Records to Die For 2020

It's 3am. You're lying in bed. Something woke you up—you don't know what it was. You pull back the covers, get up, and tiptoe out to your listening room.

There, standing by your record rack, thumbing through your prized LPs, is a man in black (no, not Johnny Cash—a different man in black). You see a bulge in his pocket; it could be a gun. Something shiny catches your eye—there's a switchblade knife between his teeth! At his feet, leaning against your record shelf, is a cudgel. Oh, and it looks like he might have some infectious disease. You, of course, are in your PJs.

You notice, at the top of the stack of records that he holds under his arm, that one record, the one you love the most, the one you can't live without.

He hasn't seen you yet. You could sneak back to the bedroom and quietly call the cops, but he'll be long gone before they arrive (unless he decides to listen with your excellent turntable, which seems unlikely), taking your records—including that one record—with him.

Or you could charge him and tackle him, risking life and limb. After all, it's your favorite record. So what do you do?

Few of us would really take a bullet—or a knife, or a knock on the head—for a song or even a symphony. After all, with apologies to Jerry Garcia and company, you can't enjoy your music when you're Dead.

But R2D4 is actually less about dying than it is about living. For us writers, it's about taking time to reflect and acknowledge the importance of music in our lives—not just any music, but that special music. For readers—and I'm one of those, too—it's a great opportunity to discover new music. The importance of such recordings to every Stereophile writer—that and our shared obsession with topnotch sound—provides a virtual guarantee that, while you may not wind up loving or even liking all our recommendations, they are absolutely worth checking out.

I've been writing R2D4 entries for quite a few years, but I've been reading them for even longer, virtually ever since the feature was launched in 1991 by then-music editor Richard Lehnert. I have often used R2D4 to guide my musical explorations. Yes, there are writers whose tastes I don't share—but R2D4 has led to some great discoveries, too numerous to list in this introduction. Much of the music that I've discovered here and come to love is stuff I would not otherwise have tried.

It's time again. As always, we asked our writers to select two recordings that they wouldn't want to live without. We gave them two rules: make sure that at least a few copies are available, and don't choose a record you chose in a previous year.

This year's R2D4 includes 45 recommendations from 23 writers.

One writer—Art Dudley—made just one selection, hence the odd number. Several others chose multidisc sets—including Sasha Matson's 14-disc Ravel set. If a record has been reviewed before in Stereophile, either as a record review or in a previous R2D4, we'll indicate the issue it was in, like this: (Vol.40 No.3).

There's easily 100 hours of music here, enough to keep you out of trouble for a while. So enjoy. And whatever happens, you should avoid tackling well-armed people in your pajamas (footnote 1). Just let them go. You can probably find another copy on Discogs.


Footnote 1: How he got into your pajamas I'll never know.—Groucho Marx

COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

an appropriate philosophy for this Day and Age of Fossil Fuels contaminating earths atmosphere.

One quick look around will reveal youth mad as hell at us old geezers, we all know why.

Do we have a probable problem that young people aren't excited to be audiophiles? Might it be our fossil fuel base music storage systems. ( in an Age of Silicone based Storage systems ) ?

Years ago I observed our JA working an Audio Show with an Astel & Kern Audio player. I was proud of him ( still am ). Now, if I get the chance, I'll suggest he get his K.

The leading Automobile Manufactures are announcing the end of Fossil Fueled based Transportation systems. The Audio People should do likewise. ( for our grandchildren's sake )

Tony in Venice

Anton's picture

It's a cloud!

Go yell at it!

tonykaz's picture

It's your inheriting children you need to say that to.

Earth has always been Solar Powered. ( still is )

Four of our United States can supply 100% of the Energy needs of our entire Country -- from Solar alone.

By the way, I'm a guilty one, I came up thru the Diesel Engine Division of General Motors.

Go yell at it sarcasm isn't helpful.

It's time to act responsibly.

Tony in Sunny Venice

tonykaz's picture

It's your inheriting children you need to say that to.

