For starters, let us all agree that this is a seemingly impossible compilation to put together. A newbie’s guide to rock and roll? To say there is just one true guide to what rock is and how one should discover it, would be like saying there’s only one road to reach the West Coast. Sure, the interstate will get the job done, but it’s the side streets, back alleys and ghost towns that really define the trip.
The best we can do is think back on the albums and the memories that shaped each of us into the relationship with rock and roll we find ourselves in today. The songs and voices that shook us and continue to shake and surprise us.
What we can agree on is what rock is. It is relentless. It is unapologetic. It is transformative. It can be gentle. It can be vicious. Sometimes it waves its billowing “F*&$ you!” flag high above the masses, while other times it is the gentle cradling arms that rock us into a familiar lull during our darkest of hours.
Below is a brief compilation of some of the albums that shaped just one journey into the realm of rock. Some choices are obvious, and they’re supposed to be. They’re albums with the capacity to get anyone hooked and create a foundation for discovery. Where we go from there is entirely up to us.
Chuck Berry (Everything)
For the purists, it must begin with the Father of Rock and Roll. Many would argue that without him, the likes of Keith Richards, John Lennon, or Roy Orbison would not be what they are today.
Buddy Holly The Buddy Holly Story Vol. 1 & 2 (1959-60)
Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
The Beach Boys Pet Sounds (1966)
The Doors The Doors (1967)
This was the first album I touched the needle of my band new record player to; Side A, “Break on Through (To the Other Side)”. Quite an appropriate description for the beginning of the journey that continues to unfold.
Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison (1968)
David Bowie Space Oddity (1969)
Creedence Clearwater Revival Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)
The Velvet Underground White Light White Heat (1969)
Simon & Garfunkel Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
Remember before when we touched on the “gentle, cradling arms of rock”? This is that.
Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin IV (1971) & Houses of the Holy (1973)
Iggy Pop and the Stooges Raw Power (1973)
Patti Smith Horses (1975)
Patti Smith embodies the unapologetic, yet welcoming overtones of rock. Horses is also a beautiful gateway other artistic mediums through rock. Controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe* shot the iconic cover art, and would go on to shoot the likes of Yoko Ono, David Bowie, Blondie, Iggy Pop, and many, many more legends of our day.
*Please note: Google with caution. Some images may be explicit.
The Ramones The Ramones (1976)
Fleetwood Mac Rumours (1976)
The Clash London Calling (1979)
Bruce Springsteen Born in the USA (1984)
Just in case there are some genuine ‘newbies’ reading this, please note: this is not an album about American patriotism.
Talking Heads Stop Making Sense (1984)
While the album is enough to stand on it’s own, the ‘concert movie’ beautifully crafted by David Byrne and Jonathan Demme is a volcanic experience that you can relive on your couch or from time to time at The Music Box Theatre.
Elvis Costello My Aim is True (1977) & Wise Up Ghost (2013)
The Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill (1986)
Mekons The Mekons Rock n’ Roll (1989)
English folk and Alternative American country come together in the Mekons, embodying the dance that differing genres take on the rock floor.
Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York (1993)
The MTV Unplugged session was the first Nirvana album to be released following the death of Kurt Cobain. Not only is the album a relic of what MTV used to be, but it is a raw glimpse at the vulnerability hanging within the grunge of the 1990s. You can feel the angst.
Radiohead OK Computer (1997)
Everyone remembers their first Radiohead album, right? Continuously evolving, OK Computer is a good starting point. Whether you go back to The Bends or move along to Kid A, Thom Yorke is essential.
WILCO Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
The White Stripes Elephant (2003)
Arcade Fire Funeral (2004)
The Flaming Lips Zaireeka (1997) & At War with the Mystics (2006)
Moving into experimental rock, The Flaming Lips are a must stop. While At War with the Mystics is the more ‘conventional’ of the two, Zaireeka is an experience. With enough ambition (and perhaps supervision) any newbie should jump in and get weird with the four disc, surround sound experience.
LCD Soundsystem This is Happening (2010)
Queens of the Stone Age …Like Clockwork (2013)
For the sake of brevity, we’ll stop there. If anything, use this list to inspire your timeline. Which albums shaped your own musical matrimony with the greatest genre of all time? There are no wrong answers.
Honorable mention to the the hundreds (more like thousands) more who have inspired each of our journeys, and keep us on our toes, ready to take off with what’s next.
The Beatles, The B52’s, Beck, James Brown, Chicago, Eric Clapton, John Coltrane, The Cure, Donovan, ELO, Florence and the Machine, Foo Fighters, Chrisse Hynde, Joy Division, Annie Lennox, Phish, Pink Floyd, The Pixies, Prince, Queen, Rage Against the Machine, Lou Reed, REM, The Rolling Stones, Rush, Carlos Santana, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Supertramp, Pete Townshend, Tom Waits…