10 best Rock & Roll Hall of Fame albums of the 1970s

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The 1960s did a lot musically, from The Beatles to Woodstock to establishing the album era. But the 1970s took things to next level, bringing rock and roll to stadiums while creating the sound of the 21st century. Virtually every genre you love either took shape or was elevated to unprecedented new heights during the decade. 


Among other things, Heavy metal and punk became creative forces, R&B became more substantial in subject matter and sound and electronic music changed pop music. And it was all about the albums.


This list isn’t a straightforward countdown of the best albums of the 1970s. It seeks to name the best release from each individual year based on quality, impact, and influence. We also put things in the context of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, meaning only releases from artists who have been inducted into the Rock Hall (in any capacity) were eligible. 


That left landmark albums from the likes of Brian Eno, Joy Division, Television, Jethro Tull, and others on the sidelines. As always, this is just one person’s opinion. So, let the debate begin.

Bruce Springsteen – “Darkness on the Edge of Town”

In 1978, Van Halen dropped its debut, Elvis Costello hit a new peak with “This Year’s Model” and The Cars’ delivered a slice of perfect new wave and power pop. But we’re going with The Boss.


“Darkness on the Edge of Town” is as iconic as any of those albums while establishing a personal connection with its fans that’s hard to match. If “Born to Run” is about chasing the American dream, “Darkness on the Edge of Town” is about the reality that comes with failing to get there. Hardship is always more relatable and songs like “Something in the Night,” “Badlands,” “The Promised Land” and the amazing title track still hit hard.

Ramones - “Ramones”

There were certainly more ambitious albums than Ramones’ debut in 1976. Consider Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life,” the most ambitious effort from the decade’s most ambitious artist, or “Hotel California,” one of the best-selling albums of all time cloaked in mystique.


And yet, the minimalistic nature was the appeal of “Ramones.” Rock and roll had become bloated by the time the decade’s second half rolled around. Everything felt so “Look at me!” “Ramones” was the opposite – a back-to-basics, stripped-down masterwork that didn’t need any bells and whistles to make it great.


The other stellar albums of 1976 were sweeping and influential. But in establishing the genre of pop-punk, “Ramones” forever changed hard rock, influencing the genres of heavy metal, thrash metal, post-punk, power pop and indie rock.

Bob Dylan - “Blood on the Tracks”

This was the toughest year to deal with. Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti” and Patti Smith’s “Horses” are all towering achievements. Not to mention Queen’s “A Night at the Opera,” “Parliament’s “Mothership Connection,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World” or Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic.” We could go on.



But 1975 was truly a two-horse race between Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks.” “Born to the Run” feels like a bigger album than “Blood on the Tracks.” It’s what you think about first when you think about Springsteen’s legacy. And yet, there’s no getting away from the emotional weight of “Blood on the Tracks.” Dylan’s early 1970s work wasn’t exactly earth-shattering. Not only was “Blood on the Tracks” a comeback of sorts, but it was also Dylan opening the door to his soul more than ever.


His confessional songwriting was less peculiar and more personal. This is close. On “Born to Run,” Springsteen entices you to fall in love with the idea of the American dream. But on “Blood on the Tracks,” Dylan makes you fall in love with his pain and heartache with relative ease.

Fleetwood Mac "Rumors"

Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” had long ago entered the territory of other universally listened to rock albums like AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and Eagles’ “Hotel California” where you’re tired of hearing about how good it is. But never let that take away from its genius.


For a while, “Rumours” felt overshadowed by the drama that inspired it. Fleetwood Mac was its own soap opera, far more interesting than anything you’d see on daytime television. But the magic of the album is witnessing all that play out in brilliant musical form. “Rumours” sounds like an amazing pop record because it is. But it’s also emotionally scarring.


You’re just as likely to catch someone putting it on a party as you are a person playing it alone in their room after a tragic breakup. If you want some indie cred, go with David Bowie’s “Low” as the album of 1976 (few would blame you) or point to one of the genre-defining projects from The Sex Pistols, Bee Gees or Bob Marley. But nothing else fully sounds like “Rumours,” a combination of drama and music so rich it still blows your mind.

