What is the greatest classic rock album of all time?
Cream –Disraeli Gears
This second effort by well-known classic rockers Cream often gets a lot of attention for being heavy, catchy, and all around great, but perhaps it still doesn’t quite get the amount of attention that it should. This British group of bluesy rockers, featuring the famed Eric Clapton, were one of the first bands to play really heavy and distorted music that challenged the normal boundaries of what was then known as rock n’ roll – so much so that the famed rock critic Lester Bangs put down Black Sabbath’s first album in his infamous review, saying it was basically just a rip-off of what Cream was already doing. They are also known as one of the formative psych rock bands, and helped to pioneer what today is as varied as psychedelic rock, jam bands, heavy metal, and radio rock. On top of that, this wasn’t just some esoteric album that has to be listened to all at once to be appreciated - there are plenty of hits, like “Strange Brew” and “Sunshine of Your Love,” allowing them to perfect on the concept of the pop hit single while also making music that was subversive and heavy. To boot, the cover is an awesome example of early collaged psychedelia.
Release: 1967 | Label: Reaction, Acto, Polydor | Band’s Xth Album: 2nd
Stand-Out Songs: "Strange Brew," "Sunshine of your Love" | Key Sounds: heavy, bluesy, odd and spacey
The Beatles – Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Everyone loves The Beatles, and by the time they released their eighth studio album, Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, they were already an international success, taking the world by storm with a combination of their boyish good looks, devil-may-care attitude, and mixture of charm and debauchery. However, no one was ready for what the group unleashed on this album. The odd psychedelic sounds they borrowed from other groups meshed awesomely with their poppy harmonics, virtually inventing modern music, rock and pop alike. The album featured some sure-fire hits like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “With a Little Help from my Friends,” as well as the sounds of George Harrison’s sitar experimentations on the ethereal “Within Without You.” The cover is also a classic collage of weirdness, and this still lives on as one of the most-played records today.
Release: 1967 | Label: Parlophone | Band’s Xth Album: 8th
Stand-Out Songs: "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," "With a Little Help from my Friends," 'Within Without You" | Key Sounds: Psychedelic rock, bizarre, circus-inspired, sitar
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
OK, so this one has almost become something of a cliché – when you’re stoned, you throw on your black light and listen to Dark Side of the Moon. It’s also became something of a symbol for the esoteric concept album, and there are all kinds of crazy rumors about it, like that it was written as a soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz (something the group swears up and down is not true). Still, that doesn’t stop this seminal record from being one of the very best things the band ever created, and one of the most influential rock records of all time. Before this, selling an album had been all about the singles – basically, when a band had enough radio-ready material, they would write filler around it, or throw their favorite, more experimental tracks on as the B-sides to the hit single. With Darks Side of the Moon, that stifling notion was finally done away with for good. This record might not have been written as the soundtrack to a movie, but it might as well be its own epic story – all the songs fit together with precision, and all of the cover art and imagery goes with the record as well. The album doesn’t have too many stand-out hits, yet despite that, and the fact that this was the band’s eighth studio release, it is hailed as one of their masterpieces even today.
Release: 1973 | Label: Harvest | Band’s Xth Album: 8th
Stand-Out Songs: "Speak to Me," "Money" | Key Sounds: dark, ambient, concept, tracks that flow together
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced?
In 1967, people were starting to think that rock n’ roll really was dangerous – a subversive lifestyle that would lead to a complete overthrow of good old American values. The tides of racial harmony were also turning from a reluctant complacency on the part of African Americans without rights to full-on outrage. So, who better to write the soundtrack for this very special time in history than a debut rock group, featuring a black lead singer and guitarist who grew up poor, wasn’t afraid to dress like a freak and speak his mind, and wasn’t shy about referencing sex and drugs in his lyrics. Unfortunately, as we all know now, Jimi Hendrix was ahead of his time and saddled with some serious addiction problems, and died way too young. However, this debut album by his group, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, really captures the sound of what it was like to be alive in 1967 better than most records of the era, and has timeless classic hits like “Foxy Lady” “Hey Joe,” and “Purple Haze,” as well as lesser known but just as epic songs, like the title track. This is an album that not only stands the test of time, it defines the time, and America certainly would not be the same without it.
Release: 1967 | Label: Track | Band’s Xth Album: 1st
Stand-Out Songs: "Purple Haze," "Hey Joe," "Are You Experienced," "Foxy Lady" | Key Sounds: Heavy, distorted, psychedelic, seductive
The Rolling Stones – Beggar’s Banquet
In 1968, all the rock n’ roll hitting the shelves was experimental and psychedelic, each record even more so than the last. There were rock operas, concept albums, and music was getting more varied and textural all the time. Right in the midst of this, The Stones swerved off their previously psychedelic course to release an album that was back-to-basics in terms of classic rock n’ roll sound. While for some groups this may have backfired horribly, Beggar’s Banquet turned out to be one of the most loved and revered album by The Stones, and resulted in their biggest hit to date, “Sympathy for the Devil.” It also showed the world that rock could be about pushing the boundaries of experimentation some times, and just rocking out others, a balance that most rock musicians still strive to cultivate today.
