Was Hard Rock’s Class of 1973 The Greatest Of All Time?

With their new album, Rock or Bust, AC/DC charge into their fifth decade of swinging hard rock’s biggest, heaviest wrecking balls to the peak of the pop charts and the pummeling of popular culture once again. It’s indeed been a long way to the top for these Aussie rock-and-roll outlaws, one that began specifically in the ferociously fertile year of 1973.

Hard rock’s Class of 1973, in fact, may be the most potent and prolific marauders to ever variously invent, embody, and bulldoze the medium forward. After burying the final vestiges of ’60s flower power and fueled by free-form FM radio, rock itself dove deep into darkness in 1973, and came up spewing gold, platinum, and the volcanic ash that has spawned all forms of heavy metal, punk, grunge, hardcore, and other extreme musical subgenres ever since.

Let us honor now the bands that formed, the debut records that dropped, and the classic albums that emerged in this one extraordinary year. All hail the Hard Rock Class of 1973!

Hear Angus Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, who formed in 1973, describe to key to the band’s longevity.

1973’s Graduates From the Garage
An iron-fisted handful of bands first came together in 1973 that still continue to dominate heavy rock’s consciousness. Let’s welcome the incoming junior classmen.

[Photo: Getty Images]

AC/DC
Melbourne’s madmen brothers, Angus and Malcolm, brought bruising electric blues to Australia’s glitter rock scene by creating AC/DC. Angus adopted his schoolboy costume early on and the group quickly tapped into its primordial sound. The real (black) magic occurred, though, when vocalist Bon Scott overwhelmed the mic. Regardless of death, illness, and murder-for-hire accusations, it’s been AC/DC’s world ever since.

[Photo: Getty Images]

Kiss
Emerging from the crash and burn of their one-album-and-done misfire Wicked Lester, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley acquired drummer Peter Criss in 1972 and finally found perfection as a foursome a year later with the addition of guitarist Ace Frehley. Face-paint, costumes, fireworks, and killer tunes erupted forth almost instantly as Kiss rushed out its self-titled debut album and began building its Army that’s only grown more fearsome with every subsequent generation.

[Photo: Getty Images]

Journey
Before power ballads, before karaoke sing-alongs, and even before Steve Perry, ex-members of hard rock powerhouse Santana and Bay Area psychedelic weirdoes Frumious Bandersnatch hooked up in San Francisco to create a heavy, progressive, jazz-fusion-influenced combo called Journey. After a bomb debut album and a succession of failed frontmen, the group eventually landed Perry, and Journey as we know it was born. Their roots, though, go back to 1973, and they’re surprisingly dark and deep.

[Photo: Getty Images]

Bad Company
One of classic rock’s premiere supergroups, Bad Company consisted of singer Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke of Free, guitarist Mick Ralphs of Mott the Hoople, and bass player Boz Burrell of King Crimson. That level of chemistry yielded the expected top-notch combustion, resulting in three successive classic albums and a catalogue of hits.

[Photo: Getty Images]

Bachman-Turner Overdrive
After leaving The Guess Who, a heavy-duty hit machine he founded, guitarist and songwriter Randy Bachman united with growling bassist and yowling frontman Fred Turner to redefine Candian hard rock royalty with Bachman-Turner Overdrive. With Randy’s brother Robbie Bachman on drums, BTO pumped out an onslaught of anthems such as “Takin’ Care of Business” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” that still never fail to get feet stomping and hearts pumping.

[Photo: Getty Images]

Montrose
Session musician superstar Ronnie Montrose stepped out of the shadows of with his self-named project Montrose, a hard rock monster fronted by young vocalist Sammy Hagar that, through word of mouth over multiple decades, eventually lived up to early record company buzz that hyped them as “America’s answer to Led Zeppelin.” The sales of Montrose may not have been Zep-sized, but respect and love for the group among hard rock fans and (especially) musicians flies in the same thundering skies.

The Freshman Breakthroughs of 1973
Hard rock debuts dropped with nuclear impact throughout 1973, ushering in a new class of adventurous musicians expanding the boundaries of heavy sonic explorations to all-time great extremes.

