5. The Who: My Generation.
There is a common expression that refers to 'hitting the ground running' and with My Generation, released in 1965, the Who did just that, breaking onto the English music scene with the explosive, idiosyncratic, wild energy that would come to define the band and, in the following years, cement them as one of rock music's most enduring and ground-breaking acts. Whilst not as perfectly polished as the Who's later albums and lacking the dazzling, avant-garde creativity of the band's subsequent work (Tommy and Who's Next would have made the list if I had time to rant endlessly about the quartet of English rockers) My Generation stands out for its proto-punk energy and the aggressive, jaded, cynical edge that permeates the album's songs, even in the more seemingly innocent pop tunes (La-La-La Lies and The Kids Are Alright) not to mention it includes the endlessly catchy ‘Can't Explain' and the time-tested anthem of rebellion and dissatisfaction, the eponymous My Generation. Displaying the budding genius of songwriter Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey's impressive vocal range from melodious harmonies to a snarling, sneering drawl and the inimitable rhythms of Jon Entwistle and Keith Moon, My Generation is a must for any rock aficionado. It only got better from there.
4. Black Sabbath: Master Of Reality
Godfathers of Heavy Metal, Black Sabbath was the product of four men raised in the poverty and squalor of post-War Birmingham, turning to music to desperately flee from a perpetuity doomed to waste away in the factories and soot-choked industrial mills of Aston. Their music is heavy stuff, clogged with nightmarish images of the end times, insanity, oblivion and the dark arts, masterworks of spine-chilling symphonies lamenting and crying out against the madness of an unfair, cruel universe. Not exactly cheerful stuff, but for the Birmingham raised quartet it was a contemptuous challenge to the bright, gaudy, ethereal 'flower power' movement that seemed so ridiculous to those used to eking out their living in an industrial hell. Released in 1971 Master of Reality boasts impressive songs, from After Forever, a song ruminating on the possibility of a bleak, empty afterlife, to Into the Void which portrays a group of scientists fleeing into space to escape a dystopian, ruined Earth (Elon Musk would be proud) Sweet Leaf, the band's take on drug-related musical influences and Lord of This World, a scathing critique of how the lifestyles of the selfish, venal, greedy and cruel have essentially crowned Satan our new king, Master of Reality is one of Black Sabbath's greats. Standing out among these all is Children of the Grave, whose thundering guitars, pounding drums and throbbing bass lines set the stage for the apocalyptic scene of a doomed younger generation seeking to march against those who ruined their futures (uncomfortably relevant even today), all set to Ozzy Osbourne's iconic, tortured wails. Fantastic stuff.
3. Def Leppard: Hysteria
Released in 1987, the fourth studio album by Sheffield rock band Def Leppard was to become their magnum-opus. A testament to the band's influence as part of the NWOBHM (New-wave of British heavy metal) Hysteria is undoubtedly Def Leppard's finest hour, replete with hits that cracked the charts and knocked the album into multi-platinum status.
Blending the expert guitar-work of Phil Collen (no, not the drummer from Genesis) and Steve Clark (who sadly passed in 1991) with the distinctive raspy vocals of front-man Joe Elliot, Hysteria contains the likes of the adrenaline charged Run Riot, crashing rock symphonies Armageddon It and Animal, and more power ballads than you can shake a stick at, among which Love Bites and the surprisingly tender Hysteria shine. And of course, who could forget the anthemic ear-worm Pour Some Sugar On Me, whose explosive, soaring chorus will lodge itself in your ears for days upon days. Add to that the fact that Def Leppard's drummer Rick Allen performed the songs on the album with one arm (having lost his right arm in a gruesome car crash) and his band-mates adamant refusal to fire him, and Hysteria is elevated by its testament of true loyalty and friendship and the outstanding talent of a man who overcome his disability to make music history.
Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin IV
You may notice a trend in the amount of British artists appearing on this list. Well, to continue this habit, in second place are the quintessential rock gods themselves: Led Zeppelin. Arguably the biggest band of its kind to ever exists, the seemingly endless well of talent in Led Zeppelin catapulted them into hitherto unknown echelons of fame and fortune. Led Zeppelin IV (though the original album actually has no real title and bears only a painting of an old man with a load of sticks strapped to his back) is the culmination of Led Zeppelin's saga, their finest moment without a doubt. The cogs all fit together, meshing virtuoso guitar player Jimmy Page's outstanding skill with John Paul Jones's melodies, John Bonham's unparalleled, frantic, frenzied drumming and Robert Plant's wailing, whooping screams that sound like the cries of a Valkyrie beckoning souls to Valhalla.
Inspired heavily by blues-artists, Led Zeppelin's classic influences are on full display with titles such as Black Dog, a bluesy, slick, sleazy romp and the blistering, pulse-pounding, electrifying Rock and Roll, as well as the fantastical, Celtic fae-ballad presented in The Battle of Evermore.
But one cannot talk of Led Zeppelin IV without.....Stairway To Heaven.
The rock and roll song, its tune interwoven and seared into the brains of generation after generation, still floating from radio stations even to this day, the pinnacle of musical excellence, whose haunting, ghostly and ethereal notes and cryptic lyrics spun a indescribably melancholy, magical and evocative ballad. Add a staggering solo performance by Jimmy Page, and Led Zeppelin had finally ascended their stairway to a special kind of immortality.
1. Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
Mere words can barely begin to describe my adoration for Sir Elton John. A musical savant whose partnership with songwriter Bernie Taupin has contributed to some of the finest pop-rock albums ever produced, selling more than 300 million records worldwide, the Rocket Man, Pinball Wizard, Captain Fantastic and his trusty Brown Dirt Cowboy are a veritable treasure to the music industry. And nowhere does their collective genius shine through more than in the 1973, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
Instantly recognisable by its album sleeve, depicting Elton himself stepping into a faded poster from the Wizard of Oz, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road invites you to step into a fantasy conjured up by every note of Sir Elton's keyboard. The songs are just....phenomenal, fantastic, extraordinary, my thesaurus is dry of adjectives with which to laud this album.
There are elements of hard rock in the thumping tones of All The Girls Love Alice (a rather risqué song for the 70s about a teenage lesbian) and the fiery, raucous mayhem of the snarling, rowdy Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting. Then there is the outlandish, bouncy glitz and glamour of the otherworldly Bennie And The Jets, the jumpy, darkly comic bleak and nihilistic struggles of an impoverished alcoholic in Social Disease and the poignant, melancholic, bittersweet struggles of the life of a prostitute shown in Sweet Painted Lady (one of the opening lyrics: 'opportunity awaits me like a rat in a drain." How do they come up with this stuff?). It is an album both energetic and sombre, everywhere crackling with the poetry of Taupin's lyrical deftness and the talent and vocal powerhouse of Sir Elton. In tandem, it’s magic.
Its two most iconic singles are worth an essay of their own. The first, Candle In The Wind is a nostalgic tribute to Marilyn Monroe as well as simultaneously decrying the shallow celebrity culture and callous nature of show-business that strips stars of their humanity to transform them into marketable puppets. The second, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is a spectacular ballad, told in the weary, bewildered voice of a tired, run-down star yearning to escape the hollow, superficial, empty world of fame to escape to a happier, simpler life in his childhood home. With its emotionally charged chorus and lyrics that reflect the deeply personal struggles of both Taupin and Elton in the ruthless music industry, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, like its namesake album, is a work of art well worth the top-spot on this list.
Pablo L, Year 13