So Vinyl Records Wear Out. But After How Long? Longer Than You’d Probably Think. And What Are the Essential Vinyl Albums to Own?

Earlier this month, I had this post on the lifespan of compact discs.  Turns out that we’ve been lied to about how long they’ll last.  They don’t provide “perfect sound forever” as the old advertising promide promised. Turns out that they don’t even last as long as a good vinyl record. From CNET:

A lot of vinyl naysayers like to harp on the fact that LPs can “wear out.” Yes, the act of playing records does add a tiny amount of noise, clicks, and pops with each play, but my frequently played records, over very high-resolution speakers, still sound fine to me. I’m totally guessing, but I’d estimate some of my Rolling Stones and Motown LPs have been played 200 or 300 times, but I’d never replace them with new remastered LPs. Sliding an old record out of its cardboard jacket brings back memories; each LP has connections to the past.

[…]

Yes, LPs can wear out, but I own many hundreds of pre-1970s albums that still sound great, so as a practical matter it’s not a real concern. When I see well-worn, beat-up records, at least I can say that someone really played that music — again and again!

With that in mind, I think we need to create a list of the vinyl records everyone needs to have in their collection.  (Full disclosure: I’m trolling for suggestions for an upcoming episode of The Ongoing History of New Music on the history of vinyl.)

Here’s my Top 10 (assuming you can get either pre-1973 copies–i.e. before labels started cheaping out with the raw materials–or new 180-gram or better reissues):

  1. Abbey Road – The Beatles:  You need at least one Beatles record in the collection. This is my pick, but you also can’t go wrong with Revolver.
  2. Aja – Steely Dan:  One of the most exquisitely recorded albums of all time.
  3. Avalon – Roxy Music: The CD version of the title track sounds slightly harsh to my ears. The vinyl version, however, is smoother than smooth.
  4. Elephant – White Stripes:  An EXTREMELY analogue recording.  You haven’t heard “Seven Nation Army” until you’ve heard it from a proper vinyl copy.
  5. Harvest – Neil Young: Glorious bleakness.
  6. In Rainbows – Radiohead:  It’s worth tracking down the special mail-order edition with the double vinyl 45 RPM 12-inches.
  7. Kind of Blue – Miles Davis:  If you own only one jazz album…
  8.  Love Over Gold – Dire Straits: Recorded at 30 inches per second on two-in tape. “Telegraph Road” always gives me chills.
  9. Velvet Underground and Nico – Velvet Underground and Nico:  Yes, it’s grotty and lo-fi, but that’s the point.
  10. Who’s Next – The Who:  If you ever need to test a set of speakers to see how they can handle rock, play “Won’t Get Fooled Again” as loud as the system will allowed.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

18 thoughts on “So Vinyl Records Wear Out. But After How Long? Longer Than You’d Probably Think. And What Are the Essential Vinyl Albums to Own?

  • August 31, 2014 at 5:50 pm
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    Still – Joy Division
    This was a beautiful album package. Minimalist monochrome, double, die cut inner gatefolds, dull raw finish. I think it may have been letterpress too but can’t be sure.This album required care of handling to keep it pristine. Each side made sense, like 4 acts of a play. The presentation honours the music.
    I don’t get anything at all from the cd version, certainly a digital download doesn’t compare.

    Direct To Disc (Head Room) – FM
    One of the first direct-to-disc audiophile recordings, usually on display in stereo shops. 2 Tracks, one each side recorded live to disc, no tape no edit. Nice album package too.

    Some Girls – Rolling Stones
    Great die cut cover on the original release. I remember the reviews when it came out, Stones are finished, this is crap. And now, a classic with some of their biggest hits.

    My local stereo shop had a direct to disc record of the 1812 Overture. Recorded with actual live authentic period cannon blasts. The groove where the cannons went off was visibly gigantic on the record, maybe 1/32 inch wide. They only had 1 turntable that could track through it.

    Reply
    • September 3, 2014 at 12:50 am
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      My wife bought me a copy of Still for Christmas a few years ago that she found in a second hand shop in New York. It’s a real collector’s piece.

      Reply
  • September 1, 2014 at 12:58 pm
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    Thanks for the list! Just picked up pristine original mono pressings of Revolver at an estate sale a couple weeks back and it sounds great.

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  • September 1, 2014 at 4:46 pm
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    I just picked up a clean used copy of Avalon yesterday. Perfect timing! Adding to this, I wouldn’t hesitate go add Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits, as it is a hi-fi shop staple for rock testing. Random Access Memories by Daft Punk sounds excellent on vinyl as well, huge range.

    Reply
  • September 2, 2014 at 9:46 pm
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    U2 Boy. For the vocals. And the Edge.

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  • September 2, 2014 at 9:51 pm
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    One word…Yessongs!

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  • September 2, 2014 at 10:27 pm
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    Tool, of course and supertramp paris live, supertramp Surely, Clash Sandanista, any Zep, Floyd, Neil Young psychodelic pill. That is all.

    Reply
  • September 2, 2014 at 11:47 pm
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    Tough to narrow down, but definitely BIg Star – #1 Record and The Replacements – Tim. The Clash – Sandanistas! While not their best album sounds far better than the others on vinyl.

    Reply
  • September 3, 2014 at 12:47 am
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    Queen is Dead – The Smiths
    Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
    If I Should Fall from Grace with God – The Pogues
    Forgiveness Rock Record – Broken Social Scene
    Fisherman’s Blues – The Waterboya

    Reply
  • September 3, 2014 at 7:41 am
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    One of my essentials is the Audiophile vinyl of Supertramp’s “Crime of the Century”

    Reply
  • September 3, 2014 at 11:14 am
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    Heart – Dreamboat Annie – for some reason, the quality of the vinyl pressing produced by Mushroom records exceeded any other domestic vinyl recordings that I owned at that time.

    Reply
  • September 3, 2014 at 12:09 pm
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    The newer/Audiophile albums I gravitate to most include:

    Radiohead – King of Limbs: 2×10″ 45 RPM newspaper edition is hauntingly great

    Death From Above 1979 – You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine: pink double LP UK reissue sounds ridiculous, I can’t believe two people can make that much sound

    Cake – Fashion Nugget: I had to upgrade my CD copy… it was pricey yet totally worth it.

    Arkells – Jackson Square: They pressed something like three runs of 500, was hard to find but sounds 100x better than the radio

    Beach Boys – Pet Sounds: So crisp and epic

    Arcade Fire – The Suburbs: Turn up the RPMs on Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) and you have a dance party. Endless loop on C side, pretty cool.

    CSNY – Deja Vu: Never gets old

    Moody Blues – Days of Future Past: Just loose yourself with this one

    Doors – LA Woman: Waaaaaaay better than any “best of” CD ever

    Reply
  • September 5, 2014 at 11:25 am
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    Nick Drake – Pink Moon and Five Leaves Left (A little obscure and difficult to get)

    Alan Parsons Project – I, Robot

    Billy Joel – 52nd Street

    ELO – Out Of The Blue or A New World Record

    Queen – A Night At The Opera

    Son Ambulance – Someone Else’s Deja Vu (2008 album – absolutely stunning)

    Vangelis – China (maybe not rock per se, but stunning album)

    That’s a pretty good start (along with the other commenters recommendations). Of course, if we got into jazz there would be an absolutely monstrous list. 🙂

    Reply

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