100 Essential Albums to Own on Vinyl

100 Essential Albums to Own on Vinyl

A quick google search of "100 Essential Vinyl Records" will land you in a sea of obvious, overplayed, or flat-out uninspired selections. There is more to music than just the most popular hits. There are groundbreaking albums that inspired social movements, albums that changed the sound of their decade, and albums that simply make you want to boogie at any given moment.

Our team at Victrola believes each of these albums should be celebrated, so we've put together a list of the top 100 greatest albums that changed music history. Read on for a complete crash course on the albums that changed everything, starting with classic albums from the 1930s through today.

#1 Robert Johnson- King of the Delta Blues Singers

Rober Johnson is the master of the Delta blues. Legend has it that he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical ability at the infamous crossroads.

#2 Muddy Waters- Hoochie Coochie Man

Muddy Waters took the Delta Blues and electrified it, helping to create a new form of blues called Chicago Blues. It was a more urban-inspired, amplified style.

#3 Ma Rainey- Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

The Oscar-nominated film, "Queen of the Blues," about her was released this year. She put forward an emotional, powerful presence on every recording.

#4 B.B. King- Singin’ the Blues

An innovative guitarist was one of the century's most influential musicians. He helped to bridge the gap between blues and pop with his "singing" soloing style.

#5 Louis Armstrong- Satchmo at Pasadena

One of the early masters of jazz, he helped to popularize the genre. Plus, his distinctive voice makes him instantly recognizable.

#6 Duke Ellington- The Carnegie Hall Concerts: January 1943

Ellington, a contemporary of Armstrong, wrote many of the jazz standards that defined the genre.

#7 Django Reinhardt- Best of

A master guitarist in the Gypsy jazz genre.

#8 Benny Goodman- The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert

Goodman has been described as the most important jazz concert in history. He made jazz the popular form of music in the US.

#9 Woody Guthrie- Ultimate Collection

Guthrie was a political force who captured the spirit of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. His music was the foundation of the folk movement of the 1960s.

#10 Sister Rosetta Tharpe- Live in 1960

An undersung influential artist who was a progenitor of rock music.

#11 Hank Williams- 40 Greatest Hits

An early, extremely influential country artist.

#12 Billie Holiday- Lady Sings the Blues

An incredibly talented singer who was a leader in the Civil Rights movement.

#13 Count Basie- Basie in London

An album that began to bridge the gap between swing and bebop.

#14 Charlie Parker- Jazz at Massey Hall

As one of the greatest live performers of all time, Charlie Parker was a virtuosic jazz saxophonist.

#15 Thelonious Monk- Thelonious Himself

Monk had an unorthodox style and was a larger-than-life presence in jazz.

#16 Dizzy Gillespie- Swing Low Sweet Cadillac

This jazz trumpeter was known for his improv skills and his distinctive, puffed-up cheeks when he played.

#17 John Coltrane- A Love Supreme

‘A Love Supreme’ molded bebop with meticulous composition. It is a true masterpiece of an album.

#18 Frank Sinatra- In the Wee Small Hours

Sinatra used his voice as an instrument. He is one of the most influential artists of the century. Frank Sinatra records are a good place to start on your record collecting journey. 

#19 Miles Davis- Kind of Blue

A truly perfect album, the seminal jazz masterpiece.

#20 Ray Charles- Ray Charles

​​Ray Charles is a pioneer of soul music and is tremendously influential in various genres.

#21 Chet Atkins- Finger Style Guitar

This virtuosic country music guitarist helped create the "Nashville sound."

#22 Chuck Berry- After School Session

Considered the father of Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry molded R&B into what we now consider rock and roll.

#23 Elvis Presley- Elvis Presley

Arguably the most significant musical presence of the 20th century, Elvis popularized rock and roll and was an incredible showman.

#24 Ray Charles- Modern Sounds in Country and Western

Charles combined soul with country and broke racial barriers with this album. It was a massive success and is considered one of the greatest albums of all time.

#25 James Brown- Live at the Apollo

The Godfather of Soul. This is him at his best and most energetic.

#26 Aretha Franklin- Electrifying Aretha Franklin

The Queen of Soul. Extreme power in her voice and is one of the most celebrated artists in American music.

