1995 Records To Die For

"I've got a great idea, RL," said John Atkinson to me one fine fall morning five years ago, as we relaxed over cappuccino and croissants in the slowly rotating editorial suite of the imposing Stereophile Tower that---surmounted by a heroic statue of J. Gordon Holt, thumb down, lip curled, great bronze cigarette glowing triode-red---rises like a Tube Trap of the Gods to dominate the downtown skyline of our round brown town of La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis. In a paroxysm of the editorial euphoria that comes upon him when he suddenly envisions page after page of Stereophile copy which he himself does not have to write, JA then outlined for me the annual list of the Greatest Performances recorded in the Greatest Stereo Sound that has since become the "Records To Die For" we all love and hate---one of Stereophile's most entertaining, annoying, and downright fun features.

I was eloquent in reply. "Humph. Don't like it, JA. Lousy idea. Silly exercise. Gives readers the wrong idea. And it'll just encourage all those audiophiles who own only ten LPs---each of them a different pressing of the Casino Royale soundtrack. In a word, No." (Such pointed perspicacity of journalistic vision is why I get paid the big, big bucks.)

But JA was persuasive. Smiling, his boyish cheeks suffused with the telltale flush that follows fast upon an onerous task's successful delegation, he leaned toward me confidingly. "The deadline is in six weeks," he explained, and headed for the Executive Elevator and the Big Boys' Washroom, his entourage of manicurist, stylist, secretary, bodyguard, and fashion consultant scurrying after.


Well, dammit, it turned out to be a great idea after all, no thanks to your faithful Music Editor. I now look forward to reading about the entirely unpredictable choices of our audio and music editors more than I ever could have imagined. Which just shows to go you, I guess, that my head has been following my ass for about as long as all you letter-writers have been telling me it has. (Thanks.)

For those of you who have only recently tuned in to The Stereophile Channel (no picture, great sound), here's what "R2D4," as its nym has come to be pseudo'd, is all about:

Any recording chosen must be an absolute topnotch musical performance (or, in the case of pop and jazz, performance/composition) in absolute topnotch stereo sound. Careful readers will note that our Contributing Editors are not above bending the rules...if they can sneak such bendings past me.

And here those Editors are, in alphabetical order. As is our custom, "R2D4" veterans get two choices; neophytes can choose five. This year's novices are Hank Bordowitz, Wes Phillips, Russ Novak, and Stephen Francis Vasta.

Reviews of recordings that have already been covered in these pages---for instance, one of my R2D4s, Greg Brown's The Poet Game---end with a code like this: "(XVIII-1)." This tells you that Poet Game received a full-length review in Stereophile Vol.18 No.1, January 1995 (just last month). Following "R2D4" proper is "Our Story Thus Far," a list of the recordings recommended in the four previous annual editions of "R2D4."

Have fun! We had a lot.

---Richard Lehnert