The 11 Most Essential Rock 'n' Roll Albums (with which to begin a collection)

Let’s say you have a nephew–I actually have two and a niece, but the rest of this is imagined–and he comes to you one day and says that some of the other kids at school know a lot more about rock ‘n’ roll than he does. And not just the current stuff, whatever that may be, but all kinds of classic bands and albums.

I suppose you could then recommend that he too begin playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band, but if you really want to be a good uncle, perhaps you would buy the kid some cornerstone albums with which to begin a collection–and a musical education. And not just a collection of digital files, but actual CDs (if not vinyl records) so he gains some appreciation for album art, can read the lyrics and somewhat understand the cohesion and sequencing that once defined an album.

Being that this is Booth Reviews–where “ours go to 11”–you would select the 11 albums you believe are most crucial as a reference point to rock history. Certainly, your choices would reflect your personal preferences, but perhaps different than simply your favorite albums or your “Desert Island Discs,” these would represent works that contain a significant amount of import, influence and even universality. (i.e. While I might subsequently turn my nephew onto Brit-centric masterpieces like Shazam by The Move, All Mod Cons by The Jam, The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths, Parklife by Blur and Word Gets Around by the Stereophonics, I understand that they are far too obscure in America to be considered among the “most essential” in terms of a fundamental rock education.)

If you want to play along and comment with your picks of “The 11 Most Essential Rock Albums with which to begin a collection,” you’re certainly at liberty to define “rock” as broadly as you like, and include artists associated with country, blues, R&B, folk, funk, disco, soul and even jazz genres. But perhaps more in line with my own tastes, I kept to surmising this as a mainstream rock tutorial. And I also kept to the following criteria:

– Only studio albums are allowed. No live albums or compilations were considered, except for artists whose work was predominantly created before 1960, as cohesive albums weren’t typical in the pioneering days of rock

– Only one album per artist is allowed

Before the gallery of my top 11, shown in roughly chronological order rather than ranked by importance or favor, I’ll first cite my second 11; those that didn’t quite make the cut:

Elvis Presley – self-titled
Chuck Berry – The Great Twenty-Eight
Buddy Holly – From the Original Master Tapes
Beach Boys – Pet Sounds

The Kinks – The Village Green Preservation Society
The Doorsself-titled
David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon

Van Halen – self-titled
AC/DC – Back in Black
– Reckoning

And now, the 11 albums I would buy my nephew to begin a rock ‘n’ roll collection…

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  • I'd get rid of Bruce Springstein and add The Eagles, but otherwise a good list.

  • Dylan "went electric" on Bringing It All Back Home, which came out earlier in 1965. But I would have gone with Blonde on Blonde.

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    Bringing It All Back Home AND Blonde on Blonde are huge omissions - they're both far more important than the U2 and The Who selections. BD changed rock and roll forever.

  • Okay, not to sound too "pc" but with the exception of Hendrix, strikes me as a bit "white" perhaps? And no women? Sorry but yes, I do feel any top 11 does need to be broader, especially at the outset you mentioned "rock 'n' roll" and not just "rock" (and yes, I did see that Chuck Berry made your next 11). To encourage my nephew to be more, shall we say "open minded" to a range of musics -- or maybe a bit hipper than his friends -- how about: Marvin Gaye "What's Going On" or Sly & Family Stone "There's A Riot Goin' On" or James Brown "Live at The Apollo" or Otis Redding "Dock of the Bay" or Aretha Franklin "Lady Soul" or Dusty Springfield "Dusty in Memphis" Or, if he does not want to be a geek the rest of his life: get a sixties Motown collection that anyone under the age of 70 can dance to and Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" which is required late night listening for anyone.

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    The Allman Brothers at The Fillmore East is a classic Live album that has never since captured the essence of what American Rock combined with Rhythm and Blues was. It should have been there on two counts; technical ability to capture a live sound with feeling, as well as what was at the time, 1971, the heaviest U.S. band going. Surprised too nothing from Janis Joplin or Neil Young. Otherwise an acceptable time tell your nephew he needs 20 to get a great collection going.

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