Records to Die For 2017

Never in the history of our venerable "Records To Die For" feature has the word Die come to mean as much as it has in the past year. Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, Rudy Van Gelder, Maurice White, Glenn Frey, Otis Clay, Blowfly, Bob Cranshaw, George Martin, Steve Young, Chips Moman, Lonnie Mack, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell, Ralph Stanley, David Bowie—all died in the past year. So to drive away any evil spirits that may be hovering over this year's R2D4 extravaganza, we may need to think of this 2017 installment more as "Records to Live For."

The overall idea is fairly simple: For R2D4, each Stereophile writer is asked to choose two albums that move, animate, enlighten him or her. Any format is fair game, the only restriction being that it must still be available in the US, if only in the deep, dark recesses of the Internet. And speaking of byzantine spaces, the recordings that follow are what Stereophile's illustrious writing staff consider the pillars of their music collections. So by all means, listen, and draw your own conclusions!—Robert Baird

Note: If a recording listed here was previously reviewed in Stereophile, whether in "Record Reviews" or in a past edition of "Records to Die For," the volume and number of the pertinent issue(s) appear in parentheses at the end of the review. For example, a listing of "(Vol.39 No.1)" indicates that a review of the recording appeared in the January 2016 issue.

COMMENTS
BradleyP's picture

If you like Jon Iverson's recommendation of Tikiyaki Orchestra, you'll also like "The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter." Only it's 50 years older. It's one of those 50s recordings that leaves you shaking your head convinced that stereo recording hasn't gotten ANY better since then. It's a beauty.

dalethorn's picture

Interesting collection! It sounds almost like they used a different studio for each track, so you not only get a different composition each time, but a different presentation too. BTW, the Baxter album in question is one of the most highly reviewed albums on Amazon.

Bluejimbop's picture

We lost the universally admired Bobby Hutcherson in August of 2016.

Allen Fant's picture

Another great list of recordings. Stick with R2D4.

alank's picture

I picked up a quad pressing several years ago in great condition which was manufactured in Germany.I had an sq
set in the 70's.I still have a cartridge for four channel with a shibata stylus.I'm thinking of perusing ebay for a decoder for sq.The record sounds great in stereo and I might plug it into my home theater receiver and see how it sounds in surround mode.

Mrubey's picture

For those of us lucky enough to live in the Texas Hill Country this album is one of our treasures. Back in the day I played it until the grooves wore out. I have always assumed that the elderly right hand on the cover belonged to Johnny "Hondo" Crouch. Hondo owned Luckenbach and was the spiritual inspiration to much of the Texas creative impulse of the time. I was blessed to have known Hondo when I was just a boy. His influence has never left me. I can still picture him whittling a ball inside a cage while chewing plug tobacco and opening doors to secret worlds in a oak leaf. Hondo let me know that there are such a things as magical people in the world. It is due to him that my faith in humanity has endured.

freejazz00's picture

What serious record collector or audiophile would leave records un-sleeved sitting flat on the floor? This is not a well-thought-out image for a Stereophile article.

GLADYS ZYBYSKO's picture

That's how cats get to appreciate your LPs.

Bluejimbop's picture

Liquor is a harsh mistress.

Herb Reichert's picture

Hello John Swenson . . . interesting pairing. Way back in the 1970s in New York City, Mark Bingham (post Indiana pre-New Orleans), hung with old friend Kevin Teare (MX-80 Sound) and my artist/painter gang in Tribeca. Late late nights Mark would play the Meters, Longhair, and the Nevilles. Mark, Kevin, and Brian Kelly turned me on to a lot of the music I love now. That's is one of the ways music binds us all together.

low2midhifi's picture

I have seen this periodic summary before. While the assessment has always been excellent, the Stereophile staff has assembled the broadest, and most interesting, range of recordings that I've seen yet.

I look forward to seeing this line-up in greater detail. I also look forward to purchasing some of these recordings.

