Many of the most iconic rock and pop albums ever recorded were released during President Nixon’s time in office. In fact, Richard Nixon made some recordings of his own that turned out to be quite momentous; but not momentous enough to make this list. So much excellent music was released during Nixon’s administration that the strength of the following list could be judged based on the albums not included — albums like Pearl by Janis Joplin, Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis by Elvis Presley, Houses of the Holy by Led Zeppelin, In the Court of King Crimson by King Crimson, After the Gold Rush by Neil Young, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John, Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Dusty in Memphis by Dusty Springfield, and Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye.
10. #1 Record – Big Star
Big Star doesn’t receive their fair share of credit. If the band had been signed to a solvent and competent record label, the inclusion of their debut album on this list would probably be a given. Unfortunately, too many people are unaware of one of the biggest influences on the alternative music scene of the ’80s and have missed out on an album that may be the pinnacle of power-pop.
9. Blue – Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell laid so nakedly bare her pain and tumult on Blue, it’s almost impossible (at least for those who can feel) to not want to weep along with her crumbling voice. Add in the dimension of the early ’70s cultural angst, and Joni Mitchell helped shape the template for folk-rock as a pop culture touchstone.
8. The Band – The Band
The Band carried their masterful domination of roots rock from the administration of President Johnson and into Richard Milhous Nixon’s administration. Without missing an artistic beat, The Band released their second album, often referred to as “The Brown Album,” in 1969 and perfected the praiseful lament of classic Americana.
7. Exile on Main Street – Rolling Stones
Avoiding the authority’s displeasure at their failure to pay taxes, the Rolling Stones fled England, tracks in hand, and continued recording Exile on Main Street in Paris. Recording was finally completed in Los Angeles in early 1972, nearly four years after work on the album had begun. Many of the recording sessions were fueled by heroin and other assorted drugs. Regardless of how one wants to interpret the events swirling around the recording of Exile on Main Street, the Rolling Stones cemented their already considerable mark on rock history with one of the greatest blues/gospel-tinged rock and roll records of all time.
6. Abbey Road – the Beatles
While not the final album released by the Fab Four, Abbey Road was the final album recorded together by all four of the original Beatles. And their final gift (of sorts) to the world is a masterpiece. Even the cover art is iconic.
5. Five Leaves Left – Nick Drake
If I were to rank the most underappreciated albums of all time, Five Leaves Left would be top-three, for sure. In fact, it might even land at number one on that list. While musically different, Nick Drake was a big influence on Robert Smith (The Cure) and Peter Buck (R.E.M.). Drake’s debut album Five Leaves Left was recorded when he was barely out of his teens, making the emotional depth in his voice that much more impressive.
4. Bitches Brew – Miles Davis
Mile Davis’ Bitches Brew is controversial and polarizing. People tend to either passionately love Bitches Brew, or they despise the album for ruining jazz, as they wrongly believe. Davis’ heart-skipping trumpet is the warranted centerpiece, but Bitches Brew’s rhythm sections are astoundingly innovative.
3. Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin
Often referred to as Zoso (which is not the album’s name), Led Zeppelin IV contains some of the superband’s greatest songs – “Black Dog, “When the Levee Breaks,” and, of course, “Stairway to Heaven.” Ignore the accusations of plagiarism. Regardless of the validity of the accusations, this is a great album!
2. At Fillmore East – The Allman Brothers Band
When the greatest Southern rock band of all time plays blues classics written by the likes of Blind Willie McTell and T-Bone Walker, it’s going to be good. When that band also tears into soon to be classics penned by themselves while feeding off the energy of a live audience drenched with provocative blues sweat, it’s even better. At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band turned a famed NYC music venue into a sticky, deep South dive bar.
1. The Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
The commercial and critical success of The Dark Side of the Moon are impossible to deny. With lyrics that contain themes of greed, conflict, and death, Dark Side of the Moon gave voice to a generation raised on the horrific specter of the Vietnam War. Plus, the album syncs up well with The Wizard of Oz, or so I’ve been told.