Best Records on Vinyl: List of 12 All-Time Favourites

Published Categorized as Vinyl Buyer Guides

There are tons and tons of records, it can be difficult to know where exactly to start. But, rather than give you some pseudo authoritative list of the best records on vinyl to subscribe and show allegiance to, I have decided that today I will simply choose some records from my own collection that I think are amazing and that could be worth your time!

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Boards of Canada – Geogaddi

There are certainly a whole host of electronic duos, or at least there were in the 90s, though there were none more enigmatic than the brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin who formed Boards of Canada. Many would suggest that it is in fact their debut album, Music Has the Right to Children, that deserves the top spot in their discography, and thus on this list of the best records on vinyl. However, seeing as this is a list of personal taste, I have opted for my preferred record, their 2002 sophomore album Geogaddi.

This latter album, though broadly related with the same instrumental and timbral palette, takes one further step into the uncanny world already outlined in their debut album, edging us towards supernatural and occult revelations at every turn. Put simply, there is simply not quite right, as though you are about to bump into something indescribable as you turn ever geometric corner this album lays out for you.

The depth of fidelity on all of Boards of Canada’s albums is enough to marvel at alone, and this is no exception on Geogaddi, wherein the sound design puts so many of their contemporaries to shame. For, unlike those very same contemporaries placed under the broad umbrella of ‘Intelligent Dance Music’, Boards of Canada opt to carve out a sound world entirely their own.

It truly is as though you are visiting another place when you are with these two brothers. The lines between all things are blurred in a very psychedelic way. Where the first album is a trip in which you can still see the material world as affected by visions, the following album is one step closer to the chemical makeup of the reason you made it there in the first place.

Geogaddi (3LP)

Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile

Miles Davis’ jazz in the mid 70s was speed balling along showing no signs of stopping. And then Davis was found by the roadside in his car, covered in blood and cocaine with both his legs broken. He had been speeding between concerts in his sports car and trying to top himself up. Now marked where jazz began to die. Davis fell into the shadows, rarely leaving his house for years, and when he did return in the 80s he was a shell of a man, playing music that was not even a husk of what it had been attempting to do.

Come the next millennium, and jazz is really booming again, thanks in part to its fusion with hip hop. Nowadays, it is difficult and sometimes impossible to tell where jazz ends and hip hop begins. Where hip hop owed so much of its sample based evolution to jazz music, now jazz kind of owes hip hop a debt for being so strongly revived in the public consciousness.

Sons of Kemet take things a step further, with sounds that fuse dance and electronic music as well as jazz and various styles of music from their heritage, such as calypso, afrobeat, highlife, amongst a whole host of others. The tuba is ferocious and puts modern synthesised bass to shame. The frenetic interlocking of the two drummers is dizzying and a manifestation of what made breakbeats in the 90s so exciting and futuristic, like a reflection of the Afro futures that many of the name sakes in the song titles would have fought for.

This is all beneath saxophone playing like nothing else, mimicking more closely the rhythms of rapping and human speech than any horn instrument you are likely to hear elsewhere.

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Scott Walker – Scott 3

The line between golden oldies and the uncannily perverse valley is a thin one, and it is indeed a line rarely travelled, especially in best records on vinyl. In fact, I can’t think any other artist who does so.

Scott Walker’s trajectory was itself uncanny. He rose through the ranks to become one of the biggest pop stars of the 60s, if only for a brief period, as lead member of the Walker Brothers. After their disbandment, he went on to record a sequence of self titled albums, whose ties to the polite sensibilities of his middle aged female audience grew thinner with every successive record, just as the amount of original cuts grew from almost none to almost all by the time of Scott 4.

Scott 3 is, however, my own personal favorite. The instrumentation is to die for, with luscious orchestrations spanning the entire length of the record from front to back, acting as a luscious bed for the spotless croons of Walker, warbling about marital infidelity and lost love rendered in some of the most poetically simple lyrics you are likely to hear from the period – ‘Our love is an antique song for children’s carousels’.

Walker would go on to flesh out this uncanny, bizarre and absurdist aspect of his lyrics, though here you can still see flashes of it, all embedded in the luxurious clouds of classical instrumentation that set him apart from just about any other vaguely experimental pop artist in the mainstream of the time.

Scott 3

The Avalanches – Since I Left You

There are certain albums that I’m sure we all have in our lives, those that we have almost to listen to at prescribed moments and not simply on impulse, lest our ears and our minds become too familiar with them.

