It’s almost time for Autostraddle’s International Meet Me At The Record Store Day! While we wait for the momentous occasion to arrive, let’s talk all things vinyl. More specifically, let’s talk about the records we already own, and the albums we just don’t think anyone should listen to any other way.
These are our favorite records. We hate to be pretentious, but if you like these albums too you really should try ’em out on a record player. They sound a lot better on vinyl, y’know.
Carmen: Look, if you love Nicki Minaj you probably love Pink Friday. It’s the actual pinkprint for her entire career, and one of the most lasting releases she’s made. Every song on this album is pure, unadultered Nicki Minaj at her finest, and I’m not just saying that because this was my coming out album and I wrote a sociology paper on it using the images from this record booklet as evidence of my point that her work deconstructed gender. Bonuses to owning it on vinyl? The hot pink discs. They’re among the most spun in my collection.
So Far by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Cee: I grew up listening to my parents vinyl from the ’60s and inherited it all at age 14 when they got rid of their record player and switched to CDs (WHY) and have been lugging it around since then. These records have always been some of my favorites since a small child and I still play them almost weekly. I have fond memories of my mom singing me “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” These albums sound really warm and wonderful on vinyl.
Maddie: Fuck yes. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is probably my favorite song of all time, though I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever actually heard it on vinyl, which I feel like I really need to.
Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
Maddie: My mom loved Fleetwood Mac, and whenever I hear this album I feel connected to her. When I hear Fleetwood Mac with new people, it’s almost like I get to introduce them to her. When the album is on vinyl and it fills the room in that way that only vinyl will, it feels like she’s all around me. I will never forget the total feeling of contentedness and belonging I felt when my friend put the needle down on her copy of Rumors in her dorm room full of queer feminists in 2012. It was my sophomore year of college; Stevie’s crooning voice on “Dreams” washed over me and I just knew: I had arrived. This group of weirdos who I spent a lot of time with, organizing feminist campus protests, watching Beyoncé videos and sometimes kissing? They were my people.
Cee: Oh my god. Yes, Maddie this album is so lovely on vinyl.
Kayla: I, too, own Rumours on vinyl, and I consider it an absolute essential for any record collectors out there. This is just straight up one of the best albums of all time, and Stevie sounds all the witchier on vinyl.
Carolyn: I am also into this.
Mey: I also agree that Rumours is brilliant and even moreso on vinyl. I’d just like to mention “Songbird,” my favorite Fleetwood Mac song, that’s on this album and sounds like it’s being sung by a ghost or spirit when you listen to it on vinyl.
Carmen: Geneva bought this album at a record store in Los Angeles and then I hid it away in my pile of records and she absolutely forgot it when she went back to Canada and I absolutely am proud to say I am now its owner, sorry not sorry.
Paul Simon by Paul Simon
Carmen: The first record I ever put in my record player was Paul Simon. Simon & Garfunkel were one of the musical acts I tried very hard to approach with disdain when I was younger, mostly because I totally didn’t want to agree with my mom about how good her favorite musicians were. It was all for naught, especially once I put the needle on this record. This is one of the most soothing things a person can put on, and the occasionally fuzzy white noise between the peaceful tracks only further calms me down. It’s the record I put on when I’m lost, or when I miss home, or when I’m anxious and I don’t know why. Good alternatives include Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and Bookends, which I recommend listening to in full back-to-back while you make dinner in a tiny space after a hard day at work. Your record player will never feel more like home.
In Concert & Album 1700 by Peter, Paul and Mary
Mey: In Concert is one of the greatest concert albums of all-time, in my opinion. It kicks off with “The Times, They Are A’ Changin” and it’s a life-changing experience. I don’t understand how anyone who heard this recording of that this song didn’t immediately become a peace-loving hippie revolutionary. It stirs something deep in your heart and in your soul. It also has a devastatingly beautiful version of “500 Miles” with Mary Travers on lead vocals that sounds like the most lovely little sad lullaby ever sung. And that’s just the first side of the first record!
Side two has “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Puff,” two more wonderfully sad, yet still wonderfully beautiful songs. They feel like beautiful paintings. The only word I can think of that captures the feeling of these songs is saudade. In between (and, in the case of “Puff,” during) those songs, there are funny, cute and uplifting songs and speeches that make it feel like Peter, Paul and Mary are right there in your home. The album closes with “If I Had a Hammer,” which is right now making me cry as I’m listening to it while writing this. If that doesn’t sell you on this experience I don’t know what will. Now, I listen to most of these songs in mp3 format all the time, and let me tell you, the difference on vinyl is the difference between watching a movie about a person hiking and actually hiking up in the mountains at dawn and looking down and seeing the low clouds below you for the first time. I want to live inside this record.
