Growing up in Atlanta in the 1970s and ’80s, “Southern rock” meant a very specific thing: long-haired bands like Molly Hatchet, the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynrd playing extended guitar solos with enough bluster to pick a fight at any smoky roadhouse. It was part country redneck, part psychedelic hippie, and it dominated the FM radio stations of my childhood (looking at you 96 Rock). By the ’80s, Southern rock meant ZZ Top, Georgia Satellites and The Black Crowes, reviving the guitar licks of their forebears for a new generation. But it was also starting to mean something else. In college towns like Athens, Ga., and Winston-Salem, N.C., a distinct Southern jangle was emerging, mixing the post-punk of New York, the pop of Big Star, and the roots music that bands like R.E.M., Let’s Active and The dB’s were weaned on. The branches of Southern rock began to creep outward. Today, “Southern rock” means everything from the earthy synths of My Morning Jacket to the future soul of The Alabama Shakes.
But the origins origins of rock in the South also go back much further than Duane Allman playing guitar for the R&B hitmakers at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals in the 1960s. Bo Diddley, Little Richard and Fats Domino were among the first musicians to put Southern cities on the rock ‘n’ roll map. They were quickly followed by Southern icons at Memphis’s Sun Studio like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, whose early singles were as much rockabilly as country.
So when we compiled the 50 Best Southern Rock Albums of All Time, we made sure the results were a little broader than the usual suspects. As long as the music was undoubtedly Southern (from Texas to the Carolinas, Kentucky to north Florida) and undoubtedly rock, it was on the table. That meant bands like The B-52’s and Of Montreal, who could have come from Mars, aren’t included. And bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Little Feat, who sound Southern but have no claim to these lands, are also absent. But the inclusion of early rock albums and modern torchbearers like Drive-By Truckers also means we didn’t have room for some roots rock standards like Atlanta Rhythm Section, Boz Scaggs and Dixie Dregs, which you’ll find on most every other list.
What follows are the Best Southern rock albums as voted by Paste’s music editors and writers, after long debates on what should qualify. As always for these lists, we limit each act to two albums. We think this approach results in a more interesting list, celebrating all of the South’s contributions to rock ’n’ roll. And you can tell us what we missed on our Facebook page.
Here are the 50 Best Southern Rock Albums of All Time:
39. Drivin’ n’ Cryin’: Mystery Road (1989)
Though it might have lacked the punk freedom of their first two albums, Scarred But Smarter and Whisper Tames the Lion, Mystery Road is where the Atlanta rock band fully embraced their Southern roots for a more unforgettable sound. Starting with the fiddles on “Ain’t It Strange” and Southern crunching guitars of “Toy Never Played With” to the Red Clay power-ballad “Honeysuckle Blue” and culminating in the bad-boy anthem “Straight to Hell,” this was the pinnacle of Southern rock in the late 1980s. Even R.E.M.’s Peter Buck showed up to play some dulcimer. Kevn Kinney was a folk troubadour at heart, but bassist Tim Nielsen, guitarist Buren Fowler and drummer Jeff Sullivan all added more than a touch of Allman Brothers and Skynyrd influence to the point that follow-up Fly Me Courageoushad the band touring in leather and playing arena rock. But on this album, the balance between punk beginnings, country leanings and ’70s Southern FM radio adoration was just about perfect. —Josh Jackson
By Josh Jackson & Paste Music Staff | February 26, 2018 | 10:19am
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