Are you new to the world of collection and have a meager and unkempt record collection? Are you looking for a quick way to find some of the best sounding vinyl records on the market today?
Madvillainy – Madvillain
Speaking of the possibilities of hip hop, in comes an artist like DJ Shadow who seeks to prize the sheer instrumental capabilities of the genre. This album is composed of nothing more than samples aligned and produced together in Shadow’s signature way.
The space this album conjures up is dark and mossy, the strings on ‘Stem/Long Stem’ ringing out against the marble crenellations of the cathedral that it is being broadcast from, a distress signal copping a feel of the darkness all around just so that its source can feel the light once more.
These are stunningly emotional and endlessly intriguing studies towards an instrumental future for hip hop music, showing just what can happen when samples get cleared and sound quality is not compromised, one of the best albums of its kind and one of the first to pave this path.
Father of Folk Blues – Son House
In his formative years, the great Taj Mahal was inspired by Son House, just as he was inspired by other greats like Jimmy Reed, Sleepy John Estes, and Sonny Terry.
Son House did exactly what it says on the tin, offering forth an intimate and dear experience of blues music that is equal parts folk music too, being one of the first albums released in this style, though not the first to have their title track feature this mission statement. His emotionally charged vocal delivery and esteemed slide guitar playing are inimitable.
Ironic seeing as he was hostile to secular music for a number of years. It is not hard to see where the emotional charge comes from in his music when we come to know that he was a preacher and church pastor for a number of years before coming to blues performance at the age of 25.
After acquiring a bit of a name for himself in the Delta and recording with the foremost musician of the region Charley Patton, he gave up music, though not before laying influence upon a young Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.
In the mid 60s, he was encouraged by some record collectors to relearn his songs and return as an entertainer. It is from this period that the album above comes from, when he was billed as a folk blues singer for concert tours during the American folk music revival.
Not bad for a country boy who did not, at one point, even believe in such forms of secular music.
On the Corner – Miles Davis
This masterwork of late career Davis is absolutely worth considering, for its visionary take on funk, jazz, and electronic music, through the respective lenses of James Brown, Ornette Coleman, and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
In a certain sense, this album does precisely what it says on the tin. I remember when I first heard it being so struck by how honestly it seems to portray being on the corner of a street, particularly that of New York where it was recorded.
There is the constant patter of hi hats ticking by like the tock of each passer by’s wrist watch on their way to work, and the murky tremolated electric piano chords rising through the murk like smoke from a subway vent, and the modulated guitar stabs that subliminally hit the back of the mind like sirens flaring in the distance, and all are steeped in a stress they thought previously unknowable.
This is a street scene as distilled in concentrate, delivered unto us in a way that completely eschews the need even for sight or words.
Miles himself infamously did not even include the names of any of the contributing artists, stating that he ‘didn’t put those names on On the Corner especially for that reason, so now the critics have to say, ‘What’s this instrument, and what’s this?’ … I’m not even gonna put my picture on albums anymore. Pictures are dead, man. You close your eyes and you’re there.’
Your Queen is a Reptile – Sons of Kemet
This is not your average jazz album in terms of the styles and the tunes included within the bounds of the vinyl record gatefold (which all the best vinyl records have).
The instrumentation of saxophone, tuba, and drums is broadly jazz inflected, though there are so many more elements at play, all of which seek to exhibit the influence of the plethora of other styles that have gone on to influence jazz and western music in the last century or so.
The second track ‘My Queen is Mamie Phipps Clark’, for example, features noted drum and bass producer and dub toaster Congo Natty making just about any noise sound cool through a rippling succession of delay decays, noises every vinyl collection should bear.
The track ‘My Queen is Nanny of the Maroons’, too, features a dub bassline throughout courtesy of the swollen tuba featured throughout all these tracks. Truly the best sounding vinyl record in the modern jazz categoty.
The overall message – that the British people’s unquestioned reverence for a reptilian queen ought at least to be questioned and that there is no reason why any black people or people of color should consider her so important when, courtesy of the track list, there are a whole bunch of other strong and vital matriarchs whom oppressors have clearly tried to forget – is executed to perfection through the smorgasbord of varied styles coming together as one.
Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown
Much like the title suggests, this album features Danny Brown contorted into caricatures of precisely all of the atrocities he has put himself through over the past decades of his life, laying out the full list of intoxicants consumed while only really exhibiting the withdrawal.
