I sat down to write the introduction to the 2006 edition of Stereophile's annual "Records To Die For" extravaganza, and what popped into my head? Why, death, of course. After that, dead rock stars. What a concept. I mean, talk about dying for music.
This year marks the tenth time I've written an introduction to Stereophile's venerable annual feature "Records To Die For." Looking back, I'm proud that readers always find it useful and entertaining. I'm also amazed, on some levels, that our writers—hardware or software, deadline-phobic or not—manage to find something worthwhile to say, year in and year out, about music—which, after all, is why we became audiophiles in the first place.
The value of music as a commodity, and as one of mankind's wonders, has never been in such flux. Retail record shops are dying, the former major labels are focused on making records for kids (the same kids they're suing), and the business overall remains wedded to an incredibly short view (get a hit or get out), but the music itself continues to trickle through to those who want itand, yes, on some level would die without it.
A crime of passion? Depraved indifference to the importance of tuneage? Death by music? The simple fact is that most audiophiles got that way by having too many records. That's rightvery few got into this rewarding, non-contact sport because they were aroused by shiny brushed-steel boxes or supersexy speaker grilles. It's because they wanted to hear their piles of musictheir Mahler, Monk, or Rick Jamessound the best it could. (And, okay, yes: It is cool to show drooling friends your designer gear.)
It's always revealing to see exactly what music people have sitting on their shelves or hard drives. It tells you a lot about themwhether they're kindred spirits (Bill Evans) or something less (Sting). In many ways, our annual "Records To Die For" feature is a kind of mini-window into the musical souls of our contributing editors; may the Gods of Song bless their tortured souls, every one. In the past, such choices as the soundtrack album for the movie Casper have raised eyebrows, if not outright suspicion. Still, along with crowing about our favorite records, we try to keep it all in good fun. What's the title of Stephen Mejias's excellent blog at www.sterophile.com"Elements of Our Enthusiasm"? Well then, here are some of those precious elements that feed that enthusiasm. Remember: Gear ain't great without something to play on it.Robert Baird
Each year when I sit down to write this introduction, I get stuck on the whole dying-for-music thing. I get visions of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, swinging from ropes with sacks over their heads. Like '80s hair bands do ya? Pull the trap door! Or Mary Queen of Scots kneeling before the block: A fan of smooth jazz? Let the blade fall! Yes, it's silly on some level, but what exactly is the feeling that would make one martyr oneself for music?
At a time in history when the music business seems less interested in making anything of lasting value than in churning out disposable musichits intended to be consumed for a few days via iPod, then left behindthe notion of cherishing the masterpieces, the records to die for, seems a lost art. Yet it's exactly that state of beingas when Lady Gaga's latest outfit commands a bigger spotlight than the recent Pink Floyd reissuesthat makes our annual "Records To Die For" feature that much more essential.
It has been another year of great torment and turmoil in the world of recorded music. The loudness wars grow ever . . . well, louder. The confusion and profusion of formats continue to roil buyers of tracks and albums. And streaming services like Pandora and Spotify continue to bleed off purchasers of downloads and physical media. Yet at the same time, the LP, once derided as dead and gone, is back with a vengeance. In short, everyone has had to find their own waythe mix of online and physical that works for them. Fortunately, all this diversity and change have not kept fans from listening, or stopped the truly devoted from still needing their music. And happily, the old adage about audiophilism is still true: If you're willing to invest in quality gear, you probably own considerably more than five records.
Much as we audiophiles love a good format warnothing like a dustup over the tactility of vinyl vs the convenience of downloadsnot to mention all the ever-evolving gear, the base of this pursuit is still the music. Which is why February is the month least cruel, and time again for our annual "Records To Die For."