It only makes sense. PBS, the most visible national broadcaster of classical-music-related programs, has decided to launch its own classical-music label. According to a recent story in Variety, several major record labels are competing for the rights to distribute the new label. It's common in the music business for larger labels to distribute smaller ones, and an association with the new PBS label is seen as a feather in the cap of whoever makes the deal.
Twice a year, Stereophile brings some of its writers out to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to discuss the compilation of the magazine's "Recommended Components" listing, the most recent of which appeared in the October issue. Following a comment from Will Hammond, John Atkinson's collaborator on the recent amplifier blind listening tests, that the magazine's readers would love to eavesdrop on the conversations that take place on these occasions, it seemed a good idea to tape (footnote 1) some of the discussions and publish the transcript as this month's "As We See It" (footnote 2). Accordingly, Lewis Lipnick, Gary A. Galo, Robert Harley, Thomas J. Norton, Guy Lemcoe, Richard Lehnert, Dick Olsher, Peter Mitchell, Robert Deutsch, J. Gordon Holt, Larry Greenhill, John Atkinson, and Arnis Balgalvis all gathered in LA's palatial listening room one August Saturday. JA set the ball rolling by asking the assembled writers where they thought Stereophile had been, where it was, and where they thought it should be going, particularly in view of Robert Harley joining the magazine as Technical Editor.
One Saturday afternoon in August 1990, a number of Stereophile's writers—John Atkinson, Arnis Balgalvis, Robert Deutsch, Larry Greenhill, Robert Harley, J. Gordon Holt, Richard Lehnert, Guy Lemcoe, Lewis Lipnick, Peter Mitchell, Tom Norton, Dick Olsher, Don Scott, and Bill Sommerwerck—gathered together in the magazine's Santa Fe, NM listening room to discuss the "Recommended Components" listing that was due to appear in the October 1990 issue. To add a little Tabasco to the proceedings, JA had invited AudioQuest's main man Bill Low to give a short talk on whatever subject was uppermost in his mind that weekend, to be followed by an open discussion.
When I first heard about "Records To Die For," I had to laugh. "Desert Island Discs," maybe, but Records To Die For? Laying down your life for a record? World-class hyperbole. Throw yourself on a sword for a glob of petrochemicals? Not me. If your house was burning down, would you a) grab your child, b) grab your photos and other irreplaceable items (cats, loved ones, etc.), or c) grab your records?
Records To Die For creates one of two problems for the Stereophile writer: either she can't come up with the names of two (or, in the case of new writers, five) recordings of world-class music in world-class stereo sound, or he comes up with so many his hard-drive crashes trying to narrow down the choices.
"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.
Here we go again---the usual Stereophile suspects rounding up some very unusual suspects of their own, and all collected in "Records To Die For," the highest annual concentration of surprising recommendations in the biz. Reviewers of wares soft and hard pick their absolute most favoritest recordings, each of which must be a) a topnotch performance in b) topnotch stereo sound. But be warned: some of us cheat (if we can get away with it).
Letters? Boy, did we get letters last year when we ran the very first "Records to Die For": subscription renewals, subscription cancellations, groveling gratitude, death threats, paeans, pans, madness, ecstasy, invitations to any number of sanity hearings (we sent our regrets)---and that was just from our own staff. How could we not do it again?
There's been a shift in the quality of in-house complaint from the Stereophile staff since we started the annual "Records to Die For" feature two years ago. At first, most of our contributing editors---especially the hardcore hardware cadre---weren't sure they could name a single disc that fit the seemingly simple criteria of world-class performance in world-class stereo sound. As this fulfilled all my nightmares of techno-weenies listening to equipment first and music second, if at all, I was not sympathetic. "So sue me," I growled in my best cigar-in-mouth, shoes-on-desk, tough-guy editor snarl. "Get real, runts. Wake up an' smell da vinyl. Da readers is countin' on youse. Geddoudamyface and just do it."