The 50 Best Southern Rock Albums of All Time

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avett-emotionalism.jpg 25. The Avett Brothers: Emotionalism (2007)
In the late ’60s, The Band’s earnest roots rock helped topple nonsensical hippie credos like “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Similarly, The Avett Brothers did their best to combat modern-day hipster detachment and pseudo-coolness with Emotionalism’s simple, poetic story-songs and bittersweet, introspective laments. The album—down to the title itself—was a celebration of unselfconscious passion and a huge step forward musically: The relative sonic polish worked magically in contrast to the Avetts’ jagged edge; they went beyond their core of acoustic guitar, banjo and upright bass (a change foreshadowed by Four Thieves Gone’s “Colorshow”), adding piano, B3, drums, electric guitar and mandolin; the vocals felt more carefully arranged, relying less on energetic screams and shouts and giving the melodies room to breathe; and the influences peeking through were more varied than ever, the music sporadically reminiscent of everything from Help!-era Beatles to Chopin nocturnes. This was the album where the Avetts, long deemed “promising” by critics, began unflinchingly—unguardedly—delivering on that promise.—Steve LaBate

outlaws-st.jpg 24. Outlaws: Outlaws (1975)
Are you from the South? Do you own a musical instrument? There’s a great chance you were in Outlaws once. Tampa’s foremost country-rock guitar army has literally had about 50 members at this point in its history. Although still a potent live band, no matter who’s in it that week, there’ll always be an element of chasing that first gasp of glory. This is one of those bands whose first album (the first of 17 or so over the last 43 years) was its very best. The 1975 self-titled debut is bookended by two timeless classic rock-radio staples, “There Goes Another Love Song” and the 10-minute epic “Green Grass & High Tides.” Between them are eight other songs that easily could’ve been as huge, as they all follow a dynamite formula of catchy choruses with bright harmonies, alternating with extremely long, technically complex guitar solos by three guitarists who regularly rotate on lead. It’s somehow incredibly flashy but also humble and laid back, which is sort of what Southern rock should sound like. And really, as good as the album it is, it could just be one song, “Green Grass & High Tides,” and it’d still make this list—it’s the “Free Bird” for people who are sick of hearing about “Free Bird.” —Garrett Martin

black-crowes-southern.jpg 23. The Black Crowes: The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (1992)
After the commercial success of their solid and straightforward 1990 debut Shake Your Money Maker, the Atlanta hippy throwbacks took a giant leap forward with their second effort, plugging in new and better instrumental elements and writing a batch of songs that built on their Stones of the South bedrock with nimble, cocksure jaunts into psychedelia, blue-eyed soul, and British black-magic riffage. Marc Ford was a huge upgrade on lead guitar, giving the Crowes the true gunslinger they lacked on Money Maker and lifting punchier songs like “Sting Me” and “Hotel Illness” into mini-epics. And new organist Eddie Harsch helped free the band from the confines of bar-band bromides with an agile undercurrent of psych, folk and saloon keys. The Robinson brothers took the opportunity to spread their songwriting way out, juicing the Faces and the Allmans with the forcefulness of the hard-rock ‘80s and arriving at an early career peak. “Remedy” rumbles down three descending chords and “Sometimes Salvation” rides them right back up, lurching all the way to screaming redemption “in the eye of the storm.” The climax comes in the woozy slide-guitar workout “My Morning Song,” with Chris Robinson preening in pure LSD-freak euphoria and the twin guitars of Ford and Rich Robinson leading the band to the edge of collapse and back. The Crowes would never get it this right again. —Matthew Oshinsky

lynyrd-skynyrd-second.jpg 22. Lynyrd Skynyrd: Second Helping (1974)
If this Jacksonville band found its sound (The Rolling Stones relaunched in Florida biker bars) on its debut album, (Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd), it found its songwriting voice on this sophomore release. On songs such as “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Workin’ for MCA” and “The Needle and the Spoon,” lead singer Ronnie Van Zant was able to dig into the tensions between North and South, musicians and labels, drug highs and drug lows and reveal the humanity of all involved. And with songs such as “The Ballad of Curtis Loew,” he showed a surprisingly tender sympathy. This is where they proved just how much range a Southern rock band could have. —Geoffrey Himes

