In the mid to late 20th century, many people associated classic rock with rebellion. Today, the style of rock and roll inspires many and is prevalent in mainstream music. (Photo courtesy of Lyric Chassin)
Many consider classic rock, featuring music from the 1960s to the 1980s, as one of the most influential genres of music. Artists brought vocal techniques and instruments together in a way that had never been done before. The rock style now dominates the music industry, expanding over many categories such as indie rock or alternative rock.
There are many different classic rock artists and bands, but some are more influential than others. Even though every artist has their own qualities and assets that helped make their impact on the music industry, some broke boundaries and created content that others look upon as somewhat revolutionary. Here is an A-Z list of classic rock albums, along with their creators, that played a key role in turning rock and roll music into the phenomenon it is today.
A: Abbey Road by The Beatles
The Beatles released their arguably greatest album–”Abbey Road”–in 1969 as their eleventh studio album. Years of experimentation contributed to the success of the album; it topped the charts in both the US and the UK. Songs off the album such as “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” are extremely well known all over the world.
B: Back in Black by AC/DC
“Back in Black” is one of the best-selling rock albums in history with over 50 million copies sold worldwide. Released in 1980 as the first album since the death of previous lead singer Bon Scott, the overall success pleased the band. Singles “Back in Black” and “You Shook Me All Night Long” are continually popular among listeners.
C: Chicago X by Chicago
“Chicago X” was the first album from Chicago to go platinum, as well as winning a Grammy for “Best Album Package”. The album was also nominated for the Grammy “Record of the Year”. The single “If You Leave Me Now” also won 2 Grammy awards, leaving the band in an overall extremely successful state with their eighth studio album.
D: Discovery by Electric Light Orchestra
“Discovery” helped to kickstart the era of disco with the majority of the songs inspired by the style. This album brought many hits for Electric Light Orchestra when they released it in 1979, such as “Don’t Bring Me Down”, “Shine a Little Love”, and “Last Train to London”.
E: Electric Ladyland by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
“Electric Ladyland” was the final studio album released for Hendrix’s death in 1970; The Jimi Hendrix Experience put out the album in late 1968. Spending a lot of time on the charts, the album was a huge success for the band. It produced their number one single: a cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”.
F: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan
Released in 1963, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” was Dylan’s second album and his first with a plethora of original songs. “Blowin’ in the Wind” became a popular song and stayed that way throughout the rest of the 60s.
G: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
Released in 1973, many view “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” as John’s greatest work. Selling over 30 million copies worldwide, many songs became fan favorites. “Bennie and the Jets”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” made a huge impact in popularizing the glam rock and pop rock divisions of classic rock.
H: Hysteria by Def Leppard
“Hysteria” is Def Leppard’s best selling album with over 20 million copies sold worldwide. Created over three years and released in 1987, Def Leppard worked hard to create a new and refurbished division of heavy metal rock. This paid off in their hit singles from the album: “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, “Hysteria”, and “Love Bites”.
I: Imagine by John Lennon
John Lennon released “Imagine” in 1971 as his second studio album. Lennon took a new take on politics and unity in his lyrics, bringing his opinions to light through his signature pop rock style. “Imagine” is one of Lennon’s most popular songs to date.
J: The Joshua Tree by U2
Inspired by American culture and landscapes, U2 released “The Joshua Tree” in 1987. The album won several awards and two number one singles in the U.S.– “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”.
K: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks
“The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society” captures the essence of English life in the years prior to 1968–the year The Kinks released the album. The band’s own Ray Davies called the album “the most successful ever flop”; the album didn’t do well in the beginning, but gained popularity over the years.
L: Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin
“Led Zeppelin IV” or “Untitled” features one of the most popular classic rock songs, as well as Led Zeppelin’s biggest hit: “Stairway to Heaven”. Selling over 37 million copies, the album was a huge success for the band, furthering their name and content in the hard rock realm.
