Compiling a list of the best albums to own on vinyl is no small task.
There’s a staggering amount of music history to consider, and at the end of the day, you could ask ten different people and get ten completely different lists.
But I can conclude one thing for certain: there’s no better way own music than the beautiful canvas of vinyl.
Our list of essential albums spans genres and eras. There was only one core criteria; for an album to make the list, it had to be considered a classic or push the boundaries in a meaningful way.
Below are the albums we selected. Let us know which albums would make your list in the comments section.
Kate Bush – The Hounds Of Love
Hounds of Love is a masterpiece of the 1980s. Kate Bush embraced the production techniques and new synthesis technology of the time but still managed to produce a timeless body of work that sounds fresh to this day.
An album of two distinct halves, side A is a pop-forward collection of the hits, while side B showcases the more avant-garde, conceptual side to her songwriting. Entitled The Ninth Wave, side B tells the story of a woman drifting alone in the sea at night.
Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon
For the iconic album cover alone, no collection is complete without a copy of the ubiquitous Dark Side of The Moon.
The album has sold an estimated 45 million copies and is among the biggest selling albums ever. New collectors continue to snap up copies of this experiential classic, demonstrating how iconic albums are capable of breaking down generational boundaries.
An experience best enjoyed in a dimly lit, atmospheric room, the album explores the human condition through timeless subjects such as conflict, greed, time, death, and mental illness.
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Jazz music just suits the warm cozy sound of vinyl, and they don’t come much better than the best-selling Jazz album of all time.
The tone, atmosphere, and musicianship on Kind Of Blue is outstanding to say the least. Jazz music isn’t for everyone; it’s full of virtuosity, improvisation, and complexity. If you’re new to the genre, the sweet dulcet tones of Miles Davis’ trumpet are a great place to start.
The Doors – The Doors
The Doors debut album pushed boundaries, opened minds, and explored universal topics of self-exploration. It’s a true classic that is as relevant today as the day it was released.
For the best experience, check out the recent VMP re-issue of this timeless record, which also includes a clear vinyl copy of the classic single Light My Fire.
Legendary frontman Jim Morrison wore his heart on his sleeve and fully embraced the social revolution of the 1960s. His devil-may-care approach took audiences on a journey of self-discovery that endeared him to a generation.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
The album that could easily never have seen the light of day. Rumours is among the biggest selling albums of all time, and in my view, suits vinyl down to the ground. In particular, the dry 1970s drum sound really shines through.
Sometimes, we create our best work through times of hardship, and this certainly applies to Rumours. The well-documented tales of sex, drugs, and incestuous band relationships add to the magic and fire that make Fleetwood Mac’s flagship album so universally appealing.
Discover the full story behind Rumours, here.
Michael Jackson – Thriller
Thriller remains the biggest selling album of all time, with 70 million copies sold worldwide. It’s estimated over 27 million of these copies are vinyl records.
The album is a pop classic and owes much of its success to a string of music videos from Billie Jean to the title track, Thriller. The album deserves every success and quite rightly transformed MJ into a pop icon. To this day, the zombie dance and MJ’s red jacket remain iconic pop culture elements of the 1980s.
Oasis – What’s The Story Morning Glory
Few albums define the 1990s like What’s The Story Morning Glory. Recorded in just two weeks at Rockfield Studios in Wales, songwriter Noel Gallagher would effortlessly produce an album that defined a generation.
And while some prefer the raw sound of the band’s debut album, Definitely Maybe, Noel’s songwriting on the band’s second album progressed to include string arrangements and more depth of instrumentation that helped them move from a cult band to stadium-filling superstars. Many of the songs are still considered generational anthems over 25 years later.
The White Stripes – Elephant
With an appreciation for the vintage aesthetic, Jack White proudly claims not a single computer was used during the writing and recording of 2003’s Elephant.
Recorded at Toe Rag studios on an eight-track tape machine and pre-1960s recording gear, Elephant is the ultimate analog album recorded in the 21st century.
A particular highlight is the gritty blues track, Ball & Biscuit, which takes its name from the vintage microphone Jack White sang into at the studio.
