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10 Important Albums in Hard Rock

January 6, 2017

For those about to hard-rock, we salute you. For this list we're only going to look at albums and artists that fall within the boundaries of hard rock. So more metal-rooted albums and prog-rock affairs won't be on here

#10: “Alive!” (1975) - KISS

Monumentally huge even today, Kiss’s early days were more Detroit "Slum City" than Detroit Rock City. Despite a strong, loyal fan base and a hot as all hell live show, KISS wasn't exactly raking in the album sales. Fans felt the band didn’t sound the same on vinyl as they did on stage. That feedback led to the 16 track, four sided double album Alive! Containing all the band’s early hits, it’s up for debate how much of Alive!  is *really* “live.” Even with the possible tinkering on the album, it has still become an important piece of hard rock history

#9: “Machine Head” (1972) - Deep Purple

Deep Purple had tons of problems recording this now classic album. They booked the casino in Montreux, Switzerland as a recording venue, but it burned to the ground! The guys then took to the Pavilion Theater, memorializing the burning of the casino with “Smoke on the Water.” Unfortunately, they thrown out not long after arriving, due to noise complaints and had to set up in the Grand Hotel. The result was a British chart topper and a near global top 10 album. Bassist Roger Glover would make an equally influential album with Rainbow’s Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll half a decade later.

#8: “Who’s Next” (1971) - The Who

Four albums into their career, The Who found themselves without a core audience – most of their fans were within the by now extinct mod-movement. Guitarist Pete Townshend attempted to best the ground breaking Tommy with an extravagant production called “Lifehouse.” However, after a near-nervous breakdown, the project was scrapped, and out of its ashes emerged Who’s Next. Armed with an awesome Gretsch guitar gifted to him by Joe Walsh, Townshend and company scrapped together what is widely considered their finest studio album.

#7: “Back In Black” (1980) - AC/DC

The follow up to '79’s “Highway to Hell” was make it or break it for the band. The recent death of vocalist Bon Scott was just one of the problems they faced down. Tax issues influenced their decision to record in the Bahamas. Meanwhile, the band’s gear was held up in customs, storms caused power outages in the studio, and one session was even interrupted by a crab! Still the album sits at 22x Platinum status, and sat on the charts for 131 weeks. That proved you can’t kill AC/DC.

#6: “Pyromania” (1983) - Def Leppard

Gunter Glieben Glauchen Globen! While Pyromania’s sales of 10 million albums would be dwarfed by the group’s next release Hysteria, this album paved the way for that monster. More importantly, it put Def Leppard and their brand of rock on the map. Produced by 80s hard rock master Mutt Lange, the album marked the introduction of co-guitarist Phil Collen. The album is considered (arguably) to be not only the best Def Leppard has to offer..

#5: “Appetite for Destruction” (1987) - Guns N’ Roses

GN’R exploded on the scene with this masterpiece that was less hairspray and more heart than its hair metal peers. Loaded with huge hits like “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and considered to be the best selling debuts of all time, Appetite took nearly a full year to hit the top of the Billboard charts. But it made up for that slow burn with four weeks at number one and a quoted 30 million units sold. Imagine how well it would have done if “November Rain” had made the cut, as originally planned.

#4: “Blizzard of Ozz” (1980) - Ozzy Osbourne

After being dismissed from Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne had a thing or two to prove with his debut solo album. Ironically, the album wasn’t meant to be an Ozzy record at all. Instead, Blizzard of Ozz was meant to be the name of the band he assembled during the writing and rehearsal phases. One of only two albums recorded with the late, great Randy Rhoads on guitar, the album gave us great songs like “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley.” Decades later, it is still Ozzy’s best selling solo album. The song below was from Ozzy playing it live on TV here in Rochester in '81

#3: “Van Halen” (1978) - Van Halen

Van Halen's self-titled debut left a permanent mark on electric guitar playing. Eddie Van Halen wasn’t the first to use the two-hand tapping guitar style, but he was certainly the first to bank on it – literally. Backed by songs like “Runnin’ with the Devil” “Jamie’s Cryin’“ and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” the album has sold upwards of 10 million copies since its release. Changing the way musicians look at the electric guitar, Van Halen stunned audiences and critics by creating an energetic debut album that would stand the test of time.

#2: “Black Sabbath” (1970) - Black Sabbath

Picking up where Cream left off, this may very well be the moment that hard rock became heavy metal. Recorded in just 12 hours, Black Sabbath – the song, the album, and the band – intrigued the masses who pushed sales up to land the album at #8 on the UK charts and 23 on Billboard. Due to an accident that cost him his fingertips Tony Iommi was forced to use lower guitar tunings and simpler chords creating a heavier sound than his peers. Released on Friday the 13th, the album is also notable for adding occult and fantasy elements to the metal lexicon.

Before we get to the top pick here, you know how I feel about honorable mentions - 

– “Rocks” (1976) - Aerosmith

– “Shout at the Devil” (1983) - Mötley Crüe

– “Slippery When Wet” (1986)  - Bon Jovi

– “World Wide Live” (1985) - The Scorpions

– “Slide It In” (1984) - Whitesnake

– “Operation: Mind Crime” (1988) - Queensrÿche

#1: “Led Zeppelin II” (1969) - Led Zeppelin

Selling 400k copies in advance sales, Led Zeppelin II topped both the American and UK charts. Released just months after Led Zeppelin I, II was a monumental moment in hard rock. Recording wherever they could in whatever studio happened to be open, Zeppelin was able to hold onto a sound that was brimming with raw energy. “Whole Lotta Love” gave fans Zeppelin’s signature overdriven blues. “Heartbreaker” set the basics of guitar-shredding. And songs like “Ramble On” saw “The Lord of the Rings” used as a lyrical source, a trend they would continue on Led Zeppelin IV and would embarrass Robert Plant years later.