Vinyl records are back and back in a big way for so many reasons.
Big time music lovers get the best of the entire music universe when listening on vinyl; vinyl records give the most true music sound, the nostalgic old-school flavor of the spinning black disc and wonderful accompanying cover art. Vinyl collectors know this is the only way to drink in their tunes, but whether you are new to vinyl and just got your very first turnable (maybe you are still looking for a recommendation) or an avid collector you may still be looking for that must-own list or treasure hunting the forgotten favorites.
Current collectors can skip right to the list below for some insight on the best and most sought after records out there.
For the vinyl record newbie, consider what your collecting goals are before you start buying. Perhaps you want to hone in on one genre, maybe you want to impress your guests by showcasing eclectic taste and variety, or maybe you just want some sweet cover art for your walls and shelves.
Any way you want to break into this hobby will work with a little bit of research and a plan. The list below is great for collectors and starters alike, so use it to supplement a collection or a jumping off point, but know this, if you are to be a legit vinyl collector, folks are going to expect these records to be in your collection. A budding collector needs to store this vinyl somewhere – so be sure to check out some media stands that are perfect for record storage.
21 Best Vinyl Records To Own
Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
The world renowned Bob Dylan may be the greatest lyricist of all-time and so owning one of his albums is a must. Blonde on Blonde was released in 1966 and is adorned with the famous portrait of a pensive Bob Dylan in a scarf and coat.
Besides the iconic photo on the cover, “Just Like A Woman” and “Visions of Johanna,” though not super popular back in ’66 were named to Rolling Stone’s Top 500 songs of all-time. Most people will know Bob’s albums Highway 61 Revisted and Bringing It All Back Home, but Bob himself said that Blonde on Blonde was the “closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind.” That being said if you’re a Dylan fan, here is your gateway to Bob Dylan as a man and a musician.
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
The segue from Bob Dylan to Daft Punk is quite a swing, though we said this was going to be a must-own list didn’t we? Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories was released in 2013 shortly after the band was tapped to record the soundtrack for the new Tron movie and received glowing reviews.
The album is a sure crowd pleaser you can break out at your next cocktail party as it is packed with collaborations from artists like Pharrell Williams and Giorgio Moroder (famous for his work on the soundtrack of Scarface). Your guests will nod their heads to the uber-popular “Get Lucky” then get lost in electronica as the party rambles on. The cover art is neat, too; the likeness of a two-faced robot on a simple black backdrop with Random Access Memories scrawled atop.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors
Fleetwood Mac’s magnum opus and Grammy-winning Album of the year (1978) is a must-own for the music and the story behind it. Up to the recording of the album the band went through a lot emotionally with inter-band relationships, the divorce of Christie and John McVie, etc.
Amazingly, despite heavy-stress, Rumors emerged to universal popularity due to its lyrical depth, dreamy sounds and all too human emotion that we all share. The album is packed with hits like “Dreams,” “Go Your Own Way,” and “Don’t Stop.” Fleetwood Mac in terms of style will please just about all taste with their light-rock and pop sounds, and Rumors is their most decorated and loved project.
Michael Jackson – Thriller
Do we need to tell you about MJ’s Thriller?
Possibly the most universally well-known album in the history of music, jam-packed with hit songs that make the worst dancer cut a rug, every vinyl collector will have a copy of Thriller in their library. When it comes to purchasing this album it really comes down to which cover you want. The most sought after is the original with Michael posing in a white suit, but you can go for Thriller 25, the 25th Anniversary Edition that has a few options including an awesome copy with Michael in the iconic red leather suit and a gang of zombie’s from the “Thriller” video surrounding him. Besides “Thriller,” “P.Y.T” is an absolute jam and who can forget “Beat It” and “Billie Jean.”
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Ah, the King of Cool – Miles Davis.
Kind of Blue is as smooth as it comes when you are looking for jazz and falls into the genre “modal jazz” which blends jazz, rock and classical for a fun, happening pace that jumps. This album is iconic as it includes collaborations with legends like John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. In terms of the music, you know it’s important when the Library of Congress preserves it in the National Recording Registry, but, moreover, you know it’s cool when Rolling Stone puts it at number 12 on the list of all-time greatest albums.
The cover art is simple and stylish, a portrait of Miles himself belting out on the trumpet yet with his signature calm, cool demeanor.
Paul Simon – Graceland
Paul Simon, of the famous duo Simon and Garfunkel really broke the mold with Graceland.
