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The 20 best rock albums of 1970

The 20 Greatest Albums of 1970
(Image credit: Future)

In 1970 The Beatles disbanded, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was ratified, Apollo 13 got into serious trouble, the US invaded Cambodia, 600,000 people attended the Isle Of Wight Festival, and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin bolstered the membership of the recently formed 27 club.

Elsewhere in music, great artists released great albums. Here are 20 of the greatest. 

Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath  (opens in new tab)

With their combination of boneshaking volume, catatonic tempos and doom-laden atmospherics, Black Sabbath (opens in new tab) were the heavy metal kings of the early 70s. And this, their debut, is where their reign – not to mention their influence – started. 

With its crushing chords, armour-piercing guitar lines, anvil-heavy bass and Ozzy’s darkly ominous vocals, it built up a quite awesome momentum.

Black Sabbath - Paranoid (opens in new tab)

Some albums genuinely deserve to be called classics, and Black Sabbath’s second release (opens in new tab) is certainly one of them. 

Continuing the bulldozing progress of its predecessor, while having more variety in the music, this hard-as-hell album was pure heavy metal heaven

Joe Cocker - Mad Dogs & Englishmen (opens in new tab) 

A double vinyl live album recorded on Joe Cocker (opens in new tab)’s legendary US tour – a quite mad, chaotic rock’n’roll circus-like extravaganza with more than 30 musicians in the band – which left the singer ill and virtually broke. 

It also resulted in this stunning (and extravagantly packaged) live record, fizzing with energy and at times bursting with outrageous bigband instrumentation, with piano player Leon Russell the ringmaster and bandleader.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Déjà Vu (opens in new tab) 

As with Crosby, Stills & Nash records before they became a four-piece with the addition of Neil Young (opens in new tab), Déjà Vu rolls along on a series of quite sublime vocal harmonies hitched to some wonderful songs. 

Includes Teach Your Children and Joni Mitchell’s berating 60s anthem Woodstock.

Deep Purple - In Rock (opens in new tab) 

One reputable reference book describes In Rock as ‘arguably the most influential UK hard rock album ever.’ And the record itself certainly puts forward a good case. 

A weighty slab of proto-metal that highlights the importance of Purple’s double axis of Ritchie Blackmore (opens in new tab)’s guitar pyrotechnics and Jon Lord’s growling Hammond organ, this album put them in rock’s big league.

Derek And The Dominoes - Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (opens in new tab)

A fine, reassuringly rough-edged, very blues-based album, strong on melody and rootsy performance, and with some underrated songwriting. 

Featuring wonderfully loose and gritty playing from the whole band, and Eric Clapton (opens in new tab) in particular (his singing, too, is emotionally charged), plus some steely slide cameos from Duane Allman, Layla... is far more than its much-loved, over-exposed and now devalued title track.

The Doors - Morrison Hotel (opens in new tab) 

Their previous studio album proved to be disappointing with its experimenting with brass and strings, so The Doors (opens in new tab) went back to their blues roots and recorded their strongest collection of songs since their explosive debut. 

It may not feature many of the band’s ‘greatest hits’, but there’s a real grit-and-grime feel to Morrison Hotel (opens in new tab), exemplified by the rolling bar-room groove of Roadhouse Blues.

Emerson Lake And Palmer - Emerson Lake And Palmer (opens in new tab) 

It was always going to be difficult for ELP (opens in new tab) to live up to all the ‘supergroup’ hype and expectations, but the band’s instrumentally-loaded debut delivered a loud and bombastic announcement of their arrival in progtastic style, and made the trio’s statement of intent clear from the start. 

Some would argue that it remains ELP’s best album. And they’d have a strong case.

Grand Funk Railroad - Closer To Home (opens in new tab)

Although strings on a Grand Funk album (on the title track) might sound incongruous, it worked. 

It was that kind of thinking – not just repeating what had worked before (although retaining all the key elements) – which resulted in a fine, focused album of no-nonsense, high-energy, high-volume, big-selling rock’n’roll that deservedly lifted Grand Funk out of the pack and into a much bigger world spotlight.

Grateful Dead - American Beauty (opens in new tab)

With their previous, mostly acoustic album, Grateful Dead (opens in new tab) underwent a musical shift, taking on board country rock and the kind of folk-rock influences redolent of Crosby, Stills And Nash. 

For American Beauty the band continued in the same vein, except with stronger songwriting, plus the benefit of more varied textures coming from a sprinkling of electric instruments, and came up with what is, for many ‘Dead heads’, the group’s best record.

