Rock and roll is so ubiquitous that it may seem like it’s been around forever. But the genre didn’t emerge as its own fully formed concept until the ’40s and ’50s, when musicians started combining gospel, blues, jazz, and country into the signature sound of rock.
Today, there’s a huge variety within the umbrella of rock, from those groups that veer to the punk side of the spectrum to those that toe the line with pop. Regardless of the variances, there are some albums that transcend the limits of genre — and even time. These are the greatest rock albums that people still jam out to today.
50. Neil Young’s Harvest (1972): Young’s fourth studio album was the best-selling record in the US in 1972; however, critics were not very kind at the time, calling it rehashed and unoriginal. Since then the praise has gotten much more deafening.
49. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Damn the Torpedoes (1979): Reaching the coveted #2 spot on Billboard charts the year it was released, this album full of hits was only kept from reaching first place because Pink Floyd’s The Wall was occupying it.
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48. Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville (1993): An unexpected critical success, Phair’s debut album ranked number one in many of the year-end polls. The singer has said that the phrase “Guyville” refers to a mentality “where men are men and women are learning”.
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47. The Black Keys’ El Camino (2011): Winning Best Rock Album at the 55th Grammy Awards, this undeniably catchy album features hit singles such as “Lonely Boy” and “Gold on the Ceiling.” These rockers hail from Akron, Ohio.
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46. Cage the Elephant’s Melophobia (2013): The ten dreamy songs on Melophobia — “fear of music” — make for easy listening despite lyrics that often veer towards the melancholy. This album debuted at number 6 on Billboard‘s Top Rock Albums and Top Alternative Albums charts.
45. The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow (1984): This compilation from the famed English rockers is often cited as one of the best of all time, and contains many of the band’s most recognizable singles, from “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” to “William, It Was Really Nothing.”
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44. Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run (1975): This is widely considered Springsteen’s first successful attempt to break into the mainstream. He’s remarked that he wanted the record to sound like “Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan.”
43. Green Day’s Dookie (1994): An international success by nearly any metric, the third album by this band was the first to be released under a major label, causing many earlier fans to denounce them as “sell-outs.” Didn’t seem to slow them down.
42. Nirvana’s In Utero (1993): Immediately reaching number one on the charts after its release, Nirvana’s third and final album is certified platinum five times over, despite initial doubts from the label about its commercial viability.
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41. Modest Mouse’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News (2004): The lead singer and guitarist of the band that produced this Grammy-nominated and certified platinum album is known for pretty insane behavior on stage, including slashing himself with a knife on multiple occasions.
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40. The Kooks’ Inside In / Inside Out (2006): This album, written as an ode to the lead singer’s then-girlfriend, has been certified platinum five times over, despite running into the roadblock of being released on the same day as the Arctic Monkey’s debut.
39. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966): In the process of taking the album cover for the surfer group’s chart-smashing hit, the band actually visited a San Diego petting zoo and got very friendly with the animals.
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38. Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill (1995): When this brilliant encapsulation of female angst won Album of the Year, Morissette became the youngest artist in history to receive the accolade and held the title until Taylor Swift received it in 2008.
37. AC/DC’s Back in Black (1980): This hit album features an iconic all-black cover for an incredibly tragic reason: the group’s former vocalist Bon Scott passed away after commercial breakthrough Highway To Hell. The cover signifies the band’s mourning of him.
36. The Arctic Monkey’s AM (2013): In 2019, this boozy collection of mournful, lusty hits was ranked number one on NME’s list of best albums of the decade, but it was almost released under a different name entirely: “The New Black”.
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35. Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks (1975): The deeply personal 15th studio album by rock legend Dylan has been described by one of his sons, Jakob, as sounding like “my parents talking.”
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34. The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Are You Experienced (1967): This historic collection of psychedelic rock songs has received overwhelming praise, with one critic even comparing Hendrix’s contribution to the transformation of music as being similar to the way in which James Joyce’s Ulysses changed literature.
