It's Record Store Day this coming Saturday, which has turned our minds, once again, to those songs that really illustrate vinyl's superiority over other formats.
Here, then, are a few of our suggestions...
Jonathan Evans, print editor
Fleetwood Mac Second Hand News (Warner Bros, 1977)
One of the seminal albums of the 1970s kicks off with Second Hand News. And in doing so it highlights, for me, the joy – the importance – of playing albums and songs on vinyl. Today, it’s all too easy to flit from track to track, genre to genre, decade to decade with only the slightest prod of a finger and without a second thought. Putting an album on a turntable, though, requires at least a modicum of commitment. And the opening few bars of Second Hand News mean more than just that track. The jaunty intro also brings with it the certain knowledge of tracks to come – and the order in which they’re coming. And events such as Record Store Day mean that today’s MP3 generation are more likely than they have been for quite some time to start learning for themselves the joys of such an investment in their time.
Lou Reed Andy’s Chest (RCA, 1972)
The second track on Reed’s glam-rock influenced (produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, it could be nothing else) Transformer meanders in with Reed’s vocal and a slowly wandering bassline. Quite soon things kick off with the full band, Bowie and Ronson on backing vocals and some frankly bizarre lyrics. Perfect. And made more perfect when played on a record player. That evocative intro in particular benefits from the warmth of vinyl, but the dynamism of the track lends itself to the fine old format as well. And, talking of perfection, it all makes a fitting prelude to the next track on the album, the sadly now overplayed – but (surely?) still sublime – Perfect Day.
It was a toss-up between this and Mood Indigo from another Sinatra/Nelson Riddle masterpiece, In The Wee Small Hours. I must have been in a good mood…
You can pretty much take your pick of tracks from either of those wonderful collections – Nelson Riddle’s musical arrangements are simply genius, and Sinatra is on peak mid-season form, with hypnotic phrasing and nonchalant ease with a lyric. Makin’ Whoopee appeals particularly though, as a beautiful synergy between two musicians at the top of their game. And it’s a fun, light, easy-going concoction that’s perfect for a late-spring evening. Big band at its best.
Andrew Murphy, staff writer
Mogwai Remurdered (Rock Action, 2014)
Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite has said that, since filling in the pieces live, this record now sounds texturally a bit sparse to him. That isn’t necessarily an indictment of the original arrangement – in fact, that sparseness can draw focus to its fewer lines. In particular, there is a low-end drone propping up Remurdered that I’ve only really heard, or perhaps rather felt, twice: with the band playing it live and on vinyl through a capable pair of floorstanders. Playing it through your laptop – even with a smashing pair of headphones and comparative DAC – just doesn’t dig deep enough. Moreover, there’s a wide use of analogue synthesizers on the Rave Tapes album – see Remurdered again as an ideal example – for which, philosophically at least, an analogue source just feels right.
This record, and in honesty each and every other of Lubomyr Melnyk’s works, proves vinyl is capable of a sensory experience beyond that only of sound. This was the first time Melnyk had composed with other ambient musicians, having for decades pioneered continuous music as a solo pianist - he was 64 years old. Produced and recorded by Peter Broderick in Berlin, with input from Nils Frahm and Martyn Heyne, the album Corollaries opens with Pockets of Light, a breathtaking 19-minute voyage through a remarkable ambient landscape.
Record label Erased Tapes makes all its releases available as lossless downloads, so you needn’t own a physical copy to avoid sonic compression, but the benefit of vinyl here is at least two-fold. There’s the implication that the effort you’ve made to place a record upon the platter prepares you for deep listening, which this work undoubtedly deserves, but more specifically there’s an almost hypnotic relationship between continuous music and watching your record spin indefinitely that cannot be replicated.
Alexis Taylor Crying In The Chapel (Moshi Moshi, 2016)
When Alexis Taylor released the Piano album last year he described it as a kind of secular gospel recording. These solo piano arrangements, of his own songs and those written by others but personal to him, do have a hymnal quality and a temperament that feels as if it ought to be listened to on vinyl.
Fly forward a few months, however, and Taylor offered up further reason to play Piano on vinyl when he released companion album Listen With(Out) Piano. Whereas the original record strips songs to their barest elements, Listen With(Out)… brings together an assembly of Taylor’s favourite musicians to record an album that can be played concurrently with Piano, broadening arrangements with vocal harmony and wider, though still minimalist, instrumentation. This particular cover of Elvis Presley’s Crying In The Chapel spotlights the concept’s riches with modulated harmonies married to the original piano track, without foregoing its gospel-like character. You can hear all the blended versions on Spotify, but there’s beauty in playing the two albums with two decks. The idea that you’d likely need to borrow a mate’s turntable to do so also gives the record a communal edge that resonates with a church-like atmosphere.