For fans of the Tiki-torch orchestra, Youtube put this full album of a related theme in the "you might like this" section of their webpage. It appears to be another classic of the late 1950s early 1960s exotica:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSlis0PuSV0

gbroagfran's picture

Wait,

Should this be titled

"records that died 30 years ago?"

rschryer's picture

Great music floats above the pap-du-jour to live on indefinitely. That's how you know for sure it's a R2D4.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Not only is Robert Schryer's comment about the timelessness of music right on, but I'm afraid you've missed a helluva lot of the listings. The first page alone has 4 recent issues, and one newly available historical issue. The second page has 5 recent issues, plus several newly available remasterings that show the music in best light. The third page has four new recordings, and others that are certainly less than 30 years old. My two choices are of retired classical sopranos, one now dead, who have never sounded this good since their original LP issues... which is to say, that the digital engineering has finally begun to catch up to the original analog sound.

gbroagfran's picture

What I meant by new music is not a recording that is from 1967 and reissued. I mean new music, that which has been written and recorded in the past year or two. Something that someone younger than 60 might have heard of.

rschryer's picture

You like to exaggerate, don't you?

gbroagfran's picture

Well, I am on cheap, crappy drugs, so I guess I must have hallucinated that new would mean a year or two old.

Maybe to you, records to die for means new copies of the same old stuff, but not for me. I already have lots of classic rock and jazz albums. The records to die for in my life are the ones that make me stand up and say," Wow, what was that?" It isn't the job of these reviewers to find just technically good records, but stuff you have never seen or heard. They are record reviewers, but apparently, not very adventurous.

rschryer's picture

"The records to die for in my life are the ones that make me stand up and say," Wow, what was that?"
Couldn't agree more. It's exactly what I asked myself when I heard Paul Messenger's R2D4 pick of The Incredible String Band's 5000 Spirits... album. It came out in 1967.

gbroagfran's picture

Ah, 1967. I had a Weathers turntable, old dual-mono tube electronics and custom speakers. I also had two hits of good acid, a handful of joints, a cute, furry hippie gal with no underwear and every record the String Band had made. I still have the records. I like them. That's my point. Now, in 2017, for "oldies", I want to hear Hank Three and Kammerflimmer Kollecteif.

In the last couple of months, I have purchased vinyl by the following artists;

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Goat, Kadaver, Dave Alvin, Seasick Steve, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Fat Boy Slim, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Doc Pomus, SCOTS, and a compilation of 40s-50s voodoo music from the Caribbean.

What have your purchased that might interest the readers?

rschryer's picture

As a music lover, I enjoy the familiarity of the old and discovering the new. But here's the thing, as far as I'm concerned: It's all about context. This segment is called R2D4, not Album that Caught My Fancy in 2017. There's a weightiness at play here that I think should not be overlooked.

I believe that for a record to merit the distinction of being one to die for, hyperbole aside, its music has to have proven itself with the listener/R2D4 judge OVER TIME. Like true love.

The albums you've listed may be great, but will they stand the test of time FOR YOU? Those that continue to find a place in your heart over, say, a 10 year period, will have earned their nomination as a R2D4. The rest, however fun they may have been to listen to in the spring of 2016 but never again, will not.

Bottom line: I believe that time is of the essence when it comes to choosing one's R2D4.

gbroagfran's picture

1. I clearly stated that I like the Incredible String Band and have listened to their albums for 50 years. I have been a stereo fan since 1959. I have seen more than most.

2. Hundreds of other albums, none of which appear on these lists, have stood the test of time of 5-50 years for me, but most audiophiles have never heard of them because they only listen to 100 albums, over and over. They are generally looking for the records that make their systems sound better. My system exists to make my records, all of them, sound better.

3. How about a "rule" that a piece of music can only appear once on these lists? Once a record has appeared, you can easily go back and look at the previous years' lists. Personally, I find almost all remixes and remastered records worse than the originals. Elvis should sound like he is coming out of a car radio. Pink Floyd should sound very loud, bass and 60's. Phoebe Snow should be played on a Quad system from the 70's. That's historically relevant.

rschryer's picture

"My system exists to make my records, all of them, sound better." This statement, as far as my experience goes, better sums up the audiophile ethos than your 100-album cliche that precedes it.

And again, R2D4 is not a list of arbitrary album reviews. It represents albums that are, for personal and unique reasons, meaningful to those who picked them. On this basis, it wouldn't be fair to prohibit a writer from listing a R2D4 because someone else beat him or her to the punch.

gbroagfran's picture

My friend has a collection of 60,000 records. Even he says he listens to the same 100 over and over. Everyone does.