Best rock albums of the 1970s
Best rock albums of the 1970s
The 1970s was a decade defined by the evolution of rock music as both a genre and cultural movement, splintering and morphing into sub-genres like punk, folk rock, heavy metal, glam rock, and singer-songwriter. It was also an era that, both musically and politically, found its legs and defined itself, in some ways, in its opposition to the optimistic and LSD-infused ’60s. ’70s rock was political—whether explicitly or covertly—as music tends to be in times of war, conservative backlash, and changing norms around gender and sexuality.
The concurrent deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, the rise of disco, and the disbanding of the Beatles all indelibly marked the beginning of the 1970s, signaling a departure from psychedelic and jam rock, toward harder, louder, and grittier sounds. Meanwhile, global and national violence, a rebellious youth movement, and the legacy of ’60s pop and proto-punk gave the music of the ’70s power—whether in the quietly groundbreaking dulcimer strums of Joni Mitchell’s iconic album “Blue,” or the deafening roar of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath’s stadium tours.
Stacker compiled data on the best rock albums of the ’70s and listed the top 50, according to Best Ever Albums, which ranks albums according to their appearance and performance on 40,000 editorial and data-based charts (e.g., Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Billboard, etc.). The Best Ever Albums score is derived from a formula that weighs how many charts an album has appeared on and how high it reached on each of those charts and awards points accordingly. For a more in-depth methodology, read here.
Read on to explore the musicians and albums that made the 1970s one of the most interesting decades in music history.
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#50. ‘Tapestry’ by Carole King
- Best Ever Albums score: 7,771
- Rank all-time: #240
- Rank in 1971: #11
Featuring James Taylor and Joni Mitchell on background vocals, Carole King’s iconic “Tapestry” won four Grammys—more than anyone had ever received at once at that time. The highly influential album launched King into the spotlight as one of the singer-songwriters who pioneered the genre and brought her into the public eye, beyond her work as the songwriter behind hits she’d penned for others, like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “The Loco-Motion,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman.”
#49. ‘The Stranger’ by Billy Joel
- Best Ever Albums score: 7,817
- Rank all-time: #239
- Rank in 1977: #7
Billy Joel recorded “The Stranger” while in danger of being dropped by Columbia Records. He originally planned to team up with Beatles producer George Martin but changed his mind when Martin pressured him to use a studio band rather than his road band and hired Phil Ramone for the job instead. This proved to be a fateful decision, as the album is widely considered to be Joel’s best. “The Stranger” includes classics like “Just the Way You Are,” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “Vienna,” and “She’s Always a Woman.”
#48. ‘Fragile’ by Yes
- Best Ever Albums score: 7,932
- Rank all-time: #235
- Rank in 1971: #10
Keyboardist Rick Wakeman was hired to replace one of Yes’ co-founders, Tony Kaye, shortly before the group recorded “Fragile.” According to Wakeman, he was asked to join David Bowie’s newly formed band Spiders From Mars the very same day he was invited to be a member of Yes. He decided to go with Yes because he felt he would have more creative freedom and input there. “Fragile” became one of the seminal albums of progressive rock, ushering in the genre alongside contributions from King Crimson and others.
#47. ‘Let It Be’ by The Beatles
- Best Ever Albums score: 8,283
- Rank all-time: #227
- Rank in 1970: #11
“Let It Be” was the Beatles’ final (and most controversial) album before the band broke up later in 1970. Though it included hits like “Across the Universe,” “Get Back,” “The Long and Winding Road,” and the title track, many critics, as well as Paul McCartney, disliked producer Phil Spector’s additions to the album. The making of the album, which is chronicled in two documentaries, was plagued with ill-feeling—with George Harrison leaving the group and eventually rejoining—and signaled the end of the band.
#46. ‘Ramones’ by Ramones
- Best Ever Albums score: 8,624
- Rank all-time: #216
- Rank in 1976: #3
The Ramones’ self-titled album was recorded at Radio City Music Hall over the course of one week and for under $7,000. Considered the first real punk album, the new and unfamiliar sound was not at first a commercial success, selling only 6,000 copies in the year following its release. They were critically acclaimed from the start, however, and went on to influence punk bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash.
