Essential Vinyl: 30 Albums Every Record Collector Must Own

Although streaming reigns supreme in the music world, the physical medium has returned with a vengeance. Vinyl record sales have been at an all-time high since the advent of the streaming age. And everyone from your younger cousin to your cool neighbor probably has, at the very least, a modest record collection. Sure, it’s way more convenient to hit play on your phone and listen to your favorite tunes, but there’s an unimpeachable charm in owning a physical version of a beloved album. So, if you’re a newbie record collector, the only question is “Where should I start?”

Well, here at Cool Material, we certainly have a strong passion for crate digging. So, we decided to put together a list to get you started. This isn’t a list of obscure picks to impress your audiophile friends. These are the essentials, the records that are tried and true classics. From here, you can go down the rabbit hole searching for rarities. The albums on this list will be relatively easy to find and inexpensive. Speaking of.

Where to Shop For Vinyl

The easiest answer is your local record shop. Even if there isn’t a dedicated vinyl purveyor in your small town, there’s likely an independent shop nearby. And, especially as a beginner, it might seem daunting to flip through the stacks, our biggest piece of advice is to just dive in. Your neighborhood record shop will likely have most if not all of the albums on this list so if you need a place to start, this is it.

And if you prefer to shop digitally, there’s no better source for vinyl records than Discogs. The online marketplace is a dedicated hub of vinyl enthusiasts selling LPs, EPs, and singles. So, if you’re ever on the hunt for a specific edition or a limited release, you’ll likely find it here.

Also, sites like Target, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others have surprisingly solid stocks of records. So, if you want the ease of Prime shopping, add a record to cart and get listening.

Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
This is the album that “unlocked” jazz for so many folks. The genre went from “something my dad listened to” to “I can’t get enough of this.” Miles Davis’ 1959 album features all of the trademark smooth coolness befitting the Prince Of Darkness. Kind of Blue is a masterpiece and absolutely deserves a spot on your shelf, even if you’re a jazz newbie.

Discovery – Daft Punk
With the break-up of the revolutionary electronic duo Daft Punk, their work has become increasingly more sought after. And, for good reason. The French DJs/producers reinvigorated the electronic genre with their 1997 release Homework and followed that up with Discovery, a chart-topping sensation. While it might not be as cohesive as Random Access Memories, Discovery is a fantastic album that keeps the vibes going all night long.

Abbey Road – The Beatles
There’s no better way to break down a dinner party than by asking what the best Beatles album is. Frankly, we’re not here to settle that debate. But we do think owning at least one of their highly influential albums is essential. Our pick is the final album the band recorded: Abbey Road. The cover art is often parodied and many of the tracks are a touch saccharine but listen to this album start to finish and you’ll understand how these four enraptured fans the world over.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s second studio album is often considered one of his best. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is full of the energy that made it clear Dylan was going to “make it big.” The folk musician had released a masterpiece. And, while many of the songs on this album became hits, it’s the hidden gems that make it so essential. While away a Sunday morning with this fantastic album.

Kid A – Radiohead
However you feel about Radiohead, you can’t say they didn’t have an impact on the music industry. Ok Computer was a classic the moment it was released and the English rock band followed it up with a divergent yet no less beloved album in Kid A. Minimalist, progressive, and esoteric, Kid A is a controversial but undeniably important record.

The Chronic – Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre’s The Chronic is one of the most legendary rap albums of all time. Not only was Dre’s first solo album a commercial success, it’s gone on to garner serious critical acclaim. It’s a thumping sensation of an album dripping with Dr. Dre’s signature confidence and smartly placed samples throughout. Pick up this album if you see it – you won’t regret it.

Buffalo Springfield – Buffalo Springfield
You might only know the lead single “For What It’s Worth” from this classic folk rock album, but that doesn’t matter. You still need to own this record. Buffalo Springfield was a short-lived group featuring members who would go on to have storied careers like Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Bruce Palmer, Dewey Martin, and Richie Furay. Buffalo Springfield is a certified jam start to finish with songs that still feel timeless.

