Most Influential Rock Albums of all Time
Most Influential Albums
Picking the most influential rock albums of all time is like picking a needle out of a haystack the size of Jupiter, suffice to say it isn’t easy. For some bands I could have chosen ten or eleven albums (Beatles, Elvis, Dylan etc.) but for the sake of this list I tried to pick their most influential album.
I am sure there are some great albums I have missed, and you probably won’t agree with all the albums I have listed here, but like anything, music is subjective. So here are my picks for the most influential rock albums of all time.
I note that you may argue that some of the albums below are not really rock, but are pop music- but I would argue that pop music is simply a quieter sub-set of a broader genre known as rock music!
Patti Smith - Horses (1975)
Patti Smith should be heralded as one of the gods of Punk Rock. With a poetic spirit, and a misfits attitude she used her energy to really light up the New York punk scene and produced some very vibrant and defiant music.
This album is an angst filled combination of punk rock, poetry and lyrics that are infused with Patti's character and determination.
Marvin Gaye -What's Going On (1971)
Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is perhaps one of the most important ‘social commentary’ albums ever. It dealt with civil rights, poverty and war and other social subjects. It combined Motown with a more upbeat sound cut with strings and guitars producing a unique sound that has influenced the likes of Stevie Wonder.
Bob Dylan - Bringing it All Back Home (1965)
I must say that I am not a huge Dylan fan, however I concede that he is one of rock’s greatest muses – he has produced so many classic songs that it’s almost impossible to choose only one influential album from him, just because of his talent as a song writer. This album which has a pure rock and roll feel shows the world the talent of a young Dylan as he brings an edge and rawness to his music, and a strange ‘hippy’ drug induced feel to his lyrics. This really is one of the albums that led to modern rock as we know it.
The Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Many argue that ‘The White Album’ is the best Beatles album, but I’d argue that this is the most influential as it produced a tighter form of music that became synonymous with much modern rock. While poppy in a way, it wasn’t manufactured pop and relied more on melodies and superior production qualities than similar albums of the time. This really set the stage for the emergence of modern ‘pop’ music.
Joni Mitchell - Blue (1971)
Joni Mitchell is one of a crop of great song writers from the 70s who brought a fresh and intimate feel to her songs through her writing. With a raw power in her words that spoke of love, insecurity and often betrayal, she created a soul-bearing album that has a very personal and yet complex feel. Elvis Costello and many other of the great artist of the 70s and 80s were heavily influenced by her lyrics and sound.
The Velvet Underground and Nico - The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)
While it wasn’t hugely successful at release it is probably one of the most influential rock albums of all time. There were many similar artsy rock bands at the time, but this album combined dreamy balladry and shocking image filled and drug induce lyrics which at the time were very shocking. It’s a kaleidoscope of sound and very experimental. David Bowie and much of the 80s modern music was heavily influenced by this album.
David Bowie -The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)
Arguably this album is one of the most influential albums of all time, especially for much of the glam rock and pop of the 80s. It’s mix of punk, hard rock and glam gave it an amazing sound and feel and Bowie’s alter ego set the stage for much of the ‘characters’ that emerged in the 80s. With its wide appeal it has influenced many genres ranging from Duran Duran, to Kiss and even Queen.
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue (1959)
Miles Davies took Jazz to a new level with this album, bringing a simple and moody sound that forms the foundation of modern jazz. It really was revolutionary as it broke away from the traditional style of jazz music and became far more expressive. With amazing trumpet’s creating the mood it has been heavily used time and time again and even has crossed genres and influenced bands like Chicago.
The Clash - London Calling (1979)
It’s strange that I didn’t actually listen to The Clash in the 80s, but rather started listening to them when my teenage daughter ‘discovered’ their punk sound. For me, this is the best punk album of all time (with some of the Ramones music being up there too). With a combination of punk and reggae, they created a raw, politically infused sound that really help punk hit the mainstream in a way it had never really done so before.
A band I recently saw, Green Day, no doubt were influenced by them, with the same edge that The Clash made their own in the 80s.
