Most Influential Rock Albums of The 70s
It is impossible to create or substantiate any definitive list of “the best” or “greatest” rock albums because any list will be entirely subjective. With that in mind, however, everyone I talk to that really have a passion about music does have their favorite artists, genres, or periods that they feel define the “best” for themselves. Their selections, and mine, have very personal meaning and signify that aspect about art and rock in particular that seems to touch and enhance our lives. Following is my list of the most influential rock albums of the 70’s and why I believe they belong on this list. The list is in no particular order though the first albums to come to mind are at the top of the list.
Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
The untitled fourth release of this English band is an album that is considered by many to be the masterpiece of probably the best rock group of all time. It contains a number of hits including “Stairway to Heaven”, “Black Dog”, and “Rock and Roll”. These multi-talented groups explored a wide variety of music and were influenced by early American blues artists, the use of classical and world instruments and the literature of J.R.R. Tolkien. Led Zeppelin paved the way for the emergence of heavy-metal as a genre and is consistently referenced by many rock artists as having a huge influence on their musical development.
Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
This album is arguably the masterpiece of one of the most talented and experimental groups to achieve worldwide success. While Pink Floyd is known for a number of theme-related works later, including Wish You Were Here and The Wall, this album demonstrated that the approach of producing a conceptual album can be both artistic and commercially viable and it has sold over 22 million copies since 1973. The blend of music with sound effects and exceptional vocals give it a unique sound. Pink Floyd’s acclaim has influenced a number of artists by allowing the influences of classical music, jazz, and the psychedelic movement to be used in the progressive rock era.
Black Sabbath Paranoid (1970)
This is the second album from the English band. In many ways it was the band’s defining album and a representation of the emergence of Heavy Metal with its dark themes, heavy guitar and bass riffs, and driving drums. This album is one of the best- selling of Black Sabbath’s albums and contains a number of fan standards including “Iron Man”, “War Pigs”, and “Paranoid”. It established a huge following in the United States and sold over 4 million copies with no airplay exposure in an era when radio play was vital to a band’s acceptance and success.
Rush 2112 (1976)
This has often been described as the definitive Rush album and was the production of a band that was struggling with balancing their desires to maintain their artistic integrity while also being pressured by the management of their record company to “write hits”. Rush went all in on artistic integrity, knowing that they may fail. The end result was highlighted by a 7 part suite “2112” that was panned by critics and hailed by fans. Many major artists remain fans of their music and indebted to their insistence on performing their art as opposed to selling out for the commercial interests. After hearing this album I became a life-long Rush fan and they paved the way for other groups to focus on their vision rather than succumb to writing “pop songs”.
The Who Who’s Next (1971)
Following Tommy, this album shifted gears toward straight-forward rock with an amazing blend of guitar, bass, drums, vocals, and the use of synthesizers. Consistently mentioned as one of the best albums of the decade and top albums of history, the songs “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” use a unique blend of synthesizers and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” has arguably the best and one of the longest screams in the history of rock. Who’s Next is simply a superb example of one of the best rock albums of all time and all the songs on the album stand the test of time. A true masterpiece for one of the greatest rock bands to ever exist.
The Clash London Calling (1979)
This album makes a number of “top lists” including the 100 greatest rock albums of all time. The Clash combined raw and gritty social and political issues with a progressive, world-music influenced sound. Following their debut in 1977, this third album continued their use of ska, dub, reggae, and laid the ground work for a later rockabilly movement. This album has been included in top lists of the 80’s because it was released in December in England and a month later in the US. The Clash have allowed their musical interests and political views to influence their music and connect with their fans.
The Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977)
The Sex Pistols have been regarded as the group responsible for creating the punk movement in the United Kingdom that later spread to the United States. This counter-culture movement spawned a number of trends that continue today including fashion, tattoo culture, piercings, and distrust of government and political systems. Unfortunately, this was a short lived group who was together for only a couple of years until the death of their lead singer, Sid Vicious, of a heroin overdose in 1979. The album contains a number of hard-driving hits and is the origin of an entirely new cultural movement.
AC/DC Highway to Hell (1979)
AC/DC’s last album before the death of their original lead singer, Bon Scott, proved to be one of their best. AC/DC had already established themselves as a major player in the rock scene, and this album was their most successful to date. It was their best at direct and honest rock including a number of songs that are performed live with the band today. After the death of Scott, to an alcohol overdose, there was much concern and discussion about whether the band would be able to continue and how it would change with the loss of their lead singer. However, their return with a new singer, Brian Johnson, and new album, Back in Black, in 1980 was phenomenal and that album is the sixth highest grossing album of all time. It was truly a wonderful experience to see AC/DC live with Bon Scott before he died and to also see them during the Back in Black tour with Brian Johnson. The band was able to maintain their artistic integrity and exceptional live performances after the tragic event.
Lynyrd Skynyrd (Pronounced lĕh-’nérd ‘skin-’nérd) (1973)
Their debut album, released in 1973, quickly established the band as the poster child of the hard-southern rock genre. This album contains such classic songs as “Free Bird”, “Tuesday’s Gone”, “Simple Man”, and “Gimme Three Steps” and their live performances were well-remembered for their use of three guitars in driving their signature sound. Skynyrd continued to have much success until they too were visited by tragedy at the loss of most of the band members in a plane crash in 1977 that killed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, new guitarist Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, and the pilot and co-pilot. Their music has endured and is one of the best examples of hard-southern rock.
Bruce Springsteen Born To Run (1975)
Springsteen’s third album, Born To Run, has been acclaimed in many publications including consistently making the “best-lists” of Rolling Stone Magazine. While only spanning about 40 minutes, this album has produced such long-standing hits as the title track, “Thunder Road”, “Jungleland”, and “Tenth Avenue Freezeout”. It also solidified Springsteen’s lyrical approach of lauding coming of age and blue collar life in New Jersey. Springsteen remains one of the best live performers in the history of rock and anyone who attends one of his shows leaves being a life-long fan.
I realize that many will disagree with my list and there are arguably a huge number of other albums that could have been included. I apologize for the exclusions, but not all of the great artists of that time could be included in a short “top ten” list. The 70’s was a very exciting, and innovative period for rock and there are a number of artists that excelled in that era and have had their music endure for over 40 years. If you like what you read or disagree with me, feel free to leave me a comment.
Resources: Wikipedia, Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) website.