alejandro-escovedo-gravity.jpg 21. Alejandro Escovedo: Gravity (1992)
The son of Mexican immigrants, Alejandro Escovedo grew up as a surfer and punk-rocker in California, but it wasn’t until he moved to Texas that he was able to put those two halves of his identity together, first with the overlooked roots-rock band The True Believers and then with a solo career that began with this stunning album. With his Mexican background reflected in the violins and lilting melodies of his parents’ homeland and his punk-bohemian side echoed in the spiky electric guitar riffs of the West Coast demimonde, the two sides were bridged by the singer’s spare but evocative lyrics, which distilled conversations on both sides of the border to their aphoristic essence. —Geoffrey Himes

ryan-adams-heartbreaker.jpg 20. Ryan Adams: Heartbreaker (2000)
Ryan Adams’s debut solo album post-Whiskeytown is a modern classic. Its 15 tracks never feel bloated (which is more than you can say for their creator). Rather, Heartbreaker traces a journey of nostalgia and love—with songs of sentimentality, selfishness, sullenness, desperation, and reflection all bundled into one rollicking set. Unlike his work in Whiskeytown, Adams, a native North Carolinian, explores a range of looser styles on Heartbreaker—from the swinging opener, “To Be Young (It’s to Be Sad, It’s to Be High) to the Elliott Smith-esque “Amy” to the sparseness of “Oh My Sweet Carolina.” After all these years, with his fluctuating sounds, bands, and his tabloid tales of drugs and mischief, these are still the songs Ryan Adams fans want to hear him play. —Hilary Saunders

gregg-allman-laid-back.jpg 19. Gregg Allman: Laid Back (1973)
You’ll recognize a lot of song titles when you look at the back cover of Gregg Allman’s first solo album. There are rerecorded versions of Allman classics, including a swampy, haunted version of “Midnight Rider,” and an overwrought take on the underrated gem “Please Call Home.” There’s a funereal take on the Carter Family’s adaptation of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” There’s a cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” (made famous by Nico) that’s all steel guitar glissando, Allman’s mournful vocals and the warm glow of an electric piano. And then there’s “Queen of Hearts,” which is not the Hank DeVito song that Juice Newton made famous, nor the traditional ballad that Joan Baez popularized, but an epic Allman original that’s both mournful and triumphant at the same time. That basically summarizes the album—don’t expect the guitar-heavy jams of the Allman Brothers, but a sad, contemplative record that sounds like the morning after the parties heard on Eat a Peach and At Fillmore East. —Garrett Martin

elvis-sun-sessions.jpg 18. Elvis Presley: The Sun Sessions (1975)
A persuasive case can be made that this is the best rock ’n’ roll album of all time. It wasn’t the first time someone had blended the Southern ingredients of blues, gospel and country music over a propulsive 4/4 beat into a new music dubbed rock ’n’ roll, but no one ever did it better. While his role models had lamented the inevitable frustrations of this world, Mississippi’s Elvis Presley shrugged off all such worries with a blithe confidence and a thrilling vibrancy of optimism that changed American culture forever. Thirteen of these 16 tracks have neither drums, electric bass nor solid-body guitar, proving rock ’n’ roll wasn’t defined by technology so much as an attitude—and no one had more attitude than Presley. The songs here, recorded in 1954 and 1955, weren’t collected into an album until 1975 in England, but these recordings—made at the same time by the same Southern musicians under the same Southern producer—have a coherence of sound and spirit that few other albums can match. —Geoffrey Himes

Steve_Earle_Guitar_Town.jpg 17. Steve Earle: Guitar Town (1986)
If Bruce Springsteen had grown up in Texas listening to Lefty Frizzell on the radio in a beat-up pick-up truck, he might have sounded a lot like Steve Earle. Earle has the Boss’s ability to tell blue-collar stories with just the right details and just the right guitar licks, but Earle sets his tales in small Texas towns and gives his riffs a tell-tale twang. Earle, who once played bass for Guy Clark, cut some singles for Epic that went nowhere, but 1986’s Guitar Town was his debut album, and he never topped this country-rock evocation of the forgotten kids too small for a football scholarship, too restless to stay home and too tough to give up. Co-producers Emory Gordy and Tony Brown turned four of them (“Hillbilly Highway,” “Guitar Town,” “Someday,” and “Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left”) into Top 40 country hits. But at its heart, this is simply the twangier side of Southern rock. —Geoffrey Himes

