Classic Rock Albums…The Blockbusters!

So many lists try to rank the best albums of all time and inevitably fail. That’s not what this is.  There are no albums here that were wimpy on the charts, barely sold, or that most people don’t know.  Instead, this is a small list of Classic Rock albums that were highly impactful.  They set trends, set sales records, dominated the album chart, and lodged in the minds of the public.  This is not a ranking, but a chronology, and we start with an album that garnered unheard of fame, and changed the recording industry forever.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was like no album before it.  The songs showed great imagination.  The recordings were extremely innovative in their topics, the instrumentation, and the way they were recorded.  There were no breaks between the album tracks, and some songs flowed directly into another.  For the first time, all the lyrics were printed right on the album cover.  It was 1967, and Sgt. Pepper launched a new age of how artists and fans looked at albums as whole works of art, instead of just a collection of songs.  In fact, The Beatles didn’t release any of the tracks as singles, and didn’t include the two hits they recorded during the album sessions…“Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”.  The album held #1 on the Billboard Top 200 for 15 weeks, and remains the best-selling album of the 1960s.  You might even remember that Johnny Rivers’ hit song “Summer Rain” contained the line… “Everybody kept on playing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.  They still do.

The first #1 song of the new decade in 1970 was “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, and the album Bridge Over Troubled Water was not only #1, it became the best-selling album of all time (at that time).  It also contained the hits “The Boxer”, “Cecilia” and “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)”.  It went on to win six Grammy Awards, including Album Of The Year.  The album boasted a variety of musical styles, including World Music, which foreshadowed Paul Simon’s solo career.

Carole King’s Tapestry set a new standard for female artists, and helped lead the singer-songwriter movement of the 70s.  Her 1971 album topped the chart for 15 consecutive weeks and stayed on the Top 200 chart for a record number of weeks (318, 6-years)…broken later by one of our other blockbuster albums.  Tapestry also had a two-sided #1 single “It’s Too Late” and “I Feel The Earth Move” which spent five weeks at the peak of the Hot 100.  Carole wrote or co-wrote all of the songs, including “You’ve Got A Friend”, which she kindly allowed James Taylor to release, and it also went to #1.  Tapestry is the third of our albums to receive the Grammy Award for Album Of The Year.

Also in 1971, but on the other side of the Rock spectrum was Led Zeppelin IV.  At the time, the title of the album was just the band’s name, but the Roman numeral was added for clarity.  Although the album “only” made it to #2, it went on to be among the very best-selling albums of all time and a major influence on the Hard Rock genre.  It’s filled with popular songs, including “Stairway To Heaven”, “Rock And Roll”, “Black Dog”, and the folk-style “Going To California”.

A true blockbuster album, The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd was released in 1973.  Although the album only hit #1 for one week, it became the dominant album in terms of longevity.  It was on the Billboard 200 album chart for over 15 years, a total of 741 nonconsecutive weeks.  No other album is close.  Dark Side is one of the best-selling albums of all time, and is always among the highest ranked in any list of best Rock albums.  Popular songs on the album include “Money”, “Time”, and “Us And Them”.

Welcome to the Hotel California.  It was released in December of 1976, and was an immediate success in sales, critically, and on the album chart, with eight weeks at #1.  It contained the #1 hit singles “New Kid In Town” & “Hotel California”.   “Life In The Fast Lane” would probably have made #1 too if it hadn’t contained an expletive.  In recent years Hotel California has ranked as high as number three on the all time best sellers list.  The title song won Record Of The Year at the Grammy Awards, but lost the Album Of The Year Grammy to our next blockbuster.

Just two months after the Eagles’ best album came out, Fleetwood Mac released their best…Rumours.  It was a phenomenon, spending a total of 31 weeks at #1.  The album was filled with great songs, and FM stations played nearly all of them.  Tracks included “Dreams” #1, “Don’t Stop”, “Go Your Own Way”, “The Chain”, “You Make Loving Fun”, and “Gold Dust Woman”.  Rumours was certified 21x platinum in the U.S. alone with worldwide sales estimated at about double that.  Just last year (2023, 46 years after its release), it was the 9th highest selling album on vinyl.

Born In The U.S.A. is the only Classic Rock album to put seven songs into the Top-10 of the Billboard singles chart.  In 1984 and 1985, Bruce Springsteen was all over the radio, and his videos were heavily featured on MTV.  Besides the title song, the biggest hits were “Dancing In The Dark”, “Cover Me”, “I’m On Fire”, “Glory Days” and “My Hometown”.  Bruce never had another album that was even close in popularity to this blockbuster, which is estimated to have sold over 30-million copies worldwide.

Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms was the album that transitioned music into the digital age.  It was the first major album to be all digitally recorded.  It was also the album that helped consumers move from vinyl records to compact discs.  The record came out first, and then when the CD was released, listeners found out the songs were more complete.  The tracks had been edited down for the vinyl, because of the time restrictions of the format.  For quite some time, Brothers In Arms was the biggest selling CD.  The hit songs included “Money For Nothing” (the MTV Video Of The Year for 1985), “So Far Away”, and “Walk Of Life”.

Honorable Mentions:

These albums were blockbusters too, but not quite at the impact level of the others.  They range in order from 1969 to 1986.  There are many other great and influential Classic Rock albums that could be added to these, but by the late 1980s Rock’s prominence started to lessen.  Classic Rock albums dominated from about 1965 to 1986, even though we’ve had many excellent albums since that time.

Here are the statistics.  In the 1960s, 8 of the top 10 selling albums were Rock.  In the 1970s it was 7 of 10.  The 1980s, 4 of 10.  And by the 1990s, only 1 of the top 10 selling albums was Rock.

Maybe every generation feels the same way about their music, but it was great experiencing the golden age of Classic Rock as the albums were being released.

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