Rock ‘n’ Roll has been a part of our culture for decades and seen some of the greatest musicians of our lifetime write some of the greatest songs of our lifetime. However, while many good artists write songs that can stand the test of time, it takes great ones to produce an album with an impact almost greater than the sum of its constituent parts. A lot of these songs on these albums will be regarded as the artists’ best. I have carefully selected 5 essential albums of the rock genre that I feel anyone with even the tiniest shred of interest in music should listen to at least once in their lifetime. Yes, there are going to be many albums which people hold dear to their music fanatic hearts that I will not have included, but this is a place of enthusiastic discussion, so please feel free to comment below this article with the rock albums you feel everyone needs to hear.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977)
If the internet had been around in 1977 then I reckon Rumours would have caused an avalanche of online media attention. With fractious tension surrounding the making of this iconic record, it’s a miracle that it was actually completed in the first place. Thank heavens it was – this is one of the best rock albums ever made thanks to a combination of the irresistible harmonies from Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham with rhythm and lead instrumentation arranged so effectively as to make each song a moment of unique brilliance. I do my best to try to not think of Formula One when listening to ‘The Chain’ given the great song that it is, but without any bad songwriting moments to be heard, one can’t exactly be petty listening to Rumours. From ‘Second Hand News’ through ‘Go Your Own Way’ and onto ‘Gold Dust Woman’ the quality doesn’t waver. The irony, of course, is that while every song on the album boasts an output of perfect harmony, the input was certainly anything but.
The Who – Who’s Next? (1971)
I challenge anyone not to get hooked on this record from the moment ‘Baba O’Riley’ kicks into life. Some of the best songs of all time are the simplest in structure and ‘Baba’ is a case in point – three simple chords that have the potential to move any fan of rock. Far from being a one or two-track record though, Who’s Next demonstrates The Who’s best songwriting abilities with moments of sheer brilliance however fast or slow or loud or quiet. Much like ‘Rumours’ it’s a relief that this album eventually came together following the fraught and stressful “Lifehouse” project. Townshend, Daltery and co. thankfully managed to put the tensions aside and create one of the all-time greats of rock. ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ stand boldly as two of the best songs the band ever composed but by no means do they cast the rest of the album aside as filler. The likes of ‘Bargain’, ‘My Wife’ and ‘Going Mobile’ continue to stand the test of time and still feel relevant in the age of more sub-genres you can shake a stick at.
Metallica – Master of Puppets (1986)
Metallica were emerging from their teens when they released their first two groundbreaking LPs. The third album in a career that was already grabbing attention across the metal landscape, Master of Puppets cemented their place in history as pioneers of the genre. Always keen to push boundaries their first three albums were all game changers in their own way. What Puppets boasted was a highly-developed songwriting ability from these hard-partying youngsters. It was also the last to feature the late great Cliff Burton. Described by RHCP’s Flea as ‘a wicked virtuoso of a bass player’, Master of Puppets displayed some of his finest work, particularly his songwriting masterpiece; ‘Orion’, which sees his bass take centre stage in the arrangement. It could almost be compared to a classical piece; it has movements and each section delivers something to blow your mind. But it is just one of many great songs to result from this phenomenal record. While Metallica incorporated elements of clean guitar, Spanish guitar and eerie atmospherics this was thrash metal at heart taken to a new meticulous level.
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin (1969)
It’s hard to pick a favourite Led Zeppelin album when they have so many great songs spread across their entire discography. Saying that, it would be hard to argue that their late sixties and early seventies material is not their strongest. Their debut was not critically well-received at first but was a commercial success nonetheless. This was a heavier edge to rock that satisfied the desires of the counterculture that had emerged amongst rock fans. It’s incredible that ‘Good Times Bad Times’, ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ and ‘Dazed and Confused’ are all on the same record and even more so when one remembers that it was the band’s first studio outing as Zeppelin following their Scandinavian tour as “The New Yardbirds”. Jimmy Page’s riffs and solo flourishes would soon establish him as one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time and as a group Led Zeppelin appeared to have this intangible quality that still makes them one of the untouchable greats.
Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)
If people thought Led Zeppelin were heavy, they may not have anticipated that Ozzy Osbourne and co. were just around the corner ready to bring the Devil’s music to Earthly listeners. 1970 remarkably saw Black Sabbath release both their self-titled debut and ‘Paranoid’ – arguably their magnum opus. This was the birth of heavy metal – chugging riffs, the devil’s chord and blistering solos. Tony Iommi’s guitar prowess is what particularly makes this record so brilliant, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the fact that what you’re listening to is one of those special landmark albums. It might not be considered to be the best metal record out there by everyone, myself included, but this is genesis. What a track-list it boasts as well, not just the title track but ‘War Pigs’, ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ remain some of the band’s greatest hits. With ‘Paranoid’, Sabbath were sewing the seeds for the genre to grow by inspiring many disillusioned youngsters wanting something more from rock.
Words: Will Hunt
Published: 24th July 2016
Featured Image: lifehack.org