big-star-1-records.jpg 16. Big Star: #1 Record (1972)
Years after his untimely death at 59, Memphis son Alex Chilton has remained a cult hero. Chilton first rose up to pop stardom as a member of The Box Tops in his teens, then threw that success away to join the chaotic, whiskey-driven rock ’n’ roll scene in his hometown, both as a member of Big Star and as a solo artist and producer. Along with master guitarist and singer-songwriter Chris Bell, Chilton formed Big Star in the early ’70s as a breath-of-fresh-air alternative to the stadium-sized rock that ruled the radio at that time. Rooted in the heart of Memphis, Big Star wrote Beatles-esque arrangements with a Southern twist, releasing a debut album that would later influence R.E.M., Elliott Smith and The Black Crowes, among many others. Though they wouldn’t achieve much commercial success until years later, #1 Record is Big Star’s underdog masterpiece of melody and conviction. The Allman Brothers weren’t the only Southerners kicking up a new storm in 1972. —Loren DiBlasi

jerry-lee-lewis.jpg 15. Jerry Lee Lewis: Jerry Lee Lewis (1958)
Despite a somewhat tame-looking cover, Jerry Lee’s eponymous debut raised the bar for every rowdy, rambunctious, hells-a-poppin’ insurgent that would follow in his footsteps. It offered definitive proof that this particular son of Louisiana had no qualms about turning the tables on the genteel manners and polite reputation credited to those who dwelled below the Mason Dixon Line. Indeed, other than Little Richard, no other piano player came across as such a barroom brawler, and this album not only set the standard, but laid the course for all that would follow. Ironically, Sun Records owner and producer Sam Phillips opted not to include two of Lewis’s biggest hits at the time, “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” though with “High School Confidential” and a slew of sometimes curious covers — “Don’t Be Cruel, “Goodnight Irene,” “Jambalaya,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” among them — Lewis still managed to etch an indelible impression. —Lee Zimmerman

dbt-decoration-day.jpg 14. Drive-By Truckers: Decoration Day (2003)
On DBT’s 2001 breakthrough double album Southern Rock Opera, the band traded its alt-country “redneck underground” approach for a Skynyrd-meets-Crazy-Horse vibe. On the more concise follow-up, Decoration Day, the Truckers distilled their new sound from 80 to 100 proof. Start to finish, every cut on this gritty, unapologetic, punk-tinged roots-rock record is a classic, as master storytellers Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley unravel one tragic, chilling small-town Southern yarn after another. With tunes like “Sink Hole” (based on Ray McKinnon’s Oscar-winning short film, The Accountant), the unflinchingly honest rocker “Marry Me,” “My Sweet Annette” (with its jilted title character), the and heart-crushing divorce ballad “Sounds Better in the Song,” the caliber of songwriting went through the roof like a shotgun blast. And that’s without even mentioning the debut of the Truckers’ secret weapon during this period—then-24-year-old singer/guitarist Jason Isbell, whose blistering leads and slide work gave the band a shot in the arm, as did the epic pair of tracks he contributed to the record: father-to-son ballad “Outfit” and the title song, with its bloody Hatfields and McCoys-style family feud. The Truckers have never been more themselves than they were on Decoration Day, and they’ve never been better.—Steve LaBate

38-special-wild-eyed.jpg 13. .38 Special: Wild-Eyed Southern Boys (1981)
Southern Rock had a pop side, too, and 38 Special’s 1981 album marked the beginning of the Jacksonville band’s dominance on that front. It was the first of the band’s albums to sell more than a million copies, and it yielded three singles that charted. Donnie Van Zant (younger brother of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s original frontman, Ronnie Van Zant, and older brother of the man who replaced Ronnie, Johnny Van Zant), Don Barnes and Co. put less emphasis on surging guitars and instead emphasized stick-in-your-head melodies, for which they had a particular knack. Along with the title track, Wild-Eyed Southern Boys includes the FM-radio staples “Hold On Loosely” and “Fantasy Girl,” which will be familiar to anyone who has listened to a rock station at any point in the past 35 years. —Eric R. Danton

bo-diddley.jpg 12. Bo Diddley: Bo Diddley (1958)
To limit Ellas McDaniel (aka Bo Diddley) to being a blues or R&B artist is to ignore the impact the Mississippi native had on the birth and growth of rock ’n’ roll. He influenced Elvis Presley, of course, but he also toured the UK with an unknown band called The Rolling Stones, who’d get their start playing covers of Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and Little Richard. Bo Diddley, a compilation of his late ’50s singles, kicked off his most prolific period in 1958—he released 11 LPs on Chess in a six-year period. It laid the groundwork for the new genre of rock ‘n’ roll with his signature Bo Diddley Beat, the syncopated blues rhthym that’s shown up in rock songs ever since (think “Desire” by U2 or “Magic Bus” by The Who). Not a song here is over three minutes long, and they’ve since been covered by everyone from George Thorogood, The Doors and The Jesus and Mary Chain (“Who Do You Love?”) to Captian Beefheart and Ty Segall (“Diddy Wah Diddy”) to The Animals (“Pretty Thing”). —Josh Jackson

