Home Music Music Lists

Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Metal/Hard Rock Albums of the 1970s

Picks include Black Sabbath’s ‘Master of Reality’ and Aerosmith’s ‘Rocks’

Jimmy Page Robert Plant Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page Robert Plant Led Zeppelin

The 1970s was a good time to be a young rock fan. Every couple of months there was a new album by Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC or literally dozens of other huge hard rock and metal acts. Most groups averaged an album a year, and they toured like maniacs. It wasn't uncommon to see Blue Oyster Cult open for Kiss or Black Sabbath share a bill with a young Van Halen. This was before MTV, and fat, hairy guys with mustaches were still superstars. It's four decades past the Seventies now, but if you look at the schedule for most arenas you'd think it was still 1978. Black Sabbath, Kiss, AC/DC, Van Halen and others still dominate the touring industry. Their 1970s work left a huge impression, and classic rock radio has introduced their music to people too young to hear it the first time around. We asked our readers to vote on their favorite hard rock/metal albums of the Seventies. Click through to see the results. 

By Andy Greene


Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

10. Montrose, ‘Montrose’ 

Long before Sammy Hagar declared that he couldn't drive 55, he was the lead singer of the California hard-rock quartet Montrose. They never had any huge singles and Hagar split just two years into their run, but their early work influenced a generation of guitarists, including another California-based virtuoso who named his group after his last name. His name was Eddie and he worked with Montrose producer Ted Templeman on his first album. When his singer left in 1984, he quickly snatched up Sammy Hagar. Anyway, Montrose's 1973 debut LP attracted a larger audience in England than America, but today tracks like "Rock Candy" and "Bad Motor Scooter" are seen as classics. The group reunited with Hagar a handful of times in the 2000s, but old tensions quickly resurfaced and Sammy had little interest in the drama. Sadly, Ronnie Montrose committed suicide last year after a battle with cancer. 

Black Sabbath, 'Master of Reality'

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

9. Black Sabbath, ‘Master of Reality’

Black Sabbath were on a roll when they cut Master of Reality in the summer of 1971. Their 1970 debut established them as one of the best new bands on the planet, and later that year they released Paranoid. Against all odds, that album actually put a couple of songs into heavy rotation on the radio. When it came time for Master of Reality they actually had a budget and more than a couple of days to record the thing. They used the time well, crafting riff-heavy masterpieces like "Children of the Grave," " Into the Void" and "Sweet Leaf." The songs seemed to pour out of them almost effortlessly at this point. Fans will endlessly debate when exactly Black Sabbath peaked, but one can make a strong argument it was right around the release of Master of Reality

Kiss Alive

Courtesy of Mercury Records

8. Kiss, ‘Alive’ 

Kiss had a big problem in 1975. They'd been on the road non-stop for two years and were a killer live band, but they never managed to capture that energy on a record. Their first three albums failed to reach a mass audience. The obvious answer was to cut a live album, so they let the tapes roll during shows in Ohio, New Jersey, Michigan and Iowa. The plan worked. Alive! hit the top 10 on the Billboard album charts and remained a best-seller for years. Within months, Kiss were packing arenas all over the country. The debate rages over how much of Kiss is actually live and how much is the product of studio overdubbing, but it hardly matters. Every song is better than its studio version. 

Aerosmith Rocks

Courtesy of Columbia Records

7. Aerosmith, ‘Rocks’

Rocks isn't the most famous Aerosmith album. With the possible exception of "Back in the Saddle," there's no song nearly as iconic as "Walk This Way," "Dream On" or "Sweet Emotion." But the album captures the band at their absolute peak. Hard drugs had yet to corrode the group's camaraderie, and they were churning out brilliant work like "Last Child" and "Rats in the Cellar." Even minor tracks on the 1976 LP, like "Lick and a Promise" and "Sick as a Dog," are fantastic. It's a raw, loose and bluesy sound they've never quite managed to top, and 37 years later the album sounds incredibly fresh. 