Neil Young – After The Gold Rush
Neil Young released his third studio album, After The Gold Rush, in 1970 to a mixed reception at the time. It’s a gritty and raw collection of work that owes much of its sound to a makeshift basement studio.
The untethered sound of the guitar solo on “Southern Man” represents Neil Young at his finest.
The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
As famous for the Andy Warhol design album cover as the music itself, the seventh studio album from The Stones remains a must-have in any record collection. If you can get your hands on an original copy with the real working zipper, you’ve got a real collector’s piece on your hands.
T-Rex – Electric Warrior
The second album from Marc Bolan bearing the name ‘T-Rex’ represents a turning point in his musical direction. Gone were the folk-inspired roots from the band’s Tyrannosaurus Rex’ days, replaced instead by a full embrace of the electric guitar and the beginnings of glam-rock in the UK.
David Bowie might be the bigger household name from the 70s glam scene, but any decerning record collector owes it to themselves to discover this hidden gem.
Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You
Featuring the huge hit “Respect”, the tenth studio album from the queen of soul is an essential album to own on vinyl.
At the time of release, the album went to number 2 on the Billboard album chart and is now regarded as one of the best albums of the 1960s.
Wu-Tang Clan – Join The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) revolutionized ’90s rap and received critical acclaim in the process.
The album’s rough and ready rawness has a timeless quality that helped shape the future direction of East Coast hip hop, and for that alone, it’s one of the best albums to own on vinyl. Check out our full review of the album here.
Nirvana – Nevermind
The album cover for Nevermind is one of the most recognizable of the 1990s, and with so much controversy surrounding the lawsuit from Spencer Elden (the featured naked baby), this classic album cover could soon be confined to the past. Best get yourself a copy on vinyl with the original cover while you can.
Political infighting aside, Nevermind transformed the music scene at the time, brushing aside the dominance of hair metal and ushering in the grunge era.
Radiohead – OK Computer
OK Computer is one of the best albums to own on vinyl.
Playing into the vinyl format, standard side labeling of A,B,C,D or 1,2,3,4 is disregarded – replaced instead by Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo.
Look closely at the run-out grooves and you’ll also notice a number of quirky hidden messages etched into the deadwax.
Learn more about hidden dead wax messages, here.
Queens of The Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf
Some of the best albums to own on vinyl are the ones that represent albums as an art form.
With that in mind, Songs for the Deaf is a classic example. Some might call it a concept album as you’re taken on a drive through the California desert from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree, tuning into radio stations along the way.
Songs for the Deaf is an album best enjoyed from start to finish making it perfect for the vinyl medium.
Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP
In the early 2000s, there was no escaping The Marshall Mathers LP. From a songwriting perspective, it’s a deeply personal album, including Eminem’s reflections on his rise to fame.
The legendary Dr Dre played a huge part in producing the album, and you’re also graced with the presence of some huge guest appearances from Dido to Snoop Dog. It’s an album that defines the early 2000s, and for that, it deserves a place on your record shelf.
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain
Maggot Brain is an LSD-fused psychedelic/funk fusion.
The mind-bending guitar-focused opening track features fuzz and wah effects first pioneering by Jimi Hendrix. It’s thought that band leader George Clinton asked guitar player Eddie Hazel to play as if he’d been told his mother was dead. Now regarded as a classic, it’s certainly a dark, genre-bending opener that pushed boundaries at the time.
Queen – A Night at The Opera
Best known for the epic Bohemian Rhapsody (a single that defies the idea singles should be short and sweet), A Night at The Opera is a diverse body of work that solidified the band’s success.
Unlike the band’s first three albums, A Night at the Opera was recorded using 24-track rather than 16-track tape. This change alone represents the ambition of the band for this timeless classic.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Blood Sugar Sex Magik embodies the chili peppers at their best. Recorded at an LA mansion, and not a recording studio, it’s quite possibly their best-sounding album as well as their most musically accomplished.
Future releases from the band would depart from their funk-rock roots for a pop aesthetic. For many, including myself, Blood Sugar Sex Magik represents a sweet spot between pop songwriting and musical virtuosity.
The Beatles – Revolver
Revolver depicts the Beatle’s transition from live performers to studio innovators. The band built on the success of Rubber Soul to produce what at the time was their most ambitious studio production to date.