For me, Since I Left You, is such an album. It is fiendishly addictive, and the fact that it is mixed into one hour long journey doesn’t exactly help either, though we can be thankful that the limitations of vinyl records means that we can at least take a break to pause and reflect at the end of each side.

The original concept of the album was to be ‘an international search for love from country to country. The idea of a guy following a girl around the world and always being one port behind. And that was just because we had all these records from all over the world, and we’d like to use all that stuff’. This was, however, soon abandoned, as the band did not want to make their themes too obvious.

And yet, it still feels so much like this, like we are tracking a love right around the world, missing them each time by a minute or two, getting closer at each port we come to. The sheer spectrum of dazzling sounds and sonic palettes on display here means there really is something for everyone, and means that this is one of the best records on vinyl to dance til you drop to and also to listen to avidly with your eyes closed in a world away from the world.

Since I Left You (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Life Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

Even the mouthful of the band’s name and the album title cannot quite prepare you for what is contained within. This is without a doubt one of the longest and most cinematic best records on vinyl you are likely to come across in your adult life.

There is a whole lot of fuss made over the fact of the album being an hour and a half long, comprised only of four tracks, but it is not to be sniffed at. It is very rare to come across an album that is so much like a film for the ears. The best way to enjoy it is in fact to get it spinning and lie back with your eyes closed and let it wash over you.

Each track is actually broken down into a number of smaller tracks and movements within, which can be tracked with a musical map included in the gatefold. If this all sounds a little pretentious, you need only listen to about five minutes before those concerns are scalded away.

This album runs the whole gamut of emotions, cinematic, filmic, pansophic, you are left utterly at the mercy of this powerful record for its entire duration, with each side dedicated to only one song. The patience of this record is really the winning factor, with each musical idea, crescendo, and evolution taking as long as it needs to get to where it needs to get with the maximum amount of impetus. It has to be heard to be believed.

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Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica

Of late, I have been trying without much success to find something that sounds similar to this record. It is really rather addictive, both the search for new best records on vinyl that sound similar as well as the search itself.

The closest thing it sounds like is the vaporwave music which spawned it. The bridge between this album and the primarily synth based drama scapes of Daniel Lopatin’s earlier music is vaporwave, a trend of sampled based music to source their sounds from plastic pop and throwaway funk from yesteryear in order to make some thinly veiled statements about the disposability of modern post capitalist society.

This music is, for the most part, pretty throwaway itself and yet was a significant force in music at its peak. Experiments with this music was what got Lopatin more interested in samples, which ultimately led to this record. And yet, having even enjoyed a number of vaporwave albums around the time of its peak cultural relevance, I would never have made the connection without prompting.

There is something far more uncanny, far more surreal at work on Replica. The opening track alludes to this, with its title ‘Andro’ bringing to mind both androids and the concept of the ‘androgynous’, or sexually nondescript, striking an interesting comparison between the two.

The album makes use of small looped nuggets of sound, repurposing granular chunks from old advertisements and effectively recycling them into something new when fused with the epic antiquated synth arpeggiations that Lopatin is already well known for. Who knew such an electronic and robotic album could be so concerned about the environment?


Can – Future Days

By no means the album that most people think of when they call to mind the band Can, this album is, to me, one of the best records on vinyl that I own, precisely because it mines into something that I hold most dear in my own musical searching: atmosphere.

Can have never been shy of painting a scene, of taking their time to breathe through an environment that they have crafted instead of simply writhing on through, and though their previous two albums delve somewhat into this, Future Days sees the band attempting to make the ambient and sonic equivalent of a gong bath.

Their music has usually been of an entirely different world, uniquely their own, hence why it is not exactly surprising that they would often refer to themselves as making ‘world’ music. We can now see just how firmly their tongue was in their cheek the whole time. This is the world of Can as never seen before, with so much more space around each member of the band, for the silent mirror reflection of their sounds to make itself just as known and important.

This is the world of Can rendered quotidian and yet no less beautiful nor confounding nor groovy. All of the signature elements that made Can one of the most revered bands to record under the umbrella of Krautrock are here, but are viewed from an entirely different angle, coming for the cerebral more than the physical. Even if we take the colors of the covers of the seminal albums featuring abstract and ambiguous frontman Damo Suzuki, we can see that Tago Mago is a conflagration fiery and careless, Ege Bamyasi is the grounded and powerful earth, while Future Days is water wet and wonderful.