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33. Radiohead’s OK Computer (1997): Due to its themes of consumerism, social isolation, and political unrest, many have considered this landmark album to be almost psychic in its abilities to predict the ailments of the following millennium.
32. Queen’s A Night at the Opera (1975): At the time of its release, this album was apparently the most expensive to ever be recorded. It certainly paid off, as the accolades it’s accrued are too many to enumerate.
31. Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974): This album is largely regarded as one of Clapton’s best ever, even more meaningful because it marked his return to music after a three year stint using heroin.
30. Santana’s Supernatural (1999): Supernatural is one of the best-selling albums in the world, and in 2000, it won nine Grammy awards, also making Carlos Santana the first Latino artist to win Album of the Year.
29. The Door’s The Doors (1967): The debut album by this American rock band is so cherished that in 2015 the Library of Congress made the decision to include it in the National Recording Registry. It doesn’t get much more acclaimed than that.
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28. Blondie’s Parallel Lines (1978): Although this album would become one of the most successful and iconic in rock history, the process of making it wasn’t so smooth. Producer Mike Chapman has said there was much animosity in the studio.
27. The Ramones’ Rocket to Russia (1977): Another classic New York production, the summer the Ramones released their third album was widely regarded as the peak of punk rock. Its many hits, including “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” will undoubtedly go down in music history.
26. The Who’s Tommy (1969): This fourth Who album is a rock opera that tells the story of a fictional boy named Tommy Walker who was deaf, dumb, and blind. The album now has a home in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
25. Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic (1975): Their third studio album, the band had already amassed a huge following, but this iconic collection launched the crew — led by Steven Tyler — into superstardom.
24. Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Ozz (1980): After being fired from heavy metal band Black Sabbath, Osbourne went on to release this collection of classic rock staples. The album is 2x platinum certified and continues to play prominently on the radio four decades on.
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23. The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls (1978): This colorful album became the Stones’ best-selling album in the United States, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart and cementing hits such as “Miss You,” “Beast of Burden,” and “Shattered.”
22. Hole’s Celebrity Skin (1998): Certified as platinum in the US, UK, and Australia, lead singer Courtney Love proved she could hold her own against rocker husband Kurt Cobain in an album that used California as “a metaphor for the American dream”.
21. Violent Femmes’ Violent Femmes (1983): It’s not often that albums go gold four years after their release—and platinum four years after that—but it’s exactly what this band achieved with their iconic folk-punk masterpiece.
20. The Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967): With iconic cover art from Andy Warhol himself, this album’s visual appearance is as recognizable as its lyrics and melodic power. Still, at the time, it was received poorly both critically and commercially.
19. Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973): Another one to make the Grammy Hall of Fame, many fans consider this to be Elton’s greatest work. Impressively, lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote the songs in less than three weeks.
18. Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977): Although the Sex Pistols only released one studio album, it was a seminal one. Given the band’s controversial reputation it was banned from stores and charts, still managing to debut at #1 in the UK.
17. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991): This LA band’s fifth studio album is widely regarded as their best. Not only does it have amazing album art, but it delves beautifully into difficult themes such as drug use, sexuality, and mental health.
16. Prince’s Purple Rain (1984): This album was accompanied by a movie of the same name to which it provided the soundtrack. Both the music and the film are regarded as revolutionary in their cultural significance and emotional poignancy.
15. Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991): Cobain had low expectations for Nevermind in terms of being a commercial hit, but it ultimately ended up being one of the best-selling albums of all time. Not to mention the album cover, which is nothing short of iconic.
14. U2’s The Joshua Tree (1987): The magnum opus produced by these Irish rockers wound up being the fastest-selling album in the history of Britain. Its commentary on America, a mix of fascination and disillusionment, winds throughout the tracks.
13. Sublime’s Sublime (1996): Lead vocalist Bradley Nowell passed away from a heroin overdose two months before the release of the band’s third and final album. Despite this tragedy, and the subsequent dissolution of the band, Sublime is regarded as one of the ’90’s greatest albums.
12. Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979): Although this rock opera was initially deemed “overblown” and “pretentious” by some critics, ultimately its legacy is as one of the greatest albums in history. The 1982 musical film based on it is equally as legendary.