Eatapeach.jpeg 11. The Allman Brothers Band: Eat a Peach (1972)
The first Allman Brothers Band album released after guitarist Duane Allman’s death is a sprawling beast that highlights every one of the band’s strengths and serves as a tribute to its fallen brother. Chief among those are Duane’s mastery of the slide guitar and Gregg Allman’s incomparable voice, but Eat a Peach also underscores the band’s multifaceted songwriting proficiency, from the half-hour “Mountain Jam” to the plaintive pop of “Melissa” to the upbeat guitar calisthenics of Dickey Betts’ “Blue Sky.” All in all, this was the Allmans’ finest studio recording. —Garrett Martin

marshall-tucker.jpg 10. The Marshall Tucker Band: The Marshall Tucker Band (1973)
When you think “Southern rock,” the flute probably doesn’t come to mind, but The Marshall Tucker Band, from Spartanburg, S.C., never cared about typical genre standards. Their self-titled debut offers everything you’d expect from Southern rock: strong, harmonized vocals tinged with twang, jangly guitar solos and the delectable fiddle, but they elevate the album with unexpected brass instruments, gospel-esque organ sections and, of course, their commendable flautist, Jerry Eubanks. All together, it’s surprising but downright felicitous. Standout tracks include “Ramblin’” and “Hillbilly Band,” but don’t forget the classic-rock radio mainstay, “Can’t You See.” There’s a reason it’s played several times a day on FM all over the country. —Annie Black

jason-isbell-southeastern.jpg 9. Jason Isbell: Southeastern (2013)
The first few years of Jason Isbell’s solo career, late of Drive-By Truckers, were beset with personal problems, including a well-publicized struggle with alcohol abuse, and his first three outings often played like too much of the same thing. But with Southeastern, Isbell broke his hard-luck streak, crafting an album worthy of his considerable talents. Each of the songs is a stunner. “Cover Me Up” is on the one hand a gentle, insistent love song, and on the other a moving testament to personal redemption that never turns a blind eye to past indiscretions. It sets the tone for the remainder of the album, which is given equally to the promise of romance and the ever-looming possibility of suffering, both self-induced and arbitrary. As good as the songs are, Isbell’s singing may be even better. His baritone, always rich, is deepened here by a grittiness that lends Southeastern a real soulful quality. By any reasonable aesthetic criteria, Southeastern is a triumph, among the most potent expressions of Isbell’s songwriting and arranging skills (including his Drive-By Truckers output). —Jerrick Adams

zz-top-hombres.jpg 8. ZZ Top: Tres Hombres (1973)
While Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Duane Allman-less Allman Brothers were busy gussying up their Florida boogie with country ballads and jazz inflections, ZZ Top were over in Texas scraping the varnish off and leaving only the essential ingredients. On their third album, the trio more or less perfected the formula that would keep them in beard oil for the next four decades: take the roadhouse rhythms of blues masters John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Reed and play them way faster, tighter and with the gain turned to 10 for the ‘70s hard-rock crowd. The opening riff on “Waitin’ for the Bus” slithers right out of whatever Houston swamp Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard were hanging out in before 1973, all humid and sleazy. With the trio in perfect lockstep. Tres Hombres moves forward from there with breakneck momentum: “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” is basically a ‘73 Camaro with a kickass guitar solo in the middle; “Precious and Grace” wriggles along on razor blades; and “La Grange,” the band’s crowning achievement, is a fiendish blues stomp about a Texas whorehouse, stripped back to a skeleton riff with a barking Gibbons vocal and a Southern groove so pure they got sued for it. And won. —Matthew Oshinsky

