Think you have the core classics in your music collection at home or in the car?  You may still have these on vinyl (or perhaps you once owned them on vinyl…or eight track tape…or cassette…), but if you are currently missing any on our list, you are certainly missing out on the fundamentals of rock music’s 60s and 70s evolution.

By Alan Clanton
Thursday Review Editor

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club BandThe Beatles.  This was the first great concept album, and over 40 years later it remains one of the most important and innovative.  The cover alone was worth endless hours of fun and amusement for those who loved vinyl sleeve artwork at its most impressive, and more recent CD releases contain much more, including a behind-the-scenes look at the staging of the elaborate front photo and artwork by Peter Blake.  (Sorry, no four-color heavy stock cut-outs of sergeant stripes and mustaches).  But forget the trappings, just listen to the music.  Recorded between December 1966 and March 1967, this is The Beatles at the height of their powers of experimentation, and for those who loved the fusion of baroque richness and the dazzling psychedelia, the Fab Four threw in everything including the kitchen sink. From the full scale symphony orchestra which brackets the presentation from beginning to end—to the animal noises, the street sounds, the evocative sitars, the party laughter, and even Ringo’s lilting, charming vocals on the opening With a Little Help From my Friends, the whole package still retains its power to entertain.  Take the time to listen to it from start to finish, from the orchestra tune-up to the final gong.

Who’s NextThe Who.  Gut wrenching from start to finish.  With this landmark album the members of The Who elevated themselves into the Pantheon of the Gods and took rock to a new level of energy and power. Originally envisioned by Pete Townsend as a double album and a complex and theatrically layered multi-media experience (along the lines of Tommy), the record still resonates shorn of the other elements.  The re-mastered CD includes 16 pages of detailed backstory by Pete Townsend and others.  Many of the songs on Who’s Next became mainstays of their live concerts.  From Baba O’Riley (known probably to younger rock listeners for its anthem line “Teenage Wasteland”) to Behind Blue Eyes; or from Going Mobile to Love Ain’t for Keeping, some of The Who’s most energetic and original work can be found here.  Then, of course, there is Won’t Get Fooled Again, in my book one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded: eight-plus minutes of soaring, high-energy guitar and bass work by Townsend and John Entwistle, mind-boggling and dynamic drum work by Keith Moon, and insistent vocals by Roger Daltrey—not mention rock music’s greatest single scream in those last precious moments, when Daltrey empties out every cubic inch of primal lung power.  Play it very loud.

Led ZeppelinLed Zeppelin.  By some lights the greatest debut album ever created, and the first major vinyl collection that took the existing fusion of the Black Man’s Blues and Rock & Roll, and drove it to its outermost acid boundary.  The opening track, Good Times Bad Times, sets the mood and tone of this fusion.  The two Willie Dixon blues standards—You Shook Me and I Can’t Quit You Baby—are impossible not to like, and retain their freshness every time.  Dazed and Confused became one of their trademark hits.  The whole collection of songs is insistent from start to finish, alternating between hypnotic and passionate, but proving that seduction and loudness can effectively share the same aural airspace.  This was the invention of heavy.

Are You Experienced; Jimi Hendrix Experience.  Easily the most audacious and mind-blowing collection of guitar workouts ever recorded, this album still sets the bar for innovation. Recorded in England and released in 1966, the album was remarkably experimental—even ahead of its time—most notably for its complex layering, backwards guitar overlays, deliberate distortion and especially Hendrix’s revolutionary guitar handling.  The word psychedelic applies directly to this music and the cover art.  Are You Experienced boasts some of Hendrix’s best known work, including Hey Joe, Purple Haze, and The Wind Cries Mary.  The record also routinely lands in the top five of almost all the major music critic rankings, from Rolling Stone to Creem.  This is a must-have item, even if you have to get rid of one of your Backstreet Boys CDs to make room on the shelf.