11. The Beatles’ Abbey Road (1969): The cover of this album is just as iconic as the undeniably classic songs it contains. Abbey Road marked the last time that all four members of the chart-topping band would create music together.
10. Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV (1971): This untitled album features “Stairway To Heaven,” a song that is synonymous with the band’s sound. Instead of a title, Jimmy Page allowed each member to choose a symbol to be used in the album art.
9. Metallica’s Metallica (1991): The fifth studio album by an iconic rock band was recorded over eight months in Los Angeles. Tracks like “Enter Sandman” and “Nothing Else Matters” cement it as legendary.
8. Eagle’s Hotel California (1976): In order to capture the cover art for this band’s iconic album, two photographers ended up sitting in a cherry-picker 60 feet off the ground, attempting to capture the perfect image that would epitomize the Eagles’ vision.
7. The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead (1984): The NME has ranked this third studio album by The Smiths as the greatest of all time, and for good reason. Morrissey’s singular vocal abilities and lyrics that mix sincerity with humor make for a stellar 36 minutes of music.
6. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors: Everyone knows iconic hits like “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way,” but nearly every track on this 11-item album makes for amazing listening. It doesn’t hurt that its recording was filled to the brim with drama.
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5. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967): Providing the world with hits such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “With A Little Help From My Friends,” this album was censored in certain corners for its perceived drug references.
4. Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (1979): This unprecedented concept album is consistently included on lists of the best albums of all time, regardless of genre. Parts were inspired by founder Syd Barrett’s own deteriorating mental health.
3. The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers (1971): Considered one of the Rolling Stones’ best albums, without Sticky Fingers, the world would never have known songs including “Dead Flowers” and “Wild Horses.” It is no doubt a collection that millions still jam out to today.
2. David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust (1972): Bowie’s flamboyantly androgynous alter ego is the titular character in this rock opera/concept album mashup. It has countless accolades, but just listen. The album speaks for itself.
1. The Clash’s London Calling (1979): Touching on themes such as social unrest, addiction, and the at times suffocating mundanities of everyday life, this third album from the famed English rock band comes in at number one on our list.
We’ve gone over the greatest rock albums of all time, but sometimes it’s a singular song that really stands out and captures people’s hearts in a way that beats out all the others. Here are twenty famous songs that completely changed the world.
1. ‘Thunderstruck’ by AC/DC: Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution — in fact, it’s good for you. Researchers at the University of South Australia found that playing this AC/DC tune during chemotherapy actually slowed down the growth of cancer cells. Now that’s a discovery worthy of a guitar solo!
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2. ‘Strange Fruit’ by Billie Holiday: Before becoming an iconic political anthem, this song began as a poem by Abel Meeropol protesting racially motivated lynchings. Meeropol set it to music soon after, and Billie’s rendition made it an iconic tune.
3. ‘Fight the Power’ by Public Enemy: Written for Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing, this Public Enemy song celebrated African-American culture while condemning widespread oppression. Its radical message marked possibly the biggest civil rights statement in hip-hop music.
4. ‘Looking for Freedom’ by David Hasselhoff: Though the Baywatch star is somewhat of a punchline on American soil, he’s a total phenomenon in Germany. Not only did this synth-stravanganza top the charts, but it also served as the German soundtrack during the final weeks of the Berlin Wall.
5. ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ by Bob Marley and The Wailers: In this song, Marley urges listeners to recognize the injustice around them and stand up for their natural rights. It was also the last song Marley ever performed in concert.
6. ‘Same Love’ by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, featuring Mary Lambert: Many contemporary music artists seem less willing to make political statements than in the past. However, this trio made a huge leap in 2012 with this poignant ode to marriage equality.
7. ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ by Sam Cooke: At the risk of losing his primarily white fanbase, Cooke penned this 1964 number about his own experiences with racial injustice. Ever hopeful, he promises his people a better future, despite generations of persecution.
