Most Forward-Thinking Rock Albums

By Euphonics Euphonics
updated over 2 years ago

From the cover artwork, to the liner notes, to the subversive themes, to the music within — this list embodies the innovations and creative spirit that we love about Rock 'n Roll.
It lays mostly in the "Gilded Age" of the late '60s to early '70s, because, well, duh.

(And also unfinished)


  1. The Deviants (2) - Ptooff!

    A stunningly "ahead" piece. This album continues to amaze and envelop me. I never believed I'd actually own an original, but here it is. A total knockout, and actually the inspiration for creating this list. Menacing, deranged, and unequivocally brilliant garage rock — or as inscribed in the gatefold — "a prime, overripe example of a gratuitously obscene, rockin' stompin', post-psychedelic, neo-Rock 'n' Roll, UNDERGROUND freak record."
    ...Hard talk for 1967. Haaard talk.

  2. Alexander Spence - Oar

    7 For Sale from $189.99

    The storied "lowest selling album ever released on a major label" has become a landmark for what alternative principals in recorded music can come up with.

  3. Can - Tago Mago

    38 For Sale from $111.24

    See below.

  4. Can - Ege Bamyasi

    The centerpiece of the holy trinity of Can's legendary output. These three are their crowning achievements, in my opinion. Only gaining any substantial recognition outside the "out" crowd in the 21st century, these records have proven immensely influential, and rightfully so.

  5. Can - Future Days

    See above.

  6. The United States Of America - The United States Of America

    Garage rock that came from a studio with some very expensive equipment. The absence of a single note from a guitar, the extensive use of audio processors, ring modulators & synthesizers, as well as the politics of the band makes for quite the anomaly in '60s rock music.

  7. Joe Byrd And The Field Hippies - The American Metaphysical Circus

    After TUSOA broke up, Joseph Byrd went on to produce an even stranger work that was released on the Columbia Masterworks label (classical branch). This platter completely flipped me out upon first discovery. I really had no idea what I was getting into — and guess I still don't….

  8. Groundhogs* - Thank Christ For The Bomb

    Tony McPhee was and still is one of the most underrated guitarists and lyricists in the rock idiom, and his band of Groundhogs produced an extremely consistent discography. While all of their early output was excellent, this one seems to stand out to me.

  9. Pretty Things* - S.F. Sorrow

    One of the early "concept albums". Here, the boys put out some fantastic, catchy songs with top-notch production finesse. The easy-going melodies give way to the severity of jaw-dropping tracks like "Balloon Burning" & "Old Man Going". I couldn't think of a single improvement to this piece.
    Sometimes I think a more discerning world would have seen The Pretty Things, The Kinks, and The Animals in the spotlight more than The 'Stones and The Who...

  10. Vince Martin And Fred Neil - Tear Down The Walls

    No one was rocking with acoustic guitars like this in 1964. Martin said they didn't know what to call it at the time - but they were considering "Folk&Roll". Includes early versions of songs you thought were by other bands, as well as one of the first uses of the Indian raga structure ("Baby") by a Western artist. I've heard some people state that this is the first "psychedelic" album, and I'd say that it definitely has moments to back up that claim.
    All of the Fred Neil originals display his talent that would truly blossom on his next three records.

  11. Funkadelic - Maggot Brain

    Starts off with the sublime onslaught of Eddie Hazel's piercing tone - a 10-minute guitar solo of fierce intensity that makes up the album's title track - and is followed by some of the most slamming, hard-edged soul-groovers out there. They were playing funk music, sure. But there was such a heaviness and far-out attitude to their sound that nobody else could really touch. The liner notes within the gatefold also add to the impression that these guys really weren't messing around.

  12. Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul

    A ripping, roiling rampage through soul and mo'town. Unexpected, risky, yet enduringly tasteful. Disheartened after the flop of his first album, 1969's "Hot Buttered Soul" is the result of Hayes' condition to only record another album with Stax if they gave him complete artistic control. Thank goodness, as these sprawling compositions really changed the game for the better. Deeply personal and highly influential to every soul, funk, R&B, and hip-hop record that would come after.

  13. Faust - Faust IV

    If you're looking for somewhere to start with this band, I'd say this'll set the pace. Sheer, walloping noise, and strangely beautiful melodies collide into a fantastic soundscape that is somehow colorfully psychedelic, yet barren and post-industrial.

