anything that "influenced" rock and roll by definition would almost certainly be a single '45, being that format was the standard currency of pop music during rock and rolls' incubation period. these, the most influential, should include:
muddy waters - "catfish blues" aka "rollin' stone" (1950) if only due to lending the (second) title to one of the great rock songs of all time ('like a rolling stone' by bob dylan-perpetually in the top 3 greatest songs of the '60's lists)and one mean rock and roll band (the rolling stones, whose first gig was advertised as 'the rollin' stones'). but this song meant alot more and launched (along with 'dust my broom' by elmore james) a whole blues purist movement in england in the early 60's. muddy didn't quit until he died, that's how strong he felt his blues. perhaps everyone doesn't feel their mojo as passionately these days as he did, but you sure can hear it in this song....
ray charles-"what'd i say" (1955) and "i got a woman" (1956). if for no other reason, these songs should be included for influencing elvis and the beatles. elvis covered "i got a woman" the same year that charles released his song, and the beatles were known to stomp on "what'd i say" for hours at a time in hamburg. ray could dish it loose and raw, a trait that was to serve the best rock and roll music for years to come. ray charles could channel any number of influences. and often did.
chuck berry - "johnny b. goode" (1958) the song, the chords, the duckwalk, the attitude. no chuck berry means no beatles, stones, hendrix, or rock music surviving the fifties. sure, there was a handful of piano rock and roll greats (jerry lee lewis, little richard, etc), the good looking haircut and leather covered acoustic guitar rockabilly rebel (elvis, johnny cash, rick nelson, etc) but the "gunslinger"? you need this man and this song....
elvis presley - "that's alright (mama) (1954) while it would be easy to list any number of early elvis sun and rca recordings, this was the first one-a studio goof with elvis vamping his favorite: arthur crudup. elvis loved music. period. and he could let loose with some hank snow, mississippi slim (a hillbilly singer with a radio show out of tupelo) and even jackie wilson. john lennon's personal favorite, elvis moved everybody who wanted to sing rock music-no small feat. long live the king.
jerry lee lewis - "whole lotta shakin'" (1957) the 'killer' took his ball of influences from louisiana and pounded them into submission with a voice that can only be described as country heavy metal. he took no prisoners and gave no quarter, and that's why jimmy page played on his album 50 years later. john lennon: "for my money, no one has improved on 'whole lotta shakin' as far as i'm concerned."
little richard - "tutti frutti" (1955) any performer that has to change the lyric from "tutti frutti, loose booty" to "tutti frutti, aw rooty" just to get played on the radio has got to be included here. richard screamed and screamed, with a voice that was like no other. threw his rings in the sea for God in 57, backslid during a tour with the beatles opening for him, richard should at least get a mention for his appearance in "don't knock the rock" and "the girl can't help it".
oh.....and pat boone.
beach boys - "surfin' safari" (1962) by taking a small rock and roll sub-genre and adding fourfreshman-like harmonies, the beach boys managed to cough up a production style that rivalled phil spector and "spector sound". it also unleashed the song writing and production genuis of brian wilson. and though this single influenced rock and roll for years, it also enabled the climb of a talent that would culminate in one of the greatest albums of all time. (see below)
the beatles - "she loves you" (1963) a small quartet from liverpool, who lived and breathed american rock and r&b, somehow talked their way into abbey road studios and recorded the monster that would give birth to a whole planet of yeah, yeah, yeahs (taken from elvis, by the way). the impact of this comet and the change it would cause is still barely measurable 45 years later.
albums that changed rock and roll:
bob dylan - "the freewheelin' bob dylan" (1962)
although the released songlist is not rock and roll (the songs left off might be), the impact of this album on the music world is more than substantial. words that means something? poetry? dylan made these things seem possible, and the cross pollination between him and the beatles would take rock music from adolesence to adulthood in a very short time (with mixed but irreversible results). and although you could buy "blowin in the wind" as a single (by peter, paul, and mary) this was an album that you had to buy to get the whole "message".