#27 The Beatles- A Hard Day’s Night

The biggest and arguably most influential rock band in the world, pre-psychedelic transition.

#28 The Times They Are-a Changing- Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is known as one of the most influential songwriters of all time, so it's a given that his music would be on the list of the best vinyl records. Seminal folk album of the 1960s, the title track captures the spirit of the politics of the '60s.

#29 Buddy Rich- The Best of Buddy Rich

Considered the greatest drummer of all time, this fantastic album includes a number of his hits and shows off his mastery of the drums.

#30 Simon and Garfunkel- Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme

The recording was considered perfect for the time. Phenomenal production value.

#31 The Kinks- Kinks

The Kinks represented a grittier side to the British invasion-one of the first groups to incorporate distorted guitars.

#32 The Supremes- Where Did Our Love Go?

An influential all-female group that began the career of Diana Ross.

#33 Glen Campbell- Gentle on My Mind

An extremely talented musician who began to cross over country and popular music.

#34 Nina Simone- Nina Simone in Concert

Nina Simone was a giant of the Civil Rights movement and used her voice to make powerful statements.

#35 The Beach Boys- Pet Sounds

The Beach Boys massively advanced the field of music production. Brian Wilson used an extreme variety of instruments in the album, and it was the most expensive album ever produced at the time.

#36 Johnny Cash- At Folsom Prison

A live album recorded at Folsom Prison. It features most of Johnny Cash's hits and is considered one of his greatest performances.

#37 The Beatles- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

The Beatles fully embraced the psychedelic movement with this album, marking an extreme departure from their earlier music.

#38 The Rolling Stones- Beggars Banquet

Cemented the Stones' signature sound and featured experimentation with new timbres

#39 Cream- Disraeli Gears

The pinnacle of psychedelia. This album molded together blues, rock, and free jazz.

#40 Jimi Hendrix- Are You Experienced

One of the all-time most innovative guitarists, this album is Jimi's debut and showcased his jazz and blues-influenced guitar playing.

#41 Janis Joplin- Pearl

Released after her death, this album was a huge success and featured Joplin's soulful, gritty voice.

#42 Led Zeppelin- Led Zeppelin

The album that ushered in hard rock. Featured heavy distortion, acrobatic vocals, and blisteringly fast guitar solos.

#43 Miles Davis- Bitches Brew

Miles Davis was an extreme innovator who combined jazz and rock into a new jazz fusion genre.

#44 Marvin Gaye- What’s Going On

An album often cited as the greatest of the 20th century. Marvin Gaye's ‘What's Going On’ is a concept album that explores political and social upheaval in a rapidly changing landscape.

#45 Sly and the Family Stone- Stand!

Combined soul with psychedelia to pioneer the funk genre.

#46 Joni Mitchell- Blue

Cited as one of the greatest albums of all time, Blue features brilliant compositions with Mitchell's soft, gentle voice guiding them.

#47 Joan Baez- Joan Baez

Baez was a huge presence in the 1960s folk scene and a symbol of the counterculture movement.

#48 Frank Zappa- Hot Rats

Zappa was an eclectic musician and was one of the original progressive rock artists. This album is a progressive rock and jazz masterpiece that features his masterful guitar playing prominently

#49 Black Sabbath- Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath built on Led Zeppelin's earlier release and went heavier and darker to create what we now know as heavy metal.

#50 The Who- Tommy

A massive production, Tommy was one of the first rock operas and established The Who as a massive presence.

#51 Bill Withers- Just As I Am

Bill Withers' debut album was a retrospective about his life and the songs he wanted to sing. He had complete creative control, a rarity for a young, black, emerging artist.

#52 Funkadelic- Maggot Brain

Funkadelic is a psychedelic funk masterpiece. Bandleader George Clinton was a perfectionist and featured heavy use of studio effects.

#53 Elton John- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

This is a masterpiece album from one of the most popular artists of the 20th century.

#54 Dolly Parton- Coat of Many Colors

Dolly Parton is one of the most successful and influential country artists of all time. Period.

