Few years can rival 1972 for the sheer scope of transcendent rock albums.

These releases started careers, ended others, helped bands reach new heights, represented the final material before a lineup change and even launched some acts into the stratosphere of superstardom.

The Rolling Stones were at the peak of their game, enjoying a four-album stretch among the greatest rock history. David Bowie found new ways to stretch the boundaries of art by creating a character not of this world. Paul Simon, Peter Frampton and Pete Townshend released debut solo efforts, stepping away – either permanently or briefly – from their respective bands.

Lineup changes marked releases by Yes, the Doobie Brothers, REO Speedwagon, Fleetwood Mac and the Beach Boys. Meanwhile, the Eagles, Steely Dan, Roxy Music and Styx unveiled debut albums, setting into motion their respective careers.

Politics framed John Lennon’s work, while tragedy sadly hung over the Allman Brothers Band. Captain Beefheart got slightly commercial, while Harry Nilsson veered further into weirdness.

The list of achievements keeps on going: Elton John began an impressive stretch of No. 1 albums, ZZ Top started discovering their sound, Alice Cooper released one of his most celebrated hits, Lou Reed transformed and Black Sabbath took artistic control (while losing control of themselves).

We’ve assembled 50 of the biggest releases from this landmark year in music and presented them in chronological order below. Whether they were chart-topping success stories or simply stepping stones to something even greater, each album played an important role for the artist who created it.

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