tom-petty-torpedoes.jpg 7. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes (1979)
In 1979, most of America’s great young rock bands—Talking Heads, Television, Pere Ubu and The B-52s, to name a few—were cleaving themselves from the folk-blues lineage of the genre in favor of the noisier and more experimental sounds of punk and early new wave. Down in Florida, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, a band with one foot in the Basement Tapes and the other in It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, were busy stretching the boundaries of their own musical bedrock—Florida forebears like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynrd—but their inescapable Southernness kept them firmly rooted in swampy Americana traditions. Their third album, the breakthrough Damn the Torpedos, was an inventive mash-up of garage rock, post-punk and roots music, jumbling conventional chord patterns and pop melodies but leaning all the way on Mike Campbell’s bluesy guitar leads and Bentmont Tench’s home-cooked keyboards. Album openers “Refugee,” “Here Comes My Girl” and “Even the Losers” are stone-cold garage-rock classics, with Campbell’s soulful solos and Tench’s organs leaving a distinctly deep-fried aroma. On the album’s second side, the dirty South really starts to seep through on the creeping “You Tell Me,” the stomping “What Are You Doin’ in My Life,” and in the big Nashville sound of closing ballad “Louisiana Rain.” At age 29, Petty was already fluent in the poetry of nonchalance, an American rebel. —Matthew Oshinsky

heres-little-richard.jpg 6. Little Richard: Here’s Little Richard (1957)
If there are defining moments of rock ‘n’ roll, track one, side one of Little Richard’s debut album is one of them. “Tutti Frutti” announced its presence with Little Richard’s out-of-control sing-shouting, “A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!). This was the sound of million teenagers realizing that they could have a music all their own, and that it could be played by a flamboyant black man from Macon, Ga. These dozen songs, which also include “Slippin’ and Sliden’,” “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up,” caused fans at Little Richard concerts in the late 1950s to go crazy, climbing bannisters, rushing the stage and, yes, throwing panties on the stage. This was the music your parents feared would corrupt their progeny. In other words, this was rock ’n’ roll, delivered by perhaps its greatest-ever evangelist. —Josh Jackson

30_rem.jpg 5. R.E.M.: Murmur (1983)
You know about the mumbling, the muttering, the indie success story, the simultaneous conquest of college radio and Rolling Stone—and subsequently, the world. But maybe you don’t know how punk never quite married Southern gothic roots to Rickenbacker arpeggios until “Radio Free Europe” and “Sitting Still” made it safe for bands like The dB’s. Maybe in retrospect it’s amazing how “Talk About the Passion” and “Perfect Circle” were such power ballads. And maybe you don’t have to understand a word of “Moral Kiosk,” “Catapult” or “We Walk” to hear how every odd harmony, surf lick and overdubbed billiard ball made perfect sense when coming from the mouth of Michael Stipe. Dark and mossy, it was a re-definition of Southern rock with a distinctly different attitude—taken as much from Tom Petty and Big Star as from the genre’s founding fathers—but there’s no denying that it was very much both Southern and rock. — Dan Weiss

dbt-opera.jpg 4. Drive-By Truckers: Southern Rock Opera (2001)
Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood both grew up in the Quad Cities (aka the Shoals) of northwest Alabama. Hood’s father, David, was the bassist in the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section that played on records by Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, the Staple Singers, Paul Simon, Jimmy Cliff and many more. But Patterson rebelled against that legacy by joining a succession of punkish garage-rock bands. He was 21 when he met the 19-year-old Cooley on that circuit. They formed Adam’s House Cat, but they weren’t ready to embrace their roots, Hood told Paste in 2014: “We ran from our Southernness and so many other things that deep down we really were. Cooley was the one with the big Carl Perkins influence, and I was too caught up with the Replacements and R.E.M. to pay attention. The Drive-By Truckers are the band Cooley wanted Adam’s House Cat to be. All these years later, we’ve embraced our Southernness, but at the time that seemed too easy.” Cooley finally started writing songs after he separated from Hood, who had never stopped writing. When Hood played his new songs, he knew they deserved a band behind them and he knew that band had to include Cooley. So he scraped together some money to record a single in Athens and invited his estranged ex-bandmate to play on the session. Things clicked, and soon the Drive-By Truckers were born. They burst onto the national consciousness with 2001’s double-CD concept album, Southern Rock Opera, a song cycle about Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, Neil Young, Bear Bryant, George Wallace and “the Southern Thing.” The band deserved all the attention it got, for it was a magnificent recording. —Geoffrey Himes

