The 1970s were a time of immense change, including in music. The decade saw the rise of punk rock, funk, heavy metal, and disco, with new experimentations in many other genres. With so much excellent music, it is difficult to choose the best albums of the time; these 51 albums represent just a fraction of the amazing music the 1970s produced.
1. After The Gold Rush — Neil Young
After The Gold Rush was Neil Young’s third album, released in 1970. At the time, the album received a mixed response, despite the fact that two of its singles reached the Billboard Hot 100. Today, however, it is considered one of the most impressive albums of all time, even being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014.
2. Unknown Pleasures — Joy Division
Released in 1979, Unknown Pleasures was an exploration of the then-new genre of gothic rock. Critics had mixed reactions, with some calling it the band’s magnum opus and others saying it was trying too hard. Nevertheless, Unknown Pleasures has become iconic in the world of post-punk, still in its infancy in the late 70s.
3. Expensive Shit — Fela Kuti feat. Africa ’70
Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti released Expensive Shit in 1975. Much of the album was inspired by Kuti’s experiences being targeted by Nigerian police for his anti-militaristic beliefs. The album runs only 24 minutes, featuring just two songs: Expensive Shit and Water No Get Enemy. Rolling Stone has included it on its list of “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.
4. Van Halen — Van Halen
Van Halen was released in 1978 as Van Halen’s debut album. It was an instant success, earning a diamond certification for selling more than 10 million copies in the United States alone. The album included some of the band’s most iconic songs and is widely considered one of the most historical albums in the history of modern rock.
5. London Calling — The Clash
The Clash released London Calling in 1979, a departure from their previous punk-rock style that strayed into other genres such as reggae and hard rock. The album included heavy social commentary on topics of poverty, drug use, and racism. It was widely acclaimed and even included on a series of stamps in the UK in 2010.
6. Rumours — Fleetwood Mac
Rumours is undoubtedly one of Fleetwood Mac’s most iconic albums, released in 1977 while the band members were in a period of personal and professional turmoil. The tracks are heavily focused on topics of infidelity, drug use, and ending relationships. Ironically, these songs were wildly successful and are some of the band’s best-known legacies.
7. Bitches Brew — Miles Davis
Jazz instrumentalist and bandleader Miles Davis was an icon of the 1960s jazz movement. In 1970, he released his album Bitches Brew, an experimental jazz and electronica fusion album. Though it wasn’t very popular during its initial release, it has come to be considered one of the most important albums of the shifting patterns in jazz during the 1970s.
8. Born to Run — Bruce Springsteen
Born to Run was released in 1975 as Bruce Springsteen tried to become more commercially successful. His mission was undoubtedly a triumph, with the album earning him the reputation as a staple of hard rock that would continue throughout the next decade. The album featured many of the songs that would become Springsteen’s signatures.
9. Innervisions — Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder was a child prodigy and musical genius whose career began in the 1960s, but Innervisions marked a turning point. Released in 1973, the album is considered the launch of his adult career. It showcased Wonder moving away from his childhood career focus to more mature music.
10. Exile on Main Street — The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones had already been both prolific and successful throughout the 1960s, but their 1972 album Exile on Main Street set a new standard. The album featured an expert fusion of a huge number of musical styles, from rock to blues, country, and gospel. Though initially met with unenthusiastic reactions from critics, it is now considered one of the group’s best albums.
11. The Idiot — Iggy Pop
The Idiot was Iggy Pop’s first solo venture after the breakup of The Stooges. Released in 1977 as his attempt to redirect his attention while struggling with drug addiction, the album featured experimental tracks that strayed heavily into new sounds of electronica.
12. The Payback — James Brown
James Brown was in his element during the 1970s, but his 1973 album The Payback was not well-received by critics. It was initially intended to serve as a soundtrack for the film Hell Up In Harlem but was rejected for not being innovative enough. The public, however, disagreed with the critics, and The Payback rocketed to No. 1 on the charts.
13. The Dark Side of The Moon — Pink Floyd
Ask anyone to name a Pink Floyd album, and they will probably say The Dark Side of The Moon. The 1973 album is considered iconic in the development of psychedelic rock and one of the best rock albums in the world. In 2012, it was inducted into the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress.
14. There’s a Riot Goin’ On — Sly & The Family Stone
Sly & The Family Stone released There’s a Riot Goin’ On in November 1971. The album explored a darker subgenre within their usual funk style, propelled by the tension among the members. The album was highly successful and has been counted among the best albums of all time.
15. Hotel California — The Eagles
The song Hotel California is one of the most iconic songs from The Eagles, but the album on which it first appeared was also record-breaking. It was nominated for Album of The Year in 1976, losing the title to Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.
16. Tapestry — Carole King
Carole King’s 1972 album Tapestry was undoubtedly the most iconic album of her career, winning a host of Grammy Awards as well as Album of The Year. Though some of the album’s tracks are covers of songs made famous by other singers (such as Aretha Franklin’s Natural Woman), King had written or co-written all the album content.