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels
Honestly we could have put any of the four albums El-P and Killer Mike have released together on this list. But, we’re going to go ahead and recommend their first Run the Jewels record. The duo have yet to misfire on any of their albums and the first one is a stone-cold classic with fantastic production and the lyrical flow you’d expect from these two titans.

I, Jonathan – Jonathan Richman
There’s something so disarming about this album cover from Massachusetts native Jonathan Richman. Richman got his start forming the punk band The Modern Lover before a successful solo career. His fourth album, I, Jonathan, might be his best with its blend of pop, rock, and folk. The lo-fi charm of the record makes it feel immediate and personal in the best way. Plus, the recent re-release of the album means it’s much more accessible than it used to be. Get yourself a copy and get lost in Richman’s tunes.

Demon Days – Gorillaz
I don’t need to explain exactly how iconic the band Gorillaz is. The art-project-meets-musical-act is ubiquitous in pop culture. So it’s sometimes easy to overlook just how good they are. And Demon Days is arguably the band’s best album. The album artwork is classic and the songs held within the double LP are fantastic. Producer Danger Mouse managed to blend the band’s hip hop and stadium rock genres into a cohesive groove that permeates the entire album.

Celia & Johnny – Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco
One of the all-time great music collaborations. Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco linked up for this instant classic Salsa record. From the moment the needle hits vinyl, it’s just hit after hit. In fact, the Library of Congress included it in the National Recording Registry due to its cultural impact. Original copies of this one are few and far between but, if you see this album, get it.

Stop Making Sense – Talking Heads
True Talking Heads fans would likely recommend one of the band’s excellent studio releases, but, if you’re just starting your collection, Stop Making Sense is an essential pick. The live record features many of the band’s best tracks along with the hit dance track “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club. There’s a bit of a stigma against “best of” albums but Stop Making Sense is a cohesive unit all on its own.

Blue – Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell has a diverse, complicated discography that leaves fans and critics debating which could be considered the best. Still, Blue is often deemed one of, if not the best Joni Mitchell album. In fact, it’s gone down as one of the greatest records of all time. This classic folk album belongs on every record collector’s shelf.

Maggot Brain – Funkadelic
No record collection is complete without a little P-Funk. And Maggot Brain from Funkadelic is a fantastic addition to your vinyl lineup. To some, a 10-minute opener might seem long. To us, it’s perfect. Follow that up with track after track of funk hits — “Hit It And Quit It” is a standout — and you’ve got a killer album on your hands.

Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin
Even if classic rock isn’t your jam, Led Zeppelin has to be in the mix. And, if you need a place to start, pick up Led Zeppelin IV. The fourth studio album from the legendary English rock band was released in 1971, after being recorded for three months in a Victorian home. The album includes some of their most iconic tracks: ”Black Dog,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Going to California,” among others.

What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye’s groundbreaking soul record just celebrated its 50th anniversary and remains just as vital as it was in the 70s. Gaye manages to balance socio-political commentary with genuine grooves on an album that is largely considered the single best album of all time. Even if you wouldn’t make such a bold claim, What’s Going On is essential. Sit back with a cup of coffee and lounge on a weekend morning.

John Prine – John Prine
It’s baffling that John Prine hasn’t become a household name. The country/folk musician is among America’s best storytellers, recounting the trials of everyday life in beautifully detailed songs. If you want to trace modern folk and Americana to its roots, John Prine is a solid place to start. While we could recommend many of his records, we’d suggest starting with his timeless debut album.

Stankonia – Outkast
Fans of modern-day Southern rap have Andre 3000 and Big Boi to thank. The duo’s blend of hip hop, funk, and gospel gave way to a genre that blossomed in the Southeast. Outkast’s crown jewel very well might be their fourth studio album Stankonia with hits like “Ms. Jackson” and “So Fresh, So Clean.” The record was a hit when it was released and has retained a significant cultural impact.

