Five Must Own Albums on Vinyl

On August 3rd 2015 » By Ed Selley

As members of the best vinyl club on the planet, you need no further persuasion that vinyl is a great medium. The tactility, interaction, artwork and above all the way it sounds are a two fingered salute to disposal music, consumed in the same way we might stave off hunger pangs with a store bought sandwich. New records are an intoxicating thing and the pleasure that comes with a new arrival is hard to express without gibbering.

In many ways, the back catalogue is even more exciting. A day pottering through the inventory of a good used record store is a day well spent. The business of used vinyl is a booming one and can be mildly daunting to the uninitiated. As with any area of life where there is money to be made, the unscrupulous can be found and it pays to pay attention. Fuelled by demand, enthusiasm, and yes, hype, the prices of some albums has climbed to the point where they are regrettably not an option for many of us. For those of us that wish to play a record, competing with people that simply want to own it as a part of a collection like a butterfly on a pin can be dispiriting.

There are however a vast array of great albums that can still bought in good order for less than a round of drinks- in fact there are thousands of them. As listing all of them wouldn't make a very snappy blog post, here are five unscientifically collated examples. These are albums that are both greats and also shine on vinyl in a way that they simply don't on digital. You can vehemently disagree with me- in fact I'm rather hoping you make some suggestions for alternative choices in the comments- but I'd urge you to at least listen to this quintet.

revolver

The Beatles Revolver 1966

I'm sure more than a few of you are thinking "The Beatles? how imaginative" but hear me out on this one. Revolver catches the Beatles at a near perfect moment in their album arc. It still packs some truly excellent three minute love songs in the manner of Beatles albums up to this point but balances it with their moves towards psychedelia and the use of the studio as a tool to shape the album rather than a simple means to record it. Put simply, Revolver has a little of every aspect of what made The Beatles what they were and puts it one of the most sublime albums of the decade.

Topping it off is the final track Tomorrow Never Knows. Given that it is now 49 years old and still sounds pretty damn extraordinary, the effect it must have had at launch would have been something to experience. By the by, the album also includes Yellow Submarine proving that even works of sublime genius are allowed a flaw in them too.

Buying a copy

Revolver is not a rare album. It is a quintuple Platinum seller in the states and even allowing for the inevitable wastage over the years, there are still plenty of them about. The even better news for the listener over the collector is that the mono pressing is the sought after version so the stereo copy- which is of rather more use to most of us- is less expensive. Sub $10 examples are generally rather tired (although you might get lucky) but $10-15 will buy you a good listenable copy. It won't be mint but it will be enough to deliver what the album is about and that's surely the point.

Feats dont fail

Little Feat Feats don't fail me now 1974

Little Feat is a band that has had a tremendous influence on a number of other bands- in part down to the line-up having incorporated so many members who had both played for other bands and gone on to play for many more. I'm something of a purist in this regard though and for me, their period of true greatness was the time when Lowell George was part of the band between 1972 and 1978. Pretty much everything that Little Feat released in this period is seriously good but Feats don't fail me now is a great.

The intention was to try and capture some of the excitement of the band's live performances in a studio album and quite how successful this was is open to debate because the overall sound is too slick to ever be a live album. This slickness coupled with great tracks- Rock and Roll Doctor and The Fan in particular are simply sublime and the sense of a group of great musicians having a great time before some of the conflicts of direction make it an endless joy to listen to. Like many albums of this period, the mastering is everything that so many modern albums are not with excellent dynamics and a real separation to it.

Buying a copy

Feats don't fail me now is not as common as Revolver but it is still a strong selling album and one that is widely available. Those of us in Europe usually get a German sourced pressing which is a little bit quieter than its American counterpart at the expense of being a little softer. All of them are very high quality pressings though and $10 or less will generally find you a good one. Like a number of albums on this list, there is at least one 'audiophile' pressing but the ordinary one is plenty good enough.

Off-the-Wall

Michael Jackson Off the Wall 1979

Any discussion of a Michael Jackson album has a slightly inevitable tendency to lurch into a discussion of the man rather than the music and I'm not going to deny that he was certainly a unique individual. To focus on the man though is to ignore a body of work that is truly sublime. Try and forget everything you know about Jackson and just listen to Off the Wall with a fresh set of ears- this is a staggeringly good album.