The Beach Boys -Pet Sounds (1966)
This album, which is influenced mostly by the talents of Brian Wilson is a sheer masterpiece. It is one of the most harmonious albums you will find, and the genius of Brian Wilson really shines through. Both the Beatles and Bob Dylan have acknowledge the greatness of this album and many critics class this as the greatest album of all time.
Kate Bush - The Hounds of Love (1985)
Kate Bush was an enigmatic rock star who used her surreal lyrics and synthesized music to create an almost mystical sound that ranged from dark and deep rock, to soft love ballads. Her pure genius in creating a unique sound for the eighties helped her become a star and influence a whole host of 80s and 90s music. Singers like Tori Amos with similar undertones and ‘drama’ were heavily influenced by her.
Youssou N'Dour - Immigres (1984)
If you play Civilization IV you’ll note that there’s an African theme song. Yousso N’Dour introduced the dulcet tones of African music to the world, combining deep drum rhythms with melodious tunes to really show a different side of African music to the world. The ‘soul’ within his songs is amazing, and there is a feeling that really isn’t present in many other forms of music. Youssou N’Dour influenced many bands with the likes of Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel utilizing the power of the rhythm prevalent in this music.
James Brown - Live at the Apollo (1963)
James Brown quite simply brought theater and performance to a new level with this album. The raw power of the soul music is amazing as you watch and listen to this album. There’s no other singer who gave so much to his music and his influence is simply vast; Otis Redding is perhaps one of the most prominent artist to have really taken up this type of style – even Michael Jackson learned about the way in which to capture an audience with pure stage presence.
Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Arguably one of the most influential albums in heavy rock this album really delved into the experimental side of rock both in terms of music and lyrics. With definite links to their early psychedelic phase, this album draws on the strong rhythms and storytelling abilities of early progressive rock and makes them more solid and reachable. There were many bands that were doing a similar thing, including Rush, but this album perhaps more than any, really brought this style into the main stream and from there the rest is history. Their influence on modern music is profound with the likes of Mike Oldfield, David Bowie and even many of today’s modern bands drawing on the style of Pink Floyd.
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
I could include probably most of Led Zeppelin’s work in this list, but for me (and many critics) Led Zeppelin IV is the most influential of their albums (many will argue that I, II and III are better). With songs like Stairway to Heaven and ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ they infused their music with sensuality, fantasy and a good dosing of heavy rock! The whole album was a lesson in how to produce quality rock, and the diversity of styles on this album is simply incredible. Their influence is unparalleled and has an influence in more genres than perhaps any other band (other than the Beatles).
Prince and the Revolution - Purple Rain (1984)
What sets aside this Prince album is the cornucopia of musical styles it contains. Ranging from pure funk, through pop and into heavy rock, this album breaks down many of the barriers that existed at the time, and proved that cross-genre music could work very well. As a writer and performer there are not many better examples of a complete artist than Prince, and his influence on modern rock, ranging from The Bangles and through to Christina Aguilera is very evident today.
Run DMC - Run DMC (1984)
Run DMC were one of the bands that bought the sound of rap and hip hop to the masses – with their catchy ‘sound’ and melodious rhythmic lyrics they set the foundation from which today’s modern hip hop blossomed from. They also were one of the first rap bands to cross over and combine with heavy rock (Aerosmith) to show how the two totally different genres could meld and produce an amazing sound. Not only did they inspire most modern rap, but they also inspired a lot of collaborative work (Such as Jay-Z and Linkin Park)
Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath (1970)
What’s not to like about this raw power album that helped create the heavy metal sound and created a dark Satan inspired sound that many today still call evil! Black Sabbath created a unique sound that infused heavy guitar with a shrieking Ozzy Osborne – this would be adapted by the eighties ‘hair’ bands, but today modern heavy rock (and all the sordid connotations) still draw heavily from the rawness and the ‘honesty’ of this no holds barred music.
The Ramones -The Ramones (1976)
I can’t put The Clash on my list and then leave out the Ramones. This band was perhaps the most influential US punk band, producing their no nonsense, intensely fast punk style that really went against the prevalent arena rock that was dominating the music scene in the mid eighties.
