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The 20 best rock albums of 1979

The 290 greatest rock albums of 1979
(Image credit: Future)

In 1979 all 257 passengers and crew on an Air New Zealand sightseeing flight were killed when it crashed into Mt Erebus in Antarctica, and Iran became an Islamic Republic.

In February it snowed for 30 minutes in the Sahara Desert, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was overthrown in April, the The Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched in September, and armed terrorists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca in November.

In music, Sex Pistols bass player Sid Vicious was found dead from a heroin overdose in New York, Ozzy Osbourne was fired by Black Sabbath, and The Who played their first show with new drummer Kenney Jones. Just six months later played a set in  Cincinnati, unaware that 11 fans had been crushed to death prior to the show.

These are the 20 best albums of 1979.

AC/DC - Highway To Hell 

AC/DC’s first masterpiece was also their last before the death of Bon Scott. It’s impossible to imagine a better swansong. Highway was the band’s best set of songs so far, with 10 air-punching anthems that propelled them from the Australian club circuit to the heights of the US chart. 

It’s just a shame that Scott never saw how successful the record would be.View Deal

Aerosmith - A Night In The Ruts 

Although an average album by Aerosmith is better than a great one by almost anyone else, Night In The Ruts actually deserves more credit. 

Despite Joe Perry jumping ship during its recording – musical and personal differences with Tyler were cited – the band dug in to produce a lean and muscular record, particularly on No Surprize and Bone To Bone.View Deal

Bad Company - Desolation Angels 

As the decade played out, Bad Company updated their resolutely primitive rock sound to incorporate snatches of synthesiser and acoustic guitar. 

The concept sounded like the beginning of the end, but the resulting record was the strongest since the band’s debut, with Paul Rodgers pulling out all the stops and the band striking gold on tracks like Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy. View Deal

Cheap Trick - Dream Police 

Although this production didn’t capture the band’s blood and thunder like their live album at the Budokan (released earlier that year), Dream Police was both Cheap Trick’s commercial peak and their creative high-water mark. 

The stellar musicianship doesn’t hurt, of course – Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen are on top form throughout – but Dream Police’s true appeal lay in its shifting moods.View Deal

The Clash - London Calling 

The occasional lapse into white-boy reggae aside, The Clash’s masterpiece was all the better for the fact that it transcended punk. Ska, rockabilly and jazz all sat effortlessly alongside the prescribed three chords on this double album, and if that sounds pretentious on paper, then it sounded irrepressible on vinyl. 

Worth it for the title track alone, London Calling was studded with gems, from The Right Profile to Spanish Bombs.View Deal

The Damned - Machine Gun Etiquette 

More than quarter of a century on, we’re still trying to come up with adjectives to describe The Damned’s third album. 

It’s a resolutely – almost stubbornly – British masterpiece that dips into countless unlikely sources (including the melody from the Shake & Vac advert, according to Captain Sensible), and managed to make us think on Anti-Pope and snigger on These Hands.View Deal

Dire Straits - Communique 

Released as Mark Knopfler turned 30, 1979’s Communique was a collection of character sketches whose quiet cynicism implied the Dire Straits frontman had no idea they would later be performed on the stadium circuit. 

The album lacked a killer single, but songs such as Where Do You Think You’re Going? and Portobello Belle would waltz effortlessly into the band’s canon of classics.View Deal

Fleetwood Mac - Tusk 

Costing the band two years and a million dollars to record, Tusk betrayed the pressure Fleetwood Mac were feeling following Rumours

Endless changes of tack over a sprawling tracklist give the album an incoherent but undeniably exciting feel, with Lindsey Buckingham’s exquisite folk-rock writing to the foreView Deal

The Jam - Setting Sons 

The Jam’s reputation as a singles band sometimes meant their albums didn’t receive equal credit. Setting Sons deserves praise, though. 

Paul Weller’s fourth was a concept album (about a reunion between friends) that couldn’t always be bothered to stick to the concept, but featured some of his best lyrics and most biting portraits of Britain.View Deal

Judas Priest - Unleashed In The East 

Rob Halford had the flu when Judas Priest played their 1978 shows at the Koseinenkin and Nakano Sunplaza Halls in Tokyo, which lead to his vocals being slightly  ‘touched-up’ before Unleashed In The East was released the following year. 

If you can forgive this flouting of live album etiquette, you’ll find a record that nails Priest’s essence in a way that their studio albums managed only fleetingly. View Deal

Led Zeppelin - In Through The Out Door 

Led Zeppelin’s seventh and final album (not including the posthumous Coda) hinted at the direction the band might have taken had they not been derailed by John Bonham’s death the following year. 

Recorded at the Polar Studios in Stockholm, In Through The Out Door fused vintage Zep chest-beating (In The Evening) with convincing forays into synth territory (All Of My Love), and serves as a frustrating reminder of how much gas the band had left in the tank.View Deal

Motorhead - Overkill 

Thanks to its blurring of the lines between metal subgenres, Overkill refused to settle neatly into a pigeon-hole, instead establishing Motörhead as the band who prowled around the periphery of NWOBHM and growled at anyone who suggested they might like to come in. 

Regarded by many as the band’s debut proper, Overkill is still the definitive scream into the void.View Deal