10 Essential Albums to Own on Vinyl

So many people are jumping into vinyl these days! Whether you’re starting from scratch or are a longtime collector, here are 10 albums that every music lover should have in their record crate, chosen not just for their music but for the sound quality they offer. They represent a wide variety of genres, but they have one thing in common: They all deliver a level of magic that you just can’t get from CDs or streaming.

1. Buena Vista Social Club – The Buena Vista Social Club

If you can only have one record to fully engage chill mode, BVSC is it. Guitarist Ry Cooder took a trip to Havana, found some great studio musicians and produced this two-LP set of smooth, delicate, guitar-based tunes that beg for the lights to be turned down low. You’ll feel like you’re in a Wes Anderson movie … and the recording quality is out-of-this-world good. Seek out a copy of the 1998 Classic Records remaster for the absolute best sound.

2. Post – Bjork

Bjork has such a diverse catalog, it’s tough to decide which of her albums to go with, but Post contains such a variety of styles and textures, if you have to have only one, this is it. The combination of digital and acoustic sounds is always fluid, with layer upon layer of Bjork’s voice all blending in a spectacular fashion. Despite there being such a high density of information, you’ll get pulled in almost immediately.

3. Abbey Road – The Beatles

By the time the Beatles recorded this, their final album, EMI studios (now called Abbey Road) had upgraded their gear considerably, so despite being all-analog, this record has the most “modern” feel of all Fab Four releases in terms of the sophistication of the overdubs, the dynamics and the overall spaciousness of the sound. Hard-core fans may scream heresy, but check out the 2019 remixes with half-speed mastering produced at Abbey Road. Traditionalists will harken back to the earliest, first stamper British pressings of these records, which are great-sounding too, but now fetch four-figure prices.

4. Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book – Ella Fitzgerald

You should have this six-LP box set because no one on earth can (or could) sing like Ella. From the smoothness of her delivery to her six-octave range and creamy soft tone, it’s simply the best there is. However, these tracks somehow always flatten out when streaming, so definitely go for the vinyl version! There are so many fun songs from Cole Porter to choose from here, from the suggestive “Let’s Do It” to the apologetic but ultimately dark “Miss Otis Regrets (She’s Unable to Lunch Today).” Slap them on your turntable, sit back and enjoy: If you aren’t already an Ella fan, you’ll quickly become one.

5. King of Rock – RUN DMC

By the time of their second release, King of Rock, the Hollis, Queens trio of rappers were a solidly locked unit. Back in the early ’80s, record companies were simply pumping out hip-hop discs and not paying careful attention to the pressing quality, but Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs has just given the same audiophile treatment to this record as they did to last year’s reissue of Raising Hell and the result is brilliant. The beats hit harder, and the individual vocals now battle back and forth for attention on your speakers like you’re right there in the club.

6. The Chronic – Dr. Dre

You can’t have East Coast Rap/Hip-Hop in the record crate without the West Coast being represented too. I never get tired of Dre’s breakout solo record, The Chronic, which strikes the perfect balance of intelligence, sophistication and hard-hitting beats. The current 30th Anniversary vinyl reissue (now pressed as a two-record set) is the one to get.

7. Sea Change – Beck

Like Bjork, Beck has delivered such a wide range of records, it’s tough to pick just one, but Sea Change has such an atmospheric, cohesive groove from start to finish, this is the droid you want. Striking a perfect balance between his earlier, sillier work and later, more disjointed releases, this record is intriguing to listen to on multiple levels. Whether you’d rather just swim around in this massive pool of sound or get introspective with the clever lyrics, there’s so much here to enjoy and absorb. Find a copy of the Mobile Fidelity remaster as a double LP set. The pink one looks cooler, but the black one sounds better.

8. Eat a Peach – The Allman Brothers Band

If you’re not quite ready to delve all the way into the roots of the blues, here’s a timeless classic that will get you in the mood, with some solid jam band crossover to boot. Released in 1972, Eat a Peach is the final ABB album to feature bandleader Duane Allman, who fell victim to a fatal motorcycle crash at the end of ’71. The hits on this record (“Blue Sky,” “Melissa”) still get heavy airplay even today, and the sonics are incredibly lush.

9. Tosca – Puccini

Think you’re not an opera fan? Pick up the vinyl version of Tosca performed by Maria Callas with the LaScala Orchestra and Chorus on EMI and be prepared to think again. This rendition delivers a warmth and a presence that is simply stunning — something you just can’t get when streaming or listening to it on CD.

10. That! Feels Good! – Jessie Ware

OK, this may be a bit of a dark horse, but Jessie Ware’s fifth album is a high energy R&B romp that channels a bit of Donna Summer along with a dash of Diana Ross and a touch of Grace Jones, yet always feels completely original. The vinyl release sounds amazing, the songs are fun, and the wall of sound production is sure to get you shaking … in a good way.

 

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