The Stooges - “Fun House”

Everything you need to know about “Fun House” is right there on the cover – a swaggering Iggy Pop swirling around in a red liquid that conjures up the inside of a volcano or, perhaps more appropriately, hell. “The Stooges” self-titled debut album was groundbreaking. But the band wasn’t much of a studio act.


Switching things from producer John Cale to Don Gallucci, who played keyboard for The Kingsmen, for the second effort made all the difference. Gallucci realized The Stooges were at their best in a live setting and sought to capture that on “Funhouse.” It helps that Ron Asheton’s guitar playing had become more menacing and drummer Scott Asheton and bassist Dave Alexander had become a ferocious rhythm section.


But the key is, of course, Iggy. To say he was a little timid on The Stooges’ debut be a bit of an overstatement. But, on “Fun House,” Iggy is fully unhinged. His screams drive every track. It’s hard to believe The Stooges even made another album after this. It feels like Iggy leaves everything he has on songs like “Loose,” “T.V. Eye” and “1970.”


There’s no question “Fun House” is The Stooges’ greatest album. But is it the best album of 1970? Fans of heavy metal will cry foul (and maybe rightfully so) in favor of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” Others will contend that “After the Gold Rush” serves as the finest showcase of Neil Young’s genius (Though, that may have come a year earlier on “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”). Then there’s Miles Davis’ highly influential “Bitches Brew” that pioneered jazz-rock.


You can’t go wrong with any of those choices. But “Fun House’s” impact on hard rock can’t be overstated. The Sex Pistols and Ramones would emerge later in the decade, driven by their love of The Stooges’ sound. A countless number of bands – Black Flag, Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N’ Roses, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, etc. — would follow suit in the decades that followed. What was once dismissed as something too raw and primal, now sits as a work of unparalleled hard-rock genius.

Sly and the Family Stone - “There’s a Riot Goin’ On”

Even if you haven’t seen Apple TV+’s recent documentary “1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything,” you can guess from the title that we’re dealing with, arguably, the greatest year in music history. That’s especially true from an album standpoint.


The Allman Brothers’ “At Fillmore East,” Carole King’s “Tapestry;” David Bowie’s “Hunky Dory,” The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers,” T. Rex’s “Electric Warrior,” The Velvet Underground’s “Loaded,” Janis Joplin’s “Pearl” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” are all undisputed masterpieces. And yet, none of them even make our “Other contenders” section for 1971 (which is sure to make a lot of people angry). 


That’s because there are at least a handful of albums from the year you could argue as being the greatest rock and roll album of all time. It’s almost cliché at this point to say Led Zeppelin’s fourth album is the band’s greatest work. But it’s hard to argue considering how big – both in sound and historical weight – the album is.


The Who took its artful rock to the mainstream on “Who’s Next,” laying the blueprint for hard rock to become a stadium showcase that could incorporate synths. Marvin Gaye sent the benchmark for protest albums while pioneering R&B studio techniques on “What’s Going On.” Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” is a psychedelic odyssey that pushed funk, soul, and rock into even more progressive territory. Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” is the confessional album to end all confessional albums, putting her in rarified singer-songwriter territory previously only occupied by Bob Dylan.

And yet, our choice for the greatest album of 1971 is “There’s a Riot Goin’ On.” Sly and the Family Stone’s landmark album is the embodiment of post-1960s America.


Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison were all gone. Sentiment on the Vietnam War had turned. The Civil Rights Movement had pushed the country in a new direction but wasn’t without its casualties. “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” is an album soaked in drugs and exhaustion.


A band that had given the world some of the best party anthems had become disillusioned with the state of the world. Sly Stone was falling deeper and deeper into addiction at this point, but also losing all sense of the idealism he harnessed in the 1960s. It would be easy to get lost in the album’s murky nature. Instead, you become consumed by it. There’s an unbridled honesty to “There’s a Riot Going On” that, with respect to the other amazing releases, makes it the truest statement of 1971.

The Rolling Stones - “Exile on Main Street”

The comedown from 1971 is rather epic. How do you even compete with a year like that? And yet, we have The Rolling Stone’s “Exile on Main Street” in 1972.

