Having to choose the ten most influential albums of all time is incredibly difficult. We are not consigned to one genre, so we do not have that safety net. You really have to take into account the wider spectrum of music in general. All bets are off when you are talking about music in general. Sadly, no classical musicians made the list. While I am a huge fan of classical music, the genre is massive and could very well deserve its own top ten list. Another obvious exclusion that you will see is leaving out some genres in general. I could have easily picked something from Bob Dylan who almost singlehandedly define folk rock. I could have picked something from King Crimson without whom progressive rock and progressive metal would not be the same. All in all, this is one of the toughest lists that I have ever done.
The list below is in no particular order. Each release is epically influential for its own reasons, so it is hard to say that one release spawned rock and roll while another spawned pop.
The Beatles – The White Album (1968)
The Beatles ended up defining the 60s with their unique style and between The White Album and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, they proved that ground less tread upon can indeed be the appropriate path to take.
Robert Johnson – King of the Delta Blues Singers (1961)
One of my favorite blues players of all time and easily the most influential man in blues. With Johnson, there would have been no Rolling Stones, Cream or Led Zeppelin. An interesting character indeed as his short life and mysterious death created an enduring mythology. Rumor had it that he sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in Mississippi in exchange for his amazing guitar skills. His legacy is unmistakable and he only recorded a mere 29 songs.
Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (1956)
Elvis was the first example of how to cash in on a teenage craze. These days, teenage idols come and go year by year, but Elvis was unique back in the 50s. One of the greatest musicians and musical personalities, without Elvis, we would have probably not had The Beatles.
David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)
David Bowie, and his alter ego Ziggy, were bigger than the music. Bowie showed that rock and glam pop could co-exist. With this release (along with other Bowie classics), acts like Prince, Madonna, Boy George and Bon Jovi would have never seen the light of day.
Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced (1967)
Guitar God and pop icon, Jimi Hendrix arrived on the scene looking and playing like someone from another planet. His guitar prowess and experimentation knew no bounds. Without Hendrix, there would have not been Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie Van Halen and countless other guitar virtuosos.
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)
Their stamp on metal is undeniable. Metal would have been invented at some point due to musicians always wanted to push the boundaries of heaviness, but when Black Sabbath did it, no one was even thinking about it. Even Led Zeppelin’s debut release sounded like a Black Sabbath album.
Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)
Thriller should really be on everyone’s top ten list of influential albums. Every megastar that made it in pop should thank Jackson for his solo contributions. With him, there would have been no Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, etc.
Run DMC – Run DMC (1984)
Rap and Hip-Hop can pretty much look back to 1984 with Run DMC’s debut release – the first rap album to go gold. They paved a path that would be followed for the next quarter of a century by all Hip-Hop artists.
Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
While short-lived, the Grunge scene was undeniably monstrous, and without Nirvana and Nevermind, we may have never even known about it. The album still rocks to this day while most Grunge albums where pretty much hit or miss.
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
With more than subtle links to their early psychedelic phase, Dark Side of the Moon brings intense rhythms and melodies to their unique method of storytelling into the mainstream. While bands like Rush were doing a similar thing, no one captured the success that Pink Floyd did with Dark Side of the Moon. It became okay to be progressive and experimental after this.
It would not be my top ten list if I did not take the easy way out and also list honorable mentions. I will keep them short and sweet though.
Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine (1992)
Not that I enjoy the bands that followed what Rage Against the Machine did (Korn, Limp Bizkit, etc.), but it is undeniable that the rap-metal movement existed and was very popular for a little while. RATM did not create rap, but they revolutionalized rap metal.
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Led Zeppelin has to be mentioned on here somewhere as they were integral in the development of heavy rock music. You could really have chosen II, III, IV or Physical Graffiti. Their influence on hard rock and metal is astounding.
Metallica – Kill ‘em All (1983)
Metallica is another band where you could pick any of their early work, but their debut release is the one that launched the thrash era of the 80s. Everyone wanted to be them in the mid-80s and plenty of bands tried their hardest.
Pantera – Vulgar Display of Power (1992)
A lot of people will probably laugh at this pick, but believe it or not, Pantera spawned a subgenre of metal that became huge, albeit horrible. Pantera had not grown into their britches yet with Cowboys From Hell as they were still in their 80s glam mood for some of that album. With the release of Vulgar Display of Power, Pantera cemented their place in metal history. Not too many bands have had so few album with so much impact. Like it or not, Pantera is huge to this day. They are sorely missed, but will never be forgotten.