29 Best Albums to Own on Vinyl – Must Have Records!

Author: Brian Campbell | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Aah, the wonders of vinyl records! Perhaps you’re a seasoned audiophile looking for yet another opinion, or a debutant just getting started in the world of vinyl.

Either way, once you’ve made the decision to buy a turntable and set up your sound system, you need one more ingredient to make it all work – some records to spin. OBVIOUSLY!! 😀

The sounds that come from vinyl are unique from any other medium, whether digital or tape or CD. I won’t venture to say, pretentiously, that it’s the absolute best medium. But it certainly ranks up there, mostly for its overall experience than anything else.

In this article, I attempt to list some of the best albums you can buy specifically on vinyl. Inevitably, any list like this will eventually come down to personal taste, to some degree. But just like any other interesting conversation, personal opinions and recommendations are part of the fun!

I tried to balance my selections between personal taste and general musical influence. Let’s get started!

Criteria for My Selections

First, and most importantly, every artist I chose made an important mark on music history. Whether they pushed boundaries or inspired innovation, they left careful listeners as more enlightened people.

Second, they are albums that I think benefit specifically from being played on vinyl. This is NOT meant to be a “greatest of all-time list.” It’s not meant to rival Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums.

Rather, it’s meant to highlight albums that are better appreciated with vinyl.

That’s why, for example, you won’t find Nirvana on this list. I think they are one of the most important bands in history. But in regards to vinyl, albums like Nevermind were recorded with CDs in mind for a generation that was one step removed from them. (Don’t kill me. I love Kurt.)

Lastly, this list is personal. It is, of course, a selection of music I like, that I hope you like too. But I also didn’t want to make a list with all the cliché titles like Sergeant Pepper.

Of course, I love the Beatles, and their albums are extremely important. But EVERY other list will tell you that. I don’t want to be redundant.

Instead, I will try to recommend albums that don’t get as much attention, but still retain each artist’s unique style. That way, you get the best of vinyl music, but also a deeper look at each artist’s catalog.

With all that said though, it doesn’t mean I’ll ignore every big album!

Best Classical Records

Classical music isn’t just for nerds and college students. It’s not for pretentious folks either. All factors considered, it was the pop music of its day, and it created the foundations of music notation we use today.

Regarding vinyl records, many of the first records made were classical.

Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion

Bach sounds great on vinyl records because of two words: energy and emotion.

As one of the greatest, if not best, composers in history, every one of his pieces is bursting with creativity. It only makes sense that one of the best composers sounds great on record.

Bach’s depth comes from his mastery of “polyphony,” or the interplay of separate melodies being played at once. It’s like an intricate puzzle, far from the drab “serious” music he’s been maligned as.

I chose his St. Matthew’s Passion specifically because of its range of emotions. A personal favorite is “Erbarme Dich,” exploring themes of guilt and betrayal.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6

Beethoven needs no introduction, not even among people who could care less about music. His fifth symphony is the world’s most famous riff, and “Ode to Joy” is one of the most famous melodies ever.

That’s why I chose his sixth symphony, which acts kind of like an early concept album. Nicknamed his “Pastoral Symphony,” it depicts a day spent in the rural countryside.

When introducing classical music to new listeners, I find it helps to paint it in a cinematic light. On top of that, Beethoven’s sixth symphony is simply a beautiful piece of music.

Dvorak’s New World Symphony

Dvorak was a Czech man, and wrote his ninth symphony as a musical impression of his first visit to the USA. Its second movement, “Largo,” is by far its most famous section. But the other movements are just as striking.

The New World Symphony may not have broken new ground. It may not have revolutionized the symphonic form. But it’s simply one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, containing immense pathos without once becoming too sentimental.

Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time


I included this one for two kinds of people. Those who say “classical music got too weird after World War I,” and those that say, “classical music is boring.”

First off, Messiaen’s Quartet comes to us with a fascinating backstory. Messiaen was a French soldier during World War II, and got sent to a German POW camp.

Rather than succumbing to squalor there, he wrote an inspiring piece of music based on hope from his Catholic faith. Simply put, it is a testament to religious faith and human resilience.

As if that weren’t interesting enough, Messiaen had synesthesia. This meant he could see literal colors depending on the sounds he heard. He literally painted pictures with his music.

Without understanding his intentions, it may sound chaotic and silly. However, within context, it makes his music fascinating.

Best Jazz Records

Alongside classical music, jazz records were some of the first vinyl records ever sold. Whereas classical music came from an old codified tradition, jazz was the fresh hip music of the new century.