Album 1700 is another masterpiece. It has maybe my two favorite Peter, Paul and Mary songs, “Leaving On a Jet Plane” and “No Other Name. Two more beautifully sad songs that have a palpable beauty and sadness added to them when they’re played on vinyl. I want to wrap up and sleep inside Mary Travers’ voice on “Jet Plane” and it’s even more full and warm on vinyl. This might be the most beautiful song ever recorded. And then as soon as the guitar comes in on “No Other Name” I just want to never listen to another album again. I’m done. This is it. I’m in awe of how beautiful this album is on vinyl.
Led Zeppelin I by Led Zeppelin
Cee: Led Zeppelin on vinyl is so much better! Well most things on vinyl are so much better, but I’m biased.
Carmen: My dear sweet lord, I just realized how badly I wished I owned some Led Zeppelin on vinyl. Damn it, Cee!
Coexist by The xx
Kayla: The xx has those sexy, hollow, haunting sounds that sound exceptionally enchanting on vinyl. I love everything about this record down to its sleek cover design. It’s an especially good record to listen to while making out.
Alaina: I am not 100 percent sure if music actually sounds better on vinyl or not, but regardless of sound quality, this is my favorite record to listen to on vinyl. Nothing screams, “I am a sexy, well, put together adult with intentions of consensual adult fun-times this evening” like bringing home a date and putting this album into the record player. It is a calculatingly impressive move. Spotify is fine, iTunes is fine, and I can listen to this album on both platforms just fine. But nothing beats vinyl when it comes to Beyoncé.
Audrey: Do you remember where you were when Beyoncé came out? I was just minding my own business on Twitter when the whole world changed. This record is long, which means it’s a double vinyl with a just 3 or 4 songs on each side. Listen, honestly in this day and age, the sound quality of newly recorded material on vinyl vs a FLAC rip with good head phones is basically nil. But listening to this album a few songs at a time amplifies the experience and lets you really savor it. Also, it comes with a vinyl sleeve-sized booklet of stills from the videos and it is a thing to behold, truly.
Cee: This box set was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s limited edition and somehow there’s still a few copies on Amazon. Seriously worth the money. All the albums but the new one and a cute little book of tour photos through the years.
Little Creatures by the Talking Heads
Audrey: Little Creatures isn’t the best Talking Heads album. It’s not the pinnacle of David Byrne’s freaky genius. But it is my favorite, the one that makes me get up and dance and sigh softly and feel like a pop star. The primary selling point for listening to this on vinyl instead of Spotify is that Side A ends with “Perfect World” and Side B ends with “Road To Nowhere,” and both those songs need room to breathe. They have so much energy and tell such big stories, and the vinyl (or cassette tape) format gives you a built in way to take the necessary pause to enjoy this album to its fullest. It’s best played over and over again while you clean your entire house or read every bad poem you’ve ever written. Or so I’ve heard.
Tramp by Sharon Van Etten
Maree: For an entire month after I broke up with my girlfriend of three years, I would lay in bed and listen to this record over and over. (The fact that I had to keep getting up to flip it over was part of the self-flagellation element, I think.) Obviously the whole album in whatever format is emotional hangover-inducing, but there’s just something about her voice on vinyl, like you can hear the ache better. Now I just use the cover as wall art and think about If Sharon Were My Girlfriend…
Harvest by Neil Young
Mey: The album is called Harvest, so it only makes sense that when you listen to it on a record player, especially one that was bought twenty years ago like I did, the sounds that come out of the speakers make you feel like you’re outside in a field of tall grass during the Golden Hour, perhaps on a farm, for instance. Young does such a good job of crafting heavy emotional moments on this record, like at the end of “A Man Needs a Maid” when a whole group of instruments come in and create a wave of sound; the absolutely heart aching pedal steel guitar on “Heart of Gold;” the choruses of “Old Man” where James Taylor and Linda Rondstadt join in to sing and create a whole new feeling; the bombast of the London Symphony Orchestra on “There’s a World,” and on vinyl that kind of technique just translates so much better. Those moments just seem to fill up the room, they take over the air and lay down on top of you. And it works. It works ridiculously well.
Carmen: Ugh, Mey, we should definitely lay in a field of grass and listen to Neil Young records together, especially if “Heart of Gold” is eventually going to come booming out of the speakers. All of the yes to this. I wish I owned this record!
Nancy & Lee by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood
Raquel: I love this album so much. I was actually introduced to it on vinyl by my roommate and longtime friend from college, almost exactly a year ago. In Austin, we get a sprint of perfect spring before the days yawn into a heavy, all-enveloping heat. Brittany walked in one transitional afternoon and instructed me to sit my ass on the porch, drink the piña colada she made me, and listen to “Summer Wine.” A native Floridian, she was wearing hot shorts under what I can only describe as a peachy-pink muumuu-cape awash in printed tropical flowers (where did she get that amazing thing??), and she was so right about everything.
