It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. Choosing the best rock albums of all time is no small feat, but we’ve combed through our classic vinyl collection to create a list that embraces classic rock bands of every stripe, from the genre’s beginnings to bands that are still out touring today. From hard-hitting riffs and lyrics about partying to more thoughtful and politically or socially motivated rock, if it makes us move, we’ve included it on this list.
1. London Calling – The Clash
The Joe-Strummer-headed band, The Clash, was one of the pioneers of England’s newly-emerging punk scene of the 70s. Although the band didn’t see huge sales with their first few albums, they gained an audience in America with their politically-charged album, London’s Calling.
Next: Greatest punk bands of all time (our list)
2. Back in Black – AC/DC
No list of rock albums would be complete without AC/DC; the Australian band that proudly proclaimed that rock was here to stay. With their catchy, heavy riffs, and Angus Young’s one-of-a-kind stage presence, they have earned a permanent place in rock history.
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3. Led Zeppelin II – Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin is widely regarded as a band that never made a bad album, that’s why it’s so hard to choose the best from their discography. Led Zeppelin II is our pick if for no other reason than that it lays out clearly what is to come in their future music. It opens with, arguably, one of the best-known rock songs of all time, “Whole Lotta Love,” and doesn’t let up from there.
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4. Nevermind – Nirvana
The undisputed kings of grunge, Nirvana, weren’t around long enough to release multiple albums, but thankfully, they left behind the classic, Nevermind. The heavy guitar and outsider lyrics gave birth to a musical genre that influenced every type of popular music that came after it.
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5. Who’s Next – The Who
The Who has never been accused of making a bad album, but if we were to choose our favorite, we think Who’s Next stands alone as a unique achievement. On the heels of their epic rock opera album Tommy, the band originally hoped to do another concept album. But the pressures of developing such a massive storyline proved too much, and The Who opted to release the straight-rock album, Who’s Next, instead. With nine incredible tracks featuring their best musical work, we think they made the right decision.
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6. The Joshua Tree – U2
Long-time indie Irish rock band darlings, U2, released The Joshua Tree on the heels of other, moderately successful albums. It was this one, however, that made the band a household name in America and beyond, with its biggest hit, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
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7. Self-Titled Album – Van Halen
While the band’s 1978 self-titled debut, Van Halen, didn’t bring them the hits that would come later, it did foretell their rock future. With frontman David Lee Roth at the helm and Eddie Van Halen on guitar, the band brought blistering guitar solos to the mainstream.
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8. The Number of the Beast – Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden’s third album, and arguably their most famous, made them one of the first heavy metal bands to make it into the UK Top 40 charts. It was this album, The Number Of The Beast, that gave birth to the band’s nickname, “The Beast.”
9. A Night at the Opera – Queen
Queen’s A Night At The Opera stands alone as a unique work of both storytelling and music. Famously, the album nearly didn’t get made, owing to its breathtakingly long experimental single, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The experiment in concept music paid off in spades, and the album stands as a singular work that proved that even rock music could also be high art.
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10. Abbey Road – The Beatles
Listening to Abbey Road, one might never guess that the album was recorded at a time when the band was nearly splitting up. Still, songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney managed to merge their talents into some of The Beatles’ most cohesive and resonant hits, including “Here Comes The Sun.” Look for our other album pick from them further down the list.
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11. Master of Puppets – Metallica
An epic album full of heavy statement-making rock, this 80s release was so seminal that it helped to define what would become the metal sound for decades to come. The song “Master Of Puppets” came to be Metallica’s signature song, and the band enjoyed a new surge of fans (and song sales) when it appeared on a hit television series.
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12. Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
A story in an album, Dark Side Of The Moon, is widely regarded as one of the world’s best rock albums and appears at the top of most lists. Interesting for an album that contains not only longer-than-average songs but philosophical quotes and bits of band interviews and other ephemera.
13. Appetite for Destruction – Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses proved that they were more than your typical hair rockers with their 1987 hit album, Appetite For Destruction. It is a wall of rock that starts out strong, with “Welcome To The Jungle’s” opening guitar riffs and keeps up the momentum for the entirety of its runtime.
