SO MANY records, tapes and compact discs, so little time left to choose. Well, fret no more. Your worries are over. Here's the answer to the last-minute holiday shopper's dilemma:
For the classic rock fan -- Beatles. If your budget can stand it, spring for the new Paul McCartney release, three records, two cassettes or two CDs, which recaptures virtually all of the two-hour-plus show from his 1989 American tour.
McCartney is in wonderful voice and there are plenty of Beatles tunes and rock oldies in the set, enough to compensate for the weakness of some of his later solo stuff. Anybody who grew up with the Beatles should love it. Rating: ****.
Second choice, and a rather distant second, at that, is the Ringo Starr album, also taken live from a 1989 tour. A modest talent who has remained modest through the years, Starr has to be considered a sentimental choice.
Happily, he also realizes this and defers to his stellar backup group (Dr. John, Billy Preston, Joe Walsh, Rick Danko and Levon Helm from the Band and Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band) for more than half of this abridged set. Rating:** 1/2 .
For the grown-up flower child -- Van Morrison. All the young Irish singers pay tribute to this master of Celtic R & B vocalizing, Unfortunately, it's the memory they're honoring, not the man who has sent his past few albums back from some mythic dreamland.
But this time Morrison makes a concerted effort to regain touch with his rhythms and his blues. Old fans will forgive the way he keeps slipping and out of contact and rejoice as he rises to an epic invocation of his roots with "In the Days Before Rock 'n' Roll." Rating:*** .
For younger flower children, a better choice is the Posies, a Seattle band with a penchant for early psychedelia, the harmonies and the jangly guitars of the '60s. They glance off the Beatles (one song about the dangers of unsafe sex is called "Golden Blunders") and other familiar figures of the era with uncommon wit and dexterity. The more I listen to them, the more I wish I'd caught their show at the Marquee last week. Rating:**** 1/2 .
For the hard-rock teen -- Cinderella. This Philadelphia band has as much nasty fun as permissible without getting a "parental warning" sticker on their album cover. Amazingly enough, frontman Tom Keifer invokes so much of the slide guitar raunch and the relentless boogie of the Rolling Stones that his grating stray-cat vocal yowl is tolerable. Rating:**** .
If that still seems too strong, a reasonable second choice is Rik Emmett, guitarist and singer formerly with the Canadian band Triumph. Emmett is a flashier guitarist than Cinderella's Keifer, is a far more pleasant singer and writes catchier songs. Over the long haul, however, he could use a little less slickness and a little more of Cinderella's grit. Rating:*** 1/2 .
For the all-night dancer -- Pet Shop Boys. Here's one of the few dance music artists who aim for more than the feet. The British duo's rhymes are effortlessly clever, their attitudes full of sophisticated regrets, their rhythms endlessly percolating. The only place they fall short is in comparison with their previous achievements. Nothing's quite as good as "What Have I Done to Deserve This" and "Always on My Mind." Rating:*** 1/2 .
Younger dancers may be happier with the latest effort from teen singer-songwriter Debbie Gibson, who devotes the first half of this, her third album, to the up-tempo side. Producers Lamont Dozier and Jellybean Benitez give her an agreeably funky flavor in numbers like the title track before she lapses into her slower, idealistic stuff later on. In fact, this would have been a much better album if she had stopped after the first eight songs. Rating:** 1/2 .
The last resort -- Snorton Norton & the Morning Circus Band. Even that hard-to-satisfy person on your list will get at least a small kick out of this 13-song cassette.
In addition to celebrating the promotional feats of the WGR-FM (97 Rock) wake-up personality, songwriter Randy Bailey pokes fun at all those things that go with living in the Buffalo area -- the Bills, chicken wings, the weather and television newscaster Irv Weinstein (who makes an alliterative cameo appearance). When the jokes and the synthesizer playing wear thin, you can be happy in the knowledge that all proceeds benefit Children's Hospital. Rating:** .
Tripping the Live Fantastic; Paul McCartney (Capitol 94778)
Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band; Ringo Starr (Rykodisc RKD-10190)
Enlightenment; Van Morrison (Mercury 847 100 PolyGram)
Dear 23; The Posies (David Geffen Company 24305 Warner Bros.)
Heartbreak Station; Cinderella (Mercury 848 018 PolyGram)
Absolutely; Rik Emmett (Charisma 91606 Atlantic)
Behavior; Pet Shop Boys (Capitol 94310)
Anything Is Possible; Debbie Gibson (Atlantic 82167)
Snorton Norton & the Morning Circus Band; Snorton Norton & the Morning Circus Band (no label information)