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#45. ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ by Genesis
- Best Ever Albums score: 8,881
- Rank all-time: #210
- Rank in 1974: #3
“The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” was Peter Gabriel’s final album with Genesis and has been referred to as the “Ulysses of concept albums.” The album tells the story of a Puerto Rican kid named Rael who embarks on a journey in New York. The creation of “The Lamb” mostly took place at the famed English recording studio, Headley Grange. Relations among the bandmates became strained when Gabriel seized control of the lyric writing and left continuously to work on a screenwriting project with “Exorcist” director William Friedkin, as well as to care for his infant daughter and wife.
#44. ‘On the Beach’ by Neil Young
- Best Ever Albums score: 8,908
- Rank all-time: #208
- Rank in 1974: #2
One of Neil Young’s darkest albums, “On the Beach” came shortly after his hugely successful album “Harvest”; the record dealt with feelings of isolation and anger at both the state of the world—the endlessness of the Vietnam War at the time, especially—as well as his own experiences with fame and the death of his friend. The album defied genre categorization, existing somewhere between country and rock. Young recorded the album with the rhythm section from The Band and Rusty Kershaw of the country band Rusty & Doug.
#43. ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ by Elton John
- Best Ever Albums score: 8,955
- Rank all-time: #206
- Rank in 1973: #6
Elton John and his lyricist collaborator Bernie Taupin created “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” between Kingston, Jamaica, and Château d’Hérouville, an 18th-century French château-turned-recording studio where John made “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player” and “Honky Château.” They recorded 21 songs in just 12 days, and the album would go on to be regarded as John’s masterpiece and his bestselling album. It included songs like “Bennie and the Jets,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” and “Candle in the Wind,” as well as its explosive title track.
#42. ‘Fun House’ by The Stooges
- Best Ever Albums score: 8,986
- Rank all-time: #203
- Rank in 1970: #10
The Stooges’ second album, “Fun House,” took their sound to new levels of roughness and confrontationalism, in part due to producer Don Gallucci’s choice to record the album as if it were performed live. This marked a departure from their first album, which used the Velvet Underground’s John Cale as the producer for a crisper sound. The band set up in Elektra Records’ Los Angeles studio as if they were onstage, with frontman Iggy Pop doing his performing in his usual active and erratic style, giving the proto-punk band their influential raw sound.
#41. ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Best Ever Albums score: 9,116
- Rank all-time: #196
- Rank in 1970: #9
“Cosmo’s Factory” was named for the industrial practice space in San Francisco where Creedence Clearwater Revival rehearsed. The iconic album cover—which shows the bandmates lounging with various props and Stu Cook perched on his bike—was shot by lead singer John Fogerty’s brother, Bob, in the eponymous rehearsal space. “Cosmo’s Factory,” which blended rockabilly, country, and R&B sounds and included hits like “Travelin’ Band,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” and “Run Through the Jungle,” spent nine weeks atop the Billboard 200 after its release in 1970.
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#40. ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ by Bruce Springsteen
- Best Ever Albums score: 9,136
- Rank all-time: #195
- Rank in 1978: #1
“Darkness on the Edge of Town” was Bruce Springsteen’s follow-up to his enormously successful “Born to Run” album, but the two could not have been more different tonally. The former project was a much bleaker album, a counterpoint to the freedom and optimism of “Born to Run” and is said to have been impacted by a lawsuit in which Springsteen was embroiled with his former manager. According to a documentary about the making of the album (which is included in its 2010 deluxe reissue), Springsteen also wanted to create something that responded to the massive amount of fame and glory that came from his first album, fame which was reportedly embarrassing to him.
