Top Albums of the Classic Rock Era

Classic Rock remains a major musical force to this day. The genre had a deep impact on musical, technical and cultural landscapes. While the era itself lasted just 27 years, there was so much great music produced during that time. By contrast, it’s argued that the Hip Hop era officially began in 1979 and is still enjoying peak status today, over four decades later.

Jazz and blues gave birth to rock in the 1950s, but the genre didn’t really hit stride until the mid-1960s, roughly ten years after it became mainstream. Certainly, there have been some fantastic “rock” records after the end of the Classic Rock era in 1991, but the case can be made that anything after that point merely follows in the footsteps of the music gone before.

This list focuses on groundbreaking music that either intentionally or unintentionally changed the course of the culture. 

1965: "Rubber Soul" by The Beatles
Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield summed up the importance of this album perfectly. “We’re all living in the future this album invented.” Rubber Soul is the album that ushered in the Classic Rock Era, and the best part is that at the time, no one had any clue what was about to happen. The people involved were true pioneers. The songwriting reached another level, especially for George Harrison who gave us a glimpse of what was to come. The production was “modern,” with full, round bass, a distinctive upper register and rich and complex vocal arrangements – an often-overlooked key component of the music of the Classic Rock Era. 

1966: "Pet Sounds" by The Beach Boys
"Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band" doesn’t happen without Pet Sounds – and that comes directly from Paul McCartney. Not a smashing commercial success when first released, but as a singular work of art, it’s a stunning album. Several of its songs are still part of the modern musical conversation. Pet Sounds is also among the first albums to exist purely in the recording studio, produced specifically to be listened to as a singular activity and not as a promotion for the band’s live shows. And, any album containing "Wouldn’t It be Nice" and "God Only Knows" should automatically be considered in the Top 20 of any list. 

1967 - “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles
What “Rubber Soul” unleashed, and “Revolver” made foundational, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” made historical. No album – then or since – captures the zeitgeist of a time while simultaneously setting the bar for every musical work of art to follow. This album leaves no musical stone unturned. This is also the record that made psychedelic music mainstream. Regardless of what genre or style, if an artist made a record after June 1, 1967, it could only exist in the shadow of this record. 

1969:  “Nashville Skyline” by Bob Dylan
American music has always tended to divide itself by genre and demographic. Rock & roll was a hybrid of Delta blues, urban soul and church music, but in 1969, “Nashville Skyline” made country and western hip again. Dylan is in amazing form here, both as a performer and songwriter, and is backed by some of the finest studio musicians Nashville ever produced. Once Dylan finally got his way and unchained himself from the bounds of folk music, musicians like Poco, New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and even to some extent, The Grateful Dead, were also free to explore country music as a rock statement, and audiences became open and accepting of rootsier music too. And of course, Johnny Cash helped open the album. It’s been argued that the Americana movement of the past decade owes its existence directly to this album.

1970 – “Déjà Vu” by Crosby, Stills and Nash
The band’s eponymous 1969 release featured the close harmonies of the three main members and their stellar songwriting. However, “Déjà Vu” features the addition of Neil Young and a new way to record albums. Of course, The Beatles and The Beach Boys were old pros at recording albums with only one or two members at a time. However, “Déjà Vu” is an album made by a group of people who really couldn’t stand being in the same room with each other, yet it succeeded in scoring three major hits.

1971: “At Fillmore East” by The Allman Brothers
Without hyperbole, “At Fillmore East” is the most important live album of the rock era, which is also ironic because it is more of a blues-jazz hybrid album than it is a rock record. Recorded over two nights in March 1971 at the venerable Fillmore East theatre in lower Manhattan, the double-set was released in July 1971 to much acclaim. Producer Tom Dowd seamlessly condensed hours and hours of performance into two disks without destroying the flow and integrity of the performances. “At Fillmore East” paved the way for every live rock album to follow while introducing Southern Blues to the masses.

1972: “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” by David Bowie
In 1972, the future was a scary place. Movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “A Clockwork Orange” set the stage for “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust”, but David Bowie put the exclamation point to the discomfort the future was poised to unleash. There are some stand-out pop hits on this record that even casual music fans are intimately familiar with, but this is most definitely an album to listen to from start to finish. 

1973: “Mott” by Mott the Hoople 
While David Bowie and the New York Dolls brought us glam, Mott the Hoople gave us Glam Rock. The band’s brilliant and unfortunately overlooked 1973 release “Mott”, is a sardonic – and sarcastic – look at what rock & roll was really all about. As a historical piece, the album is important, but it’s also a great rock record without needing to look too deeply into its meaning. “Mott” is about being in a band and why that might not always be all it’s imagined to be, so just for that alone, it’s a great look at what Classic Rock was all about.

1974: “461 Ocean Boulevard” by Eric Clapton
“Layla…And Other Love Songs” by Eric Clapton’s post-Cream project, Derek and the Dominoes, was a better selling album, but “461 Ocean Boulevard” introduced the world to the Eric Clapton who would become a pop mainstay for the next 20 years. A mixture of new songs, traditional blues, and songs from other writers (most notably, “I Shot the Sheriff”),” 461 Ocean Boulevard” is a laid-back exploration of groove and musicianship set to the vibe of Clapton’s post-addiction climb out of the abyss. This is a great record disguised as a meandering attempt at pop, and it’s what Clapton did with the lessons he gleaned from this record that made the latter ‘70s and mid-’80s such a great era for the musician.

1976: “Boston” by Boston
Tom Scholz is a genius. He’s an engineering graduate of MIT, worked in product development as a senior engineer for Polaroid (where he holds several patents), and just so happened to build a recording studio in his basement in suburban Boston. He also hoodwinked his record label into believing his band’s debut album was recorded in a label-approved studio – it was not. This was all before he even turned 30. More a studio project than a real band at first, Boston’s eponymous debut record was a monster hit. With no less than five legit Arena Rock anthems, this album helped catapult its genre.

1978: “Darkness on the Edge of Town” by Bruce Springsteen
Sure, “Born to Run” was debatably a more appealing album, and without a doubt “Born In the USA” was a bigger commercial success, but “Darkness on the Edge of Town” was the album that allowed Springsteen to be Springsteen and in the process, turn the rest of us into fans.The album's success was made sweeter by the fact that he stuck to his own vision rather than giving into highly publicised pressure from his record label at the time.

1979: “The Wall” by Pink Floyd
A month before The Clash released “London Calling”, Pink Floyd released the biggest record of their career, and arguably the biggest record of the decade. We all know the hits, and most of us know the rest of the record too. “The Wall" was, however, not a Pink Floyd album, it was a Roger Waters solo album with a lot of collaboration from David Gilmour and producer Bob Ezrin. Without fear of being labelled a one trick pony, Waters dove deep into his favourite subjects – World War II, the sad nature of being a rock star and former bandmate Syd Barrett. 

Welcome to myKEF

Join Our myKEF Community

Become a member and unlock exclusive offers and benefits.

Create Your Account
You have no items in your cart
All discounted price will be show on cart page
You haven’t sign in yet. Sign in or create account to enjoy the most of your KEF experience.
Cart (0 item)