If you took a poll of Stones fans, “Exile on Main Street” might fall short of “Sticky Fingers” as the band’s best album. But it eventually became the critic’s choice (even though it was panned upon its release) as well as an album soaked in so much mythology with how it was made (It truly is yet another amazing product of 1971).


“Exile” doesn’t have the flashy songs The Rolling Stones’ other classic albums have. “Tumbling Dice” might be the only song that sticks out as a pop-savvy single. But “Exile’s” appeal lies in its cohesiveness and expansive nature. The album finds The Stones’ embracing gospel and soul more than ever. But it’s also a bleaker effort where tracks weave into each other for an intoxicating experience.


There are two 1972 albums from Rock and Roll Hall of Famers that can hold their own with “Exile on Main Street.” Miles Davis’ “On the Corner” is, perhaps, the most astonishing statement of his career, while “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” remains David Bowie’s signature album. But “Exile on Main Street” is The Stones at their peak powers. Hard to top that.

Stevie Wonder - “Innervisions”

No artist could match Stevie Wonder’s run in the 1970s. You could put three or four of his albums from the decade on this list.

Inspired by Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Wonder began exploring more substantial material in his songwriting in the 1970s. “Innervisions” is the culmination of that with the most personal and socially conscious songs of Wonder’s career.

And while it tackles heavier subject matter, “Innervisions” is far from a drag.

Just look at the mesmerizing singles “Higher Ground,” “Living for the City” and “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing.” Wonder weaves his way in and out of various genres, including soul, funk, rock, jazz, Latin music and even hip hop (“Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing” would foreshadow the art of the rap skit).

And on the biggest and brightest songs, it’s Wonder playing almost everything, right down to the handclaps, showcasing a level of talent that wouldn’t be seen again until Prince arrived on the scene.

We could have made this easy on ourselves with rock fans, choosing instead to go with Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” That iconic album has only grown in stature since its release.

But the influence of “Innervisions” on soul music and Wonder’s craftsmanship gives it the slightest of edges.

Joni Mitchel - “Court and Spark”

“Court and Spark” lacks the rawness Joni Mitchell’s early albums, which was a big part of their appeal. But there’s a reason this was her commercial peak. “Court and Spark” is a mature album both in subject matter and sound. Mitchell seems to have a better understanding of romance, which makes her songwriting all the more informative and authoritative. She’s also backed by L.A. Express, which, coupled with stellar production, gives her songs layers a listener can peal back.


Truth be told, there are no less than 20 albums (both by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees and snubs) you could make a case for as the best of 1973. We nearly went with Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” given its influence on pop music to this day. There was also Neil Young’s endlessly enjoyable “On the Beach” and what may very well be Genesis’ greatest album “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.” Yet, while “Blue” may be Joni Mitchell’s greatest album.


 There’s no reason she can’t take a top spot in another year with another classic. “Court and Spark” is more pop than folk and it’s all the more

appealing because of it.

The Clash - “London Calling”

Finishing out the 1970s wasn’t as easy as it may seem. First, we had to determine if The Clash’s “London Calling” qualified for 1979 (when it was released in the UK) or 1980 (when it was released in the United States). We went with the former.

Next, we had to determine whether or not “London Calling” is a better album than Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” and Talking Heads’ “Fear of Music.” It is.


The Clash moved punk rock and its aesthetic into art-rock territory. It’s also one of the most eclectic rock and roll albums of all time with elements of punk, reggae, jazz, R&B, ska, and heavier rock.


“London Calling’s” wide-ranging styles coupled with the fact that nearly every song functions as a forceful anthem make The Clash’s third a masterpiece. Quite simply, no one had ever done anything like this before.


Truth be told, there are no less than 20 albums (both by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees and snubs) you could make a case for as the best of 1973. We nearly went with Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” given its influence on pop music to this day. There was also Neil Young’s endlessly enjoyable “On the Beach” and what may very well be Genesis’ greatest album “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.” Yet, while “Blue” may be Joni Mitchell’s greatest album.


 There’s no reason she can’t take a top spot in another year with another classic. “Court and Spark” is more pop than folk and it’s all the more

appealing because of it.


Credits: Troy L. Smith – Cleveland.com / https://www.cleveland.com/