[Artwork: Columbia Records]

Aerosmith Aerosmith
Unleashed in January 1973, Aerosmith’s first shot is a great 35-minute introduction to the band that essentially flopped everywhere but in their hometown of Boston. Regardless, one ditty proved to have some staying power: “Dream On.”

[Artwork: EMI Records]

Queen Queen
Rip-roaring to life with the opening track “Keep Yourself Alive,” Queen’s first is a burly, brawling cauldron of prog rock and heavy metal. It’s also lit up in spots by front-dervish Freddy Mercury’s Saturnalian splendor, igniting the theatrical flair that would fully flower in later Queen albums.

[Artwork: MCA Records]

Lynyrd Skynyrd Pronounced ’L?h-’nérd ’Skin-’nérd
Few bands have ever come out shooting like Florida hellraisers Lynyrd Skynyrd do on their introductory long-player. Among the initial blasts contained herein are no less than “Gimme Three Steps,” “Simple Man,” “Tuesday’s Gone,” and, oh yes, “Free Bird.”

[Artwork: Mercury Records]

New York Dolls New York Dolls
Cross-dressing racketeers and glam-punk pioneers the New York Dolls essentially smashed rock-and-roll open on a lower Manhattan sidewalk and gussied themselves up with the goo that exploded out. The group’s commercially D.O.A., but influentially A1 debut was produced by Todd Rundgren and long cited as a bedrock favorite by the Ramones, Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, and countless others who heard the clarion call to get your glitter up out of the gutter and rock the masses.

1973’s Upperclassmen Honor Roll
Showing the new kids how it’s done has long been a thrill for established students of rock-and-roll (among other disciplines). Amidst the year’s upstarts, certain senior members of the Class of ’73 produced seminal works and blazed new hard rock trails for the freshmen of every subsequent year to follow.

[Artwork: Atlantic Records]

Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy
Zep’s fifth is their first album with no cover tunes and with such an abundance of classics as there are here, how could they have been bothered anybody else’s music? Every song on Houses of the Holy (yes, even “The Crunge”) is a classic rock radio staple, with just some of the high-points being “The Song Remains the Same,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “The Rain Song,” “The Ocean,” “Dancing Days,” and “D’yer Maker.”

[Artwork: Warner Bros. Records]

Black Sabbath Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
The title track from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is one of the group’s most towering and powerful throat-grabbers and soul-stirrers, as is the monstrous “Killing Yourself to Live.” Elsewhere, the album exhibits Sabbath building off their signature four-piece doom metal sound with strings, synthesizers, and bold leaps into the unknown. Bassist Geezer Butler is especially fond of where Sabbath Bloody Sabbath took the band, noting, “It was like Part Two of your life.”

[Artwork: Warner Bros. Records]

Alice Cooper Billion Dollar Babies
Alice Cooper’s first #1 album, Billion Dollar Babies scored huge hits with the title number and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” Backed by a mind-blowing, unprecedentedly elaborate stage show, the record also hurled the Alice Cooper group into levels of stardom and excess that tore the original line-up apart (a rushed follow-up farewell LP, Muscle of Love, sort of doesn’t count). Few crash-and-burns have ever sounded so electrifying four decades onward.

[Artwork: Warner Bros. Records]

ZZ Top Tres Hombres
The third time was the charm for mega-bearded Texas boogie trio ZZ Top. Tres Hombres broke the group through to the mainstream on the sun-scorched hides of the one-two punch opening numbers “Waiting for the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” along with enduring classics like “Beer Drinkers and Hellraisers” and the eternal drunken growl-along favorite, “La Grange.”

[Artwork: Columbia Records]

Iggy and the Stooges Raw Power
Just as the Stooges stumbled toward ultimate destruction and oblivion, David Bowie rescued Detroit’s looniest musical bomb-lobbers, got them signed to Columbia, and produced their third album, Raw Power. Bowie’s influence still couldn’t secure the Stooges any radio hits, but masterworks of mayhem such as the title track, “Search and Destroy,” “Gimme Danger,” and “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell,” directly detonated an apocalypse called punk rock that would fully explode just a few years later.

Mike McPadden is the author of the book "HEAVY METAL MOVIES: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever!" (Bazillion Points, 2014).