At Folsom Prison – Johnny Cash
The Man in Black’s legendary performance at Folsom Prison is captured in all its raw glory in this recording. Cash had to wait over a decade to pull this off, as he wanted to perform and record at a prison after the release of his hit “Folsom Prison Blues.” In 1967, he finally got the chance to do so, and the rest is history.

The Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground
Thanks to the album’s iconic artwork, The Velvet Underground & Nico is just as much a work of art as it is a classic garage rock record. This influential album was said to have launched the career of dozens, if not hundreds, of rock bands. Plus, it happens to be a great album all its own.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars – David Bowie
Bowie is another artist with a diverse, complex discography spanning decades and a variety of genres. With so many fantastic albums, it’s hard to choose one “essential” starter. But, it might have to be The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, largely considered his best album. Bowie’s fifth studio album launched his infamous character Ziggy Stardust and cemented Bowie’s legacy as a true, groundbreaking artist.

Rumours – Fleetwood Mac
Is this an obvious pick? Sure. Ask any record store owner and they’ll likely tell you this is their bestseller. But, for good reason. The Grammy-winning album is stellar on its own and the combination of acoustic and electric instruments makes for a great vinyl listening experience. Yes, the creation of the album was fraught with turmoil but the result is a beautiful piece of music history.

Bad Girls – Donna Summer
Every self-respecting record collector needs at least one album from the Queen of Disco. No one recorded jams like Donna Summer. And Bad Girls is among the jammiest. It’s regarded as Summer’s best album and was universally acclaimed at its release. The double album on vinyl will make for a fantastic night of groovy tunes.

Let It Bleed – Rolling Stones
Is Let It Bleed the best Stones album? Maybe not. But it is a classic that arguably showcases the best of the British rock band’s blues meets hard rock style. While the album doesn’t exactly feature any chart-topping singles, Let It Bleed managed to unseat Abbey Road in the UK top 10 and peaked at number 3 in the US. It’s a stellar album that makes for essential hard rock listening.

Automatic for the People – R.E.M.
There’s a case to be made that R.E.M. is one of America’s greatest rock bands. The alternative group from Athens, GA paved the way for alt rock’s popularity and the rise of college radio. While their early work is beloved for its rawness, later releases like Automatic for the People feature a sheen of high-quality production that elevates the band. Automatic for the People is a great place for newcomers to start their dive into R.E.M.’s discography and features some stone-cold classics.

Paul’s Boutique – Beastie Boys
Completely composed of samples, Paul’s Boutique ushered in a new era of hip hop. The brilliant sound owes as much to the Beastie Boys as it does the Dust Brothers, who produced the album. While often overlooked because of the success of Licensed to Ill, Paul’s Boutique is an auditory pleasure when played on a turntable.

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
While most of these picks are classics from years past, this is a modern essential. Fleet Foxes’ self-titled release is a contemporary folk masterpiece and rocketed the band to mainstream success. On vinyl, the quiet brilliance of the songwriting flourishes and provides an afternoon of easy listening.

Look-Ka Py Py – The Meters
If you’re looking to take a deeper dive into the world of funk, there’s no better place to start than The Meters. The seminal New Orleans funk band is at their best when their music is relaxed, cool, and inviting. And that’s exactly how we’d describe their second album Look-Ka Py Py. The instrumental funk album is absolutely stellar start to finish and perfect for your next dinner party.

Purple Rain – Prince
How could we choose just one album from an artist with such a robust catalog? It’s a tough choice but we took the easy way out with one of Prince’s most accessible records. A full, indulgent pop album, Purple Rain is one of Prince’s best. And its legacy alone earns it an essential spot in our list.

The Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson
The album cover is certainly one of the most striking on this list but the album itself is also one of the most influential. We have King Crimson to thank for the development of garage, psych, prog, and experimental rock. Even without all that history, The Court of the Crimson King is a weird, surreal, beautiful album that, if nothing else, is sure to be a conversation starter.