Earth has always been Solar Powered. ( still is )

Four of our States can supply 100% of the Energy needs of our entire Country -- from Solar alone.

By the way, I'm a guilty one, I came up thru the Diesel Engine Division of General Motors.

Go yell at it sarcasm isn't helpful.

It's time to act responsibly.

Tony in Sunny Venice

Anton's picture

Please stop conflating your hatred of LPs for some sort of environmental virtue signaling.

That's a fail, Tony.

Maybe you can try out: diamond styluses support oppressive governments in Africa.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

According to Google and Wikipedia .... China is the biggest plug-in electrical vehicles market in the world, since 2015 ....... China now has estimated 3 million electric vehicles ........ More than 600,000 electric vehicles were sold in China in 2017 :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW ...... The total vehicles in USA is 838 for 1,000 people .......... Total vehicles in China is 179 for 1,000 people ....... Latest numbers, Google and Wikipedia :-) ........

Jack L's picture

Hi

What can be a more promising retail market than China with 1.4 billion people?

That explains why Tesla built its first plant in Shanghai, China with its initial production target of 250,000 cars a year.

Believe it or not, when the retail markets worldwide melt down by the Covid-19 pandemic, Tesla sales in China hits its record high, sharing 25% of China total EV sales !!!

Wow

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I presume you are investing in Tesla Inc. ...... You could also invest in BYD, one of Warren Buffett's investments :-) .....

davebugg's picture

Yup. absolutely NO fossil fuels used to produce the products used by the 'youth' for their A/V enjoyment.

sunny bonobo's picture

Yeah, I can just see it now. Records on a lettuce leaf played with a banana stylus.

mgeldert1's picture

Duh...your Age of Silicone systems, as well as the car batteries to 'fuel' your all electric cars are made by, with and maintained using carbon-based fuels. Why anyone would want to prove their lack of intelligence with such a rant on an audio forum is mystifying.

tonykaz's picture

Hmm, you make interesting observations.

Of course, we are transitioning to Solar from our short lived Fossil Energy system.

It's been our Generation that melted the Polar Ice Caps ( which were intact when we started out in 1950s ).

My comments are based on Stereophile's appropriate use of "to die for" terminology, ( I'm not ranting, just observing ).

Your complaining comments might be thought to be a Rant that I won't complain about because everyone's opinion is always appropriate.

Solar Energy Systems are consistently healthy and clean. We will all return to Solar power based life in a Decade or so. I hope you live long enough to live it.

Tony in Venice

ps. I'm the people making those Black Smoke belching Detroit Diesel Engines in the 1950s, mea copa ! ( today, even the clean German Diesels are filthy )

Anton's picture

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/to-die-for

https://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/to-die-for

It doesn't mean what you think it means.

Happy to help!

tonykaz's picture

Thank you,

I realize that the term is commonly used by bubblegum youth to describe desirable.

Considering the writing talents in both of our JA Editors and the Poetic greatness of HR, Mr. Dudley, Tyll, Steve G, Kal R. and a few others, resorting to a "to die for" cliché seems trite.

"to die for" prompts a vision of teenagers at the Mall looking at a $500 Fendi Hobo Purse.

I read Stereophile for it's Literately content with HR telling Hemingway'ish Audio Adventuring.

Nothing in Audio is worth dying for.

Tony in Venice

ps. Thanks for writing, you are always a good person. ( I think )

sudont's picture

Tony, records, CDs, tape - all are petroleum-based products. Digital files, living on servers and computers, requiring energy and rare earth materials, leave a footprint. Not as bad as your car, though.

Of all the uses of petroleum, records end up in landfills far less often than just about any other plastic item you can think of, including CDs. Can you think of any other plastic item you’ve had for thirty to sixty years? If you want to do your grandchildren a favor, pass down your record collection and hi-fi.