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14. Dirt – Alice in Chains
Alice In Chains’ 1992 album, Dirt, was a success with both audiences and critics alike. It peaked at number six on the Billboard Top 200 charts and reached five-time platinum status. Rolling Stone Magazine even ranked it number 26 on its own list of the all-time best metal albums. These feats are all the more impressive considering the album was a dark gathering of songs centering on feelings of depression and alienation.
15. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars – David Bowie
This album shows off David Bowie at his absolute sublime strangest, posing as his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust. The songs are incredible, but even more importantly, he demonstrated not just music and the powers of rock but also storytelling and art.
16. Deep Purple In Rock – Deep Purple
One of classic rock’s best-known bands, Deep Purple had spent a few years playing gigs in anonymity prior to the release of their first studio album, Deep Purple In Rock. It immediately found its audience, who sent it to the top of both the US and UK charts.
17. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
This is the second of two Beatles albums we’ve included in this list because… well, they’re the Beatles. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band marked a sort of change of direction for the band and is widely regarded as the first full concept album.
18. Electric Ladyland – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Jimi Hendrix was a guitar genius like no other, and the double album, Electric Ladyland, shows off his singular skills in all-time hits like “All Along The Watchtower” and “Voodoo Child.”
19. Rumours – Fleetwood Mac
The band Fleetwood Mac is certainly no stranger to rumors in their own personal lives. But this album isn’t about those kinds of rumors—it’s about how audiences connect with their one-of-a-kind sound, a unique mixture of Stevie Nicks’ gravelly vocals set against swirling smooth rock.
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20. Self-Titled Album – The Doors
The Doors’ first, self-titled album is also arguably their best. It showcases Jim Morrison’s knack for poetic songwriting and drama against a backdrop of rock and psychedelia. While undeniably strange, audiences connected—and continue to—with his undeniable charisma.
21. Green River – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Rolling Stone Magazine best described this 1969 album from Creedence Clearwater as “the most vivid American rock since the music from Big Pink.” It’s the type of album that tells a story, making stops at country, roots, and rock music along the way.
Next: Best albums from the 1960s decade
22. Exile on Main St. – The Rolling Stones
No list of rock albums would be complete with The Rolling Stones. While the band does not consider Exile On Main St. a favorite, fans would disagree, as the double album is consistently rated one of the all-time greats.
23. Hotel California – The Eagles
Those who only know about the Eagles because of the title song, “Hotel California,” are missing out. The 1976 release sold more than 32 million albums. It features dark, theme-heavy songs about some of America’s darkest days, past, present, and future.
Next: California songs playlist (our picks)
24. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
The prolific singer-songwriter, Elton John, outdid himself with this, his seventh album. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is a can’t-miss with several of his classics, including the title track and the hit “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.”
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25. Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
Born To Run is classic rock at its best. This master songwriter and singer leads his band through this epic coming-of-age album, which took fourteen months to record.
26. Paranoid – Black Sabbath
Arguably the first metal band of all time, Black Sabbath kicked off the genre with Paranoid, a truly hard-rocking album full of deliciously dark stories and psychedelic licks. Despite its iconic status, the band has always maintained that the entire album was recorded in two days.
27. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys
Although mostly remembered for their bubblegum beach songs, Brian Wilson and company were accomplished musicians, as evidenced in this treasure of an album, Pet Sounds. It mixes up sounds from jazz and pop to create a never-replicated sound. Its better-known tracks include the young-love lament of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and the slightly folksy, “Sloop John B.”
28. Toys in the Attic – Aerosmith
Toys In The Attic was Aerosmith’s third album and their commercial breakthrough. It’s a collection of songs that critics compared to Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. Among its hit tracks, it also included an experimental collaboration between themselves and hip-hop sensations, Run DMC, who recorded a rock-rap mashup together.