17. Blood on The Tracks — Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan had already pioneered the folk-rock genre of the 60s and 70s when he released Blood on The Tracks in 1975. Initially received unenthusiastically by critics, the album is now considered one of Dylan’s best thanks to its highly personal tracks.
18. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road — Elton John
It’s hard to pinpoint a highlight of Elton John’s iconic career, but it might just be 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The album racked up awards galore and is regularly listed as one of the greatest of all time. It includes some of Elton John’s most famous songs, including Bennie and the Jets and Candle in the Wind.
19. This Year’s Model — Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Elvis Costello’s 1978 album This Year’s Model has been called controversial, with some reviewers calling it historical in the genre of punk rock. Others have taken issue with Costello’s song content, sometimes perceived as misogynistic. Nevertheless, the album is considered one of his greatest.
20. Off The Wall — Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson released Off The Wall in 1979 to great acclaim. The album featured contributions from musical giants such as Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. The album was Jackson’s attempt to step decisively away from the musical stylings of his work with The Jackson Five.
21. Physical Graffiti — Led Zeppelin
Hard rock was on the rise during the 1970s, and few albums represent it better than Led Zeppelin’s 1975 album Physical Graffiti. It was highly successful in both the UK and the US, where it received 16 platinum certifications.
Recommended: Our picks for the top Led Zeppelin songs
22. The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars — David Bowie
David Bowie’s 1972 album isn’t just any old album — it is a full rock opera complete with a storyline. More specifically, it concerns the story of Bowie’s alter ego and stage persona Ziggy Stardust. It has been called historically significant for its wrestling with topics of sexuality, politics, and celebrity, as well as for its musical exemplification of glam rock.
23. Parallel Lines — Blondie
Reportedly, the members of Blondie were themselves unenthusiastic about their 1978 album Parallel Lines. It came as a surprise to them that the album was extremely commercially successful, leading to the popularization of singles such as Heart of Glass and One Way of Another.
24. Moondance — Van Morrison
Van Morrison’s Moondance wasn’t his first album, but it was his first commercially successful one. Released in 1970, Moondance helped establish the signature smooth jazz sound that would define the rest of Morrison’s career.
25. Sticky Fingers — The Rolling Stones
In 1971, The Rolling Stones released Sticky Fingers, their first album to reach the No. 1 spot on the charts. It has been called the best album of the band’s time together, featuring the famous singles Brown Sugar and Wild Horses.
26. Ramones — Ramones
Ramones released their debut album in 1976, coming out strong with a punk rock sound that may have been ahead of its time. Initially unsuccessful, it is now considered historically significant because of its influence of the development of rock throughout the late 70s and 80s.
27. Bridge Over Troubled Water — Simon & Garfunkel
After a busy and successful career throughout the 1960s, Simon & Garfunkel released their final album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, in 1970. Though the duo parted ways soon after its release, it is often called their best album, featuring the iconic songs Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Boxer.
28. A Night At The Opera — Queen
Queen’s 1975 album A Night At The Opera brought the band’s greatest single of its tenure, Bohemian Rhapsody. That alone might be enough to count it among the best albums of the decade. But even apart from the legendary song, the album is a masterpiece; inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2018, it is said to be one of the greatest albums in history.
29. Black Sabbath — Black Sabbath
Heavy metal was in its infancy when Black Sabbath recorded its debut album in 1970, setting the course for the genre over the next several decades. This much-lauded album, amazingly, was recorded in under 12 hours and involved almost no editing or overdubbing.
30. All Things Must Pass — George Harrison
George Harrison wasted no time after the breakup of The Beatles in April 1970; his solo album All Things Must Pass was released in November of that year. Critics were reportedly shocked by his instant confidence and success as a solo artist and predicted a long and successful career for the former Beatles guitarist. All Things Must Pass was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014.
31. Band of Gypsys — Jimi Hendrix
Band of Gypsys was Jimi Hendrix’s final full-length album, recorded in January 1970 (the singer passed away in September of the same year). Though Hendrix himself was reportedly unsatisfied with the album, it is a mastery of musical improvisation and exploration into new electronic sounds.
32. Hunky Dory — David Bowie
David Bowie was prolific throughout the 1970s. Just one year before releasing his genre-defining rock opera The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spider from Mars, he released Hunky Dory in 1971. The album, which features warmer, gentler sounds than Bowie’s typical hard rock, was dedicated to American icons Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, and Lou Reed.
33. Houses of The Holy — Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin’s 1973 album Houses of The Holy resulted in at least three songs that would become set standards for the band, including The Song Remains The Same, No Quarter, and The Rain Song. The album was highly successful, selling more than 10 million albums in the US.
34. Imagine — John Lennon
John Lennon leaped into a solo career after the breakup of The Beatles in 1970, already releasing his second solo album just a year later. Imagine was inarguably the most famous venture of his one-man career, with the title song gaining the reputation as Lennon’s signature song.
35. Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack — The Bee Gees
Few songs seem to define the 1970s like the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive, the most iconic song of the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever. But the group was responsible for the entire soundtrack, which they released under their own name that same year. Like the film, it was highly acclaimed and remains symbolic of the whole decade.
36. Pearl — Janis Joplin
Pearl was released in 1971, three months after Janis Joplin’s death in October 1970. It was an instant, if posthumous, success, receiving a platinum certification and spending nine weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Joplin recorded the album with the Full Tilt Boogie Band; it was said that their supportive accompaniment let her fully explore her vocal range.
37. American Beauty — Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead released two albums in 1970, the second of which was American Beauty. The album was commercially successful; but more importantly, it was defining for the direction of rock music throughout the 70s, expertly fusing country, bluegrass, folk, and rock.
38. Exodus — Bob Marley & The Wailers
Bob Marley released Exodus in 1977, mere months after surviving an assassination attempt and a few short years before his early death from melanoma. The album is considered a collection of reggae at its finest, featuring relaxed beats and lyrics that range from sexuality to political commentary.
39. Aqualung — Jethro Tull
Jethro Tull’s 1971 album Aqualung is an early example of rock songs discussing religion and spirituality, a theme that would continue throughout the 1970s. Aqualung was the peak of the British band’s career and has been called their best album. It also led to two of the group’s most famous singles, Locomotive Breath and Hymn 43.
40. The Stranger — Billy Joel
Billy Joel’s career was struggling in the late 1970s, but that turned around when he released 1977’s The Stranger. The album included many songs that would go on to become signatures of his career, including Only The Good Die Young, She’s Always a Woman, Vienna, and Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.
41. Blue — Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue was a project entirely of her own making; Mitchell composed and produced the album herself and played the majority of the instrumentals. In 2017, NPR called it the greatest album of all time from a female musician. It is undoubtedly a masterpiece of folk music.
42. Sail Away — Randy Newman
Though Randy Newman’s 1972 album Sail Away escaped any major awards or accolades at the time, it is now considered one of the greatest albums of the decade. It had an intense effect on Newman’s contemporaries; Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys said that the titular song was a life buoy for him during periods of intense depression.
43. Aladdin Sane — David Bowie
David Bowie skyrocketed to superstar status after the release of his 1972 album The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. As a result, all eyes were on him the next year when he released Aladdin Sane. The album was heavily influenced by Bowie’s tours through America as well as the harder rock of contemporaries such as The Rolling Stones. Fans consider it an essential component of Bowie’s career.
44. Songs of Love And Hate — Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen released Songs of Love And Hate in 1971, an album of intense emotions. It was Cohen’s most successful album, though some critics said that it was depressing or intimidatingly artistic. Modern musical experts have said that many of the tracks on the album, particularly Famous Blue Raincoat, are works of art and among the best of Cohen’s career.
45. In Rock — Deep Purple
Deep Purple released In Rock in 1970 after a string of albums that largely escaped mainstream attention. The result of their deliberate, group-composed psychedelic rock album propelled them to international fame. Throughout the rest of the decade, the group pioneered heavy rock and metal genres.
46. Let It Be — The Beatles
Let It Be was The Beatles’ final album. It was released a month after their official breakup. At the time, it was considered an utter failure due to the tension between the band members and the return to their earlier, traditional rock sound. Nevertheless, contemporaries regard it as the crown jewel of their time as a group.
47. Sweet Baby James — James Taylor
Sweet Baby James was James Taylor’s second album but the first to see widespread commercial success. Released in 1970, the album was extraordinarily popular, particularly the single Fire And Rain, which would become one of Taylor’s standards. The album’s success helped pave the way for Taylor’s career throughout the decade.
48. Bat Out of Hell — Meat Loaf
Bat Out of Hell began, bizarrely, as a futuristic musical adaptation of Peter Pan and ended as one of the best-selling music albums in history. The 1977 album resulted in mixed public reception that later grew, leading it to receive 16 platinum certifications.
49. Heart Like a Wheel — Linda Ronstadt
Linda Ronstadt’s career exploded during the 1980s, but even in the early 70s she was making waves. Her 1974 album Heart Like a Wheel was her fifth, but is widely considered to have provided Ronstadt with her big breakthrough. In 2013, it was placed in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. The album earned Ronstadt two Grammy nominations.
50. Highway to Hell — AC/DC
Highway to Hell was AC/DC’s most famous album and the last album to feature singer Bon Scott, who would pass away mere months after its release. The 1979 album put the already-successful band among the top ranks of hard rock, a trend that continued into the 80s.
51. Raw Power — The Stooges
Raw Power, released in 1973, has been called historic for its influence on the development of hard rock. The Stooges’ work is considered proto-punk and an album that laid the groundwork for the future of punk, hard rock, and metal.
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