13 Great Soul Albums To Own on Vinyl

The energy and rhythm of soul music are enchanting – put on a record, and before you know it, you’re already grooving. You can go on for days, playing album after album, and never get tired of listening to these musicians pour their heart and soul into each track. What would you take if you had to go to another planet and could only carry 13 soul albums?

Some great soul albums to own on vinyl include “James Brown – Live at the Apollo,” “Aretha Franklin – Aretha Live at Fillmore West,” “Roberta Flack – First Take,” “Al Green – Greatest Hits,” “Curtis Mayfield – Superfly,” “Marvin Gaye – What’s Going,” and “On Sam Cooke – Night Beat.”

Creating a list of 13 great soul albums to own on vinyl was difficult, as there are countless incredible artists in this genre. Although this is not a definitive list for soul music, you can use this as a starting point for expanding your collection. 

1. James Brown – Live at the Apollo

Let’s be honest – no soul album collection is complete without mentioning the legendary James Brown. The godfather of soul showcased the power of his voice, music, and grooves, at the Apollo Theater, in 1962.

Live At The Apollo

It’s good that James Brown took matters into his own hands to record this performance, as King Records weren’t interested in doing the same. In fact, they even assumed that this wouldn’t sell well as he didn’t have any new tracks for this album. However, I’m glad he did, as we wouldn’t be able to experience his mesmerizing show.

In this album, you can hear the crowd going wild as Brown sings I’ll Go Crazy. You’ll also listen to vocals from The Famous Flames, featuring Bobby Byrd, Bobby Bennett, and Lloyd Stallworth. This live album from Brown is a must-have for any soul music fan, as you can feel the energy of each line. 

We might have been too young to experience the magic of James Brown’s live concert. Fortunately, we can glimpse what it was like to be at his concert with this album. 

James Brown

Live at the Apollo, 1962

In this album, you can hear the crowd going wild as Brown sings I’ll Go Crazy. You’ll also listen to vocals from The Famous Flames, featuring Bobby Byrd, Bobby Bennett, and Lloyd Stallworth. This live album from Brown is a must-have for any soul music fan, as you can feel the energy of each line. 
We might have been too young to experience the magic of James Brown’s live concert. Fortunately, we can glimpse what it was like to be at his concert with this album. 

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2. Aretha Franklin – Aretha Live at Fillmore West

The first thing that’ll come to your mind when you hear Aretha Franklin is – what an incredible and stunning voice. And what better way to experience her voice than listening to Aretha Live at Fillmore West. Another live album on this list; it was available to purchase in 1971, almost two months after the concert. 

She starts the concert with Respect, one of her many classics. It sets the tone for what you can expect from the rest of the performance. Live albums are a treasure as you can hear how much everyone is enjoying listening to Aretha Franklin.

From Bridge Over Troubled Water to Spirit In The Dark, she also plays the piano while taking you through a wide range of deep emotions. Towards the end of the performance, Ray Charles joins her on stage and lends his iconic vocals for Spirit In The Dark.

The album creates a groovy atmosphere that’ll leave you wanting for more by the time you’re done listening to it. 

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Live at Fillmore West

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3. Otis Redding – Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul

Another must-have in any soul album collection is Otis Blue by Otis Redding. It features the works of Sam Cooke, another soul musician who left the world too soon. The album starts off on a slow tempo with Ole Man Trouble.

In my opinion, this contains some of his best work. After listening to the album, you’ll understand why he is a legendary figure in the soul world.

What’s more surprising is that Redding recorded the entire album in 24 hours. Usually, if something is done in such a short period, generally, it doesn’t come out great.

What an incredible testament this is to Redding’s musical brilliance. In this album, you’ll also hear his rendition of B.B King’s Rock Me, Baby.  

Otis Redding

Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul

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4. Al Green – Greatest Hits

One album that is excellent from start to finish is Al Green’s Greatest Hits. Although he’s released 29 studio albums throughout his career, you can’t go wrong if you pick this up. It gives you a taste of what to expect from Al Green if you haven’t heard his work.

Be warned, if you’re going to be playing this album, make sure you don’t have anything to do for the next half an hour. That’s because you won’t be able to stop tapping your feet and dancing once Al Green gets going.

Greatest Hits [Vinyl]

The rhythm of all the songs in this vinyl has a groove like no other. Also, you’ll find one of Green’s iconic songs, Let’s Stay Together, which is a part of Grammy’s Hall of Fame. 

In the first editions of Al Green’s Greatest Hits, you would find How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. In the newer editions of this album, they replaced this track with Love and Happiness. Look at the track list before making the deal if you want to get your hands on a rare copy of this album.

Al Green

Greatest Hits

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5. Curtis Mayfield – Superfly

When it comes to soul music, Curtis Mayfield needs no introduction. Out of all his albums, Superfly is often one of the best to experience his groovy beats and vocals. 

With this album, you also get a taste of how powerful music is regarding activism and raising awareness on social issues. Pay close attention to the vocals in Little Child Runnin’ Wild, the first song on this album.

