7 Best Rock Albums of All Time
Rock and roll. It’s celebrated worldwide for providing a soundtrack to rebellion, revolution and the triumphant, epic moments in life.
Rock as a genre was born in the middle of the 20th century as the electric guitar became a staple of modern music. The rest is history. In this article, we’re counting down the seven best rock albums of all time. These seven picks were chosen for their influence on popular culture and their lasting impact on the music industry.
How rock got started
In the 50s, rock n’ roll exploded onto the scene as Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and more introduced the world to a sound that built on the already established genres of blues and country – but this new sound was like nothing ever heard before. With a distinct raucous, defiant energy that instantly got the world singing and dancing along, rock n’ roll played a key role in ushering in a whole new era of world history.
Bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and many others created the instantly recognizable sound of the 60s, building on the foundation set in the decade before. The rock stars of the 1960s made music that echoed the tension, innovation and wildness felt around the world throughout the decade.
In the 70s, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac took the distinct sound of rock to new and uncharted territories. Rock was evolving, artists were experimenting, and the result was some of the best music of all time, period. The 70s also saw the breakup of The Beatles, one of the most influential rock groups of all time. Rock continued to move forward as the world at large felt colossal shifts in culture.
Once the 80s hit, rock once again moved to new frontiers. Punk, new wave, arena rock and a wide array of other subgenres arose. The soaring power ballads of Journey, Bon Jovi and others took the sound of rock over the top. In the meantime, the synthesizer became a mainstay in the rock sound thanks to pioneers like The Talking Heads, Duran Duran and Devo.
The 90s saw the rise of grunge, with Pearl Jam, Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins. Meanwhile, others like Radiohead took the rock genre in other more experimental directions. Following in the footsteps of their predecessors, these bands held onto the core identity of rock music but built on it in challenging and unexpected ways. This could be seen both in the lyrical content of 90s rock and in its sound; rock has always pushed the envelope in terms of what could be said in a popular song, but the rock of the 90s took things even farther.
Since the turn of the century, rock has blended with other prevalent genres and cemented itself as a key component of popular music. It’s a genre that isn’t going anywhere any time soon and continues to shift the tides and push the boundaries of popular culture. Read on for our picks for the ten greatest rock albums of all time.
7. Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run (1975)
“In the day, we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream”
A cinematic, romantic, poetic masterpiece, Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run encapsulates the many mixed emotions of growing up – joy, sorrow, anxiety, love.
From the triumphant and wistful piano work on the opening track, “Thunder Road” to the bittersweet and unforgettable guitar line on the titular track, the instrumentation on the album is gorgeous.
Springsteen’s lyrics are always quotable, and this album has some of his best lines on it. The Boss does, however, admit that even he doesn’t know what a “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” is – but that doesn’t make the aforenamed track of the album any less great.
Ultimately, what gets this legendary album on our top ten list is its impact on rock music at large. Springsteen introduced the world to a whole new type of rock star. With his blue-collar personality, relatable lyrics and a sound that gave voice to the angst and ambition of young people everywhere, The Boss changed rock forever.
6. Queen: A Night at the Opera (1975)
“Anywhere the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me.”
Released the same year as number seven on our list, Queen’s A Night at the Opera is full of some of the ever-theatrical British group’s best work. Queen as a band is probably best known for what is, arguably, its magnum opus, track 11 on this album. Clocking in at almost six minutes, Bohemian Rhapsody is an instantly recognizable anthem, full of memorable moments and quotable lines.
5. U2: The Joshua Tree (1987)
“…But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
In the late 80s, the iconic Irish rock outfit U2 released what is often cited as their best work. It’s a gorgeous collection of songs full of legendary guitarist The Edge’s signature delay-heavy riffs and soaring vocal melodies from Bono.
The defining track on the album is arguably the anthemic “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” With its eponymous desperate and aching refrain, the song has become a timeless classic, proving that U2’s sound was long before its time. With The Joshua Tree, the band set the stage for the onset of alt-rock and arena rock in the decades that followed. Echoes of the album’s distinctive sound can be heard in modern pop-rockers like Coldplay and Imagine Dragons.
4. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (1977)
“When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know.”
Fronted by ex-lovers Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac was one of the most creative and iconic rock bands of all time. With a career spanning through multiple decades, the band started out as a blues outfit and evolved into an incredibly tight pop-rock group with a unique sound.
Their 1977 album Rumours is full of instantly recognizable songs that have served as the precursors to some of today’s greatest alt-rock music. With sound that is often softer, breezier and more acoustic guitar-driven than others on this list, Rumours has left a colossal impact on the music industry.
You may know this album for its hits like Don’t Stop, The Chain and Dreams, but its deep cuts are equally great. Featuring three vocalists – Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, the album often goes in to new and unique sonic territory with every song change.
3. David Bowie: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars (1972)
“There's a starman waiting in the sky, he'd like to come and meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds.”
Released in the early 70s as rock was continuing to evolve, David Bowie’s iconic album about one of his many fictional personas still holds up today. Propelled by Bowie’s unlimited well of personality and charisma, the album marries the singer’s flamboyance and panache with a distinctive rock sound.
With cryptic and unforgettable lyrics about Bowie’s alter ego, Ziggy Stardust and his band, The Spiders from Mars, the album features a plethora of unique sounds and production elements. Soaring vocals by Bowie, lush string arrangements, a tight rhythm section and some of the 70s best guitar lines make this an album that deserves an honored place in your collection.
2. The Beatles: Revolver (1966)
“All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”
The quintessential rock band of the 1960s, The Beatles released a string of legendary albums in their relatively short run. Picking a best Beatles album is difficult, but the 1966 classic Revolver takes the cake for being the one of the most creative, experimental and adventurous albums of any genre.
The Beatles, along with their peers The Beach Boys, pushed the envelope with their sonic experimentation in the studio. The one-of-a-kind sound of Revolver laid the foundation for their later albums and foreshadowed the advent of the psychedelic rock subgenre.
1. Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of The Moon (1973)
“Us and them – and after all, we’re only ordinary men.”
It takes a truly world-changing album to top The Beatles. But Pink Floyd’s 1973 masterpiece The Dark Side of the Moon is more than just an album. It’s a sprawling, existential journey across soundscapes unlike anything the world had heard at the time or since.
Grand, melancholy and full of one-of-a-kind set-piece moments, the album explores the concepts of greed, insanity, time, death, war, and much more. Dark Side was the first album released after former front-man Syd Barrett left the band following a drug-induced downward spiral. With Roger Waters as the new driving force behind the band, the arrangements got darker, heavier and more philosophical – a departure from Floyd’s roots in pure psych-rock.
The Dark Side of The Moon takes first place on this list because its impact is still echoing into popular music long after its release. It invited a new level of creativity and experimentation into the pop realm and gave listeners something truly unique.