During vinyl’s heyday, classic rock filled the airwaves with thunderous guitars, blistering guitar solos, and plenty of psychedelia.
Explore this exciting genre with our round-up of the best classic rock vinyl. From the Beatles and the Stones, to Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and so much more.
It’s time to turn up the volume on classic rock as it should be — spinning on your turntable.
Think we’ve missed one of the best classic rock albums to own on vinyl? Let us know your pick in the comments section.
The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Some say classic rock began with the Beatles and ended with Nirvana. For me, I can’t classify Nirvana as classic rock, but we can all safely agree that Sgt Pepper’s is essential listening for any classic rock fan.
Following a three-month hiatus and rumors of an imminent split, The Beatles set out to produce their most ambitious album.
Sgt Pepper’s is a loose concept album centered around a fictitious band. Many consider the album to be one of the earliest concept albums. With its multitude of influences, experimental production techniques, and art-inspired album cover, The Beatles paved the way for progressive rock.
The album is considered a watershed moment in popular music culture, and rightly so. To understand the direction of rock music for the remainder of the 20th century, you must first understand Sgt Pepper’s.
Consider seeking a mono and stereo release of this classic rock vinyl respectively to experience the album from two very different perspectives.
One of the best albums to own on vinyl, period, the closing track “A Day in the Life” (arguably one of the greatest Beatles songs of all time) ends the album with an infinitely repeating locked-groove featuring sounds of backward laughter and random gibberish.
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Another Abbey Road classic production, Dark Side of the Moon is so iconic it’s almost become a cliche. To this day, it remains one of the best-selling albums of all-time thanks to its timeless production and universal concepts speaking to the human condition.
Similarly to Sgt Pepper’s, Dark Side of the Moon is a superb example of an album that walks the line between progressive concept album and popular appeal. The tracks flow seamlessly into each other, creating a sonic journey while also exploring themes of life, death, and mental illness.
A sonic signature of the album is the extensive use of tape loops, vocal commentary samples, and the relatively new at the time EMS Synthi AKS modular synthesizer, which became widely used on many progressive rock albums.
Original Harvest pressings of the album will set you back well over $300 for a copy in good condition. Repressings vary in sound quality, with many not quite measuring up to 1973 copies. That said, the new 50th-anniversary edition is said to compare well with the original.
YES – Fragile (1971)
1971 saw YES bring keyboardist Rick Wakeman into the fold setting the scene for three consecutive classic rock albums (Fragile, Close to the Edge, and Tales from Topographic Oceans) all of which are well-worth seeking out on vinyl.
Fragile is arguably the more accessible of the three, containing a more conventional rock album structure to the more meandering and bombastic follow-up albums.
If you’re new to YES, start with Fragile and work your way from there (in my humble opinion).
Track highlights include the opening track “Roundabout” (one of YES’ best-known songs), “Mood for a Day” Steve Howe’s beautiful Spanish guitar solo, and the Epic finale track “Heart of the Sunrise”, which aptly sets the scene for Close to the Edge.
Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland (1968)
Electric Ladyland was the final studio album from The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and arguably their finest work laid down on tape.
Electric Ladyland really showcased Jimi Hendrix’s versatility, including a wide range of styles from psychedelic rock to RNB, slow blues jams and elements of funk.
The 15-minute slow blues Jam “Voodoo Chile” is a particularly stunning display of raw musicianship, while the blistering rendition of Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower is so good it received praise from Dylan himself.
And the list goes on, from the undeniable swagger of “Crosstown Traffic” to the guitar hero WahWah showcase of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”, and even the 60s British invasion sound of tracks like “Little Miss Strange”, Electric Ladyland just keeps on giving from beginning to end.
Vinyl copies with the original banned album cover will fetch a pretty penny, but modern represses are readily available.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977)
Any list of the best classic rock albums to own on vinyl simply must include Rumours, which remains one of the biggest-selling albums of all time.
The well-documented firey personal relationship issues that dominated the recording sessions created the perfect conditions for passionate songwriting that resonated with millions across the globe.
As a complete body of work, Rumours is an exemplary showcase of how to master the craft of making a hit record. It has everything, from highly relatable lyrics, to perfect harmonies, polished production, and even blistering guitar solos. Fleetwood Mac’s most celebrated album has something for everyone.
Learn the full story behind Rumours, here.
Queen – A Night at The Opera (1975)
A Night at the Opera elevated Queen to global rock stardom and represented their most ambitious work up to that point. Despite the band being essentially broke thanks to an unfavorable contract deal, the album was (at the time) one of the most expensive albums ever produced.