Nancy Sinatra’s voice is smooth and strong, Lee Hazlewood adds his soft, low baritone, and the entire thing makes me feel super Texan (but in a good way, a rare thing these days). They’re the type of songs that sound best just a little bit scratchy, that take perfectly to filling your living room and floating out onto the porch while you watch the sun bathe the trees in gold.
The album in its entirety is a treat, but the standout gem is absolutely the song “Summer Wine.” It’s sexy, bounding, and involves a babe stealing a man’s prized possessions. What’s not to love? It’s also one of the few songs on the album written by one of the singers, Hazlewood. We listened to it so much that summer that our third roommate (himself something of a skate punk) started taking and hiding the vinyl, which is in itself as good a recommendation as I can give it.
Darkness on the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen
Carolyn: The thing about Bruce Springsteen is that he’s best listened to when you’re in a car and dusk is falling, or in a car and it’s 4 p.m., or on the bus and it doesn’t matter what time it is. He’s radio music or road trip music or maybe your dad is visiting and this is the only music you can agree on music. Darkness on the Edge of Town is different. (So is The Promise, which features unreleased songs from Darkness sessions.) It’s for when you want to feel like all your dreams are dead and nothing will ever be good again, and it’s for when you need to see hidden worlds shine, and it’s for when you want to gesticulate wildly with a kitchen knife to “Candy’s Room” because it feels good in your heart and then maybe make out a little to fight the relentless growing hopelessness that each side purposefully creates. It’s best inside. It’s best on vinyl.
Carmen: I second all of this. This is the record I keep on top of all of my other records so that I can see it all the time, and not just because I happen to bear a striking resemblance to the young Bruce Springsteen on the cover. I found a bunch of Bruce vinyl in a crate of my mom’s old records a few years back and took them without thinking twice, although it would be a few years until I started to deeply connect with the dude. Now, it’s on regular rotation in my room, especially when I wanna scream the lyrics to “Thunder Road” because sometimes you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that youuuuuung anymoooore.
Elastica by Elastica
Stef: I don’t own a record player, so I don’t own a lot of vinyl (I know, I know), but I do work in a record store (EVEN WORSE, I KNOW) so I sometimes get suckered into buying records just because they’re beautiful. This is one of those records.
I got into these guys when I was in middle school, because to me they didn’t sound like anybody else; later I would learn about Wire and the Fall and the Stranglers and Gang of Four and lots of other angular post-punk bands who shaped their sound. I loved them because the songs were sharp, edgy and lean, no extra choruses or key changes, no bullshit. At 16 songs, this record clocks in at just about 40 minutes long. They weren’t afraid to play sloppily, and to me that sounded extra cool (later, I would go on to blow off all my guitar teachers who expected me to practice, and as a result became a sloppy guitar player myself).
The songs on Elastica deal with stuff like groupies, cheating boyfriends and depression, nothing groundbreaking, but there was something hidden between those rumbling bass lines and jagged vocal harmonies that made me want to start a band of my own. Their career was short and mostly disappointing, riddled with heroin addiction and constant lineup changes, and nothing they ever released overshadowed their debut. They were sued by the bands they loved numerous times for ripping them off; in fact the riff from their biggest single “Connection” was Wire’s song “Three Girl Rhumba,” note for note. Still, there was something about the way they produced that song, something about the way they played it, all detached and sneering – even though it was someone else’s song, nobody had ever sounded quite like it, and no one’s come close to it since. I haven’t ever had a breakup that hasn’t resulted in a night of doggedly listening to “Never Here” on repeat, and I’m physically incapable of listening to “Stutter” without singing along. As a teenager, I thought the androgynous, gorgeous singer Justine Frischmann was the absolute pinnacle of cool, and honestly I still do.
Anyway, the limited edition vinyl is bright red and looks cool in a frame.
Carmen: Because watching Kanye’s short film set to songs from this album every night alone in my room while I smoked a joint and contemplated writing an epic analysis on Tumblr about it wasn’t enough, I asked for the album on vinyl the Christmas it came out. You know that saying Ask and you shall receive? Well, receive I did: Three unmarked discs, making managing to listen to it in order ironically difficult for something close to a concept album; four square prints from the album, including Kanye with the dagger in his head in the sand; and one big poster of that image of a ballerina, which I’m framing this weekend so I can hang up in my new place immediately. If you’re of the belief that what Kanye does constitutes art, firstly you are correct let’s talk and be friends, and also this is a purchase you should have made without looking back. Listening to albums on record players always feels like an act of reverence, and this album deserves it. I listen to it on vinyl because of course I listen to it on vinyl, and also because there’s something about the act of doing so that connects Kanye to all the folks before him who paved the way for an album as symphonic, complex, layered, and poignant as this one.