In a way, 1965 was the nascent start of the classic-rock era, that moment when the rock 'n' roll single yielded its power to the album format. But 1966 is when it all started to make sense.

Our list of 1966's Best Rock Albums is almost equally divided between veteran acts (well, as veteran as rock 'n' roll bands could be in 1966, so we're talking a period of two to three years) and new artists sprung from the shadows of their predecessors.

Some of the decade's biggest names made some of the most significant albums of their careers in 1966: the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Cream, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, the Who – they're all here.

It was a transitional time for rock music. In a year or so, the Summer of Love would sprinkle a whole new shade on pop culture, altering songs, albums and artists along the way. The keenest groups already had their sights on this shift in 1966, steering away from their pasts – which included folk, R&B, blues and sunny pop – and into a bold new futures.

And unlike some of the hazy works that spotted the following year (which ranks as one of rock music's all-time greatest, but everyone was trying to cash in on the scene), 1966 was guided more by instincts than trends. Whether it's British bands working out their American blues and soul obsessions or stateside folkies plugging into brand new formats, their music still sounds real, 50 years after it was made. The best rock albums of 1966 cleared the path for the rest of the decade and everything that followed.