#55 David Bowie- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

David Bowie was an eclectic musician who put artistry first and foremost and pioneered the glam rock genre.

#56 Bob Marley- Catch a Fire

An extremely influential musician who popularized reggae and made it mainstream, Bob Marley's music is still considered some of the best to this day.

#57 Pink Floyd- Dark Side of the Moon

Pink Floyd's ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ is One of the best-selling albums of all time that helped make progressive rock mainstream.

#58 Queen- A Night at the Opera

Freddie Mercury was one of the most incredible vocal talents of the century, and this album was what vaulted Queen into stardom

#59 Weather Report- Heavy Weather

Weather Report was a group of highly skilled jazz musicians, and this is their most popular release to feature bassist Jaco Pastorius, who revolutionized the bass guitar.

#60 Steely Dan- Aja

Steely Dan was the height of musicianship. They played prog rock with a jazzy flair, and their albums were spectacularly recorded.

#61 Stevie Wonder- Songs in the Key of Life

Stevie Wonder brought pop to soul and created one of the greatest albums of all time.

#62 The Eagles- Hotel California

One of the best-selling albums of all time, the Eagles dominated the 1970s, and this is probably their magnum opus.

#63 Fleetwood Mac- Rumours

The best-selling album of the decade, this Fleetwood Mac album is still ridiculously popular and contains hit song after hit song.

#64 The Ramones- Ramones

The Ramones were the face of New York punk, often cited as the first punk rock band.

#65 Michael Jackson- Thriller

Still the best-selling album of all time, Michael Jackson was the King of Pop. Every song is memorable and marked Jackson's complete transition from child star to pop superstar. Be sure to grab a Michael Jackson vinyl record to add to your collection so you can enjoy his music for the years to come.

#66 The Clash- London Calling

"Intellectual punk" that incorporated politics and social upheaval in its subject matter

#67 Talking Heads- Speaking in Tongues

Arguably the greatest of the new wave genre, frontman David Byrne's musical genius was on full display with this great album

#68 Prince- Sign o' the Times

Prince was a musical genius. This 1987 release represented a slight departure from the pop influence of his earlier work and was an eclectic mix of rock, funk, and R&B.

#69 Tina Turner- Private Dancer

Tina Turner was known as the Queen of Rock and Roll. Private Dancer was her comeback after divorcing her abusive husband and a departure from her R&B-inspired sound.

#70 Bruce Springsteen- Born in the USA

A massive seller, Springsteen brought Americana into the mainstream and sang about the trials of the working class. Dancing in the Dark, a track on this album, won Bruce Springsteen his first Grammy Award.

#71 Run DMC- Run-DMC

The first Gold hip-hop record, Run-DMC was massively influential on the then-burgeoning genre.

#72 NWA- Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton was a heavier, rougher album than the hip-hop releases that preceded it. It helped to create the gangsta rap genre and was a visceral look at subjects like police brutality.

#73 Madonna- Like a Virgin

Like a Virgin was one of the first albums to utilize digital recording; Madonna owned the '80s, and this album was a massive controversy, juxtaposing religion and sex in its marketing material.

#74 U2- The Joshua Tree

U2 came out of the Troubles in Ireland, and their music was extremely political, and they carried that over to the American landscape with their Joshua Tree album.

#75 Metallica- Master of Puppets

Metallica was the biggest band in '80 thrash metal, designed to be a heavier, faster alternative to their glam band contemporaries.

#76 Nirvana- Nevermind

Grunge came about as a desire to shirk the glitz and glam of the '80s, and Nirvana was the poster child for the genre. Their gritty, bare-bones style defined the '90s.

#77 Nas- Illmatic

​​Nas' masterpiece reignited the hip-hop scene in New York and remains one of the greatest rap albums ever released.

#78 Tupac- All Eyez on Me

Tupac was the pinnacle of West Coast rap. This album also received contributions from virtually every prominent California rapper.

#79 Weezer- Blue Album

A definitive alt-rock outfit, Weezer was an unassuming group that challenged the rock lifestyle, and Blue set the tone.

#80 Notorious BIG- Ready to Die

Ready to Die is a semi-autobiographical album that details Biggie's life and experiences. It is considered one of the seminal albums of New York's rap scene.