AC/DC, 'Highway to Hell' 

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

6. AC/DC, ‘Highway to Hell’ 

AC/DC obviously had no idea that Highway to Hell would be the final album with Bon Scott, but it would be impossible to think of a more fitting finale for the frontman. It was the group's sixth album, and they had the formula down to a science by that point. "Highway to Hell" is one of the best kick-off songs in rock history, and the album is unrelenting from there. "Shot Down in Flames" and "If You Want Blood (You've Got It)" stand up to anything in the AC/DC catalog. The LP found a huge audience all over the world and AC/DC were on such a creative roll that even Scott's death couldn't stop them. In the same year that Black Sabbath brought Ronnie James Dio onboard, AC/DC found Brian Johnson and cut Back in Black as a tribute to Scott. 

Van Halen, 'Van Halen' 

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

5. Van Halen, ‘Van Halen’ 

The Van Halen brothers started making music with David Lee Roth in 1974, but they wouldn't release their debut album for four years. During that time, they honed their live show and wrote a ton of songs. The best of those tracks wound up on their 1978 LP, without a doubt one of the best debut albums in rock history. Side A almost reads like a greatest hits album: "Runnin' With the Devil," "Eruption," "You Really Got Me," "Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love" and "I'm the One." Then Side B kicks off with "Jamie's Cryin'," which goes right into "Atomic Punk." It's astounding. They've cut a lot of albums since, but this is their masterpiece. If it was the only album they ever made, they'd still be rock legends forever. 

Deep Purple, 'Machine Head'

Courtesy of EMI Records

4. Deep Purple, ‘Machine Head’

Before Deep Purple released Machine Head in 1972, most rock fans (at least in America) knew them as that Sixties band that covered Billy Joe Royal's "Hush" and Neil Diamond's "Kentucky Woman." That perception changed forever the moment "Smoke On the Water" hit the radio. This was almost a different band (fans dub them Deep Purple Mach II), and they were sensational – one of the few hard rock acts that could truly challenge Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Machine Head was their most successful disc. It turned Ritchie Blackmore into a guitar god for generations of players, and about 10 billion garage bands got their start playing "Smoke on the Water." They tour to this day (minus Blackmore), but most of their fans are overseas and they rarely hit America. 

Black Sabbath, 'Paranoid'

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

3. Black Sabbath, ‘Paranoid’

Black Sabbath are on tour right now, and every night they open with "War Pigs" from Paranoid and close with the title track. In between, they play three other songs from their landmark 1970 disc. (They only break out three songs from their new album, 13.) Paranoid is their most popular album, perhaps making it the most popular album in metal history. They cut the LP in a matter of days in June of 1970, and just three months later it was on the shelves. It catapulted the band to huge fame, even though many snobbish critics tore it to pieces. This was the era of Carole King and James Taylor, and here were four guys from Birmingham, England with songs like "Rat Salad" and "Fairies Wear Boots." But Black Sabbath outlasted all their critics, and still draw huge crowds. 

Led Zeppelin, 'Physical Graffiti'

Courtesy of Swan Song Records

2. Led Zeppelin, ‘Physical Graffiti’

When Led Zeppelin were done recordings songs for Physical Graffiti they realized they had more music than would fit on a single LP. Unwilling to cut anything, they decided to make it a double album. They padded it out with outtakes from their previous few albums, but listening to it now it's impossible to tell what songs are from 1974 and which stem from other projects. Physical Graffiti was their sixth album in as many years, but the group was still churning out classics at a stunning speed. Songs like "Kashmir" and "Trampled Under Foot" have been classic rock radio staples for decades, while deeper cuts like "In the Light" and "In My Time of Dying" remain fan favorites. The group released two albums after Physical Graffiti, but they were relatively weak in comparison to everything that came before. Physical Graffiti is their last truly perfect album. 

Led Zeppelin, 'Led Zeppelin IV' 

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

1. Led Zeppelin, ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ 

Led Zeppelin's first LP came out in January of 1969, but by November of 1971 they were already on their fourth album. It was a stunning run. Each of the first tour discs are amazing in its own way, but most fans feel that IV stands alone above them, and it's not just for "Stairway to Heaven." There isn't a weak moment on the album, from the opening notes of "Black Dog" through the end of "When the Levee Breaks." "Going to California" is the finest ballad, and "Rock and Roll" is the group at their stadium-shaking best. Like Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, this is an album that generation after generation of 15-year-olds discover, even if it's not on Spotify.