2003 Records To Die For

Once upon a time, when I was a mere sprout in journalism school, there came the moment when everyone had to decide which sort of writing and/or editing he or she wanted to pursue in the workplace of the real world—a harsh reality that was then fast approaching. Most of my fellow students, who ranged in age from 23 to 62, chose one of two paths: murder or scandal.

Those who chose murder got hot and bothered by the prospect of reporting on human depravity and criminal activity of the foulest sort: domestic violence, sex crimes, La Cosa Nostra, homicide. Their general attitude seemed to be, the darker the deed and the more blood spilled, the better.

The other majority believed passionately that the next Watergate was there for the snooping. "To take out" was their favorite compound verb, to be used in such action-hero-flavored sentences as "The governor's sick and evil. We're gonna take him out." Ah-Nold had nothing on them.

Neither route held any fascination for me. Murder is sick and evil. Though less venal, political scandal is still completely predictable and smarmy.

My choice of what to write about was widely derided at the time by both the murder and scandal sets. But music is a facet of human behavior that I did and do find worth believing in.

Believing in to the point of death? Having once been punched square in the face by an enraged drummer from a heavy-metal band I'd recently savaged in print—he tapped me on the shoulder, I turned around, and whammo!—I can say I've sustained grievous wounds, if not full-on rigor mortis, for my love of music.

Which brings me to "Records To Die For." Believe it or not, picking two records for this annual feature is a lot harder than it looks, particularly when you have as many records and musical passions as the Stereophile staff does. The rules that the writers had to follow are simple: The choices have to have been in print sometime during the last decade. The entries must be short and sweet. Most important (as I regularly intoned), there was to be no agonizing over the choices—spontaneity can be just as effective a filter as going through every record in your collection and weighing each disc's relative importance in the rich tapestry of human musical history.

It's also more fun. Which, along with information, is what we hope you, the reader, take away from the 2003 edition of Stereophile's "Records To Die For."—Robert Baird

Note: If a recording listed here has previously been reviewed in Stereophile, whether in "Record Reviews," "Quarter Notes," or past editions of "Records To Die For," the volume and number of the pertinent issue appear in parentheses at the end of the review. For example, a listing of "(XXV-10)" means that a review appeared in Vol.25 No.10 (October 2002).