18 songs that sound their best on vinyl

Songs that sound their best on vinyl
(Image credit: Future)

There are some songs that just sound better on vinyl. Sometimes it's that imperfection that's needed to bring a track to life. This is a selection of our favourite tracks to really illustrate the point.

What do you think of our choices? Let us know the songs you'd include in the comments box below.

Jonathan Evans, Print Editor

Songs that sound their best on vinyl

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 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 a while to start learning for themselves the joys of such an investment in their time.

Buy Rumours (vinyl) by Fleetwood Mac on Amazon

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 still sublime – Perfect Day.

Buy Transformer (vinyl) by Lou Reed on Amazon

Frank Sinatra Makin’ Whoopee (Capitol, 1956)

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.

Buy Songs For Swingin' Lovers (vinyl) by Frank Sinatra on Amazon

Tom Parsons, AV Editor

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis The Mother (BMG, 2009)

I’ve said it over again to anyone who will listen (and plenty who won’t) – Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s soundtrack to The Road is one of the finest soundtracks ever produced, and it sounds best on vinyl. In an album full of melancholic beauty (and the occasional bit of cacophonic terror), it’s The Mother that stands out most, with its simple and stripped back but achingly haunting string arrangement. It’s an organic recording packed with detail and dynamic nuance, and listening to it in analogue is really the only way to do it justice.

Buy The Road (vinyl) by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis on Amazon

Everything but the Girl Alison (Blanco y Negro, 1992)

You know how irritating it is when someone tells you they love a cover of a classic track that simply cannot be improved upon? Well, buckle up because I’m about to be that someone. You see, as good as Elvis Costello’s original Alison is, the Everything but the Girl version is better, as far as I’m concerned. It’s stripped back to just a single acoustic guitar and the duo’s trademark harmonies, and it’s beautiful, with Tracey Thorn’s stunning voice given plenty of space to impress.

Originally released as part of the Covers EP (essentially performing B-side duties for the also excellent Love is Strange), Alison found its way onto the Acoustic album for release outside the UK. Neither is easy to come by on vinyl now but hunting down a copy is well worth the effort for the extra warmth and richness it lends the recording.

Buy Covers (vinyl) by Everything but the Girl on Amazon

Joe Cox, Global Editor-in-Chief

Songs that sound their best on vinyl

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…

Buy Selected Ambient Works 85-92 by Aphex Twin (vinyl) on Amazon

Burial U Hurt Me (Hyperdub, 2006)

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.

Buy Burial by Burial on Amazon

Kalani Bob and Remegel Deep Breath (Groove Yard, 1995)

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.

Buy Pure Deep House 3 - The Very Best of House & Garage by Various Artists on Amazon

Ketan Bharadia, Technical Editor

Songs that sound their best on vinyl

(Image credit: UMC)

Massive Attack Paradise Circus (UMC, 2010)

Massive Attack are something of a favourite of ours and rightly so. At its best, their music is inventive, intricate and emotionally charged. Importantly for hi-fi nerds such as us, the group’s recordings are invariably immaculately produced.

While we could have easily gone for a classic track like Teardrop or Angel, we’ve chosen something a little less obvious in the form of Paradise Circus from 2010’s under-rated Heligoland set.

It’s a song that starts small, yet builds with layer upon layer of instrumentation into something that has huge scale and complexity. As a piece of music it’s as rhythmically dense as they come, and that presents its own challenges for most hi-fi equipment. Add some achingly beautiful vocals by Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star fame and you have a song to treasure.

What makes Paradise Circus better on vinyl? On a good turntable this song flows superbly and has more of a sense of physicality than through most digital players we’ve heard. There’s also a degree of subtlety and natural warmth to Sandoval’s voice that good record players seem to find easier to communicate.

Hi-fi people have argued about the relative merits of analogue and digital replay for decades, and will probably continue to do so forever. Regardless of those opinions, there’s no denying that Paradise Circus is a fabulous piece of music.

Buy Heligoland (vinyl) by Massive Attack on Amazon

Stevie Wonder Master Blaster (Jammin') (Tamia, 1980)

Coming from Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July set from 1980, this is a joyous track full of hope and optimism. There’s everything here from an infectious dance beat that makes it impossible to sit still to some great musicianship, and let’s not forget Stevie’s distinctive, brilliant vocals. The track is inspired by Bob Marley’s classic track Jammin’ and has a strong reggae tinge to it. With eyes closed it makes us think of beach parties and hot summer days.

Listen to Master Blaster on a good record player and there’s a degree of punch and authority that’s hard to find in the world of digital. Add analogue’s ability to communicate the flow and momentum of rhythms effectively, and the choice is clear. By all means stream Master Blaster in hi-res, but if you want to hear it as intended, we think a good record player is the way to go.

