In fear of sounding older than I am, nothing beats the sound of vinyl fuzz. Or the artistry on an album cover, reading through its liner notes, or the surprise posters inside. There’s a lot you can’t find on shuffle (however convenient it is outside of the home). But vinyl isn’t dead. In fact, with reissues and Record Day sales, they’re doing better than they were in the 1980s. But, for those of you that may be new to vinyl, we’ve compiled a list of the ten best classic rock albums every millennial should own.
1. Abbey Road by The Beatles
One more “the way we used to do it” was what Paul McCartney had asked of George Martin. And the result was a perfect album, a perfect ending to a band that changed music forever. It’s in the brilliantly uncomplicated lyrics of “Something” penned by George Harrison, the haunting triple-tracked harmonies in “Because,” and the way it all closes with a Shakespearian couplet: “And, in the end, the love you take/ Is equal to the love you make.”
2. Rock & Roll Animal by Lou Reed
“Rock & Roll Animal” could make the list of classic albums every millennial should own before Lou Reed even takes the stage, which is a testament to the band that backs him. As the intro turns into “Sweet Jane,” Lou Reed starts in with his street-talk lyrics: “And me, I’m in a rock and roll band.” But what makes this album extraordinary is “Heroin.” The brilliance of the slow buildup by Alice Cooper-alum guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, and the silence that infiltrates the comedown. As Timothy Ferris said in Rolling Stone magazine in 1974, “Crank that mother up.” Then, close your eyes and pretend that rock and roll never left us.
3. Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan
The album begins with a cacophony of deranged sounds and ends with an 11-minute devotion to his sad-eyed lady of the low-lands, his new bride, Sara Dylan. In between, Dylan is the ringmaster of his carnival. And Dylan is the blues; he’s the loneliest he’s ever been. And he’s in love. “Blonde on Blonde” is poetry, to put it simply. Many have tried to decode Dylan’s mind by sifting through metaphorical lyrics and evasive answers of the heart, but it all feeds into the myth that Bob Dylan is not of this Earth. Somewhere he’s laughing at our interpretations. But it doesn’t take away from the way that “Fourth Time Around” plays like an ode to The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” Or that “One Of Us Must Know” raises the suspicion that he may have loved Joan Baez in one of his many lives if perhaps, he is referencing the same snowy evening as “Diamonds And Rust.” “Blonde on Blonde” is a classic rock album that every millennial should own because of how it continues to reveal, as you listen through each stage of your life.
4. The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie
I can’t tell you what it felt like to hear this album in 1972, but in 2020, “Five Years,” the opening track, sounds like a warning. (To be fair, the world has been a bit off since his death). The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust plays like a concept album (though this wasn’t the production plan), where David Bowie’s androgynous alien character has come down to Earth to save it from the impending apocalypse. During Ziggy Stardust’s rise and fall are passionate pleas for the planet, saxophone solos, electric eyes and ray guns, and the glittery chomping guitar of Mick Ronson. Whatever your take is on space aliens and the salvation of the Earth, The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust is worth adding to your record collection. And, as the back of the album suggests, you must play it at maximum volume.
5. With A Little Help From My Friends by Joe Cocker
With soulful spastic convulsions and fiery fervor, Joe Cocker reinvents heartache. Taking otherwise contemporary music, Cocker interprets it with reckless abandon coupled with grit. On Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman,” Cocker slows down the original tempo, adds in an organ, and a few shots of whiskey. The woman he’s leaving is reduced to her amphetamines and pearls. Then, on “Do I Still Figure In Your Life?,” more pain and desperation as he sees his wife has moved on from their life together. Played consecutively, there’s a subtle irony. Later in the album, his rendition of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” the Beatles classic, has been transformed, and suddenly, you are too.
6. Exile On Main St. by The Rolling Stones
“Exile On Main St.” is a soupy mix of honky-tonk harmonies and twangy guitar licks led by Charlie Watt’s consistent snare. The album has several tracks that could heal a suffering soul, “Tumbling Dice” being the first of its sermons. It’s the haunting organ, the heavenly vocals of the backup singers, mixed with Mick Jagger’s lyrics in “Shine A Light” that places you among the concrete angels leaning into New York City shadows. That track alone puts this album on the list of classic albums every millennial should own.
7. Moondance by Van Morrison
With “Moondance”, Van Morrison has a way of making you nostalgic for all the beautiful things you’ve seen and felt. In this album, he makes you hurt for the loss of it all. In the opening track, “And It Stoned Me,” Morrison is pulling something from your guts— some repressed memory of your grandmother sitting in the kitchen —through the chords of his piano. His voice always feels like the way sunlight looks coming through a window on its way down: the beautiful ending of things. Only to be reborn and in love for the next track, “Moondance.”
8. Give It Up by Bonnie Raitt
Anything Bonnie Raitt touches is gold, really, but her classic “Give It Up” album is one every millennial should add to their collection. “Give It Up” showcases several genres of music: New Orleans, folk, blues, and rock. But the main attractions are Raitt’s ingenious slide playing and the songs that she wrote herself, including the title track. One thing about Raitt is that once you’re a fan, your world is opened to her inspirations, her roots. Once you own “Give It Up,” you’re introduced to the great Sippie Wallace, and Chris Smithers, then Lowell George, and John Prine. If you’re new to vinyl, this is a good start to classic rock albums every millennial should own, because of the doors it will open. And remember, there’d be no rock and roll without the blues.
9. The Last Waltz by The Band
“The Last Waltz” is a live recording of the farewell concert of the original configuration of The Band. (There is a film by the same name that coincides with this album.) Even if you know nothing of The Band in its legendary historical context, the album itself is a masterpiece. It’s another wonderful carnival featuring several of the artists The Band had previously worked with: Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young to name a few. It belongs on the list of classic albums every millennial should own for the lineup alone, but there’s more. Not only does The Band play as if their lives depended on every note, but to hear the haunting vocals of Joni Mitchell accompanying Neil Young on “Helpless,” well, it feels like going to church.
10. The King of The Delta Blues by Robert Johnson
Now, Robert Johnson might not be “classic rock” in plain sight, but he is, in fact, the beginning of everything. To not put “The King Of The Delta Blues” on the classic rock albums every millennial should own is ignoring the roots of rock and roll. The tracks on the album were recorded from 1936 to 1937 but compiled and released in 1961. By then, Johnson was mostly a rumor: a young man who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads just to play the delta blues. Robert Johnson has become so influential to rock and roll that if you followed the music on each album listed previously, you’d find a thread to the King Of The Delta Blues. Just ask Robert Plant.