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Five for Friday: Favorite 2017 Box Sets

The holiday season always marks a great time to stay inside and get intimate with music history. And while the industry continues to shift from CDs to vinyl and streams, the box set remains a valuable tradition that doesn't appear to be disappearing anytime soon. The past year has witnessed the release of numerous enticing retrospectives and career-spanning collections, reminding fans that as much as pop-culture may favor the new, the past remains full of must-hear treasures. Plus, a boxed set makes a far better holiday gift than a subscription to an online streaming service. Here are five of our favorite 2017 box sets. Go ahead, give one to yourself for Christmas. We won't judge.

Hüsker Dü Savage Young Dü
Collected here, for the first time, is a document tracing the beginnings of a musical revolution. Strong words, sure, but it is hard to think of another early-to-mid 80s band as responsible for birthing the alt-rock movement as Hüsker Dü. Maybe fellow Minnesotans the Replacements, or perhaps R.E.M. Yet the template for the American rock underground seems to emanate from Savage Young Dü, four LPs worth of bracingly rough, strikingly honest, and refreshingly melodic punk rock. A proper Hüsker Dü retrospective has long been held up in legal red tape, so this Numero Group set focuses on the trio's work from 1979 to 1983 – the period before the group signed with the beloved but long-troubled hardcore label SST. The songs here from guitarist Bob Mould, late drummer Grant Hart, and bassist Greg Norton are blunt, direct, and haphazardly tuneful. It's the sound of three guys making music in a basement while harboring ambitions of grandeur.

David Bowie A New Career In A New Town: 1977-1982
Arriving only about a year after David Bowie's passing, this 13LP/12CD collection – the latest in a series of career-spanning sets tracing the Thin White Duke's creative arc – captures everything officially released between 1977 and 1982, as well as a new compilation of B-sides and oddities and an alternate mix of the 1979 album Lodger by Bowie's go-to producer Tony Visconti. It bridges a couple of different periods in Bowie's career, illustrating, via Low and Heroes, the singer's increasing penchant for ambient sounds, and then, as evidenced by Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), a shift into using electronics for more popular, of-the-moment, new-wave stylings. For Bowie historians, A New Career In A New Town: 1977-1982 covers a relatively fascinating time, as the artist flirted on and off with chart success. And Lodger drifts into full-on experimental mode, featuring odd, otherworldly sequencing and left-of-center textures. Taken as a whole, the collection is indicative of a forever-restless artist.

George Harrison The Vinyl Collection
Featuring a whopping 18 pounds worth of music, this post-Beatles career-spanning George Harrison vinyl set essentially compiles all his recorded output from 1968 to 2002. There's a lot to investigate. While even casual Harrison fans are familiar with the triple-disc 1970 solo breakthrough All Things Must Pass, a thoughtful journey into rock and spirituality, The Vinyl Collection contains a pair of oddities – Wonderwall Music, the largely instrumental mix of Indian music and rock that served as a soundtrack to a film, and Electronic Sound, a pioneering work that explores the still-out-of-this-world Moog synthesizer. The latter remains a mind-bending album, illustrative of Harrison's desire for presenting contrasting ideas. See, for instance, the album Living in the Material World, which not only showcases his prowess with the guitar but also effortlessly melds Western gospel and Eastern classicism. With Harrison known as the "quiet Beatle," this collection aptly offers plenty of reasons for studious listening.

Weird Al Yankovic Squeeze Box
While the parody song is a tradition likely as old as song itself, give Weird Al Yankovic credit for turning an often-disposable art from into a multi-decade career – and one now getting a 15LP treatment in a set modeled after one of his trademark accordions. Indeed, Yankovic's vocation has outlasted that of many of the artists he's needled (the Greg Kihn Band, anyone?). More than that, Squeeze Box, via its chronological exploration of Yankovic's work, offers a snapshot of America's ever-shifting pop culture, from Madonna to Pharrell. Only here, our recent musical history is primarily viewed through the lens of silliness, proving that while technologies and trends change, humor stays constant.

Various Artists, At the Louisiana Hayride Tonight
Cherished among collectors, massive Bear Family retrospectives are sometimes difficult to track down. No matter where you find it, seek out this peak into early rock n' roll and foundational country. The monstrous, 20CD set spills over with oddities and rarely heard renditions of well-known songs. Culled from a Louisiana radio show, the 167 artists here range from superstars (Elvis Presley) to country royalty (Hank Williams) to plenty of local, undiscovered, and forgotten talents. That said, At the Louisiana Hayride Tonight is not just a look into music's past. It also serves as a record of a purely American variety show, with songs interspersed with comedy routines and local advertisements.

November 17, 2017

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