Unlike their previous album Sheer Heart Attack which was recorded on a 16-track tape machine, A Night at the Opera utilized a 24-track tape machine.
Such a step up in recording tech facilitated the eclectic range of instruments used across the album and the ambitious, layered trademark vocal and guitar harmonies now synonymous with the band’s work.
Frequently hailed as one of the greatest albums of all time, A Night at the Opera is an essential classic rock album.
The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers (1971)
Easily one of the best Rolling Stones albums, Sticky Fingers makes our list of the best classic rock vinyl records not only for the music, but also the classic album cover.
Collectors will want to seek out an original pressing with the working zipper, an Andy Warhol classic featuring the mystery man in jeans. The zip revealed an image of underwear on the inside gatefold.
Sticky Fingers is also the first Stones album to feature new guitarist Mick Taylor — replacing Brian Jones, who died two years prior.
Learn the full story behind Sticky Fingers, here.
The Doors – The Doors (1967)
The self-titled debut album of the “Kings of acid rock” is one of the best classic rock albums to own on vinyl. If you can find a 2021 VMP copy (there are a few copies left on Amazon – link below), you can look forward to a mono pressing remastered by Bruce Botnick from the original masters (lacquers cut by Bernie Grundman).
The Doors influenced a generation with their eclectic self-titled masterpiece. The performances and lyrics still resonate today. From the pulsating opening track “Break on Through to the Other Side” to the eastern-inspired closing track “The End”, The Doors is essential listening for any true classic rock fan.
Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)
Widely considered the forebears of heavy metal, Black Sabbath Paranoid gives us early clues to the trajectory of rock music. It was a watershed moment where rock music began to venture into heavier, more dissonant territory.
Paranoid was recorded in quick succession after the success of their self-titled debut album. It departs even further from the Zeppelin-esque heavy blues sound of their earlier work, building on the darker sound of tracks like “Black Sabbath” and N.I.B.
Most now regard the album is one of the earliest examples of heavy metal and a key influence in the development of the metal genre.
Led Zeppelin – IV (1971)
Best known for the epic and ubiquitous Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin’s fourth offering is a true classic and one of the best-selling albums of all time.
The band opted for the more informal recording environment of Headley Grange to help inspire a broader range of styles and enlisted Andy Johns as the engineer who had just finished working on Sticky Fingers.
Utilizing the Rolling Stones mobile recording studio enabled the more informal location, which produced some interesting results.
One example can be heard on “When the Levee Breaks”. The drums of which were recorded in the building’s lobby using a pair of microphones hung up a flight of stairs. The result is one of the most iconic drum sounds in rock history.
David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1971)
Ziggy Stardust is a loose concept album based on a fictional androgynous rock star of the same name. Ziggy is sent to Earth as a savior before an apocalyptic disaster. After winning fans’ hearts, he falls from grace thanks to his own ego.
The concept and musicality of Ziggy Stardust received critical acclaim and it’s now considered one of the greatest classic rock albums of all time. In 2017, the Library of Congress deemed the album worthy of preservation in the National Recording Registry for its historical and cultural significance.
Iggy Pop, The Velvet Underground and Marc Bolan are among the musical influences of this “rock opera”.
In 2012, a 50th-anniversary half-speed mastered pressing was issued (link below):
T-Rex – Electric Warrior
Having partly inspired Ziggy Stardust, it only feels right to include this often overlooked 70s classic rock masterpiece.
Marc Bolan’s T-Rex never went on to have to same commercial success in the United States as David Bowie, much to Marc’s frustration for many years.
His cult legacy and impact on rock history, however, is undeniable. In the early 70s, T-Rex gained popularity in the UK comparable to The Beatles, becoming one of the most significant figures of the glam rock movement.
Electric Warrior saw the band transition fully away from their earlier psychedelic folk style, triggering a run of three albums that mark the height of their career and an influence on so many future bands and artists.
The Eagles – Hotel California (1976)
Another album that makes the best-selling albums of all time list, Hotel California was released just a couple of short months before Fleetwood Mac Rumours. Incidentally, the album was nominated for an Album of the Year Grammy award but was pipped at the post by Fleetwood Mac’s masterpiece.
The album is the first to feature guitarist Joe Walsh, who had replaced Bernie Leadon and drove the band away from some of Leadon’s country influence.
