MANY LOVERS OF MUSIC HAVE THE VINYL SAY
10 must-own records for the newest vinyl collectors
Sticking with digital music doesn’t make you any less of a music fan. But if you have the means and you seek a deeper connection to music, a record collection isn’t a bad place to start.
So, you’ve asked for a record player for the holidays. You know that music has never been freer or easier to get in the history of the world, right? Just checking. The vinyl renaissance could be seen as a purposeful attempt to reinvest in the idea of music. Literally every time you buy an album, you’re investing money in music, which makes you that much more likely to spend time with it.
That’s not to say all albums merit close listening — Pitbull ain’t gonna sing any more on a hi-fi audio set-up than your grocery store’s speakers. But there are many albums deserving of more than two distracted minutes of your time over airplane headphones.
Records are about ownership and sentimentality, ideas that digital storefronts have proven are understandably less of a concern than price point for most folks.
If that sounds hokey, we get it. Sticking with digital music doesn’t make you any less of a music fan. But if you have the means and seek a deeper connection to music, a record collection isn’t a bad place to start.
Below, we’ve highlighted 10 records that no collector should be without. Keep in mind that choosing a favorite album is like choosing a significant other: Even a friend you normally respect and consider kin is liable to have wildly different, head-scratching taste. Picking 10 we can all agree on is impossible, so the omissions here will be as glaring to some as the inclusions. (If we missed
your favorite, please forgive us.)
In light of that, we aimed for a list of musically unforgettable albums that are further elevated by top-notch production. That said, some genres are under-represented, as the format tends to work better for some styles (jazz, classical, acoustic) more than others. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get that 8-disk electronic drone set you’ve been dying to hear, but don’t be disappointed if it sounds unremarkable, and dropping the stylus 16 times in one sitting gets old fast.
“Blue Train,” John Coltrane
Jazz just works better on vinyl. Like classical, there is no definitive jazz album (although many posit Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”). For its kind, “Blue Train” is hard to beat. In the style of hard bop, Coltrane and his band play an almost harried form of the genre, like they’re late to catch a bus that’s just blocks away from the studio. In that tempo, the level of virtuosity is astonishing, thanks in no small part to a band that would go on to become a part of Art Blakey’s Art Messengers. There are nerdy takeaways here for aficionados: The saxophonist’s signature “Coltrane changes” make their first recorded appearance on the album. But if jazz is less an obsession than a piece of ambiance, it’s just as copacetic as a dinnerparty soundtrack.
“Once I Was an Eagle,” Laura Marling
If you haven’t heard of Laura Marling, it’s a shame. Though only 26, Marling has been performing professionally for a decade, first as a member of indie outfit Noah and the Whale, and then under her own criminally underrated singer-songwriter project. Marling is as natural and prolific of a folk traditionalist as you like, but “Once I Was an Eagle” makes for the strongest introduction. The album starts with four tracks that blend into one fluid reflection. “When we were in love, I was an eagle and you were a dove,” she sings over the album’s roiling title track. Set the needle on a quiet night and you can practically feel the chill.
“Nighthawks at the Diner,” Tom Waits
This is a relatively deep cut, but a worthy inclusion to any collection. Tom Waits is in noir mode on “Nighthawks,” spinning yarns to an in-studio audience between jazz solos and narrative asides. It’s the rare live album that benefits from its crowd, as Waits works the room like a seasoned stand-up. Through the right speakers, it’s as if you’re there with him, dodging cherry stems and caterwauling along to his bachelor’s credo, “Better Off Without a Wife.”
“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Lauryn Hill
Yeah, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” is on here. But that’s only the steeple of Lauryn Hill’s immense cathedral of a debut. Unlike so many before and after her, Hill didn’t simply interpret soul music on “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” — she also invigorated it. On a song like “Everything is Everything,” you’ll recognize the chandelier-shaking melodies from the heyday of Aretha Franklin, but they’re slid over the hard snap of ’90s hiphop rhythm and Hill’s formidable rapped verse. Harps, clarinets, timpani drums — Hill insisted on retaining the “human element” of music on the album, and you can hear it on the record. On wax or otherwise, it’s as remarkable as it was then (it won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1999) as it is today.
“The Band,” The Band
Go figure that it took a Canadian band to make the best Americana rock album of all time. The so-called “brown album” features The Band’s best-known numbers, ones that even your dubstep-obsessive neighbor could join on the choruses of if the spirit moved him. Famously recorded in a West Hollywood pool house, the album sounds remarkably intimate for how jovial it is, like Robbie Robertson and company were caught in a drunken singalong with old friends. It’s one of those albums that makes the most sense as a record. Few things sound as right as “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” pulled through a stylus.
“The Idler Wheel …,” Fiona Apple
Released in a limited run of vinyl back in 2012, “The Idler Wheel” is hard to find and, like Fiona Apple herself, hard to figure. From her straightforward jazz-pop roots, Apple forges an electric menagerie of songs that pop and smolder in fits. Between the anguish of “Every Single Night” and the ecstasy of “Hot Knife” (the album’s bookends), the music whips from tribal revival to throat-shredding yawps sung in rounds. It’s captivating — harrowing and gorgeous, often at the same time — and ranks high among those special albums that refuses to resign themselves to background music.
“Black Messiah,” D’Angelo
After almost 15 years, D’Angelo followed up his seminal “Voodoo” with another all-purpose masterpiece. As thematically complex as it is, thanks to its slick funk, “Black Messiah” can score parties or a stargazing session just as well as an evening in. The vinyl pressing is a wonderful example of how the medium can breath life into the music. On wax, it’s inflected with a subtle warmth and a good showing of dynamic range that’ll seat you squarely between the bass and drums.
“Pastel Blues,” Nina Simone
There is no single definition of a classic Nina Simone album. You could easily tip “Sings the Blues,” Simone’s RCA debut that finds her in full jazz-standard mode (and her most predictable). What “Pastel Blues” may lack in foxtrot fodder, it makes up for with range. Despite the title, Simone does more than just the blues here, and when she does them, she does the blues in many more hues than one. Consider the emotional breadth between the aw-shucks “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Strange Fruit,” one of the most shattering songs ever written. The distance that strains the limits of the genre. “Pastel Blues” gives you all that and the galloping 10-minute jazz spiritual “Sinnerman.” If you’re only going to get one, none of Simone’s others are as swaggering or topdown complete as this one.
“Random Access Memories,” Daft Punk
Seeing how Daft Punk consciously embraced analog recording and performance in “Random Access Memories,” it’s no surprise that it shines on vinyl. From the tiniest high-hat quiver to the exceptionally massive bass, the electronic duo’s obsessive attention to detail extends into this modern disco classic’s high-quality mastering. On a turntable, it gives you a depth of listening that you just can’t get out of laptop speakers.
“MY WOMAN,” Angel Olsen
The heart of Angel Olsen’s “MY WOMAN” is distended and ripped, coursing blood in thick arcs of guitar. The 29-year-old singer-songwriter sounds above love, looking down on it like a movie critic from the balcony, when she isn’t trawling for its scraps (like on “Shut Up Kiss Me Hold Me Tight”). In turn, she’s never sounded so grounded — both in disillusioned thematics and, with a gnarly electric Gibson guitar in hand, current.
Tom Waits’ “Nighthawks at the Diner” is one of the 10 records you should own. Denver Post file
Megan Chaney alphabetizes albums in the music library of Radio 1190 at the University of Colorado in Boulder in 2009.