Skip to main content

The 20 best rock albums of 1973

The 20 best albums of 1973
(Image credit: Future)

In 1973 the US ended its part in the Vietnam War after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, and oil prices increased by 200% after OPEC throttled supply.

Elsewhere, American Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned after being accused of tax evasion, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the infamous "Battle Of The Sexes" tennis match, Britain joined the European Union, and The Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul was completed, allowing locals to walk from Europe to Asia in a few short minutes.

In music, Kiss played their first ever show, at the Coventry Club in Queens, Lou Reed was bitten on the buttocks by a fan during a concert in Buffalo, The Scorpions played their first show with Uli Jon Roth after he replaced Michael Schenker, CBGB opened, and AC/DC formed in Sydney.  

These are the 20 best albums of 1973.

Alice Cooper - Billion Dollar Babies (opens in new tab) 

Alice Cooper (opens in new tab)’s fourth album with Bob Ezrin marked the apex of his creativity. With School’s Out fresh in the international psyche, expectations were high and Cooper, at the peak of his tabloid notoriety, delivered. 

Elected (opens in new tab), No More Mr Nice Guy and I Love The Dead ooze malevolent class.

David Bowie - Aladdin Sane (opens in new tab) 

Written on tour in America (opens in new tab) while David Bowie (opens in new tab) soared into the celebrity stratosphere at home, Aladdin Sane was a dazzling song cycle freed from the conceptual constraints that characterised its iconic predecessor, Ziggy Stardust (opens in new tab)

Drive-In Saturday finds Bowie bursting with imaginative creativity, while Mike Garson’s signature piano adds crucial depth to the Stones-y raunch of The Jean Genie and Cracked Actor.

Emerson, Lake And Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery (opens in new tab) 

Built around the 30- minute climactic leviathan that is Karn Evil 9, a veritable brontosaurus of unashamed virtuoso overstatement that gradually unfolded across an entire side of vinyl, Brain Salad Surgery (opens in new tab) defined ELP (opens in new tab)

Prior to Karn Evil 9’s futuristic free-for-all, history is rewritten (Jerusalem), Palmer pummels (Toccata), Lake croons commercially (Still... You Turn Me On) and Emerson boogie-woogies (Benny The Bouncer).

Faces - Ooh La La (opens in new tab) 

With the band already playing reluctant second fiddle to Rod Stewart’s ever-burgeoning solo career, Ooh La La marked the original Faces (opens in new tab)’ swansong; a disillusioned Ronnie Lane quit shortly after its release. 

Frequently overlooked, it’s a multi-faceted (though characteristically raw) gem, rich in kitchen-sink drama (Cindy Incidentally), Jack-the-lad poignancy (Ooh La La) and sheer, ragged brilliance (Borstal Boys).

Hawkwind - Space Ritual (opens in new tab)

Arguably the only Hawkwind (opens in new tab) album you’ll ever really need, the sumptuously packaged, double vinyl Space Ritual set was destined to become a staple of any self-respecting stoner’s record collection. 

Recorded live in Liverpool and Brixton, this emphatic maelstrom of unrelenting riffage (Brainstorm), sci-fi ramblings (Sonic Attack), and trip-enhancing electronic bleeps (Born To Go) is one Silver Machine short of perfection.

Iggy And The Stooges - Raw Power (opens in new tab) 

A true masterpiece of pure narcissistic nihilism, punk rock’s Dead Sea Scrolls can all be found etched into these grooves. Though latterly celebrated for its incalculable influence on rock’s next generation, Raw Power was initially dismissed as a mere curio. 

Duff Bowie production or not, Search And Destroy’s alliance of Iggy’s primal howl and James Williamson’s fretboard ferocity redefines intensity.

Led Zeppelin - Houses Of The Holy (opens in new tab) 

The breathtaking ensemble interplay and dynamics of Zeppelin IV (opens in new tab) were still in place for Houses Of The Holy (opens in new tab)

Yet despite the undeniable excellence of solid gold classics such as the rampaging The Song Remains The Same, scintillating The Rain Song and foreboding No Quarter, small chinks started to appear in Led Zeppelin (opens in new tab)’s creative armour. But we can forgive them the occasional Crunge.

Lynyrd Skynyrd - (Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd) (opens in new tab) 

A staggering debut that immediately established Lynyrd Skynyrd (opens in new tab) as the jewel in the crown of southern rock, there’s far more to (Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd) than simply its epic closing track, Freebird

The evergreen American FM radio staple might still deliver involuntary air-guitar nirvana to even the most casual listener, but Gimme Three Steps and Tuesday’s Gone can’t be underestimated.

Mott The Hoople - Mott (opens in new tab) 

Coming hot on the heels of Mott (opens in new tab)’s inaugural chart success with a cover of Bowie’s All The Young Dudes, here was a chance for Ian Hunter to demonstrate his very own songwriting prowess. 

Glam standards All The Way From Memphis and Honaloochie Boogie charted strongly, and with Violence and Whizz Kid in reserve, Hunter’s point was proven.