Jimi Hendrix - Band Of Gypsys (opens in new tab) 

For a record delivered as a contractual get-out, Band Of Gypsys (opens in new tab) is some live album. 

With a new rhythm section after the break-up of the Experience, Hendrix headed off in different directions to explore the new musical territories of funk and R&B, and did so with a new-found precision and regenerated energy and creativity. His playing here is, in places, truly wonderful and masterfully controlled.

Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin III (opens in new tab) 

After Led Zeppelin (opens in new tab)’s first two salvos of mostly heavyweight rock’n’blues’n’roll, for their third album (opens in new tab) the band took a far more light-handed approach. 

They came up with a record this time defined more by its less belligerent, folk-based textures, as with the acoustic guitar rendering of the centrally positioned trio of Gallows Pole, Tangerine and That’s The Way. This release represented Zeppelin’s coming of age.

Mountain - Climbing! (opens in new tab)

Put together as a US version of Cream (opens in new tab), heavyweight four-piece Mountain could never match their British blueprint (then again, nobody would), but musically they could certainly throw their instrumental weight around, and on this album did so no more effectively than on the supercharged tub-thumping, guitar-squealing (from influential man-mountain Leslie West) opener Mississippi Queen

A powerful, sonically sharp debut that paved the way for many other bands.

Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother (opens in new tab)

The first serious stirrings of ambition from Pink Floyd (opens in new tab) since Syd Barrett (opens in new tab)’s departure, Atom Heart Mother is dominated by the 23-minute title track that features an orchestra and choir. 

The opening brass bombast gives way to a series of mood changes that includes a celestial choir and, unusually for Pink Floyd, a funky section called Funky Dung. Among the individual songs on the second side, Roger Waters (opens in new tab)’ If stands out as a contemplative piece on alienation, a topic he would return to more forcefully later.

Santana - Abraxas (opens in new tab) 

Fusing Afro-Latin rhythms and West Coast rock more effectively, more excitingly and more successfully than had been done before, for their second album Santana came up with an infectious, invigorating, glorious collection: the dynamic Black Magic Woman/Gyspy Queen; the widescreen, filmic sweep of Incident At Neshabur; the graceful-then-fiery Samba Pa Ti; the evocative Latin flavour of Oya Como Va

A true classic album.

Rod Stewart - An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (opens in new tab)

Rod’s first solo album is a grab-bag of folk songs, bawdy drinking tunes, a taste of soul and a brace of barrelhouse rockers that fit together wonderfully. 

Grittily performed, with Rod’s rasping, rough-edged delivery perfectly suiting the material, the highlights are a clever re-working of the Stones’ Street Fighting Man and probably the definitive version of Mike D’Abo’s Handbags And Gladrags.

The Stooges - Fun House (opens in new tab) 

The famous US critic Lester Bangs described the music of Iggy Pop and the Stooges (opens in new tab) as “brutal, mindless, primitive, vicious, base, savage, primal, hate-filled, grungy, terrifying and above all real.” Hear all that and more on Fun House

A bristling, electrifying album recorded to sound as close as possible to the band’s live set at the time, it’s music you can almost smell.

The Velvet Underground - Loaded (opens in new tab) 

While many of the Velvets’s songs were basic in construction, and the performances intentionally crude, the overall effect could be exhilarating. 

Their final studio album, Loaded is the closest the Velvets ever really got to mainstream rock, and the album that gave us Rock And Roll and the timeless Sweet Jane, both of which were indicators of where Lou Reed (opens in new tab) was heading with his soon-to-be-launched solo career.

The Who - Live At Leeds (opens in new tab) 

After Tommy, The Who were overflowing with confidence when they played the juggernaut live show that provided the material for Live At Leeds

Loud, boisterous and in-your-face, the sheer energy and momentum of Substitute, Magic Bus and, in particular, the dynamic rendition of Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues more than makes up for the band’s sloppy performance and poor sound quality.

Neil Young - After The Goldrush (opens in new tab) 

While still bathing in the glow of success of his previous record, and also Crosby, Stllls, Nash & Young’s debut album, Young deservedly shot to real stardom with the beautifully crafted, yet strikingly pessimistic, After The Goldrush

With the then-unknown Nils Lofgren (opens in new tab)’s piano playing a key element alongside Young’s songs and delivery, it’s one of the definitive singer-songwriter albums.

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