Give me your best 12 inches!
July 13, 2012 10:34 AM   Subscribe

What essential vinyl LPs should I buy?

I'm going record shopping in a few hours and have a good chunk of money to spend. What essential LPs should I add to my collection?

Ideally they should be relatively easy to find and cheap. I'm looking for used stuff that I can get for under $10 (best <$5), not stuff that is rare, limited, or highly prized.

Any genre or era is fine. Tell me what has stood the test of time! Classic rock, blues, jazz, synthpop, indie rock, country western, whatever as long as it's good!
posted by buckaroo_benzai to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
When I was really into classic rock and collecting LPs, I was really surprised to find that vinyl releases from Big Important Bands -- the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, etc. -- were dirt-cheap. I'm pretty sure I paid six dollars for my copy of Dark Side of the Moon. Considering those were releases recorded and mixed specifically for playback on LPs, I'd go with some of those.
posted by griphus at 10:38 AM on July 13, 2012

I can't help but mention the first vinyl album I ever bought, Thriller by Michael Jackson.
posted by Diag at 10:38 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a copy of Layla just for the cover art.
posted by goethean at 10:45 AM on July 13, 2012

Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, the first double rock album.
posted by ubiquity at 10:46 AM on July 13, 2012

Huey Lewis & The News - Sports Despite what Futurama says, it's held up pretty well, and you'll probably find dozens of them in the dollar bins.

Also check out the soundtrack section - that one is always full of nice surprises.
posted by troika at 10:48 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

A lot of the more random/freeform 60's and 70's rock is surprisingly cheap. I have a $2 copy of Pearl by Janis Joplin, for example. I think I paid $5 each for double LP greatest hits collections from the Stones and the Beach Boys. If you're into the more esoteric classic verging on prog-ish rock stuff (Chicago, Yes, ELO, etc), you can usually get that pretty cheap, too.

Most of my Dylan LPs were $10 and under. The exception being Blonde On Blonde, though you can probably find a copy of that for cheaper than the $25 I paid for it.

The US releases of early Rolling Stones records (or any release of the later 70's/80's albums) are surprisingly reasonable depending on where you go.

I have the first 3-4 Springsteen albums, all purchased for under $5.

I constantly find 50's and 60's Urban Folk Revival records in the $3 bin -- stuff like Pete Seeger, Peter Paul & Mary, and Simon & Garfunkel. Also the later iteration of the same trend, singer-songwriters like Carole King, Carly Simon, and James Taylor.

Any of the really HUGE 80's albums (Thriller is a great example) tend to be very cheap simply because there are so many copies floating around.

Please don't fall for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Unless you actually like that sort of thing, of course.
posted by Sara C. at 10:48 AM on July 13, 2012

Oh, and the re-printing of The Velvet Underground and Nico is orange and that's pretty cool.
posted by griphus at 10:50 AM on July 13, 2012

It's been a while since I had a working turntable, but...

Jethro Tull - Aqualung, Thick as a Brick

Cat Stevens - Buddha and the Chocolate Box, Teaser and the Firecat

I miss my old John Denver and Paul Simon records.
posted by jon1270 at 10:53 AM on July 13, 2012

The Clash's Combat Rock, a record I had heard a million times on CD, sings on vinyl, and hearing it was the first time I think I got it. It sounds like it came out yesterday.
posted by General Malaise at 10:53 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel is pretty easy to find, and beyond essential.
posted by dogwalker at 10:56 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel is pretty easy to find, and beyond essential.

Actually, if you're getting into collecting LPs and do not have an immediate yearning for that album, you might want to save up for the box set.
posted by griphus at 10:57 AM on July 13, 2012

There's a vinyl release of Miles Davis's seminal Kind Of Blue from 2010 that sounds wonderful.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 11:00 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Horses by Patti Smith.

It was just recently rereleased and runs about $20 new, but if you are digging around outside the US northeast where she is idolized, you could probably find a used copy cheaper.
posted by Sara C. at 11:00 AM on July 13, 2012

Van Morrison's Astral Weeks.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:02 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison.
Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run
posted by entropicamericana at 11:06 AM on July 13, 2012

Since you're asking about the best in rock, jazz, blues, country (aka "mostly everything in recorded music history"), my suggestion would be to dig in the cheapo crates found in most record stores. If you've heard it before and liked it, buy it. Like the cover art? Buy it. Vaguely heard good things about the band but never heard their music? Buy it.

This is the wonder of record stores -- you can't go wrong when "wrong" costs you $2.
posted by RabbleRabble at 11:07 AM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd vote for the Clash's London Calling over Combat Rock, if you have to choose. Their first album beats both IMHO but London Calling's liner notes are fantastic.
posted by Currer Belfry at 11:22 AM on July 13, 2012

Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street - although that might run you more than $10 to get a good quality copy, with the postcards. Whatever you pay, it's worth it.