29. Ten – Pearl Jam
Early grunge pioneers Pearl Jam did not fade away when grunge melded into the fold of other genres. Instead, they released Ten, the album that featured the track “Jeremy,” a song that would become their greatest hit and would garner them four MTV music awards in one short year.
Next: The greatest bands from the 1990s (our picks)
30. Rust Never Sleeps – Neil Young and Crazy Horse
The 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps was recorded partly live on tour, primarily at San Francisco’s Boarding House. It is widely considered one of Neil Young’s finest albums, despite its short nine-track run length. While some of the songs were later dubbed over in the studio, it’s the raw, live energy of the album that makes it one of our favorites.
Next: Best albums from the 1970s (our full list)
31. Bat Out of Hell – Meat Loaf
Bat Out Of Hell might be one of the most fully unique albums on this list. Theatrically-inclined singer Meat Loaf swings wide and embraces storytelling through his thrilling and powerful rock ballads. In addition to performing some of the most wildly original and theatrical songs of the rock era, he was also known for creating videos that ran more as short films than typical performance bits.
32. Self-Titled Album – Heart
This 1985 album—the eighth by a female-powered rock band, Heart—brought the band long-deserved commercial success. The classic album contains five hit singles, including the mega-hit, “These Dreams.” While it is a departure from the band’s earlier, heavier sound, the songs retain a sort of raw vulnerability that gives them an edge.
33. Escape – Journey
The biggest album for one of the world’s biggest stadium bands, Escape contains the band’s most iconic song, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” among other gems. This has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide.
34. The Colour and the Shape – Foo Fighters
Following his stint with grunge pioneers Nirvana, Dave Grohl went on to form the Foo Fighters. The Colour And The Shape is classic Foo Fighters, with songs that range from thudding, heavy rock to thoughtful near-ballads. It was their second studio release, and this created the successful and cohesive lineup that they would keep for the next two decades.
35. Slippery When Wet – Bon Jovi
Bon Jovi’s third album, Slippery When Wet, was released in 1986. While the band had enjoyed some popularity before, it was nothing compared to the success of this one, which one critic called, “the album that turned heavy metal in a radio-friendly format.”
36. American Idiot – Green Day
Green Day burst into the pop-punk scene in the 90s, bringing a raw, yet updated punk sound and a neo-punk look. American Idiot is essentially a concept album criticizing the actions of President George Bush.
Next: The top rock bands from the 2000s (our picks)
37. Billion Dollar Babies – Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper is such a fixture in American pop culture that, despite his outwardly dark appearance, he once appeared as a guest host on the Muppet Show. The 1973 release, Billion Dollar Babies, is his best-selling album of all time. Despite a not-great critical reception, it has become a fan favorite and the album that introduced many people to Cooper’s music.
38. Angel Dust – Faith No More
This 1992 release, Angel Dust, was the fourth studio album from Faith No More but marks the first appearance of the band’s new frontman, Mike Patton. At the time, the band had stated that they wanted to move away from their funky metal style onto something harder. They succeeded, and Angel Dust became their best-selling album.
39. Hysteria – Def Leppard
The year 1987 was prime hair-metal time, and Def Leppard bought into it full force by releasing what was to become their biggest album. Despite a spate of personal tragedies, including their drummer losing an arm in an accident, Hysteria’s stadium rock anthems shot them to superstar status.
40. Moving Pictures – Rush
Canadian band Rush has managed to make a name by creating a sound that combines the best of guitar with outsider instruments like synths, as evidenced by their most famous album, Moving Pictures. This release, the band’s eighth studio effort, enjoyed immediate success with both audiences and critics.
41. Rust in Peace – Megadeth
Megadeth released Rust In Peace in 1990 to immediate critical acclaim. The album garnered them a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance and is listed in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. It is recognized as a pivotal entry in the then-new thrash metal genre.
Choosing only 41 albums from fifty years of rock and roll history is no easy task, but we’ve done our best to pull together a list that included albums from various sub-genres and periods. Whether you are thinking about dusting off some old LPs or looking for a new album to add to your playlist, we hope you found which ones to listen to from this list.
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As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.