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Starting a record collection? Or trying to round out the one you have? Here's a list of 100 records, in alphabetical order, that most people can agree are essential listens. I picked based on two criteria: essentialness and availability. If there's no reasonable way you can pick up the album in store at any given time (and for under $40), it's not on there. If you'd like to head straight to shopping, check out this handy feature at our online store. Enjoy!
Hear pretty much the best guitar playing ever.
A crash landing of alien surf riffs, sci-fi trash nostalgia and punk attitude that sounded like nothing before it and doesn't sound like anything since.
A hip-hop classic and landmark in multilayer sampling.
The Beach Boys - Today! (1965)
Phil Spector invented the wall of sound, and The Beach Boys took that idea to its zenith on the perfect Pet Sounds. Meanwhile, Today is the best of the hit Beach Boys albums. Smiles forever.
The Beatles - Let it Be (1970)
The Beatles - Rubber Soul (1965)
The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
The Beatles - The White Album (1968)
Get all of the Beatles' albums, they've all been recently reissued.
The CD era made these two albums by the cult power-pop band virtually indistinguishable from one another. Get 'em both and give 'em their due.
The album that started it all for Ozzy and co. also helped launch metal as a genre.
Eschewing the hard-to-find records (Low, Lodger, Heroes etc.) and the best-of Changes ones (which are both essential), this 2012 reissue of Bowie's glam-rock opus sounds amazing.
The Godfather of Soul in all his raw glory, just a pure, visceral listening experience.
Ditto all the early, psychedelic stuff (find a used Greatest Hits if you can, to start), but this country-rock album is the most solid Byrds album.
A mad classic!
Perhaps the quintissential new wave album.
I apologize if this album isn't available, and for the lack of country music in general on this list. In truth, classic country is the staple of bargain bins and thrift stores around the country, and classic country records from Cash, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and others help make for a great, affordable starter set.
Swingin', life-affirming sounds.
The Clash - London Calling (1979)
The Clash are more than just a patch on a jacket, an emblem of punk and some radio hits. Pick up these records and immerse yourself in the legendary punk band.
Oh, you like "Mad Men" and being all suave in your big suits and pencil skirts? Put this on and you'll really be smooth, daddy-o.
A bargain-bin staple, but also one of the best rock albums ever.
As they've shown with this year's superlative disco-prog-pop opus Random Access Memories, Daft Punk are one of the all-time great electronic groups (maybe second only to Kraftwerk, a group whose LPs can be frustratingly hard to find). Discovery is their best, full of huge, anthemic songs that seem to glow out of the speakers.
This is a great place to start for jazz novices.
A landmark of forward-thinking, psychedelic hip-hop.
A '90s classic of bargain-bin record repurposing from a master sampler. The ultimate record-store record.
Before he was more often known as a producer, Dr. Dre unleashed this gangsta rap classic.
It's easy to crap on Volkswagen and Wes Anderson for using Nick Drake's music, but they helped introduce this sad, romantic masterpiece to a new generation of starry-eyed kids.
Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
So much of modern music stems from Dylan, he's essential for any record collector.
Or you could buy Zaireeka and four record players ...
For pure pop glee, I'm not sure anyone has ever done it better than Rumours.
A tossup between this and I Never Loved a Man The Way I Loved You, but really, you need both.
Mind-expanding beyond reason, and with some of the best album art ever.
A spiritual, strange, soulful trip.
Try breaking up when this is on!
Pick up the UK version to impress your friends.
A corrosive proto-punk tour de force that might split your speakers in two.
Yes! Also find Off the Wall, which some would say is even better!
I finally got into Elton John and it was like, where have you been all my life?
Get your bearings on the birth of rock 'n' roll with this compilation of the legendary Robert Johnson's recordings.
One of the greatest white soul singers ever, gone too soon but left this singular statement.
A haunting masterpiece that laid the framework for countless bands and genres to follow.
Nearly every Led Zep album is essential; peruse the bargain bins to find the first four in particular.
A personal fave! My parents heard me playing this and were like "what is this new shit you're listening to?" It's from your era, dum dums. It's just always gonna sound fucking weird and amazing if you've never heard it.
A brutal pop record, the kind that detonated hard at the time of its release and will most certainly stand the test of time.
If you think the frat bros of America have ruined Bob Marley for you, you need to go back and explore the early Wailers records, starting with their classic major-label debut.
Like James Joyce in musical form, Astral Weeks is a sophistocated, stream-of-consciousness, genre-defying listen.
