The 20 Most Underrated Classic Rock Albums Ever
Bonkers concept albums, electro-metal diversions, overlooked comebacks and heroic failures – these are 20 underrated classic rock albums that deserve a second chance
You’ve read our list of the worst rock albums in history, so it’s only fair that we redress the balance and shine a light on the most underrated albums ever made. From epic concept albums and electro-metal diversions to unappreciated comebacks and lost treasures, every one of these records deserves a second chance.
Pink Floyd – Soundtrack To More (1969)
The music for the film More is a broad-canvas painting incorporating a number of very contrasting colours, including the electro-fluorescent, almost heavy metal The Nile Song, soft watercolour washes with Crying Song, and the stark, primary-colour elctronica of Quicksilver. From its very beginning with the hypnotic and wonderfully etheral Cirrus Minor, the album marks the emergence of guitarist David Gilmour as a lead vocalist, as well as offering glimpses of the kind of music that would really put Floyd into orbit three years later with Dark Side Of The Moon.
Jimi Hendrix – Rainbow Bridge (1971)
Not to be confused with the Rainbow Bridge Concert recording, Rainbow Bridge was put together as a promotional album for a mostly dreadful film of the same name. The album itself, on the other hand, contains arguably some of the best – indeed some of the most beautiful – studio tracks Hendrix ever recorded: the floating ballad Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) is magnificent; the instrumental Pali Gap is hypnotic, and shows his guitar playing at its most shimmering; Earth Blues, is Jimi at his most soulful. A real forgotten pearl.
Status Quo – Dog Of Two Head (1971)
For many people, Status Quo’s career didn’t really begin until they slipped into distressed denims and released Piledriver in 1973. Its predecessor, Dog Of Two Head, has much to recommend it: it packed a vicious bite, and would supply a host of tracks that would cement Quo’s live performances for decades to follow. Most strikingly, the album contained Mean Girl, three minutes of finely honed boogie that would be forever regarded as quintessential Quo. Without doubt, Dog Of Two Head was the first classic Quo album – and it has aged better than most.
Deep Purple – Burn (1974)
People usually turn to the Mk II line-up of the band for a dose of classic Deep Purple, and that means albums such as In Rock or Machine Head. At the time of its release, Burn upset Purple purists because of its ambitious rock/blues/soul/funk direction, and because of the absence of simple, Smoke On The Water-type riffs. But it represents a monumental milestone in the history of Purple: new boys David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes are as enthusiastic as they come, and Ritchie Blackmore is on peak form.
Aerosmith - Get Your Wings (1974)
The second album from the ’Smiths was originally overlooked because their debut featured Dream On, which was a belated hit around the time Get Your Wings was released. But it really is a far better record than its predecessor, both in the playing and the songwriting. Seasons Of Wither, Lord Of The Thighs, Same Old Song And Dance... classics every one. Only Toys In The Attic and Rocks were better Aerosmith records during the band’s 70s reign.
The Who – Who Are You (1978)
Who Are You was the last great hurrah for The Who, although no one may have realised it at the time. A highly assured record, theres plenty of Pete Townshends trademark guitar crunchery and the band sound genuinely enthusiastic, even raucous, on several numbers. What’s more, Townshend’s beloved synthesisers are kept in their rightful place way, way at the back of the mix. Where previous Who albums were plagued by inconsistency, this was steady as a rock - unlike drummer Keith Moon, who died shortly after its release. The band never sounded the same with his replacement Kenney Jones at the stool.
Led Zeppelin – In Through The Out Door (1979)
By 1979 Led Zeppelin were seemingly in a state of turmoil, with their creative force on the wane. So its no surprise that In Through The Out Door was greeted with disdain by critics distinctly underwhelmed by the music from a band they felt were no longer relevant. But this is to do a gross disservice to a record that demonstrates how Zeppelin were still prepared to experiment, as on the Latin-tinged Fool In The Rain and the shuffling South Bound Suarez. This was Zeppelin’s swansong, but history has shown In Through The Out Door to be an album with more to offer than seemed the case back in ’79.
Genesis – Duke (1980)
Genesis’ second album as a three-piece, and in many ways a transition album, Duke is often criticised for being the point where they began their descent into their radio-friendly, hit-chasing third phase. But look in the margins betwen some of the more pop-oriented Genesis songs (Turn It On Again, Misunderstanding) and Collins’ at times heavy-handed bleeding-heart lyrics (Please Don’t Ask, Guide Vocal), and there are glorious, heart-melting melodies and sublime chord structures that would sit comfortably with those on much of what is considered to be classic early Genesis.
Kiss – Music From “The Elder” (1981)
The Elder was a mad concept album that confused the hell out of everyone. A colossal failure in sales terms, the anomalous record nonetheless has much to recommend it. A spooky atmosphere is conjured up by bizarre opening track The Oath, and a sense of impending doom never departs. For The Elder Kiss rehired Bob Ezrin, who had produced their 1976 classic Destroyer, and whose last project had been Pink Floyd’s The Wall, which probably accounts for its air of dementedness.
Van Halen – Diver Down (1982)
Too many covers and too many fillers: that was the complaint when Van Halen released Diver Down in 1982. But actually listen to this record, and what you find is an album that gets closer to the philosophy and spirit of the band than any of their others except for the debut and 1984. It has energy, humour, attitude, and an in-your-face live feel that really does bring the band into your boudoir. And the version of (Oh) Pretty Woman is one of the great covers. If you don’t understand Diver Down, then you don’t get the essence of the David Lee Roth-era Van halen.
