My Top Albums On Vinyl, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog
Those who have lived through the eras of music on vinyl, reel to reel tape, 8-track and cassette tapes, CDs, and digital formats may tell you that the best of all was the vinyl era. Yes, most audiophiles believe that the best sound actually comes off of records, not the other formats. As records and recording equipment evolved over many decades, the sound steadily improved. Before the giant rush to tape formats, recordings on vinyl records became quite advanced. When mono became stereo, and stereo advanced to multi-channel sounds, people were piling columns of speakers around their rooms in order to make it feel like the music was being played right there in the room with you.
There were people who could tell you which albums had the best “channel separation” and would place speakers where certain instruments would appear in one place, while others could be heard from elsewhere in the room. As recording techniques became sophisticated, so did the listeners’ equipment. If you had a great turntable, receiver, speakers, and headphones, you probably needed an equalizer so you could balance your sound perfectly. I had a friend who loved classical music. His many speakers were placed strategically so as to have the symphony orchestra placed perfectly. With a little mixing magic on the equalizer, you might feel you were hearing the music live.
Those days are gone and no matter how much you insist the sound is better today, no one with a “sophisticated stereo system” in the 1970s will agree with you. Why that diamond needle riding along groves in vinyl produced such a great sound is definitely a wonder I do not understand, but it did. Every now and then I heard a CD in my last car that impressed me with some channel separation that produced different instruments from different speakers, but that was rare. It did not compare with recordings of older times. Now I must plug my phone into a USB port to get music, or revert to FM radio, which sounds like the old AM radio stations to me, but I digress.
Albums continue to be released on vinyl but they do not match the numbers from the eras before cassette tape. I must remind you here that 8 tracks were a “flash in the pan” and I am pleased to say I never owned one. In 2021 more albums were sold on vinyl than any year since 1991, still, the numbers are paltry compared to the decades before that.
You may be surprised to learn the biggest selling vinyl album of 2021, according to theVinylFactory.com hit 318,000 copies. It was Adele’s “30.” You have likely heard of Adele and have at least a passing acquaintance with her music. Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour” hit 268,000 copies. If you are asking “Who?” so was I. You probably have to be a Millennial or a member of Gen Z. Boomers may be pleased to find The Beatles’ Abbey Road is still in the Top Ten vinyl sales. The continual rise in record sales does not mean Vinyl is back, however.
Surprisingly, vinyl records comprise half of all physical album sales. This is due to the decline in CD sales and the rise in digital downloads, and playlists culled from subscription services like Spotify and Amazon Prime Music. In my last visit to Best Buy, I noticed they had given up on CD sales.
So, with all this in mind, I offer my eclectic selection of 5 vinyl albums I have for decades and still think worthy of playing often. The first is from my dear departed mother’s multitude of records. Her collection featured show tunes, which I guess is appropriate for me, as well as Caruso and Mario Lanza. I can not tell you how many Saturday afternoons were filled with Mario Lanza. Perhaps that was to drive us out of the house to play outside, I am not sure. I still have an album called Andy Williams Million Seller Songs. They were not all his million sellers, but a few were hits for him. I like the whole thing. It was released in the fall of 1962 and hit Billboard’s Top LPs in January 1963 and stayed there for 43 weeks.
If I loved a group, I inevitably wanted their Greatest Hits album. A lot of my early favorites were by The Hollies. The group was formed in 1962 and has continued on with various members. They had so many early hits they actually put out a greatest hits album in 1967. Some of the songs were co-authored by one of the founding members, Graham Nash. He left the group in 1968 to form another group on my list. The Hollies were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
One group I have mentioned before in the article The Time It Is Today. The Association was known for songs with a social message. I just about wore out their Greatest Hits album as it is filled with my favorites from the late 1960s.
I actually had the next album on cassette first. Later, someone gave me Willie Nelson’s Stardust on vinyl. This 1978 album was a revelation to me as I heard Willie sing standards from other eras. Nelson picked his favorites and did them proud with his unique interpretations. This is a treasured piece of my surviving vinyl collection.
In my humble opinion, one of the greatest vinyl albums of all time is actually a double album by a group formed of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young. The 1970 album 4 Way Street was recorded live at the Fillmore East in New York, The Chicago Auditorium, and The Forum in Los Angeles. All four individually wrote the songs on the album. The harmonies were classic and enduring. The messages were timeless.