Lewis’ Top Rock Albums

Mr. Edwards chimes in with his favourite hard rockin’ records. 

What are your favourites? Please strike back below.

Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)

Released in January 1970, Black Sabbath’s debut album was a monumental record release that consummated the development of post-Led Zepp hard rock and perfected a whole new sound for a generation. Lauded by many as perhaps the first true heavy metal album, Sabbath’s introduction into the musical sphere has been credited as pioneering such music genres as “doom metal,” “death metal,” and “stoner rock.” Between four ordinary men from the Black Country – Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward and Ozzy Osbourne – Sabbath (formally know as Earth) tore up the rulebook of rock ‘n’ roll and, in their own druggy state of consciousness, released a record containing some of metal’s most legendary songs. These include the eponymous “Black Sabbath,” “The Wizard” and “NIB.” Transfiguring blues and psychedelic rock into something more sinister and uglier, Sabbath’s characteristics of evil, paganism and cult worshipping accompanied their simple but incredibly effective use of pentatonic blues scales and swift power chords to create the 70’s most defining rock record.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)

During the 80s, the Red Hot Chili Peppers had contrived their own brand of alternative pop, punk and funk. Confidently progressing this contemporary sound through albums such as Freaky Styley, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan and Mothers Milk, it wasn’t until Blood Sugar Sex Magik – under legendary music producer Rick Rubin – that the Chilis finally found a groove that introduced them to worldwide popularity and critical acclaim. The album, whilst integrating their typical funk style, focused more on structure and melodically-driven songs, shifting away from the heavily distorted guitar riffs and slap-bass techniques of previous album Mothers Milk. Blood Sugar focused more on traditional and symphonic playing and expanded the Chili’s musical horizons and emotional range, blending soul-funk and a clear blues style with a raw and powerful tone.

Despite the release of the album in conjunction with the explosion of grunge music that captivated teenagers in the early 90s, Blood Sugar served as a step away from this newfangled musical revolution, proving to be a fundamental foundation for alternative rock and, in the process, soaring the band to unprecedented heights of success. Tracks including “The Power of Equality,” “Suck My Kiss,” “Give It Away,” and the emotional ballads “I Could Have Lied” and “Under the Bridge,” fully emphasise their unparalleled dexterity for genre-bending as well as defining Blood Sugar as a phenomenal record and a true advancement of modern rock.

Metallica – Ride the Lightning (1984)

Released in July 1984, Ride the Lightning was Metallica’s second album and the first to feature new lead guitarist Kirk Hammett after the dismissal of previous axe-wielder Dave Mustaine. Despite a music war that still rages on to this day as to which album is better – Master of Puppets or this – Ride the Lightning conquers due to the ability to induce melody and atmosphere into their thrash attire. Aggressively expanding their compositional techniques and range of expression, as well as distinguishing a change between every track, each composition on the album succeeds mightily. The record was a huge step for Metallica after their first, Kill Em’ All, and firmly established the band as the Four Horsemen of Metal.

The record commences with “Fight Fire with Fire,” freely displaying the band’s evolved and elaborate concentration on delivering a more harmonically-complex style. Throughout the record, the band’s individual and combined brilliance is evident especially in the Hemingway-inspired “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the energetic thrashers “Trapped Under Ice” and “Ride the Lightning,” the astounding instrumental “The Call of Ktulu” and, of course, the haunting power ballad “Fade to Black.” Beginning with an acoustic-driven minor key serenade, “Fade to Black” then proceeds to get slashed open by euphorically distorted guitars and climaxes with a fleeting, yet emotional solo. Featuring attributes such as maturity, melody, and above all, musical intelligence, Ride the Lightning delivered a broader metal scope for the band as well as developing the capacity and dimension of “Thrash Metal” forever.

Alice in Chains – Dirt (1991)

Alice in Chains’ second studio album Dirt was the band’s defining record and also their most successful. Focusing on themes such as depression, anger, war, and drug use, the Seattle-based band rose to international fame as part of the grunge movement in the early 1990s, alongside acts such as Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Prognostic in its intent and appeal, Dirt is a major artistic statement delivering a musical masterpiece and producing one of the most harrowing concept albums ever recorded. Even considering its dark nature, Dirt is heinously unadorned, similarly resembling the haunted landscape of its cover art and holding out no sense of utopia or belief for its protagonists. (Aside from “Rooster” perhaps, a survival story in tribute to guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s Vietnam-vet father.) However, Dirt compensates for its demeaning themes and values by its acute focus and musical direction. Despite being placed in the bracket of grunge bands of their generation, Alice in Chains infused metal and punk qualities into their music, which was embraced by fans of all three genres.

