Home Music Music Lists

500 Greatest Albums of All Time

Rolling Stone’s definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

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.

200

AC/DC, ‘Highway to Hell’

Atlantic, 1979

Bon Scott was a bourbon-swilling force of nature, and by AC/DC's fourth LP, he and guitarist Angus Young had become a one-two punch with killer songs (like the bulldozing title track) to match. Scott's wicked ways caught up with him, however: He was dead six months after Highway hit shelves.

199

The Strokes, ‘Is This It’

RCA, 2001

The debut from these mod ragamuffins was a blast of guitar-combo racket that made New York's shadows sound vicious and exciting again. Is This It mixed Velvet Underground grime and skinny-tie New Wave jangle with Julian Casablancas' Lower East Side dispatches – sometimes acidic, always full of great melody.

198

Little Walter, ‘The Best Of’

Chess, 1957

This Muddy Waters sideman attacked the harmonica with the authority of the bop sax players he loved, bringing a dynamic new sound to Chicago blues. In 1952, his own "Juke" topped the R&B charts. But he had no control of his personal life; he died at 37 after being injured in a street fight.

197

R.E.M., ‘Murmur’

I.R.S., 1983

The founding document of alternative rock, released just as Gen X was heading off to college. Though “technically limited,” according to co-producer Don Dixon, R.E.M. packed their songs with cathartic mystery. Peter Buck’s guitar chimes and Michael Stipe unspools his low-talker lyrics like they constitute a new language.

196

Various Artists, ‘Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968’

Elektra, 1972

This 27-song collection of short, fun brutally simple Sixties garage rock, compiled by critic Lenny Kaye, was proto-punk manna in the prog-clogged Seventies.

195

John Mayall With Eric Clapton, ‘Blues Breakers’

London, 1966

Ex-Yardbird Eric Clapton's solos here inspired his "Clapton Is God" cult. The band expertly covers Robert Johnson and Freddie King, and blows up Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" with a long drum solo that predicts Cream. 

194

Lou Reed, ‘Transformer’

RCA, 1972

David Bowie counted the former Velvet Underground leader as a major inspiration – and paid Reed back by producing his biggest album. Transformer had glam flash courtesy of guitarist Mick Ronson, and "Walk on the Wild Side" brought drag queens and hustlers into the Top 20.

193

Green Day, ‘Dookie’

Reprise, 1994

The album that jump-started the Nineties punk-pop revival. Singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong boiled suburban boredom into airtight, three-minute shots like "Welcome to Paradise," "Basket Case" and the infectious smash "Longview" – which Armstrong described as "cheap self-therapy from watching too much TV."

192

The Flying Burrito Brothers, ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’

A&M, 1969

A hugely influential country-rock statement – concocted by ex-Byrds Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman – of L.A. hillbilly anthems, God-fearing hippie soul and achingly beautiful two-part harmonies.

191

The Stooges, ‘Fun House’

Elektra, 1970

With garage-savvy ex-Kingsmen keyboardist Don Gallucci producing their second album, the Stooges' relentless "troglodyte groove" was allowed to run psychotically rampant. "I stick it deep inside," Iggy Pop growls on "Loose." And the punk torpedoes like "T.V. Eye" make good on that promise.  

190

Elvis Presley, ‘From Elvis in Memphis’

RCA Victor, 1969

"I had to leave town for a little while," Presley sings in the first track. This record announced he was back. With a crack crew of Memphis musicians, Presley masterfully tackles country, gospel, soul, pop and – on "In the Ghetto" – message songs.

189

Quicksilver Messenger Service, ‘Happy Trails’

Capitol, 1969

The definitive live recording of the late-Sixties ballroom experience: This San Francisco acid-blues band's second album captures its twin guitarists in bright flight, and composed intricacies like the studio epic "Calvary" prove that psychedelia was about more than just tripping out.

188

Buffalo Springfield, ‘Buffalo Springfield Again’

ATCO, 1967

Their second record has masterful L.A. folk rock from Stephen Stills, pioneering country rock from Richie Furay and two Neil Young gems: the raw "Mr. Soul" and the suitelike "Broken Arrow."

187

Peter Gabriel, ‘So’

Geffen, 1986

Gabriel got funky on the 1982 single "Shock the Monkey." It took him four years to follow up, but So delivered with the visceral "Sledgehammer," the upbeat "Big Time," the gothic love ballad "In Your Eyes" and the inspirational "Don't Give Up," a duet with Brit art thrush Kate Bush.