#39. ‘L.A. Woman’ by The Doors
- Best Ever Albums score: 9,211
- Rank all-time: #194
- Rank in 1971: #9
The Doors frontman Jim Morrison died in Paris only weeks after the release of “L.A. Woman,” marking the last album made by the original band. Leading up to the album’s completion, Morrison had been arrested for indecent exposure while performing, leading to his being sentenced to several months in prison (though he died before serving the sentence). Praised by critics as the Doors’ last great album, “L.A. Woman” included classic hits like “Love Her Madly,” “Riders on the Storm,” and “The WASP,” and explored the transition from the optimism of the 1960s to the uncertainty of the ’70s.
#38. ‘Horses’ by Patti Smith
- Best Ever Albums score: 9,432
- Rank all-time: #188
- Rank in 1975: #7
Poet, punk icon, and author Patti Smith released “Horses” during the heyday of the New York punk venue CBGB, where she regularly performed among other superstar acts like the Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Blondie. Smith recorded the seminal punk album with her band—comprised of guitarist Lenny Kaye, Blondie bassist Ivan Kral, and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty—at the famed Electric Lady studio, with producer John Cale (of the Velvet Underground). The album cover for “Horses,” which features a black-and-white photo of Smith taken by Smith’s friend, famed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, has become an iconic image of both the time and New York’s underground punk scene.
#37. ‘Aja’ by Steely Dan
- Best Ever Albums score: 9,582
- Rank all-time: #183
- Rank in 1977: #6
Steely Dan’s sixth album, “Aja,” marked the band’s evolution toward a jazzier, harder-to-define sound. The production of the album itself took place in six studios on two coasts and included the contributions of 30 musicians for an end result of seven songs. The complicated making of “Aja,” which is chronicled in a documentary, was bankrolled by the group’s record company, ABC, and involved numerous takes of each song with different configurations of musicians, until the perfect one was accomplished.
#36. ‘Moondance’ by Van Morrison
- Best Ever Albums score: 10,252
- Rank all-time: #171
- Rank in 1970: #8
“Moondance” was packed with some of Van Morrison’s most celebrated songs, including the titular “Moondance,” “Into the Mystic,” “Crazy Love,” and “Caravan.” The album featured Morrison backed by horn and rhythm sections but was not a smooth ride from the get-go. Morrison reportedly fired most of the band who had played on his previous album, “Astral Weeks,” and seized control of the project from his producer, Lewis Merenstein.
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#35. ‘Led Zeppelin III’ by Led Zeppelin
- Best Ever Albums score: 10,340
- Rank all-time: #168
- Rank in 1970: #7
“Led Zeppelin III” was the band’s most sonically different album and, not coincidentally, its most polarizing. The album was written in a rural Welsh cottage that didn’t have electricity (but was memorialized on the song “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp”), allowing the bandmates to explore a more acoustic, mellow sound. While some fans and critics dismissed it as a sign that the band’s creative energy was petering out, others praised Led Zeppelin’s daringness in reinventing their sound at the peak of their popularity.
#34. ‘Quadrophenia’ by The Who
- Best Ever Albums score: 10,344
- Rank all-time: #167
- Rank in 1973: #5
The Who’s rock opera “Quadrophenia” chronicles the tale of Jimmy, a young Brit dealing with a mental health condition whose angst about work and family life functions as a criticism of the British class system and a celebration of rebellion. Pete Townshend composed the 17-song album, and has since referred to it as “the Who’s last great album.” The making of “Quadrophenia” was rife with conflict between the band members, exacerbated by nonstop touring and substance misuse.
#33. ‘Red’ by King Crimson
- Best Ever Albums score: 11,024
- Rank all-time: #159
- Rank in 1974: #1
Led by Robert Fripp, seminal progressive rock band King Crimson assembled and reassembled with new musicians around each album release, with “Red” leaning into darker, rougher sounds than in their debut record, “In the Court of the Crimson King.” By the time “Red” was recorded, the band was close to falling apart, and the animosity and chaos of the group’s disintegration can be heard in the intense, sometimes violent sound of the album. “Red” was the group’s last output of the ’70s; they disbanded shortly after before being reformed in the early ’80s.
