Looking to add a little rock into your growing vinyl collection? If so, you’ve come to the right place, as I’m going to countdown the top 10 best classic rock albums you can own on vinyl. So without further ado, let’s jump right into it with #10 on our list.
The Top 10 Classic Rock Albums
Let’s begin with the Alan Parsons Project.
10. Alan Parsons Project: Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1975)
Handsomely packaged, a deceptively soothing jade green-color theme, Tales takes the listener on a journey through the disturbed mind of one of the world’s best writers of horror and the macabre. Each song, such as “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” and especially “To One in Paradise,” refers, musically and lyrically, to his short stories as well as to Poe himself, suggesting that Poe’s own isolation, alienation and then madness dictated the bizarrerie of his stories.
Inside the gatefold of this vinyl are pages to turn over like a book containing the lyrics to each song as well as black and white photographs by Hipgnosis, the famous album art company used by groups such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. The music is quite extraordinary, drawing listeners into Poe’s own mind, the recording, produced and engineered by Parson himself, of course, is crisp and clean.
9. Genesis: A Trick of the Tail (1976)
Yet another album that is handsomely packaged, this time with a butter creme color theme, this Hipgnosis-designed album also has a gatefold with pages inside. The lyrics are written in calligraphy and the drawings are representative of the characters sung about in the songs. “Squonk,” an excellent power-rock song about a rodent-type mythical creature, is depicted in the artwork, with tears flowing away from the creature.
This was the first album produced following the departure of Peter Gabriel, and despite the popular opinion of Genesis fans that they were never as good, post-Gabriel, there is not one bad song on this album. Some of the work attempted to emulate the Gabriel period and are excellent (“Dance on a Volcano,” “Robbery, Assault and Battery”), while others signify a departure (“Mad Man Moon,” “Ripples, “Los Endos.”).
Opinions about this group’s two major personnel changes (Steve Hackett left after Wind and Wuthering) are polarized, but few can deny the power and beauty of all the songs written for this album
8. Captain Beefheart: Trout Mask Replica (1969)
Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, literally imprisoned his musicians in a house in Woodland Hills outside of Los Angeles. Rehearsals dragged for eight months, during which Van Vliet resorted to violence, confining and often berating the players for days until they were reduced to tears, and submissive to his directorial will.
Admittedly like albums such as The Velvet Underground and Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi, Trout Mask Replica is a difficult aural experience, the music sounds tortured at times, perhaps a reflection of the deep struggle of its musicians. Produced by Frank Zappa and released on his Bizarre label, the album was ranked #60 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Although it was poorly received initially, Beefheart’s effort, Trout is today considered one of the most influential rock albums ever, the music’s polyrhythms, atonal musical structure and multi-octave vocals left a powerful impression on up and coming rock bands.
7. Steely Dan: Aja (1977)
Audiophiles still consider Aja audiophile quality 40 years after it came out, and its sound on vinyl is near-perfect. Meticulously recorded and engineered by a team comprised of ten engineers to the perfectionist specifications of by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, it won a Grammy in 1977 as “Best Engineered Recording.” The songs themselves are astounding, and can be listened to hundreds of times, finding something new in each multi-layered piece with each new revolution on the turntable.
Utilizing the immense talents of over 40 session musicians, this jazz-rock masterpiece is layered with a harmonic structure on the top end in tight musical intervals, and progressing down with lush, rich keyboards, and crystal-clear horns and guitars. The bass and drums are incredible, including Bernard Purdie’s “Purdie shuffle” percussion on “Peg” and “Home at Last,” to Steve Gadd’s incredibly dense and original drumming on the title track.
The best audio turntable will reveal an inner complexity in the songs not easily heard on a beginner record player or sound system. This is thousands and thousands of miles away from the saccharine sweet sound of Kenny G, Despite major jazz influences, it still has become an iconic rock album, and a close listen reveals that its musical elements hardly stem from rock roots.
6. King Crimson: Larks Tongues in Aspic (1973)
The fifth personnel change in five years with Robert Fripp as the only constant member and figurehead, King Crimson’s lineup for Larks is still considered its best today. It is one of the first metal/rock albums, although it has moments of quiet serenity.
The beautiful cover illustration of bright yellow sun rays with two faces in blue in its center, is as pleasing to the eye as the music is to listen to. Larks Tongues on Aspic Parts 1 and Part 2 are found, respectively, at the beginning and end of the album. Fripp’s guitar, sometimes wrenchingly metallic, at other times wonderfully melodic, is supported underneath by what is the best rhythm section in rock music. John Wetton’s thundering bass is accompanied by Bill Bruford’s wildly unpredictable percussion, as the two effortlessly lapse in and out of poly rhythms and bitonality.
King Crimson’s many released live recordings are testament to the awesome power of the band, especially the power of Wetton and Bruford, and Fripp’s searing, culture-attack guitar.
5. Talking Heads: Remain in Light (1980)
Experimental, fusing with rock with African polyrhythms and funk, Remain in Light, though entirely different from King Crimson’s music, is focused on experimentation with beat.
Produced by Brian Eno, electronics are widely used as well as sampled and looped grooves. Foot-tapping to stunning pieces such as “Cross-eyed and Painless” is instinctive, the feet constantly in motion.
4. Michael Jackson: Thriller (1982)
It is not surprising that a man of such exceptional talent as Jackson would eventually produce an album like Thriller. The worldwide chart listing if viewing it vertically, is a listing of the number 1, with few exceptions.
Producer Quincy Jones spared no expense as Thriller’s production budget topped out at $750,000.00, unheard of at the time for a rock album that infuses pop, fusion and funk. It is virtually impossible to skip any of the nine songs on the album.
The two-album set is the best example of space music that transports the listener way out of our solar system. Incredible to listen to, even without mind-altering substances. Very influential to electronic and to rock and roll.
Meticulously recorded in 8-track stereo (the first time use of 8 tracks by the band), the bass is heavy and clean, and the vocals in John Lennon’s “Because” are crisp and clear, mind expanding.
1. Led Zeppelin IV (Zoso)
Jimmy Page, disappointed following poor reviews of the band’s laid back Led Zeppelin III, produced one of the hardest rocking albums ever recorded. The album cover, a photograph of a blast-zoned housing project, and on one of the walls a woodcut drawing of an old man carrying wheat in a bushel, does not list the band’s name nor even the name of the album, which infuriated the band’s record company.
Today it is considered a milestone of crystal-clear recording and the heaviest and some of the most intricate rock songs ever produced. Besides “Stairway to Heaven,” songs like Memphis Minnie’s “When the Levee Breaks, “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Black Dog,” were all experimental recordings designed to produce the heaviest sounding rhythm section and shocking clear guitar overdubs and vocals. When played loud, it sounds as if the band is in the same room just a few feet away. This album sounds great on anything from the best beginner record player to the absolute best audiophile turntable.
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