The history of rock music is so full of amazing masterpieces that it’s difficult to say which are the best rock albums ever released. Still, in this post, we try to do exactly that. Our opinions are obviously subjective, influenced by personal preferences.
That is why we asked Minuca Elena to reach out to 32 musicians and ask them:
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What do you think are the top three best classic rock albums of all time?
In addition to that, we asked the singers to focus on albums released between the years 1960-1980 because this is our favorite rock period.
The experts that replied are experienced professionals in the music industry who live and breathe music.
The top three most beloved rock bands they named are:
If I were stranded on a desert island with a record player and only one record to play it would be this one!
2. Permanent Waves by Rush
I can still remember sitting in 9th. grade study hall with my friends (not studying) but instead using our pencils as drumsticks to try and duplicate Neil Peart’s drum performance on this album.
3. And Then There Were Three by Genesis
I’m not sure what I like more, the album itself or the year in which it was released (1979) I was a carefree 14-year-old junior high school student when my older brother turned me on to the music of Genesis.
Whenever I hear a song from this album my memory takes me back to those days…and I stay there for as long as I can 🙂
Rock’n’roll is too direct and primal for overthinking, but we have to define our terms. What are the parameters of “Classic Rock?”
Are we saying “Classic Rock” as opposed to Folk Rock, Punk Rock, Glam Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Acid Rock, Progressive Rock, Fusion, Indie, Alternative, Blues, Grunge and Heavy Metal? Did I forget a category?
This hyphenated category and niche stuff might have been the death of Rock’n’Roll.
On the timeline, I’m going to place Classic Rock in the era between the British Invasion and the rise of Disco, maybe 1965 to 1975.
I’m going to define it as guitar-driven, rhythm-driven music with its roots in Chuck Berry, Hank Williams, Sun Records, Stax Records and Motown, a creole of Hillbilly, Blues, and Gospel, plugged in and turned up.
As for my picks as to the three best Classic Rock albums, I could look at albums that changed the course of things, turning points, pivotal albums, and we could argue about which pivots were the most influential.
But I’m going to go with albums that represent the pinnacle, the end of the road, the top of the mountain, the ultimate statement.
So here goes.
1. Exile on Main St. by The Rolling Stones.
I don’t know how many other people you asked, but I sure hope everyone puts Exileat the top. Figure this, The Rolling Stones had been in the shadow of The Beatles, biting at their heels, and they broke away in ’68 with Beggars Banquet. Acoustic country. Bottleneck slide.
They go progressively harder and deeper with each successive album—Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and their live album, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out where they can legitimately boast being “the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world.”
They take it all the way with Exile On Main St. Slim Harpo. Robert Johnson. Gospel. Backporch, foot-stomping singalongs. Roadhouse rave-ups.
“Kick me like you kicked before; I don’t even feel the pain no more.” “The sunshine bores the daylights out of me.” What’s the last sung line on the album” “It’s gonna be the death of me.” That’s it. All the way. No compromise.
2. Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan.
The successor to Woody Guthrie, the righteous voice of the United Front, the darling of the revolution freaks out everybody when he picks up a Strat and brings the spirits of Allen Ginsberg, Bertolt Brecht and Walt Whitman to the Chicago Blues.
Dylan started down the road with Bringing It All Back and songs like Subterranean Homesick Blues, Mr. Tambourine Man, and It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding. He turns it up with Highway 61 Revisited. Is there a rock song pivotal than like a Rolling Stone?
But Blonde On Blonde is Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. It’s John Glenn and Alan Shepard in space, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin going to the moon. Where can you go from there? After Blonde On Blonde, Dylan had to go in a completely different direction.
3. Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix.
The last one is tough, a toss-up, really. I could go with Abbey Road or The White Album by The Beatles, but instead, I’m going with Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix.
If you read all the biographies, it is said that Jimi Hendrix needed to grow, expand and go elsewhere musically, but the promoters and the fans didn’t want to let him out of his persona, the expectations he’d created.
With Electric Ladyland, he’d taken that thing with Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding as far as it could go, from the Monterey pop festival, Hey Joe, purple haze, are you experienced, and axis bold as love.
But where can you go after Electric Ladyland? He’d synthesized Dylan, Little Richard, Delta Blues, psychedelia, and he was searching and reaching for something beyond, something unattainable.
The most popular track on the album is probably Hendrix’s version of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower, but dig this, that track is sandwiched between House Burning Down and Voodoo Child (slight return).
Do yourself a favor. Find a turntable, a good set of headphones or some really loud, clean speakers and put on side four of Electric Ladyland.
So there you have it. Exile on main st. Blonde on blonde. Electric Ladyland. Three double-albums, as it turns out. Anybody who has not heard and studied those albums and the other albums I mentioned, the precursors in the genre, I suggest you dig in.
Dylan, Hendrix, and The Rolling Stones and their masterpieces, changing the weather and chopping down mountains.
