“10 Vinyl Records I Want for Christmas”

Someday my ideal record player will arrive at my doorstep, I know it. It will cost under $150, have built-in speakers (I mean I don’t need to broadcast across the Grand Canyon, for Christ’s nuts) and won’t break right after I drop $90 at our local record store on vinyl. 

Until then, all I have to is dre-e-e-e-aam… dream, dream, dream, about the perfect record player and catalog. And there’s lots of ways we can do this. Like if you’re one of those collectors of rare vinyl records, that’s cool: boy does that artist in there sound pained over his or her lack of income. 

Give me, as it were, a full production: a product of a master set of musicians, and producer, on a bolstered studio budget, or in a great live setting (my favorite vinly I currently own is Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s Rust Never Sleeps, half of which is live concert wax). I mean, these things cost a lot of money. The “stakes are high,” in other words. I should be witnessing history in the making, I figure, when I put a record on to spin, like John Fogerty’s Centerfield, which features the title track and “Rock and Roll Girls” and opens with “The Old Man down the Road,” a song so good it got him sued for sounding too much like himself. And I just need a thing that plays them. Da** those needles are fragile on the $40 units you get in the mail.  


Big Star – #1 Record

If we’re being honest, I used to have this The Best of Big Star CD which made pretty much the perfect collection. I think it was a tad too long to fit on one vinyl so they redid it into a two-record set. Well, they left “Give Me Another Chance” off, so that disqualifies that one. Give me this bare-bones, rocking debut album, with “The Ballad of El Goodo”; “In the Street” and the aforementioned cut for some authoritative hipster prowess and central classic rock.


Lower Dens – Nootropics

Now, the main problem with this one, the only problem that I see with this atmospheric masterpiece of female-led indie pop, is that it’s 50 minutes long, so it would make for a really awkward double album, like Julia Holter’s Ekstasis (which I proudly own). Nootropics is one of those albums that floats along like a dream, though: Jana Hunter’s gorgeous vocals and lyrics remain blissfully oblivious to details, ephemeral, haunting and crooning into the night with textural euphoria.


Marcy Playground – Marcy Playground

Marcy Playground must have done something right because they prompted Cracker lead singer David Lowery to sarcastically quip “I know we’re not as good as Marcy Playground!” Further evidence is that a copy of this album on vinyl from Slow Down Sounds, reformatted “from the original 1630 master source,” according to the website (initially the album was never pressed to wax, upon its release, as this was the hey day of CD’s), currently sells for $100. But a lot of people who didn’t grow up in the late-’90s might not realize how substantial this album is: I’d particularly have to play close attention to the rocking “Saint Joe on the School Bus” and those treated vocals on “A Cloak of Elvenkind.” Plus, ya know, they might be really jealous, and everything. 


Son Volt – Trace

Son Volt’s mournful and perfect debut album is an absolutely essential stocking stuffer for any self-proclaimed American fan of folk rock. The instrumentation is lush, beautiful and complete, with banjo, fiddle and any number of rustic organs flooding this mix. Jay Farrar’s voice tends to play as an instrument in and of itself, as well, with throaty force belying an effortless proficiency in hitting notes and melodies.


Steely Dan – Can’t Buy a Thrill

I’ll admit that the singles themselves, “Do it again”; “Dirty Work” and “Reelin’ in the Years,” pretty much solidified this album into my top 10. Beyond that, though, the album is certainly listenable, with “Kings” and “Changing of the Guard” among the other solid tracks rounding this one out. For classic rock originality, you’d be hard pressed to find a better option. 


The Strokes – Is This it

I’ll admit, I always take it back to this classic, and even though the height of its popularity was right when I graduated high school and I was a big fan pretty much from the start, I’ve never heard this album on vinyl. We were in the throes of the CD-burning age, around that time, as it were. It’s about time this changed though: I’d be particularly curious as to whether the mix could do spatial justice to the psychedelic songwriting and hazed-out wizardry of track two, “The Modern Age.” 


The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico

And no I don’t need a “deluxe” version — this album was already as deluxe as it gets when it hit the showroom, thanks to some of the most eclectic instrumentation on the planet like electric viola and abrasive, distorted piano. Andy Warhol and company nailed the mix, too, bringing out Nico’s vocals and spotlighting them like the apocrypha that they are. Nico croons beautifully and melodically on what seems like all topics under the sun, ably accomplishing any permissible task, other than sounding flat or hackneyed, of course. 


Wilco – Kicking Television: Live in Chicago

This live album has been called “their finest moment” by Pitchfork, if memory serves correctly, and I whole-heartedly agree — it’s got a great way of fusing the disparate production methods of Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born into one light, beery arena, wherein rustic piano and combustive electric guitar reign in rhythm as perfect complements to Jeff Tweedy’s throaty vocals. The only real crime is that this is the only live album Wilco’s ever put out.


Wilco – Ode to Joy

Wilco’s 2019 LP was recorded in their own studio and released on their own label and sounds every bit the work of a band operating under these parameters. It’s ruthlessly, uncompromisingly down and melancholy, hence making it the perfect companion to the shutdown, of course, or to these harsh winters we have here in the Midwest. My favorite track is probably the simple, direct and awesome “Citizens,” with Tweedy’s hushed vocals marking an enchanting sort of ornament on the gently romping groove.


Neil Young – On the Beach

I already own Rust Never Sleeps so that one is disqualified — and really you could go in any of a number of directions with Neil Young, without question. Probably the best vinyl-listening experience I’ve ever had in my life was taking in “Long May You Run” on my mom’s copy of Decade, actually, Just to get this out there, I pick On the Beach for its epic closeur “Ambulance Blues,” but “See the Sky about to Rain” is another great, majestic token, from side A, and I love the album’s versatility, branching out into rocking blues and then back into weird banjo folk (“For the Turnstiles”). 


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