1975 was the zenith of what we would call ‘classic rock’ today. With some absolutely outstanding records which coloured the year with remarkable achievements by a cast of the greats: Queen, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin and countless others secured their place in the annals of history. Of course, whittling an innumerable cast of artists to a list of six definitive records is never an easy task, and some degree of subjectivity is always inevitable and even necessary. Either way, there was no shortage of great records to pick from.
While these classic masters – some of who were at the peak of their powers – a new attitude was formulating and bubbling to the top, waiting to spew forth in a cataclysm of anger and rebellion. This was, of course, punk rock. The Sex Pistols made their debut in ’75 at an art school in London, while The Talking Heads made their debut opening for The Ramones, at CBGB’s. 1975 was also a wild rollercoaster ride of a year for rock and roll stories.
This was the year that David Bowie and actor Dennis Hopper, both sky-high on cocaine, decided that their other partner in crime, Iggy Pop, needed a helping hand. So they decided to smuggle some drugs into a psych ward that Iggy Pop was staying in at the time. 1975 was also a rough year for Lou Reed, as he was dealing with some of his own issues, and it became plainly evident in an interview Reed had with the Australian press. While the interviewer’s questions were fickle at best, Reed didn’t make it any easier, and the interview spiralled into pettiness, with Reed eventually calling the reporter ‘a schmuck.’
It seemed that ’75 was a year on the perpetual precipice, on the verge of something erudite — a new revolution. When the punk movement exploded – just like the hippie counterculture in the ’60s – it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t just suddenly appear. There is chemistry involved, elements are forming to create compounds, and some don’t mix well, while others mix too well. A kind of energy ambulates from person to person, from room to room, from old ways giving way to new ones. David Bowie ended his glam rock period; Brian Eno began experimenting and creating ambient music; Patti Smith debuted with her Horses; Bruce Springsteen’s career really started taking off with Born to Run; Led Zeppelin made their greatest album of all time, Physical Graffiti; Lou Reed released Metal Machine Music and Coney Island Baby; Queen released ‘Bohemian Rhapsody; it really seemed like rock ‘n’ roll was experiencing an exceptional golden period.
One could argue that 1975 was not only the best year but the last year of classic rock as we know it before punk, post-punk and new wave began and consequently, a new DNA began to leak into the mainstream, eventually birthing other genres such as indie, alternative, post-rock, goth, and grunge.
Below, we delved into some of the greatest records and most influential ones of 1975 in our definitive list of top albums.
The six best albums released in 1975:
Horses – Patti Smith
Horses was Patti Smith and her band’s debut record, and when it was time to record it, they were fairly amateurs, although highly revered in the nascent punk scene of the late 1970s. After getting signed, Patti Smith saw John Cale’s face on the album cover of his album, Fear. Smith commented on this: “My picking John was about as arbitrary as picking Rimbaud. I saw the cover of Illuminations with Rimbaud’s face, y’know, he looked so cool, just like Bob Dylan. So Rimbaud became my favourite poet. I looked at the cover of Fear and I said, ‘Now there’s a set of cheekbones.’ In my mind, I picked him because his records sounded good. But I hired the wrong guy.”
The recording process with John Cale was fraught with friction and drama. The two artistic forces would comment on the experience in an ambiguous way in the years to come. Cale said Patti Smith was “someone with an incredibly volatile mouth who could handle any situation.” While very much within the nucleus of the punk scene that found its home at CBGB’s, Patti Smith and her group were different from the others in that they possessed an element of the avant-garde, and they were known for instrumental improvisations which the other punk bands didn’t exactly do.
When making the album, Patti Smith had a very particular vision for the record. She wanted “to make a record that would make a certain type of person not feel alone. People who were like me, different…I wasn’t targeting the whole world. I wasn’t trying to make a hit record.”