No album better puts the “rock” in the phrase “Classic Rock” than Led Zeppelin IV. From the first notes of “Black Dog” to the dying notes of “When The Levee Breaks,” Led Zeppelin IV knows exactly what it’s about: driving blues rock performed by virtuosos having a good time.
While the album has a few slower moments (see the first few minutes of “Stairway to Heaven”), this album is the perfect road trip companion.
2. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the album that brought psychedelic music to the masses. Sure, it’s got that iconic album cover.
Sure it’s full of incredible songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life,” but it’s so much more than the music.
It was also the first concept album, the first rock album to print the lyrics, and it sounds every bit as fresh today.
3. Deja Vu by Crosby Stills Nash and Young.
CSNY’s second album is flawless from start to finish. Featuring timeless songs like “Our House” and “Helpless,” performed to perfection, Deja Vu captures the folk-rock spirit of the ‘60s perfectly.
It shines with California hippy harmonies, offering a delightful escape from the modern world.
Zep had a lot of fantastic albums and many will say Zeppelin 4 is the best because it was most successful with Stairway to Heaven but I like the first Album because it was so unique for the time.
They basically threw the pop music model out the window and fashioned their own unique idea that became the standard from then on.
Most people don’t even realize what the music world was like before Zeppelin because they became so immensely pervasive in the sounds and styles of so many acts after them.
2. 2112by RUSH
This is the album that officially brought “Progressive (Prog Rock) Rock” to the general public.
Yes, there had been acts like ELP and Yes but this was the first band to do it in the heavy rock genre but still have great technical skill and expertise.
It reshaped the boundaries that acts like Led Zeppelin and Cream had started and took them farther than ever before.
3. Who’s Nextby The WHO
Not a B-side track on the whole album and filled with some of the best Rock Anthems ever written like ‘Don’t Get Fooled Again’. (I still feel the excitement when that first big power chord sounds) and Baba O’Reilly. “Teenage Wasteland” seems almost a prophetic term today.
Although I’m not the biggest Pink Floyd fan, this album and songs like ”Money” with its spot-on lyrics and music video and ”Time” that just hits you with its message are just amazing.
This album gets things right on so many levels that anything like this is rarely achieved. It’s a great idea to take the stop at the dark side of the moon once in a while during our ”hustle-mindset” lives.
2. Boston by Boston
This album is not as consistent as ”The Dark Side of The Moon”, but songs like ”More Than a Feeling” and ”Peace of Mind” are so amazing pieces of rock history that this album is impossible to ignore. I have never felt bored while listening to this album.
3. Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin
Of course, Stairway to Heaven is the main reason why this album is remembered, but there is more…
Great songs like Black Dog with its amazing riffs and The Battle of Evermore(underrated) make this an album that has something for everyone.
1. Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)
The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut album features some of their all-time greatest numbers, including “Purple Haze,” “Manic Depression,” “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Fire,” and “Foxey Lady.”
Hendrix changed the direction of music and guitar playing for good, and at the time, this album was a revelation to Hendrix’ peers (like Clapton and Beck) and fans alike.
2. Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin (1971)
It’s hard to pick just one Led Zeppelin album, just as it’s near impossible to pick just one Beatles album.
Despite being overplayed and earning an unspoken “No Stairway” status at guitar stores across the nation, “Stairway to Heaven” still stands as one of the all-time best songs ever written and recorded.
If that wasn’t enough, the album kicks off with “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll,” two more essential songs in classic rock history.
3. Van Halen by Van Halen (1978)
Van Halen ended up being the album that paved the way for hair metal domination in the 80s, but beyond that, like Hendrix’ Are You Experienced, guitarist Eddie Van halen changed hard rock and metal guitar playing forever.
Every track on the album is important, with some of the standout ones being “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Eruption,” “You Really Got Me,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love,” and “Jamie’s Cryin’.”
It’s so difficult to narrow down a list of just 10 songs from this album, but if I had to, it would probably go as follows: “Brand New Cadillac”, “Jimmy Jazz”, “Clampdown”, “Death or Glory”, and “Rudie Can’t Fail.”
As a guitarist, this is a topic I LOVE to discuss as some of the golden albums of all time were released in this period. And while it’s a tall order to pick 3, after much thought, here are mine!
1. Back in Black by AC/DC
I remember listening to this as a teenager on the way to school and trying to play air guitar while walking. What makes it so iconic is the instrument bleed, the synchronicity of the guitars, and of course, the legendary guitar riffs.
It’s an album that I still revisit to this day and always learn something new about playing rock guitar.
2. Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughan
Another album I discovered as a teenager was Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughan. Stevie was a genius guitar player, and this album still floors me every time I listen to it.
Not only is it a masterpiece of sonic colour, but it’s also a music lesson in arrangement and guitar tone.
Decades later, it still stands as one of the greatest blues-rock albums ever released.
3. Degüello by ZZ Top
No self-respecting guitarist would leave ZZ Top of a list of the best classic rock albums of all time. However, it’s tricky to pick one album from their vast back catalog. Degüello features some fine guitar work, including the impressive slide play on “Dust My Broom”, which is a great play to start learning this style of guitar playing.