The album’s content is so intense as to almost be like a cartoon, and so can be enjoyed in this way, especially atop the nuanced and psychedelic beats courtesy of Lewisham resident Paul White which act like the perfect accompaniment to an artist looking to push themselves beyond the next drop to actually detailing what the drop from high to low looks like.
The Source – Ali Farka Touré
As figureheads go, this was one for the ages, with Touré being known as one of the most internationally renowned musicians in the whole of Africa. He was a singer from Mali who also played multiple instrumentalists, though he will perhaps be best known for his pioneering guitar style that essentially gave birth to the desert blues.
Oft described as the African Bluesman, he insists that his music is not blues music: ‘To me blues is a type of soap powder, my music is older than the blues.’
This seems to speak to the way the blues itself and other more sensual and emotional musical styles come from elsewhere entirely, how they seem to channel an undercurrent of emotion welded deep within the subconscious and that is seeking to escape through the mouths, hearts, and minds of conduits who are willing to do its bidding.
The blues originated from the pain of African Americans who, to bide their time, sang work songs drenched in the anguish and torment that would have been inflicted upon them by their white captors, so, in this sense, it is not too much of a stretch to see how it, too, can be a manifestation of a pain older than time itself.
There’s a Riot Goin’ On – Sly and the Family Stone
Another classic from the true golden age of funk, this will undoubtedly be more of an acquired taste than some others from around the same time. At a point when the Isley Brothers were reaching the absolute heights of their success, this album almost seems bizarre in comparison.
In aligning with the band’s previous forays into and founding of psychedelic funk, this album is still an experience through tinted sunglasses, though this album is more like a pair of Ray Bans worn the morning after an angel dust binge than the rose tinted spectacles of their previous album Stand!
And this darkness is a result of the fidelity of the music, which is itself a reflection of the new apathy that lead singer and multi instrumentalist Sly Stone had come to be burdened with after the optimistic epoch of their psychedelic soul had itself been weighed down with the reality of an ever darkening political climate.
While artists like George Clinton could surf this darkness and create humorous parodies of it, and while an artist like Stevie Wonder could flip it around entirely, Sly Stone seemed entirely consumed by it, which ultimately led to fractured relations within the band and ever spiraling use of the drug angel dust among others.
With the benefit of hindsight, the publication The Austin Chronicle believes that his ‘quest for post-stardom identity mirrored black America’s question for post-sixties purpose’, and though infested with a cynical tone throughout, the darkness of the mix leaves so much of the lyrical content up to interpretation as though it does not even matter and as though he has just as much of an idea as you or I.
Out to Lunch! – Eric Dolphy
A close friend to John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy was sketched to walk in Coltrane’s footsteps. They worked alongside each other at a crucial point in Coltrane’s development, appearing in a seminal series of recorded concerts at the Village Vanguard in New York, during the 1960 period of the classic quartet.
Eric Dolphy went his own way, featuring in the band of Charles Mingus, before starting his own band, though his path was stopped tragically short when he died of a diabetic coma at the age of 36 after having been misdiagnosed as a junkie for being a black jazz musician despite himself being a teetotaller who did not smoke nor take drugs.
Still, as his headstone in Los Angeles says, ‘He Lives In His Music.’
This is one of Dolphy’s final solo efforts (his only Blue Note album as a leader) and exhibits everything that makes me keen on him. As jazz multi instrumentalists go, Dolphy was one of the best, considerably altering the vocabulary of the bass clarinet, the flute, alto saxophone, and even clarinet and piccolo on occasion (the former two not even really being considered as jazz solo instruments before him).
On this album, his relative mastery over the former three instruments is exhibited in spades on this album which at every turn also seeks to act as exemplar to his bop and bebop stylings as fed through the cartoonish avant garde, resulting in compositions like ‘Hat and Beard’ which render in a very real way the sheer musicality of its name sake Thelonious Monk, who Dolphy thought was musical ‘even if he’s just walking around.’
Paul’s Boutique – Beastie Boys
Reeking far more of sampledelia, we have one of the original crowning statements in experimental hip hop by the now ubiquitous household name the Beastie Boys.
The band’s debut album Licensed to Ill certainly had its moments, but more often than not threatened to eject the boys into novelty.
Here, they declare their love for the 70s in a candid and frank letter that exhibits each facet of their wild sense of humor, crippling yearning for female attention, and unmatched ability to spin a yarn straight from a Saturday morning cartoon strip, cementing their place among hip hop’s latest and greatest.
Safe as Milk – Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
Once you hear Howlin’ Wolf in any of his guises, it is impossible not to hear him steeped all over Captain Beefheart’s own vocals (alongside the influence of British outsider music, of course).