It was also the soundtrack for the movie Superfly (1972). Mayfield is brilliant at his work, as he knows how to deliver hard-hitting lyrics with a rhythm. You may not think much about the songs when you listen to the lyrics of all the tracks for the first time. However, once you know what he’s talking about, the lyrics hit a different note. 

All the tracks have incredible instrumentals, mixed with the right amount of vocals to ensure you don’t feel it’s too much of either. 

Curtis Mayfield

Superfly

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6. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

If there’s one album you need to listen to, it’s Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. At the time of its release (1971), a lot was happening in the United States.

Gaye crafted a powerful album to bring several issues on socio-economic and wartime conditions. From the lyrics, you get a clear picture of what he’s trying to hint at with his music. 

Although the vocals carry a lot of weight, he balances it skillfully with funky beats. It’s a great album to learn more about his worldview during that time and how he wanted to deal with everything taking place in his life.

Marvin Gaye can talk about societal issues, get you to groove, and make you feel strong emotions with his voice – a truly remarkable feat for any musician. 

He has a lot to offer in this album, and I recommend paying close attention to what he says. Even though he talks about things that happened decades ago, some parts are still relevant even today. I always consider his work timeless, and this album proves that.

Marvin Gaye

What’s Going On

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7. Sam Cooke – Night Beat

Sam Cooke is another legendary figure in soul music. Had he been with us any longer, I’m sure he would have produced incredible works of music. Even though he was only a professional musician for 13 years, he won several awards for his music after his death.

Sam Cooke’s Night Beat captures the beauty of his fantastic voice in all its glory. It was one of the last albums he produced. He will take you through deep emotions and thoughts with every track. 

If you’re looking for a slow-paced album with mesmerizing vocals and beats that you can listen to throughout the night, you’ll love Night Beat

Sam Cooke

Night Beat

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8. Charles Bradley – Changes

Charles Bradley had a late-career compared to all the other artists on this list. Although he became famous in his 50s, he left an enormous impression with just three albums.

One way you can experience his musical brilliance is to listen to his third and last album, Changes. You can see that he got inspired by James Brown from the track Good To Be Back Home. Along with the groovy beats, your head will bob to the music in no time.

He has a unique and powerful voice, just like the soul musicians of the past. It was as though his style could transport you back to a time when James Brown had just started his career as a soul musician.

Charles Bradley

Changes

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9. Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life

While there are plenty of albums to choose from when it comes to Stevie Wonder, I believe Songs in the Key of Life is one you must have on vinyl. It’s a masterpiece from a musician who inspired various artists from different genres worldwide.

Before he released this album, there were rumors that he would retire from his music career. Who could blame him? Before Songs in the Key of Life, he had already produced 17 studio albums by the age of 25. 

Thankfully, he continued to make music as Songs in the Key of Life was on a new level. The only way to truly understand why this album won a Grammy is to listen to all the tracks. 

It’s been over four decades since Stevie Wonder released this album. This test of time continues to show the musical genius of this legendary artist. 

Stevie Wonder

Songs in the Key of Life

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10. Roberta Flack – First Take

Roberta Flack introduced herself to the world of soul music with First Take, her first studio album. The tracks are heavy on the vocals, and for a good reason – you get to hear her stunning voice and why she was a phenomenon back in the day.

The first track, Compared to What, starts with funky beats before switching to a slower tempo. Her voice draws you to the music, and you can feel it deep inside your soul. This album is great for a slow afternoon or late-night session with someone you care about deeply.

You’ll also find one of her classics in this album, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

Roberta Flack – First Take

Songs in the Key of Life

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11. Bill Withers – Still Bill

When Bill Withers died on March 30, 2020, it was a sad day for soul music. Fortunately, he left several gems behind so everyone could enjoy his music. Still Bill, his second album, is one you must get for your soul music collection.

It contains Lean On Me, one of his most popular tracks. The beats on this album are catchy, matching his elegant and alluring voice. He also featured in The Guardian’s “1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die.” 

Bill Withers

Still Bill

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12. The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go

While The Supremes, a singing group, had several hits spanning decades, Where Did Our Love Go, their second album hits all the right notes. After bursting into the scene with Meet The Supremes, they returned even harder in the next album.

You’ll love listening to the unforgettable beats that leave you upbeat at the end of every track and always wanting more. It contains several classics like Baby Love and When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes

Every track in this album is so magical that it will get you snapping your fingers to the beat as you listen to the charming vocals of The Supremes in unison. 

The Supremes

Where Did Our Love Go

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13. Ray Charles – Greatest Hits

The influence Ray Charles had on the music scene is beyond remarkable. Initially, not everyone was on board with the way he combined R&B with gospel music. Thankfully, he continued on this path to create some of the best soul music.

A musical genius, visionary … you can use countless words to describe his talents. Ray Charles makes you feel his music deep inside your bones – as though he’s speaking to your soul. 

He released Ray Charles – Greatest Hits in 1962, the first of many similar albums. It contains hits like Hit The Road Jack and Unchain My Heart, two of his greatest songs. Even though Ray Charles is no longer with us, he left an awe-inspiring legacy behind.

Ray Charles

Greatest Hits

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