Let me start by saying that I LOVE lists! However, this is probably one of the more difficult Top 3’s I’ve ever considered. Three of the best classic rock albums of all time? Subjective and debatable for sure, but here are three that should be on any classic rock album list.
1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
No ‘best of” list would be complete without a Beatles record.
For me, I have to put ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ on this list. While I understand and accept a ‘White Album’ argument, I feel that Sgt. Peppers is a more fantastic “start to finish experience”.
In this case, less is more. In fact, if Strawberry Fields was to be on the album, I could envision it as possibly the greatest album of all time.
2. Led Zeppelin – IV.
Arguably the greatest pure rock and roll album that ever lived. This double diamond-certified album played as the soundtrack to millions of people in the 70’s. I have three words for you: Stairway to Heaven.
3. Back in Black by AC/DC
I changed my mind a dozen times for my third choice. I went in between ‘Rumours’, ‘Dark Side of the Moon and ‘Hotel California’. In the end, I decided on the AC/DC classic ‘Back in Black.
If you have any doubts, go immediately to your favorite streaming platform and queue up the title track. If that doesn’t get your blood flowing, nothing will.
What qualifies as “classic rock” may be an ongoing debate. Nevertheless, the best rock albums between 1960-80 defined an era and set a new path forward distinctive in sound, harmony, melody, and sheer grit.
Consider these three remarkable albums that shaped the trajectory of contemporary music to come over the following decades.
1. Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
A true concept album, Pink Floyd’s masterpiece is quintessential Psychedelic Rock at its best and a cultural phenomenon that can not be understated.
From melodic supremacy to sound effects and production, some might argue that this album is the fundamental frequency of the universe.
2. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
An album by the Beatles should come as no surprise, as their sheer prolific songwriting talent alone should garner top billing. Mix in their infectious hooks, sweet inventive harmonies, and creative arrangements, this album exemplifies the best of the Beatles.
3. Led Zeppelin IV
Unstoppable energy, unforgettable guitar riffs, and a powerful sound beyond compare set Zeppelin apart from their peers.
Zeppelin IV has become a timeless example of driving rhythmic intensity behind supremely modern guitar playing and searing vocals.
Others to consider: Are You Experienced (Jimi Hendrix), Pet Sounds (Beach Boys), Back In Black (AC/DC), Hotel California (Eagles), The Doors (The Doors)
My criteria for the top three Classic Rock albums is reach and influence as well as originality and performance. Songwriting and arranging also factor in.
1. One More From The Road by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Flawless and inspired performances. The note for note hits on this double album reach a higher frenzy in front of a rabid home audience. Atlanta was where the Jacksonville band broke out of.
OMFTR was recorded at the legendary Fox Theater, where in 2016 Prince gave his final performance during his Piano & Microphone tour.
In 1976 the 1920’s theater was to be demolished to make way for a parking lot when Skynyrd, already looking for a venue to record a live album, saved the day by recording the album there with proceeds from the shows going to preserve the theater.
In addition to the flawless and inspired renditions of their hits the album also contains the bass-chord driven “Travelin’ Man”, a note for note cover of Cream’s version of “Crossroads” that blows theirs out of the water, and Jimmie Rodgers “T For Texas (Blue Yodel No. 9)” reimagined between Outlaw Country and the Allmans LIVE AT FILLMORE EAST. The phrase “all killer no filler” was coined just for this album.
2. Live At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band
It set the standard. Blues, Jazz, Rock, it’s all of those and it’s none of them, a churning evolving sound that is its own entity. Much has already been written about it; break out a vinyl copy at midnight, put in on a reputable turntable through a pair of good speakers, and light up.
3. Electric Ladylandby Jimi Hendrix
“All Along The Watchtower” and “Voodoo Child (slight return)” are staples. Then there’s the epic “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)” fading back in on the next side of vinyl as “…Moon Turn The Tides Gently Away”.
The technology used to create the album, from the guitars and amps to the recording board, is primitive by today’s standards yet the majestic orchestral sounds are still beyond anything today. Pure genius.
The three albums released from the 1960s-1980s that I feel to be the best classic rock albums are as follows:
1. Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin
“Hey Hey Mama Said the way you move…” I wasn’t alive in the 70s but this intro feels like the 70s. It’s strong and rebellious.
Between the screeching vocals, incredible guitar deliveries, and the legendary drum patterns of John Bonham (who is not my uncle – despite what I told every Guitar Center employee that asked me since I was a little kid) Led Zeppelin IV is a masterpiece. Stairway to Heaven. Duh.
2. The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
This album is a feeling. It’s the sonic equivalent of a heroic dose. It transports the listener to a higher plane of existence and experience. It’s a highly conceptual album exploring life and death and everything in between.
In fact, The Great Gig in the sky was intended to sound like what entering the afterlife feels like. It is so classic rock it was originally made for quadraphonic listening. Look it up!
3. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club by the Beatles
A few weeks ago, this would not have been my number one choice. I recently sat down with a fellow Beatle-head buddy for an afternoon of “beers and Beatles.”
