10 Best Rock Albums to Own on Vinyl
Ready to rock out? Try spinning these classics.
Perhaps no musical genre is more synonymous with the concept of a vinyl “album” than rock. FM radio was built around such albums — collections of songs meant to be listened to in a particular order — even down to the idea of a “Side One” and a “Side Two,” complete with a few seconds of silence as you turn the record over and place it back on your turntable.
For some, this will be new territory; for others, well-traveled ground. And even if the latter, perhaps your favorite vinyl albums are so well-worn, you need a fresh copy. These are the 10 rock albums you shouldn’t be without.
1. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin
Although rock music has many sub-genres and classifications, this record has it all. Everything is present in enormous proportion, too: big drums, big guitars, and of course Robert Plant’s massive lead vocals. It’s even mixed big, with ping-pong stereo effects that make this even more exciting when listened to on the biggest speakers you can muster, or on a pair of good-quality headphones or earbuds. Granted, Zep borrowed a lot from the Blues, but they made it all their own and while their sound became more complex throughout their discography, their debut album is the essence. And it hasn’t aged a day since 1969 — the definition of a classic.
2. Revolver – The Beatles
There’s lots of buzz about the new Revolver Special Edition box sets, and with good reason. Anyone who loves The Beatles has a particular favorite album, and though Sgt. Pepper often steals the limelight, Revolver is perhaps the best example of the Fab Four pushing all the creative boundaries, both musically and technically. A regular vinyl copy is still an essential part of your collection (preferably the mono version, which was the mix that the four Beatles oversaw and approved), but the new Super Deluxe Vinyl set features complete remixes of the album in both mono and stereo, along with tons of outtakes and demos — all packed onto four half-speed-mastered 180g LPs, plus a seven-inch vinyl EP that contains the “Paperback Writer”/”Rain” single recorded during the Revolver sessions.
3. The Doors – The Doors
What a way to start 1967! Though The Beatles were well known for embracing psychedelia, The Doors gave no quarter with their eponymous debut album, which was released on January 4 of that auspicious year and would go on to sell nearly 20 million copies. Combining the group’s imaginative playing, multiple musical styles and of course, Jim Morrison’s growling vocals, this incredibly well-recorded and produced record might just become one of your favorite albums to show off what your Hi-Fi system can do. Be sure to dim the lights and listen to the last track — the aptly titled “The End” — carefully for an emotional roller-coaster ride that may leave you gasping for breath.
4. Who’s Next – The Who
The Who’s fifth album shows them transitioning from the straightforward heavy rock sound that launched their careers to the more experimental bent of Tommy (the first “rock opera”) and Quadrophenia. Who’s Next not only contains three of rock’s greatest anthems in “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Baba O’Riley” and “Behind Blue Eyes,” it has some of the best-recorded guitars and most powerful vocals in rock history, courtesy of composer/guitarist Pete Townshend and lead singer Roger Daltrey. Legendary lunatic drummer Keith Moon is no slouch here, either, attacking his kit with wild abandon as nimble-fingered bassist John Entwistle holds it all together. Solid listening and a tour de force performance from start to finish!
5. Some Girls – The Rolling Stones
With such a long history and discography, it’s not easy to call out just one Rolling Stones record. But cool and innovative as their early works are, Some Girls is a seminal album for so many reasons. For one thing, it’s the first recording on which Ronnie Wood is a permanent fixture, cementing the lineup that would remain intact from the mid-’70s until bassist Bill Wyman’s 1993 retirement and drummer Charlie Watts’ recent passing. For another, it shows off the group’s creativity, adaptability and sense of humor. For those whose Stones journey began with “Start Me Up,” shift back to Some Girls and bask in the gamut of style presented here.
6. Bridge of Sighs – Robin Trower
You might think it crazy not to include a Jimi Hendrix record in a list like this, and no disrespect to the trail-blazing virtuoso, but I would argue that his albums were somewhat uneven, and that his real legacy came from the way he inspired a lot of other guitarists, including, for sure, Robin Trower. Following his departure from the group Procol Harum (of “Whiter Shade of Pale” fame), Trower adopted the same power trio format, though he never took the lead vocals as Hendrix did, instead handing that task to bass player James Dewar. The playing of all three musicians on this record is staggeringly tight from start to finish, and though the pace of the songs waxes and wanes a bit, it starts and finishes heavy, heavy and heavier still. And thanks to Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick — the man behind the board for this album — the sound is as impeccable as rock records get. A must-listen on vinyl!
7. Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. – Bruce Springsteen
When Bruce Springsteen’s debut album hit the shelves back in 1973, he was being heralded in the press as the next Bob Dylan, but he’s always rocked out a lot more than Dylan ever did. Though Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. received major critical acclaim, it came out of the gate slowly, not reaching multi-platinum status until the spring of 1992, nearly 20 years after its release. If you forget everything else Springsteen has done and go back to Greetings, you can hear the blueprint for so much of the rest of his music and his stunning concert performances.
8. Nevermind – Nirvana
Contrary to popular belief, Nirvana didn’t invent grunge. Seattle had a strong grunge scene going by the mid ’80s. But the group’s second album, Nevermind, hit the airwaves in 1992 to a receptive audience, leading to a chain reaction once it hit MTV — which was at its peak at the time. It’s a thrill from the first track to the last, and in the day, was a welcome change from disco (already on the decline) and hair metal, which had become a caricature of itself. Sit down and listen to both sides of Nevermind from start to finish, and you’ll see why this became one of the best-selling vinyl records of all time, with over 30 million copies in the collections of rock enthusiasts everywhere.
9. Love at First Sting – Scorpions
When this was first released in 1984, the Scorps were at the top of their game — on the airwaves, in heavy rotation on MTV and out on the road supporting the album. Filled with hard-driving tracks, First Sting would eventually go triple platinum and yield no less than four major singles. Nearly 40 years later, this is still one of rock’s ultimate guilty pleasures.
10. The Battle at Gardens Gate – Greta Van Fleet
While some dismissed Greta Van Fleet’s first record as a fluke, their 2021 sophomore effort is every bit as strong, if not better. Where the group’s vocals on their debut album were essentially a copy of Robert Plant’s, they’ve broadened their scope and are delivering their own sound here. If you love your rock heavy and Zeppelin-esque, but want a band you can actually go see, GVF is pretty much the only game in town. Turn this one up as loud as it will go!
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