Classic Albums is a music documentary series about pop, rock and heavy metal albums that are considered to be classics, masterpieces, magnum opuses or an artist or band's most distinctive outing. It has been broadcast since 1989 under production of Isis Productions, distributed by Eagle Entertainment and could be seen on TV channels as diverse as the BBC, ITV, Sky Arts and VH1. They are also available on DVD, where more additional material is available.
The documentaries are interesting for both other musicians and fans of the artists themselves because they interview both the band members, the producers and other people involved. Apart from that funny and intriguing anecdotes are told, the stories behind the creation of the album are revealed and multitracks are dissected so one can hear separate or different takes of certain tracks.
The episodes appear at irregular intervals.
- Album Title Drop: Naturally.
- Concept Album: Quite some concept albums were the subject of the show, but not all of them.
- A Day in the Limelight: For some of the record producers and studio engineers it is the first time that they are actually invited to talk about a record they helped create.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Demo recordings will sometimes be analyzed, together with multitracks dissected into separate tracks so one can hear how they were mended together in the song everybody knows. For instance, in the Aja episode, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan play some of the many solos that different session guitarists had recorded for "Peg" before Jay Graydon laid down the one that appears on the album.
- Fanservice/Just Here for Godzilla: To fans of the genres, albums and artists discussed these documentaries are a veritable welcome gift.
- Hey, Let's Put on a Show: Some artists don't take the concept of the show that seriously. Motörhead had a lot of laughs when analyzing the songs and album cover from Ace of Spades.
- The Ken Burns Effect: The camera will zoom in on still pictures or details of the album covers.
- Music Stories: A short history of the artist or band is often provided before in-depth discussion of the album.
- New Sound Album: These albums tend to get the most attention in the show.
- The Power of Rock: The show is a must for all music fans.
- Rearrange the Song: The record producers, studio engineers and the artist himself often take the original studio tracks from the album and let the audience listen to demo versions, outtakes, acoustic performances, the vocal parts only, guitar and bass part only, lead vocals only,...
- Rockumentary: A docu about rock albums.
- Set Behind the Scenes: The documentary makers tell how the sessions in creating the album happened, either by showing archive footage, interviewing the people involved, letting the artists play a few of the songs on their guitar and giving the listeners an example how the multitracks sound as separate tracks.
- Small Reference Pools: Most of the albums are rock, heavy metal and/or pop. The only different genre so far was Catch a Fire by reggae icon Bob Marley & The Wailers.
- Special Guest: All episodes will interview the famous rock stars and producers involved in making the album unless they are deceased. In that case, archive footage will be used.
- Stock Footage: Archive footage is often used, but the episodes also contain a lot of new interviews.
- Talking Heads: The series interview musicians, producers and other people involved in the process of creating the albums.
- Unplugged Version: The artists will often demonstrate how a certain song was constructed by playing it acoustically or with some electronic accompaniment.
- Urban Legend: The artists often take time to debunk some false stories about the recording of certain songs.
Albums addressed in the series
The first season:
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) by The Beatles (the first documentary, released in 1988 in much of the same format, before it was decided to make an actual long running series about it.)
- Brothers in Arms (1985) by Dire Straits.
- Beggars Banquet (1968) by The Rolling Stones
- Invisible Touch (1986) by Genesis
- The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) by Pink Floyd.
- Who's Next (1971) by The Who.
- Rumours (1977) by Fleetwood Mac.
- Pet Sounds (1966) by The Beach Boys.
- Synchronicity (1983) by The Police.
- Hotel California (1976) by the Eagles.
- The Joshua Tree (1987) by U2.
- The Band (1969) by The Band.
- Paranoid (1970) by Black Sabbath.
- Face Value (1981) by Phil Collins.
- Disraeli Gears (1967) by Cream.
- Machine Head (1972) by Deep Purple.
- Hysteria (1987) by Def Leppard.
- The Doors (1967) by The Doors.
- Rio (1982) by Duran Duran.
- So (1986) by Peter Gabriel.
- Anthem of the Sun (1968) by The Grateful Dead
- American Beauty (1970) by the Grateful Dead
- Electric Ladyland (1968) by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
- The Number of the Beast (1982) by Iron Maiden.
- Reasonable Doubt (1996) by Jay-Z.
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) by Elton John.
- British Steel (1980) by Judas Priest.
- John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970) by John Lennon
- Bat Out of Hell (1977) by Meat Loaf.
- Metallica (Black Album) (1991) by Metallica.
- Nevermind (1991) by Nirvana.
- Damn The Torpedoes (1979) by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
- Elvis Presley (1956) by Elvis Presley.
- Ace of Spades (1980) by Motörhead.
- Screamadelica (1991) by Primal Scream.
- A Night at the Opera (1975) by Queen.
- Transformer (1972) by Lou Reed.
- 2112 (1976) by Rush.
- Moving Pictures (1981) by Rush.
- Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977) by The Sex Pistols.
- Graceland (1986) by Paul Simon.
- Stars (1991) by Simply Red.
- Aja (1977) by Steely Dan
- Catch a Fire (1973) by Bob Marley & The Wailers.
- Songs in the Key of Life (1976) by Stevie Wonder.
- Over-Nite Sensation (1973) by Frank Zappa.
- Apostrophe (') (1974) by Frank Zappa.
Three artists (The Grateful Dead, Rush, and Frank Zappa) have each had two albums featured on the series; both albums are covered in a single episode.
The Dutch public television also made some special episodes about Dutch albums, which were included in their own regular broadcast of the other albums, but have never been released on DVD.
- Moving Waves (1971) by Focus.
- Voor De Overlevenden (1966) by Boudewijn De Groot.
- Shpritsz (1978) by Herman Brood.
- Virus (1983) by Doe Maar.
- Niemand In De Stad (1989) by De Dijk.
- Groeten Uit Grollo (1967) by Cuby & The Blizzards.
- At Home (1969) by Shocking Blue.
- Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor (2010) by Caro Emerald.