What was the Best Year for Rock?

The Best Year in Rock Music

On Your Dad’s Car Stereo, most of the albums that I review right now were released between 1969 and 1981. As time goes on, I plan to add later years of rock to discuss hair metal, punk, grunge, and the more fleshed out version of heavy metal that came into its own in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But staying on topic with my current focus, I got to thinking, “What was the best year for rock and roll?” “Was there a year that will go down in history as the year where rock solidified itself as a legitimate, mainstream genre that would go on to influence musicians for decades to come, even if the artists who released albums that year didn’t know it yet?” As it turns out, there was such a year, and it was 1971. Let’s take a look at 1971 and some of the other years I considered that were influential but didn’t quite match the former’s grandeur.

First, I would like to discuss the years that didn’t make the cut, namely 1972, 1974 and 1976. Each of these years was influential in the greater development of rock and roll and had their fair share of fantastic releases, and I’d like to start by looking at the albums that defined those years. 1972 had hits like Close to the Edge by Yes, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie, Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull, Machine Head by Deep Purple, Can’t Buy a Thrill by Steely Dan, and more from acts like Uriah Heap, the Doobie Brothers, Jackson Browne, the Jeff Beck Group, and let’s not forget the Eagles’ self-titled debut.

1974 brought us 461 Ocean Boulevard by Clapton, Queen II by the eponymous band, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, Second Helping by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Not Fragile by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, just to name a few. Finally, 1976 came in with 2112 by Rush, Hotel California by Eagles, Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy, Boston by the band of the same name, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and High Voltage, both by AC/DC, Agents of Fortune by Blue Oyster Cult, Destroyer by KISS, Fly Like an Eagle by Steve Miller Band, and so many more.

Looking just at the year-by-year releases, 1976 is my favorite year for rock, and I think many people would say that ’76 and ’72 were their favorites from those choices. The albums were big and the bands were larger than life. To find the best year for rock and roll though, we have to take the year’s releases in context. 1972 was arguably a continuation of 1971, but by the time we reach 1974 and 1976, the bands releasing these big albums were finally coming into the mainstream view thanks to the efforts of those that came before them. Who were those predecessors?

1971. The year that brought us Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones, Who’s Next by the Who, Aqualung by Jethro Tull, L.A. Woman by the Doors, Meddle by Pink Floyd, Master of Reality by Black Sabbath, Pearl by Janis Joplin, The Cry of Love—Jimi Hendrix’s first posthumous album, Tapestry by Carole King, Imagine by John Lennon, oh and Led Zeppelin IV. 1971 was a crossroads for rock. The earliest mainstream rockers like the Beatles, Hendrix, and Joplin coexisted with the acts that would carry the torch through the 70s like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. There was an amazing melding of sounds where you can hear psychedelic rock giving way to what would become progressive rock. The acts that played in 1971 would go on to influence the sound of rock and roll for the next decade. Heavier acts like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin would give way to what would become heavy metal and the punk movement while classic rockers like the Rolling Stones and the Who would lay the tracks for bands like Boston, Thin Lizzy, Chicago, and more. Timing is everything, and 1971 was both the end of the early era of mainstream rock and the beginning of the second wave, influencing acts for decades to come.

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