#32. ‘Tago Mago’ by Can
- Best Ever Albums score: 11,636
- Rank all-time: #146
- Rank in 1971: #8
German experimental group Can’s album “Tago Mago” broke from the rock conventions of their debut album “Monster Movie” in favor of more funky, avant-garde sounds and rhythms. Can’s drummer, Jaki Liebezeit, described this move as a result of not “trying to please anybody” and being free from “commercial ideas.” Using a 15th-century castle chamber lined with egg cartons, the band recorded for 16 hours a day using three microphones and two tape recorders.
#31. ‘Meddle’ by Pink Floyd
- Best Ever Albums score: 11,656
- Rank all-time: #145
- Rank in 1971: #7
Pink Floyd’s experimental album “Meddle” marked a departure from their more traditional rock sound. The album, recorded at Abbey Road, was comprised of five songs in addition to the 23-minute track “Echoes,” which became an entire side of the record. On “Echoes,” the band each recorded their parts separately without knowledge of the other members’ contributions ahead of time, as well as experimented in other ways to create an unexpected and organic sound. “Echoes,” as well as “One of These Days,” went on to become signature Pink Floyd tracks.
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#30. ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ by John Lennon
- Best Ever Albums score: 11,859
- Rank all-time: #141
- Rank in 1970: #5
Shortly after the Beatles disbanded in 1970, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s group, which included Ringo Starr and bassist Klaus Voormann, recorded “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.” The album is said to have been influenced by Lennon’s sessions with primal scream therapy practitioner Arthur Janov, who proposed that reliving early childhood trauma and screaming could cure one of mental health issues. This influence can be seen on tracks like “Mother” and “My Mummy’s Dead.”
#29. ‘Transformer’ by Lou Reed
- Best Ever Albums score: 12,994
- Rank all-time: #130
- Rank in 1972: #6
After the Velvet Underground disbanded in the early ’70s, frontman Lou Reed struck out on his own to start a solo career. When he went to record “Transformer,” his label, RCA, introduced him to David Bowie, who agreed to produce the album. Bowie brought on guitarist Mick Ronson from his band Spiders from Mars to co-produce the record. “Transformer” became one of the seminal albums of the newly emerging glam rock genre, spawning hits like “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Satellite of Love.”
#28. ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’ by Sex Pistols
- Best Ever Albums score: 13,876
- Rank all-time: #119
- Rank in 1977: #5
Frequently cited as one of the most influential punk albums of all time, the Sex Pistols’ only studio album, “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” took the U.K. by storm, skyrocketing to #1. Defined by the band’s quintessential sneering singing and raw and aggressive sound, the album housed singles like “Anarchy in the UK,” “God Save the Queen,” and “Pretty Vacant.” The album was infamous in the U.K. for having “bollocks” in its title; a record shopkeeper was notoriously arrested for displaying the album cover in the window, which only gave the band more publicity.
#27. ’All Things Must Pass’ by George Harrison
- Best Ever Albums score: 14,056
- Rank all-time: #116
- Rank in 1970: #4
In 1968, George Harrison traveled to Woodstock, New York, and befriended Bob Dylan, a relationship that boosted Harrison’s songwriting confidence and began what would become “All Things Must Pass.” After the Beatles’ disintegration, Harrison began his solo project in earnest, which grappled with both the end of the Beatles and his interest in spirituality. “All Things Must Pass” is often cited as the best solo Beatles album, and reveals Harrison’s frequently underrated prowess as a songwriter.
#26. ‘Station to Station’ by David Bowie
- Best Ever Albums score: 14,129
- Rank all-time: #113
- Rank in 1976: #2
Even legendary music critic and David Bowie naysayer Lester Bangs was forced to admit that Bowie had “finally produced his (first) masterpiece” with “Station to Station.” Despite the legendary final product, Bowie called the creation of the album “singularly the darkest days of my life” due to chronic substance misuse and poor eating and sleeping habits. This led the rock star to experience erratic behavior and mental health issues, prompting him to move back to Europe in order to remove himself from L.A.’s drug culture.