the beach boys - "pet sounds" (1966)
although it is tricky to list this album without first listing the beatles "rubber soul", i'm going to do it. (brian wilson insisted that "rubber soul" goaded him into a private competition with the beatles, one that paul mccartney revealed recently as not so one-sided) "pet sounds" has everything: world class production, arrangements, and songs, not to mention the epitome of recorded rock harmonies that stretched the format to the all-inclusive breaking point. these recording sessions also led to "good vibrations" which, for instrumentation included 2 basses, a cello, a theremin, organ, two pianos, guitars, harmonica, and drums. sgt. who?
the beatles - "revolver" (1966)
as an upper level beatle fan, who has a collection worth more than $5, i'm going to risk the wrath of this forum and say "fuck sgt. pepper, i say revolver." i propose that if the beatles added the sgt. pepper song and reprise, and run all the songs into one another on revolver, nobody would even talk about pepper. ever. the songs, the production, the voices, and man....the best recorded guitars in the sixties...all on one album. (americans-this is the u.k. version i'm including, not the emasculated u.s. version that we were sopped with for so many years.) the release of this album sent brian wilson to his bedroom for twenty years (a shame).
the mothers of invention - "freak out" (1966)
'where are the brain police' made everyone involved aware that the mothers were not your next door neighbor's blues band. production costs soared as frank zappa was given his head to mold this conceptual album into a real sonic event. "return of the son of the monster magnet" alone is worth the price of admission, but the real effect was not felt in sales but in influence. lennon thought it a real work of genuis and the reverberations felt on sgt. pepper are unmistakable.
the beatles - "sgt pepper's lonely hearts club band" (1967)
here it is. i can't fight it. fuck it.
jimi hendrix experience - "are you experienced?" (1967)
a mind-blowing debut that shook the world and caused a flame that has yet to be extinguished. jimi loved both the beatles and dylan, and was not above trotting out some old blues and garage rock onstage. in the studio, he was to grow to monolithic proportions and we can only imagine how he would have progressed. the release of this record caused a paranoid deliberation between eric clapton and pete townshend (jimi was released on the who's label track records, in england).
the who - "tommy" (1968)
the who were consummates of the singles market and had released a glittering array of releases that covered plenty of ground and showed real rock muscle. a rock opera? could the who sustain an entire album, much less a 3 record story line? still availble on broadway should you care to see for yourself (although i prefer the decca release). the impact to music: storylines, not just loose "collages" like pepper were something that every major writer wanted to tackle. the who, themselves, bettered "tommy" with "quadrophenia"in my opinion, but it wasn't the first. "tommy" is.
led zeppelin - "1" (1969)
the debut album that would knock the beatles from the top was a very carefully orchestrated affair, in that jimmy page was absolutely sure of a blueprint for this new band to follow. the impact to rock music was the debut album from john bonham and robert plant. the effects felt still reverberate whenever a song from this record is played. many forget the sheer impact of the first time we heard robert plant "project" over the record. it was gobsmaking. the sonic tension from page's guitars kicked in your ribcage. another name for this album might well have been "balance" because there is nothing more evident.
black sabbath - "black sabbath" (1970)
the quintessential heavy metal album. responsible for millions of terrible knock-ffs and millions of amazing responses, they and this album alone are to blame. but none hold up as good as this one. not only did they create a market for such music and lyrical content, but they epitomized it. this album is quite possibly the most influential in that respect-the sheer numbers of groups and records that came after is mind boggling.
as many can see, i've left a bunch out for others to insert. i can't leave off without an honorable mention to a few:
cream- "wheels of fire" (1968), jeff beck - "wired"(1976), the byrds - "sweetheart of the rodeo" (1968), bob marley - "burnin'" (1974), funkedelic - "maggot brain" (1971) sex pistols - "never mind..."