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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.

485

Pearl Jam, ‘Vitalogy’

Epic, 1994

Their previous album, Vs., made Pearl Jam the most successful band in the world. They celebrated by suing Ticketmaster and making Vitalogy, where their mastery of rock's past and future became complete. Soulful ballads like "Nothingman" are matched by hardcore-influenced rockers such as "Spin the Black Circle."

484

Mott the Hoople, ‘All the Young Dudes’

Columbia, 1972

Mott were a hard-rock band with a Dylan fixation until David Bowie got ahold of them. He penned the androgyne title track and had them cover Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane." Mott would sound more soulful but never more sexy or glittery.

483

Gang of Four, ‘Entertainment!’

Warner Bros., 1979

Formed in 1977, Gang of Four combined Marxist politics with punk rock. They played staccato guitar-driven funk, and the stiff, jerky aggression of songs such as "Damaged Goods" and "I Found That Essence Rare" invented a new style that influenced bands from the Minutemen to LCD Soundsystem.

482

Steve Earle, ‘Guitar Town’

MCA, 1986

"I got a two-pack habit and a motel tan," Earle sings on the title track. By the time he released his debut at 31, he had done two stints in Nashville as a songwriter and he wanted something else. Guitar Town is the rocker's version of country, packed with songs about hard living in the Reagan Eighties.

481

D’Angelo, ‘Voodoo’

Virgin, 2000

D'Angelo recorded his second album at Electric Lady, the Manhattan studio built by Jimi Hendrix. There he studied bootleg videos of Sixties and Seventies soul singers and cooked up an album heavy on bass and drenched in a post-coital haze. The single "Untitled (How Does It Feel?)" sounds like a great lost Prince song.

480

Raekwon, ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx

Loud, 1995

The best Wu-Tang solo joint is a study in understated cool and densely woven verses. Over RZA's hypnotically stark beats, Raekwon crafts breathtaking drug-rap narratives; it's a rap album that rivals the mob movies hip-hop celebrates.

479

Funkadelic, ‘Maggot Brain’

Westbound, 1971

"Play like your mama just died," George Clinton told guitarist Eddie Hazel. The result was "Maggot Brain," 10 minutes of Hendrix-style guitar anguish. This is the heaviest rock album the P-Funk ever created, but it also made room for the acoustic-guitar funk of "Can You Get to That."

478

Loretta Lynn, ‘All Time Greatest Hits’

MCA Nashville, 2002

Anyone who thinks a woman singing country music is cute should listen to "Fist City," where Lynn threatens to beat down a woman if she doesn't lay off her man. Seventies greats like "Rated 'X'" and "The Pill" brought feminism to the honky-tonks.

477

Merle Haggard, ‘Down Every Road’

Capitol, 1996

Haggard's tough country sound was born in Bakersfield, California, a.k.a. Nashville West. His songs are full of drifters, fugitives and rogues, and this four-disc set – culled from his seminal recordings for Capitol as well as MCA and Epic – is the ultimate collection from one of country's finest singers.

476

The Notorious B.I.G., ‘Life After Death’

Bad Boy, 1997

Released less than a month after Biggie's murder, the prophetic Life After Death is two CDs of humor and bravado, no filler at all, as he tops himself in "Mo Money Mo Problems" and"#!*@ You Tonight."

475

Elvis Costello and the Attractions, ‘Armed Forces’

Columbia, 1979

Costello's third album is all tightly wound paranoia. The concept is personal politics; the original title was Emotional Fascism, and one song is called "Two Little Hitlers." The keyboard-driven sound of "Accidents Will Happen" helped define New Wave.

474

Manu Chao, ‘Próxima Estación: Esperanza’

Virgin, 2001

Globally, Chao had long been a Marley-size figure. But this gem gave Americans a taste of his wild-ass greatness. Chao rocks an acoustic guitar over horns and beat­boxes while rambling multi­lingually about crucial topics from politics to pot.

473

The Smiths, ‘The Smiths’

Sire, 1984

"I recognize that mystical air/It means I'd like to seize your underwear," Morrissey moans, and rock music was never the same. The Smiths' debut is a showcase for Morrissey's morose wit and Johnny Marr's guitar chime, trudging through England's cheerless marshes in "Still Ill" and "This Charming Man."

472

George Michael, ‘Faith’

Columbia, 1987

When Michael left Wham!, he signified his new maturity by not shaving. Thankfully, his music was still tasty pop candy – six of these songs hit the Top Five on the singles charts. "I Want Your Sex" is one of the decade's finest Prince imitations, and the best ballad is the spooky, soulful "Father Figure."

470

LL Cool J, ‘Radio’

Def Jam, 1985

L.L. Cool J was only 16 when he released his first single, "I Need a Beat." A year later, he had the first hit on the fledgling Def Jam label. The sound he and Rick Rubin found on "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock the Bells" was harder and leaner than hip-hop had ever been.

469

The Fugees, ‘The Score’

Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1996

Led by Wyclef Jean, the Fugees created eclectic, politically aware R&B hip-hop, but the breakout was a cover of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song," highlighting Lauryn Hill's amazing pipes.

467

Bruce Springsteen, ‘Tunnel of Love’

Columbia, 1987

After the big-scale Born in the U.S.A., this came as a shock – an album of stark, intimate, mostly acoustic confessionals. The newly wed superstar gets personal on adult love songs such as "One Step Up" and "Walk Like a Man." The marriage didn't last – but the music does.

