6 Essential Rock Albums for True Music Listeners
Whether you’re a full-blown punk fiend or listen to Shawn Mendes religiously, you’re probably aware that a decent chunk of modern music is influenced by rock. In the past few decades, the rock genre has generously contributed to some of the most instrumental (no pun intended) works of contemporary music. Some components have aided in defining the “sound” of a particular decade, as well revolutionizing the music scene as a whole. For this reason, I’ve decided to compile six albums that are integral to the true music listener.
Disclaimer: I know that this list will prompt an angry wave of AC/DC fans, Guns N’ Roses fans, and countless others that I’ve failed to include. However, the following albums are mainly based on my own listening experience. Just because it didn’t make the list, doesn’t make it a lesser album.
Led Zeppelin II (1969) Led Zeppelin
Undeniably one of the most well-known bands in music history, Led Zeppelin played a key role in the development of classic rock. In their second eponymous album, the band continued to prove their expertise in songwriting. Lead guitarist Jimmy Page led the album’s production, a likely contribution to the heavier, more riff-based sound. According to John Mendelsohn from Rolling Stone, the album does not shy away from fierce instrumentals, evident in Page’s fervent guitar mewlings rippling through each song. John Bonham unleashes sheer drum prowess, even going as far as devoting the whole track, “Moby Dick,” to a single, thunderous drum solo. Robert Plant’s superhuman vocals only amplify the record’s fiery vibes, making it an album to be revered for ages.
Recommended tracks: “Whole Lotta Love,” “What Is And What Should Never Be,” “Ramble On,” and “Moby Dick”
A Night at the Opera (1975) Queen
Most of us have come across Queen’s work, whether it be clapping along to “We Will Rock You”, or chanting “We are the Champions” at a football game. Queen was capable of amassing an especially large following, primarily due to their fourth studio album, A Night at the Opera. According to Ric Albano, a music critic, at the time of its release, the record pushed the boundaries of modern music through maximizing electronic effects, painstaking layering and utilizing a wide array of instruments. Freddie Mercury’s unequaled belting soars across the tracks, accompanied by the flashy guitar solos of Brian May. The witty transitions, complex rhythmic structures and playful classical music influences in tracks such as “Love Of My Life” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” create a wildly colorful listening experience.
Recommended Tracks: “Death On Two Legs”, “You’re My Best Friend”, “The Prophet’s Song”, “Love Of My Life”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
The Wall (1979) Pink Floyd
From the prog rock masterminds, Pink Floyd, The Wall is referred to as a rock opera, a grouping of songs that aligns with a distinct storyline (much like a traditional opera or musical). Kurt Loder from Rolling Stone explains that the work relates the earnest tale of a rockstar’s descent into insanity as he builds a metaphorical wall of isolation, barricading himself from a rigid, shattered society. Written chiefly by Pink Floyd bassist, Roger Waters, the record revolves largely around the bass’s simple yet lively groove. With this factor alongside the usage of electronica, the band incorporates its usual prog rock, psychedelic tastes with elements of disco and funk. In regards to the “rock opera” aspect, Pink Floyd seemingly approaches the concept literally, including orchestral arrangements in the background. Such lyrical and musical sophistication make The Wall a quintessential part of any rock fan’s library.
Recommended tracks: “In the Flesh,” “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2,” “Hey You,” “Comfortably Numb,” and “The Trial”
Remain in Light (1980) Talking Heads
During the influx of new wave music in the 70s and 80s, one of the most prominent bands to emerge in the movement was Talking Heads. In 1980, Talking Heads released Remain in Light, their fourth record. In his review, Ric Albano wrote that their work ventured past the blues-derived precedents set by bands such as Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones. Instead, Talking Heads absorbed elements from funk and disco into alternative rock. Marriage of the seemingly conflicting genres ultimately helped create a more uplifting, high energy vibe. Meticulous looping, electronic experimentation, and usage of African polyrhythms allowed Talking Heads to expand their musical creativity to its fullest potential.
Recommended tracks: “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”, “Crosseyed And Painless”, “The Great Curve”, “Once In A Lifetime”
In Utero (1993) Nirvana
Following the commercially successful release of Nevermind in 1991, Nirvana sought to redefine their sound, which was previously influenced by other mainstream grunge bands at the time. For that reason, in their third studio album, In Utero, the band trekked down a heavier, more abrasive route. Eamon Stacks from BBC explains that Kurt Cobain’s guttural, almost animalistic vocals bellow emotionally-charged lines of misanthropy, angst, and criticism of the music industry, further intensified by equally rugged instrumentals. The fierce nature of the record communicates an unfiltered, raw tone. Even with the more aggressive elements at play, the album still offers some instances of mellow instrumentation, encompassing both the mild and overwhelming poles of music.
Recommended tracks: “Heart-Shaped Box”, “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle”, “Dumb”, “Pennyroyal Tea”, “All Apologies”
OK Computer (1997) Radiohead
Radiohead, the Brits notorious for their 1993 hit, “Creep,” made clear they were capable of more innovatory work than a mere four-chord, teen-angst anthem. With the approach of the 21st century, they released OK Computer, an intricate fusion between experimental-electronica and alternative rock. The quirky, outer-worldly atmosphere, induced by combining the band’s usual guitar distortion with whimsical ornamentations, speaks vividly to a sense of looming fear of the next generation. Jon Pareles, a reviewer from The New York Times, believes that a plethora of textural diversity and harrowing melodies immerse the audience into a futuristic dimension of ethereal climaxes and dreary lows. Heart-wrenching vocals that croon sinister themes of over-consumerism, isolation, and the oversaturation of technology help culminate into a timeless, darkly beautiful masterpiece.
Recommended tracks: “Airbag”, “Paranoid Android”, “Exit Music (For a Film)”, “Karma Police”, “Climbing Up The Walls”, “No Surprises”