In the 1970s, changing the radio station was more than just the turn of a dial. It was a choice between music legends. A turn one way split a listener between Earth, Wind & Fire and Elton John, the other between Bob Dylan and David Bowie. The airways were saturated with artists revolutionizing their genres and nowhere was this more salient than in rock music. The year 1975 was characterized by a series of rock album releases that defined careers, pushed boundaries, and inspired musicians for generations to come.
July 1975: Fleetwood Mac’s “Fleetwood Mac”
The history of Fleetwood Mac is one defined as much by its members as by the music they created. It was in 1975 that the band released the eponymous album that propelled them to commercial and critical success, their first with the addition of musical (and romantic) duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Tracks like “Rhiannon” and “Landslide” showcased Nicks’ vocals and songwriting skills, as well as established the pop-rock feel the band would perfect on 1977’s “Rumours,” largely considered one of the best albums of all time. The group’s lengthy “Fleetwood Mac” tour contributed significantly to the historic romantic turmoil of the band’s members, defining its follow-up in substance as well as style.
August 1975: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”
Bruce Springsteen (aka “The Boss”) first staked his claim to fame with the release of his third studio album “Born to Run.” Beloved by critics but ignored by the public, Springsteen and the E Street Band began work on what would be their ticket from New Jersey to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with one thing in mind: commercial success. Designed for maximum mass appeal, their effort proved a success, reaching number three on the Billboard 200. The Boss’s signature rasp, musical complexity, and penchant for narrative lyrics took over the radio, his lifelong staying-power certainly making up for the extra year or few it took to get there.
September 1975: Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”
While performers in the U.S. and U.K. gravitated toward hard and heavy-metal rock, a select group of British bands took up the waning torch of ’60s psychedelic and blues-rockers in the form of progressive rock. While Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” (1973) is arguably the best known album from this period, 1975’s “Wish You Were Here” is a 5 track gem of an album that captivated music lovers on both sides of The Pond. The album’s whining synthesizers and saxophone, most notably on the 26 minute, 2 part behemoth track “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” gave it a distinctly languid feel suitable for the melancholic tribute to founder Syd Barrett they conceived it to be.
November 1975: Queen’s “A Night at the Opera”
The British band Queen, helmed by the iconic Freddie Mercury, released 7 albums between 1973 and 1978, cementing their place forever in any and all conversations on and characterizations of rock music during the decade. Their 1975 release “A Night at the Opera” proved to be their most experimental and successful album yet, drifting fluidly between genres and musical styles and taking cues from progressive rock (“Death On Two Legs (Dedicated to…)”), the ballad (“Love of My Life”), and — notoriously — opera (“Bohemian Rhapsody”). The last of the three, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” reached an unpredicted level of ubiquity and became a microcosm for the band’s diverse musical influences, talent, and unrivaled theatricality. While it’s fair to say every album on this list has been named “one of the best albums of all time,” “A Night at the Opera” is in a league of its own.
December 1975: Patti Smith’s “Horses”
A groundbreaking combination of music, poetry, and aesthetics picked up during her years in New York City’s artistic underground, Patti Smith’s “Horses” defined American punk rock music. What it lacked in commercial success, the album made up in critical adoration and in its lasting legacy. Tracks like “Birdland” and “Land: Horses / Land of a Thousand Dancers / La Mer(de)” incorporated selections of Smith’s spoken word poetry, seamlessly placed between chunks of frantic, garage-band instrumentation, while a smooth reggae beat undercut “Redondo Beach’s” layered tale of finding a body on the beach. A trailblazing effort by Smith, “Horses” created a punk rock frenzy around the globe and served as inspiration for the likes of “R.E.M.” and “The Smiths.”
—Staff writer Allison J. Scharmann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.