1998 Records To Die For

Death. It's something we all wonder about. Ever try to imagine your own? There you are, flinging yourself out of the trenches and over the top, clutching your blunderbuss and your copy of Alice Cooper's Killer. Or perhaps you wake up, the room's in flames, and you scurry about, choking, one arm around your cat, the other around your Leopold Stokowski boxed set. Or maybe you envision a mythic/gothic/celtic/druidic Bergmanesque kind of death—you, the leaden sky, your copy of Saxophone Colossus, and black-draped Death, all pasty and balding, leaning on its scythe with the same easy grace shown by members of the New Mexico Highway Department when they slump over their shovels.

Of course, dying with a record is different from dying for it.

But when it comes to giving your life for music, outsiders always ask the the same question about those privileged beings who dabble in the High End: "Do high-end...folks (whew! wasn't I sweet?) own tons of records, or do they just do it for the knobs and tubes, the erotic feel of brushed aluminum brushing against their sweaty palms?" Hey, it was one of the first questions I asked.

Despite the disconcerting presence of a disturbed minority whose only interest in music is strictly utilitarian—they need a few test CDs—most high-end aficionados own masses of music that, in some cases, they would indeed die for. Prejudices in this crowd run rampant. For some, rock'n'roll is truly the Antichrist from which they will never recover. To others, classical music is dead and gone, so get with the program. Still another group are living examples of one of John Atkinson's theories (with which I agree): To American men, jazz (Coltrane, Mingus, Miles) is classical music. Instead of buying and adoring a Brahms symphony, they sink their ducats and their respect into Kind of Blue. But whatever their musical predilections, high-end listeners are passionate about their tastes—and they like to vent those fiery feelings on others. Didacticism in the High End? Perish the thought!

It is in the spirit of those restless passions—not to mention our need to impart valuable and oh-so-interesting insights—that each February we present Records To Die For. The ground rules of this exercise are fairly simple: Each writer is asked to choose and write about two discs he or she would rush into a burning building to save. The hard part is choosing just two. Two discs you'd die with. Two discs that you'd trade for one human life—your own.
Robert Baird

Note: If a recording listed here has previously been reviewed in Stereophile, the volume and number of the pertinent issue appear in parentheses at the end of the review. For example: A listing of "XVIII-10" means that a review appeared in Vol.18 No.10 (October 1995). These citations include full reviews and the shorter R2D4 and "Quarter Notes" capsules.