466

Coldplay, ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’

Capitol, 2002

Coldplay churn out bighearted British guitar rock on their second album – what Chris Martin aptly called "emotion that can make you feel sad while you're moving your legs."

465

The Magnetic Fields, ’69 Love Songs’

Merge, 1999

The title says it all: three discs of brilliantly turned tunes about pop's signature emotion. Stephin Merritt lived out a Tin Pan Alley fantasy as he spooled his droll bass over synth pop, bubblegum, Afropop, show tunes, country and more. It's irony on steroids, but try to get through "Papa Was a Rodeo" without shedding a tear. 

464

Def Leppard, ‘Hysteria’

Mercury, 1987

Def Leppard had a run of bad luck in the Eighties, especially when drummer Rick Allen lost his arm in a car crash on New Year's Eve 1984. But the lads admirably stuck by their old mate, who learned to play drums using his feet. The band was vindicated when Hysteria and "Pour Some Sugar on Me" became a smash.

463

Echo and the Bunnymen, ‘Heaven Up Here’

Sire, 1981

The Bunnymen refresh psychedelia for the New Wave era with an arena of foggy guitars and doomy drums, while Ian McCulloch updates the aura of Jim Morrison. Melody meets melodrama on the title track and on "A Promise," where McCulloch sing-sobs a story of love gone wrong.

462

R.E.M., ‘Document’

I.R.S., 1987

R.E.M. were trying something new with each album in the Eighties, but this straight-ahead rock move was the one that made them mainstream stars. "The One I Love" was a hit, but the fan favorite is the manic "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)."

461

Public Image Ltd., ‘Metal Box’

Virgin, 1979

After the Sex Pistols imploded, Johnny Rotten reclaimed his real name  – John Lydon – and started a bold new band. PiL played eerie art punk with dub bass and slashing guitar. Metal Box (retitled Second Edition in the U.S.) originally came as three vinyl discs in a metal film canister.

460

Hole, ‘Live Through This’

DGC, 1994

On Hole's breakthrough album, Courtney Love wants to be "the girl with the most cake," and she spends the whole album paying for it, in the melodic punk-rock anguish of "Miss World," "Softer, Softest" and "Doll Parts." Her husband Kurt Cobain's body was found just days before the album was released.

459

The Drifters, ‘Golden Hits’

Atlantic, 1968

By the early 1960s, the Drifters had evolved into the most suave soul group on the block. Even after Ben E. King went solo (scoring with "Stand By Me"), producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and the Drifters kept coming up with timeless odes to urban romance such as "Up on the Roof" and "Under the Boardwalk."

458

Elton John, ‘Tumbleweed Connection’

John has always had a jones for the myth of the American West. Along with lyricist Bernie Taupin, he fully indulges those cowboy fantasies here. "Amoreena" plays unforgettably in the opening scene of the Al Pacino film Dog Day Afternoon.

457

My Morning Jacket, ‘Z’

RCA, 2005

These Kentucky boys took a giant leap forward on their fourth album – giant enough to take them from a jammy Americana band to awe-inspiring purveyors of interstellar art rock. My Morning Jacket infused Z with both Eno-esque keyboards and sculpted guitars, but also Skynyrd-style riffs and bar-band grooves. 

Marvin Gaye, Here, My Dear
456

Marvin Gaye, ‘Here, My Dear’

Motown, 1978

It's one of the weirdest Motown records ever. Gaye's divorce settlement required him to make a new album and pay the royalties to his ex-wife – the sister of Motown boss Berry Gordy. So Gaye made this bitterly funny double LP of breakup songs, including "You Can Leave, But It's Going to Cost You."

Los Lobos, How Will the Wolf Survive
455

Los Lobos, ‘How Will the Wolf Survive?’

Slash/Warner Bros., 1984

"We were kids with long hair and plaid shirts playing Mexican folk instruments," said Los Lobos' Louie Perez. But the band from East L.A. was a surprise success, mixing traditional Mexican sounds with blues and rockabilly for rough roots rock.

Alice Cooper, Love It to Death
454

Alice Cooper, ‘Love It to Death’

Warner Bros., 1971

Onstage, Cooper was the shock-rock king who decapitated baby dolls, but his early studio albums are smart, razor-sharp attacks of Detroit rock. On Love It to Death, producer Bob Ezrin joins him for the twisted kicks of "Hallowed Be My Name" and the teen-spirit anthem "I'm Eighteen."

EPMD, Strictly Business
453

EPMD, ‘Strictly Business’

Priority, 1988

In the summer of '88, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith, a.k.a. EPMD (Erick and Parrish Making Dollars), rolled out of Long Island with a new style of slow-grooving hip-hop funk. Cut in the era before artists cleared their samples, the title jam even pilfers "I Shot the Sheriff."

John Prine, John Prine
452

John Prine, ‘John Prine’

Atlantic, 1971

Prine was a mailman-turned-folk-singer, and his debut is unique in how it views American life with generosity, tolerance and wit. Prine sang about smoking dope ("Illegal Smile"), but his empathy for the old folks with "Hello in There" made most hippie songwriters sound smug.

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
451

Amy Winehouse, ‘Back to Black’

Universal, 2007

It's sad to think back on how fresh this record sounded at the time – funny and hip, revivalist but forward-looking. Winehouse, a tatted 23-year-old with a beehive crown, matched the spirit of her R&B heroes, cussing, cracking wise and casually breaking your heart. She triggered a new era for brilliantly weird women in pop. 

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