The RS 500 was assembled by the editors of Rolling Stone, based on the results of two extensive polls. In 2003, Rolling Stone asked a panel of 271 artists, producers, industry executives and journalists to pick the greatest albums of all time. In 2009, we asked a similar group of 100 experts to pick the best albums of the 2000s. From those results, Rolling Stone created this new list of the greatest albums of all time.
For a few glorious moments, the Stone Roses looked like they might lead another British Invasion. Instead, they fell apart – but first they made this incredible album, highlighted by the ecstatic eight-minute-long “I Am the Resurrection.” It single-handedly launched Nineties Brit pop. Listen here.
Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001
The third album by Jack and Meg White was the right dynamite for a mainstream breakthrough. Jack’s Delta-roadhouse fantasies, Detroit-garage-rock razzle and busted-love lyricism, as well as Meg’s toy-thunder drumming all peaked at once. Listen here.
The stone-solid grooves on this underrated gem come courtesy of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section; the soulful guitar comes courtesy of Scaggs and guest Duane Allman. Together, they made “Loan Me a Dime” an FM-radio classic – more than 10 minutes of knockout blues pleading and wailing. Listen here.
Warner Bros., 1972
California darling Raitt headed to Woodstock to cut her second LP – only to face near-monsoon weather. “My house had sand and salamanders,” Raitt said. She took refuge in the studio and churned out gorgeous folksy blues, including a cover of Jackson Browne‘s “Under the Falling Sky.” Listen here.
Two hipster geeks get some rad vintage keyboards and compose a suite of synthesized heartache. You don’t have to figure out a word of “Kids” to feel the poignant kick of that massive keyboard hook. Listen here.
Annie Lennox looked like a gender-bending cybor, but she sang with soul; producer Dave Stewart hid behind his beard and masterminded the sound. Together they made divine synth pop, especially “Who’s That Girl?,” a tale of kinked-up sexual obsession, and their massive hit “Here Comes the Rain Again.” Listen here.
King’s first album for the Stax label combines his hard, unflashy guitar playing with the sleek sound of the label’s house band, Booker T. and the MG’s. Hits such as “Crosscut Saw” and “Laundromat Blues” earned King a new rock & roll audience. Listen here.
A decade before the Texas blues trio became MTV stars, ZZ Top got their first taste of national fame with this disc, which features one of their biggest hits, the John Lee Hooker-style boogie “La Grange,” as well as the boozy rocker “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and the concert anthem “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers.” Listen here.
By their fifth album, Kiss were the most popular band in America, with sold-out stadium tours and eventually their own pinball machine, makeup line and a TV movie. Built around the proto power ballad “Beth,” this is a ridiculously over-the-top party-rock album that just gets better with age. Listen here.
Their previous album, Vs., made Pearl Jam the most successful band in the world. They celebrated by suing Ticketmaster and making Vitalogy, where their mastery of rock's past and future became complete. Soulful ballads like "Nothingman" are matched by hardcore-influenced rockers such as "Spin the Black Circle."
Warner Bros., 1979
Formed in 1977, Gang of Four combined Marxist politics with punk rock. They played staccato guitar-driven funk, and the stiff, jerky aggression of songs such as "Damaged Goods" and "I Found That Essence Rare" invented a new style that influenced bands from the Minutemen to LCD Soundsystem.
"I got a two-pack habit and a motel tan," Earle sings on the title track. By the time he released his debut at 31, he had done two stints in Nashville as a songwriter and he wanted something else. Guitar Town is the rocker's version of country, packed with songs about hard living in the Reagan Eighties.
D'Angelo recorded his second album at Electric Lady, the Manhattan studio built by Jimi Hendrix. There he studied bootleg videos of Sixties and Seventies soul singers and cooked up an album heavy on bass and drenched in a post-coital haze. The single "Untitled (How Does It Feel?)" sounds like a great lost Prince song.
The best Wu-Tang solo joint is a study in understated cool and densely woven verses. Over RZA's hypnotically stark beats, Raekwon crafts breathtaking drug-rap narratives; it's a rap album that rivals the mob movies hip-hop celebrates.
"Play like your mama just died," George Clinton told guitarist Eddie Hazel. The result was "Maggot Brain," 10 minutes of Hendrix-style guitar anguish. This is the heaviest rock album the P-Funk ever created, but it also made room for the acoustic-guitar funk of "Can You Get to That."
MCA Nashville, 2002
Anyone who thinks a woman singing country music is cute should listen to "Fist City," where Lynn threatens to beat down a woman if she doesn't lay off her man. Seventies greats like "Rated 'X'" and "The Pill" brought feminism to the honky-tonks.
Haggard's tough country sound was born in Bakersfield, California, a.k.a. Nashville West. His songs are full of drifters, fugitives and rogues, and this four-disc set – culled from his seminal recordings for Capitol as well as MCA and Epic – is the ultimate collection from one of country's finest singers.
Bad Boy, 1997
Released less than a month after Biggie's murder, the prophetic Life After Death is two CDs of humor and bravado, no filler at all, as he tops himself in "Mo Money Mo Problems" and"#!*@ You Tonight."
Costello's third album is all tightly wound paranoia. The concept is personal politics; the original title was Emotional Fascism, and one song is called "Two Little Hitlers." The keyboard-driven sound of "Accidents Will Happen" helped define New Wave.
Globally, Chao had long been a Marley-size figure. But this gem gave Americans a taste of his wild-ass greatness. Chao rocks an acoustic guitar over horns and beatboxes while rambling multilingually about crucial topics from politics to pot.
"I recognize that mystical air/It means I'd like to seize your underwear," Morrissey moans, and rock music was never the same. The Smiths' debut is a showcase for Morrissey's morose wit and Johnny Marr's guitar chime, trudging through England's cheerless marshes in "Still Ill" and "This Charming Man."
When Michael left Wham!, he signified his new maturity by not shaving. Thankfully, his music was still tasty pop candy – six of these songs hit the Top Five on the singles charts. "I Want Your Sex" is one of the decade's finest Prince imitations, and the best ballad is the spooky, soulful "Father Figure."