Meaning that we drank cheap beer in excess and listened to each Beatles album from Rubber Soul to Abbey Road. We took notes, we sang, we danced, and we shared every single Beatles fact we’d ever heard in our lives.
That was when listening to Sgt. Pepper’s hit me in a way I’ve never felt before. I realized that It is the perfect summation of the Beatles. It’s the Beatles ditching their massive fame for selected alter egos and focusing purely on the music.
It’s fun (Lovely Rita), it’s silly (Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite), it’s heartfelt (With a Little Help From My Friends), it’s psychedelic (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds), and it’s masterful (A Day In the Life).
It redefined pop music and rock music simultaneously and paved the way for the rock legends that came after them.
As a passionate music fan and 31-year professional broadcaster and 2-time published author it was painful to try to find just 3 albums out of a few dozen that deserve acclaim. However, I’ll go with:
1. The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (1973)
958 weeks on the Billboard 200 Album Charts, That is almost 18 and a half years! 45 million copies sold worldwide and a bizarre cultural connection to the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.
Plus, and more importantly in my word, the musicianship is outstanding, the songs are fantastic, and have absolutely stood the test of time.
I must also mention the complicated yet deeply relatable lyrics. So “If your head explodes with dark forebodings too…I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon”.
2. Van Halen by Van Halen (1978)
In my mind, it is the greatest debut album ever.
Not only did Eddie redefine what was possible as a guitarist, the band collectively made high intensity, musically sophisticated playing acceptable to the masses. There is not a single disappointing song, riff, or moment on the entire record.
3. Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin (1975)
Three of my five favorite Zeppelin songs are found in this eclectic collection of musical creativity and styles.
“10 Years Gone” is perhaps the band’s perfect blend of tender and unrelenting.
“In My Time of Dying” is the most epic song from a band that has several of them.
At just over 11 minutes it is the longest studio recording in their discography. And the bouncy John Paul Jones lead “Trampled Underfoot”.
How great is this album? So great that I ran out of space before even mentioning arguably their best song “Kashmir”.
1. The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks.
You might not immediately think of The Kinks as ‘classic rock’ but they were very early adopters of the type of distorted guitar sound that would come to define rock music as we know it today.
I chose ‘Village Green’ as their best album because it showcases the band in a very well-defined and slightly nostalgic yet frustrated mood.
This is a theme that would influence entire genres in the following years, including Bowie, The Sex Pistols and the entire Britpop movement.
But are the songs any good? Yes. If you’ve not heard this album before then give it a spin, you might be surprised how many of the tracks sound very familiar to you.
2. Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin
Led Zep were not the first band to release a double album that cut a swath across genre boundaries, but with Physical Graffiti they showed that they were possibly the best band to have attempted such a feat at that point in the 1970s.
This is a diverse album, and while there might not be ‘something for everyone’, there is certainly something to suit a multitude Led Zep fans.
3. The Stone Roses by The Stone Roses
The debut album release from The Stone Roses is thought by some to be the very definition of a ‘slow burn’. But was wildly hyped at the time of its release. Strangulated by legal nonsense the band were dormant for years after this release and then ultimately imploded after the release of their next album (the Second Comming).
But the time the fans who bought the first album were old enough to enforce nostalgic enthusiasm on younger generations the band found millions of new fans.
During their brief resurrection more than twenty years after the release of their eponymous album the band found themselves with an adoring fanbase, who if anything were more fanatical about the band than they were at the time of their heyday.
So is the album really good enough to inspire such love? Absolutely it is. From start to finish ‘The Stone Roses’ is an immaculate set of songs, each a snapshot of flawless beauty and gentle malevolence.
Like the first Velvet Underground album, this is an album that spawned not only thousands of bands but entire genres of music.
As an aside, this is not the first album recorded by The Stone Roses, but was the first album to get a proper release. The ‘actual’ first album is worth a listen, but it is so different that it sounds like a different band entirely.
The same can be said for their other album ‘The Second Coming. So this might not be the perfect band, but they sure as hell made a perfect album.
I’ve been a huge Beatles fan since I was in diapers and I grew up listening to them.
If I had to pick one album and one band, the Beatles and Revolver are my #1 influence. Both musically and lyrically this album is brilliant. The reason I like this Beatles album best is because it’s where their lyrics get really deep.
I love her voice and everything about her presence. When I started listening to her I thought she was a singer I very much wanted to emulate vocally.
Her stage presence, her bold performance style, and Janis’ low raspy vocal is still considered the gold-standard for rock-blues singers by many critics. Fun fact: I’ve been singing “Me and Bobby McGee” since I was 8 years old.
3. Back in Black by ACDC
Funny enough, elementary school-aged me was OBSESSED with ACDC and Led Zeppelin. They had me at the rhythm and groove! To this day, I could drum to their songs for HOURS!!
