Playing records is a total experience. It demands – and deserves – your full attention. From the album artwork, a canvas in your hands to be admired and scrutinised, right through to the reassuring bump and crackle as the needle grips the groove for the first time and that analogue warmth suffuses the room.
The STACK Record Club has been created to celebrate and appreciate the classic albums. So whether you’re new to vinyl or a prodigal child returning to the fold after a sabbatical in the digital wasteland, please join us as we hand-pick a selection of essential long players for your burgeoning collection.
The Beatles – Revolver (1966)
On April 6, 1966, work began on what would become The Beatles’ seventh studio album, Revolver. The first track to be recorded in Abbey Road’s Studio 3 was the revolutionary Tomorrow Never Knows, a song featuring sampled tape loops and a sonorous drum track that would signify an expansive new direction and a psychedelic portent to the band’s unfurling aspirations.
Tiring of the rigours of touring, The Beatles were now focused solely on exploring the limits of studio technology in a bid to match their artistic ambition. New techniques were devised; notably, the ability to automatically double track vocals and the implementation of backwards recording (using instruments and voices in reverse) that would feature heavily on the album.
John Lennon had been the dominant songwriter on the band’s previous album Rubber Soul, but Paul McCartney, in an inspired period of creativity, delivered the bulk of Revolver’s high moments; Eleanor Rigby, Got to Get You Into My Life, and Here, There and Everywhere are three of the best songs he would ever write. The album also marked another first, with George Harrison contributing three songs to the final cut including the explosive opener, Taxman.
Revolver marked a fertile period for The Beatles, who worked feverishly in unison with complete studio freedom to deliver a pioneering pop record that turned the music world on its head, and continues to do so.
TOP TRACK: Tomorrow Never Knows
FAST FACT: The Beatles embarked on their final tour the same month that Revolver was released, but didn’t play any songs from the album.
Portishead – Dummy (1994)
If fellow Bristolians Massive Attack loosened the lid to a new and unique UK sound in the early ‘90s, then Portishead proved to be the spoon in the honey. Borrowing from the base elements of hip hop, DJ Geoff Barrow crafted a rumbling groove, combining a drum machine, samples, scratching, thick vinyl crackle and tape loops into a hypnotic sonic odyssey that threatens menace like an oncoming storm. Paired with Adrian Utley’s unpredictable jazz guitar and inimitable vocalist Beth Gibbons’ bleak and melancholic ruminations, Dummy is an intelligent and entrancing record; a work of genius.
TOP TRACK: Strangers
FAST FACT: Dummy had already sold 150,000 copies in the US before the band’s first tour there.
Released just a year after Public Enemy’s debut, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, had introduced the imposing trio of Chuck D, Flavor Flav and Terminator X to the world, It Takes a Nation was the second album most artists could only ever dream of producing.
The band – and their famed production crew, Bomb Squad – assembled a potent collection of tracks drawn from a myriad of samples harvested from far and wide, spearheaded by Chuck D’s pugnacious, politically-charged rhymes. The influential It Takes a Nation heralded a golden age of hip hop and remains as relevant in 2020 as it did 32 years ago.
TOP TRACK: Rebel Without a Pause
FAST FACT: The album title, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, was pulled from a line in Raise the Roof from Public Enemy’s first album.
QUICK TIP: Even new vinyl requires cleaning before you play them for the first time, to remove the solution that record plants use to separate the vinyl at the end of the production cycle.
Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
The opening 30 seconds of Breed perfectly encapsulates the attitude and spirit imbued in Nevermind. Kurt Cobain’s dirty riff collides with Dave Grohl’s charging roll and Krist Novoselic’s tuned-down bass drops in like an artillery barrage – three young energised musicians; three minutes and three seconds of controlled chaos.
The band had rehearsed consistently ahead of the sessions, tightening 13 songs for producer Butch Vig to shape into a point at LA’s Sound City Studios in just 16 days. Cobain’s exceptional skills as a songwriter harnessed the power of Black Sabbath’s guitar riffs, the shifting pitch of Pixies, and The Beatles’ ear for a catchy pop hook. On Nevermind, his songs lurch from the freneticism of the aforementioned Breed to the apocalyptic two-chord sway of Something in the Way with total coherence; there is no filler.
When Vig and the band stumbled on the final sound, the finished album was mixed by Andy Wallace, resulting in a rock record overlaid with a pop veneer, colossal power chords, and contagious melodies. The influential Nevermind opened doors and redefined worlds in a once-in-a-generation moment.
TOP TRACK: Lithium
FAST FACT: According to Butch Vig, most of Nevermind‘s tracks were captured in two or three takes.
The brooding Let It Bleed was the last Rolling Stones’ record to feature Brian Jones, who, struggling with a spiralling drug and alcohol problem, contributed to just two tracks and was sacked soon after. Opening with the foreboding Gimme Shelter, Let It Bleed is braced with iconic Stones’ numbers like the rock-infused Monkey Man and Live with Me, and live favourite Midnight Rambler, a song loosely based on the Boston Strangler. You Can’t Always Get What You Want concludes the album, succinctly drawing a curtain on the ‘60s flower generation and one of the most inspiring periods for the band.
TOP TRACK: Gimme Shelter
FAST FACT: Famous British TV cook Delia Smith baked the cake for the cover.
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966)
Brian Wilson had quit touring with the Beach Boys to spend more time in the studio. Inspired by The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, Wilson laid down most of the tracks to what would become Pet Sounds with accomplished LA session musicians while the band was on tour. Like Lennon and McCartney, Wilson became obsessed with working in the studio, crafting an experimental record layered with lush vocals and orchestration. A prototype concept album, the seminal Pet Sounds – despite being a commercial failure for the Beach Boys – captures the genius of Wilson at the high tide of his creativity.
TOP TRACK: God Only Knows
FAST FACT: Brian Wilson was only 23 years old when he recorded Pet Sounds.
QUICK TIP: While record crates certainly look the part, the ubiquitous cube storage units provide the safest solution for keeping your vinyl in top shape.
Incoming! Black Sabbath – Paranoid reissue
Black Sabbath’s second album, Paranoid, turns 50 this year. How are you going to celebrate? Well you can start with this excellent Super Deluxe Edition. It includes the original album, a rare 1974 Quad Mix of the album folded down to stereo, plus two concerts from 1970 – from Montreux and Brussels – that are pressed on vinyl for the first time. The five-LP set comes with a hardbound book with extensive liner notes featuring interviews with all four band members, rare photos and memorabilia, a poster, as well as a replica of the tour book sold during the Paranoid tour. It’s all due out October 9.