One of the best folk, singer-songwriter, guitar, everything records.
Obviously if you can find the first two albums (in whatever print you can find), you should get them. But their latest album is a potent statement of the pure power of sound, and perhaps the best album of the year.
Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)
Both of these have been reissued and are absolutely crucial. In Utero, in particular, has aged well.
One of the best rappers ever. This first album is his most perfect statement—morbid, funny, saddly prescient.
This album and Is This It? were everything in the early 2000s.
A time capsule of indie-rock perfection and blueprint for scores of underground bands to come.
There's a reason Dark Side of the Moon posters line college campus walls 40 years after this album's release. It still amazes every time.
Kind of like The Velvet Underground & Nico for the '90s—every one of these tracks seems to map out a subgenre to follow.
My pick for best album of the new millennium.
Don't mess with The King. His first record is the shit.
Prince - Purple Rain (1984)
If you want to DJ anywhere, ever...
The greatest rap album of all time? Perhaps. No record collection (hip-hop or otherwise) is complete without this.
Sure, it's got "Bohemian Rhapsody," which is awesome and all, but the rest of this record is fucking nuts.
A bunch of people told me this didn't belong on an all-time records list. Then I played them "Talk About the Passion" and "Sitting Still" and they were like "oh, you're right, I'm a complete moron, thanks for the tip and I will listen to this record forever till the day I die!"
Radiohead - Kid A (2000)
Radiohead - OK Computer (1997)
The greatest band of our generation.
We can debate the first punk album/song all day, but the Ramones' singular sound, perfectly formed upon first release, is still what most people think of when they hear the word "punk."
The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet (1968)
The Rolling Stones - Some Girls (1978)
Another record collection staple, The Rolling Stones have an estimable catalog. These are as good a place as any to start. Dig in.
One of the best Roxy Music albums. Suave, dark and cool.
The blueprint for every band that burned quickly and brightly after them.
Basically too beautiful for words.
Find out where Vampire Weekend got all those neat ideas!
The king of standards, Sinatra's ninth album tells the other side of the story of Sinatra as an artist on this moody, lovelorn masterpiece.
My favorite high-school album. Most of the Pumpkins' best albums (save Adore) have been reissued on vinyl. If somebody wants to shell out for Mellon Collie for me, I'd be infinitely grateful.
Punk, meet poetry, let's play.
There's a reason Pitchfork calls this the best album of the '80s. Every so often, go back to the Sonic Youth well with this record and remember how they changed your brain forever.
An eternal favorite of breathy, blue-eyed soul.
This really was it in 2001. They were the band we'd been waiting for, and Is This It? captures lightning in a bottle.
Wow rock music would'be become really boring if this were never released! Yr welcome punk, glam, post-punk.
A complete arc in only eight songs, from exhuberant, afro-pop post-punk to a deeply dark conclusion.
Marquee Moon can claim many "bests"—best debut album (outside of maybe VU & Nico?), best punk album, best guitar record. It's just the best.
The Smiths - The Smiths (1984)
They're worth every sixpence.
The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
The beginning of everything, the end of everything, R.I.P. Lou Reed.
Rain Dogs is Waits' undisputed classic, but it might cost you a pretty penny. Swordfishtrombones, which sounds unearthed from a carnival from hell, comes in a close second.
While I am loathe to put greatest hits records on here (though there are plenty of great ones in their own right, artists who are better represented by their hits than full albums, and so on), it would seem remiss not to include Chicago blues legend Muddy Waters, whose influence (and catalog) are mammoth. He's been compiled many times over; this compilation of his early work is easily digestible and was reissued this year, making it an easy find.
A sick, fucked up, awesome rock record.
Whatever, everyone! This rules.
I don't personally care much about The Who, but for completion's sake, why not.
Stevie Wonder's records are so great, so influential. Discovering Stevie Wonder's catalog should be a joy for any music collector.
The Wu-Tang Clan now almost seems like it didn't happen—how could they have fit all of that talent in one band without stepping on each other or sounding like a mess? 36 Chambers still sounds lean and mean, even with its massive (and massively influential) cast of characters.
You don't have to tell me that Harvest and After the Gold Rush are worth mentioning, but this is one of Young's classics we have in stock, housing proto-punk single "Cinammon Girl" plus two awesome jams, "Cowgirl in the Sand' and "Down By the River." Ugh just get all of his records already.
A wondrous pop record that always begs to be rediscovered.
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