This holiday season is nostalgia time for baby boomers who like to linger in record stores. Many favorite artists from the '60s are back on the shelves, with new material, previously unreleased versions of familiar songs, or compilations of classic recordings in compact-disk form.
Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones lead the list of icons. Their latest work seems to have wide appeal: Rolling Stone liked Dylan's Time Out of Mind (Columbia) and the Stones' Bridges to Babylon (Virgin) as much as Newsweek did. Neither is quite as exciting as the raves would suggest, but they are both solid pieces of work. Each features spare, bluesy tunes that seem more at home in smoky clubs than in huge arenas.
SHADE OF SAM. For something a little softer, you might want to conjure up the ghost of Sam Spade with Carly Simon's new album Film Noir, featuring music from 1940s movies. These are the songs of performers such as Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday--about as stiff as the competition can get. Although Simon's vocal ability doesn't match the masters, she turns in heartfelt performances of such standards as Last Night When We Were Young and Two Sleepy People, a duet with John Travolta.
Indeed, there's nothing like the old songs, and many of them are appearing anew on CD. Those Were the Days (Polydor) is a four-CD compilation of 46 studio tracks and 17 live recordings from one of the seminal rock trios, Cream, made up of guitarist Eric Clapton, drummer Ginger Baker, and bassist Jack Bruce. The Philly Sound (Epic) showcases the greats of Philadelphia rhythm and blues: The Soul Survivors (Expressway to Your Heart), Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (If You Don't Know Me By Now), and the O'Jays (Love Train). This three-CD set makes clear that Philadelphia's challenge to Motown's supremacy rested largely on the backs of two wildly prolific composer-producers, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
For Simon & Garfunkel fans, Columbia has released the dream collection, a three-CD set called Old Friends. It features all of the duo's hits along with 15 demos, live recordings, and unreleased studio tracks. Yes, those songs are as good as you remember. Among other niceties, the album includes a Simon & Garfunkel recording of Red Rubber Ball, a Paul Simon composition that was a hit for--can you remember? (Answer: Cyrkle.) Simon is also just out with an album of songs from his new Broadway musical, The Capeman. Unlike Dylan and the Stones, Simon has at least matched and possibly surpassed his best work with this album, a steamy mix of salsa and doo-wop.
The great Ray Charles is captured on a five-CD Rhino Records collection, Ray Charles: Genius and Soul. The set is diluted a bit with some of Charles' commercial and sentimental hits, such as America the Beautiful, but it features, prominently, the tough-luck blues and gutsy performances that sustained his popularity for five decades.
Baby boomers were exposed to more than rock and R&B. Around the time Elvis was parading across the stage on The Ed Sullivan Show, Leonard Bernstein was leading the New York Philharmonic through the memorable Young People's Concerts. Sony Classical has released a series of Bernstein recordings with selections from many of his own compositions. The CDs have been issued under the rubric of the "Bernstein Century."
DUSTY. Another cherished figure from the 1950s and 1960s was Dave Brubeck, much of whose trademark sound was due to his longtime collaborator, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. A new reissue of Desmond's complete RCA Victor recordings presents the artist in a rare setting--without Brubeck. Desmond's music, superficially displaying the relaxed swagger of lounge music, is actually a sophisticated example of jazz improvisation.
And here is perhaps the most offbeat reissue of 1997: The Dusty Springfield Anthology (Mercury). Although she is not often mentioned among the musical greats of baby-boomer youth, her songs stand up surprisingly well. Many were composed by another fixture of '60s pop: Burt Bacharach. Remember The Look of Love, Wishin' and Hopin', and Anyone Who Had a Heart? A warning, though: Listening to this record might bring to mind a sweet, long-forgotten romance.