Possibly one of the most influential albums of all time, considering what he did for the electric guitar. Jimi Hendrix roared onto the 60s music scene like a meteor hitting earth. His creativity and ability on guitar were like nobody else. Screaming feedback and memorable riffs.
Not only could Jimi tear it up live but he could also write beautiful songs like ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ and ‘Are You Experienced’. This album encapsulates everything about the great man and his music.
2. “Led Zeppelin II”, 1969
Although ‘Led Zeppelin II’ isn’t the band’s highest-selling album of all time, most fans will tell you, it’s the most influential.
Jimmy Page’s unmistakable overdriven sound made people sit up and listen. Big fat riffs and power chords played whilst Plant would scream out memorable vocal licks, there really was nobody else like the Zeppelin.
These ingredients would be the legendary Led Zeppelin sound.
3. “A Night at the Opera” (Queen) 1975
Queen arrived on the global scene with this belter of an album and some of the best live musicianship ever seen. These guys were masters of their instruments.
With the flamboyant young Freddie Mercury heading the band, Queen gave us some of the most memorable songs from this album. ‘Love Of My Life’ and ‘You’re My Best Friend’ will live on forever with fans.
One of our favorite classic rock albums from the 60s-80s includes Pink Floyd’s iconic Dark Side Of The Moon, the band’s eighth studio album recorded in London.
This critically acclaimed record released in 1973 largely delves into serious topics including death, greed, and mental illness. The continuity of the album’s tracks is quite genius, as each song flawlessly transitions into one another.
The intention was to have listeners perceive the album as an extended piece instead of an array of individual songs. The tracks each represent different life stages, and overall discuss the obscenity and transitory nature of human life.
A team favorite track is “Us And Them,” a softer, jazzier track, which features a brilliant, breathy saxophone solo from Dick Parry towards the beginning and end.
2. Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix
Another one of our classic favorites is Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix. This ambitious record was Hendrix’s final release before his passing in 1970.
His incredible musicianship on the electric guitar, ability to produce, and clever incorporation of rock, blues and funk showcases his raw talent in multiple respects.
Most of the album’s meaning is uniquely gleaned from its carefully crafted instrumentation, rather than its lyrics. Hendrix’s sound engineer Eddie Kramer truly brings this record to the next level.
With his incorporation of what were unique production techniques at the time, including echo, backward masking, flanging, a new rivetingly psychedelic and avant-garde sound was born in rock music.
A team favorite includes the second track “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland),” a timeless, catchy anthem featuring beautiful harmonies and electric guitar frills by one of the most influential guitar players of all time.
3. Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys
Our final favorite is Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, their eleventh studio album released in 1966.
The production and instrumentation of this record are particularly astonishing, as the group achieved a beautifully symphonic tone with a full orchestra and wind section, as well as more atypical instruments including vibraphones, accordions, water jugs, and bicycle horns.
The album was inspired by a panic attack that Brian Wilson, the genius behind The Beach Boys, had on a flight headed to Houston. He decided that he could no longer tour, yet recorded some incredible music instead while the band toured without him.
This cathartic, melancholy record largely explores themes of love and has a prominent instrumental focus. A team favorite is “Caroline, No,” which interestingly features Wilson’s two dogs barking at the end.
1. Are You Experienced by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Jim revolutionized not only guitar sound but the techniques of hard rock guitar playing for decades to come.
There were many great guitar players before him, but the way he played the guitar can be heard in many great bands throughout the years, from Black Sabbath to Rage Against The Machine to Jack White.
2. Led Zeppelin IV
I had to put one Led Zeppelin album here, this one sums up everything that is fantastic about Led Zep.
You just can’t argue with Stairway to Heaven, stolen or not, the intro to the song is the most played piece of guitar music and the solo is arguably the best ever.
3. Abbey Road by Beatles
JS Bach once defined western music tradition in The Well-Tempered Clavier, The Beatles defined western popular music. If you name any modern major music artist and analyze the music, it’s essentially a copy of a Beatles song.
What makes this album special is the ambition and the breadth of musical vision.
When making this list of favorite classic rock albums, my first thought was to include records by Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones – but those all go without saying. Instead, I’ve chosen a list of classic LPs that I feel expanded the definition of rock:
1. Purple Rainby Prince
At its core – from the songs to the production and the performances – Purple Rain is a rock album. It’s a record that went on to propel Prince to be recognized not only as one of the top artists in the world but also as one of the best guitarists of our time.
2. Bad Girlsby Donna Summer
Some may argue that this is not a rock LP, but it should be noted that Donna Summer won the Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for the album’s first single, “Hot Stuff.” The whole record is an experience unique unto itself, with rock guitars laced throughout.
3. Touchby Eurythmics
It may be an album full of synthesizers, but Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart rock out with an incomparable sound that stands the test of time. If The Beatles were keyboard-driven, this is what they would sound like.
They have this raw energy where not everything is perfect but then it goes beyond that. The emotion in their music is unique.
Nirvana is the first band that played alternative style and dominated mainstream music.
2. Rage Against the Machine by Rage Against the Machine
Their sound is unmatchable. They do sound like a well-oiled machine for heavy rock music.