Future Days

Olivier Messiaen – Trois Petites Liturgies de la Presence Divine

Now, this is certainly one of the deeper cuts on this list, and one that will certainly not be of interest to anyone not looking for any classical best records on vinyl. This is not even one of Messiaen’s best known works, such as the Quatuor Pour Le Fin de Temps which is arguably more intense (having been composed and performed first while he was a prisoner of war during the second world war), but I think it is such a stellar example of what choral classical music is capable of.

Through three separate movements, or liturgies, we are taken on a guided journey along what religion and Christ mean for Messiaen. Far from some easily categorised vocal exercise, this piece entire straddles the line between so many different emotions that very often the one left on the surface takes the form of a smoky reverberating question mark.

I was utterly gobsmacked by this pervading mood when I first heard the piece played before a band came on stage at a local venue. They chose the third movement to play over the PA system, and the early parts painted a devastatingly demonic and hellish portrait. The sudden shots of the underlying motif shining through, however, felt as though heaven itself were fighting to bleed through the canvas.

The stakes are so high and yet the sounds so controlled, this piece makes me feel as though I am in the waiting room between worlds, or perhaps locked behind the scenes and unable to find my way out as I become slowly less able to breathe and continually more at peace with this fact. The initially nonsensical piano lines bridging the gap between the vocal passages are rendered crystalline when you realise that they are imitating bird calls, bridging the gap between the natural world and the world of art, a world between worlds.

Messiaen: Reveil Des Oiseaux / Trois Petites Liturgies De La Presence Divine

Brian Eno – Another Green World

As far as best records on vinyl go, there are scarcely many better at testing the capabilities of your stereo system and using your record player, the various peaks and troughs of its frequency capabilities, than an album by Brian Eno. In the 70s and 80s, Eno was one of the most important figures in the mainstream for pushing forth the tenets of the Avant Garde and melding them with melodic leanings to create a brand of sonic experimentation all his own.

Eno will perhaps be best known for his work with others. The albums he produced with David Bowie, for example, have oft been considered up there with Bowie’s best (Low, Heroes, Lodger), and are oft revered by critics to this day. Similarly, his work with Talking Heads at the turn of the 80s is much revered and the influence, particularly, of their experiments together with sounds from Afro Caribbean pop music is much felt throughout the western world today.

Eno even had a hand to play in some of the first moments of sampling, collaborating with Talking Heads frontman on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts to create one of the first albums to use external samples as its main basis, with few if any of the vocal takes on the album recorded live by the pair.

Today, however, I limit myself to my collection, despite there being so many albums to choose from within Eno’s rich oeuvre. For me, Another Green World, marks one of the highest points of Eno’s own solo experiments prior to his invention of ambient music, wherein he took a bunch of famous musicians and sessions into the studio without any solid idea of what he wanted other than knowing he wanted to make an album.

To elicit more interesting responses, he used his Oblique Strategies cards, with prompts like ‘More water’ allowing him and his colleagues to take a more experimental approach regarding a wall they might have hit in the studio. Eno is an ideas man, and is thus one of the most important musical philosophers living today.

Another Green World (180-Gram)

Talk Talk – Laughing Stock

Where Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven is the result of two decades spent fleshing out the vocabulary and sonic palette of rock music, the final two Talk Talk albums, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, were there at its very inception, rewriting exactly what rock music could say and do and be and feel like.

I went into both of these albums with very few if any preconceptions of what this band might be about, only that they were a massive inspiration and influence on many of the more atmospheric and mood based bands I enjoy, and, having already been familiar with longer forms of rock and experimental music, was pleasantly surprised to have never heard them before.

Prior to these last two albums, Talk Talk had a pretty damn successful run as a synth pop band and were front runners in the mainstream for precisely this reason, a fact which these final albums almost mock, turning into their very own laughing stock. With each successive album they moved further away from the pop sound that established them in the UK pop scene, until, by Laughing Stock, there was scarcely anything to suggest they had ever been anything but orchestral sculptors and composers at the edge of what music could possibly be.

So much of this record feels so intimate that it almost feels wrong to be intruding on such things, as though we the listener have stumbled in on someone as they are bent over their bed praying directly to god themselves. This is until you realise that these are the confessions of the world, of which we are a part, to a nameless and faceless lord who has been kind enough to gift us music like this with which to fill the void, however cavernous it might sometimes feel.

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Burial – Truant

No doubt this selection will raise a few eyebrows, not least because it is the only of the best records on vinyl on this list that is in fact an EP, not an LP. However, it is no less cohesive and no less potent an expression of what a record can be, and in fact puts a whole host of full length albums to shame in the breadth of its moods and the spectrum of its appeal as an alternative to normal vinyl record types.