In my opinion, jazz is the defining genre of vinyl records. This is because jazz was taking America by storm at the same time the record market was just starting. The two just go together like bread and butter!

Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue

Just like Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue needs no introduction. Routinely ranked among the top albums of all time, regardless of genre, it marked a new era in jazz, art music, and pop.

Kind of Blue is a masterclass in everything jazz-related. It preserves a near-perfectly improvised jam session, lays the blueprints of modal jazz theory, and does so in an artistic fashion that’s immediately accessible.

Combine this performance with a mic, wax, and needle, and you got a perfect record whose spaces are as important as its notes.

John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme

Coltrane’s A Love Supreme is much like Kind of Blue in the sense that it records a near-perfect performance based on basic song sketches. Of course, this doesn’t mean they have to sound anything alike.

Kind of Blue is music for music’s sake. A Love Supreme is born out of a religious and philosophical idea, giving it an extra-musical dimension.

The title refers to God’s supreme love and pursuit of mankind. This elevates it to a spiritual album, alongside its phenomenal musical qualities.

Thelonious Monk’s Thelonious Alone in San Francisco

Thelonious Monk’s music shines with a quirkiness and originality equal to his name (his middle name was “Sphere” … literally). Known for his angular compositions and simplistic-sounding-yet-genius solos.

Alone in San Francisco might not pop up regularly on best-of lists, but that doesn’t mean it’s not great. To me, it’s all about ambience.

“Metropolitan,” “melancholy,” “whimsical,” and “introspective” are words that best describe this solo piano album. If it’s a rainy day and the fog is thick outside, Thelonious on vinyl is just what you need.

Best Blues Records

Muddy Waters famously sang that “the blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll.” It was true at the time. It’s even more true today, influencing almost every pop genre today.

With most blues musicians just trying to survive in pre-World War II America, most of them got gigs recording themselves on dinky records in dinky studios.

Without vinyl, we wouldn’t have the wealth of blues music we have today. And without those vinyls? Well, most of our favorite bands wouldn’t exist!

B.B. King’s Live at the Regal

Not only is this a classic blues album, B.B. King’s seminal recording is a classic live album. Like all the best live albums, the audience is key to bringing the music to life.

B.B. King wasn’t virtuosic, instead relying on impeccable phrasing and charisma. Every note is gold, ringing like a finely crafted bell.

Listening to King’s masterclass performance on record is like stepping into a polaroid, into an organic slice of 1965 life, removed from the inevitable artifice of studio recordings.

Muddy Waters’ Hard Again

Waters made it big in the 50s with classics like “Hoochie Coochie Man,” and was relatively known before that for his acoustic recordings. His music hit a mainstream slump during the rise of 60s rock (ironically, since acts like the Rolling Stones were indebted to him).

He was able to make a comeback with some rock-influenced recordings of his old classics. Hard Again documents this, restating old classics with fresh swagger.

If you’re looking for his original recordings, check out Alan Lomax’s recordings and Fathers and Sons.

Howlin’ Wolf’s Moanin’ in the Moonlight

If you’re looking for straight-ahead electric blues with killer couplets, Howlin’ Wolf is your man. On vinyl, you can hear the spatial interplay between his voice and guitar, with the background drums and piano.

Favorites of mine off the record include “How Many More Years” (those piano triplets are killer!), “I Gave You Water,” and of course, “Smokestack Lightning.”

Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues Singers

Any list of blues records would be incomplete without the inclusion of the guitar legend and myth Robert Johnson.

Admittedly, the actual recordings aren’t as hi-fi as other records you can get. This is understandable since he only had crude equipment to work with in the 30s.

Yet part of the charm of King of the Delta Blues Singers comes from its scratchy, unrefined sounds. Listening to this historical document on record is like sitting in the muggy Texas studio alongside Johnson himself.

Best Sixties Rock Records

Okay, let me get one thing straight: “rock” is such a broad genre, making it near impossible to make a small list of general “rock” greats. However, in the sixties, it was at its most unified and culturally influential.

Given that fact, I’ve lumped rock into two categories: sixties rock and general rock afterwards.

Wish me luck 😛

The Beatles’ Abbey Road

Sergeant Pepper and Revolver are great (with Revolver being my favorite). But in regards to the vinyl medium, I’m choosing Abbey Road.

Why? Because of its 16-minute medley on side 2. All ten songs (and eleven if you count the last “hidden track”) flow immediately into each other, making a single extended performance.

Streaming and CDs can’t really do justice to the seamless medley like a vinyl record can. There’s nothing like dropping the needle and letting eleven songs run without a single interruption – not even a hiccup of digital silence.

Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland

Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced gets all the love, and it’s easy to see why; it introduced the “Hendrix chord” and his iconic “Hey Joe” solo. Plus, it’s got a wicked cool song in ¾ time.

Yet on vinyl, I think Electric Ladyland excels. Sure, it might be a bit long. But with two discs and four sides, each section is masterfully arranged and organized.

What I love most about Electric Ladyland though is Hendrix’s experimentation with song form and order. Several songs are long, with several lush instrumentals. In other parts, the same themes and songs will be split up across the album, creating a fascinating and puzzling experience through and through.

The Velvet Underground and Nico

Aaah, what an album. Brian Eno and David Bowie both called it more influential than the Beatles.

If you’re interested in the more experimental sides of rock music, the Velvet Underground were the original experimenters. Quirkier than the Beatles, they foreshadowed acts like Radiohead.

I love Velvet Underground because it mixes gritty stories of New York with art rock and classical influence. Under the influence of Andy Warhol, it is definitely a product of its times. All the more reason to experience it on vinyl!

Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed

As the world’s oldest touring band and one of the founding bands of rock itself, the Rolling Stones are a rock institution. It’s hard to pick which album shows their talents best.

So, I didn’t even try. While Beggar’s Banquet is my favorite, I think Let it Bleed shows just as much talent with more of their well-known songs. These include groove-driven jams like “Gimme Shelter,” “Midnight Rambler,” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

At their heart, the Rolling Stones are a blues band with rock charisma. Even bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy loved them. Check them out if you haven’t already!

Best Post-sixties Rock Records

Black Sabbath

Even if Black Sabbath only recorded one album, they would still be just as influential as the band that invented metal music. Despite metal’s (misinformed) stereotype as “simple music,” Black Sabbath showed that its ominous sounds had artistic merit.

Listening to their record is like listening to an unearthed, cobwebby gothic novel from the 1800s. They created a spooky image that did more than advertise; it seeped into their music and helped define a genre.

If you’re a fan of everything Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King, Black Sabbath is the original “horror album.”

The Cure’s Disintegration

I think Disintegration’s wall-of-sound production pairs great with a turntable and speaker system. While their music certainly does have chord progressions and standard form, they’re more like fugues than straight rock.

Rather than listening to them with a chord chart, it’s far better to listen to them instrument-by-instrument. Often, Robert Smith bases entire songs off Simon Gallup’s basslines, and everything else snakes around that. A record highlights the space and timbral differences between these subtleties.

Queen’s A Night at the Opera

Of course, this album could be picked simply because of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” As a gigantic milestone in rock, I think this deserves to be in any record collection.

But A Night at the Opera is so much more. “The Prophet’s Song” is just as complex, and other songs use kazoos and scat singing to comedic effect. Equally complex and entertaining, Opera is all-around great music!

Led Zeppelin’s Zeppelin IV

Yup, I’m putting this here because of “Stairway to Heaven,” for all the seventies kids who blasted it on their turntables. But just like A Night at the Opera, Zeppelin’s fourth album is so much more.

Check out the folk instrumentation in “The Battle of Evermore” and the funky time signatures in “Black Dog” and “Misty Mountain Hop.” This is where fine-tuned composition meets head-banging rock!

The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead

Dead might not strike you as an exceptional album on first listen. But this is actually intentional. Morissey and Marr eschewed all the standard tropes of rock, favoring intellectuality and clean tones while keeping it catchy.

The more you listen though, the more you realize the immense talent behind everything. Dead is what happens when exceptional songwriting, playing, and mixing meet in perfect unison.

My personal favorites are “Cemetry Gates,” “Frankly, Mr. Shankly,” and of course, “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.”

David Bowie’s Hunky Dory

If you want Bowie’s most iconic stuff, check out Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Heroes. Both were expansive, experimental, and great!

Personally though, I love Hunky Dory. This album was recorded right when Bowie was branching out from straight-ahead tunes to more experimental ones. Every track is digestible enough to follow, but unique enough to include fun quirks.

Best Hip-Hop Records

Hip-hop has an interesting relationship with vinyl records. When hip-hop got started, it was bought on CDs and cassettes.

Despite this, the best hip-hop albums were created from raw vinyl. Using old-school analog equipment, producers like RZA were sampling their favorite jazz, funk, and soul records.

It’s as simple as this: without vinyl, we wouldn’t have hip-hop as a music form, with its impeccable ransacking of the vaults of record history.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message

“The Message” was the tune that made hip-hop political and social. It’s what made hip-hop dangerous, provocative, and insightful. Plus, Grandmaster Flash and vinyl went together like a hand in a glove.