On such a fun album of delightfully light poppy hits and fun music (see, “You can call me Al”), this album is often forgotten for the cultural importance it represents in the fight against Apartheid and bringing South African music to the forefront. Simon let it all out with Graceland exploring a capella, zydeco and mbaqanga with his already known pop and rock craft. You’ll have a ball with Graceland as the 1987 Grammy-winning Album of the Year spins to give a fun vibe to your summer barbecue.
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
This album needs little introduction as I’m sure we’ve all heard the hits and the stories that it pairs perfectly with The Wizard of Oz.
Pink Floyd is as deep and curious of a band as there ever was, employing so many different modes and styles of music, it is only by timeframe that they are considered “classic rock” because they are truly one of a kind. Perhaps the most iconic and well-known cover art of a prism refracting light is a perfect symbol of this bands unique style that took rock to an unearthly new realm.
If you collect vinyl you must have this or expect some rolled eyes from friends when you can’t produce it, though it is also required that you own their other smash hit “The Wall.” Do the right thing, buy both albums and get ready for a wild ride.
Radiohead – Kid-A
Get ready for Radiohead, the much-loved, esoteric rockers are hard to classify, but seriously good. While they won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album, I’d bet the academy looks back and wonder how they didn’t also give them the nod for album of the year (which they were nominated for).
Besides owning some cool album art, Kid-A shows some serious flare and individuality by exploring Krautrock, Jazz and New Age Classical while still being influenced in Hip-Hop. Along with multiple sources ranking Kid-A the greatest album of the 2000s, Rolling Stone ranked it as the 67th best album of all-time. We’d love to tell you Kid-A is rock but that’s unfair; Kid-A is at best experimental rock with touches of many genres that will wow you with its edgy, avant-garde formula.
Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A.
You can’t really quantify Bruce Springsteen as a rocker because he is so many things: activist, borderline politician, generation shaper and full-blooded American. Loaded with hits there is no doubt that you and your listeners will rock out to Born in the U.S.A., but any serious collector has one or more of Bruce’s albums in their library.
Whether it is “Glory Days” or “Dancing in the Dark,” you can relive the finer days of America as Bruce takes you on a coast-to-coast journey. One of the beauties of Born in the U.S.A. is that it is such a short album (less than an hour) but so poignant in its delivery.
Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden
The British metal kings rock hard backed by bassist and lead songwriter Steve Harris’ heavy hits and ground breaking fury.
The eponymous 1980 debut album is such a powerhouse that it carved a path for future metal rockers to come forward and built a lasting foundation for Iron Maiden to crush the metal scene for years. The super creepy, yet eye-catching cover art is popular with even non-metal fans. You’ll probably recognize the hit single “Sanctuary,” but either way, metal fan or not, try out Iron Maiden and see how your taste changes from the band that really defined metal.
Lou Reed – Transformer
Lou Reed’s 1972 Album Transformer, produced by David Bowie, is the rock album you’ve always wanted but never knew it. Knowledge of this album will gain you personal style points as the Glam Rock genre is limited and often forgotten.
The reason that this ranks with the best vinyl albums to own is that it is a cult status hit with major rock flare. The cover art is iconic and, though not many know it, was the result of a mistake by photographer Mick Rock who over-exposed the photo but ended up liking it more for its wild imagery. Make sure to study Transformer in full before you share it with a group so you can out smart with knowledge of the great underground success.
Run DMC – Raising Hell
Run D.M.C. may be the group that saved hip-hop and took the genre from fad to fame. Raising Hell is laden with hits, but the collaboration with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way” will never, ever be forgotten.
If you are a rap fan, bow down to Run D.M.C. and Raising Hell because without them, the future of the genre would have been very uncertain. Vinyl is the only proper way to pay homage to this famous group by giving the real studio feel to hits like “My Adidas,” “You Be Illin’,” and “It’s Tricky.” Whether you are pursuing the hip-hop genre or just want a deep variety, you’ll need to own an album like this to lay the foundation.
Beastie Boys – License to Ill
The Beastie Boys debut album License to Ill follows suit from Run D.M.C. on must own hip-hop with its ground-breaking, oft forgotten hits. “Fight For Your Right” will probably be the song everyone rocks out too, but “No Sleep Til’ Brooklyn” will be the jam that takes people back to the hip-hop heyday.