AC/DC – Flick Of The Switch (1983)
Flick Of The Switch was the first AC/DC album to get pounced on by the critics. “The Australian mega-bar-band AC/DC has now made the same album nine times, surely a record even in heavy-metal circles,” sniped Rolling Stone magazine. And on the surface, it continued the steady post-Back In Black decline instigated with its immediate predecessor, For Those About To Rock.
But that‘s looking at all wrong. Flick Of The Switch is the sound of AD/DC stripping away everything that producer Mutt Lange had imposed on them: echo, reverb. gang choruses. The result is down and dirty and back to their roots. It might not have been their best album, but it was far from their worst. That would come two years later, with Fly On The Wall.
Yes – 90125 (1983)
No six-hour prog-tastic epics, and no Roger Dean cover... just a sensational pop-rock album. 90125 is a complete aberration in the convoluted history of Yes, and all the better for it. With guitarist Trevor Rabin on board, much of the material was written for a project called Cinema that was being put together by Rabin and Yes bassist Chris Squire. But with the late addition of Jon Andersons schoolboy vocals, the Cinema name was dropped... and a brand new, futuristic Yes was born. They even got a US No.1 single with Owner Of A Lonely Heart. Its Yes, Jim, but not as we know them.
Bon Jovi - 7800 Degrees Fahrenheit (1985)
7800 Degrees Fahrenheit is the album Bon Jovi have tried to forget. With the occasional exception of In And Out Of Love, they don’t acknowledge the record at all in the live shows. Why? Because it brings back bad memories of a tough time in their career. But that‘s precidely what makes the album so compelling: it’s full of cathartic songs that came from the soul ,and not shooting from the groin. The Hardest Part Is The Night, Tokyo Road... these are giant tracks. Almost 20 years after its release, it stands up as well as any of the more celebrated Jovi albums.
Judas Priest – Turbo (1986)
Turbo was supposed to be Priest’s Eliminator moment. They added an electronic influence to their sound, and even smoothed out their image to try to appeal to a more mainstream audience. It didnt work. Long-time fans were alienated by the more modern approach, while the wider world remained indifferent, so the band quickly reverted to type. However, Turbo does include some of the strongest songs Priest wrote in the 80s, and the musical approach still sounds surprisingly fresh. The shame is not in the attempt at something different, but that it was abandoned so readily.
Motörhead – Orgasmatron (1986)
Motörhead had been in existence for more than 10 years by the time Orgasmatron was released. By then many rockers had been rendered stone deaf from the impact of Motör-albums such as Overkill, Ace Of Spades and No Sleep Til Hammersmith, so the niceties of Orgasmatron passed many people by. But it was actually the first time Motörhead managed to sound halfway decent on record. Lemmys voice is inhuman, guitarists Phil Campbell and Würzel roar like uncaged beasts. If an orgasmatron is a sex toy, then here its the size of a bloody moon rocket.
Black Sabbath – The Headless Cross (1989)
By the late 1980s, guitarist Tony Iommi was single-handedly steering Black Sabbath through choppy waters, having used various singers. And while Tony Martin had a fine voice, but lacked the persona of an Ozzy, a Dio, a Gillan or a Hughes, tracks like Devil And Daughter and When Death Calls was top-drawer. Some people never forgave Iommi for employing the decidedly un-Satanic ex-Whitesnake man Neil Murray and his pink bass guitar, but like its 1990 successor, Tyr, The Headless Cross withstands all the scrutiny that the name Black Sabbath always brings.
Motley Crue – Motley Crue (1994)
Replacing Vince Neil with the deeper-voiced John Corabi, Motley Crue underwent a radical post- grunge reinvention – even dropping their umlauts. Bob Rocks thick, rumbling production gave a new lease of life to the guitar sound, and the band used the opportunity to stretch out. So while Power To The Music and Hooligan’s Holiday satiated the die-hards, Misunderstood had a lavish orchestral arrangement, and Poison Apples was plastered with honky-tonk piano. Unfortunately the band’s fans failed to appreciate the new, more mature Motley, but the album has stood the test of time.
Def Leppard – Slang (1996)
Slang was the sound of a band asking themselves who – and indeed what – they actually were. With guitarist Vivian Campbell succeeding the late Steve Clark, and the rock scene still mourning for Kurt Cobain, the album failed to answer either question or to conquer the charts. But it is considerably more than a Langes production sheen and largely devoid of hooks, it mere curio. Without Mutt nevertheless contained some pearls. Turn To Dust has a middle-Eastern feel, All I Want Is Everything is hypnotic, and the sleek title track remains is still in their live set.
Queen – Made In Heaven (1996)
Yes, they were cheating. But with an irreplaceable vocalist long gone, what else were they supposed to do? And though pieced together from snippets of genuinely unfinished material and repolished gems – that the surviving trio hoped no one would notice had previously appeared on solo works – Queen’s twentieth album is an overlooked classic. Made In Heaven wrings emotions from its audience like a Spielberg blockbuster, and songs may sometimes seem to have been chosen and sequenced for poignancy alone, but the overall effect is irresistible.
Metallica – S&M (1999)
It came at a time when the previously indestructible Metallica were on the ropes after the one-two of Load and Reload (themselves both under-rated albums), and it was seen as a millionaire rock band’s folly, but S&M is their mightiest-sounding album. With composer and arranger Michael Kamen grasping his baton and gritting his teeth in the face of the combined might of Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, the listener is brutally assaulted by relentless waves of titanic Wagnerian ubermetal. After two hours at the right volume, you’ll feel like you actually are in Hell. Plus in No Leaf Clover, it contains one of their greatest unsung classics.