Note: I’ve only written about the first three albums. This post will be continually updated.
Growing up in the digital age, I have a sort of reverence for vinyl. Not only because some audiophiles believe it sounds better but because it takes up physical space; it’s something you can marvel at, hold in your hands, etc. Streaming obviously doesn’t do this with vinyl, or at least my tiny dorm situation: I can only fit 6-8 albums plus a player and speakers, so I have to be choosy. In my opinion, the following albums are ones you can listen to all the way through without skipping and marvel at the beautiful lyrics and instrumentation.
Here are the top 5 albums I’d buy on vinyl and why (in no particular order).
- Natalie Merchat’s “Ophelia”
- Sam Fender’s “Seventeen Going Under”
- Paul Simon’s “Graceland”
- Fiona Apple’s “Tidal”
- Andrew Bird’s “Are You Serious”
Natalie Merchant is more well known for her time with 10,000 maniacs in the ’80s and her debut album “Tigerlily” back in the 90s. Although those are wonderful, her 1998 “Ophelia” album beautifully croons from Shakespeare’s one and only to ballads like “When They Ring Them Golden Bells.” My favorite song on this album is “My Skin” The piano and violin bridge truly make the album.
While it is one of the album’s sadder songs, it balances the album well: Not being too sad to bring the whole album down. I brag about the instrumentation on this album but the stripped-down piano, drums, and violin suit this song perfectly. Other highlights on “Ophelia” are “Kind & Generous,” “Thick as Thieves,” “Effigy” (featuring Tibetan singer Yungchen Lhamo), and “Frozen Charlotte.” I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sick-ass twang of the guitar riff on “Thick as Thieves.”
Seventeen Going Under
I would call this album a protest rally-must-play (if that’s a thing). Sam Fender is even more politically forward with his songs than Merchant. In “Aye” he sings “We watched kids go to Epstein’s bed.”
I was immediately hooked on Fender’s EPs with a lot of his earlier (link) songs reminding me of INXS. His debut album, “Seventeen Going Under,” describes his time growing up in Lothian, Scotland, and continues his theme of political commentary. My favorite song on the album, “Long Way Off” describes, in Fender’s words “This is about political polarity and how the working classes feel, or how I felt, abandoned by a lot of the left-wing,” per Apple Music. To me, it feels the lyrics resound more with how good bills never get passed here in the States.
Fender’s album is typical rock and roll, with a smattering of saxophone solos. The lyrics make this album a standout while the variance in guitar sounds and overall upbeat vibe of Fender makes it a solid record. Fender has a few slower songs on here, which he can do well, but he really shines with his high-powered rock hits.
How can you not include Graceland on any list of top records to buy? It’s a cardinal sin. God will not let you into heaven unless you’ve listened to at least one song other than “Graceland” on that album.
A little history lesson: Simon recorded Graceland in South Africa during Apartheid, which was the segregation of black people by the minority white population. At the time of Graceland’s release, Simon received criticism (link) for breaking an international boycott of South Africa by members of the United Nations.
However, Simon’s album created a beautiful mixing of musical cultures. Simon recorded most of the album with local Johannesburg musicians through jam sessions. Despite its controversy, Graceland won Album of the Year in 1987.
Graceland features so many interesting sounds that, for an album from ’86, truly blew my mind. It gives me warm fuzzy feelings listening to it. The first track on the album, “The Boy In The Bubble,” features an accordion, played by Forere Motloheloa. I think starting an album with an accordion is a bold move, but it paid off! Many songs feature deep bass lines that will get stuck in your head and Zulu choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s mesmerizing vocals. Featuring diverse musicians, authentic sounds, and Simon’s storytelling lyrics: Graceland is vinyl worthy.
Image Credits: Savara.