This album represents freedom. They have put together rock, metal, and hip-hop music. The lyrics are very strong.
3. Master of Puppets by Metallica
Metallica has that border between heavy metal music and melody. They have combined the heaviness of the rock music but also implemented the melodic lines that before they were not typical for that kind of style.
I think this is what makes them stand out from the other metal bands.
This is Metallica’s best album ever. I think it was at this point where Metallica developed in terms of skills and performance.
They have mastered the art of playing the point where they were ready to create something amazing like the album Master of Puppets.
What a monster record! Ushering in a new era of guitar playing with songs like Eruption, where two-handed tapping was beautifully showcased to the world and mystified us all. And of course the monstrous sound and the introduction of what Eddie would later call his “brown sound”. Simply a groundbreaking album!
2. Back in Black by AC/DC
This album introduced me to one of rock n roll’s greatest bands ever! And the more I’ve listened to it, the more I’ve come to realize it’s worth to the world and is one of the reasons I started to play guitar.
As much as I appreciate Bon Scott’s last album, Highway to hell, Back in black is actually fueled with more balls, aggression, and heart-stopping force than any other AC/DC album.
It also gave us so many instant classics, like Hell’s bells, Shoot to thrill, You shook me all night, and of course Back in black, just to name a few.
Considering what the band had to go through, with the tragic death of Bon Scott and the painful work of finding a replacement, this album is truly a work of wonder and a musical statement of raw feelings and emotions. Priceless!
3. Master of puppets by Metallica
Holy shit…When I first heard Battery, with that unforgettable intro, I was just blown away, and I immediately fell in love with metal. The album is both hard and brutal, but also brilliant and beautiful.
It’s a damn near perfection of an album that changed everything, and pretty much opened the door to EVERY other metal song or album I’ve listened to since. Which are thousands.
It’s uncompromising, unforgettable, and has more grit and attitude than anything that came before it.
The album is the best for me. It has the song Yesterday that throughout out the years, remained a classic rock song for the ages. Of course, the Beatles is my number 1 band because I believe they started Rock and Roll.
The album itself is very inspirational as it was a charity album to provide help for Bosnia and Herzegovina. With excellent songs and with the reason behind it, it is really the best for me.
2. Out of Our Heads by The Rolling Stones
Its carrier song Satisfaction is so good that it can even pump up the most tired soul on the planet. The Rolling Stones even now has its own brand of magazines. This is how iconic this band and its albums are.
3. Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More by Jimi Hendrix
The song purple haze and Jimi Hendrix are also icons thru the decades. I love listening to the songs in the album as it reminds me of the glory days of classic rock.
For me, these are the best three albums of classic rock.
1. Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath
Although this album is rarely called the best work of the band, I’m strongly convinced that it is. The tape has superb sound quality and unique early metal sound.
The album was initially perceived as something dark and even satanic and it remains one of the best examples of how dark music must sound. The original Black Sabbath soul is present only in this album and all the later works sound a lot more commercial.
No, I can’t call them bad at all, but they’re still not as good as this one. All the tracks flow from one to another and alternate from almost humoristic to the incredibly gloomy mood.
2. Led Zeppelin IV
This album is very different even from all the works of its creators. It was fully created and produced by the band members, away from the studio fuss, which lets you feel the semi-surreal and magical atmosphere of Headley Grange, the early 70s, Tolkien’s books, and the quintessence of Jimmy Page’s mystical rituals.
Every guitar riff, every verse, every drum fill – they’re all special, so it’s not surprising that IV became the best-selling album of the band. “Stairway to Heaven” is from this album, after all
3. The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
Sadness, pain, questions into the emptiness, eternity, madness, fear…
These are only a few things that you may encounter while listening to this tape with your eyes closed. It’s the greatest work in the prog-rock genre and definitely one of those records that will be celebrated even more as the centuries pass.
It’s also the greatest musical experiment in the entire history of music. No, they don’t use more instruments than others, but the way they combine philosophy and music is unbelievable.
Choosing only three albums to represent a genre as expansive as classic rock is nearly impossible! From the ‘60s to the ‘80s, there are just so many records that are … well, classics!
We’re talking about a genre that came about when cultural tides were shifting, recording technology was advancing all the time, and audiences were equally open to catchy pop hits or sonic experimentation and wild improvisation.
In just a few short years, the influences of early rock and roll, blues, pop, folk, and jazz music had somehow morphed into prog, punk, heavy metal, and everything in between – all under the umbrella of this single term: “classic rock.”
So, this is my disclaimer: as a guitar player who grew up listening to these albums with almost religious devotion, it would be hard for me to pick my top TWENTY classic rock albums.
Every rocker knows the influence of titans like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Van Halen, The Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix, but there are plenty of lesser-known bands with equally important contributions (often known as “your favorite bands’ favorite bands”): Wishbone Ash, Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy, Rainbow, early Scorpions, Yes, King Crimson, etc.
Do yourself a favor and explore them all!