Nazareth - Razamanaz (opens in new tab) 

The melodic hard rockers from Dunfermline enjoyed respectable singles chart success in 73, and Razamanaz includes both of their biggest top 10 hits. 

A prototype Bon Scott (opens in new tab), Dan McCafferty’s paint-peeling vocals are heard to best effect on Bad Bad Boy, yet can also do the business when applied to the heartfelt balladry of Broken Down Angel, while the band remain rock solid.

New York Dolls - New York Dolls (opens in new tab) 

With the Rolling Stones (opens in new tab) gradually dove-tailing into the establishment, the New York Dolls seized their moment. By blending libertine excess, ambisexual delinquency and piratical swagger, the pattern was set for the cavalier obnoxiousness that eventually coalesced into punk. 

Their first album is their masterpiece; scuzzy, street-life vignettes honed to scalpel sharpness by Johnny Thunders (opens in new tab)’ switchblade riffs.

Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells (opens in new tab) 

Written while the former Kevin Ayers (opens in new tab) guitarist was still a teenager, this symphony-length instrumental exemplar of the over-dubber’s art was initially greeted by a barrage of industry rejection before Richard Branson, head of the Virgin Records retail chain, decided to release it independently. 

The result? Multiplatinum sales, a five-year chart run, a theme tune for The Exorcist and an airline for Branson.

Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon (opens in new tab) 

Previewed at London’s Planetarium, Roger Waters (opens in new tab)’ treatise on mental illness finally found the post-Barrett Pink Floyd (opens in new tab) fulfilling their potential. 

The fluidity of Us And Them, strident dynamism of The Great Gig In The Sky, jarring alarm bells of Time and staccato cash registers of Money typify an album that defines an era.

Lou Reed - Berlin (opens in new tab) 

The core conceptual premise of Berlin (boy meets girl, boy slaps girl, girl has breakdown, loses kids, takes life, boy repents at leisure) might be one of the most depressing stories ever told. 

But Lou Reed (opens in new tab)’s lyrical sensitivity and Bob Ezrin’s production transform a potential doom-fest into an oddly uplifting experience.

Rolling Stones - Goats Head Soup (opens in new tab) 

Exile On Main St (opens in new tab) was always going to be a hard act to follow, and in Stones lore Goats Head Soup is frowned upon as something of a poor relation. 

That said, the majority of bands would kill to concoct material of this quality. Angie is a fabulously decadent slice of acoustic jet-set ennui, and Star Star is delightfully salacious.

Roxy Music - For Your Pleasure (opens in new tab) 

Roxy Music (opens in new tab) were the exception that proved the rule when it came to the 70s not being on nodding terms with sophistication. Everything about For Your Pleasure, from the decadent aspect of its cover art to the arch European drawl with which Bryan Ferry despatched each evocative couplet, was exquisitely contrived. 

A tantalising glimpse into rock’s future from glam’s most glamorous.

Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Next (opens in new tab) 

Having a background in Hamburg, cabaret and musical theatre left the gap-toothed Gorbals journeyman well-equipped to tackle any musical style that took his fancy with casual aplomb. Consequently, you’d have to look long and hard to find any album as varied, unpredictable, assured and well-rounded as Next

From the proto-electronica of Faith Healer to the gritty Glasgow-kiss rehash of Jacques Brel’s title track, Alex invariably astounds at every turn.

Status Quo - Hello (opens in new tab) 

For many, the album that set Status Quo (opens in new tab)’s trademark clipped, muscular, boogie style in stone represents the band at their best; an opinion that’s almost impossible to contradict. 

After all, what better Quo single than Caroline? And what better heads-down, no-nonsense crowd-pleaser than Roll Over Lay Down or fists-aloft set-closer than Forty Five Hundred Times? Exactly.

The Who - Quadrophenia (opens in new tab) 

Pete Townshend’s homage to the 60s mod subculture that helped catapult The Who (opens in new tab) to stardom was a long time coming. 

But the complex conceptual tale of everyman mod Jimmy Cooper’s fraught passage to adulthood – a spiritual journey exacerbated by a four-way personality split (one for each Who member) – was well worth the wait.

ZZ Top - Tres Hombres (opens in new tab) 

The Texas trio’s first US hit found Billy Gibbons (opens in new tab) dirtying his already filthy guitar sound while gradually edging towards a distinctively ZZ Top (opens in new tab) sound. 

He nailed it on the chart-busting, shit-kicking ode to a whorehouse that was La Grange, as well as the evocatively titled Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers.

Classic Rock is the online home of the world's best rock'n'roll magazine. We bring you breaking news, exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes features, as well as unrivalled access to the biggest names in rock music; from Led Zeppelin to Deep Purple, Guns N’ Roses to the Rolling Stones, AC/DC to the Sex Pistols, and everything in between. Our expert writers bring you the very best on established and emerging bands plus everything you need to know about the mightiest new music releases.