Strangely if you really listen to their music carefully, it’s like a Beach Boys album but at a faster pace! It was a very basic sound, that relied on simplicity and raw energy to get over a virulent politically motivated message. Their influence was to simply make Punk more attainable and a little more fun – many of the modern punk bands (Good Charlotte, Green Day) have really taken this to another level with their audience interaction and the sheer ‘fun’ they have playing their music.
The Who - My Generation (1965)
I was a rocker in the 70s, and was very surprised to find that The Who were classed as ‘mod’ – my eternal enemies! Their sound transcended genres and spoke to a generation that were lost and out of hope. The album spoke of the frustration of the youth of England and seemed to give a voice to the disillusionment they felt at the time.
The Who used their subtle lyrics and their powerful combination of heavy rock and rock ballad to create a unique sound that is still very relevant today and has inspired many artists.
Michael Jackson - Thriller (1982)
Michael Jackson was an enigmatic genius, whose combination of pop and heavy rock, with elements of soul and jazz broke down many of the barriers that were in place between the different genres. He moved music into a multi-media art form producing movie like videos and infusing his music with a quality and creativity that not many artists had ever come close to before. With a combination of songs that ranged from the inane to the deeply soulful he proved that there were many different messages that could be made with a song. His influence is vast, and the modern pop sound today would be entirely different without him.
Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced (1967)
What this man could do with a guitar was amazing. His experimental music that delved into blues and the new ‘psychedlic pop’ that was just being created was incredible – he used his guitar in more ways than seems possible, and really taught other guitarists that the guitar was more than a simple instrument, but with the use of different styles including using feedback as an art form really could enhance the sound the guitar produce. No other guitarist has been so experimental, and most of the techniques he used are still being used in modern rock today. There’s probably not one major rock guitarist who hasn’t been influenced by Hendrix.
Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)
This underground band really created a new style of music (grunge) that adapted heavy rock and added a ‘sour’ beat and deep lyrics that really tore at the heart of society. Their genius in producing songs which really appealed to the 90s teenager and seemed to capture the fear and revulsion that was prevalent during this time is unmatched.
Other bands that had a great influence on modern rock:
While personally I don’t feel that the following bands had a stand-out album that was influential, their whole collection has influenced many bands and continues to do so:
- Rolling Stones – just for the sheer power and quality of sound they produce, the Rolling Stones have show what it means to be a rock band through thick and thin. Their unique sound and raw power is simply incredible.
- Queen – are perhaps the ultimate arena band, with many of their songs becoming classic arena songs. Their diversity and the power of Freddie Mercury make them one of the most accomplished bands of all time.
- Janis Joplin – she’s the kind of artist that you either love or hate. Her powerful voice combined with her sheer rock and roll attitude really showed what rock was all about in all its excesses – there aren’t many rockers (let alone women rockers) that gave so much to her music.
- Elvis Presley – I really had a hard time trying to find one album to list, but it wasn’t about his music or songs but more about the performance he gave and the soul he put into his work. He brought a raunchiness to music that was new and ‘hated’ by those in power, but he broke down doors that really allowed bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin bring in a new era of rock. He has influenced most of modern rock bands in some way or other.
There are some bands that didn't produce great music or even a great album, but they still have a place as a very inluential band. Here are some examples:
The Spice Girls -Spice (1996)
Don’t laugh – despite being a ‘made’ band, the Spice Girls really had a massive influence on pop rock – while their sound is more akin to pop, their catchy tunes, and their ability to tap into ‘Girl Power’ and especially the pre-teen culture made them very effective at bringing a new generation into the rock scene. It's not the quality of music on the album that I'm commenting on, it's the influence it had in bringing Girl Power to the fore and the fact that artists like Pink and many other female artists really benefited because of the Spice Girls and this album.
These three white jewish guys from New York proved that you didn't have to be back to be able to be rappers - they opened the doors for the likes of Eminen and really showed the world how the stereotypes we often place on music can be broken.
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