Another Green World – Brian Eno
Produced by Eno and Rhett Davies, Another Green World is the third album by the glam rocker turned ambient father Brian Eno. The record features some great musicians including Robert Fripp of King Crimson, Phil Collins, Percy Jones, John Cale and Rod Melvin. Only five of the 14 tracks featured vocals as it implements more of the instrumental approach Eno would take, as he had a huge part to play in influencing ambient music.
Another Green World also played a significant role in influencing David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, specifically his Heroes album; Robert Fripp would also make an appearance on these records. While many would probably not point to this album as a major commercial success of 1975, it did, in fact, influence a large variety of musicians.
Face the Music – Electric Light Orchestra
ELO’s fifth album marked a changed from their previously heavy orchestrated sound to more of a conventional rock formula. This change in direction would prove to be successful, as the album went platinum and accidentally spawned one of their greatest hits, ‘Evil Woman’. The song was intended to merely be filler, however, it would prove to be one of their most memorable songs.
Electric Light Orchestra is often overlooked and underrated but produced one of the most unique sounds of the 20th century. They combined classical orchestrations with Chuck Berry style rock ‘n’ roll. Other notable tracks off the record include ‘Strange Magic’ and ‘One Summer Dream.’
Young Americans – David Bowie
Bowie’s ninth album, Young Americans, marked a major shift in Bowie’s career as it is his first album away from glam rock. Bowie called it his ‘plastic soul’ phase, revealing early signs of the Thin White Duke, but more American than European. ‘Fame’, a collaboration between David Bowie and John Lennon, would become Bowie’s first number one hit.
While Bowie would have mixed feelings about the record later on in his career, critics do consider it one of his most influential records and most daring too; Bowie was one of the first white musicians to take on Black musical styles. During this period of time, Bowie met and hung out with John Lennon in New York City, and as a tribute, recorded a version of ‘Across the Universe’. Young Americans is still considered a classic today.
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
When Pink Floyd toured Europe in 1974, the band jammed a lot during shows and sound checks. During these musical explorations, a few of these ideas began to formulate and take shape, most of them would end up on another great album of theirs, Animals. One of the best ones of these sessions ended up becoming Wish You Were Here’s opener, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, a tribute to the band’s leader who succumbed to mental illness seven years prior to ‘75 – Syd Barrett.
Because of Pink Floyd’s lack of presence in the media and their apprehension towards journalists, they kept a considerable distance between themselves and the outside world. Because of this, Pink Floyd became somewhat resented. One effect of this soured relationship became a critique of Pink Floyd’s previous album, Dark Side of The Moon, David Gilmour commented on this when they were getting ready to work on Wish You Were Here: “I had some criticisms of Dark Side of the Moon. One or two of the vehicles carrying the ideas were not as strong as the ideas that they carried. I thought we should try and work harder on marrying the idea and the vehicle that carried it so that they both had equal magic… It’s something I was personally pushing when we made Wish You Were Here.”
Blood On The Tracks – Bob Dylan
The fifteenth album from Bob Dylan, Blood On The Tracks is not only one of the best albums of the year but is arguably Dylan’s best album. At the very least, it is an artistic breakthrough for him; commercially, it did very well, reaching number one on the Billboard Charts and number four on the UK Album charts. The album marks a significant shift in Dylan’s songwriting as it represents Dylan in his rawest form – it has been called “the truest, most honest account of a love affair from tip to stern ever put down on magnetic tape.”
Many call it autobiographical – although Dylan has denied this himself – fans and critics liken the content of the record to Dylan’s then disintegrating marriage with Sara. Bob Dylan’s son, Jakob Dylan, has described it like his “parents talking.” The recording process of the record went through periods of inconsistencies with a lot of sudden breaks during the sessions. Dylan would abruptly halt the sessions, either redo them completely or change the songs within their structures. Dylan recorded the album in a few different studios – at one point having to start over again. Famously, before he began the recording process, he showed the songs to friends of his in the music world. Two of which were Graham Nash and Stephen Stills. Nash recalls Stills saying after Dylan left the room; “He’s a good songwriter … but he’s no musician.”