220px-Lynyrdskynyrd.jpg 3. Lynyrd Skynyrd: (Pronounced ‘l?h-’nérd ‘skin-’nérd) (1973)
(Pronounced ‘l?h-’nérd ‘skin-’nérd) introduced the world to both the quintessential Southern rock band at the height of its powers and the epic “Free Bird,” empowering decades of slow-witted would-be hecklers with the ability to provoke audible groans from any audience throughout the world. More important, the album features two of the absolute greatest rock songs of all time: “Simple Man” and the elegiac “Tuesday’s Gone,” which made indelible impacts upon both the nascent Southern rock subgenre and classic rock radio playlists nationwide. This one record has those classics and also “Gimme Three Steps,” probably the best song about bargaining for your life with the gun-toting husband of the woman you’re dancing with. And don’t forget “Things Goin’ On,” which proved these long-haired Southern boys had a social conscience and concerns outside partyin’ and drinkin’ and rememberin’ what your momma told you. One of the great debut albums in any genre, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd drew a map to the Southern rock glory land behind a three-guitar attack the likes of which we haven’t seen since. —Garrett Martin

cash-folsom.jpg 2. Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison (1968)
It’s no exaggeration to say that Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison is his masterwork. Beginning with the 1957 release of his Sun Records debut, Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar (which included “Folsom Prison Blues”), he created a new kind of country that encompassed the compassion of traditional folk ballads, the spit and grit of rockabilly, the dangerous edge of blues and the glory of gospel. Cash—as much as Elvis Presley or Chuck Berry—embodied all the thorny contradictions that defined post-War American popular music, from rock ‘n’ roll to hip-hop. Desperate, difficult, politically incorrect lines delivered with a breaking voice behind the clicka-clicka-chug of bass and guitar—“I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die” (“Folsom Prison Blues”), “I can’t forget the day I shot that bad bitch down” (“Cocaine Blues”)—have echoed across the rock era, from the outlaw country of Johnny Paycheck to the Gothic punk of Nick Cave to the hardcore hip-hop of Tupac Shakur. But so has Cash’s compassion. There’s a direct link from “25 Minutes to Go,” which Cash sings here from the perspective of a convict on death row, to Shakur’s “16 on Death Row,” in which the rapper also assumes the role of a doomed convict: “Dear Mama, they sentenced me to death / Today’s my final day, I’m counting every breath.” It’s that mix of hard reality and soft empathy that brings Cash’s prison audience to its feet, yelling and whistling its collective approval as if the proceedings might turn into a jailhouse riot at any moment. As Rosanne Cash says in one of the DVD extras accompanying the 2008 re-release, “Rebellion never gets old, and there’s just a giant ‘fuck you’ on the whole record to authority in all its forms. And that’s very seductive, no matter what the generation.” —Andy Whitman

allman-fillmore-east.jpg 1. The Allman Brothers Band: At Fillmore East (1971)
In many ways the quintessential Southern Rock album, At Fillmore East features definitive performances of some of the Allman Brothers’ best-known tunes, including a jumping version of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues,” the painful 23-minute blues of “Whipping Post,” and the groundbreaking “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” the band’s first original instrumental to feature the dueling lead guitars of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts—the greatest lead-guitar tandem in rock history. The album is a document of the group at its very best: Gregg Allman nails the balance between sultry and mournful in his vocals, Betts and Duane play together so intuitively that it seems like they were the brothers, and the double-drummer rhythm section holds the whole thing together with impeccable skill. Recorded over two nights at Bill Graham’s storied New York ballroom, At Fillmore East showcased the band’s preternatural facility for deep blues (T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday”) and progressive jazz improv (the sprawling “Hot’ Lanta”), making them the premiere purveyors of this rapidly ascending strain of Southern-based rock music. Along with The Grateful Dead, whose tripped-out take on traditional American music had made them stars on the West Coast, the Allmans were blazing a trail for every road-tested band whose stock in trade was its live show, not its studio recordings. With just seven songs stretched over 78 minutes, At Fillmore East was a masterclass in all the ways rock music was being adapted and reshaped by a new generation of torch bearers, with the emphasis split between honoring the origins of the music and pushing it forward to heretofore unknown heights of instrumental magic. The album is also historic for its presence as Duane Allman’s farewell: he died in a motorcycle crash in October 1971, three months after its release. Betts would later call At Fillmore East the Allmans’ “pinnacle.” In that case, it’s also the pinnacle of this thing we call Southern rock. —Eric R. Danton

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