Below is a list of what we consider essential albums to own on vinyl. This list did not come together overnight. It’s the product of years spent scouring record stores, attending concerts, talking shop with music lovers whose knowledge often far exceeded ours, and most importantly, thousands of hours spent actively listening to albums. You should understand that our opinion is simply that — an opinion. But, if you’re at all like us, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start when putting together a decent collection. Along the way, we intend to give you some tips about where to start with your own collection and point out some reasons why these vinyl records are unique.
Inevitably, some of you will think our list would be better transcribed onto toilet paper and used in a Porta Potty. That’s fine, we won’t take it personally. What we offer you, though, Spinner reader, is an honest attempt at a list of our favorite unique albums on vinyl, in the hopes that you’ll banter with us about what you agree with and maybe some albums that you think we should consider. Keep in mind, a list of 25 albums is only a glimpse through the peephole of what our collection holds, what we know it’s missing, and future albums that will find their way in.
Lists have a funny way of becoming irrelevant in a hurry. The irony of writing this list is not lost on us. It will be a potentially (but hopefully not) outdated list of albums that will be stumbled upon in 2019 only to be ridiculed by someone who, as we write this, is in 5th grade. That’s cool with us. In the end, it’s more about my personal reasoning and the following considerations rather than our very specific list of the top 25 vinyl albums.
So, with that, some albums to consider:
Arcade Fire has grown their fan base exponentially since their debut album Funeral in 2004. When they released their follow-up in 2007, the anticipation had early adopters on the edge of their seats to see if the music could possibly hold up to the debut. Neon Bible did just that, showing excellent depth and staying power for a band that continues to get better as their catalog grows. Neon Bible was released on vinyl as two 180-gram records consisting of three sides of music and the fourth side with etched-in Neon Bible artwork as seen on the cover — something you’ll rarely see and a unique artistic highlight to an already excellent album.
“Big Pink” refers to the house that members of The Band were occupying in upstate New York when they originally composed these tracks. As a modest nugget of music trivia, “Big Pink” was the same house where Bob Dylan and The Band’s Basement Tapes were eventually created. To say nothing of the excellent musicians, and the music that comprises this album, some legendary artists of our lifetime put together classic music, and you’d be doing yourself a favor to include it as part of your growing record collection.
Q: Why is Revolver the best Beatles album to own on vinyl? A: Because it’s the best Beatles album period. The artistic and technical innovation that occurred during the 300 hours of studio time for the Fab Four is as astonishing as it is unmatched, taking place while the band was truly in its prime. After producer George Martin created his own label, the group then had time to develop the album at their own pace without anxious record execs breathing down their necks. “Eleanor Rigby” features a string octet and is very much an example of Paul McCartney’s genius, although each of the members contributed to the lyrics. “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the final song on the album, stands not only as a forerunner to the psychedelic rock movement, but also reveals just how far ahead of the times the Beatles were, using automatic double tracking for Lennon’s vocals, reverse guitar, and multiple looped tape effects. With Revolver, one finds the right band at the right time with everything falling beautifully into place. To not own and know this album on vinyl is nothing short of a musical crime.
One of the biggest draws for me with a band like Beirut is their ability to create beautiful music with traditional instrumentation (no electric guitars here, folks) that you just don’t get in many other places. Zach Condon is an artist like few others, one who can create an album that incorporates instruments like the trumpet, flugelhorn, ukulele, accordion, cello, melodica, upright bass, trombone, tuba, and glockenspiel without it sounding like circus music. The second album from Beirut was inspired by a turn-of-the-century Parisian balloon festival, with each track tied to a different French city, resulting in a musical masterpiece that will remain timeless among your otherwise potentially dated record collection.
The liner notes of the Black Keys‘ second album casually explain that, “all songs were recorded and mixed december 2002 by Patrick Carney in Akron Ohio at Studio 45 using his patented recording technique called ‘medium fidelity.'” This might seem like boring technical jargon until one discovers that “medium fidelity” was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the old, junky, and half-borrowed analog recording equipment used to record the album (1980’s Tascam 388 8-track recorder) and that their “studio” was, in fact, drummer Patrick Carney’s basement. Recorded in a non-stop 14-hour session, Thickfreakness is the Akron duo stripped down to their fuzzy-licious, ghost-of-Junior-Kimbrough, dirty blues core. Carney bangs the drums like a floppy-haired Thor and Dan Auerbach’s voice is 23 going on 60, full of cigarettes and gravel — in other words, perfect for a garage-rock blues album and drool-worthy on vinyl.
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