Truant sees Burial continuing his journey into the depths of the post rave psyche, fleshing out the burnt out husks left behind after too many pills popped and too many subwoofers wedded to. What we see and hear are ghosts, popping up everywhere and drenched in a singular lathering of reverb and echo that captures perfectly the backdrop of greyscale dereliction so vital to the makeup of a Burial record.

Over just two tracks, Burial shows us what two sides of a dance EP can accomplish, with a trademark use of very minimal and evocative elements. Numb 2 step rhythms pop our bodies through the machinations of feeling like a normal human as we are fed via train through a rain sodden cityscape whose only coloring comes from flickering neon signs advertising sex without interest rates.

Burial’s seminal masterwork Untrue is a concept album which makes more use of shorter songs arrayed in a sort of drizzle soaked song cycle. Truant, however, follows on from the long form experiments initiated by his previous EP, Kindred, using song structure to devastating effect. The two tracks arrayed here are littered with stops and starts which disrupt the flow of our peregrinations like a train halting at a scant lit and empty train platform, painting more of a picture than sound could and defusing our expectations and yearnings for instant gratification so fuelled by the post capitalist realist dire straits we find ourselves in.

One / Two (Truant/Rough Sleeper) - 12"

Miles Davis – In a Silent Way

While it can rub some people up the wrong way, especially those more interested in the traditional forms of jazz taught at music schools these days, this is easily one of the best records on vinyl to sleep to, at least that I own. And I mean no disrespect to the man himself by saying such a thing. It is gentle, hence the ‘silent way’, taking the fusion experiments he had been toying with up until this point and filing them down to their bare essentials.

It is an airy album, a loose album that is inversely full of control. It takes utter control for a jazz drummer who is as gifted as Tony Williams to simply play a shuffle on the hi hat for upwards of twenty minutes. Not only for the unique and uncategorizable moods it creates, this album is also unique and highly influential in the field of jazz for being composed after the fact.

This mode of post production composition, where master tapes are literally spliced together to create new compositional structures, would become a vital tool in the manufacture of Davis’ following album Bitches Brew, and here we see it in its embryonic stages, warts and all.

‘It didn’t swing, the solos weren’t even a little bit heroic, and it had electric guitars… But though In a Silent Way wasn’t exactly jazz, it certainly wasn’t rock. It was the sound of Miles Davis and [producer] Teo Macero feeling their way down an unlit hall at three in the morning. It was the soundtrack to all the whispered conversations every creative artist has, all the time, with that doubting, taunting voice that lives in the back of your head, the one asking all the unanswerable questions.’ – Philip Freeman, Miles Davis scholar.

In a Silent Way

Final Tones

So, there you have it, a selection of some of my own records for your enjoyment! Hopefully this has been of some use to you in helping you find some new records to purchase of your own, or simply inspiring you to look further amidst the decaying folds of your local record store for more atmospheric records or those with more of an experimental edge. They are all out there occupying shelf space and gathering dust, ripe for the plucking by you humble listener. Away with ye, away!

FAQs Best Records on Vinyl

What album sounds best on vinyl?

This will, without doubt, be down to personal preference, though you can be sure that albums more inclined towards warmer tones, such as Dub for example, are going to enjoy a better listening experience when fed through a record player. It could even smooth out albums with a harsher sound palette, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how much you liked this abrasion initially and / or how much of a purist you are.

What is the most popular vinyl record?

There are several candidates, though they are dealt out in figures so high that the difference between them begins to not even make a difference, and certainly cannot be comprehended by the human brain. Michael Jackson’ Thriller is still the largest selling album of all time, and it came out at a time when vinyl was the format of choice for a lot of music consumers. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is also high up on the list, a choice that seems to resonate a hell of a lot with music listeners old and new, those who were there when it first came out and those who have been politely indoctrinated by an older generation or find some romance in the heartbreaking back story.

Are vinyl records best quality?

It depends on the pressing and the quality of the recording to begin with, but chances are if you are looking for fidelity and best quality, vinyl is not the place to go. Sure, it sounds incredibly warm and organic and real, but for quality and clarity, digital formats are definitely a better bet with a far greater frequency spectrum from which to draw in painting a musical portrait.

By Robert Halvari

My name is Robert Halvari - audio engineer and a total audiophile. I love vinyl because it has that natural character which brings music to life. I've been using and testing vinyl record players for around 15 years and I'm sharing my love and knowledge of vinyl by publishing all I know at Notes On Vinyl

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