Audiophile equipment lasts a lot longer than iPods and other consumer crap. You might want to inform the youngsters in your life about the wastefulness of iPhones and laptops, and all that other "works-for-five-years-tops" equipment they buy to throw away. Make them aware of the massive amounts of energy required by the server farms that streaming services live on. Teach them how to properly handle records, so that they last a lifetime or two. Teach them the virtues of buying, and especially of repairing, used equipment. I know my McIntosh amplifier will still be making music long after I’m dead. You don’t throw away good audio equipment - you fix it.

funambulistic's picture

I'm from Texas - what do you think?

BTW, excellent picks - all of them! Thank you for another excellent R2D4!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

According to Google search, Texas leads in the job numbers in the oil and gas industry, in the country ....... Latest figures are more than 400,000 jobs in oil and gas industry in Texas :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

According to Google search ........ Texas has 15.9 billion barrels of crude oil reserves, which can fill more than 1 million Olympic size swimming pools :-) .......

Texas is also the leading wind energy producing state :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The energy information administration estimates that US has 198 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil reserves, in addition to proven crude oil reserves of 36.4 billion barrels ........ Wikipedia :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'When we all fall asleep, where do we go?' .......... Billie Eilish :-) ...........

Anton's picture

Just saying.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

That Billie Eilish album is the second most streamed album 2019 according to Spotify, over 6 billion streams :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Billie Eilish is singing the title song for the next James Bond movie "No Time to Die." :-) .......

Anton's picture

Google LCD Soundsystem, "Too Much Love" and tell me Eilish's "Bad Guy" is not stolen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcEC5r0xzt8

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Bad Guy" does not get "Too Much Love" ......... Yes, both those songs sound similar :-) .........

partain's picture

....more like borrowed the keys , took it and had it totally restored , and returned it.

The similarity at the beginning is striking.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'Collage - EP' ........ The Chainsmokers :-) ........

'Closer' is one of the most streamed song of the decade, according to Spotify :-) ........

chuckles304's picture

If I'm awake due to funny noises at 3 a.m. I'm probably tiptoeing around with my Glock 43 looking for the cause.....

Anton's picture

Completely different approaches.

We have kids, so no hallway firearm heroics for me, but I support the second amendment, sir.

I figure if an intruder gets past the alarms, the menagerie of dogs, and makes it upstairs, it's likely very personal!

Cheers and no hope you never face that situation!

jimtavegia's picture

We are in a sad state of affairs. The only thing that bothers me is the national debt and just the interest is $1 trillion a year. I am more concerned about the poor quality of American cars and the poor engineering that will not allow shade tree mechanics to really work on them. My fuel pump is going on my SUV and you must drop the gas tank to remove it. Dang. I don't see an improvement when it used to be in the engine compartment and easily accessible.

And now time for some more music.

mmole's picture

...breathe easier. The interest on the national debt this fiscal year is "only" $479 billion.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

That is approximately the GDP of UAE :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW ....... The GDP of California is $2.9 trillion ..... which is number one in USA :-) ......

jimtavegia's picture

Here you go. Read'em and weep.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

US total national assets $145 trillion :-) ........

mmole's picture

.... I've been reading you for years. I love your take on music, particularly your adventures in semi-pro recording.

Not so much on economics:

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/24/facts-about-the-national-debt/

All the best.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Read 'Financial position of the United States' in Wikipedia :-) ........

Anton's picture

What's that deficit been doing the past 3 years compared the previous 5 years?

mmole's picture

I think we are simply misusing our terminology. The deficit, that is, the difference between income brought into our treasury and the amount we spend in fiscal 2020 is indeed projected to be $1.1 trillion. We thus need to borrow money to make ends meet. The interest accumulated on this annual borrowing over the years is currently $479 billion.

But yes please, let's get back to the music. In that spirit here's 2 of my R2D4s"

Aldo Parisot-Bach "Suite #5 for Cello Alone/Kodaly-"Sonata for Cello Alone--Counterpoint/Esoteric 5563.

