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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.

56

Elvis Presley, ‘Elvis Presley’

RCA, 1956

In November 1955, RCA Records bought Presley's contract, singles and unreleased master tapes from Sun Records. His first full-length album came out six months later, with tracks drawn from both the Sun sessions and further recordings at RCA's studios in New York and Nashville. It became the first rock & roll album to make it to Number One on the Billboard charts. "There wasn't any pressure," guitarist Scotty Moore said of the first RCA sessions. "They were just bigger studios with different equipment. We basically just went in and did the same thing we always did." On tracks such as "Blue Suede Shoes," that meant revved-up country music with the sexiest voice anyone had ever heard.

55

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Electric Ladyland’

Reprise, 1968

Hendrix's third album was the first he produced himself, a fever dream of underwater electric soul cut in round-the-clock sessions at the Record Plant in New York. Hendrix would leave the Record Plant to jam at a club around the corner, the Scene, and "Voodoo Chile" – 15 minutes of live in-the-studio blues exploration with Steve Winwood on organ and Jefferson Airplane's Jack Casady on bass – reflects those excursions. In addition to psychedelic Delta blues, there was the precision snap of "Crosstown Traffic" and a cover of "All Along the Watchtower" that took Bob Dylan into outer space before touching down with a final burst of spectral fury.

54

Ray Charles, ‘The Birth of Soul: The Complete Atlantic Recordings’

Atlantic, 1991

Soul music is a blend of the holy and the filthy: gospel and blues rubbing up against each other. And Ray Charles was just about the first person to perfect that mix. Charles was knocking around Seattle when Atlantic bought out his contract in 1952. For the next seven years, he turned out brilliant singles such as "What'd I Say" and "I Got a Woman," which was a takeoff on a gospel tune, "It Must Be Jesus." He was inventing the sound of ecstasy, three minutes at a time. This box collects every R&B side he cut for Atlantic, though his swinging take on "My Bonnie" will have you thinking it covers his Atlantic jazz output as well.

53

The Beatles, ‘Meet the Beatles!’

Capitol, 1964

For Americans in the full grip of Beatlemania, this was the first album they could buy. Meet took the Fab Four's second British record, With the Beatles, dropped five covers and added three tracks, including the singles "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There." (This may have made a hash of the Beatles' artistic intentions, but it made for a much better record.) John Lennon and Paul McCartney were on a songwriting roll that would be unmatched in rock history, and at this point they were still a real team. They wrote "I Want to Hold Your Hand" together on a piano in the basement of Jane Asher, McCartney's actress girlfriend – as Lennon put it, "eyeball to eyeball."

52

Al Green, ‘Greatest Hits’

Hi, 1975

Al Green made some of the most visionary soul music of the Seventies, in Memphis with producer Willie Mitchell. "In Memphis, you just do as you feel," he told Rolling Stone in 1972. "It's not a modern, up-to-par, very glamorous, big-red-chairs-and-carpet-that-thick studio. It's one of those places you can go into and stomp out a good soul jam." In collaboration with Mitchell and subtly responsive musicians like drummer Al Jackson Jr., Green was a natural album artist, making love-and-pain classics such as 1973's Call Me. But this collection makes for a unified album in itself, compiling hits like "Let's Stay Together," "I'm Still in Love With You" and "Tired of Being Alone" into a flawless 10-song suite.

51

Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’

Columbia, 1970

On their fifth and final studio album, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were pulling away from each other: Simon assembled some of it while Garfunkel was in Mexico starting his acting career with a part in the film version of Catch-22. Garfunkel vetoed Simon's "Cuba Sí, Nixon No," and Simon nixed Garfunkel's idea for a Bach chorale. But what remains is the partnership at its best: wry, wounded songs with healing harmonies such as "The Boxer," though the gorgeous title track was sung by Garfunkel alone, despite his resistance. "He felt I should have done it," Simon told Rolling Stone in 1972. "And many times I'm sorry I didn't do it."

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