Arts and Entertainment

Celebrating 50 Years of These Groundbreaking Rock Albums

Some of the most influential and classic rock albums that turn 50 this year.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Joanna Meng

The 1970s was an era of innovation and experimentation within music, with an explosion of creativity that enabled soul, R&B, disco, punk, country rock, and electric rock to carve their places in the music world. During the first half of the decade, rock bands such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath were at the height of their international fame as they released their most popular and influential albums. This year marks the 50th anniversary of several of these classic rock albums, and their impact on history and music is undeniable.

“Led Zeppelin IV” by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album is arguably the greatest rock album ever made, reshaping the band’s sound and legacy forever with its phenomenal genre fusion. The album impeccably defined the style of ‘70s hard rock while incorporating heavy metal, folk, pure rock & roll, and the blues throughout its eight tracks. To spite critics questioning the legitimacy of the band, the cover art does not feature an official title or the band’s name. Yet, the album is undoubtedly their most popular, selling over 35 million copies. The most notable track in this timeless album is the ubiquitous “Stairway to Heaven,” an eight minute song with mystical lyrics, catchy guitar riffs, and a breathtaking build-up. The song introduced elements into music that were previously unheard, such as a transition from acoustic to electric instrumentation as the song progressed. From the album’s explosive opening track “Black Dog” to sludge-filled “When the Levee Breaks,” “Led Zeppelin IV” does not fail to remain a prominent landmark in rock.

“Master of Reality” by Black Sabbath

Through their third studio album, “Master of Reality,” Black Sabbath released the band’s most vital work by creating stoner rock and doom metal. Doom metal, the extreme subgenre of heavy metal, was the byproduct of Tony Iommi, who tuned his guitar down so that it would be easier for him to play with injured fingers. As a result, tracks such as “Children of the Grave,” “Into the Void,” and “Lord of This World” were tuned down three semitones, creating the album’s atmosphere of depressive dread. Furthermore, the most obvious precursor for the stoner metal genre comes from “Sweet Leaf,” which is started by Iommi’s cough, the result of a joint handed to him by Ozzy Osbourne in the midst of recording. This accidental stumble into new music territory inspired many modern bands and artists of rock and metal such as Metallica, Electric Wizard, and Matt Pike, who now attribute their sound and popularity to this album.

“Hunky Dory” by David Bowie

“Hunky Dory” is widely regarded as one of David Bowie’s finest achievements for its vast array of musical styles tied under a theme of ambiguous sexuality. With the release of “Hunky Dory,” Bowie took a radical change from his previous hard rock and metal style to challenge tradition and reinvent himself with a coy blend of folk, pop, and rock. Some of his most timeless works such as “Life on Mars?” and “Changes” are found in this album, making “Hunky Dory” a true rock classic. Furthermore, this album marked the beginning of Bowie’s role as a preeminent glitter rock performer. Glitter rock is more energetic and playful than other rock subgenres, and its musicians wear outrageous costumes, makeup, and hairstyles. David Bowie’s transition did not go unnoticed, as it prompted a widespread shift from hard rock and metal to glitter rock that influenced groups such as Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, Clash, Devo, and more.

“Killer” by Alice Cooper

With the album “Killer,” Alice Cooper became one of the world’s top rock bands and concert attractions. Full of irresistible pop melodies and punchy hard rock, singles “Under My Wheels” and “Be My Lover” both landed on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Each song has a unique feel, yet is united under a cohesive theme: nearly every song is about a killer. “Under My Wheels” is about a man who fantasizes about running over his nagging girlfriend with a car, while “Halo of Flies” is dedicated to Jim Morrison, a singer in the rock band L.A. Woman who died four months prior to the album’s release but also tells the story of a serial killer in the Wild West era. “Killer” is about a killer asking to be granted justice, and “Dead Babies” is an anti-parental abuse warning in which parents kill their child through their own neglect. In “Dead Babies,” for example, the band’s theatrics heavily dealt with macabre, with baby dolls being stabbed and tortured repeatedly. The grating subject compelled some grown-ups to despise the album and the band itself, but the group’s heavy rock style both inspired and astonished many teens throughout the years.