Listen to Crying in the Chapel (Piano)
Listen to Crying in the Chapel (Listen With(Out) Piano)
Listen to Crying in the Chapel (Blended)
More after the break
Simon Lucas, digital editor
Blackalicious If I May (Mo’ Wax, 1999)
Blackalicious seemed out of step with turn-of-the-century hip-hop, but their debut album Nia demonstrated positivity and consciousness were no impediments to producing as chunkily head-nodding a recording as any nominal competitor. On vinyl, If I May is easily identifiable as a painstakingly assembled aural collage, the different elements and sources effortlessly identified. The pieces fit together perfectly. And the droning, elongated low frequencies have greater substance and are much more oppressive when listening via vinyl – and that’s without impacting on the shining guitar phrases or vocals in the midrange. In part, hip-hop and DJ culture kept vinyl alive throughout its darkest days – sometimes it’s easy to hear why.
Neil Young Tonight’s the Night (Reprise, 1975)
Recorded ‘as live’ in the studio, and featuring some scandalously sloppy performances, Tonight’s the Night is one of the best recordings I’ve heard in terms of letting vinyl, as a format, showcase its qualities. The size and shape of the room the musicians are in is explicit. The snares beneath the skin of the snare-drum rattle and resonate in response to bass guitar notes in a way that’s diluted on CD or via a streaming service, and the bass guitar itself is loaded with detailed information. On vinyl, the bass notes seem a product of strings and fingers and plectrum, while on other formats they simply sound like a bass guitar. There’s fullness to what’s a fairly spare-sounding recording, a more instinctive sense of timing and interaction between the musicians than any alternative format can deliver.
Despite being released in a year when CD was riding roughshod over the popularity of vinyl, Bigmouth Strikes Again is even more vividly alive when delivered by the ancient format. Many of the things that made The Smiths a unique proposition are in play here, but it’s Johnny Marr’s absolute mastery of the guitar that benefits most from vinyl’s formidable strengths. His deftness, his lightness of touch and his desire to serve the song are all elevated; the organic crunch of acoustic rhythm guitar contrasts beautifully with fluid electric picking. And the sense of a band bearing down as a single entity during the weightless few bars at 2m 02s is given greater space, greater urgency and greater dynamic impetus than on CD, let alone than via Spotify.
Joe Cox, brand development editor
Aphex Twin We are the Music Makers (Apollo, 1992)
Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is a typically sought-after Aphex Twin release, with the added ‘bonus’ of some inconsistent pressings to add to the legend. I certainly own a not-very-good copy – one side of the double-LP seems a bit rough around the edges – and yet I find myself enjoying the vinyl release more than the digital.
The hazy sound palette, deep, sometimes fuzzy, bass and the intricate percussion all benefit from a little vinyl warmth, while the dreamy nature of the whole album means this is definitely one I’d rather play in full on vinyl. Beauty in the imperfection if you ask me, though myriad Discogs comments will point you in the direction of the ‘best’ vinyl release, should you want a pristine version…
Everything about this record means you really ought to hear it on vinyl. Born out of the brooding underground sounds of dubstep and UK garage – two genres that built on the dubplate culture of reggae and dancehall – Burial makes a melancholy, ambient-meets-dub record that (literally) pops and crackles with atmosphere.
With vinyl noise used liberally throughout to build moody soundscapes, actually playing it on a heavyweight vinyl pressing makes perfect sense. The chopped-up vocals sound full of emotion, the video-game samples add dynamics and tension, and the drums flow with a skittish rhythm. And, of course, you can’t beat the sound of a hoover bass line on vinyl.
I would be doing my teenage self a disservice if I didn’t include one of my first vinyl purchases. My love affair with vinyl began as a superstar DJ, playing to crowds of two, sometimes three, close friends in my bedroom, and it was UK garage records that took up much of my pocket money.
Mixing classic US house piano keys with bumpy basslines and pitched-up vocals, Deep Breath is the stand-out tune and an archetypal mid-’90s club track. And the main reason this is best owned on vinyl? It wasn’t available in any other format.
Steve Waters, photographer
Christine and the Queens Christine (Because Music, 2014 - French original release)
Firstly a clarification. Just as ‘Christine’ herself is aka the all-singing, all-dancing Héloïse Letissier, this standout track from debut album Charleur Humaine is better known on these shores as Tilted, its English language incarnation, released in 2016.
In the ever so ‘umble opinion of this reviewer, Christine has the edge over Tilted. And Tilted most certainly has the edge on vinyl!
In truth, Letissier’s full 2014 self-produced album is simply made to be heard on vinyl and this is the version I would urge anyone to buy - with one caveat. The original release lacks the wonderful Jonathan, featuring vocals by Perfume Genius, that was included in the 2015 re-issue.
But hey. Do what I do: stream the 2015 reissue but groove to the original release on vinyl.
