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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.

248

Ornette Coleman, ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’

Atlantic, 1959

Coleman's sound was so out-there, one audience at an early gig threw his sax over a cliff. He pioneered free jazz: no chords, no harmony, any player can take the lead – music as lyrical as it is demanding, particularly on "Lonely Woman."

247

Grateful Dead, ‘Live Dead’

Warner Bros., 1969

After two expensive studio albums put them $100,000 in debt, this live set was more than just cheap, it was pivotal. For the Dead, the magic happened onstage, as demonstrated by the glorious 23-­minute jam-outs on "Dark Star" and a raging, 15-minute cover of Bobby Bland's "(Turn On Your) Love Light."

246

The Mothers of Invention, ‘Freak Out!’

Verve, 1966

A master guitarist and provocateur, Frank Zappa made more than 60 albums, but the first was perhaps the most groundbreaking. The double disc declared the arrival of a visionary weirdo who dabbled in doo-wop, pop-song parody, protest tunes, art rock and avant-garde classical.

245

Jerry Lee Lewis, ‘All Killer, No Filler!’

Rhino, 1993

Lewis is famous for his frenzied, piano-pumping Sun sides of the late Fifties, yet his career as a country hitmaker lasted decades. Listen to "What Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)," and you might agree with the Killer that "Elvis was the greatest, but I'm the best."

244

Eminem, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’

Aftermath, 2000

Before his second major-label LP, Eminem was a shock rapper with a sense of humor; after Mathers, he was the voice of a generation. Songs like "The Real Slim Shady" created a vast, pissed-off audience. And no one could deny the narrative heft of "Stan."

243

Black Sabbath, ‘Black Sabbath’

Warner Bros., 1970

Recorded in a single 12-hour blurt by a hippie-leaning former blues band, this lumbering debut conjured up a new, sludgy sound: the birth pains of heavy metal. The slide guitar on "The Wizard" and the grungy boogie of "Wicked World" would influence not only future metal spawn but even the sound of Nirvana.

242

Run-D.M.C., ‘Run-D.M.C.’

Profile, 1984

"It's good to be raw," said Run, and the metallic guitar powering "Rock Box" proved it. Run-D.M.C.'s debut ditches early rap's party rhymes to codify B-boy style and make history, from the way they dress to their hard beats to the everyday subject matter of "It's Like That."

241

The Replacements, ‘Let It Be’

Twin/Tone, 1984

Copping a Beatles title was cheeky; attaching it to a post-punk masterpiece was a sign of maturity. Songs like "I Will Dare" sizzle with ambition. Mixing punk and country with wry lyrics, "Unsatisfied" sounds like Paul Westerberg demanding more of himself and of his band. He got it.

240

Steely Dan, ‘Can’t Buy a Thrill’

MCA, 1972

Working as hired songwriters by day, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker rehearsed this debut in executives' offices by night. "We play rock & roll, but we swing," said Becker. For proof, check the cool lounge-jazz rhythms of "Do It Again" and the hot guitar of "Reelin' in the Years."

239

Madonna, ‘Like a Prayer’

Sire, 1989

"I like the challenge of merging art and commerce," Madonna said. She won artistic recognition with her most personal set of songs, including "Till Death Do Us Part" and "Oh Father"; commerce with "Express Yourself" and the title track, whose video had the Vatican talking about blasphemy.

236

Jackie Wilson, ‘Mr. Excitement!’

Rhino, 1992

Wilson was a knockout live performer who made R&B that rocked and sang ballads with a voice, said arranger Dick Jacobs, "like honey on moonbeams." The highlight of this three-disc set – which spans from the Fifties to the Seventies – is the endless build of "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher."

235

Patsy Cline, ‘The Ultimate Collection’

UTV, 2000

She died in a plane crash at 30, but Cline made her mark as one of country's great singers. "Walkin' After Midnight" and "I Fall to Pieces" also made the pop charts, and her version of "Crazy" was a godsend to struggling writer Willie Nelson.