Buy Hotter than July (vinyl) by Stevie Wonder on Amazon

Dan Sung, Staff Writer

Songs that sound their best on vinyl

(Image credit: Divine Records)

Sultans of Ping FC No More Nonsense (Divine Records, 1992)

Looking back, Sultans of Ping FC have the feel of a local indie/punk band whose popularity just got a bit out of control. Their fun and anarchic reaction to the over-produced music of the 80s took them beyond their musical ability and that was laid all too bare when they finally stopped releasing short records and hit the CD format with their first album Casual Sex In The Cineplex. It all sounded too clean when digitised and, frankly, a bit boring and my interest in the Sultans was lost.

I'd since tracked them down on streaming services – there isn't a huge amount of earlier material available – but the files I found only highlighted this band's reputation as a novelty act. That all changed when I was presented with a box of old stuff that my mum wanted to shift from her attic, including the remnants of my indie kid record collection – and Stupid Kid EP.

Let's be clear, it's still not high art but the crackle and buzz of this vinyl version is not only more forgiving to this thrashy music but it lends an authentic aesthetic. It evokes the sound of the budget speaker stack systems in the small venue gigs that a 15-year-old me would sneak into – the sweat, the beer, the mosh pit and the bruises my mates and I would compare the next day.

While the title track from the EP is a decent listen, it's the B-side, with its trio of songs from a single, live recording, that captures that indie gig time and place. There's banter with the crowd between each and you can feel the band's confidence and energy build until it explodes on the final song No More Nonsense – paradoxically the most nonsensical song they ever made. It's not good and it's not clever, but if I ever want to remember what it was like growing up, all I need to do is put this record on.

Buy Stupid Kid EP (vinyl) on Amazon

Goldie Timeless (FFRR, 1995)

Heading into adulthood, indie music became rubbish because everyone else started to listen to it, obviously. Dance music, for me, began as a series of dodgy rave tapes but the Timeless album felt like the moment when Drum and Bass went official. Its album art is iconic of the Metalheadz era and the way its music still sounds best to me is through the needle.

The absurdly long title track is not something to just crop up on a playlist of a social occasion. Timeless is an experience all of its own. Critics might accuse it of being a little bland, but try listening to it on a record player and you’ll find it lends the space and moment that both you and the track deserve.

Most turntable set-ups will remove some of the harshness from the intro samples too. Timeless is supposed to be a solace from the chaos of your day-to-day pressures and the removal of those sonic edges just helps you slip into the music all the more easily. With room to breathe, the samples underneath the beats seem to stretch out further. They ebb and flow in a way that doesn’t seem to happen with digital copies. Stretch out and the thoughts and feelings of the day will soak through your pores.

Buy Timeless (vinyl) by Goldie on Amazon

Led Zeppelin Dazed and Confused (Atlantic, 1969)

Jack White once said that he wouldn't trust anyone who didn't like Led Zeppelin. Harsh maybe, but I get where he's coming from.

If you haven't listened to much of the band, it’s easy not to like Dazed and Confused. It’s messy, lazy and feels like a dirge played on systems that fetishise a super clean sound. But dust off a vinyl copy of Led Zeppelin and let the stylus feel its way through and you should pick up a whole new appreciation for what is one of the best tracks on this debut album.

What it badly needs is the texture a record player brings. Robert Plant's pained vocal duet with Page's weeping guitar needs to be full of character and the bass guitar should fuzz like a day-long hangover. Only then can you flop back and slip through the cracks of your sofa with the true sense of endless ennui that the music should elicit.

Fortunately the next track, Your Time Is Gonna Come, is an excellent way to bring yourself back from the depths. You could end up there forever otherwise.

Buy Led Zeppelin (vinyl) by Led Zeppelin on Amazon

Andrew Murphy, Staff Writer

Songs that sound their best on vinyl

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.

Buy Rave Tapes (vinyl) by Mogwai on Amazon

Lubomyr Melnyk Pockets of Light (Erased Tapes, 2013)

This record, and 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.

Buy Corollaries (vinyl) by Lubomyr Melnyk on Amazon

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, 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 need to borrow a mate’s turntable to do so also gives the record a communal edge that resonates with a church-like atmosphere.

Buy Piano (vinyl) by Alexis Taylor on Amazon

Becky Roberts, Hi-Fi and Audio Editor

Songs that sound their best on vinyl

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 the mono format of the day, and it's an aural triumph every Floyd fan should be lucky enough to experience and 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 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 2019's Record Store Day is an even trippier, more unremitting experience.

Buy The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd on Amazon

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, 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.

Buy Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die... by Explosions (vinyl) in the Sky on Amazon


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  • Friesiansam
    Is anyone aware of the original mono version of Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, being available on CD?