Geri Allen-"Flying Toward the Sound"--Motema MTM 52.

Anton's picture

As I get a little more mature, my appreciation for Bach on cello grows!!!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Why not change the name to 'Albums to Die for' A2D4? ....... Just a suggestion :-) .........

mmole's picture

...then they would lose the cute "Star Wars" reference (no it's not R2D2, it's R2D4).

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Another suggestion I have is, D2D4, Downloads to Die for ....... That would be more futuristic ....... More 'Star Wars' like :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW ....... R2D4 is the grandson of R2D2 ....... R2D4 is gonna be featured in the next 'Star Wars' movie along with his dad R2D3 :-) ........

volvic's picture

Some of which I have, others not and very interesting for future purchase. As JA mentions the Rattle Beethoven set, I have been mulling its purchase, just a little hesitant, as I have many Rattle performances and very few of them move me. As Carlos Kleiber used to say "I was never rattled by Simon".

avanti1960's picture

is To Die For. Would you consider quarterly or semiannually?

thank you

Ortofan's picture

... a fan of Chopin?

https://www.valentinalisitsa.com/albums/27

Bogolu Haranath's picture

However, they are fans of 'Chopped' (Food network) :-) ........

Kal Rubinson's picture

Valentina's not chopped liver.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Valentina (hot sauce)? :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I was just kidding :-) ......

John Atkinson's picture
Ortofan wrote:
... a fan of Chopin?

Decades ago I couldn't get enough of Chopin's music. But for reasons I am not really clear about, I play very little today, though Schubert's, Beethoven's, and Rachmaninoff's piano music are in constant rotation.

Ortofan wrote:
www.valentinalisitsa.com/albums/27.

I'll check out this album.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Anton's picture

I think you outgrew Chopin!

No kidding.

Just like the humor that made us roll over and cry when we were younger fails to do so now, I think we grow as listeners.

I disdain TV, but I read a neat article about how the average series now contains something like 5 times the number of characters and plot lines compared to our viewing fare 40 years ago.

Same thing with developing palates in many hobbies that can grow along with our brains.

We master the material, then move on...our hobby and passions educate us, I guess.

_

Which leads to this non sequitur: Chopin didn't write his music thinking we'd be able to reproduce it and play it to death. None of the composers did.

If not for the recorded medium, we might never have outgrown Chopin! Or that disgusting Magic Flute thing that some other composer created.

Which leads to the next non sequitur: If these works weren't created with our ability to play them into submission or a state of disregard in the composer's mind, should we play them so much?

If we we weren't meant to play Beethoven's Ninth 5,000 times, are we creating (or recreating) something false?

If we outgrow Chopin, is it his fault, or ours?

I'm glad you posted what you did!

Ortofan's picture

... so objectionable, why would the BSO choose to end its season at Tanglewood nearly every year with a performance of that work?

If you believe that you've "outgrown" Chopin, then avoid Tanglewood on July 12th when Emanuel Ax will be the soloist for the Piano Concerto No. 2.

Anton's picture

I can easily live the rest of my life without hearing Beethoven’s ninth again and still not lose its impact. How many more times do you need?

My point was asking how many freaking times do you need to hear a reproduction of it before it settles with you.

Hey, go for it all you like, but it ain’t what Beethoven had in mind!

You may wanna hear Whitney Houston’s ‘I will always love you’ a million times for all I care!

My question was, when is enough enough?

Ortofan's picture

... among recordings of recently composed music, then you can easily move forward from repeated listening to more ancient offerings.

Do take note, though, of the age of the music from the recordings listed here. The majority of it is from the 1960s, along with the four prior decades. Some even dates back to 1650.

Perhaps the various contributors to this article will see fit to respond to your plaint of "when is enough, enough?"

Bogolu Haranath's picture

We also did never outgrew Beatles ...... For next 50 years, we will be listening to Beatles, for a millionth time ...... I'm waiting for a review of Beatles album in Doby Atmos in Stereophile :-) .......