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#25. ‘Harvest’ by Neil Young
- Best Ever Albums score: 14,822
- Rank all-time: #104
- Rank in 1972: #5
Neil Young’s most commercially successful album, “Harvest” was recorded in his home studio, and included hits like “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man.” David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash all played on the record. After taping a live show with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor, Young invited the two musicians back to his house and they contributed off-the-cuff guitar and vocal backups.
#24. ‘Physical Graffiti’ by Led Zeppelin
- Best Ever Albums score: 14,840
- Rank all-time: #103
- Rank in 1975: #5
Led Zeppelin’s sixth album, “Physical Graffiti,” is known as the prolific band’s rawest effort. Recorded again at Headley Grange, the album paid tribute to Chicago blues influences and yielded the quintessential Led Zeppelin hit “Kashmir.”
#23. ‘Houses of the Holy’ by Led Zeppelin
- Best Ever Albums score: 15,151
- Rank all-time: #99
- Rank in 1973: #2
Led Zeppelin recorded “Houses of the Holy” at Mick Jagger’s estate, Stargroves. The album is known for being lighter and more playful than their previous albums, experimenting with genres previously untapped by the band. While some critics dismissed it, with one Rolling Stone critic nicknaming the band “Limp Blimp,” the album was a commercial success.
#22. ‘A Night at the Opera’ by Queen
- Best Ever Albums score: 15,415
- Rank all-time: #95
- Rank in 1975: #4
Featuring some of Queen’s most famous hits, including the behemoth “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “You’re My Best Friend,” “A Night at the Opera” is considered Queen’s masterpiece. “Bohemian Rhapsody” spent nine weeks atop the UK Singles Chart. The band borrowed the album’s title from the Marx Brothers’ film of the same name.
#21. ‘Close to the Edge’ by Yes
- Best Ever Albums score: 16,191
- Rank all-time: #90
- Rank in 1972: #4
Critics consider “Close to the Edge” to be Yes’ “crowning achievement,” and “progressive rock’s defining masterwork.” Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha,” which Jon Anderson was reading at the time, heavily influenced the album’s lyrics and themes.
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#20. ‘After the Gold Rush’ by Neil Young
- Best Ever Albums score: 18,484
- Rank all-time: #78
- Rank in 1970: #2
Using musicians from both the folk-rock collective Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Crazy Horse, Neil Young crafted most of “After the Gold Rush” in the basement of his house. Though the album wasn’t a great critical success at the time, it served to launch Young’s solo career and was reconsidered by critics in light of his later successes, notably “Harvest.”
#19. ‘Blue’ by Joni Mitchell
- Best Ever Albums score: 19,090
- Rank all-time: #76
- Rank in 1971: #6
Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” has been called “perfect,” and had an enormous impact on both women musicians and women listeners because of its vulnerable subject matter and themes of freedom, exploration, and loss, which, according to Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) “freed female artists” to make that kind of music too. Employing the dulcimer, guitar, and piano, the album was completely composed and performed by Mitchell, with James Taylor, Stephen Stills, Sneaky Pete, and Russ Kunkel contributing some instrumentals.
#18. ‘Born to Run’ by Bruce Springsteen
- Best Ever Albums score: 20,435
- Rank all-time: #69
- Rank in 1975: #3
When an unofficial rough cut of the title track from “Born to Run” was distributed to radio stations in 1974, it became so popular it launched Bruce Springsteen from relative obscurity—as his previous albums had not been successful—directly into the public eye. The subsequent release of the album went even further, elevating him to the status of “rock ’n’ roll poet,” and saw him grace the covers of Time magazine and Newsweek.
#17. ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath
- Best Ever Albums score: 21,213
- Rank all-time: #61
- Rank in 1970: #1
“Paranoid” was Black Sabbath’s follow-up to their successful debut album and represented a turning point for heavy metal as not only a genre unto itself, but a commercially successful one. Grappling with issues of war, atomic weapons, and lower-class oppression, the album was, politically, a product of the times. It proved timeless for its pioneering of heavy metal, for which the album served as a “template” for future bands.