Why Off the Wall and not a later effort? Simply put, the album has an energy and positivity that stems from many of the creative restraints on Jackson being lifted before it was recorded. Combine this with the flawless Quincy Jones production and turns from truly great session musicians and you have a piece of music that grips and enthrals in a way that later Jackson albums don't achieve as effectively even if they do reach higher points in single songs. As a collection of songs, it takes tremendous beating and although it resulted in five singles, you could have released almost anything from the album to critical acclaim.

Buying a copy

As another very strong selling album, there are plenty of copies available although like Revolver the nature of many of them having young and enthusiastic first owners does mean that many cheap copies might best be described as 'well loved.' As such, once again the $10 boundary is the one that separates the tatty from the presentable. There are at least two audiophile pressings available at higher prices but like so many albums from the seventies, there is precious little wrong with the 'ordinary' version.

Melt

Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel (3/Melt) 1980

One of the more enigmatic recording artists of the last decades, Peter Gabriel is another artist where more of his catalogue is good than bad. His third album- which is simply titled Peter Gabriel like the other three early albums he recorded and leads to either the '3' or 'Melt' being added to differentiate it- is one of the happiest balances of the brilliantly eccentric aspects of Gabriel and the more commercially minded aspect that would see So released six years later.

As such, you get tracks like the decidedly unsettling Intruder with Phil Collins providing percussion and making the earliest use of his 'gated drum' sound and the incredible Family Snapshot which provides a worryingly vivid insight into the mind of a gunman, rubbing shoulders with the brilliant Games without Frontiers and the anthemic Biko. What makes it great is that there is no conflict between the two halves, they lock together and produce an album that is dynamic, exciting and thought provoking but above all, a great listen.

Buying a copy

While less common than some of the albums on the list, there are plenty of examples of Melt available and both the European and US pressings are very, very good. Once again the $10 boundary moves you into something that should be in good condition both inside and out. The Peter Gabriel catalogue spends its life being remastered and there are audiophile pressings at eyewatering prices but like everything else here, the original is a great listen.

The colour of spring

Talk Talk The Colour of Spring 1986

Like a number of other albums on the list, The Colour of Spring finds British New Wave band Talk Talk at a crossroads of their career. Moving away from their pop beginnings, their later albums are critically acclaimed and seriously good but the final nod to pop sensibilities in The Colour of Spring makes it a truly wonderful album. It is also- in my own, possibly worthless opinion- one of the very best recordings ever produced for a mainstream release. Recorded and mastered in Germany, it is one of the last albums where the mastering seems to have been done with a preference to the analogue release rather than the digital.

All of this would be nothing if the music wasn't any good but the soaring vocals of Mark Hollis are matched with some of the most elegant musical arrangements of the 1980s. The celebrated Life's what you make it is perhaps the best known of the tracks- indeed possibly the best known Talk Talk record full stop- but Happiness is Easy and Living in Another World are stunning pieces of music in their own right. The result is a rare example of a nearly perfect album being given a nearly perfect recording. The Colour of Spring is a record that never fails to make me go 'wow' every time I hear it.

Buying a copy

While it was the strongest selling Talk Talk album, The Colour of Spring is less common than some of the other albums on this list. There are fewer copies about but it still should not be too hard to locate a good copy for around $10. As the recording was so good, there are plenty of 'audiophile' versions that have broken cover in the last few years but the original pressing is still an absolute masterpiece so unless you must have a heavyweight version, you might as well go with the original.

As stated at the beginning, these albums are not about owning something than nobody else does. They don't posses especially beautiful cover art and they are unlikely to climb spectacularly in value. They make this list because they are great albums that sound at their best on vinyl and because they are still attainable to those of us with bills, mortgages and other tedious aspects of modern life to pay for. Give them a try and see what you think.

Happy listening

Ed Selley

Ed Selley

Ed is a UK based journalist and consultant in the HiFi industry. He has an unhealthy obsession with nineties electronica and is skilled at removing plastic toys from speakers.

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