#81 Lauryn Hill- The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill's debut solo album made her the first woman to earn 10 Grammy nominations (winning 5) in one night. It is the essential 1990s soul album and is considered one of the best of the decade.

#82 D'Angelo- Brown Sugar

This album is unique for its production, in which D'Angelo used both vintage analog equipment and modern electronic recording devices. The result is an album that celebrates music in a time when overproduced R&B albums were prominent.

#83 Outkast- Speakerboxxx: The Love Below

A double album that essentially functions as dual solo albums. Big Boi's Speakerboxxx is a gritty Southern Rap record with a more traditional feel. Andre 3000's The Love Below features little rapping but is an avant-garde blend of jazz, funk, and R&B.

#84 Radiohead- Kid A

An early electronic-influenced album, Kid A represents Radiohead at its most eclectic. The recording process incorporated samples, synths, and modulation, and no singles or videos were released.

#85 Beck- Sea Change

Beck seemingly switches up genres with every release, but this is him at his most raw. Sea Change is a picture of modern folk and features heavy use of sampling from his earlier releases.

#86 Jay-Z The Black Album

Jay-Z's "farewell" album is often cited as his masterpiece. Jay-Z is considered one of the best rappers of all time, standing next to Dr. Dre, Eminem, Notorious B.I.G., and many more iconic rappers.

#87 Green Day- American Idiot

A punk-rock opera, American Idiot, focuses primarily on the backlash to the Iraq War and the Bush administration as told through the lens of a coming-of-age story.

#88 Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago

A raw, visceral album, Justin Vernon recorded this alone in a cabin, with just a couple of instruments and an eight-track.

#89 Amy Winehouse- Back to Black

One of the greatest voices of her generation, Back to Black, is Amy Winehouse's final album, a throwback to the 1960s.

#90 Brad Paisley- 5th Gear

Brad Paisley is one of the finest country artists of his generation, a talented musician who is one of Nashville's best-selling acts.

#91 Lady Gaga- Born This Way

Lady Gaga is one of the biggest pop stars in the world, and Born This Way is her anthem. The album features hit after hit and was a huge success.

#92 Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kanye West's album is often considered one of the decade's best. Kanye blends a variety of genres into a no holds barred production, recorded while in self-imposed exile. Kanye West vinyl albums give an even better experience for listening to his masterpieces.

#93 Taylor Swift- Red

​​Red marks a transition in Taylor Swift's career, departing from her strict country stylings and blending them with a pop influence, blending both genres seamlessly.

#94 Beyonce- Lemonade

One of the most celebrated artists of the last 20 years, Beyonce pulled out all the stops with Lemonade, blending genres like R&B, country, and hip-hop. The album features emotional lyrics about infidelity and race.

#95 Lorde- Melodrama

A rawer album than her debut, Lorde incorporates electronic elements into a product that deals with loneliness and isolation.

#96 Brandi Carlile- By the Way, I Forgive You

By the Way, I Forgive You is an album that celebrates the Americana genre, combining elements of folk, country, and rock. The result is a raw, powerful album.

#97 J. Cole- 2014 Fores Hills Drive

Cole presents an album that circumvents a lot of the traditional masculinity and bravado of hip-hop. It's a more vulnerable, mature release, and one of the best of the decade.

#98 Kendrick Lamar- To Pimp a Butterfly

To Pimp a Butterfly may be the best hip-hop album of the 2010s, combining elements of jazz, funk, and traditional music while dealing with subjects like black culture, race, and discrimination.

#99 Billie Eilish- When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

One of the biggest pop stars around, Billie Eilish's debut album features elements of pop and electronica, while her vocals are ethereal and spacy.

#100 BTS- Be

BTS is probably the biggest musical act in the business right now as K-Pop takes the world by storm.

In the end, from The Beatles to Beyonce, all of these albums are worth a listen because they helped shape music history. That said, starting with just one of the100 finest albums is a great place to start. If you're a music fan and you plan to listen to one of these albums on vinyl, which we recommend for the full listening experience, be sure to check out our record store today! Find your favorite vinyl record or add to your record collection at Victrola