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 in the albums that changed everything, starting with classic albums from the 1930s through today.
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.
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.
The Oscar-nominated film, "Queen of the Blues," about her was released this year. She put forward an emotional, powerful presence on every recording.
An innovative guitarist who was one of the most influential musicians of the century. 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.
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.
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.
An undersung influential artist who was a progenitor of rock music.
An early, extremely influential country artist.
An incredibly talented singer who was a leader in the Civil Rights movement.
An album that began to bridge the gap between swing and bebop.
One of the greatest live performances of all time, Charlie Parker was a virtuosic jazz saxophonist.
Monk had an unorthodox style and was a larger-than-life presence in jazz.
This jazz trumpeter was known for his improv skills and his distinctive, puffed-up cheeks when he played.
A Love Supreme molded bebop with meticulous composition. It is a true masterpiece of an album.
Sinatra used his voice as an instrument. He is one of the most influential artists of the century.
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 a variety of genres.
#21 Chet Atkins- Finger Style Guitar
This virtuosic country music guitarist helped create the "Nashville sound."
Considered the father of Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry molded R&B into what we now consider rock and roll.
Arguably the biggest musical presence of the 20th century, Elvis popularized rock and roll and was an incredible showman.
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.
The Godfather of Soul. This is him at his best and most energetic.
The Queen of Soul. Extreme power in her voice and is one of the most celebrated artists in American music.
The biggest and arguably most influential rock band in the world, pre-psychedelic transition.
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 great album includes a number of his hits and shows off his mastery of the drums
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.
An extremely talented musician who began to cross over the country and popular music
Nina Simone was a giant of the Civil Rights movement, she used her voice to make powerful statements.
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.
A live album recorded at Folsom Prison. It features most of Johnny Cash's hits and is considered one of his greatest performances.
The Beatles fully embraced the psychedelic movement with this album, and it marked an extreme departure from their earlier music.
Cemented the Stones' signature sound and featured experimentation with new timbres
The pinnacle of psychedelia. This album molded together blues, rock, and free jazz.
One of the all-time most innovative guitarists, this album is Jimi's debut and showcased his jazz and blues-influenced guitar playing.
Released after her death, this album was a huge success and featured Joplin's soulful, gritty voice.
The album that ushered in hard rock. Featured heavy distortion, acrobatic vocals, and blisteringly fast guitar solos.
Miles Davis was an extreme innovator and combined jazz and rock into a new genre, jazz fusion.
An album often cited as the greatest of the 20th century. 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.
Cited as one of the greatest albums of all time, Blue features brilliant compositions with Mitchell's soft, gentle voice guiding them.
Baez was a huge presence in the 1960s folk scene and a symbol of the counterculture movement.
Zappa was an eclectic musician who was one of the original progressive rock artists. This album is a progressive rock and jazz masterpiece that features his masterful guitar playing prominently
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.
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.
Funkadelic is a psychedelic funk masterpiece. Bandleader George Clinton was a perfectionist and featured heavy use of studio effects.
This is a masterpiece album from one of the most popular artists of the 20th century.
Dolly Parton is one of the most successful and influential country artists of all time. Period.
Bowie was an eclectic musician who put artistry first and foremost and pioneered the glam rock genre.
An extremely influential musician who popularized reggae and made it mainstream.
One of the best-selling albums of all time that helped make progressive rock mainstream.
Freddie Mercury was one of the greatest vocal talents of the century, and this album was what vaulted Queen into stardom
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.
Stevie Wonder brought pop to soul and created one of the greatest albums of all time.
One of the best-selling albums of all time, the Eagles dominated the 1970s, and this is probably their magnum opus.
The best-selling album of the decade, this album is still ridiculously popular and contains hit song after hit song.
The Ramones were the face of New York punk, often cited as the first punk rock band.
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.
"Intellectual punk" that incorporated politics and social upheaval in its subject matter
Arguably the greatest of the new wave genre, frontman David Byrne's musical genius was on full display with this great album
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.
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.
A massive seller, Springsteen brought Americana into the mainstream and sang about the trials of the working class.
#71 Run DMC- Run-DMC
The first Gold hip-hop record, Run-DMC was massively influential on the then-burgeoning genre.
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.
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.
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.
Metallica was the biggest band in '80 thrash metal, designed to be a heavier, faster alternative to their glam band contemporaries.
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.
Tupac was the pinnacle of West Coast rap. This album also received contributions from virtually every prominent California rapper.
A definitive alt-rock outfit, Weezer was an unassuming group that challenged the rock lifestyle, and Blue set the tone.
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.
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.
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.
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 instead 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.
Jay-Z's "farewell" album is often cited as his masterpiece.
A punk-rock opera, American Idiot, focuses primarily on the backlash to the Iraq War and Bush administration as told through the lens of coming of age story.
A raw, visceral album, Justin Vernon recorded this alone in a cabin, with just a couple of instruments and an eight-track.
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.
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.
Kanye West’s album is often called one of the best of the decade. Kanye blends a variety of genres into a no holds barred production, recorded while in self-imposed exile.
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.
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.
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.
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!