Musicians that are dropping exclusive records include Alice Cooper, Daft Punk, Lewis Capaldi, Neneh Cherry, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Tove Lo, Fleetwood Mac, The Ramones, and more.
All those new records have given us time to think about the essential albums we think every music lover should listen to – whether you play your records on an old-fashioned turntable or stream via Spotify to your favorite wireless headphones.
Below you'll find the top picks from everyone from music industry tastemakers to the minds behind some of the best wireless speakers and headphones in existence – and of course, the beloved albums from some of us on the TechRadar team.
Before you ask "where's Ziggy Stardust / Pet Sounds / Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band / Straight Outta Compton?", the albums in the list below are just a small snapshot of over 70 years of iconic pop music releases – and they're all significant in some way to the contributors to this article.
So, without further ado, here are the essential albums we think every music lover should listen to without delay:
- Record Store Day 2020: the best headphone, speaker, and turntable deals
- The history of the turntable: how vinyl survived the CD, the iPod, and Spotify
- Do you have any of these rare records at home? They could make you filthy rich
AM, Arctic Monkeys (Domino, 2013)
Abbie McCarthy, TV & Radio Presenter
My essential album has to be AM by Arctic Monkeys because I think it's a modern rock n roll masterpiece – it's a record that I've not tired of listening to one little bit.
From start to finish, AM highlights Alex Turner's genius and insightful lyricism, teamed with some of the biggest, catchiest riffs of all time. The album is packed full of swagger and atmosphere, and it fully comes into its own when played live, with the Sheffield lads providing some killer festival moments and lively arena shows as part of the tour that followed.
This record changed how the world saw the band; it showed their willingness to experiment, included more diverse influences than ever before, and really opened up their sound to a rockier, heavier, sexier realm – and excitingly, meant that they could go in any musical direction after its release.
Making Mirrors, Gotye (Eleven, 2011)
Greg McAllister, Sound Experience Manager at Sonos
As a piece of essential listening for a music fan, I'd recommend Making Mirrors, by Gotye. Along with Gotye's best known song, Somebody That I Used To Know, Making Mirrors features tracks that span an eclectic mix of musical genres, from soul, to prog rock, to electronic.
The album, created almost entirely in his parents' barn with a mismatch of instruments and equipment he had collected over some years, is a testament to the fact that creativity isn't limited to big studios and expensive gear.
The thing I most enjoy about this album is the complex sonic texture Gotye creates in his songs by layering and interweaving lots of individual sounds and musical elements. It's extremely difficult to do this well, and not have the individual sounds fighting for space or it feeling overwhelming as a whole.
State Of The Art is a prime example of this, with the electronic sounds and rhythms combining and complementing each other in just the right way. The album also showcases Gotye's incredible vocals, which are just as suited to the quiet, introspective tone of Giving Me A Chance as they are to the soulful I Feel Better.
Another Green World, Brian Eno (Island, 1975)
Simon Lucas, freelance audio journalist
There was, briefly, a sweet spot between Brian Eno’s ‘electronic corruptor of superior pop songs’ Roxy Music character and the ‘egg-head aural sculptor and sonic manipulator’ of his equally acclaimed ‘ambient music’ persona. On 1975’s Another Green World he adopts both completely distinct stances, and the result is a record that, honestly, is unlike any other.
If it’s pop songs you want, superior verse/chorus/verse exercises in pretty chord changes and slightly wonky melodies, Another Green World has them. If you want insidious, almost subliminal adventures in sound as color or texture, well, Another Green World has them too.
This is a record that unfolds at a generally quite leisurely pace, and might at first sound like there’s not a great deal happening – but it reveals itself gradually, managing to lodge phrases and melodies in the listener’s head that they may not have been consciously aware of in the first place.
Among the ‘instruments’ Eno claims to deploy on Another Green World are ‘desert’ guitars, ‘unnatural sounds’, ‘uncertain’ piano and ‘tape’. Long before the end of the album, those descriptions seem entirely valid and reasonable.
Ys, Joanna Newsom (Drag City, 2006)
Olivia Tambini, Audio & Music Editor at TechRadar
Picking just one essential record that everyone should listen to is a difficult task, but Ys by Joanna Newsom sticks out in my mind as a masterful example of the album as a narrative body of work. The combination of Newsom’s offbeat vocal style and her intricate harp playing underscores a vast, imaginative soundscape that evokes the undulating landscape of the American prairie, complete with sweeping orchestral arrangements and folksy accordion accents.
Throughout its 55-minute runtime, Ys courses through quietly devastating introspection and vast sonic landscapes in quick succession, with lyrics that hark back to imagined mythical pasts, kitschy Americana, and the people that touched Newsom’s life in the year preceding the album’s recording.
You could draw comparisons to other artists; Newsom’s narrative songwriting is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, while her affected vocal style might remind you of the likes of Bjork – but there really is no album quite like Ys, and for that reason, I think it’s an essential listen for any music lover.
