The 20 Greatest Classic Rock Albums
When "all killer, no filler" was still actually a thing
What is classic rock? It is one of the most nebulous terms in the music business. When exactly does the classification of classic rock begin, and where does it end? How do you compare different eras of disparate talents with other rockers who may have been the first to unleash their sound? Is a band with an innovative sound better than an act that sold millions of records? There is always room for debate.
With that in mind, here's our list of great classic rock albums. It includes a diverse roster of bands, celebrating various time periods, sounds and volumes of hairspray, spanning from Van Halen to Fleetwood Mac. The common denominator between these top hits of dad rock and arena anthems is timelessness.
These are rock albums that will sound as good in another 20 or 30 years as they do today.
Ranking classic rock albums is difficult, but as Faith No More postulate in their song "We Care a Lot," "It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it."
Below, we humbly submit our solid list of 20 classic rock records everyone should have in their catalog.
Did we miss anyone? Let us know what records you think should be added to the canon of classic rock.
20. Budgie, Bandolier (1975)
For many, Metallica's 1980s covers of Budgie’s “Breadfan” and “Crash Course in Brain Surgery” were your gateway to this heavy Welsh outfit. Metallica did not cover any songs from this record, but Bandolier is the best record and the final ripper of Budgie’s peak MCA years. Album opener “Breaking All the House Rules” is a hard-driving rocker that manages to rock nonstop for all of its seven minutes without any lull. The band also integrated sleazy 1970s funk swagger into their blueprint on “I Can’t See My Feelings” and kept their streak of unusually titled songs with the proggy closer “Napoleon Bona – Part 1 / Napoleon Bona – Part 2.” — Jason Roche
19. Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (1977)
You can practically hear the cocaine, chardonnay and revenge sex on this album. You can also hear some of the finest post-Beatles pop-rock in existence. Witchy woman Stevie Nicks enshrouds listeners in her shawl on crystal-necklace themes “Dreams” and “Gold Dust Woman.” Nicks and former flame Lindsey Buckingham turn their throwing-plates-against-the-wall drama into FM gold on “The Chain.” Drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie stroke their metaphorical mustaches and stoke love-triangle grooves. In the middle of it all, keyboardist Christine McVie keeps her ice-blue-iris cool, cooing ethereal on “Songbird” and lusty-playful on “You Make Loving Fun.” —Matt Wake
18. Frank Zappa, Joe's Garage (1979)
Joe’s Garage isn’t timeless, but every few years it becomes relevant again, unfortunately. In the 1980s it was the Parents Music Resource Center crusade. In the current year, it’s social justice warriors. Oh, right: It’s also great, musically, beyond its message of slaying conformity, censorship and the tropes of rock & roll life. Taking influence from the various eras of rock, the album also offers a wide array of sounds served up with a sense of humor. “Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt” might be the funniest rock song ever. And it's actually good musically, too. Then there's “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” What more needs to be said? A timeless classic. —Nicholas Pell
17. Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
This is the most ambitious and diverse album of the esteemed career of Elton John and collaborator Bernie Taupin. The best rock songs of their partnership are on this record, exemplified by bruisers like “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” Conversely, Elton and Taupin also produced their best ballads here, exemplified by the title track and “Candle in the Wind.” On the production side, this album is a technical marvel as well. Hit single “Bennie and the Jets” is often mistaken for a live song thanks to its collage of live audience samples and reverb effects. Album opener “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” is an 11-minute masterpiece of Elton’s masterful piano playing blended with a phalanx of overdubbed synthesizers. —Jason Roche
16. Allman Brothers Band, At Fillmore East (1971)
Is progressive blues a musical genre? If so, the Allman Brothers invented it on the group’s landmark concert double-LP At Fillmore East. Slide-guitar sorcerer Duane Allman has long been singled out as the Allman Bros.’ musical genius. But jazzy swing bassist Berry Oakley and drummers Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson on songs like “One Way Out” gave Duane’s and Dickey Betts’ hummingbird-helix guitars wings. Gregg Allman was just 23 when these songs were recorded over three 1971 nights yet his supple, soulful vocals sound like a man who’d already experienced a lifetime of joy and pain. —Matt Wake
15. Aerosmith, Rocks (1976)
The ratty guitar work on Rocks is undeniable. You can easily hear Aerosmith numbers like “Back in the Saddle” and “Last Child” as having inspired Guns N’ Roses’ sound 10 years later. Joe Perry and Brad Whitford put on an ax-slinging master class here. Not just on the hits, either. Check out Zep-tastic deep cut “Get the Lead Out.” Steven Tyler’s vocals balance rhythm and range, whether on the metallic “Nobody’s Fault” or underrated power ballad “Home Tonight.” —Matt Wake
14. Slade, Whatever Happened to Slade? (1977)
Never heard this one? Kurt Cobain and Billy Corgan both have mentioned this album as one of their favorites. The record bombed at the time. Despite being perhaps the biggest British influence on the rising punk movement, Slade and their giant, glittering boots were decidedly out. The cover features the four members posed in front of portraits of themselves from their skinhead days. “Gypsy Roadhog” and “One Eyed Jacks With Mustaches” are undeniable rock ragers. “Dogs of Vengenace” is what is missing from classic rock radio. This isn’t just the template for grunge, it’s everything good about hair metal 10 years early. —Nicholas Pell
13. Supertramp, Breakfast in America (1979)
The 1970s were a great time for rock, if for no other reason than the marriage between prog and pop. I like the guitar heroics of Yes and the flute theatrics of Gentle Giant as much as the next guy, but I like how Supertramp tamed the beast a lot more. Nearly every track on this album is a pop classic, but also interesting, innovative and complex at the same time. The guys are musicians’ musicians but still manage to produce songs like “Take the Long Way Home” (written and sung by Roger Hodgson) that will get stuck in your head for the next six months. —Nicholas Pell
12. Derek & the Dominos, Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)
This album features the most compelling performance — vocally and compositionally — of Eric Clapton’s career. Yes, that includes Cream. Clapton dug deep and produced bona-fide soul with his vocals and songwriting on ballads such as “Bell Bottom Blues.” Title track “Layla” showcased what pinch-hitting guitarist Duane Allman brought to the table, with one of the most enduring sets of riffs from this era, and showcased Allman as a star that shined brightly even away from the Allman Brothers Band. An unsung hero on this record, though, is keyboardist and co-songwriter Bobby Whitlock, his presence lurking in the background on every song and his own vocals adding hefty depth, most notably on the blues-rocker “Keep on Growing.” —Jason Roche
11. Van Halen, Van Halen (1978)
As the ’70s were ending, the popularity of the rock genre was being assaulted by the up-and-coming genres of punk, new wave and disco. In order to transition into a new decade, rock had to evolve. These Pasadena backyard rockers shook up the rock scene with a debut album that brought a much-needed attitude adjustment, musically and aesthetically. Van Halen would hit the ground running with opener “Runnin' With the Devil” and presage the eventual shape of rock in the ’80s, with David Lee Roth’s bombastic shrieks and what would become the band’s trademark harmonic choruses in full force. Then when that song ends, rock guitar is changed forever by the introduction of Eddie Van Halen’s shred on “Eruption.” —Jason Roche
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