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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.

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."

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.

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."

275

Eminem, ‘The Slim Shady LP’

Aftermath, 1999

Here's where Eminem introduced himself as a crazy white geek, the "class-clown freshman/Dressed like Les Nessman." Hip-hop had never heard anything like Em's brain-damaged rhymes on this Dr. Dre-produced album, which earned him respect, fortune, fame and a lawsuit from his mom.

274

Labelle, ‘Nightbirds’

Epic, 1974

"Lady Marmalade" has one of the funkiest chants in Seventies disco: "Hey, sister, go sister, soul sister, go sister!" Nobody did the disco girl-group thing quite like the ladies of Labelle: They were Funkadelic-meets-the-Supremes, complete with platform heels, silver-lamé spacesuits and songs about New Orleans prostitutes.

273

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, ‘Going to a Go-Go’

Tamla, 1965

Motown at its most debonair and sexy. Robinson works his sweeping soul falsetto over unbelievably sad ballads, including "The Tracks of My Tears" and "Ooh Baby Baby," as the Miracles sob along.

272

Sleater-Kinney, ‘Dig Me Out’

Kill Rock Stars, 1997

When drummer Janet Weiss joined singer-guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein on the group's third LP, a riot-grrrl force of nature became one of the world's most potent rock bands. Tucker's indelible vibrato takes off with avenging-angel feminine ferocity.

270

The Rolling Stones, ‘Some Girls’

Rolling Stones, 1978

"Keith fuckin' gets busted every year," Mick Jagger fumed. Keith Richards was in drug hell, and the Stones were verging on destruction, but they bounced back with "Miss You," the sleazy "Shattered" and "When the Whip Comes Down." Richards does his best song, "Before They Make Me Run."

269

The Jesus and Mary Chain, ‘Psychocandy’

Reprise, 1985

Pretty Scottish boys surfing a wave of doom and gloom and enjoying every moment of it. The Jesus and Mary Chain's debut is a decadent alt-rock masterpiece of bubblegum pop – with "Just Like Honey," "My Little Underground" and "Never Understand" – drowned in feedback.

268

Paul Simon, ‘Paul Simon’

Columbia, 1972

Simon's first album after the breakup of Simon and Garfunkel was a tour de force of songcraft, storytelling, virtuosic guitar picking and upper-register vocal dazzle. It also forecast the fluid internationalism of Graceland with the reggae of "Mother and Child Reunion" and the samba-inflected "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard."

267

The Who, ‘Quadrophenia’

MCA, 1973

The album that brought back Vespa scooters, parkas and uppers: Pete Townshend drew on the Who's roots in the London mod scene of the early Sixties and composed this expansive, messy rock opera about a lonely teenage boy looking for love in the city. It gets even better when you check out the movie.

266

Blood, Sweat and Tears, ‘Child Is Father to the Man’

Columbia, 1968

Organist Al Kooper formed this eclectic rock-jazz collective, putting horns up front with the guitars. On Tim Buckley and Randy Newman covers, and the hard-bitten original "I Can't Quit Her," it worked.

265

Ray Charles, ‘The Genius of Ray Charles’

Atlantic, 1959

Charles spent the Fifties working hard to pioneer his own sound: fusing jazz, gospel and the blues into the new soul style that reshaped American music. But on Genius he relaxes for some easy-swinging pop, with big-band arrangements.

263

Tracy Chapman, ‘Tracy Chapman’

Elektra, 1988

Somehow, this young folk singer caught everyone's ear in the hair-metal late Eighties. Chapman had spent time strumming her acoustic guitar for spare change on the streets around Boston, and her gritty voice and storytelling made "Fast Car" hit home.

262

Crosby, Stills and Nash, ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’

Atlantic, 1969

Jimi Hendrix called CSN "groovy, Western-sky music." The trio first combined their golden-hippie harmonies on this debut, featuring "Marrakesh Express" and the seven-minute "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."

260

Willie Nelson, ‘Stardust’

Columbia, 1978

Stardust is Nelson's love song to old-time American music: At the height of his country popularity, the crooner digs up his favorite Tin Pan Alley standards – "Georgia on My Mind," "Unchained Melody," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" – making yesterday's hits swing as if he had just come up with them in his La-Z-Boy.

259

Janet Jackson, ‘The Velvet Rope’

Virgin, 1997

Janet Jackson left behind her girl-next-door image forever with The Velvet Rope, an album of sexy, confessional, freewheeling hip-hop soul. She pairs Joni Mitchell and Q-Tip in "Got 'Til It's Gone" and does house music on "Together Again," but the shocker is her girl-girl version of Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night."

258

The Kinks, ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’

Reprise, 1968

Having shed their early garage-rock grit in favor of more baroque arrangements, the Kinks made one of their loveliest albums, Ray Davies' nostalgic ode to British pastoral life. The sound is delicate, like a picture of a small town vanishing before your eyes.

257

Whitney Houston, ‘Whitney Houston’

Arista, 1985

She had been a model and a nightclub singer when she cut this smooth R&B debut. Her vocal gifts and technique are astounding; even slick tracks such as "Greatest Love of All" stick. Best song: "How Will I Know," perky synth funk evoking Houston's family friend Aretha Franklin.

256

Kraftwerk, ‘Trans-Europe Express’

Capitol, 1977

This German group's robotic synthesizer grooves influenced electro-disco hitmakers, experimentalists such as Brian Eno and rappers including Afrika Bambaataa, who lifted the title track for "Planet Rock."

255

Metallica, ‘Metallica’

Elektra, 1991

One of the bestselling metal albums ever, created with Bon Jovi producer Bob Rock and led by "Enter Sandman" and the ballad "Nothing Else Matters." "It's scary to look out and see couples hugging during that song," frontman James Hetfield said. "'Oh, fuck, I thought this was a Metallica show.'"

254

Otis Redding, ‘Dictionary of Soul’

Volt, 1966

"Try a Little Tenderness" was a Bing Crosby tune from the Thirties until Redding turned it into pure Memphis soul. On Dictionary, he does the same with "Tennessee Waltz" and the Beatles' "Day Tripper," as well as his own ballads "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" and "My Lover's Prayer."

253

Bruce Springsteen, ‘The River’

Columbia, 1980

Springsteen said it took him five albums to begin writing about real relationships, "people tryin' to find some sort of consolation in each other." The River balances those stories with E Street romps through bar-band R&B, rockabilly and epic rock.

251

David Bowie, ‘Low’

RCA, 1977

Moving to West Berlin to kick cocaine, Bowie hooked up with producer Brian Eno. Low was the first of the trilogy of albums they made, full of electronic instrumentals and quirky funk like "Sound and Vision." During this time, Bowie also produced Iggy Pop's Lust for Life and The Idiot, the high point of Iggy's solo career.

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