Some Girls; The Rolling Stones.  This is the Stones at their most refreshingly basic, offering up a big vinyl platter of snappy, infectious high energy Rock & Roll—no gimmicks, no distractions, no monkey business.  Many might dispute this for its placement in the top twelve, but the next closest rival, Exile on Main Street, remains uneven despite decades of time to grow on us.  Some Girls bristles with songs that became instant classics, from Beast of Burden to Miss You, and the whole sequence is timeless for its simplicity.  Just give us those raw, punchy tunes.  If you don’t feel the urge to move, or better still to dance, when you hear Shattered or When the Whip Comes Down, check your pulse for signs of life.

Born to Run; Bruce Springsteen.  Some things are just a joy to listen to, and Born to Run never fails to please the ear.  This is the Americana of Rock & Roll at its best.  The famous perfectionist Springsteen reached his mountaintop with this recording, and his already tight, dynamic studio and live crew was supplemented by the arrival of Clarence Clemons on saxophone, which brightens the whole effect.  Some of his most memorable songwriting skill is at work here, with Thunder Road, the infectious Tenth Avenue Freeze Out and the iconic, poetic Jungleland.  Though recorded in the studio, Born to Run has a completely live feel, the result perhaps of Springsteen’s love of performance and the joyous anthem quality to most of the songs, and when seen in concert in the 70s and 80s these songs were replicated with a near perfection on stage.  If you have room for only one CD by Springsteen on your shelf, this is the one.

Dark Side of the Moon
; Pink Floyd.  For some classic rockers and for many of a whole generation, this album is the album, the best single concept set ever recorded.  Its sales figure seem to back that view up, if numbers are what matter.  It remains one of the biggest sellers in history, topping all the efforts of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman combined.  It also holds the all-time record for the most time spent on Billboard’s Top 100 chart.  Dark Side of the Moon gave new meaning to experimentation and exploration.

Abbey Road; The Beatles.  Though Let It Be was the last thing The Beatles released, Abbey Road was the last stuff they ever recorded—and despite the tension of a group experiencing deep and irreparable fractures, they still managed to capture the magic that made them the most famous rockers and songwriters of all time.  Abbey Road, despite the relevance and permanence of any individual song, still remains a package deal, best enjoyed from start to finish and without interruption.  This was surely the Lennon-McCartney collaboration at its best, but the record also features two of George Harrison’s most remarkable songs—Something and Here Comes the Sun—written and recorded when he, too, was at the height of his songwriting skill.  (Frank Sinatra said that Something was the greatest love song ever written).  Abbey Road is evocative in every way: the generational mood the songs create, the near classical nature of the sounds, and—on Side B—the most famous and sophisticated medley ever recorded.    

Frampton Comes Alive; Peter Frampton.  By my measure, still the best live recording in rock music history. The onetime Humble Pie guitarist and vocalist, who was already a force on stage, created the ultimate take-home live experience for the rock generation.  The far-better-than-average mixing and engineering (many live recordings from that era have been thankfully forgotten for their poor quality) mean that the songs still feel bristling with a live, arena feel even after all these years and untold thousands of hours of radio airplay.  And the audience feedback is electrifying on every cut.  The staples of classic rock found here include Show Me The Way and Baby, I Love Your Way, and lest we not forget the iconic and durable Do You Feel Like We Do?, the live rock song to end all live songs.

Rumours; Fleetwood Mac.  Once, many years ago—probably in the early 1980s—I had this album playing on my car stereo system when a female friend riding in the front seat asked me “isn’t this their greatest hits record?”  No, but it might as well be.  Hard rock it is not, but is still retains its remarkable freshness and glittering diversity.  There are no wasted cuts on this recording, and despite the range of sound, once never tires of hearing the whole album from start to finish.  This is the songwriting collaboration and range of Fleetwood Mac at their best, with Lindsey Buckingham’s most energetic stuff on display, along with Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks both at the top of their songwriting and singing game.  Songbird is one of the most haunting love songs ever recorded.  From You Make Loving Fun, to Go Your Own Way, to Don’t Stop, these songs are simply hard to resist.