That being said, here are my top three classic rock albums!
1. Live at Leeds by The Who (1970)
I think that one of the reasons that these half-century-old albums are still talked about is the incredible live chemistry that was the norm in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I couldn’t think of a better example than “Live at Leeds.”
There are The Who albums with bigger hits and fantastic songwriting, but none capture their wild energy quite like this one. It’s like you can hear the ‘60s turning into the 70’s. The swaggering, aggressively youthful attitude is really something else.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard “Young Man Blues” and thought, “This is the distilled essence of everything rock and roll is all about. This is punk before there was punk!”
This is also a record that highlights one of rock’s best rhythm sections: John Entwistle and Keith Moon.
It’s somewhat uncommon in classic rock to hear the guitar take a back seat and provide texture (Pete Townsend is the master of giant ringing chords that are at once dirty and majestic) while the bass and drums NEVER stop moving, evolving, playing off of each other, and throwing curveballs.
When combined with Roger Daltry’s nasty-but-operatic vocals, the end result sounds like it SHOULD be chaos, but everything is right where it needs to be. It’s not all about the noisy, crashing heaviness.
Tracks like “Substitute” and “Can’t Explain” will remind you that these guys who are cracking dirty jokes between songs are actually some of the best songwriters around.
2.A Night at the Opera by Queen – (1975)
If The Who are the kings of the wild and uncontrolled side of classic rock, then the monarchs of the masterfully crafted and composed would have to be Queen.
Decades later, people mainly remember Queen as a band with a lot of singles that are almost ubiquitous in modern culture, mostly from the later years of their career.
However, I think their early albums are criminally underrated. Before Queen was writing dance hits that everyone liked, they were experimenting with everything from ‘30s-throwbacks to opera to heavy metal.
Can you picture cool-guy-pop star Freddie Mercury with long hair and black nails with diamond claws, singing songs about surreal 19th-century paintings? It happened!
After three records worth of struggling to find their way in the industry, the band decided to try one more album before calling it quits. Since they were throwing a hail mary with this one, they really went all out.
The result is “A Night at the Opera” – best known for “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “You’re My Best Friend,” which need no introductions.
The rest of the album is full of unknown gems, opening with the vicious and heavy “Death on Two Legs”, an ode to their recently fired management, continuing into the deceptively complex and witty “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon,” one of Freddie’s many homages to Noel Coward (picture Freddie Mercury but between the World Wars), and continues on a rollercoaster ride all the way through to their most heartfelt ballad, “Love of My Life,” which Freddie wrote for his greatest love, Mary Austin.
At present-day Queen concerts, this is the song that Brian May plays for Freddie.
Brian contributes his writing (and his vocals) on “39”, a folk song with harmonic progressions straight from ‘50s sci-fi film scores and lyrics that are basically the plot of the movie “Interstellar.” On “Good Company” he turns his homemade guitar into an entire Dixieland jazz band arrangement, which displays a mastery of counterpoint and arranging that has to be heard to be believed.
“The Prophets Song” is nearly as compositionally ambitious as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and contains the roots of decades of European metal that was yet to come. “A Night at the Opera” is a record that has so much intricacy and content that it will keep you entertained for years.
3. Untitledby Led Zeppelin (1971)
It would probably be impossible to make a list of classic rock albums without mentioning the fourth Led Zeppelin album. It’s sometimes known as IV, Zoso, or “the one with the runes!” but in reality, it has no title.
At the time, Zeppelin was receiving heavy criticism implying that their success was more about the hype than the music, so they refused to title this record, or even list the band’s name or any of the members’ names on the packaging.
They thought the music would stand on its own, and it would seem that history has proven them right. Could you imagine a record label letting a still-new-but-fantastically-successful band do that today?
I’ve always considered Zeppelin to be a great example of the meeting of the two sides of the classic rock coin.
On one side, there are highly skilled and professional musicians with great chops, and on the other, a wicked alchemical Dionysian ritual where anything might happen.
This album keeps those two ideas in perfect balance.
From the massive prog-even-if-it’s-not-really-called-prog majesty of “Stairway to Heaven” to the straightforward “Rock and Roll,” which was apparently written and recorded in about 15 minutes, they really make everything feel like a live show even when it’s mixed to be crystal clear and titanically heavy.
Some of the recording choices were bizarre at the time, such as “Black Dog’s” classic guitar tone, which turns out to be a guitar plugged directly into the board, overdriving the vocal channel. What?!
Recording drums in the hallway of an old house with a slapback delay might seem like a strange move now, but I’ve never taken a recording class where drums were covered without hearing at least one mention of “When the Levee Breaks.”
The acoustic material like the mystical “Battle of Evermore” and the earthy “Going to California” are the perfect foil for the unprecedented heaviness of the album’s rock songs, and “Four Sticks” manages to switch between 5/4 and 6/4 time without sacrificing a single ounce of groove.
This is really an album where all the members, ideas, and elements fit together in perfect harmony. It’s absolutely essential listening for anyone who wants to understand the next 50 years of rock and roll.