Or possibly just buy both!
The Stone Roses Fools Gold 12in (Silvertone, 1989)
Can there be a finer example of a record that sounds ‘better’ on vinyl than the mighty Roses’ Fools Gold 12in? Its 9 minutes and 53 seconds sound exactly as they should on this venerated vinyl.
Producer John Leckie certainly has everything in its right place. The instant the Roses rhythm section (Mani – bass/Reni - drums) kicks into life, you know that you are listening (and probably dancing) to something very special. And then along comes John Squire, making the wah-wah pedal cool again!
Released in 1989, one year after CD sales overtook vinyl for the first time, Fools Gold stands as a testament to everything that was great - nay, everything that was right - about a format we were preparing to turn our backs on for the next 25 years.
How foolish we can be sometimes.
Kashfia Kabir, features editor
Tom Waits Alice (ANTI-, 2002)
There’s a particular richness of depth and tone to vinyl, and Alice - while a rather sparse recording - has such interesting textures and shades you’re instantly submerged in Tom Waits’s dream-like world the moment the needle touches the record.
He sounds more like he’s telling a dark fairy tale than singing a song. There’s a gentleness to his gloomy, gravelly tone and, on vinyl, those nuances – along with the smoothness of the muted trumpet, the louche saxophone cutting through the velvety, deep bass, the twinkling piano – are laid bare.
I wake up to this song every single morning. And while it’s an effective alarm, it sounds a hell of a lot better on vinyl than through my phone.
Nirvana Smells Like Teen Spirit (DGC, 1991)
I wasn’t really aware of grunge until April of 1994, when Nirvana were all over MTV, all the time. I didn’t realise why until a long time later.
Since then, Smells Like… has found its way into my music collection in one way or another. The grunge anthem hasn’t aged one bit, regardless of how I’ve heard it throughout the years: on MTV, through my childhood Sony stereo system, on my Discman during my teens, on my laptop or as a streamed song on my iPhone, listening through headphones on my way to work.
But it’s on vinyl that it sounds a whole other beast. From Kurt Cobain’s hoarse screaming to Dave Grohl’s thrashing drums (all underpinned by Krist Novoselic’s urgent bassline), the raw intensity of the song and its recalcitrant tone is heard - and felt - more viscerally. And the sheer noise of it, especially when the chorus kicks in, still has the ability to stir the blood.
Becky Roberts, news editor
Pink Floyd Interstellar Overdrive (EMI Columbia, 1967)
Floyd mapped themselves a future in experimental prog rock with their debut 1967 album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn - the only release with the band’s original line-up before founder Syd Barrett’s departure, and one which has since spawned umpteen vinyl (re)releases.
The original, from Columbia Records, was in mono – the format of the day, of course – and it's an aural triumph every Floyd fan should be lucky enough to experience (and inevitably treasure). Interstellar Overdrive is the album’s trippy psychedelia zenith - a space jam rock in another headspace to its poppier ditties like Lucifer San or Scarecrow. Mostly a celestial scramble of guitars, at times woven around Mason’s eerily constant drumbeat, with the collective atmospheric build and creative improvisation that made it such a staple in Floyd’s live performances, its near-ten-minute evolution of acid rock instrumental is as intense and hallucinogenic as anything I’ve heard. Its bold, direct mono presentation, with every drip of delay and echo preserved, is the musical equivalent of being grabbed by the throat. And I can only imagine the 15-minute version released for last year’s Record Store Day is an even trippier, more unremitting experience.
While we’re on the subject, the song and RSD continue their relationship this year with a new mono remaster of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn being released for this year’s, freshly cut from the original mono master tape, by James Guthrie (engineer of The Wall), Joel Plante (who mastered The Division Bell) and Bernie Grundman (recent re-masterer of Wish You Were Here).
Explosions in the Sky The Moon is Down (Temporary Residence, 2001)
Because sometimes sad music makes you happy. The broodiest track of Explosions’ sophomore album, which is as beautifully sad as any of their releases, and a go-to in my vinyl collection, is illustrative of the Texan post-rock outfit’s crushing percussion and wistful guitar lines, to their devotion to lifts and lulls, and almost religious tendency to move from mellow to militaristic from one moment to the next.
The absence of lyrics or a vocal to steal the spotlight allows the band to speak purely in timbre and texture - each one of these so brazenly plucked from the groove of its vinyl pressing. Rolling drums take on more shape, and the echo on the bright guitars really rings through - all sheds light on its dark apocalyptic overtones.
And of course the track’s central place in the record’s journey of contrast – of pessimism (side A, ‘the plane will crash tomorrow’) and promise (side B, ‘help us stay alive’) – can be experienced rightfully chronologically on vinyl, with the turning over of the record almost a physical gesture of a change in the mindset.
An experience that can only be beaten by seeing it all unfold live.