The iconic album cover is a stunning gatefold consisting of the iconic sunset shot of the Beverly Hills Hotel. All-round Hotel Califonia is easily one of the best classic rock albums of the ’70s.
The Who – Who’s Next (1971)
Who’s Next was initially intended to be a futuristic rock opera concept album called Lifehouse, but the project (conceived by the group’s guitarist Pete Townshend) was abandoned due to conflicts with the band’s management.
Eight out of the nine songs on Who’s Next are from the Lifehouse project, and the remainder of the unrealized concept album has since materialized on other albums.
The iconic singles “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Baba O’Riley,” and “Behind Blue Eyes” helped make the album a huge success and, in my view, one of those classic rock albums everyone should own.
AC/DC – Back in Black (1980)
While the band was riding the success of their previous release Highway to Hell, lead singer Bon Scott went on a drinking binge that would sadly take his life.
Back in Black would see Brian Johnson take up the helm on vocals in the fallout of Scott’s tragic death.
Flying in the face of adversity, Back in Black became one of the most successful albums of the band’s career and a true rock classic at the turn of the decade.
Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run (1975)
Considered as “Springsteen’s commercial breakthrough album, Born to Run helped the New Jersey icon build a solid fanbase which grew with each subsequent release.
The album peaked at number three in the Billboard chart, and even re-entered it five years later after the release of his fifth studio album The River. Fast forward to the present day, and it’s widely considered one of the greatest classic rock albums of all time.
The album is also noted for its Phil Spector-style “wall of sound” production. Allegedly, Springsteen once stated he wanted Born to Run to sound like “Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan, produced by Spector.” In that respect, many would agree he hit the nail on the head.
Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks (1975)
Speaking of Dylan… Released the same year as the above Springsteen classic, Blood on the Tracks initially received mixed reviews on release.
Like a fine wine, the album appears to have gotten better with age as critics and fans now widely consider the album one of Dylan’s finest.
Dylan had initially planned to record the album with an electric backing band, but eventually changed his mind and instead opted for a stripped-down acoustic approach. The eventual final recording sessions were famously “off the cuff”, spontaneous and fast, with session engineer Phil Ramone later stating Dyan would sometimes add or reduce several bars, eliminate a verse, or even add a chorus you didn’t expect.
Neil Young – After the Goldrush (1970)
After The Goldrush precedes 1972’s Harvest, which could also easily make any list the best classic rock albums to own on vinyl.
Unlike Harvest, which was recorded in the newly formed Quadrafonic Sound Studios in Nashville, most of After The Goldrush was recorded in a makeshift basement studio, which lends the album a raw quality. A particular highlight is the raw and erratic guitar solo on Southern Man.
Though Harvest would produce a number 1 hit in the track “Heart of Gold,” critics initially responded unfavorably to the 1972 release, with some feeling it was simply too similar to the songwriting and style of After The Goldrush.
Santana – Abraxas (1970)
Easily one of the best classic rock albums on vinyl and one of the greatest albums of all time, Abraxas should be on any classic rock fan’s hit list.
The album was a number-one hit in the US and is well-known for its Latin-infused edition of Black Magic Women. Carlos Santana decided to cover the song after seeing Peter Green perform at the Fillmore West in San Francisco.
Like many of the albums on this list, Abraxas was selected as a “culturally, historically, or artistically significant” body of work by the Library of Congress and has since been preserved in their National Recording Registry.
Boston – Boston (1976)
Though classic rock has many sub-genres, it eventually morphed into the arena rock bands of the late 70s and early 80s, this included the likes of Boston and Journey, among others.
Boston is perhaps best known for the hit “More Than a Feeling”, the style of which gives some hint of the direction rock would take going into the 80s: big, bold, bombastic, stadium-filling, and larger-than-life.
Counter-movements such as the rise of punk were a direct reaction against the very mainstream and excessive direction of rock music at the time.
Some love both, but undoubtedly it’s all part of the rich tapestry of rock music over the decades and part of how the genre has evolved over time.
Greatest Classic Rock Albums – Summing Up
Your view on what constitutes “classic rock” may depend on your own experiences or even where in the world you live.
Losely, we can define classic rock as the dominant rock culture that emerged after the disillusionment of the 60s flower-power movement.
There are so many classic rock albums that could have made this list, and your selection will undoubtedly be different to mine.
Vinyl was the dominant listening medium throughout classic rock’s peak in the 1970s, and, for my money, is the best way to experience the genre.
What would make your selection of the best classic rock vinyl? Let us know in the comments below.