Marketed as the most metal of the Seattle bands, Alice In Chains, whilst refusing to acknowledge any genre labels thrown their way, instead churned out some the finest alternative metal songs including “Would,” “Down in a Hole” and “Them Bones.” Technical abilities of the members shine throughout, contributing almost equally to the aptitude and dynamism of the experience. However, the highest approval centres on Layne Staley and Cantrell’s combination to create such a surreal and disturbing atmosphere on the album, with possibly one of the greatest ever examples of two singers perfectly harmonising together to create a discomforting tableau of pain and suffering.

Dirt spawned five top thirty singles and remained in the charts for over a year, and is widely considered as one of the greatest albums of the 90s.

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II (1969)

During the late 60s, Led Zeppelin had become the biggest band on the planet. They had progressed to nothing short of a sensation with fans and critics alike with their phenomenal live shows, exaggerated arrogance and debauching off-stage antics that had erupted into legendary status. Led Zeppelin II, released in 1969, emerged with a tighter, heavier and more polished effort than their debut release, but still remained true as well as amplifying Jimmy Page’s musical vision. Mostly written and recorded in between touring commitments, the album introduces Robert Plant’s advanced assertion as a songwriter and gave birth to the Page-Plant writing partnership that would contribute to the bulk of Led Zepp’s songs. Zeppelin II commences with the menacing riffage of “Whole Lotta Love,” and from then on, the album is nothing short of a masterpiece. Despite Page being the dominant instrumentalist in the band, throughout the record each member effortlessly conveys their unique talents as well as the impeccable chemistry between the foursome.

John Paul Jones’ soft keyboards and Plant’s tender voice on “Thank You” can only be described as pulchritudinous, and the two-minute John Bonham drum solo featured on “Moby Dick” still leaves the listener completely exhausted. Among the record’s most distinguished attributes are the avant-garde mid-sections of certain songs such as “Heartbreaker,” and “Whole Lotta Love” featuring some of the most advanced studio experimentation of the time. The band, along with engineer Eddie Kramer who had previously collaborated with Jimi Hendrix, were able to create mystical and unearthly sounds in the middle of rhythmic songs, something that had not been attempted before in mainstream rock and roll. Despite Black Sabbath establishing the genre of heavy metal, Led Zeppelin II has been cited as the blueprint for heavy metal and hard rock that many bands have pursued. With guitar-infused riffs rather than a vocal chorus or a verse  defining the record’s signature and sound, Zeppelin influenced a whole host of rock acts including Guns N’ Roses and Aerosmith.

Since its release, the album has been acknowledged as one of the most decisive and influential rock records, and has sold nearly thirteen million copies worldwide. In a nutshell, Led Zeppelin II is forty minutes of rock history; a fundamental listening experience that should not be missed by any fan of rock of the genre.

Pearl Jam – Ten (1992)

Following the disbanding of previous group Mother Love Bone, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard enlisted drummer Dave Krusen, guitarist Mike McCready, and surfer fanatic Eddie Vedder on vocals for a new project. Consisting of experimental instrumental jams, Pearl Jam developed incredible camaraderie and fluidity in their playing and, with the addition of Vedder’s lyrics, the album sessions were completed within a month and Ten was unleashed. Released during the vanguard of the Seattle grunge incursion in 1991, Ten, whilst stagnant to begin with in shipping sales, soon caught the attention of young teenagers in their adolescent grunge state and became the band’s most successful album release, reaching number two on the Billboard Chart and selling over ten million copies. Despite competing with fellow grunge act Nirvana in a popularity contest they had little chance of winning, Pearl Jam produced a far superior and meritorious record, eclipsing anything Cobain and co could ever dream of exhibiting. Whilst Nirvana centred on Cobain’s broken dream, nurturing a juvenile attitude that everything and everybody was against him, Pearl Jam shined a spotlight on society and not themselves.

Despite not brandishing the cult of personality Nirvana showcased, Pearl Jam’s debut record ultimately surpassed them in every way – lyrically and technically. Ten conveys an introspective narrative and an emotionally larger-than-life rollercoaster ride, producing roaring innovative guitar work, majestic drums and bass, and wholehearted vocals. Tracks including “Once,” “Even Flow,” the beautiful ballad “Release,” and “Garden” showcase the record’s impressionistic lyrics, passionately delivered by Vedder. “Alive,” probably the album’s ultimate anthem, commences with a slow, methodical intro before being dominated by Vedder’s distinct and melodic crooning, concluding with one of rock’s most acclaimed and distinguished guitar solos.

Though not one of the most popular albums within the grunge movement, Ten certainly is the finest record to have been derived from that era of music. A near-perfect effort that pushed the boundaries of emotionally-charged rock in conventional music, Ten was instrumental in popularising alternative rock music in the mainstream, and is widely considered as one of the most important albums of its decade.

Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987)

Once in a generation, an album is released that changes the music world forever. A record that sticks two fingers up to the aristocracy and legitimately enjoys inflicting controversy and disruption throughout society. The 80s saw a fair few bands release memorable rock albums; Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, Van Halen’s 1984, Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard Of Ozz, and Def Leppard’s Hysteria. However, none of them captured the attention and limelight like Appetite For Destruction. Released in 1987, Guns N’ Roses’ debut was a monster record, showcasing a band far beyond a force of nature. If the technologies of the Internet had existed back then, it would be a fair estimate that mass communication would have imploded under their incredible popularity. Guns were beyond a collection of simple misfits with an adolescent and immature approach to life. They were five extremely skilled musicians driven by fame, women and success. Singer Axl Rose, like most geniuses, had and still has an astounding array of issues and flaws. However, his were so crippling and relentless that they perfectly illustrated what a single-minded, obstinate and abhorrent prick looks like. It was these problems that define him but he is also partly responsible for one of the greatest hard rock album of all time.

Appetite delved listeners into a booze-soaked, sexed-up and smack-addled tour of Sunset Strip and the LA rock underground. It could be the most “Rock N’ Roll” album of its genre, exhibiting the clichéd traits of sex, drugs and rocking to the absolute max. The record captured the genre in all its extravagant, reckless and preposterous glory. Full of anger and furious aggression, mainly down to Axl Rose furiously spitting out degrading tales of LA with sharp-tongued wit, Appetite was a compelling, addictive and uncompromising masterpiece, holding fixated teenagers across the globe hostage due to its terrorising sense of belief. Steven Adler’s thunderous drumming, Duff MacKagen’s solid and free-flowing bass grooves, and the masterly duelling guitar performances of Izzy Stradlin and Slash spectacularly transformed the hard rock movement of the 80s.

With the release of the album, Guns were expected to become the Led Zeppelin of their generation. However, six years after its release, they failed to live up to that prospect and the original line-up was consigned to history. Despite this, Appetite For Destruction lives on as a memoir of the sleazy LA underground. Widely regarded as the greatest rock album of all time, comprising of some of the genre’s most popular anthems (“Welcome to the Jungle,” “Paradise City” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine”), Appetite For Destruction has become one of the most successful debuts ever, selling in excess of thirty million copies worldwide.

Jeff Buckley – Grace (1994)

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In August 1994, Jeff Buckley released his debut full-length album Grace. The son of fellow singer/songwriter Tim Buckley, he mixed folk, jazz and alternative rock to unimaginable brilliance. After over a decade of working as a session guitarist in Los Angeles, Buckley began amassing a small following due to a prominent focus on his own original material as well as frequent performances in New York. After signing with Columbia, he assembled a band featuring Mick Grondahl on bass and Matt Johnson on drums/percussion, recording Grace before going on tour around North America. Despite its impact at the time being far from impressive, the album introduced an extraordinary talent. Though Buckley was experiencing difficulties escaping the shadow of his late father, Grace acquainted audiences with a singular artistic genius, furnished with a wealth of potential. The eleven-track record is enthroned with moments of salient and seductive beauty, heavily influenced in its compositional cues from classic and psychedelic rock acts including Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

However, the most distinguishable aspect of Grace is Buckley’s astonishing voice. Endowed with a tenor vocal range, between three-and-a-half and four octaves, he made full use of this unique range. His abnormal decision to sing high notes for sustained periods was at the time seen as an unfamiliar feature of a rock singer. First track “Mojo Pin” depicts an equal balance of chaotic ferocity and beauty, and this deviation of irregular characteristics as well as exhilarating choruses and jangling chords are evident across the album, especially on tracks like “Grace”, “Dream Brother” and “Lover You Should Have Come Over.” However, the album peaks with mesmerising rocker “Eternal Life” and the poignant cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” two completely contrasting songs proving Buckley’s diversity. His powerful version of “Hallelujah” is seen as his most applauded work in mainstream music, and is probably the finest example of a cover song that is more associated and celebrated than the original performer. Cohen’s lyrical talent is undeniable but Buckley’s intense passion and audible pain on “Hallelujah” make his version his own.

Throughout Grace, Jeff Buckley showed incredible promise and potential, and was anticipated to become the next big singer/songwriter of the 90s. Had this come true, Buckley would surely have become as efficacious as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Van Morrison. Instead, three years after the release of his debut, Buckley drowned in the Wolf River Harder, Memphis, aged just thirty.

Lewis Edwards

Journalism graduate, sports enthusiast, musician, and writer.

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