There is no end of moments where the vocals drift from his psychedelic croon right into the pocket of those delta Blues singers that he and Frank Zappa would have listened to so much when growing up. And this continues throughout his whole career.
Nowhere is the influence of the blues more readily prevalent in Beefheart’s music than on his debut record Safe as Milk. The vocals are all there, drums skitter between psychedelia and country blues, and the guitars reek of the good stuff – like Chicago bluesman Jimmy Rogers – courtesy of an adolescent Ry Cooder. All told, an exemplary study of how vinyl records are made.
The influence of the delta blues is evident from the very first line of the first songs ‘Sure ‘Nuff ‘n Yes I Do’, which quotes ‘New Minglewood Blues’ by the Cannon’s Jug Stompers, itself an early version of Muddy Waters’ ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ‘.
There was a great deal more surrealism in Beefheart’s lyrics, though, as if he had been steeped in the veritable swamps on the Mississippi Delta:
‘Mother say son, she say son, you can’t lose, with the stuff you use
Abba Zabba go-zoom Babbette baboon
Run, run, monsoon, Indian dream, tiger moon.’
Surrealism and psychedelia that is mirrored in the use of unconventional blues instrumentation like the theremin and the marimba.
There it Is – James Brown
No list of this kind would be complete without an entry from the godfather of soul himself, Mr. James Brown. He was more or less the original progenitor of funk music in the late 1960s, and so automatically has dibs on being one of the most influential figures in 20th century music, hailing from a time when the answer to how much does vinyl cost was considerably different.
This particular release comes at a time of relative success for Brown when he was really at the height of his powers, after having taken the like of Bootsy Collins (of Bootsy’s Rubber Band) under his wing.
Brown is infamous for not being as much of an album artist as he is a single song artist or an artist that brings forth an experience.
In a very similar manner to Fela Kuti – who himself was also a multi instrumentalist big band leader who would frequently take turns on the keyboard on stage – Brown brought forth a holistic experience when performing, replete with backing dancers and all sorts of theatrics alongside his own excitable and unpredictable dance moves.
So, in this vein, I can safely say that this is one of James Brown’s best, a funk album that puts many others to shame, that seems to bring you close enough to the performance to feel the sweat palpitating from them all up there.
There is a rawness in the recordings of this period, an analog warmth that later funk classics like Rick James’ Street Songs simply fail to capture, that puts the veritable and palpable experience of funk music at the forefront of its investigations.
To my ears, the contemporaneous act Average White Band has a certain clinical remove in its approach to funk music that James Brown and his now infamous backing band the JB’s lack completely, evinced if nowhere else on the swole title track.
The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady – Charles Mingus
And here we have another of the greatest jazz albums that cross streams with other styles to create something wholly its own. I have never heard anything quite like this, where jazz is so freely in conversation with impressionistic classical music, and with such devastating effects in the vein of free jazz.
This record is far from being in a piano trio format, featuring an 11 piece band of jazz musicians:
Charles Mingus (double bass, piano), Jerome Richardson (soprano and baritone saxophone, flute), Charlie Mariano (alto saxophone), Dick Hafer (tenor saxophone, flute), Rolf Ericson (trumpet), Richard Williams (trumpet), Quentin Jackson (trombone), Don Butterfield (tuba, contrabass trombone), Jaki Byard (piano), Jay Berliner (classical guitar), and Dannie Richmond (drums).
It is for this reason that the album, alongside typical labels of avant garde jazz and the like, is also believed to be a progenitor and key player in the argument for the existence of experimental big band, throwing elements of African music and Spanish classical themes into the already excitable broth of Jazz and Classical.
You can be sure at the hands of the oft irritable Mingus – who, along with his psychotherapist, provides the intangible and opaque liner notes – that no jazz musician present is going to leave without having done his part to realize his dream.
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd is, perhaps, the biggest name in R&R history, and it’s only natural that we’re opening up with one of their greatest achievements. The artwork is simple, yet legendary, but the sound quality is what made the stars in this case. “The Dark side of the Moon” was recorded in 1972 and released just one year after and it lasts approximately 43 minutes
Johnny Cash – All Aboard The Blue Train
We couldn’t leave out the big Johnny – this legend has rocked his way through bluesy tracks which later evolved to what we now know as “rockabilly”. We’re proud to present you with “All Aboard the Blue Train” – the 14th album by one of the greatest musicians of all time.
