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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.

77

AC/DC, ‘Back in Black’

Atlantic, 1980

In the middle of album rehearsals, singer Bon Scott went on a drinking spree; he choked on his own vomit and was found dead in the back seat of a car. After two days of mourning, guitarist Malcolm Young thought, "Well, fuck this, I'm not gonna sit around mopin' all fuckin' year." He called his brother, guitarist Angus Young, and they went back to work with replacement vocalist Brian Johnson and savvy producer Mutt Lange. The resulting album has the relentless logic of a sledgehammer. Back in Black might be the purest distillation of hard rock ever: The title track, "Hells Bells" and the primo dance-metal banger "You Shook Me All Night Long" have all become enduring anthems of strutting blues-based guitar heat

76

Prince and the Revolution, ‘Purple Rain’

Warner Bros., 1984

The blockbuster soundtrack to Prince's semiautobiographical movie was raunchy enough to inspire the formation of the censorship watchdog group Parents' Music Resource Center. It also show­cased Prince's abilities as a guitarist, especially on "Let's Go Crazy." But at heart, Purple Rain is defined by its brilliant idiosyncrasies. Its breakthrough hit, "When Doves Cry," has no bass track (looking for a different sound, Prince removed it). According to keyboardist Dr. Fink, the title track was inspired by Bob Seger – when Prince was touring behind 1999 [see No. 163], Seger was playing many of the same markets. Prince didn't understand his appeal but decided to try a ballad in the Seger mode.

75

James Brown, ‘Star Time’

Polydor, 1991

So great is James Brown's impact that even the four-CD Star Time isn't quite comprehensive – between 1956 and 1988, Brown placed an astounding 100 singles on the R&B Top 40 charts. But every phase of his career is well represented here: the pleading, straight-up soul of "Please, Please, Please"; his instantaneous reinvention of R&B with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," where the rhythm takes over and melody is subsumed within the groove; his spokesmanship for the civil rights movement in "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud (Pt. 1)"; his founding document of Seventies funk, "Get Up (I Feel Like Sex Being a) Sex Machine"; and his blueprint for hip-hop in "Funky Drummer." At 71 tracks, it never gets close to running out of soul power.