The style and themes showcase their growing interest in psychedelia and LSD. “Tomorrow Never Knows”, with its Indian influences and experimental tape loops, is a real highlight on what is my personal favorite Beatles album.
Adele – 21
21 is the second studio album by English singer-songwriter Adele, released in 2011 when the singer was just 21 years old. This Grammy and Brit Award-winning album was composed during the separation from her then-partner, and is a classic example of how heartbreak and introspection can provide the most evocative inspiration for music, of which we can all relate.
Whilst 21 maintains the Motown and Soul influences of her 2008 debut 19, it was further influenced by the American country and Southern blues music she was exposed to during the North American leg of her 2008-09 tour. The cigarette breaks with her Nashville-born and bred tour bus driver introduced her to the Bluegrass and Rockability genres. You can clearly hear the influence of these styles in the tracks of 21, with their narrative structure and immediate, heartbreakingly honest themes.
The album kicks off with my personal favorite tracks – ‘Rolling in the Deep’, and the foot-tapping ‘Rumour has it’. There is good reason that this album has made it both on to the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and into the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
There would arguably be no Adele without Amy. The spiraling success of Back to Black drove the success of British soul music throughout the 2000s.
Back to Black, her second and final album is predominately based on her tumultuous relationship with her ex-boyfriend, who she later married before her all-too early death at just 27.
Back to Black was widely acclaimed for Winehouse’s incredible songwriting and emotive singing style, and produced five hit singles, my favourites being ‘Tears Dry on Their Own’, and ‘You Know I’m No Good’.
Prince – Purple Rain
The most pop-forward album from Prince’s career, Purple Rain is regularly listed as one of the greatest albums of all time. It was also inducted into Grammy Hall of Fame and added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”
Portishead – Dummy
Dummy popularised the Trip-Hop genre in the 90s. The critically acclaimed debut album from the Bristolian group is the perfect introduction to the style. Also, see fellow Bristol group Massive Attack for a similar vibe.
James Brown – Soul On Top
Every record collection needs a little James Brown. I was lucky enough to see James Brown live as a support act for the Red Hot Chili Peppers shortly before his death
Few performers have the kind of attitude, style and delivery of James Brown. Soul On Top features an excellent arrangement of Brown’s funk hit “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”.
Metallica – The Black Album
Metallica broke away from their thrash metal staple sound with 1991s self-titled “black album”.
The album’s heavy but slower and more melodic sound produced some of the band’s most recognizable songs and extended their reach well beyond the metal genre.
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
Considered one of the greatest jazz records of all-time and Coltrane’s pinnacle masterpiece, A Love Supreme is jazz music at its finest.
Coltrane plays tenor sax, leading a quartet consisting of McCoy Tyner on piano, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones.
The whole album was recorded in one session, broken into four movements. Let the music cast its majestic spell over you as you enjoy this highly influential album on vinyl.
A Love Supreme cast its influence well beyond the usual jazz circles, with the likes of Santana praising the album as a significant influence.
Black Sabbath – Paranoid
Fueled by their experience of gloomy industrial Birmingham, Black Sabbath helped pave the way for heavy metal. Paranoid features some of the band’s most recognized songs, including Paranoid, War Pigs, & Iron Man. If you want to understand the metal genre, you must first explore the crushing guitar riffs of early Black Sabbath.
Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures
An icon of the post-punk era. Unknown Pleasures is one of the best albums to own on vinyl, if only for the iconic album cover alone.
Described by many critics of as one of the greatest albums ever made, the album has tones of the Velvet Underground and The Doors while also delivering its own dystopian futuristic sound. It has a mysterious and gloomy character shown through stark, honest performances. It’s a highly influential album and a must-have for any vinyl collection.
The Best Albums to Own On Vinyl – Summing Up
I honestly found this list very difficult to compile. Not just because selecting a shortlist and then narrowing it down was difficult, but also because musical taste is very subjective.
We could easily keep going into the 1000s and still name a plethora of albums worth owning. Ultimately, the best albums to own on vinyl are the ones that bring you joy day-to-day.
Now it’s over to you. Let us know which albums you couldn’t live without in the comments below.