfunkel vs. Hall & Oates, Bob Dylan vs. Bob Marley). Through thoughtful execution of a risky premise, Cage Match offers semi-definitive answers for rock-geek know-it-alls, while igniting as many arguments as it settles.
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This massive 17-DVD set is a nature-lovers treasure. These are the documentaries, Planet Earth, The Blue Planet, The Life of Mammals, and The Life of Birds, that have proven the BBC has set the gold standard for nature films and programs. The ever delightful David Attenborough hosts each of these series and every single episode features mind-blowing photography and startling facts. They are educational for sure, but also more entertainment and addictive than anything else of the sort. The set is an essential addition to the DVD collection of any nature lover or anyone with a deep interest in the “vast” world around us.
Can’t find Wii Fit? Namco Bandai’s Active Life: Outdoor Challenge may well be a suitable replacement until the impossible-to-find balance board game starts staying on store shelves for more than 30 seconds at a time. No, it won’t measure your weight—rather than a balance board, this Outdoor Challenge comes with a mat, similar to a Dance Dance Revolution pad (or the Power Pad, for those who remember the 8-bit Nintendo’s entry into a similar arena). Using a combination of the pad and the Wiimote, players do everything from simple sprints to kayaking to a good old fashioned game of whack-a-mole. The easiest games are doable for children as young as three or four, while the toughest will have the grownups sweating quicker than they expect. It may not help you lose weight, but it may well be the most kinetic gaming experience you play this year. If nothing else, it’ll keep you going until you really start feeling the pressure of fulfilling those New Year’s Resolutions.
We batched these three together because they’re clearly, quintissentially for the hardcore comics enthusiast. These are history books first—documenting the first appearance of a character, the initial emergence of a storyline, the series’ run, the writers and artists—and art books simultaneously, true to the form. These books are big, they’re gorgeous, and of course, they’re ‘encyclopedic’ in scope and presentation. The ecstatic recipient has a large, sturdy bookshelf, no doubt cluttered with comics actions figures, with which to house them.
If Motown was the granddaddy of modern Black music, and Stax was its scruffy, shady-yet-magnetic uncle, Philly Soul was the prim-and-proper little sister with a mean streak beneath the makeup. If universality is a sign of great pop, Philadelphia International produced some of the best. Ever. That music is at the center of the long-overdue Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia. A four-disc, 71-track set, it features no fewer that 26 #1 R&B hits and 27 Top Ten pop hits. Though it spans from Gamble, Huff, and Bell’s early careers to Philadelphia International’s distribution deal with EMI in 1984, its main focus is on the halcyon years 1971-1976. And the collection, overseen by Gamble and Huff themselves, does it right. Everything’s chronological, from start to finish. No incongruous, “themed” discs. No superfluous demos and live tracks. Just the hits, and there were plenty of them. Philadelphia International’s two premier acts, the O’Jays and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, are as well-represented as one might expect, with over a quarter of the 71 tracks. With few exceptions, Love Train is a de facto greatest hits for both. If you don’t already have the O’Jays and Blue Notes stuff, you’re already behind the ball. But here’s your chance to make things right, because, aside from the obvious classics, the best thing about Love Train is all the relatively underappreciated, sometimes hidden, gems.