10 of the best 1960s albums to test your system

best 1960s albums
(Image credit: Aretha Franklin)

When it comes to testing a new turntable, stereo amplifier, pair of speakers or a whole vinyl system, it is, of course, vital that you are familiar with the music and recording that you are listening to. Otherwise, how can you tell one piece of equipment from another and compare the two?

There are no hard and fast rules for what we use to distinguish between different pieces of kit, and everyone has their own particular favourites, of course – but some albums are picked off the shelf more than others.

Here, then, are some of our go-to albums from the 1960s. It could have been extremely Beatles heavy, we confess, so we've gone for just one of their albums – but in our opinions, each of the superb pieces of work below merits a place in everyone's collection. 

In the Court of the Crimson King - King Crimson (1969)

King Crimson; In the court of the Crimson King

(Image credit: Robert Fripp)

A listen to this remarkable prog rock album will reveal just how influential it has been in the half century following its release. Robert Fripp and his band members fuse jazz, classical, blues and loads in between in a mesmeric debut album that was outsold in 1969 only by, inevitably, The Beatles.

A listen to this album can be the musical equivalent of a wine or whisky tasting: "I'm getting a healthy amount of jazz fusion married to some early Sabbath, with undertones of spaghetti western." It's a wonderful ride.

View In the Court of the Crimson King on Amazon

Lady Soul – Aretha Franklin (1968)

Aretha Franklin: Lady Soul

(Image credit: Warner)

Superb performances of timeless classics, Lady Soul is Aretha at her incomparable finest. Standouts are (You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman, People Get Ready, Chain Of Fools, and the closing track Ain't No Way - but you really can't go wrong with any track on this wonderful collection. 

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Songs of Leonard Cohen - Leonard Cohen (1967)

Leonard Cohen - Songs of Leonard Cohen

(Image credit: Sony Music)

Where it all began. The other-worldly poet and songwriter released his first album in 1967 - and of course continues to be loved and cherished by generations of music lovers.

Here we find Suzanne, Sisters of Mercy and So Long, Marianne as the stand-out tracks - but this is, once again, a wonderful collection.

In our mind, everyone should benefit from the wisdom and beauty of Leonard; and this is the place to start. 

View Songs of Leonard Cohen on Amazon

Let It Bleed – The Rolling Stones (1969)

Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed

(Image credit: ABKCO)

This one just sneaks in, released as it was on 5th December 1969. And it was an appropriate way to wrap up the decade and end the hippie era. 

The Rolling Stones have been pretty much an ever present, and this is one of their best albums (with a few rivals, it must be said). The classic Stones combination of blues, folk, rock and a bit of country all come together with a fine synergy in a collection bookended by the classic tracks Gimme Shelter and You Can't Always Get What You Want.

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A Love Supreme – John Coltrane (1965)

John Coltrane - A Love Supreme

(Image credit: The Verve Music Group)

Simply a must for any collection, jazz or not, A Love Supreme is a remarkable piece of work from a quartet at the very peak of their powers – as fine an example of synergy you could ever hope to hear.

Divided into four parts, like a classical work, this album leads the listener on an emotional journey into spirituality after Coltrane's undoubtedly more earth-bound and difficult life experiences. This is a masterpiece.

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Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys (1966)

The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

(Image credit: Capitol)

One of the all-time greats, of course, Pet Sounds has to be on our list. With melodies and close harmonies to die for, this album is the triumphant result of Brian Wilson quitting touring to concentrate on studio work.

And it took Beach Boys fans somewhat by surprise, it has to be said. This is no longer simply the bubble gum pop of before. Here are some heartfelt lyrics and stone cold classics such as Wouldn't It Be Nice and the sublime God Only Knows.

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Dusty in Memphis – Dusty Springfield (1969)

Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis

(Image credit: Mercury Records)

There's not much not to like here. England's favourite soul queen singing songs from such legends of the music business Carole King and Randy Newman, and produced by the likes of Jerry Wexler.

Son of a Preacher Man is, of course, what brings the listener here in the first place, but tracks such as Just One Smile, Don't Forget About Me and even, dare we say it, The Windmills Of Your Mind, will make you so happy you invested.

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Otis Blue – Otis Redding (1965)

Otis Redding – Otis Blue

(Image credit: Warner)

A superb collection of covers (the 60s was still a time when a great performer could sing a song without being even slightly criticised for not having also written it) from one of Soul's greatest singers.

Redding had the A-team with him on this one, including producer Isaac Hayes and Booker T and the MG's bass player, Donald 'Duck' Dunn. Tracks such as Respect, My Girl, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, and A Change Is Gonna Come reveal a singer at the peak of his powers. Sublime.

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The Doors – The Doors (1967)

The Doors – The Doors

(Image credit: WEA International)

Starting with Break On Through (To The Other Side) and ending with, of course, The End, The Doors eponymous first album rocketed the LA band to global superstardom. 

And, when you stick Light My Fire into the mix, it's really easy to see why. Another collection must-have.

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Revolver – The Beatles (1966)

The Beatles, Revolver

(Image credit: Apple Corp)

Of course we listen to The Beatles. Lots of The Beatles. 

But for this selection of 60s specials, we have plumped for 1966's Revolver, in part because, obviously, it's one of the best albums ever made; but mostly for a contrasting playlist that goes from the sublime Eleanor Rigby to the faintly ridiculous Yellow Submarine, and then on to the trippy, out of its time final track, Tomorrow Never Knows. All that, and still it works as a piece of work in its entirety. Genius.

View Revolver on Amazon

Jonathan Evans
Editor, What Hi-Fi? magazine

Jonathan Evans is the editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine, and has been with the title for 17 years or so. He has been a journalist for getting on for three decades now, working on a variety of technology and motoring titles, including Stuff, Autocar and Jaguar. With his background in sub-editing and magazine production, he likes nothing more than a discussion on the finer points of grammar. And golf.