The 10 Essential Classic Rock Albums Every Music Lover Should Hear

Classic rock was born in the mid-1960s and kept innovating until the early ’90s. It’s hard to narrow down decades of rock into ten essential albums but this selection is undoubtedly worth listening to if you’re on a quest to explore the sounds classic rock music has to offer. 

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Should the Beatles be on this list? Sure, but chances are, you’ve heard them plenty. Below are ten other albums that showcase the epic music genre that is rock. Discover the sound that used to fill stadiums, marvel at the revolution of guitar techniques and effects, and get lost in lyrics inspired by the dark sides of human existence.

1. Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix (1967) 

Jimi Hendrix took all his blues guitar chops and developed a unique playing style that combined rhythm and lead guitar. He was an innovator and pushed familiar sounds into a new rock realm. The album showcases the beginnings of psychedelic rock and a little thing called distortion. 

2. Who’s Next – The Who (1971)

Who’s Next was hugely popular and landed the band their only No. 1 album on the British charts. Guitarist Pete Townshend had written much of the material for a gigantic rock opera project but ultimately a chosen batch of songs landed on The Who’s fifth album. 

3. Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones (1971) 

The British Band had already released ten other albums in the US when Sticky Fingers came out. It’s the ultimate rock ’n’ roll album that encapsulates what Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were capable of as musicians and songwriters. 

4. IV – Led Zeppelin (1971) 

Led Zeppelin was already well established when they released their fourth album, which was produced by the band’s guitarist Jimmy Page. The album can be seen as a summary of their sound so far – from acoustic folk music to hard rock – mixed with new ideas. 

5. The Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd (1973)

The eighth album by the British band Pink Floyd strays away from typical rock songs and instead introduces synthesizers and other experimental sounds. Both sides of the records had no audible gap between songs, they were conceptualized as one piece.

6. A Night at the Opera – Queen (1975)

Queen had just found out that they hardly received any payments from their previous three albums. Needing to make money, they spend multiple months putting together a new work of art that would become their biggest achievement. A Night at the Opera is known for its bold explosion of sound which required the use of a 24-track tape recorder and the technique of combining multiple tracks into one.

7. Ramones – Ramones (1976)

The band from New York nailed it right from the get-go. The self-titled debut album is often described as the first punk rock album. It features sparse arrangements, simple guitar riffs, and more than technical skill, it highlights a punk rock attitude. At the time of its release, Ramones was not a hit record but because of the influence it had on subsequent releases, it’s a milestone of classic rock history.

8. Back in Black – AC/DC (1980)

After the death of their frontman Bon Scott, hard rock band AC/DC found a new singer, Brian Johnson, and recorded Back in Black. The two guitarists, Angus and Malcolm Young, are known for their catchy riffs and there is no shortage of those on the band’s seventh album. Back in Black is the second-best-selling album right after Michael Jackson’s Thriller

9. Nevermind – Nirvana (1991)

Nevermind was Nirvana’s second album and the band’s first major label release. Kurt Cobain had recruited a new drummer, Dave Grohl, and the band’s sound at the time was at the forefront of the grunge scene that had emerged from the Seattle area. The album spent 253 weeks on the US Billboard 200. 

10. Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette (1995)

After releasing her first album since moving from Canada to Los Angeles, Alanis Morissette was on the cover of Rolling Stone, which labeled her “angry white female.” After the rise of an abundance of male rock stars, Morissette made her mark. The singer’s raw album showcased her strong vocals and a sound influenced by grunge and adjacent to hard rock. 

Correction: This story incorrectly titled AC/DC’s Back in Black album as Back to Black. The story has been updated.

Photo by Dick Barnatt/Redferns

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