Four (Runes); Led Zeppelin.  After what some felt was a disappointing third album, Led Zeppelin struck gold (literally, if you are counting the U.S. dollars and the British pounds they amassed) on their fourth album, also known as Four Symbols or Runes, depending on your mood or your musical upbringing.  The album became synonymous with the term “instant classic,” most especially for the iconic Stairway to Heaven, one of the most famous rock songs of all time, and a song that required Jimmy Page to construct a double-necked Gibson guitar for the live performances of the carefully layered song.  The album has everything that one would want from Zeppelin: the wailing intensity of Robert Plant’s vocals; the stunning guitar work of Page; the bluesy keyboard and bass work of John Paul Jones; and the insistent, aggressive and relentless drumming of John Bonham.  Bonham can be found at his very best on Rock and Roll, one of the most intense and driving songs ever recorded. Other highlights are Misty Mountain Hop, Black Dog, and Going to California.

Second Helping; Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Lynyrd Skynyrd was then—and remains now—the undisputed greatest of the southern rock bands, a genre which they singlehandedly invented in Jacksonville, Florida at the end of the 1960s.  The music, while a gregarious mix of sound and mood and tenor, remains nevertheless rooted firmly in the mainline of Rock and Roll.  Released by MCA in 1974, Second Helping established them as one of the most prominent of the homegrown American bands.  Songs like Call Me The Breeze and Don’t Ask Me No Questions fused their southern independence and resistance to authority (the band’s name is a lighthearted mockery of their uptight, haircut-code-enforcing high school football coach) to pure blues-based rock.  The Ballad of Curtis Loew is an ode to their appreciation of the roots of that blues.  Also, there is hardly a more infectious song than Sweet Home Alabama, the album’s opening track.

The Next 10 Must-Haves:

Cheap Thrills; Janis Joplin/Big Brother & The Holding Company.  Recorded in part in small live venues, and in part in the studio, this was Janis at her best.  Another culturally iconic collection of great songs, the album is also noted for its famous cover art by cartoonist R. Crumb.  No white woman will ever sing with this much emotional power again.

Revolver; The Beatles.  Yes, this list is top-heavy with Beatles titles, but you can’t get around the facts of history.  This is the mop-tops at the moment of greatest transition toward experimentation, and the whole album is a rich tapestry of sound.  Among the highlights:Eleanor Rigby; Yellow Submarine; And Your Bird Can Sing; and the infamously chemically weird She Said She Said.

Green River; Creedence Clearwater Revival.  CCR was an American original and the precursor to a variety of established forms of rock music, including Southern Rock.  Green River was their greatest achievement, with rock classics Bad Moon Rising and Lodi.

Boston; Boston. Their first album is another example of an instant classic; these songs—especially More Than a Feeling—evoke the 70s more than any other album of that time. Listen to it Old School, with big padded headphones on your ears and suede bellbottoms on your legs.

Bat Out of Hell; Meat Loaf.  Classic songwriting and dazzling execution in the studio—this is rock music as an emotional opera.

Toys in the Attic; Aerosmith.  Long admired as a must-have album by hard rock devotees, this is Aerosmith’s greatest achievement from a long and fruitful career.  Includes three of rock & roll’s most dazzling songs: Sweet Emotion; Walk This Way; and the evocative Dream On.  This album single-handedly elevated Boston’s Bad Boys to the same level as The Stones and Zeppelin.

Close to the Edge; Yes.  No hits, no singles, just the soaring fusion of Yes.  The whole album consists of only three compositions, all elaborate, ornate, deliriously complex.  This is the merger of 20TH Century classical music sensibilities with the heart of rock experimentation, Shostakovich as drawn by Roger Dean.

Abraxas; Santana. Though not known for producing long-play vinyl duds, this is Carlos Santana and company’s best album by far, and it established them as one of the greats of Rock and Roll.  Best enjoyed from start to finish.

Surrealistic Pillow; Jefferson Airplane.  Airplane and the San Francisco sound at its best with newly arrived Grace Slick to replace the retired Signe Anderson.  Classics include White Rabbit and Somebody to Love.  Also includes Jorma Kaukonen’s stunning acoustic guitar work on Embryonic Journey.

Tapestry; Carole King.  King was an unstoppable and versatile songwriter, many times for other performers, but this 1971 album was her personal tour de force and one of the greatest song collections of the wider rock genre.  It produced the smash hits It’s Too Late and You Make me Feel (Like a Natural Woman).

Do you have you own list of essential musical selections?  Drop us an email with your 12 all-time favorites and we’ll post them here.