Any Elvis Costello record - my current obsession is Get Happy, but you can get 'em all really cheap. Any David Bowie record from the 1970's. It's pretty great being able to pick up the entire back catalog of amazing songwriters for dirt cheap, and you get to listen to the albums the way they were meant to be heard.
posted by Gortuk at 12:34 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my area, there are only a few record stores and only the most common releases are under $10. Resurgence in interest in vinyl seems to have driven prices up. There are still deals to be had at thrift stores and places like Value Village or its equivalent though. I started having much better luck showing up first thing in the morning, where I discovered an odd little subculture of fanatic collectors and ebay resellers.

RabbleRabble has the right idea in my opinion. If I want a specific record I'm more likely to pay $15-20 at a "real" record store, whereas I'll buy anything that strikes me as interesting from the dollar bins. Records I paid less than $5 in my collection for include a decent amount of titles by The Band, Leonard Cohen, Ry Cooder, Elvis Costello, Dire Straits, the Faces, the Kinks, Edith Piaf, John Prine, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young and more. I know Steely Dan is the old standby for old dudes showing off their hi-fi equipment, but I don't really care for Steely Dan. I particularly fond of the sound of Paul Simon's self titled debut, in my opinion the guitar sound on Duncan is one of the most accurate representations of a steel string acoustic ever put to tape. Also, If you have semi-decent speakers, the bass on Cat Stevens records has a quality that doesn't exactly come through on the radio.

If you're into country, it's a genre that less people collect and there are some gems out there. I've picked up stuff like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Buck Owens, Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Bob Wills many times from 99 cent bins.

There are also lots of repressings of old jazz classics floating around. Picked up half a dozen Miles Davis reissues, some of which were in good enough shape to trade at a real record store for stuff I didn't have already. Ditto Thelonious Monk and others. Most of these guys didn't really put out any stinkers, so I tend to buy it all if I can.

Domestic pressings will be the most common. It's still possible to find rare/higher quality pressings for thrift store prices because people these stores don't neccessarily realize the difference. IMO the hierarchy of vinyl quality is: Japanese, (German/British/Dutch,) American, Canadian. This isn't scientific by any means, just something I've noticed over the years. If it doesn't say where a record was made on the cover itself, it will on the label.

Having something to clean records with is handy, many will be in better shape than they seem with a little effort.
posted by Lorin at 1:06 PM on July 13, 2012

I'd try and look for albums that were definitely 'programmed' for two 20-minute sides. Mike Oldfield/Tubular Bells is one, Pink Floyd/Wish You Were Here is another. Then you get to do the get-up-and-change-the-record-over thing between Acts 1 and 2 ...
posted by carter at 1:49 PM on July 13, 2012

I was lucky in that my dad had all of Beethoven on Deutsche Gramophone by the Berlin Philharmonic. I'm very happy that I have it. The records that get the most play from my collection are:

David Bowie - Changes
Cream - Fresh Cream
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Earth, Wind and Fire
Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band

I also agree that a lot of the 80s stuff is really cheap and awesome to have.
posted by neveroddoreven at 1:58 PM on July 13, 2012

The Nightfly--Donald Fagen
Freedom of Choice--Devo
Switched On Bach--Wendy Carlos (very old editions will have her listed as Walter)
posted by luckynerd at 2:04 PM on July 13, 2012

'Yer Album', by the James Gang, has a neat gimmick on the run-out groove on each side: the end of side one says 'turn me over...turn me over...turn me over;' the end of side two says 'play me me me again.' The phrases repeat endlessly. Only works on a full manual turntable, as the needle will pick up before it hits this spot on an automatic.

Oh, and the album kicks-ass, too -- Joe Walsh is one of the original guitar gods; saw him a couple weekends ago, and he's still got it. 'Made loud to be played loud', indeed.
posted by Bron at 5:17 PM on July 13, 2012

Sticky Fingers for the jacket (and for the music, I guess). Admittedly, not a huge fan in the first place, but the last album by the Stones that was worth buying in any format at all was Some Girls.

I'm going to logout now. Sometimes those words hit some people the wrong way and things might get ugly.
posted by she's not there at 9:26 PM on July 13, 2012

Abbey Road from the vinyl era in whatever condition you can get under $10. No CD issue sounds like one of these from the vinyl era. Recent vinyl reissues may be from a digital remaster - worthless in comparison, just get the CD if you want that.
posted by caclwmr4 at 10:32 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get the Styx album "Paradise Theatre". The holographic etching and gatefold on it is something you'll pull out to show friends, whether you like the music or not (but you will).
posted by skypieces at 10:28 AM on July 14, 2012

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