The improbable resurgence of vinyl records began around 2007 and hasn’t slowed yet. In 2015, vinyl sales rose 32% to $416 million, their highest level since 1988, the year the format was overtaken by the compact disc. Why is vinyl being embraced by millennials and revisited by older types who sold their collections 20 years ago?
Sure, vinyl has a warm sound and a retro appeal, but there’s something else that makes it ideal for true music lovers: vinyl is wonderfully inconvenient. It forces you to interact with it—to lovingly take an LP out of its sleeve, put it on the turntable and flip it over 25 minutes later. And since skipping tracks is a pain, you’re more likely to listen to an album straight through, with the songs in the order the artist intended.
There’s also the satisfying physicality of records and sleeves, with big, beautiful artwork, liner notes, lyrics and credits, none of which you get with a digital download.
All of this makes vinyl perfect for those who crave a deeper listening experience and a stronger connection with the artists they enjoy.
If you’re looking to start or add to your vinyl collection, consider giving the ten classic albums below a spin. They’re undeniably great on any format, but they beg to be experienced on vinyl. Note: While lots of new music has been released on vinyl in recent years, for this list I’m focusing on the original era when the vinyl LP ruled.
In the Wee Small Hours, Frank Sinatra (1955)
With a program of thematically connected songs about loneliness and lost romance, this record is often cited as one of the first-ever concept albums. Timeless tunes from the Great American Songbook, sparkling Nelson Riddle arrangements and Sinatra’s inimitable phrasing combine to create an intimacy and atmosphere perfect for late-night listening.
A Love Supreme, John Coltrane (1965)
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis may be “the one jazz album everyone should own,” but Coltrane’s masterwork is a more cohesive and emotional statement. The album is a four-part original suite born of Coltrane’s gratitude to God, but make no mistake—it’s not churchy or prim. On the contrary, this is deeply felt, deeply swinging, powerful music performed by Trane’s classic quartet, arguably the best band in jazz history. Supreme, sublime, essential music.
Revolver, The Beatles (1966)
With the melancholy Rubber Soul from 1965, the Beatles began their transition from lovable mop-topped hit-makers to Serious Grown-Up Artists. Revolver represented another huge leap forward, with new sounds (string quartet on “Eleanor Rigby,” Indian instruments on “Love You To,”) and new levels of studio experimentation, all in service of their perfectly crafted songs. Sgt. Pepper is great, but Revolver is the connoisseur’s choice.
I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You, Aretha Franklin (1967)
It kicks off with “Respect,” a track so familiar that it’s hard to hear it with fresh ears. But even without that mega-hit, Franklin’s astonishing debut on Atlantic Records has enough brilliance to cement its classic status. Backed by her own gospel piano and a tight Muscle Shoals band, Aretha turns in one stunning vocal performance after another, including covers of songs by Ray Charles and Sam Cooke that she completely makes her own. This is the sound that would earn her the title Queen of Soul.
Tapestry, Carole King (1971)
King distinguished herself as an ace New York songwriter during the 1960s, cranking out gems that would be huge hits for other artists. By the dawn of the 70s she had moved to California and taken up with the musically fertile Laurel Canyon scene. Tapestry was her second release under her own name and would become one of the best selling albums of all time. Some of the songs had already been hits for others but receive new, stripped-down treatments here. “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” is particularly poignant.
The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd (1973)
Yes, it’s an obvious choice, and no, the list wouldn’t be complete without it (not to say it’s complete with it). Pink Floyd’s masterpiece spent 15 years on the Billboard album chart and it continues to be discovered by new generations of music fans. Working with engineer Alan Parsons at Abbey Road Studios, the band used the most advanced recording techniques of the day to create a seamless, soulful rumination on mental instability and the perils of modern life.
Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder (1976)
Wonder had a remarkable run in the 70s; the three LPs before this one had been smash hits, with two of them winning Grammys for Album of the Year. Songs debuted at No. 1 on the album chart and would become his signature effort; its title an apt moniker for his entire body of work. Released as a double album plus a 7-inch EP and a 24-page booklet with lyrics and information, the project’s ambition was matched by Wonder’s boundless creativity. The songs here, including “Sir Duke,” “I Wish” and “Isn’t She Lovely,” take on social issues and topics of love and relationships in just about equal measure.
Off the Wall, Michael Jackson (1979)
Thriller gets all the attention, but this album laid the foundation. Off the Wall marked the first time MJ worked with producer Quincy Jones, and the result was a mature and confident departure from the days of the Jackson 5. “Rock With You” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” boast infectious dance grooves, while “She’s Out of My Life” showcases Michael’s emotional side.
Murmur, R.E.M. (1983)
R.E.M.’s reputation seems to have waned in recent years, but their first few albums remain indispensable and are ripe for rediscovery. Filtering the Velvet Underground and punk through their own Southern gothic lens, the foursome from Athens, Georgia, played a major role in the rise of college radio and alternative rock. All their early signatures are here on Murmur, the band’s debut LP: jangly guitars, melodic bass lines, enigmatic lyrics. What you won’t hear are 80s clichés like guitar solos and synthesizers. The mix is somehow murky and punchy at the same time and still sounds fresh today.
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Public Enemy (1988)
One of hip hop’s most acclaimed and influential groups is found at the height of its considerable powers on this album, its second. On tracks like “Bring the Noise” and “Don’t Believe the Hype,” Chuck D’s defiant, socially conscious lyrics sit both atop and inside PE’s hard-hitting trademark sound—a dense sonic assault of beats, scratching and ingeniously deployed funk and rock samples.
Yes, there are glaring omissions and dozens of other records I could have listed. What titles would you add?