30 essential albums for audiophiles

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (1959)

Probably the most famous jazz album of all time – and almost certainly the best-selling, Kind of Blue represented a new direction for Miles Davis, as he discarded the complex chord progressions of hard bop for something different: improvisations based on scales, or “modal” jazz. The result is an album of gentle, evocative numbers that influenced not only the jazz scene but other genres like rock and classical. Ever the innovator, Davis later abandoned Kind of Blue’s laid-back style, regarding it as a product of its time that no longer moved him.

Standout tracks: “So What”, “All Blues”

Sigur Ros: Agaetis Byrjun (1999)

Before Iceland’s Sigur Ros became the go-to band to soundtrack every Attenborough documentary they sat awkwardly on the edge of post-rock – but it was a genre that never seemed to fit them. There are elements of Agaetis Byrjun that qualify it for such categorisation – it sounds epic in the true meaning of the word, not what you say when you’ve just eaten a really nice biscuit – but if anything it’s more post-folk, like Mogwai with flutes, horns and an orchestra rather than delay pedals and a volume dial. It creaks, moans and soars with the sounds of the band’s near-Arctic home, and, without wanting to make it sound too much like some sort of hipster Enya record, there’s even a hint of whale song to Jonsi’s vocals. [TW]

Standout tracks: "Olsen Olsen", "Ny batteri", "Svefn-g-englar".

More after the break...

Neil Young: After The Gold Rush (1970)

Whether wrenching a feedback-drenched wall of noise from a battered Les Paul or strumming his way through a gentle countrified ballad, Neil Young has always been an artist who cares about sound quality: he favours releasing albums in Hi-Res formats like DVD-Audio and Blu-ray, and is about to launch Pono, a portable Hi-Res Audio player.

While you could argue for days about which of Young’s 40-odd LPs is the best, few offer as complete a picture of his range as a songwriter than After The Gold Rush, an all-killer-no-filler record offering mournful piano ballads (the title track and “Birds”), down-home sing-alongs (“Cripple Creek Ferry”) and angry axe-wielding stompers (“Southern Man”).

There are several versions of this album available, all of which sound wonderful, but a forthcoming Blu-ray reissue with 24-bit/192kHz versions of the songs may end up being the reference edition.

Standout tracks: “After The Gold Rush”, “Southern Man”, “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”

Radiohead: OK Computer (1997)

At the start of 1997 Britpop was on a life support machine. By the end of the year two albums had killed it completely: the bloat-rock of Oasis’s Be Here Now and OK Computer. While the former represented everything bad about alternative music in the ‘90s, the latter was a sign of better things to come. OK Computer is the record that caught Radiohead right on the cusp of the experimentation that would produce Kid A, and marries it with the kind of choruses that would have 90,000 fans singing every word back at the band from in front of Glastonbury's Pyramid stage that summer.

Standout tracks: “Paranoid Android”, “Climbing Up the Walls”, “Lucky”

Prince: Sign o’ the Times (1987)

This double album is made up of castoffs from three aborted records, but Prince being Prince, a collection of odds and sods turned out to be a masterpiece and one of the 80s’ greatest LPs. As usual, Prince not only sings but plays many of the instruments, including programming the drum machines and samplers that play such a huge role in the record’s sound. On CD, it’s not widely regarded as the best-mastered of Prince’s records, but audiophiles should do their best to seek out the superb Japanese SHM-CD version (or the vinyl).

Standout tracks: “Sign ‘o the Times”, “U Got The Look”, “If I Was Your Girlfriend”