Release: 1968 | Label: Decca, London | Band’s Xth Album: 7th British, 9th American
Stand-Out Songs: "Sympathy for the Devil," "Street Fighting Man" | Key Sounds: Classic, bluesy, back to basics
Black Sabbath – Paranoid
The pioneers of heavy metal and hard rock established themselves with a self-titled debut in 1969, and were surprised at all the instant success this heavy megalith of an album received. They got picked up by a major label, who wanted them to have another release out by 1970, the following year. The boys balked, as they didn’t have nearly that amount of material written, and rushed into the studio to come up with what they could in the limited time they were given. The tracks that were originally just meant to take up space, “Paranoid” and “Iron Man,” became such classic Sabbath hits that even the most un-metal of us can sing along to most of the lyrics. As a die-hard Sabbath fan, I don’t really think this is their best album, as it is evident that some of it was written on the fly and the concept was flung together last minute. However, as far as establishing themselves and defining a genre, this certainly takes the cake, and there are still some real gems of tracks hidden on this record, such as the infamous “War Pigs” or the trippy “Planet Caravan.”
Release: 1970 | Label: Vertigo | Band’s Xth Album: 8th
Stand-Out Songs: "Paranoid," "Iron Man," "War Pigs," "Planet Caravan" | Key Sounds: dark, brooding, evil, doomy
Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow
This 1967 rock album is super early, and also extremely influential to both rock and pop. Jefferson Airplane, headed up by the gorgeous Grace Slick, might be the very defining feature of the hippie generation, even if they aren’t as well-known as The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix. To understand this album, you really have to hear it. It is silly, psychedelic, more aggressive and alarming in some parts, and all around the sound of the 60s. Of course, we all know “Somebody to Love” – that’s from this record. So is the infamous drug song “White Rabbit,” and many other greats. No wonder Hunter Thompson made this group his constant soundtrack during his lifetime. While this album may be the absolute epitome of the times, their story is unique in light of those others who burned out too soon – Grace Slick is still alive today, making music and art, and the band actually stayed together through the 80s, eventually changing their name to Jefferson Starship.
Release: 1967 | Label: RCA Vector | Band’s Xth Album: 2nd
Stand-Out Songs: "White Rabbit," "Somebody to Love," "D.C.B.A." | Key Sounds: psychedelic, beautiful, melodic, female vocals
Steely Dan – Katy Lied
1975 was all about disco and arena rock – punk hadn’t hit yet, and it was somewhat of a bloated time for rock n’ roll. However, a lot of exciting stuff was actually going on behind the scenes, with the first stirrings of punk, psychedelic rock powerhouses like Hawkwind, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and finally, bands that crossed over and blurred the lines between rock and other genres. One of these awesome groups was Steely Dan, and in 1975 they were just gearing up with their fourth studio album, Katy Lied. The album is usually billed as “jazz rock” and is considered fusion by the jazz genre. However, this release goes much further than just combining two already-established things to make something new. It bridges the realm of the experimental and the bizarre to create a whole new sound, characterized by songs like the hit “Black Friday” and the slightly odder “Dr. Wu.”
Release: 1975 | Label: ABC | Band’s Xth Album: 4th
Stand-Out Songs: "Black Friday," "Bad Sneakers" | Key Sounds: swaggering jazz sound, sounds like the soundtrack to a movie
Neil Young – After the Gold Rush
In a similar vein, Neil Young was new to the scene in 1970, and coined a blend of crossover that was anything but corny. By combining elements of heavy rock with classic and contemporary folk and country, he was able to come up with a sound that was bluesy, sad, heartfelt, and distinctly American. His third record, After the Gold Rush, was popular for songs like “Tell Me Why” and “Southern Man,” and is known today as the formative album in his career.
Release 1970: | Label: Reprise | Band’s Xth Album: 3rd
Stand-Out Songs: "Tell Me Why," "Southern Man" | Key Sounds: folk rock, bluesy rock, sad
T. Rex – Electric Warrior
This great record was the sixth by British rock group T. Rex, and the second where they didn’t go by the full moniker of “Tyrannosaurus Rex.” The band’s previous stuff was very odd and spacey sounding, with lilting vocals, very long song and album titles, and esoteric lyrics. While it never reached mainstream status, it was very powerful and unique, credited with influencing both early psych rock and punk, as some of their songs were very raw and heavy. With Electric Warrior, they added some glam elements into their rock act and finally caught the attention of the mainstream. The songs “Cosmic Dancer,” “Jeepster” and “Get it On (Bang a Gong),” pretty much the only hits these guys ever had, are all from this album. This record helped define glam, and also brought their previous strange blend of musical styles to the forefront.
Release: 1971 | Label: Fly, Reprise | Band’s Xth Album: 6th
Stand-Out Songs: "Cosmic Dancer," "Jeepster," "Get it On" | Key Sounds: folky, glamy, psychedelic, hard rock
GOAT Staff Score - Classic Rock AlbumThe candidates have been assigned a raw score across a range of criteria. The raw scores have been weighted to reflect the impact that each individual criterion has on the 'Final GOAT Score'. Only weighted scores are displayed in this table. -->TURN DEVICE SIDEWAYS TO VIEW ON MOBILE-->
|Pioneering Sound (20%)||Lasting Influence (20%)||Album Strength (20%)||Hits (15%)||Classic Rock Influence (15%)||Cover Art (10%)||Raw Score||GOAT Score|
|Dark Side of the Moon||7||6||7||6||9||6||41||685|
|Are You Experienced?||3||7||6||8||8||7||39||630|
|After the Gold Rush||5||5||5||2||1||2||20||365|