The '60s and '70s produced countless legendary albums - some instantly iconic, others cult hits that only gained wider recognition years later. These albums represent the pinnacle of rock music during this tumultuous period of history.
The Zombies - "Odyssey and Oracle"
"Odyssey and Oracle" served as the jumping-on point for many people into the world of psychedelic rock and pop music. Propelled in the mainstream by the hit single "Time of the Season," critical reevaluation of the album in recent decades brought "Odyssey and Oracle" widespread acclaim as a classic of the genre.
Can - "Tago Mago"
"Tago Mago" was the first in a trilogy of iconic records by German psych pioneers Can (along with 'Ege Bamyasi' and "Future Days"). The group's radical production style, coupled with their penchant for the more unnervingly extreme and noisy elements of psychedelic music have made this album an essential.
The Velvet Underground - "The Velvet Underground and Nico"
While much of rock music was in a transition period from its earlier roots form and the still fomenting psychedelic movement, "The Velvet Underground and Nico" pioneered a different route. The Velvet Underground bore heavy influence from the forward-thinking "Downtown Music" of artists such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass and was a personal favorite of pop art icon Andy Warhol. Though little recognized at the time, "Velvet Underground and Nico" went on to become one of the most iconic and influential albums of all time.
Brian Eno - "Another Green World"
Eno first made a name for himself with the glam rock group Roxy Music, but later became one of the most highly respected artists and producers in popular music. With 1975's "Another Green World," Eno showcased the true extent of his artistic vision, as well as his keen pop sensibilities. Eno departed from his more glam-informed style on this album and forcefully established himself as an artist on the cutting edge.
The 13th Floor Elevators - "Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators"
The 13th Floor Elevators existed for less than a year before completing work on the debut album, "Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators." The release predated many its psychedelic contemporaries, and proved to be a considerable influence on psychedelic pop, garage rock, and even the punk music of the next decade.
Black Sabbath - "Paranoid"
Black Sabbath already pioneered the heavier end of rock music on their self-titled album; however, on "Paranoid" the band perfected the formula. Propelled by hits including the title track as well as "Iron Man" and "War Pigs," Black Sabbath's monumental sophomore album introduced the world to the style now known as heavy metal.
King Crimson - "In the Court of the Crimson King"
"In the Court of the Crimson King," an early exercise in progressive rock, is an album mercifully devoid of many of the excesses that would cause the genre to flag over the following decade. King Crimson's brilliant debut album is evocative, expansive, and densely packed with imagery.
David Bowie - "Low"
"'Low" was the first album in Bowie's trio of Brian Eno collaborations now known as "The Berlin Trilogy." The album's more experimental nature was a noticeable departure from Bowie's earlier glam rock period, and the wide range of influences culled from by Bowie and Eno include everything from contemporary classical music to German psych bands such as Can, Faust, and Neu!
The Beach Boys - "Pet Sounds"
It is widely reported that The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson thought of himself as locked in a friendly creative competition with The Beatles, and for many fans, "Pet Sounds" represents the peak of The Beach Boys' resulting output. Although received poorly by domestic critics and fans at the time, it was highly successful abroad and eventually earned the distinction of being The Beach Boys' finest masterpiece.
Joy Division - "Unknown Pleasures"
As punk music took London by storm in the late '70s, Joy Division took the energy and intensity of the new style and redirected it in an entirely different manner. The brooding, minimal sound of 1978's "Unknown Pleasures" helped shape the post punk musical landscape and proved to be a seminal influence for countless groups over the succeeding decades.
The Band - "Music from Big Pink"
While psychedelic and garage rock dominated the popular imagination during the late '60s, The Band's "Music from Big Pink" kept interest in roots rock and Americana very much alive. In turn, the album's free-flowing feel proved a major influence on other artists including Eric Clapton, George Harrison, and Roger Waters.
Rolling Stones - "Exile on Main St."
As "Music from Big Pink" helped keep rock music's collective feet planted on the ground in 1968, "Exile on Main St." would help do much the same. Credited by one reviewer as "saving the soul of rock and roll,," "Exile" delivered a visceral, back to basics rock album at a time when the pomp of arena rock overtook the mainstream.
