6 Essential Classic Rock Albums for Your Collection

No collection of rock ‘n’ roll music is truly complete with a few of the albums that helped define the genre. Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly might have laid the brickwork for rock ‘n’ roll’s breakthrough during the 1950s, but it was another group of musicians—artists like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Fleetwood Mac—that ruled the roost two decades later. Thanks to the popularity of classic rock radio, the same songs that filled the airwaves during that era can still be heard today. Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future, as classic rock icon Stevie Miller once sang…but for those looking to be transported back to the golden days of the 1970s, all it takes is a twist of the FM dial. 

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Here are six essential albums for those looking to dive back into classic rock music. 

6. Boston, Boston

As a radio format, classic rock simply wouldn’t exist without Boston. All eight songs from the band’s self-titled debut album still receive regular airplay, even though only three tracks—”Peace of Mind,” “Long Time,” and the No.5 hit “More Than a Feeling”—became Top 40 singles when the album was released. The enduring appeal of Boston isn’t complicated: frontman Brad Delp sings each song with a limitless range, Tom Scholz’s guitar solos are every bit as melodic as the vocal melodies themselves, and the songs unfold like bar-band staples built for an arena. Decades after its release, Boston can still be heard on jukeboxes, in truck stops, and on FM radio stations from coast to coast. That ubiquity might get on some people’s nerves, but in terms of musicianship, there’s very little to dislike here. 

5. Exile on Main St., The Rolling Stones 

This release from 1972 finds the Rolling Stones in a state of drugged-out decadence, making a fantastic record almost in spite of themselves. Although recorded in France by a band of Brits, Exile on Main St. often sounds downright America, and the album’s combination of blues, country, and stoned soul makes it a perfect primer for classic rock fans. “Tumbling Dice” and “Sweet Virginia” are two of the album’s most enduring hits, but for those willing to listen to all sides of this double album, there’s a lot of gold to be found amidst all the grease and grit. 

4. Hotel California, Eagles 

With guitarist Joe Walsh adding fresh firepower to the band’s lineup, Hotel California found the Eagles replacing the country-western influences that had underpinned albums like Desperado with the band’s own version of rock ‘n’ roll. The Grammy-winning track “New Kid in Town” retained some of the twang of the band’s early work, but Hotel California made a bigger splash with its guitar-centric songs, from the immortal title track to the funky, riff-heavy “Life in the Fast Lane.” Both of those songs are now staples of classic rock radio, while the album’s deep cuts—including the gorgeously restrained “Wasted Time”—are rewards for listeners looking to take a deep dive.

3. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd 

This was the best-selling album of the 1970s, and its appeal endures. Prog-rock albums have rarely sounded this radio-friendly, and that’s the crux of The Dark Side of the Moon‘s enduring popularity: it’s a record that straddles borders, seemingly unafraid to blur the lines between opposing sides. For example, “Money” is an anti-capitalist song that mocks greed, yet the song also became Pink Floyd‘s biggest commercial hit, reaching No.13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and pushing The Dark Side of the Moon to sell over 45 million copies. With its mix of guitar-driven psychedelia, radio-friendly melodic hooks, and concept-album headiness, The Dark Side of the Moon offers something to everyone, making it an indispensable title for classic rock collectors. 

2. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac had already released 10 studio albums by the time Rumors arrived in 1977. Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were still newcomers to the group, though, and their contributions helped bring fresh energy to the long-running band. With three different vocalists in the lineup, Fleetwood Mac could change its identity from track to track, becoming a soft-rock powerhouse on “Dreams” (the band’s first No.1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100), a shuffling pop-rock band on “Don’t Stop” (which was written by Christine McVie and sung by Buckingham), and even an acoustic folk act on “Never Going Back Again.” All four singles from Rumours became Top 10 hits in America, and the album’s troubled creation—which included arguments between one couple, a divorce between another, rumored affairs, and lots of drug use—gave Rumours a backstory worthy of a soap opera. None of that would matter if the songs weren’t so good, of course, and the pairing of superior musicianship with soapy melodrama makes Rumours irresistible. 

1. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin

Even without “Stairway to Heaven,” Led Zeppelin’s fourth album wouldn’t been a blockbuster success. It’s a mystic, mammoth, and overwhelmingly melodic album, with songs inspired by heavy metal one minute and Celtic folk the next. “When the Levee Breaks” had previously been written and recorded by Memphis Minnie, but Led Zeppelin brought a new dimension to the country blues classic, thanks in part to a thunderous drum performance that John Bonham recorded at the bottom of a stairwell. “Black Dog” became a Top 20 hit in America despite its use of complex time signatures, while “Rock and Roll” mixed the old-school influence of Little Richard and Chuck Berry with a loud, loose, 1970s-worthy swagger. 

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