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.
Indisputably the greatest black vocal group of the modern era, this quintet created masterpiece after masterpiece of chugging, gospel-tinged soul. Anthology captures a slice of the Temps' prime, including "My Girl," "I Can't Get Next to You" and "I Wish It Would Rain."
"I like that weird, ludicrous things," Waits once said. That understatement plays out most clearly on Rain Dogs, his finest portrait of the tragic kingdom of the streets. Waits abandons his grungy minimalism on the gorgeous "Downtown Train" and gets backing by Keith Richards on "Big Black Mariah."
Warner Bros., 1983
Pure Americana: This song cycle about burning rubber, high heels and adrenaline took fuzzed-out Texas blues guitar and lashed it around rollicking boogie. ZZ Top's megaplatinum album also had a high-gloss Eighties sheen and singles like "Sharp Dressed Man" that would help it sell some 10 million copies.
One of the most influential records of the Nineties, Lines was perhaps the first post-hip-hop classic: a combination of rap, dub and soul that gave birth to what used to be called trip-hop. "What's important to us is the pace," said the band's 3D, "the weight of the bass and the mood."
Warner Bros., 1973
Keyboardist Brian Eno's last album with Roxy Music is the pop equivalent of Ultra-suede: highly stylish, abstract-leaning art rock. The collision of Eno's experimentalism and singer Bryan Ferry's romanticism gives Pleasure a wild, tense charm – especially on the driving "Editions of You" and "Do the Strand."
New York electro-punk kingpin James Murphy makes his masterpiece: Every track sounds like a different band's greatest hit, from the political punk goof "North American Scum" to the elegiac synth-pop breakup lament "Someone Great."
Newman draws on his roots in the blues and New Orleans boogie to uncorck this blistering portrait of the American South. He shows that he was pop's most cutting satirist on "Rednecks" – a song that doesn't spare Northern or Southern racism; Newman once said he still gets nervous playing it in some cities.
The London-via-Sri Lanka art-punk funkateer came on like she knew she was kind of a big deal, and backed up her bravado. M.I.A.'s second album restyled hip-hop as one big international block party, mixing up beatbox riddims, playground rhymes, left-field samples and gunshots. It's a dance-off in a combat zone.
The sound of the world's greatest pop group at war with itself. John Lennon is at his most acidic; George Harrison's "I Me Mine" is about the sin of pride, sung with plaintive exhaustion; Paul McCartney's title track is like a survival mantra. Phil Spector pieced it all into a sad swan song.
Laid-back Southern California folk rock took on new weight with Browne's fourth album. His first wife committed suicide while he was writing these songs, and they became hard-bitten. "Say a prayer for the pretender," he sings, "who started out so young and strong, only to surrender."
Jack and Meg White proved their minimalist garage rock had more depth and power than anyone expected. On tracks like the slow-burning "Seven Nation Army" and "The Hardest Button to Button," Jack's songwriting finally matches his blues-fanboy, art-school shtick.
Returning to the theme of "Desperado," the former Eagle hitched some of his finest melodies (especially on the gentle title track) to sharply focused lyrical studies of men in troubled transition – from youth to adulthood, innocence to responsibility.
The best album ever tagged as "world music," this compilation of South African pop is still fresh – full of funky, loping beats and gruff vocals, with a sweet track by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who soon appeared on Graceland.
East Coast hip-hop came back in 1993, thanks to a nine-man troupe of Staten Island MCs with a fascination for Hong Kong martial-arts mythology and producer RZA's love of menacing atmospherics. Hip-hop had rarely been this dirty.
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker make their love of jazz explicit, covering Duke Ellington and copping the intro of "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" from hard-bop pianist Horace Silver. The guitars on their third LP are dialed back for a sound that's slick and airtight without being cold. The lyrics? As twisted as ever.
Blood, desperation and wicked gallows humor are in the air as Dylan and his road band provide a raucous tour of 20th-century musical America via jump blues, slow blues, rockabilly, Tin Pan Alley ballads and country swing. "Summer Days" sounds like the exact moment when R&B morphed into rock & roll.
The five-disc director's cut of the Greatest Pop Album Never Made is an unfinished symphony of exquisite ping-ponging harmonies and psychedelicized Cali-surf soul. The included demos and fragments show Brian Wilson painting his masterpiece.
Loose, funky, exuberant, Kingston is the quintessential document of Jamaica's greatest act after Bob Marley. Showcasing some of the Maytals' best songs ("Pressure Drop" and borrowing from soul, pop and gospel, the album introduced the world to the great Toots Hibbert.
Things were not well with TLC during the making of CrazySexyCool: Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes was lighting literal fires, and the trio would soon be filing for bankruptcy. But they emerged with the most effervescent and soulful girl-group R&B anyone had seen since the Supremes.
"Boogie Chillen" was Hooker's first hit and one of the last songs he ever played. In between that was a lifetime of pure mojo. Collection houses that historic song, plus "Boom Boom" and a voice Bonnie Raitt said could "tap into all the pain he'd ever felt."
"I have to recreate the universe every morning when I wake up," Björk said, explaining her second solo album's utter lack of musical inhibition. Post bounces from big-band jazz ("It's Oh So Quiet") to trip-hop. Fun fact: For her vocals, Björk extended her mic cord to a beach so she could sing to the sea.
On his dark third album, Browne explored, in the words of one Rolling Stone reviewer, the "romantic possibility in the shadow of an apocalypse." There's an undercurrent of dread on Late for the Sky, from "Before the Deluge" to "For a Dancer" – not to mention a lot of obvious songwriting genius.
"New customers are always welcome!" Bryan Ferry joked as "Love Is the Drug" became his band's first U.S. hit. This delicious LP of lounge-lizard ennui, inspired in part by Ferry's girlfriend Jerry Hall, draws upon Roxy's arty roots even as it anticipates the more rarefied atmospheres of Avalon.
RCA Victor, 1969
Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen called Paul Kantner's revolutionary cheerleading "naive," but that didn't prevent the band from delivering this album with sweeping fervor. Also here: the gorgeous "Wooden Ships" and "Eskimo Blue Day," where Grace Slick sings, "The human name doesn't mean shit to a tree."
The Police may have been lumped in with U.K. punk, but Sting said the mission was always to "sell great music to masses of people." They did that with Reggatta, an album best known for "Message in a Bottle" but distinguished by the mutant reggae of "The Bed's Too Big Without You" and "Walking on the Moon."