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.

300

Black Sabbath, ‘Master of Reality’

Warner Bros., 1971

The greatest sludge-metal band of them all in its prime. Paranoid may have bigger hits, but Master of Reality, released a mere six months later, is heavier. The highlight is "Sweet Leaf," a droning love song to marijuana. But the vibe is perfectly summed up by the final track, "Into the Void."

299

Weezer, ‘Weezer’

DGC, 1994

When it came out, Weezer's debut was merely a cool, quirky power-pop album with a couple of hit singles – "Buddy Holly" and "Undone (The Sweater Song)." But Rivers Cuomo's band influenced a legion of sad-sack punkers. Today, they stand just a step below Nirvana in the alt-rock canon.

298

Kanye West, ‘The College Dropout’

Roc-A-Fella, 2004

On his debut, the self-proclaimed "first [rapper] with a Benz and a backpack" beat the producer-tries-to-rap jinx and broke boundaries others wouldn't acknowledge – from the gospel riot "Jesus Walks" to the Luther Vandross tribute "Slow Jamz."

297

The Mothers of Invention, ‘We’re Only in It for the Money’

Verve, 1968

A milestone of studio mischief and a merciless satire of anything that pissed Frank Zappa off in flower power's heyday – drippy hippies, the Establishment, whatever.

296

The Smiths, ‘Meat Is Murder’

Sire, 1985

Inspired by Can riffs and bookended by lengthy, brutal songs about corporal punishment and the horrors of the cattle industry, Murder is the darkest entry in the U.K. group's catalog. On "How Soon Is Now?" Morrissey sums up with great pathos and hilarity what a drag it is to be shy. More pathos would come.

295

Leonard Cohen, ‘Songs of Love and Hate’

Columbia, 1971

The Montreal poet-turned-songwriter's most intense album. Cohen strums an acoustic guitar and murmurs about the destructive powers of love, and his tender croak of a voice gives every song an air of hushed drama.

294

MC5, ‘Kick Out the Jams’

Elektra, 1969

It's the ultimate rock salute: "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!" Recorded live in Detroit by Rob Tyner and his anarchist crew, Kick Out the Jams writhes and hollers with the belief in rock & roll as civil disobedience. The proof: It was banned by a Michigan department store.

293

The Velvet Underground, ‘White Light/White Heat’

Verve, 1968

Drowning their songs in guitar fuzz and drone, VU made the most extreme disc in their extreme catalog. "Sister Ray" is 17 minutes of amplifiers screaming.

292

Bob Dylan and the Band, ‘The Basement Tapes’

Columbia, 1975

A folk-rock free-for-all recorded in 1967 at the Band's house near Woodstock, New York. The much-bootlegged sessions were finally released eight years later.

291

Talking Heads, ‘Talking Heads: 77’

Sire, 1977

The Heads wore button-down shirts and embraced a tightly wound normality as rebellion. "For a long time, I felt, 'Well, fuck everybody,'" David Byrne told Punk magazine in 1976. "Well, now I want to be accepted." The result was the tense, ingeniously constricted sound of their debut – geek-chic with hooks and charm.

290

Al Green, ‘Call Me’

Hi, 1973

By the time they recorded the graceful, almost perfectly rendered Call Me, Green and producer Willie Mitchell could do little wrong. To hammer that home, Green showed he could rival Ray Charles as an interpreter of country songs on the killer downtempo cover of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."

289

The Kinks, ‘Something Else by the Kinks’

Reprise, 1968

The Kinks' most tuneful, reflective album is anchored by two of their greatest songs: "Waterloo Sunset" and "Death of a Clown." The album tanked in the U.S., but it set the table for their pastoral masterpiece, The Village Green Preservation Society.

288

Grateful Dead, ‘Anthem of the Sun’

Warner Bros., 1968

The Dead's second album was built from multiple live performances and studio takes, which were faded in and out of each track to re-create the alchemy of the band's shows. Jerry Garcia said, "We really mixed [the album] for the hallucinations, you know?"

287

X, ‘Los Angeles’

Slash, 1980

The quintessential L.A. punk band made the first great West Coast punk album with its debut. Los Angeles is best known for its city-defining anthem and the torrid "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene." Produced by Ray Manzarek of the Doors, it also proved that punk and classic rock could hang out together.

286

Al Green, ‘I’m Still in Love With You’

Hi, 1972

After topping the charts with Let's Stay Together, Green released his second LP of 1972 – an even more sensual experience. "Love and Happiness" is a slow-building masterpiece: His band puts down a subtle groove, and Green adds a mountain of soul.

285

Stevie Wonder, ‘Music of My Mind’

Tamla, 1972

Recording after an onerous contract with Motown had expired, a newly empowered Wonder flexed his artistic control, making a relaxed, love-smitten warm-up for the blockbusters to come and playing nearly every funky note on classics such as "Love Having You Around."

284

The Cars, ‘The Cars’

Elektra, 1978

"We used to joke that the first album should be called The Cars' Greatest Hits," said guitarist Elliot Easton. Their debut was arty and punchy enough to be part of Boston's New Wave scene, yet so catchy that nearly every track ("Good Times Roll," "My Best Friend's Girl") landed on the radio.

283

Barry White, ‘Can’t Get Enough’

20th Century, 1974

In 1974, White had three albums on the charts simultaneously, all containing orchestrated hits that fanned the flames of disco fever. But the newly married maestro was also a master balladeer, and "I Can't Believe You Love Me" keeps the boudoir drama coming for 10-plus minutes.

282

Muddy Waters, ‘Folk Singer’

Chess, 1964

Worried that the folk-music fad was luring listeners away from the blues, Chess Records directed Waters to record with acoustic instruments. These sessions – by Waters, Willie Dixon and a young Buddy Guy – went astonishingly well, and this pioneering "unplugged" set is beloved by blues and folk fans alike.

281

Mary J. Blige, ‘My Life’

MCA, 1994

Graced by soulful samples and revisions of classic R&B, this Puff Daddy-helmed second album is Blige's most autobiographical. Upbeat jams like "Be Happy" were created during her struggle with substance abuse and a tumultuous relationship. "There's a real bad suicide spirit on there," she admitted.

280

U2, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’

Interscope, 2000

"Our best work has been in our thirties," Bono said in 2000. U2's 10th album brought things back to the essentials to grapple with mortality – particularly the gospel-soul ballad "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of."

279

David Bowie, ‘Aladdin Sane’

RCA, 1973

"I think Aladdin was much more in the area of 'Ziggy goes to America,'" Bowie remarked of the Ziggy sequel written largely during his first extensive U.S. tour. "Time" bridges the two albums, but "The Jean Genie" and a raunchy cover of "Let's Spend the Night Together" show a louder, harder, sexier Bowie.

278

Harry Smith, Ed., ‘Anthology of American Folk Music’

Folkways, 1952

This influential compilation inspired folkies like Pete Seeger and the early Bob Dylan, and it rekindled interest in the blues. Jerry Garcia cut his turntable speed in half in order to master the solos.

277

Janet Jackson, ‘Rhythm Nation 1814’

A&M, 1989

Jackson bought a military suit and ruled the radio for two years with this album. Along with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, she fashions a grand pop statement with hip-hop funk, slow jams and even hair metal.

276

Parliament, ‘Mothership Connection’

Casablanca, 1975

George Clinton leads his Detroit crew of extraterrestrial brothers through a visionary album of science-fiction funk on jams such as "Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication" and "Give Up the Funk."