We generally try to steer clear of alarmism. The Internet has enough of that. But we’re going to make an exception right now and drop some Infowars-level doomsaying on you: the CD is dying a horrible death. For the last two years, revenue from music streaming services has surpassed sales of CDs. And the trend doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. It’s time to retire the 5-disc boombox, man.
Now don’t worry; if you still long for a tangible representation of your music, it’s all good. In 2015, vinyl sales surged by 30 per cent, marking the tenth consecutive year LP sales have grown considerably. It would serve you well to hop aboard the phonographic bandwagon (if you haven’t already, that is). Vinyl is warmer, more soothing, and easier on the ears than the frigid ones and zeroes in your iTunes playlist. It’s the way music should be heard.
Of course, to fully appreciate the advantages of analog, you want to make sure it’s the right music. Relax; if you really want to re-buy your collection of Dave Matthews Band albums on vinyl, we won’t judge you (too hard). But just as there are certain books every man must read in order to call himself a grown-up, there are certain records you must own in order to call yourself a respectable human being — or, you know, a music lover. These are records that stand the test of time — that take you on an immersive aural journey of the highest order. They’re the vinyl you will pass down to your children (because they sure as hell want nothing to do with your CD wallet).
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (1970)
Miles at his most visceral. Bitches Brew captured the anguish of living in America just as the Civil Rights movement was falling apart and the war in Vietnam was raging. All that calamity was channeled into this double-album full of spur-of-the-moment thrills, brooding darkness, and rhythmic innovation: two bassists, three drummers, three electric piano players, and a percussionist, all playing at the same time. This album didn’t just invent jazz-rock; it discovered a new way to think about what music could be.
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Pretty much the greatest rock album ever made, by the greatest rock band to ever rock. It’s Zeppelin at their heaviest, headiest, and horniest. A swaggering gang of alpha musicians in full flow. No other album has a greater opening one-two punch than “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll.” No other drumbeat is more jaw-slackening in hi-fi than “When the Leevee Breaks.” Over forty years later, high school kids still crank this thing while hot-boxing their parents’ cars. Forty years from now, they’ll be doing the exact same thing in their parents’ self-driving airspeeders.
A Tribe Called Quest – Low End Theory (1991)
The smoothest union of hip-hop and jazz ever pressed to record. Not no Parkay, not no margarine. Strictly butter, baby. When Low End Theory was released, it pushed the sonic envelope of the entire rap game. Today, it’s a Classic Rap staple. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg trade verses like Lennon and McCartney, complimenting each other better than cookies and milk. Plenty of rappers have tried to ape this sound; none have made it sound this easy.
Radiohead – Kid A (2000)
How to disappear completely? Start a record collection without this in it. You’ll never be invited to another cool party again.
The Beatles – Revolver (1966)
You know what? Fuck Sgt. Pepper’s. Revolver is the Beatles’ true crowning achievement. It did everything Sgt. Pepper’s did — rampant leaps in imagination, studio wizardry, a dismantling of the rock idiom — only with less marketing and fancy packaging. And they did it with less pretension and in less time: sessions for this album spanned two-and-a-half-months, compared to the five months it took to record Sgt. Pepper’s. After George Martin created his own label, the group was given the freedom to create a record without anxious record execs breathing down their necks. This was our introduction to the Beatles’ ids — when they finally turned off their minds, relaxed, and floated downstream.
Lovage – Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By (2001)
C’mon, you need at least one baby-making record in your collection. Dan “The Automator” Nakamura’s trip-hop experiment with a merry band of sexperts (Kid Koala, Damon Albarn, Prince Paul, Mike Patton, Jennifer Charles) is as sultry as it is sardonic. The last part is key — you don’t want to lay the mack on her too seriously. That’s just creepy.
The Band – Music From Big Pink (1968)
It’s your duty, as a Canadian, to own this record. Released at the height of the psychedelic movement in the late ’60s, big Pink turned the rock world on its axis, opting for something simpler and earthier. Screw wah pedals and tape loops — these guys were just fine with their fiddles and mandolins. The Band invented alt-country, 30 years before it became cool. Wilco, Ryan Adams, Drive-By Truckers — Big Pink is the fountainhead, and we’re still drinking deep.