When thinking about some of the greatest bands of all time, it’s hard not to include Led Zeppelin on that list. Their influence on music as a whole across a wide swath of genres is profound, and the perfect culmination of their legacy resides in this particular album.
Outside of the hits, the whole album from start to finish is truly a masterful piece of art that is likely to outlive us all
2. Moving Pictures by Rush
Rush is a band that was filled to the brim with raw talent. They wrote some of the most iconic guitar riffs to ever exist, and Neil Peart’s drumming still drives generational inspiration.
Rush had a tendency to release short albums that only consisted of 7-10 songs, but every song felt full and extremely well-crafted. Moving Pictures is arguably their best example of that standard that Rush created for themselves. It truly is progressive rock at it’s finest, and it’s an album that continues to gain momentum even after 40 years
The thing about Hotel California that’s amazing is the fact that it had a story to tell, and it was a story that’s much darker than most people realize. The title song was a well-timed testament to America becoming enveloped by materialism and consumerism.
Outside of that, The Eagles‘ musicianship is ever-present throughout every song in the album.
When you think of “classic rock” itself, you think of songs like “Life In The Fast Lane” and “New Kid In Town” almost immediately. This album sits at the heart of rock and roll music from the 70’s, and it plays a major part in how the genre stays alive today.
Explores some difficult life issues in a creatively artistic format, very accessible and timeless.
2. A Day at the Races by Queen
Equally flamboyant yet often overshadowed by its nearly as good predecessor ‘A night at the Opera’ and without the weak tracks. Awash with massive sound production and swimming in beautiful vocal harmonies.
3. Back in Black by ACDC
No pretense, no-nonsense. Great songs which hit like a hammer and just reach the parts other rocks simply cannot.
Produced by the legendary Alan Parsons, this may be the greatest album of all time. A concept album that has it all. Incredible production, memorable songs, iconic guitar solos, and thought-provoking lyrics.
2. A Night At The Opera by Queen (1975)
The fourth album by the band, featuring one of the greatest classic rock songs of all time: “Bohemian Rhapsody”. It seems the album is just as popular today as it was back when it was first released, which solidifies the greatness of the album.
3. Toto IV by Toto (1982)
Featuring the band’s most famous song “Africa” this album is the pinnacle achievement of the band. Every song is perfectly crafted and the musicianship is at an extremely high level. Every song on this album was essentially a hit!
1 . Revolver by The Beatles 2. Sgt. Pepper by The Beatles 3. The Beatles (the White Album) by The Beatles
The reason for this is as follows:
After they stopped touring due to burnout and security concerns (They were so famous that every word they said was being over-analyzed and taken way too seriously by millions of fans), the Beatles went into the studio and created the most revolutionary and consequential body of work in the next 4 years.
There is no musician, contemporary, or who came after who was not influenced by their work.
From Brian Wilson, who was said to be broken by Sgt. Pepper, to heavy metal (Helter Skelter), from contemporary classical (whom George Martin was drawing much inspiration from) to folk and gentle protest songs (Blackbird) to pop, rock, and all flavors of fusion jazz (from what came out of the India retreat) and jam bands (the Beatles sometimes jammed for 8 hours straight in the studio).
The very fame that they built by touring meant that everything they did had an impact on subsequent music.
The fact that they stopped touring and dedicated themselves to creating new, and better music, meant that the quality and variety of the music they produced was unrivaled.
The chance by which they came together as a group, and then with George Martin, can only be described as a magical coincidence, a stroke of luck that very few humans could have experienced.
And then the fact that they worked at their craft to improve so much in the course of a recording career that only spanned about 8 years, well, that can only be described as a stroke of luck for the rest of humanity.
Let’s remember that the Beatles started as a cover band, playing small clubs in the UK and Hamburg. Benoit GlazerSure, they were interested and influenced by the roots of Blues and rock and roll, and studied the past, but the real “genius” involved here is the pursuit of something better, deeper and original in their music.
Together with George Martin, while still releasing singles, they created the concept of the album, and also the concept album.
From their musical legacy to the important impact they had on the civil rights movement in the US (important at least for four white British boys), and the fact they never shied away from giving credit to the black musicians who influenced them, the Beatles are a cultural phenomenon that transcends music, or pop culture.
I think all three of these albums do an impressive job of balancing intricate musical and lyrical themes with commercial appeal.
I would say that every song on these albums tells a story and is an impressive piece individually, completely void of “filler songs” that artists will sometimes throw on an album as an afterthought to the main singles.
Each album is also diverse with ballads, catchy rockers, and even a few epic masterpieces (Jungleland, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant).
Each artist broke rules, took risks and their albums have become iconic contributions to music history.
So there it is – some of the most influential music of the last 50 years thoroughly explored by musicians that have been directly influenced by it! We recommend you take the time to go through this list and listen to each and every track mentioned – you’ll thank us later 😉
Thank you so much to all the musicians that have contributed to this expert roundup! If you enjoyed this post, please share it with all your friends and followers on social media.