8-tracks. Cassette tapes. Compact Discs. MP3s.
They’ve all tried to knock King Vinyl off the mountain, but no luck. Rock-and-Roll collectors have been drawn to vinyl records forever, and they always will be.
The sound quality is nice, unless your brother was using it as a coaster. Sure, there’s that faint crackle sometimes, but with vinyl records it’s more than just the sounds stored in those slender grooves. There’s something very tactile about holding a record, a unique hands-on appeal that gives you a feel of control over the music. It’s sturdy and delicate at the same time.
And then there’s the visual appeal of an album — the cover, the sleeve, the liner notes, the pressed vinyl itself. We love to read all the fine print inside that slim square, the liner notes, the lyrics. The artwork from certain album covers imprint on your brain forever. Albums bring us in touch with all the artistry of our favorite musicians.
These are the reasons we love vinyl records. But some albums are more special than the rest.
If you were to begin collecting a stash of Rock records, where would you start?
I’ve compiled my Top 10 list of must-have Classic Rock albums. For the purpose of this blog, I’ve arbitrarily chosen a cutoff mark around 1982. Cassettes started to overtake the music market around then, followed by CDs, so that’s when vinyl became “rare” in my mind.
I’d like to give a tip of the hat to my lifelong friend, Steve, for his insights on the world of vinyl. We spent many hours playing pinball and spinning records in the basement of his childhood home. The man has an impressive collection of albums and a wealth of music knowledge.
So here it is, in no particular order — my list of the 10 Best Classic Rock Albums to Own on Vinyl:
The Dark Side of the Moon (1973): It’s atop many lists for vinyl collectors, and it’s atop this list, too. There’s the iconic prism artwork on the cover and, top to bottom, every track is memorable. It was on the Billboard top 200 for more than 700 weeks.
Physical Graffiti (1975): Double albums get a bump up on my lists, so this one is the Zeppelin record in my Top 10. It’s loaded with amazing & varied songs; I love me some “Custard Pie.” But the unique die-cut album cover pushes this release over the top. You could change what appeared in the windows of the building on the cover by sliding in a different sleeve. A super cool feature.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967): This monumental album fills the obligatory Beatles position on my list. With its rich pop-psychedelia song list and incredible cover/inside art, it is firmly entrenched as a classic among classics. (One time, Steve painstakingly pointed out all of the signs and symbols in the album artwork that supported the rumor Paul McCartney was dead. Hilarious and fascinating.)
The Cars (1978): I’m not sure most folks would have this in their Top 10, but I do. It was one of the most-played records in my house growing up, and the imagery of the smiling beauty with the bright red lipstick behind the steering wheel is permanently etched into my memory. Front to back, every song is a winner for a band that so adroitly bridged the gap between pop rock and new wave.
Ramones (1976): The classic American punk album and band. Fast, loud and true. Four dudes scowling at you in blue jeans and leather jackets in front of a shabby brick wall, just waiting to punch you in the head with their music. And Johnny Ramone subtly flipping you the bird.
Fair Warning — Van Halen
Van Halen (1981): Van Halen’s best work, in my opinion. I love the gritty album art, which reflects the gritty nature of the music contained within. With “Mean Streets” and “Dirty Movies,” the A side is my preferred side. But the B side kicks off with “Unchained,” which probably would rank in my Top 10 greatest rock songs of all time, if I had the time and stamina to sift through decades of possibilities.
Jimi Hendrix Experience
Are You Experienced (1967): The bright yellow album cover and trippy fish-eye portrait of the band grabbed your attention. Then Hendrix proceeded to carve his face into the Mount Rushmore of guitar gods with such hits as “Purple Haze” and “Foxey Lady.” As debut albums go, it’s hard to find any better.
The Rolling Stones
Sticky Fingers (1971): It’s tough to choose just one album from the expansive catalog of the Stones, but the package (pardon the pun) pushes this one to the top. The Andy Warhol-designed cover shows a close up of some guy’s denim-clad crotch — with a working zipper! Are you daring enough to unzip the fly? Is the guy going commando? (Spoiler: He’s not.) I’ve never been able to decide which Stones song is my favorite, but “Bitch” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” are always in the discussion.
Back in Black (1980): The Australian rockers returned from the death of frontman Bon Scott with an instant classic. Everything about this album is great. (Well, maybe not the uncomfortably sexist lyrics on a few of the tracks — that’s heavy metal for ya.) OK, so almost everything about this album is great. Massive songs, the solid black album cover with AC/DC embossed on it, and the gravelly, unforgettable vocals of new singer Brian Johnson. This was the album that made AC/DC a legend, as evidenced by its 25x platinum status.
1999 (1982): This one pushes the envelope on my vinyl timeline cutoff, and it also pushed the envelope on the music scene. I didn’t fully grasp it at the time — I’m more of a Cameo & Gap Band guy — but Prince’s eclectic, funk-infused rock that he unleashed on the world with this album went on to shape the music scene for the next decade. Bonus points for you if you can acquire the original double album format. The title track will forever be one of the great party songs (I realize it’s about nuclear weapons/warfare — I’m still partying to it). And there’s also “Little Red Corvette,” which contains one of the most disgusting lyrics ever written: “You had a pocket full of horses, Trojans, some of them used.” Ew. Gross.
I know what you’re saying: “What about Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, or the Talking Heads, or the Sex Pistols, or Black Sabbath, etc., etc. …” Consider them honorable mentions. If you want those on the Top 10, you’re going to have to make your own list.
Thanks for reading, and best of luck on your next vinyl hidden treasure hunt!