The most influential albums of all time

9 August 2020, 14:30 | Updated: 9 August 2020, 14:31

The Beatles at a press conference for their return to Shea Stadium in August 1966, just a couple of weeks afrer the release of Revolver
The Beatles at a press conference for their return to Shea Stadium in August 1966, just a couple of weeks afrer the release of Revolver. Picture: Santi Visalli Inc./Getty Images

These albums are the game-changers, the records that changed music forever. Here's why.

  1. The Beatles - Revolver (1966)

    Sgt Pepper may be acclaimed as the Fab Four's masterwork, but in terms of a major step in the band's songwriting and production, their 1966 LP is way out in front. From George Harrison's dip into the world of Indian music on Love You To, via the impossibly versatile Paul McCartney songbook (For No One, Got To Get You Into My Life) to the John Lennon's apocalyptic finale Tomorrow Never Knows, Revolver redefined the scope of what was possible with mere "pop" music.

  2. Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (1979)

    The Manchester band were another in the long line of snotty punks, but as they progressed, their songwriting became deeper and more intriguing. Throw in the visionary production genius of Martin Hannett and you have a unique musical landscape that inspired countless "long raincoat" bands.

  3. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)

    A select few albums can say that they defined a generation, and Nevermind is absolutely one of them. Taking the uncompromising thrash of their debut Bleach, producer Butch Vig gave a gleaming polish to the band's songs, making them accessible to millions. Smells Like Teen Spirit was an instant anthem, but the rest of the album is assured and confident. Grunge didn't last, but the attitude did.

  4. Metallica - Master Of Puppets (1986)

    In the early 1980s, heavy metal meant either earnest young men from Sheffield dressed in denim, or ludicrous young men from Los Angeles dressed in spandex. Metallica took their cue from hardcore punk: their version of metal was sped up, confrontational and dealt in weighty issues like politics, death and morality. Their third album inspired a generation of kids - and other bands - to take their music seriously.

  5. Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)

    The Floyd had done "concept" albums before… but there was something about the unsettling but thoughtdul lyrical content and the polished sonic experimentation that hit home with millions of record buyers. A milestone in "progressive" rock, it influenced Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, Muse and anyone else who liked to get a bit ambitious.

  6. Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1987)

    The hip hop collective's second album was the definitive moment that rap stopped being a novelty and became a true art form. Tracks like Bring The Noise and Don't Believe The Hype gave the music a voice and a conscience that's still relevant today.

  7. Portishead - Dummy (1994)

    While dance music was moving in a more manic direction in some areas - jungle, which would would morph into drum 'n' bass among other things - the Bristol trip hop scene was producing something more down-tempo. The frail vocals of Beth Gibbons complimented the eerie atmosphere concocted by Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley.

  8. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)

    Lazily tagged as "shoegaze", My Bloody Valentine's music was difficult to categorise, impossible to pigeonhole and, on occasion, challenging to listen to. The sonic world created by Kevin Shields and his wall of sound was both impenetrable and accessible at the same time. It was such a remarkable record, it took him over 20 years to follow it up. In the meantime, dozens of artists took MBV's lead and began to experiment, dismantling rock 'n' roll in the process.

  9. The Strokes - Is This It (2001)

    "I just wanted to be one of The Strokes," said Alex Turner on Arctic Monkeys' Star Treatment - and he wasn't the only one. Just as it seemed that guitar music was dead, a new decade and a new millennium brought The Strokes. Their debut album was full of confident New York swagger and jam packed with memorable riffs on classic songs like Last NIte, Hard To Explain and Someday. Suddenly it was COOL to play guitars again.

  10. The Clash - London Calling (1979)

    It's hard to imagine now, but punk was seen as a trend that wouldn't live on beyond the landmark year of 1977. But The Clash proved them wrong - they signed to a major label and survived, they had chart success and retained their credibility… and they didn't implode like the Sex Pistols did. Their third album was a very un-punk like double LP that appeared in the dying days of the 1970s. It drew on influences like reggae and demonstrated that punk could have continued relevance.

  11. DJ Shadow - Endtroducing (1996)

    Turntablism had existed long before Shadow came along, but his debut album was such a complete and definitive example of the form that it created a whole new wave of producers who mixed and mashed samples like virtuoso musicians. And it worked as a whole album, too.

  12. Primal Scream – Screamadelica (1991)

    In the wake of The Stone Roses' impressive debut, many bands embraced the "indie dance" idea, but it was the Scream that defined the genre. By hooking up with remixer and DJ Andy Weatherall, the band ditched their ropey garage rock roots and dragged their skinny asses onto the dance floor. They also added a touch of psychedelic mysticism that sat well with rave culture.

  13. Beastie Boys - Licensed To Ill (1986)

    The Beasties weren't your usual purveyors of hip hop in the mid-1980s: they were three rather well-off white guys that sampled classic rock riffs, most notably on the hit (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party). But it was this genre-hopping that made their debut album one of the records that broke the music in with a whole new audience.

  14. Kraftwerk - Trans Europe Express (1977)

    The Dusseldorf electronic music powerhouse really hit their stride with this conceptual 1977 album that takes a train journey across Western Europe to the soundtrack of metallic, industrial beats. Future hip hop stars would sample it to death. Influence on: Joy Division/New Order, Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem and anyone who's ever used a drum machine.

  15. David Bowie - Low (1977)

    Inspired by Kraftwerk's modernist approach and wanting to get his head straight, the Thin White Duke upped sticks to Berlin and entered one of the most creative periods of his career. The clean, atmospheric sound - courtesy of collaborator Brian Eno - informed much of the post-punk music that was to follow. Influence on: Joy Division, Gary Numan, The Cure and anyone who likes to pose in a Teutonic way.

  16. Radiohead - OK Computer (1997)

    Struggling to avoid the trap of Just Another Guitar Band following the release of their debut album Pablo Honey, Oxford's finest made huge steps on 1995's The Bends. But it was the follow-up that made them one of the most innovative bands of the 90s. The experimentation that led to ambitious tracks like Paranoid Android and No Surprises made this an instant classic.

  17. Oasis - Definitely Maybe (1994)

    Definitely Maybe may superficially appear to be simple, no-nonsense rock and roll, but it's really all about the attitude. While much of Britain was either in the club or in the mosh pit, Oasis made it acceptable to rock out again without trying to pretend to be American, continuing a lineage that reached back to the days of The Kinks and The Who. This was the point that indie stopped being niche and became a lifestyle.