#16. ‘Sticky Fingers’ by The Rolling Stones
- Best Ever Albums score: 21,511
- Rank all-time: #58
- Rank in 1971: #4
“Sticky Fingers” was the Rolling Stones’ ninth studio album and produced legendary hits like “Wild Horses” and “Brown Sugar.” The iconic album cover, designed by Andy Warhol and shot by members of Warhol’s art collective the Factory, featured the band holding up photographs of someone’s crotch in a pair of tight jeans to their own bodies. The original release of the album included a real zipper, which could be undone to reveal underwear beneath, but was discontinued due to its damaging the vinyl.
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#15. ‘Low’ by David Bowie
- Best Ever Albums score: 22,362
- Rank all-time: #53
- Rank in 1977: #4
Written after David Bowie’s departure from L.A.’s drug scene and move to Berlin, “Low” is his most subdued album. During the creation of the album, Bowie was recovering from a substance use disorder and mental health conditions, and he did not attempt to invent a persona for the album. Nevertheless, “Low” is not completely bleak; featuring Brian Eno, it experiments with electronic and futuristic sounds for an almost playful effect.
#14. ‘Marquee Moon’ by Television
- Best Ever Albums score: 24,968
- Rank all-time: #47
- Rank in 1977: #3
“Marquee Moon” was New York punk band Television’s debut album. While not hugely commercially successful, it continued the evolution of punk started by bands like the Velvet Underground and perpetuated by artists such as Patti Smith and the Ramones and took the New York punk scene by storm. Critics raved about “Marquee Moon,” with one calling it “a 24-carat inspired work of pure genius.”
#13. ‘Hunky Dory’ by David Bowie
- Best Ever Albums score: 25,719
- Rank all-time: #46
- Rank in 1971: #3
“Hunky Dory” catalyzed David Bowie’s career, the first of his albums to catapult him to fame. Featuring hits like “Changes,” “Life on Mars,” and “Queen Bitch,” the album preceded “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” by only six months. “Hunky Dory” was the beginning of what Bowie would become legendary for, cementing his image as a gender-bending, glam pop-rock icon who was constantly reinventing himself.
#12. ‘Exile on Main St.’ by The Rolling Stones
- Best Ever Albums score: 27,266
- Rank all-time: #42
- Rank in 1972: #2
Widely considered the Stones’ creative peak, “Exile on Main St.” was written and recorded during the band’s partying days in France, using the basement of their new villa. The album is known for its raw, gritty sound, which is no surprise, considering the band was on the run from tax collectors in Britain, and Keith Richards had fallen into heroin addiction.
#11. ‘Blood on the Tracks’ by Bob Dylan
- Best Ever Albums score: 27,681
- Rank all-time: #41
- Rank in 1975: #2
Despite its status as Bob Dylan’s “breakup album,” “Blood” is known for its warmth and timelessness. The album features hits like “Tangled Up in Blue,” “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” “Buckets of Rain,” and “Shelter From the Storm.” According to Pitchfork, Dylan was bemused at the record’s popularity, having said at the time of the album’s release, “It’s hard for me to relate to … people enjoying that kind of pain.”
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#10. ‘Who’s Next’ by The Who
- Best Ever Albums score: 28,463
- Rank all-time: #39
- Rank in 1971: #2
Famously opening with “Baba O’Riley,” “Who’s Next” was the Who’s most successful album in the U.S. The album was the band’s follow-up to the highly successful rock opera “Tommy” and was originally supposed to be another rock opera titled “Lifehouse.” When that project failed to come together, some of the songs were repurposed to create “Who’s Next.”
#9. ‘Animals’ by Pink Floyd
- Best Ever Albums score: 29,501
- Rank all-time: #36
- Rank in 1977: #2
Coming on the heels of major hits like “The Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here,” Pink Floyd recorded “Animals” in a studio they’d recently built. Based largely on George Orwell’s novella “Animal Farm,” the album critiqued Britain’s capitalist power structures with a raw, angry sound. The creation of the album brought discord among the band members to the surface as they grappled with their major success and dealt with personal issues and grievances.