234

Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Bookends’

Columbia, 1968

Paul Simon called this "the quintessential Simon and Garfunkel album." It is certainly far-ranging – a mostly dark, beautifully written voyage that includes both the epic "America" and the Graduate theme, "Mrs. Robinson." The duo produced the rec­ord themselves, with brilliant restraint.

233

The Byrds, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’

Columbia, 1965

"Wow, man, you can even dance to that!" said Bob Dylan on hearing the Byrds' harmonized electric-12-string treatments of his material. This debut defined folk rock with L.A. studio savvy and ringing guitars.

232

The Kinks, ‘The Kink Kronikles’

Reprise, 1972

Covering 1966 to 1970, this double-disc set anthologizes the second act in the Kinks' venerable career. Observational narratives such as "Waterloo Sunset" reveal Ray Davies to be a master miniaturist.

231

Queen, ‘A Night at the Opera’

Elektra, 1975

Freddie Mercury wanted Queen to be "the Cecil B. DeMille of rock," and this is where the band let its over-the-top tendencies loose – especially on "Bohemian Rhapsody," the most operatic rock song ever.

230

Bonnie Raitt, ‘Nick of Time’

Captiol, 1989

After being dumped by her previous label, veteran blues rocker Raitt exacted revenge with this multiplatinum Grammy-award winner. Producer Don Was helped her sharpen the songs without sacrificing any of her slide-guitar fire. And as Raitt herself pointed out, her 10th try was "my first sober album."

229

Aerosmith, ‘Toys in the Attic’

Columbia, 1975

This is where Aerosmith perfected their raunchy blues-rock sound, with guitarist Joe Perry laying down some of the Seventies' most indelible riffs on "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion," and Steven Tyler stepping up with scads of dirtbag swagger and unforgettable songs about his favorite topic: sex.

228

Eric B. and Rakim, ‘Paid in Full’

4th and Broadway/Island, 1987

Laid-back, diamond-sharp: Old-school titan Rakim may still lead the race for Best Rapper Ever, and this album is a big reason why. Paid in Full was one of the first hip-hop records to fully embrace Seventies funk samples on stone classics such as "I Know You Got Soul" and the title track.

227

Pixies, ‘Doolittle’

4AD/Elektra, 1989

Kurt Cobain himself acknowledged the Pixies' influence on the soft/loud dynamic that powered "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Doolittle is a mix of the band's earlier hardcore storms, Black Francis' self­described "stream of unconsciousness" rants, and the strange melodicism and surf-metal guitar that defined its creepy magic.

226

Bruce Springsteen, ‘Nebraska’

Columbia, 1982

Recorded on a four-track in Springsteen's bedroom, the songs on Nebraska were stark, spooky acoustic demos that he decided to release "bare." Packed with shadowy hard-luck tales of underdogs, it ends with "Reason to Believe," one of those songs where Springsteen's search for faith inspires faith itself.

225

Green Day, ‘American Idiot’

Reprise, 2004

The Nineties' irrepressible punk brats grew up with a bang, proving they could take on the kind of gargantuan old-school concept album that nobody else seemed to have the guts to try anymore. Billie Joe Armstrong raged against the political complacency of Bush-era America with ferocity and a Who-size sense of grandeur.

224

Neil Diamond, ‘The Neil Diamond Collection’

MCA, 1999

This pop-rock star's melodramatic delivery is a guilty pleasure that never gets less pleasurable – or less guilty – than when he's belting "Sweet Caroline," "Cherry, Cherry" or "I Am … I Said."

223

U2, ‘War’

Island, 1983

U2 were on the cusp of becoming one of the Eighties' most important groups when their third album came out. It's the band's most overtly political album, with songs about Poland's Solidarity movement ("New Year's Day") and Irish unrest ("Sunday Bloody Sunday") charged with explosive, passionate guitar rock.

222

Professor Longhair, ‘New Orleans Piano’

Atlantic, 1972

There may never have been a funnier, sunnier piano player. His rolling, rumba-tinged style, yodeling vocals and whistling make tracks such as "Tipitina" swinging blasts of joy. New Orleans Piano collects Atlantic singles from 1949 to 1953, including the ultimate party anthem, "Mardi Gras in New Orleans."