25 Classic Albums That Defined the 70s Musical Landscape

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The music of the 1970s perfectly reflected a decade of massive change. The decade started with the deaths of prominent rock and roll icons Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. It ended with punk rock and disco ruling the charts. In between, there was a diverse selection of incredible, decade-defining albums.

1. Parallel Lines — Blondie (1978)

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With internationally popular songs such as “One Way or Another” and “Heart of Glass,” it's hard to believe that the members of Blondie were allegedly unhappy with the album's results.

2. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars — David Bowie (1972)

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David Bowie broke barriers with his glam rock work featuring Ziggy Stardust, his extraterrestrial alter ego. This rock opera about an androgynous alien rock star destined to save Earth entered the National Recording Registry in 2017.

3. The Payback – James Brown (1973)

The Payback – James Brown
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Despite landing the number one spot on the music charts and being embraced by fans, The Payback did not meet with the same critical success as his previous albums. Numerous rhythm and blues and rap artists have also sampled the title song.

4. Rumours – Fleetwood Mac (1977)

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The quintessential 70s album that continues to gain new fans, Rumours has some of the band's most memorable songs ever. With tracks like “Go Your Own Way,” “Dreams,” “You Make Loving Fun,” and “Don't Stop,” it's easy to see (and hear) why the album has endured.

5. Band of Gypsys — Jimi Hendrix (1970)

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Recorded eight months before his death, Hendrix's last full-length album is a masterclass of electric guitar virtuosity and experimentation. His sound can never be imitated or duplicated.

6. Off the Wall – Michael Jackson (1979)

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Michael Jackson recorded Off the Wall to craft a different sound outside The Jackson 5. A Grammy Hall of Fame inductee, the album has sold more than 20 million copies. Despite its commercial and critical successes, it was snubbed by the Grammys, a slight that purportedly incentivized Jackson to create Thriller.

7. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John (1973)

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It's hard to choose which Elton John album from the 1970s belongs on this list, but this award-winning album includes “Candle in the Wind,” “Bennie and the Jets,” and the title song, all but requiring its inclusion.

8. Pearl – Janis Joplin (1971)

Janis Joplin
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Janis Joplin's chart-topping opus was sadly released just a few months after her unexpected death. Propelled by songs like “Cry Baby,” “Me and Bobby McGee,” and “Mercedes Benz,” Joplin's only recording with the Full Tilt Boogie Band remains popular even today, with her songs used in commercials.

9. Tapestry – Carole King (1972)

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Besides the sheer number of charted hits, what distinguishes this work from most other albums is that every song was either co-written or written by King herself, an impressive accomplishment.

10. Physical Graffiti — Led Zeppelin (1975)

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Thanks to the experimentations with hard, acoustic, and soft rock,  Physical Graffiti has been certified Platinum (one million in album sales) 16 times over, a fantastic feat for a double album.

11. Imagine – John Lennon (1970)

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In his second solo album just months after the Beatles' breakup, John Lennon performed his defining song, “Imagine,” which became the best-selling song of his post-Beatles career. The song was also the basis of a 1988 documentary.

12. Exodus — Bob Marley and The Wailers (1977)

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Recorded in London after an attempt on his life in Jamaica caused him to flee his native country, this iconic reggae album revolves around politics, religion, and sexuality. It has classic tunes such as “Jamming,” “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” and “Three Little Birds,” all of which continue to receive airplay today.

13. The Dark Side of The Moon – Pink Floyd (1973)

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Easily the best-known and most recognizable of the Pink Floyd albums, and their eighth studio release, The Dark Side of the Moon, charted for an astonishing 980 weeks thanks to songs like “Money.”

14. A Night at the Opera — Queen (1975)

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Although the centerpiece of this album is the universally known “Bohemian Rhapsody,” A Night At the Opera was part of the 2018 class of inductees into the Grammy's Hall of Fame.

15. Ramones – Ramones (1976)

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The first album by the punk rock band The Ramones wasn't commercially successful at its release. Since then, it's become widely considered one of the best albums ever made and one of the most influential rock albums of that era.

16. Let It Be – The Beatles (1970)

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Hitting the charts shortly after the band split up, Let It Be was the Beatles‘ twelfth and final album and came with a companion documentary. Despite celebrated tracks such as “Let It Be,” “Maggie May,” “The Long and Winding Road,” and “Get Back,” the album was considered a critical flop.

17. Sticky Fingers — The Rolling Stones (1971)

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Propelled by hits like “Wild Horses” and “Brown Sugar,” Sticky Fingers was the first Rolling Stones studio album to make it to the top of the charts. It was also the first album released after the drowning death of Brian Jones.

18. Bridge Over Troubled Water — Simon and Garfunkel (1970)

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After enjoying commercial and critical success during the previous decade, this 1970 album was the last for the duo, who split shortly after it was released. The album included a cover of the Everly Brothers' “Bye Bye Love,” “The Boxer,” and the title song, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

19. There's a Riot Goin' On — Sly and the Family Stone (1971)

Sly & The Family Stone
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A more serious album than their earlier studio releases, There's A Riot Goin' On reflected the turbulence America was experiencing in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Considered one of the greatest albums ever, it boasted hits such as the chart-topping “Family Affair.”

20. Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen (1975)

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This classic rock album was Springsteen's successful transition from the fringes of rock and roll stardom to full-on commercial success. The titular song has become a rock music anthem.

21. Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack – The Bee Gees (1977)

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By far one of the most polarizing albums in music history, this album was simultaneously beloved, with over 40 million copies sold and hated. It eventually became the face of the disco music backlash. Love or hate the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, it's hard to deny this album was fire.

22. London Calling – The Clash (1979)

The Clash: London Calling
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This double album by the punk rock group addressed societal ills such as racism and drug use. It also featured their experimentation with other musical genres, including ska, hard rock, reggae, and pop.

23. Hotel California — The Eagles (1976)

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The fifth studio album for The Eagles includes one of their most famous songs, “Hotel California.” This critically acclaimed album includes tracks such as “Take It Easy” and “Take It to the Limit.”

24. Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)

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Certified Diamond (more than 10 million in album sales), Van Halen's first studio album introduced the rock world to the guitar genius of Eddie Van Halen, exhibited in songs like the instrumental “Eruption,” “Runnin' with the Devil” and their cover of the Kinks' “You Really Got Me.”

25. Innervisions – Stevie Wonder (1973)

Innervisions by Stevie Wonder
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With hits such as “All In Love Is Fair,” “Living for the City,” “Higher Ground,” and “Don't You Worry ‘Bout A Thing,” this album was the singer's way of letting the world know that he was no longer Little Stevie Wonder with his harmonica, but that he was a grownup musical force to be reckoned with.