Remember those round black things you used to buy in a store that primarily sold round black things? You’d take them home and put them on that device that rotated just a little faster than 33 times per minute, and then you’d sit back and listen to beautiful music that changed your life forever? We were right there with you.
We know you can find just about anything on Spotify and Pandora, but nothing sounds as rich and sonically gorgeous as vinyl. The following 10 blasts from the past are in no particular order but a quick note before we get started: Many (if not all) of your favorites are missing, and we know you’re going to tell us how crazy we are to include, in some cases, the second or third-best album from a particular artist or band. To which we say, have at it. Now let’s rock on.
Court and Spark
Joni Mitchell, Asylum Records, 1974
"Laughing and crying/You know it's the same release," Joni Mitchell sings on “People’s Parties.” And that sums up how you feel after listening to this album. No one in the history of rock and roll has ever made introspection (“Down to You”), emotional commitment (“Same Situation”) and even insanity (“Trouble Child,” “Twisted”) sound more beautiful and heartfelt. Everything comes and goes, but Joni is forever.
Jackson Browne, Asylum Records,1973
Jackson Browne was much more than the prettiest face in the California music scene of the early '70s, and this is the album on which he proved it. If you sit between the speakers (assuming you still own a pair), it feels like you’re on stage with one of rock’s finest poets and a killer band that features the great David Lindley. Acoustic guitars and grand pianos rule the day, to say nothing of guests including Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt and Elton John.
St. Dominic’s Preview
Van Morrison, Warner Brothers Records, 1972
Never quite as celebrated as "Astral Weeks" and not quite as radio-friendly as "Moondance," "Preview" nevertheless stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Van’s gems. Whether getting crazy-funky on “Jackie Wilson Said,” channeling Count Basie on “I Will Be There,” or mutating from man to beast on “Listen to the Lion,” Van the Man doesn’t make one false move on this classic. Well worth tracking down this vinyl record.
Blood on the Tracks
Bob Dylan, Columbia Records, 1974
If you could somehow take Ingmar Bergman’s "Scenes From a Marriage," add a killer band and have the story narrated by a guy who sings like a bitter, sarcastic prairie dog, you’d have Bob Dylan’s magnum opus. Ambivalent feelings about love have never been portrayed more lucidly than they are on this record. Listen to Dylan’s perfectly imprecise picking on “Buckets of Rain.” He wanted it that way, scraping fingernails and all.
What’s Goin’ On?
Marvin Gaye, Motown Records, 1971
Marvin Gaye put his butt and contract on the line in the early '70s to make this gorgeous, unsettling concept album. On the surface it’s all smooth, cool, jazzy soul. But just beneath is pure dread. “Crime is increasin’/Trigger happy policin’,” sings Gaye on his deeply moving masterpiece. And money-back guarantee if you don’t get chills when he wails on “Save the Children.”
The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle
Bruce Springsteen, Columbia Records, 1973
The album where Bruce stopped trying to reinvent Dylan and got busy reinventing Van Morrison — to much greater effect. From the Wilson Pickett-meets-Allen Ginsberg ethos of “The E Street Shuffle” to the string-laden “New York City Serenade,” Bruce weaves New York/Jersey Shore characters and story lines together, backed by a muscular R&B band that had spent five years on tour to sharpen their attack. Nothing Springsteen has done since has equaled the frenetic power of “Rosalita.”
Marshall Crenshaw, Warner Brothers, 1982
Combining the poppy hooks of The Beatles with the wised-up worldliness of Elvis Costello and adding just a touch of Buddy Holly, Marshall Crenshaw brought seamless craft, melody and — most importantly — fun back to rock and roll in the early '80s. From the pinging water glass chime of “Cynical Girl” to the 50s-style rock of “Someday Someway,” Crenshaw makes you feel like you’re 17 again and in love for the first time — all in under three minutes a song.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles, Capitol Records,1967
Duh! Rolling Stone pronounced it, “The most important rock & roll album ever made.” It will take a hunt but you can find this vinyl record with a bit of work.
Steely Dan, ABC Records, 1978
Do us a favor — close your eyes and let "Aja" fill your head. From the snarky little kiss-off to an ex-girlfriend turned starlet (“Peg”) to the slow, funky retelling of the Ulysses myth (“Home at Last”) to Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's jazz-inflected masterpiece ("Deacon Blues"), this exquisitely engineered record is the audiophile gold standard. In fact, they used to play "Aja" in stereo equipment stores back in the day just to seduce you into buying a new set of speakers.
Exile On Main Street
The Rolling Stones, Rolling Stones Records, 1972
This brilliant, decadent album — once yawned over — is now fawned over by countless critics who think it’s the best, most primal music the Stones ever produced. Whether dropping his cold, indifferent mask on heartbreakers like “Shine a Light” or strutting like a rooster on acid on “Rip This Joint,” Mick and the boys never swung harder. The only downside: You’ll have to get up twice (double albums, remember them?) to turn the records over.
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