Anton's picture

My two year old wanted Winnie The Pooh ad infinitum, Abbey Road can rest in piece.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Ortofan posting 'words of wisdom, let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be' :-) .........

John Atkinson's picture
Anton wrote:
Chopin didn't write his music thinking we'd be able to reproduce it and play it to death. None of the composers did . . . Which leads to the next non sequitur: If these works weren't created with our ability to play them into submission or a state of disregard in the composer's mind, should we play them so much?

This is an excellent point, Anton. I have heard Mahler's Symphony No.2 live three times: once with Haitink, who took me on a journey and left me destroyed yet exhilarated; once with Klaus Tennstedt, who was merely excellent; and once with Seiji Ozawa, who was okay but left me unmoved. I have, I think, 5 different recordings of this symphony, but I can't bear to play even one of these performances more than once a year. To do so would be musical gluttony.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Ortofan's picture

... performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and conducted by Zubin Mehta from 1975 on Decca?
https://www.deccaclassics.com/us/cat/4669922

John Atkinson's picture
Ortofan wrote:
Do you have the recording of Mahler's Symphony No.2 performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and conducted by Zubin Mehta from 1975 on Decca?
https://www.deccaclassics.com/us/cat/4669922

No, I will look for it on Tidal. The most recent version I bought was with Benjamin Zander and the Philharmonia Orchestra on Linn Records.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Kal Rubinson's picture

I used to be a glutton for the M2 (I still collect them) but that was decades ago before I had a chance to hear it live. I have heard at least two great live performances (Maazel, Bernstein) as well as a few quite excellent ones.

Recordings suffer from not being live (regardless of how well they are recorded). When new ones appear, I feel compelled to try them but even decent ones fail to offer any "sense of occasion." This is not a work meant for "every day" listening so when I do want to play it (and that may occur every year or two), it must be special or I quickly switch over to one that is. The urge must be satisfied. It is usually an older classic performance although Abbado/Lucerne on BluRay is the most recent one that works for me.

I'll still go out of my way for any live performance.

volvic's picture

I just played one of my versions with Klemperer and Ferrier and said to myself after it was finished, "we'll revisit this again in 6 months".

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I haven't "outgrown" Chopin because I never really grew into it; other music has always spoken to me more. Ditto to music filled with Russian angst. I could have gotten press tix to Seattle Opera's current Eugene Oregin, but I skipped it. Charlie Parker's Yardbird, which is up next, is another matter entirely.

Ortofan's picture

... piano? If not, perhaps that explains your apparent indifference to the music of Chopin.

As for the Seattle Opera production of Charlie Parker's Yardbird, would you rather choose a performance with Joshua Stewart or Frederick Ballentine as the lead?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Is that spelling 'Eugene Onegin' (opera)? (see, Wikipedia) :-) ..........

Kal Rubinson's picture

Apparently, not in Oregon.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I was wondering whether it was 'Oregano' or 'Ore-Ida' ;-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It could be Seattle 'angst' ....... Seattle recently lost their NFL play-off game, after a successful winning season :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... the UK.
http://oregin.info/about-oregin
They seem to be investigating the genetic modification of canola.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Seems like they have a lot of 'angst' over environmental issues :-) ........

Mars2k's picture

Speaking of great vinyl. Thank you Bill.
Bill Wisener of Bill's Records passed on Sat Jan 11 in his store. Bill's was a remarkable Dallas institution the same could be said for Bill really. He will be missed.

https://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/2009/september/bill-wisener-the-music-man/

https://www.dmagazine.com/arts-entertainment/2020/01/at-the-kessler-a-public-outpouring-of-grief-for-the-late-bill-wisener/

https://vimeo.com/297859535

funambulistic's picture

The end of an era - but I like that he died in his store as he was there 24/7 it seems. Then again, with how much junk was there, no one probably noticed for several hours. I used to go all the time when he was in Richardson and it was all spread out, but after the move to Dallas, everything just got squished together and it was not fun for me any more. RIP Bill!

rschryer's picture

...good to be listened to every 6 months, or a year, or two years, as some posters here seem to suggest, then what's so good about it?