The big time album is another cult hit that is a must own for hip-hop fans, but has an interesting following in the alternative community. The cover art is special; the tail-end of a Boeing 727, tagged with the Beastie Boys logo, is a nifty metaphor for the flight this group was about to take.
N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton
N.W.A. has been brought back to the limelight with their Hollywood hit film named after their mega-hit album. Dr. Dre and Easy-E orchestrated this album which is the pioneering album of Gangsta Rap, and perhaps the main album to bulldoze a path for future rappers. Considering the time it was released and the tumultuous atmosphere it rose against, Straight Outta Compton lashed back against the system with “Fuck Tha Police” and reshaped hip-hop with little regard for push back.
Dr. Dre – The Chronic
Dre’s first solo album after leaving N.W.A. is an absolute classic loaded with hits, most memorably, “Nothin’ But A G Thang” featuring the legend himself Mr. Snoop Dogg. Outside of Biggie’s Ready to Die and TuPac’s All Eyez on Me, there really is nothing more successful or influential in terms of rap albums that The Chronic.
While N.W.A. paved the way, solo Dre defined and distinguished West Coast Rap with this album and set himself apart as the seminal producer of rap music in the US. The cover art is sweet, too: A mean-muggin’ portait of Dr. Dre superimposed onto the Zig-Zag rolling papers logo is all too appropriate for The Chronic. If you are picking up Straight Outta Compton, you’d better grab this too.
David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars
After the tragic passing of David Bowie in 2016, it’s no wonder people are revisiting this musical genius as it seemed like he’d been a bit forgotten in his waning years. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust is more than just glam rock and social commentary, it’s the telling of a story about a rock persona that Bowie created and adopted as himself while he toured.
Stardust is a rock star, alien messenger, and the alter-ego that Bowie lived out. There is no real way to explain this album, you just have to experience it by spinning it on vinyl.
Prince and the Revolution – Purple Rain
Prince fittingly follows David Bowie as we lost both artists last year and their biggest hits are being rediscovered.
Purple Rain ranks only behind Thriller for most successful albums of the 80s, but a lot of people forget this is a soundtrack for the quasi-biographical film of the same name. For Prince, Purple Rain is almost unanimously considered his masterpiece and endless media publications including Time Magazine have considered this very high up the charts on the greatest albums of all-time. Packed with hits, and great for parties, spinning Prince will keep the party going and put a true music gem in your collection.
The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street
You really can’t go wrong with the Stones, in fact you should probably own all their albums.
But Exile on Main Street is the true Stones fan’s album.
Initially, Exile on Main Street didn’t receive the greatest reviews, yet as the band went from rock stars to rock legends, this album was resurrected and relearned. For all the amazing achievements the Rolling Stones have made, looking back on this album we see the true source of their genius; an album with “soul,” rooted in gospel, but demonstrated through rock and blues Exile on Main Street is a music guru’s true study.
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
Speaking of soul, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is exactly the access to that feel good deep soul music. Jazz, Gospel, and Pop all collide in a rhythmic triumph that Rolling Stone has twice named the sixth greatest album of all-time.
Marvin takes a short and sweet approach on this nine-track masterpiece that focuses its smooth and friendly tunes on more serious political issues (like Vietnam). Besides the impact and cultural importance of this album and Marvin Gaye as an artist, the smoothness and grace of What’s Going On will put a smile on your face.
The Beatles – Abbey Road
If you’re reading this, wondering where The Beatles are, believe me, we didn’t forget.
Any vinyl collector has one, two or all of The Beatles albums, but for the purposes of this article we suggest Abbey Road for a few reasons. First, it probably has the most well-known cover art of all-time – The Beatles on the crosswalk of Abbey Road. But, the tracks (though initially not well-received) are considered by many as their best and, thus, the album is often referred to as their masterpiece. When it comes to choosing a Beatles album you’ll get ten different answers from ten different Beatles fans, so start with Abbey Road because it’ll make its way into your collection one way or another anyway.
The Clash – London Calling
The list would not be complete without some punk and The Clash’s London Calling is really the premiere work for the punk, post-punk genre. This album is a jambalaya of musical ingredients with punk, reggae, ska, rockabilly and more.
Besides the creativity and style, fans rave about The Clash for their unbridled approach to social commentary or freedom in handling controversial issues. On Rolling Stone’s most recent list, London Calling ranked as number 8 for the Greatest Albums of all-time, so if you lean at all toward the punk genre you must pick this one up.