The United States of America - "The United States of America"
The United States of America perhaps fit best into the mold of psychedelic rock, but the band's style bridges countless different styles. Their self-titled album, which was their only release during the band's lifetime, rests at a convergence of rock, experimental electronic music, tape collage, and old-fashioned Americana. From a lyrical standpoint, the band's radical politics make the album one of the best documents of the upheaval of the late '60s.
Neu! - "Neu!"
Neu! (pronounced 'Noy') was another of the German psych bands of the early '70s who came to be known collectively in the music press as "krautrock." In contrast to the wild improvisational jams of contemporaries like Can, Neu!'s minimal, "motorik" sound bares more resemblance to later ambient or industrial music. This album was a primary influence on both genres, as well as post-punk groups like Joy Division.
The Stooges - "The Stooges"
Despite the sunshine-laden pop of the time, 1969 was not a great year in America. War and social upheaval dominated the times, and few records do a better job of capturing this feeling than The Stooges' debut. The album's first two tracks, "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and the apocalyptic "1969" lay the prototype of the punk music that was to come in the next decade.
The Clash - "London Calling"
As the '70s drew to a close, the world was hardly in better shape than it had been a decade earlier. "London Calling" captures the fading angst of the first wave of punk bands and interjects a bevy of new ideas into the mix, drawing influence from reggae, blues, jazz, and countless other sources. The album provides an effective blueprint of where music would head in the next decade.
Bob Dylan - "Highway 61 Revisited"
"Highway 61 Revisited" is the point at which Dylan's ongoing fusion of folk and rock music finally culminated. The album flows from one song to the next, each bristling with rockish energy, but still calling the beatnik fantasies of Dylan's earlier albums, culminating in the brilliant and expansive folk tune "Desolation Row."
Ramones - "Ramones"
The Ramones were a punk band who didn't think of themselves as a punk band. To The Ramones, their music was the same kind of guitar pop they grew up with, just faster and louder. The group's blistering debut clocks in just over 29 minutes, each of the 14 songs being irresistibly catchy and furiously energetic.
The Rolling Stones - "Let It Bleed"
"Let it Bleed" serves as a perfect bookend to the decade. The anxiety and uncertainty suggested in songs like "Gimme Shelter" reflect the turbulence and uncertainty of its moment in time. That the album hit shelves only a day before the infamously ill-fated Altamont Music Festival only underscores this fact.
Led Zeppelin - "Led Zeppelin IV"
Led Zeppelin's album, commonly known as "Led Zeppelin IV" is among the most commercially successful albums of all time. With hits including "Black Dog," "Rock and Roll," and the legendary rock opus "Stairway to Heaven," "Led Zeppelin IV" stands for many people as the seminal hard rock album of its time.
Jimi Hendrix Experience - "Are You Experienced?"
"Are You Experienced?" was introduced the world by the masterful guitar work of Jimi Hendrix. Even today, critics cite Hendrix among the greatest innovators of the instrument, and his debut album as one of the best rock albums of the '60s, if not of all time.
Bob Dylan - "Blood on the Tracks"
After "Blonde on Blonde," Dylan experienced a period of critical and commercial decline that lead many to suggest his period of artistic brilliance had come to an end. However, Dylan surprised everyone in 1975 with "Blood On the Tracks," perhaps his most deeply personal album that proved he still had plenty of songwriting genius left.
The Beatles - "Revolver"
The question of The Beatles' best album is hotly debated - from "Sgt. Pepper's" to "Abbey Road," there are several contenders. "Revolver;" however, has claimed the title from many critics. The album is less indulgent than some of the later releases, but is also the group's most genuinely experimental and forward-thinking. For further evidence, see the recording process behind the album's closer, "Tomorrow Never Knows'."
Pink Floyd - "Dark Side of the Moon"
"Dark Side of the Moon" defined a period of music for many listeners. Cult legends still surround the recording as successive generations of listeners pass copies onto the next. This exploratory, yet accessible masterpiece stands as one of the most iconic recordings ever released, a fact reinforced by its status as the second highest-selling album of all time.
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