Skip to main content

The 20 albums that changed the course of rock'n'roll

From King Crimson putting prog on the map to Metallica taking thrash metal to the masses, here are the 20 best albums that defined the rock genre as we know it

From Dylan to Hendrix and Metallica to King Crimson, each of the artists in this list played a massive part in making rock music what it is today. All of these albums took the musical rulebook and threw it out of the window – and the results were all the better for it. Join us to celebrate the albums that defined our genre as we know it.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced (1967)

The album that put the soul in rock’n’roll (and redefined the electric guitar while it was at it)

When Jimi Hendrix landed on British soil and formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1966 he may as well have been beamed down directly from a spaceship en route to Mars. Instead he had been coaxed over from his life as a struggling New York backing musician by former Animals bassist Chas Chandler. And Jimi’s guitar-playing skills were truly other-worldly. Yes, there were plenty of tasty guitarists around in the mid-60s, but no one could hold a candle to Hendrix. On his debut album Are You Experienced in 1967 we were given so many ground-breaking gifts.

What Hendrix managed to do with his guitar, the sounds he occasionally teased, often thrashed out of that lump of wood with strings attached, put him in a league of his own. From screeching feedback to delicious dollops of wah-wah, his tone was an absolute bolt from the blue. Then there were his solos. A guitar solo was no longer a means of getting from the bridge to the final chorus, instead Hendrix’s solos were moments full of colour. When he was in the mood it sounded like his fingers were about to burst into flames.

But Are You Experienced isn’t a guitar-chops wankathon, it’s packed full of killer songs. Not just great songs, but daringly innovative material. There’s the guitar attack of Foxy Lady, Fire with its bonkers, off-the-wall funk feel, and, on the original US release, stripped-back ballads such as The Wind Cries Mary. This record showed Hendrix as a thoughtful, soulful songwriter as well as a smokin’ riff master.

Of course, it wasn’t a one-man show; Noel Redding’s bass lines were the catalyst for a huge bulk of the Experience’s tunes, and the album benefits greatly from the amazing jazz feel of drummer Mitch Mitchell, an imperious player who took centre stage on Fire. Then there was the three-four rhythm which carried Manic Depression. Granted, Neil Peart and Mike Portnoy gobble up such meters for breakfast, but odd time wasn’t exactly commonplace in mid-60s rock, so again another point for the Jimi Hendrix Experience musical trailblazers tally.

Chat with any guitarist of the past 40 years or so and if they don’t acknowledge Are You Experienced as an influence then they bloody well should do – just ask Beck, Clapton et al. It’s a record that changed our musical landscape in so many ways it made your head spin. It gave a glimpse of just what could be achieved with a guitar. The reverberations from Jimi’s experiments across its tracks can certainly still be felt today. It also brought a treasure trove of genres together, from rock and soul to psychedelic funk and even folk. In doing so it proved that sometimes if you take some risks with music you will be richly rewarded.

And then there’s Hendrix himself. Are You Experienced put this Seattle kid on the map as the greatest guitarist of his time, and one of the most iconic rock stars the world had ever seen, both of which still ring true today. If that’s not a legacy, we don’t know what is.

From the archive

From the archive

From the archive


More from this edition

Get Involved

Trending Features