The Great Vinyl Record Primer

15 Top Vinyl Albums; Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

15 Albums That Should Be in Every Collection

Tim Van Schmidt


There was a time when the main leisure activity for some friends and me was sitting around in someone’s living room, shooting the breeze and playing records. That’s records as in “LPs” or vinyl.

Okay, so maybe it was a little bit of a slacker scene, but it was our kind of fun. Maybe we would play a game. Maybe we might have some favorite beverages at hand, maybe some food.

However, the mandatory thing for meetings such as these was the music. We played albums. We passed the covers around, read the liner notes, told stories, and let the music flow. We shared our favorites, discovered new tunes, and refused to play what just wasn’t cool.

One of the things we would discuss is if you could only have ten albums on a desert island, what would they be? I know, that’s not very deep, but it fascinated us.

Let’s put this into perspective. This all would be in the early 1980s when vinyl albums were king. Sure, you could buy singles, and cassette tapes were an alternative format, but everybody I knew who collected music bought LP — or “long play” — vinyl albums.

Vinyl albums usually ran about 40 minutes or so with the music divided up onto two sides. Albums at this time then were often conceived as a two-act performance and artists shaped their song list accordingly. Better than just a good song, bands strived to produce great album sides.

Nearly as important as the music were the covers — they were big enough to become works of art in themselves. Vinyl albums were good friends — like some people think of their books — and were prized, if not essential possessions.

The “desert island disc” question, therefore, fascinated me to the point that I decided to ask that very question of music professionals in the Fort Collins area. I made up a ballot and then distributed copies to record store workers, radio station personalities, my musical friends, and music fans in the community to take their votes.

The response was good and I tallied and cross-referenced the votes to come up with a top 50 list of the best albums of all time — up until that time, of course. Naturally, I had to write something about all of the albums and the result was my first major publishing project in Fort Collins, a booklet titled “The Great Rock Music Record Primer, 50 Albums That Should Be in Every Collection.” Thanks to the support from local businesses, I published 1500 copies of the book for free in 1983.

“The Great Rock Music Record Primer” was exactly that — a rock-heavy list that did not include so many different genres of music and so many artists. That’s just what it was.

But this list was “scientifically” designed to showcase what music people in Northern Colorado thought was the very best music of their time — when vinyl was everything — and I thought a look at the list today might be fun for longtime record fans, and informative for new ones.

I’m going to resist the impulse to update the list, like Rolling Stone did recently on their “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list. In writing about it now in 2021, I thought I would pare down the original list from 50 to 15. I didn’t take a vote, I just tried to pick some of the most enduring records that still resonate today. So here they are, “15 albums that should be in every collection”:


Allman Brothers Band “At Fillmore East”

Beatles “Abbey Road”

Big Brother and the Holding Company (w/ Janis Joplin) “Cheap Thrills”

David Bowie “Changes One”

Cream “Disraeli Gears”

Doors “Doors”

Bob Dylan “Greatest Hits (Volume 1)”

Led Zeppelin “IV”

Joni Mitchell “Blue”

Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon”

Rolling Stones “Sticky Fingers”

Traffic “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”

Who “Who’s Next”

Woodstock Film Soundtrack

Frank Zappa “Hot Rats”


That’s not all of the great albums or artists from the vinyl era, but it’s a good start.

One of the great joys of vinyl record collecting was shopping for the things and when my musical buddies and I weren’t listening to records, we were out finding new ones. We’d flip through the stacks, talk about what we found, show each other striking covers and quiz the person at the store counter about new releases. Generally, we made each outing a mission to come home with a pile of cool stuff.

I still like to record shop and here’s a list of area stores — and their phone numbers — offering vinyl:

All Sales Vinyl 779-5031

Intersect Records 682-2041

Bizarre Bazaar 484-1699

Little Horse Vintage 657-2342

Downtown Sound 673-0006 (Loveland)

Rock ‘N’ Robin’s 221-9977

Vinyl records aren’t just a thing of the past. Sales of new vinyl even recently surpassed CDs. So shut down that streaming device for a while, dust off the turntable, and get into a good groove.

Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. Access the original “The Great Rock Music Record Primer” from 1983 on his YouTube channel at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”

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