M: More of the Monkees by The Monkees
“More of the Monkees” was only The Monkees’ second album when they released it in 1967. This album made history for rock in the United States: it was the first pop rock album to be the best-selling album of the year. The single “I’m a Believer” held a number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100, assisting it in being one of The Monkees most listened to songs.
N: A Night at the Opera by Queen
As Queen’s fourth studio album, many regard “A Night at the Opera” as one of the most unique rock albums of all time, as well as one of Queen’s best albums. Released in 1975, the album features daring concepts of layering tracks with a mix of musical genres and instruments all manipulated into the rock element. Queen’s most well-known track, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, entered the charts through the release of this album.
O: Odessey and Oracle by The Zombies
Considerably one of the most popular classic rock albums from the 60s, The Zombies’ second studio album is one of their best. Upon its release in 1968, the single “Time of the Season” raced up the charts in the United States. The Zombies introduced a slower version of psychedelic rock to the music industry.
P: The Papas and the Mamas by The Mamas and Papas
One of the major groups in folk rock, The Mamas and Papas, released their fourth studio album in 1968. Their cover of “Dream a Little Dream of Me” was a huge success. Although this album wasn’t the peak of the group’s career, it helped to influence the artists’ solo careers that would also shape the future of rock.
Q: The Queen is Dead by The Smiths
Released in 1986, The Smiths’ success increased greatly through “The Queen is Dead”. NME named it “the greatest album of all time” in 2013. The Smiths created the album under the influence of many other rock artists, resulting in hits like “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “Bigmouth Strikes Again”.
R: Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
“Rumours” combines pop and rock tones into one, creating one of the most iconic and recognizable classic rock albums of all time. The album included many hit singles such as “Dreams”, “The Chain”, and “Go Your Own Way” which are still extremely popular today.
S: The Stranger by Billy Joel
Many critics see “The Stranger” as Joel’s breakthrough album–the album that put him on the charts. “Vienna”, “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” climbed up the charts and spent a great deal of time there.
T: Transformer by Lou Reed
Lou Reed released his second album as a solo artist in 1972. The album was an influential body of work in the glam rock genre–highlighting gender identity and sexual orientation. Reed’s number one single, “Walk on the Wild Side”, is on the album.
U: Unplugged by Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton recorded his best selling album for the MTV Unplugged television series. Even as an already well-regarded member of the classic rock genre, the 1993 album did wonders for Clapton’s career. It won six Grammy awards and became the best selling live album of all time with 26 million copies sold worldwide.
V: The Velvet Underground & Nico by The Velvet Underground and Nico
The band and singer’s self-titled debut album, released in 1967, opened the music industry to more controversial topics. Drugs and promiscuity are evident in the lyrics, producing a poor-selling album. Despite the lack of popularity at its original release, many see “The Velvet Underground & Nico” as one of the most influential rock albums as well as one of The Velvet Underground’s best bodies of work.
W: Wings at the Speed of Sound by Wings
Paul McCartney, member of The Beatles, was a member and producer of the band Wings, who released their fifth studio album “Wings at the Speed of Sound” in 1976. The album reached the top two spots in both the US and UK as well as their top single–“Silly Love Songs”–in the number one spot in the US.
X: Exile on Main St. by The Rolling Stones
“Exile on Main St.” charted number one in six countries after its release in 1972. Not only was it a great success for The Rolling Stones, but it opened the doors for a new era of sound for rock and roll. “Tumbling Dice” and “Sweet Virginia” topped the charts and are still popular among the Stones’ discography today.
Y: Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
In “Wish You Were Here”, Pink Floyd alludes to their previous album, ”The Dark Side of the Moon”, with their unique usage of synthesizers and other sound effects. Pink Floyd didn’t allow the praise from their previous albums to discourage them from testing out new things. Considered one of the greatest albums of all time, the record has sold over 20 million copies.
Z: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie
David Bowie, known for his creation of characters over his career, kick started this theme with his album: “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”. The album ultimately launched Bowie’s career into a greater success than his prior albums gave him, as well as revolutionizing glam rock.