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8. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ by The Beatles: This 1964 rocker put them on the map as the biggest group in the world. About 73 million people watched the Liverpudlians make their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, many of them tuning in just to see the weird mop top haircuts.
9. ‘War’ by Edwin Starr: This unforgettable protest track finally answers what exactly war is good for: absolutely nothing! Interestingly, Motown group The Temptations put out the first version of this anti-Vietnam scorcher, but Starr’s frantic version topped the charts.
10. ‘Black or White’ by Michael Jackson: The King of Pop’s message was pretty clear in this 1991 smash. His plea for racial equality reached even more fans with its star-studded music video, which featured Jackson dancing with Zulu warriors and Macaulay Culkin shredding on the guitar.
11. ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ by Band Aid: Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof wrote this 1984 anthem, which rose to one of the best-selling singles ever. He called upon an all-star lineup — including Sting, Phil Collins, and George Michael — to raise $24 million for famine relief.
12. ‘9 to 5’ by Dolly Parton: The Queen of Country released this fun, yet groundbreaking tune about women working and supporting themselves. Parton also teamed up with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in a satirical film that shared the song’s title and theme.
13. ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon: With his political phase in full swing, the ex-Beatle’s hit encouraged humanity to live peacefully as one group. Its message only became more touching after Lennon’s shocking murder in 1980. Today, it continues to be the go-to song for moments of strife and tragedy.
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14. ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ by Bob Dylan: The young folk sensation effectively introduced 1960s counterculture with this record. His lyrics announced sweeping, generational change and calls upon everyone to join the movement. Dozens of artists have covered the timeless song since its 1964 release.
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15. ‘I Am Woman’ by Helen Reddy: Frustrated by the lack of positive songs about women in pop music, this Australian singer went out and wrote her own. The empowering track hit number one in 1972, and prominent feminists and everyday women alike have roared it ever since.
16. ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ by U2: Condemning British forces who shot 28 peaceful protestors in Northern Ireland, the track soon became a staple of U2’s concerts. It also laid the groundwork for Bono’s later activism.
17. ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ by The Specials: Music fans all over the world heralded the 1984 tune, and six years later their wish came true. Mandela got his prison release and immediately set out to dismantle South African segregation.
18. ‘God Save the Queen’ by The Sex Pistols: Released in 1977 to coincide with Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, this inflammatory single ripped apart the British monarchy. Young listeners flocked to its irreverence and cynicism, and the song’s popularity brought punk to mainstream music.
19. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana: ‘Teen Spirit’ introduced the American public to grunge and established Nirvana as the fastest-rising rock band of the ’90s. Kurt Cobain actually felt uncomfortable with the song’s success and often refused to play it after its release.
20. ‘Panama’ by Van Halen: This rock banger is actually about the car, not the country. Still, that didn’t stop American soldiers from blasting it outside of deposed Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega’s hideout. Several days later, the demoralized leader finally gave himself up.
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Not every song can change the world, but any song can change your mood. These popular songs wormed their way into our ear canals and never left — but their original artists despise them!
1. Led Zeppelin (“Stairway to Heaven”): While it’s easily one of the most-played and recognizable songs in music history, that doesn’t make singer Robert Plant hate it any less.
“I’d break out in hives if I had to sing that song in every show,” Plant once expressed in an interview. In other words, he pretty much wishes he could just play this funny bit from the comedy film Wayne’s World, when someone asks to hear it.
2. Madonna (“Like a Virgin”): You know exactly what it’s like when you’ve heard a song way too many times; it’s pretty hard to enjoy. Well, that’s how it feels for Madonna with “Like a Virgin,” one of her biggest—and most controversial—hits.
Even though it’s likely her most recognizable single of all time, the megastar just can’t seem to enjoy it the way her fans do. “I’m not sure I can sing … ‘Like A Virgin’ ever again,” she once said. “I just can’t—unless somebody paid me like $30 million or something.”
3. Kanye West (“Gold Digger”): In the most ironic turn of events, Kanye West once said that he didn’t even like this song from the start. But isn’t he, like, his own biggest fan? Why wouldn’t he like a song that he created?