The Wall, Pink Floyd (Harvest, 1979)
Becky Roberts, News Editor at What Hi-Fi?
The Wall – and every other Pink Floyd album that isn't Dark Side – will always find itself somewhat in the shadow of the band's legendary masterwork, but those with a spot for a second Floyd LP in their collection would do well to fill it with this peerless concept double-album.
Roger Waters' all-in ambitious and arresting rock opera is classic Floyd – manic, imaginative and experimental. And while, unlike every other Floyd albums, vinyl cover artwork won't strong-arm you into making a purchase – after all, its stark brickwork is comparatively minimalist (Waters' fall out with long-time collaborator Storm Thorgerson resulted in the first cover without his graphic design company's input) – its dark, tortured-rock-star-themed narrative and powerfully theatrical execution sure will.
I, Jonathan, Jonathan Richman (Rounder Records, 1992)
Alex Bender, Marketing Manager at Cambridge Audio
My choice for an essential record that everyone should have in their vinyl collection is Jonathan Richman’s charming, funny, weird, honest and sincere 1992 album, ‘I, Jonathan’. It was just released on vinyl for the first time ever in August 2020 by Craft Recordings.
Richman’s surfy, doo-wop-infused takes on love, nostalgia, innocence, and optimism are so genuine that it’s hard not to fall for this album – he gets across the feeling of human connection that very few artists are capable of doing. In just 38 minutes of listening, you’ll want to catch up with all the friends you’ve lost touch with over the years, go out and buy every Velvet Underground bootleg to appreciate music the same way he does, and start a dance party in the middle of the street with a group of complete strangers. Put this album on your turntable and you’ll instantly feel good, and a little less alone.
And on vinyl, those rich vocals, intricate guitar strums and crisp handclaps are delivered with greater warmth and immediacy. It’s a great recording for testing the detail and dynamics of your vinyl-based system, and should transport you into the same room as the band.
Blue, Joni Mitchell (Reprise Records, 1971)
Gerald Lynch, Executive Editor at TechRadar
Joni Mitchell may not have necessarily invented the confessional album, but she certainly defined it with 1971's Blue.
A tapestry of jangling guitars and spritely vocals that belie its often mournful nature, it's a piercing look into Mitchell's relationships of the time. Using alternative guitar tunings and complex compositional arrangements, it sets the tone for Mitchell's more experimental work, beyond her folk roots, to come.
Approaching its 50th (fiftieth!) birthday, it remains as touching and intimate a reflection on love and loss as ever – as if a friend walked in from the rain in the middle of the night and opened their heart to you and you alone.
London Calling, The Clash
Andy Kerr, Director of Product Marketing & Communications at Bowers & Wilkins
I fell in love with music in the 1970s. OK, so I’m not that old: I just started young. I was buying singles pretty regularly from the age of eight and at the ripe old age of nine, I made the leap into the LP format with my first album and my recommendation here: London Calling, by The Clash.
It’s still my favorite album today, and not just because of misplaced nostalgia. London Calling is a record full of fire, fury, energy and ambition; it marks the tipping point when The Clash transitioned from being just another punk band – albeit a very good one – into arguably the finest rock band of their era.
While their contemporaries tended to stick to the three-minute-hero adrenaline-rush style that so characterized punk and early New Wave, The Clash were brave enough to release a double album featuring no less than 19 songs. And not only that: they were brave enough to make it a little bit experimental.
Alongside the taut melancholy of London Calling and the flat-out rock of Death Or Glory, there’s a whole host of invention here, including the ska of Wrong’Em Boyo and the reggae of The Guns Of Brixton or Rudie Can’t Fail.
As if those top tunes and the band’s bristling attitude weren’t enough, the song-writing was imbued with an intelligent edge that really made each song stand out, even in the politically charged atmosphere of the times. I was getting into The Specials at about the same time and like them, The Clash seemed to be able to expertly blended sharp, satirical social commentary with, well, bloody good music.
I’ve still got my original record, but it’s a precious time-capsule to me now so, to preserve it for as long as I can, I recently bought the 180g remastered record from one of my favorite labels, We Are Vinyl. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Boxer, The National (Beggars Banquet, 2007)
James Peckham, Phones Editor at TechRadar
Everyone needs a record in their collection that can make them cry, and The National's Boxer is my top pick for that.
Boxer is the fourth studio album from The National, and the band's true breakthrough record. The music varies from the horns of Fake Empire to the slow build of Start a War, taking you on a journey that many other albums aren't capable of doing.
It's the quintessential indie rock album that sums up the best side of the genre from the 2000s.
Need some stellar cans to get you through your new listening list? Check out TechRadar's exhaustive guides to the best headphones to buy today including the best on-ear headphones and the best in-ear headphones.