Grandmaster Flash was a party DJ, carting his huge sound system and vinyl collections everywhere. The Message is not only great social music, it’s a party record built on vinyl spinning.

Nas’ Illmatic

There’s no way I couldn’t include this album. Illmatic ranks as not only one of the best music albums period, but also an insightful text about life in American inner-city projects.

Avoiding sensationalism and shock value, Nas uses his intellect, formidable rhyming, and minimalist beats to narrate vivid stories about growing up in Queensbridge, New York City.

It was great then. It’s even better now, and even more relevant.

Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet

Public Enemy’s group of producers was called the “Bomb Squad,” and their explosive beats certainly reflect the name. As some of the most talented sampling geniuses out there, they layered samples thickly on each other, producing intense beats reflecting their political lyrics.

Unfortunately, African Americans who voiced their concerns through art have been chastised throughout history. They were labeled as rabble-rousers instead of patriots.

Thankfully, Public Enemy didn’t care. They said it like it was, exposing hypocrisy and injustice everywhere. The best part is, they’re still doing it!

All you have to do is check out Planet’s classic single “Fight the Power,” written for Spike Lee’s film Do the Right Thing.

Kanye West’s The College Dropout

Kanye’s first album is, at heart, a love album to classic soul records and spinning vinyl. Kanye broke onto the scene with his fresh take on sampled soul beats, crafting a sound that was as musical as it was catchy.

As you listen to The College Dropout, you can’t help but imagine Kanye gleefully spinning records and sampling them with his beloved MPC drum machine. Lyrically, it covers everything from race and consumerism to gender politics and the education system.

Fortunately for us, it sounds as fresh today as it did 19 years ago.

Best Experimental Records

Straight-ahead music is great. Beautiful solos are inspiring. But sometimes you need to try something new. After all, nothing gets better without challenges and controversy, right?

With that said, here are some records that might stretch what you’re used to.

Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks

Astral Weeks lives in a world of its own. For a man who could spin out chart-topping tunes like “Brown Eyed Girl,” it seems like a 180-degree turn. It uses improvisation like jazz, but people call it rock, but it sounds somehow like folk.

Plus, there’s no clear beat or melody in the instruments. They all just kinda do their own thing, like a 40-minute group improvisation.

I’m making it sound like a pain to listen to, but it’s really not. It’s beautiful and intriguing, and will make you ask, “how did he come up with that idea?”

If you want something approachable, yet challenging, Astral Weeks is a great choice.

Radiohead’s In Rainbows and Kid A

I am a massive Radiohead fan. For anyone looking for their most experimental music, Kid A is your best bet. Personally though, I think it’s hard to match the beauty they created during their experimentation in In Rainbows.

Radiohead is great because each song has multiple “easter eggs” for engaged listeners. It’s as if they sit down and come up with a normal idea, then ask, “what if we messed with it by doing this funky idea?”

The fun is finding those ideas for yourself. And when things are as beautiful as In Rainbows, what’s not to like?

Terry Riley’s Persian Surgery Dervishes

You might hate this one. That’s okay. But for readers looking for a big challenge, Terry Riley’s Persian Surgery Dervishes is a giant challenge in patience and endurance.

Thankfully, Riley isn’t pretentious. He’s genuinely interested in the ideas he has. In this case, he mixed a perfectly-tuned organ with analog delay tapes.

He begins his performance by playing low notes and holding them down, before slowly traversing the keys to the higher registers. For record listeners, this means the analog sound is inherent to the performance.

It’s out of tune to Western ears. It’s slow. The delay gets fuzzy after a while. But here’s the thing: who said those things have to be bad things? The more you listen, the more entrancing it becomes!


Those are my recommendations for the best records to buy for your new turntable! Hopefully, across all my opinions and facts, something piqued your curiosity for your next record store visit.

In the meantime, enjoy learning, and always, ALWAYS, have fun!

Avatar photo

About Brian Campbell

Brian has been playing piano since elementary school and started learning guitar in 7th grade. He teaches K-8 students in Columbus, Ohio, and writes lessons covering a broad spectrum of genres. As a child, he moved back and forth between Colorado and West Africa. He credits those experiences with opening his eyes to the cultural and artistic diversity he appreciates today. Several of his favorite musicians include J.S. Bach, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Radiohead. When not doing music and teaching, you can find Brian reading, hiking, traveling, or making just one more shot of espresso.

Leave a Comment