;-)

Kal Rubinson's picture

The answer is that the exquisite emotional experience which we relish from such a piece of music (we were not talking about recordings, per se) would ebb with repetition. [Mae West would not understand it. ;-)]

Fortunately, there is a sufficient number of such pieces to fill the gaps.

rschryer's picture

But my criteria for what constitutes good music is that I want to return to it often.

The idea to me that music can be so exquisite to listen to one can't bear to listen to it for another year seems counterintuitive, and not particularly fun.

No intent to offend, just trying to wrap my head around it.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I don't think that you are taking this exactly the way it is meant. You say:

"The idea to me that music can be so exquisite to listen to one can't bear to listen to it for another year seems counterintuitive, and not particularly fun."

First, "fun" is not the adjective I would apply to a work of music that runs more than an hour and that inspires a range of deep and lasting emotions.

Second, it is certainly possible to listen to it again and enjoy it as I have done many times when, for example, preparing a review of the music or using the music in a review of equipment. However, though I still love it, it never packs the same punch on repetition as it will after some interval.

Third, there's a lame and somewhat trivial analogy. Think of the enjoyment of a most wonderful and lavish meal prepared by a master chef on night one. Would you order the same meal at the same restaurant on the very next night? If you did, do you think you would get the same thrill? I'd be looking for something else on night two but, be assured, I'd like to come back in a couple of weeks or months in the hope of recapturing a great experience.

Fourth, "fun," to continue belaboring the same analogy, is more like my favorite gelato. I don't have it every day......but I could. There's lots of music like that.

fbailiey's picture

Hi Kal - you are employing the fallacy of the senses all leading to similar behavior. Humans like to hear a favorite piece of music over and over, more than eat the same meal or watch the same favorite movie. Different behaviors for different senses. Agree with rschyer that what you do sounds like work, not reward.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I think not. We are not talking about common rewards. I offered my analogy in reference to experiences that demand more attention (and offer greater rewards) than a simple song or a simple meal. There are many who will not appreciate those experiences because they do not have the esthetic history to do so. Plop most people down in a concert hall at a performance of the Mahler 2nd and they will be itching to leave within minutes (just as felt at Cirque du Soleil).

It's not work. It's near ecstasy.

fbailiey's picture

If I understand you correctly, your hypothesis is that music that is only enjoyed as an acquired taste, can only be enjoyed once in a while.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Are you trying to be perverse? Do you understand the difference between a pop jingle and a large, complex work of art? What about between a Mac-and-fries and omakase sushi from a master chef?

Also, I distinctly stated that I could enjoy such special pieces of music more than once in a while but with reduced impact. It's called habituation and I do not want to habituate to their greatness. I want to be thrilled every time.

Can we now move on?

Anton's picture

Perfect.

I remember the first time I heard Beethoven's Fifth...elementary school, trip to a symphony...Holy Crap! I jumped! It was the most dramatic thing I had ever heard.

Then, 'BUM bum bum BUMMMMM' got snapped up for TV commercials, showed up on TV shows....it became absolutely unavoidable in the 60s.

Complete habituation to the point that it is now a negative when I hear it. Can't get the groove back.

There are obviously no rules, but I do enjoy having a few pieces that I am 'ritualistic' about and intentionally play rarely.

In the TMI category, there are also some plain old Christmas albums I only play once a year, a few dishes we make only for certain special occasions...it keeps the frisson for us.

Like I said, there are no rules about this, we are all just comparing notes and experiences.

The past few months have been tough: try being an audiophile in 2020 who is sick of Abbey Road. (If I ever have to listen through "Hell Freezes Over" again, it will also be too soon.)

Thanks so much for your input, Kal.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Well, I did work on Aplysia briefly. Thanks for your comments.

X