Even though it was recorded in 1958, it was only released in 1962, but we’re referring to the re-issued edition which came to be on 9th September of 2003. Johhny’s Blue Train, Train of Love, and Folsom Prison Blues make us wonder whether trains are actually as sad as he portrays them, or do they become so after listening to the tracks?
Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden Anthology
England houses some of the finest musicians the world has ever seen, and Maidens come to mind whenever Beatles and Sabbath are mentioned.
Iron Maiden’s self-titled album is a rock/metal masterpiece – the vocals don’t erupt through the speakers even though they’re incredibly high, the guitars sound perfect (even though there are three of them), and who would’ve thought that such a great sound could be found and achieved during the early 80s? Make sure to own this record, even if it costs you an arm and a leg.
Deep purple – Deepest Purple vinyl
Deep Purple’s been one of the most influential rock bands of all time, and it’s no surprise that they simply sound better on vinyl records where there’s absolutely no compression. The guitars here fill richer, the bass deeper, and the vocals are just pure gold.
You’ll find some of their finest hits on the ‘Deepest Purple’ such as the ‘Fireball’, ‘Burn’, ‘Highway Star’, and of course, the legendary ‘Smoke On The Water’. Regardless of whether you’re a rock fan or prefer other music genres, the ‘Deepest Purple’ is undoubtedly a must have for everyone.
Yngwie J. Malmsteen – Trilogy
Yngwie’s the ‘Fury’, the ‘Viking’, and most importantly, he’s the ‘Fire’ in the heavy metal world. Although some of his music might be a little bit on the harder side for non-rock or metal fans, it’s a given that he’s one of the most proficient guitarists of his time.
The reason why you need his ‘Trilogy’ on vinyl format is because you’ll get to experience some of the most profound licks, absurdly emotional solos, and overall – the most complete musical compositions heavily influenced by classical and neo-classical genres.
Alice Cooper – Greatest Hits
Alice is well known among music nerds for being a brilliant composer, a one-of-a-kind showman, and beyond that his music somehow appeals to everyone. However, digitalized formats tend to bite in from his flair, which is why we strongly suggest that you give his ‘Greatest Hits’ a try.
There’s simply no living being that hasn’t banged their head with his ‘School’s out’, but this vinyl also contains some of his hidden gems, such as Elected, Under My Wheels, Desperado, and Is It My Body. Though it’s not mainstream per se, you’ll most definitely grow to love it.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced
Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Experience’ can be considered as an educational record more than anything. This rock god’s got the groove, the vibe, and somewhat devilish technique on the guitar that simply can’t be captured on a compressed MP3 format.
Sing along the ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Love or Confusion’, and ‘Fire’, along numerous other hits, such as ‘Are you Experienced?’, ‘Foxey Lady’, ‘Third Stone From The Sun’, ‘May This Be Love’, and many others.
Queen – Self Titled Vinyl
Queen, alongside all of the individual members has set the bar for how music should be made, and it would be sacrilege to listen to their songs in any other format than vinyl. What’s more, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ movie just came out recently, so there’s no better way to enjoy it than by warming up with one of the greatest vinyl records of all time – Queen’s ‘Queen’.
This particular vinyl has some of the less-known songs that you simply need to hear, such as ‘My Fairy King’, ‘The Night Comes Down’, ‘Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll’, ‘Jesus’, and ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’. Pay respects to the late rock and roll titan and give a listen to what these wonderful people have made.
With the coming of modern age, one would think that vinyl records are dead – they’re all but. Of course that playing your favorite tracks on iPhone or your favorite mixtape on PC/laptop is convenient, but most audiophiles can agree on one thing – playing your music on record players is the real deal.
We’re here today to discuss 19 albums that you absolutely need to own on vinyl – it would be a sacrilege to play these tunes on any other platform, so if you’re ready, let’s begin.
So, there you have it!
Hopefully, you are feeling at least a little more knowledgeable about these sorts of things and have at least found one or two records among the finest vinyl releases (in my opinion)!
FAQs Best Sounding Vinyl Records
There is no one category of records that sound better than others, though there are certainly some that cater more to certain aspects of the hifi experience than others. Dub, for experimental, leans very much on the low end of the frequency spectrum.
There is no audio format that sounds inherently better, but rather there are certain formats that prize certain tonal aspects. For warmth and fidelity, vinyl is pretty unmatched.
There are far too many manufacturers to really consider here. Original Master Recordings as a label are oft believed to be the owners of the highest fidelity captures of a release (or at least as close to the other original as possible).