#8. ‘Unknown Pleasures’ by Joy Division
- Best Ever Albums score: 30,009
- Rank all-time: #35
- Rank in 1979: #3
Post-punk band Joy Division’s debut album “Unknown Pleasures” was created after sound effects and synth maestro Martin Hannett joined the group. His addition transformed the band from a Stooges and Sex Pistols-styled punk band into a group with a genre-defining sound all of its own. Its album cover, which features a white-on-black graphic that looks like a diagram of mountains or even a heartbeat monitor, became an iconic image.
#7. ‘The Wall’ by Pink Floyd
- Best Ever Albums score: 35,651
- Rank all-time: #27
- Rank in 1979: #2
The historically popular concept album “The Wall” buoyed Pink Floyd to even higher levels of fame but proved challenging for the band’s integrity as acrimony between the members reached a breaking point. Disagreements about the band’s artistic direction, as well as bassist and singer Roger Waters’ seizing of control of most of the band’s creative decisions, resulted in “The Wall” being the last album the four original bandmates would record together.
#6. ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac
- Best Ever Albums score: 37,205
- Rank all-time: #24
- Rank in 1977: #1
“Rumours” was Fleetwood Mac’s most successful album and would become one of the most well-known albums in pop music history. This popularity came in spite of, or perhaps because of, the well-publicized drama that rocked the band members and was documented in the album itself. Inner-band affairs and infidelity, as well as intense drug use, led to the creation of the emotionally charged album.
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#5. ‘London Calling’ by The Clash
- Best Ever Albums score: 44,547
- Rank all-time: #18
- Rank in 1979: #1
By the end of the ’70s, punk had started to become more about grungy aesthetics than the radical politics the movement was originally founded upon. In “London Calling,” however, the Clash refocused their contribution to punk on ideology, and the album is considered their “creative apex.” “London Calling” is considered by many to be one of the greatest rock albums ever. The album sits at #16 on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest albums ever recorded.
#4. ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ by Led Zeppelin
- Best Ever Albums score: 53,666
- Rank all-time: #11
- Rank in 1971: #1
The officially untitled album (often referred to as “Led Zeppelin IV” or “Zoso”) was released without band information and images in an aggressive and deliberate move by the band to get back at critics, who they felt were underestimating their work. However, the air of mystery surrounding the album did nothing to dissuade fans from digging into it—if anything, it created a sense of mystique that made the band more popular than ever. Recorded at Headley Grange, the album includes the iconic “Stairway to Heaven” and “Black Dog,” and is considered to be one of the best rock albums of all time.
#3. ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ by David Bowie
- Best Ever Albums score: 59,016
- Rank all-time: #9
- Rank in 1972: #1
David Bowie’s ubiquitous alter-ego Ziggy Stardust is the star of his famous outer space-set concept album, which melded glam rock with performance art and called attention to the blurred lines between rock ’n’ roll star, messiah, and actor. “Ziggy Stardust” was the first Bowie album to sustain its concept throughout the album and was groundbreaking in its subversion of sexual and gender norms, as well as performance and genre conventions.
#2. ‘Wish You Were Here’ by Pink Floyd
- Best Ever Albums score: 60,010
- Rank all-time: #8
- Rank in 1975: #1
Recorded at Abbey Road, “Wish You Were Here” was inspired by Syd Barrett, the founder of Pink Floyd who had left the band years before due to serious mental health concerns. When Barrett showed up unexpectedly at the recording sessions he was almost unrecognizable, something that greatly disturbed the band. The album served as a critique of the music industry, and several members of the band have cited it as their favorite Pink Floyd record.
#1. ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd
- Best Ever Albums score: 85,935
- Rank all-time: #2
- Rank in 1973: #1
“The Dark Side of the Moon” has spent 18 years on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and has sold over 45 million copies. The album grapples with themes like wealth, death, and time, and solidified Floyd’s transition from jam band to serious rock band. It was also Roger Waters’ first credit as a sole lyricist, which would define the band’s sound and the course of their career for the next decade.
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