  14. Faust - The Faust Tapes

    93 For Sale from $10.13

    While I rather prefer the music on the previously mentioned Faust effort, this one requires inclusion simply on account of its unorthodox and trailblazing marketing scheme. Read about it sometime. The music itself is also completely bonkers and truly stretched what most people understood a "band" playing in a "studio" was really capable of.

  15. The Velvet Underground & Nico (3) - The Velvet Underground & Nico

    I don't know what is really worth writing here. You've already heard it all. It's all been said.
    All I can add is that I love this band's output unconditionally, and their first two records have left indelible marks on music history and will never be uncool.

  16. Death (8) - ...For The Whole World To See

    While the Johnny Rotten's & Joey Ramones's of the world were still taking remedial junior math classes, these three brothers from Detroit were recording the most fully-formed punk record the world would have ever seen. Unfortunately, every label turned them down and they never got paid proper dues (for basically inventing PUNK, sans "proto-") until the tapes were re-discovered and released by the beloved souls at Drag City in 2009.

  17. The Mothers Of Invention* - Freak Out!

    The statements this album makes are simply unprecedented. Social, political and artistic reform are at the forefront, but some of the most arresting statements I can find are in the use of such obtuse, down-tuned and minor-chorded sounds. A few examples: The first 5 seconds of "Hungry Freaks, Daddy". The kazoo fanfares. The opening bass hit of "Brain Police" (in fact, that whole song is so utterly deranged that I can only imagine how frightening it was to folks back in '66). And the final three tracks standing beside R&B crooners like "Any Way The Wind Blows" and "I Ain't Got No Heart" make it hard to believe they came from the same LP.
    This description might make it sound like a novelty, but these dudes were the real deal.

  18. Frank Zappa - Hot Rats

    Dear god. What a complex, twisted, and perfectly executed foray into the convoluted world of a band that could jam like nobodies' business. This album is perverse, noisy, and has zero regard to what an audience thinks a "nice" album should sound like — retaining that all-important edge that has always made rock and roll a revolutionary art form.

    In 1969, certain jazz musicians had begun to experiment with elements of rock music, but the reverse was hardly true by any stretch of the imagination. At this point, almost no one in "Rock" was experimenting with sophisticated jazz improv in a serious way. And if they were, it certainly wasn't as confident and unforgiving as this.

  19. Comus - First Utterance

    Very heavy, very freaky folk. The music is equally as anguished and tortured as the cover art, but stabs of light sometimes exit the heavens to shine upon this marvelous, frightening, and one-of-a-kind piece. Much of it is simply gorgeous, much of it is utterly maddening, and 100% of it is extremely interesting. Sounds like the early acoustic jams of Amon Düül, except these are incredibly well-composed, less lazy, and more direct. Each musician is completely determined to turn you inside-out. These cats were unquestioningly in the midst of some psychic channeling, and this album is the result. They gave it their all, and then-some. I imagine being present in the studio would have been too much for most of us to handle in person.
    Let your guard down and allow yourself to transport.

  20. Patti Smith - Horses

    When I heard this album front-to-back, I was completely floored. What a presence! What songs! What production value! What a BAND! Smith's emotive poetry leads the show, but the group she assembled for the recording were seriously professionals, and display their chops with perfect subtlety. Among the essential contributions to the development of punk rock. I will never tire of this release. (plus extra points for the iconic black and white photograph.)

  21. The Stooges - The Stooges

    The tone of this album is so heavy that it would tip the scales no matter what year it was released. Aside from the MC5 & Blue Cheer I can't think of any other band from the six-ohs who's tone was even remotely as arresting and vengeful as these freaks. The fact that "We Will Fall" lies between "I Wanna Be Your Dog" & "No Fun" is mind boggling, and once again, we have to thank Jac Holzman at Elektra Records for letting them get away with it.

  22. Sandy Bull With Billy Higgins - Fantasias For Guitar And Banjo

    A wizard and a visionary. Even when placed alongside similarly-minded dudes like John Fahey, Robbie Basho and Peter Walker, (whom he had zero relation - or perhaps even knowledge of) he was still about a decade (ok, maybe a half a decade) ahead of his time. Bull provided an important and hugely necessary service in bringing eastern modalities to the west.

  23. Silver Apples - Silver Apples

    This album is just as novel and futuristic-sounding today, even when placed alongside all of the 21st century copycats.