186

Sly and the Family Stone, ‘Fresh’

Epic, 1973

As the Seventies unfurled, Stone became progressively dissolute. But he had one more ace up his sleeve: the intoxicating "If You Want Me to Stay," surrounded here by idiosyncratic gestures like a ragged take on Doris Day's "Que Sera, Sera."

185

The Stooges, ‘The Stooges’

Elektra, 1969

Fueled by "a little marijuana and a lotta alienation," Michigan's Stooges savagely gave the lie to hippie idealism. Ex-Velvet Underground member John Cale produced a primitive debut wherein Iggy Stooge (né James Osterberg) snarled seminal punk classics such as "I Wanna Be Your Dog," "No Fun" and "1969." 

184

Madonna, ‘The Immaculate Collection’

Sire/Warner Bros., 1990

A perfect Madonna CD: You get timeless pop such as "Holiday," provocations like "Papa Don't Preach," dance classics like "Into the Groove" and a then-new Lenny Kravitz-produced sex jam, "Justify My Love," which samples Public Enemy.

183

Willie Nelson, ‘Red Headed Stranger’

 Columbia, 1975

This trailblazing concept album became one of Nelson's biggest hits – a lyrically ambitious, musically stripped-down, riveting and heartfelt tale of murder and infidelity.

182

Fleetwood Mac, ‘Fleetwood Mac’

Reprise, 1975

Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and his missis Christine's first album with California couple Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks generated big radio songs such as "Say You Love Me" and "Rhiannon" and patterned the rich harmonies and sheer melodies they'd perfect on Rumours

181

Bob Marley and the Wailers, ‘Natty Dread’

Island, 1974

The first Wailers album to give Marley top billing was multifaceted rebel music – from the call-to-arms opening, "Lively Up Yourself" (about dancing or revolution or both), to the gospel-flavored "No Woman, No Cry," an anthem of struggle and hope. 

180

The Rolling Stones, ‘The Rolling Stones, Now!’

London, 1965

A charming exuberance pervades the Stones' third U.S. release, with its hot-rod takes on Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters. And their "Heart of Stone" introduces a crucial Stones element into the mix: menace.

179

Abba, ‘The Definitive Collection’

Universal, 2001

These Swedish pop stars became the world's biggest group in the Seventies. Global hits like the double-divorce drama "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and the war-torn "Fernando" undercut sparkly melodies with Nordic despair.

178

Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, ‘The Anthology 1961-1977’

MCA, 1992

Mayfield taught sociocultural awareness while dispensing fine ballads ("Gypsy Woman"), inspirational anthems ("People Get Ready," "Move On Up") and edgy street narratives ("Superfly"). 

177

Funkadelic, ‘One Nation Under a Groove’

Warner Bros., 1978

Funkadelic's first million-seller perfectly distills George Clinton's gospel of mind-altering groove music – from the monster title track to the cosmic make-out soul of "Into You" and the scatological philosophizing of "The Doo Doo Chasers." 

176

Aerosmith, ‘Rocks’

Columbia, 1976

After Toys in the Attic proved that Aerosmith were more than a Stones caricature, the band flexed its muscles on the boastfully (and aptly) named Rocks, a buffalo stampede of rave-ups and boogies. In an era of arena bombast, songs like "Back in the Saddle" and "Last Child" kept it low to the ground and swinging.

175

The Carpenters, ‘Close to You’

A&M, 1970

With their lush music and thoroughly wholesome image, Richard and Karen Carpenter epitomized the early-Seventies mainstream. Years later, as soft rock became a hipster touchstone, the chaste elegance of ballads like "Close to You" and "We've Only Just Begun" influenced many cooler, scruffier indie bands.

174

Bob Dylan, ‘Desire’

Columbia, 1976

In typical Dylan style, the follow-up to Blood on the Tracks was mostly bashed out in one all-night New York session, fueled by tequila. "Sara," his account of his crumbling marriage, and the politically charged "Hurricane" highlight the last great album he'd make for many years

173

Todd Rundgren, ‘Something/Anything?’

Bearsville, 1972

On this tour-de-force double album, Rundgren demonstrates his command of the studio, unfurling his falsetto over a kaleidoscope of rock genres – including the white pop-soul of "Hello It's Me."

172

Rod Stewart, ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’

Mercury, 1971

Stewart's best disc is loose and warm, rocking hard with mostly acoustic instruments. "Mandolin Wind" is the moving ballad; the title tune is a boozy romp; "Maggie May" went Number One.