10 classic rock albums from the 1970s that unintentionally paved the way for heavy metal in the 1980s

Segments of cover art from ten 70s rock albums
(Image credit: Various record companies)

To discover the origins of heavy metal in the 1980s, we must travel back in time to the original era of classic rock. It was a time when rock giants strode the earth and sold out stadiums. A time of private planes and legendary parties and patchouli oil. It was also a time of glam, prog and proto metal, and sounds that would coalesce over time and form what became 80s metal.

Here are 10 classic rock albums that paved the way for heavy metal in the 80s.


Uriah Heep - Demons And Wizards (1972)

Critically panned when released, Demons And Wizards is now revered. The interplay between vocalist David Byron and guitarist Mick Box is seamless, accented by fantastical lyricism and heavy riffing. Uriah Heep drummer Lee Kerslake would go on to play on Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard Of Ozz record in 1981, a true classic of 80s metal.

Blue Öyster Cult - Tyranny And Mutation (1973)

Blue Öyster Cult paved the way through their molten riffs and infectious hooks. Some bands may have generated more radio airplay, but no album exposes BOC's metal roots better than 1973's Tyranny And Mutation, and few groups featured a lineup of musicians as nuanced as Eric Bloom, Buck Dharma, Allen Lanier, and Albert and Joe Bouchard.

Nazareth - Hair Of The Dog (1975)

With its bone-crushing rhythms, huge guitars and monster vocals, Nazareth's Hair Of The Dog is an important link between the 70s and 80s. A huge influence on Guns N' Roses – "If it wasn't for Dan McCafferty and Nazareth I wouldn't be singing," said Axl Rose in 1988 – we can but hope that the recent passing of McCafferty and guitarist Manny Charlton alerts new fans to the importance of this album.

Budgie - Never Turn Your Back On A Friend (1973)

Early Budgie albums ushered in a heaviness rivalled only by Black Sabbath, but 1976's Never Turn Your Back On A Friend further pushed the envelope by introducing some prototype speed metal in Breadfan. The importance of Burke Shelley, Tony Bourge and Ray Phillips' masterpiece is best illustrated by Metallica's cover of the same song, which appeared on the b-sides of 1988 singles Harvester Of Sorrow and Eye Of The Beholder, and later on the 1998 compilation album, Garage Inc.

Led Zeppelin - Presence (1976)

A boatload of attention is given to Led Zeppelin's first four albums, but we'd wager that 1976's Presence was even more pivotal to 80s metal. Take a listen to Achilles Last Stand, and you'll hear how Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham's classically-inspired epic lent itself to the more ambitious musings of bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.

Starz - Starz (1976)

A blend of glam, and hard rock, tracks like Night Crawler and Detroit Girls are gritty, pop-oriented cuts from Starz's 1976 self-titled debut album. Vocalist Michael Lee Smith and guitarist Richie Ranno influenced bands like Mötley Crüe, Black N' Blue, and Poison to the point where it's feasible 80s hair metal doesn't happen without them.

Kiss - Kiss (1973)

Kiss hardly blew the lid off the scene with their debut in 1973, but the success of the breakthrough Alive! album in 1975 ensured that first album classics like Deuce and Black Diamond would set the standard for melodic hard rock in the 70s. You'd be hard-pressed to find a glam band that doesn't cite Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, and Peter Criss as influences. Elsewhere in the without-whom department, the over-the-top stage shows of the 80s can also be traced back to Kiss.

Aerosmith - Rocks (1976)

Aerosmith made it clear that they meant business through their early records, but they took things to heavier levels with 1976's Rocks. Through Steven Tyler's wails and Joe Perry's riffs, songs like Back In The Saddle and Rats In The Cellar laid the sleaze-rock blueprint for Guns N' Roses and Skid Row to follow in the late 80s.

Rainbow - Rising (1976)

With vocalist Ronnie James Dio pairing up with former Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore, 1976's Rising hit the reset button for 70s rock. Teeming with envelope-pushing bombast, songs like Stargazer and A Light in the Black are harbingers for 80s power metal. And if you're looking for the blueprint for later Dio classics like Black Sabbath's Heaven and Hell and his own Holy Diver, Rising is it.

Van Halen - Van Halen (1978)

The 80s metal scene was an unholy amalgam of hot-rodded guitars, aggressive riffs, shredding solos, monster drum fills and soaring choruses, and none of that happens without 1978's Van Halen. David Lee Roth, Michael Anthony, and Alex and Eddie Van Halen created a musical tour de force through tracks like Jamie's Cryin' and Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love, and it's one that 80s bands would imitate ad nauseam. If there's one album that set the stage for 80s metal, it's Van Halen.

Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is a contributing writer at Guitar World. In addition to currently working with Copper Magazine, Goldmine Magazine and Ultimate Guitar, Andrew is the founder and editor of VWMusic, a successful rock-oriented outlet launched in 2019. Andrew has interviewed the likes of Joe Perry, Stone Gossard, Paul Stanley, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Tommy Thayer, and many more. While his instrument of choice may be the drums, Andrew is a lover of all things guitar. Some of his favourite bands are Kiss, Oasis, Spread Eagle, and Starz.