Records to Die For 2020

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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

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