Never one to shy away from telling it like it is, West eventually admitted why he recorded the Jamie Foxx-featuring track: money. “I get paid for doing ‘Gold Digger,’ which I never really liked that song, but I knew I would get paid for doing ‘Gold Digger,'” he told reporters.
4. Oasis (“Wonderwall”): Though it’s easily one of the greatest and most recognized rock-alternative songs from the past half century, Oasis has admitted that they hate pretty much everything about this track, much to the chagrin of their fans.
During a radio interview, lead guitarist Noel Gallagher admitted, “I don’t particularly like that song—I think ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ is a far superior song.” There’s nothing more frustrating than someone liking something that you don’t, right?
5. Mandy Moore (“Candy”): Those who’ve known Mandy Moore for her acting chops on This Is Us might have forgotten about this tune from the actress’s pop-singer days. And there’s something about her first hit that she wishes she could forget too…
Moore actually despises the music video for “Candy”—the one that largely kicked off her career in 1999. “My very first music video, I had to dance in it and it is abysmal,” she mentioned. “I think the powers that be realized very early on that, ‘You know what, you should just have background dancers.”
6. Lady Gaga featuring Beyoncé (“Telephone”): You’d think that teaming up two of the most popular and recognizable pop stars on the planet would be a surefire way to record a song that everyone loves, right?
And, of course, you’d be on to something… except Lady Gaga can’t stand it or the music video either. “Beyoncé and I are great together. But there are so many ideas in that video and all I see in that video is my brain throbbing with ideas and I wish I had edited myself a little bit more,” she recalled.
7. The Beastie Boys (“[You Gotta] Fight For Your Right [To Party]”): Never intended to be received with such love, this iconic party song by Brooklyn’s Beastie Boys was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek parody of similar songs from the era.
Nevertheless, the joke ultimately went over everyone’s heads—including those of many of their diehard fans—and wound of garnering the group mass attention. Soon enough, they had a somewhat-unplanned hit on their hands!
8. Radiohead (“Creep”): Not only has lead singer Thom Yorke gone on record as hating this “too soft” song, but the rest of the band has even joined in on the hate fest, too. How much so?
Guitarist Johnny Greenwood purposely tried to sabotage the recording by playing too harshly. Ironically, he simultaneously created the edge executives felt it so badly needed. Now when fans request to hear the track, they can expect a response like this, from a concert in Canada: “F**k off, we’re tired of it,” moaned Yorke.
9. James Blunt (“You’re Beautiful”): You’d imagine that the first time a recording artist hears their song on the radio, it’s probably the greatest moment of their lives. You know, having worked for it their entire lives…
Yet that’s not how it went for pop singer James Blunt. When “You’re Beautiful” was first played on the radio, he couldn’t wait until his track was pulled from the waves. “[It] was force-fed down people’s throats,” Blunt recalled. “And it became annoying, and then people start to associate the artist with the same word.”
10. Warrant (“Cherry Pie”): You know how they say that art requires inspiration? Well, there was none of that going on with this ubiquitous 1980s track. Seriously, not one bit!
Even though it was an instant smash-hit, the band, who’d spent years establishing themselves as a metal act, recorded it without so much as a thought when their record label demanded they produce a ballad that would appeal to the masses.
11. Miley Cyrus (“Party in the U.S.A.”): No matter where you were when this song was released, there was no avoiding it. It was played on just about every radio station and became a mainstay of backyard barbecues across the United States.
Yet, Miley Cyrus believes it’s a bit immature, as she feels she’s grown a lot as an artist since it was first released. That’s totally understandable, so long as you realize you’ll be playing it at every concert from here to eternity!
12. Lorde (“Royals”): Since this song is still relatively new, you might think that Lorde wouldn’t mind performing it. Yet the chart-topping track that launched her to worldwide recognition in 2013 is like nails on a chalkboard for the Kiwi songwriter.
Recently, she made it clear what she thinks the song sounds like: “It sounds like a ringtone from a 2006 Nokia! None of the melodies are cool or good! It’s disastrous,” the singer openly admitted.