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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.

121

Sly and the Family Stone, ‘Stand!’

Epic, 1969

Funk-rock-soul party politics at its most inclusive and exciting – Sly Stone rides the bonfire momentum of the civil rights movement in "Stand!" and "You Can Make It If You Try" without denying the intrinsic divisions that threatened civil war (see "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey").

119

Etta James, ‘At Last!’

Argo, 1961

1955's "Roll With Me, Henry" made this self-described "juvenile delinquent" a sexually precocious teenage star. Six years later, Etta James bloomed into a fiery interpreter on this spellbinding LP. Hitting the pop and R&B charts, she created a new vocal model: the crossover diva.

118

Kanye West, ‘Late Registration’

Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2005

Here, Kanye really started showing off. Ranging from triumphal autobiography ("Touch the Sky") to witty club pop ("Gold Digger"), James Bond themes to Houston hip-hop, his second disc remade the musical landscape in his own oddball image

117

Derek and the Dominos, ‘Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs’

ATCO, 1970

Deeply in love with his best friend George Harrison's wife, Eric Clapton came up with an album of love-tortured blues that gets a kick from guest Duane Allman, the rare guitarist who could challenge him.

116

The Rolling Stones, ‘Out of Our Heads’

ABKCO, 1965

Here's where the Stones started to leave the R&B and blues covers behind. Their fourth album in America featured three defining JaggerRichards originals, each a masterpiece of libidinal menace: "The Last Time," the gently vicious "Play With Fire" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," a song that is the very definition of riff.

115

The Who, ‘The Who Sell Out’

Decca, 1968

The Who's first concept album was a tribute to the U.K.'s offshore pirate-radio stations – strung together with mock commercials ("Heinz Baked Beans") and genuine radio jingles. It's their funniest record, and the mini rock opera, "Rael," gave a hint of epic things to come.

114

Cream, ‘Disraeli Gears’

ATCO, 1967

Cream's sharpest, most linear album focused its instrumental explorations into colorful pop songs: "Strange Brew" (slinky funk), "Dance the Night Away" (trippy jangle), "Tales of Brave Ulysses" (a wah-wah freakout) and the hit "Sunshine of Your Love," driven by Ginger Baker's relentless Native American tribal beat.

113

Joni Mitchell, ‘Court and Spark’

Asylum, 1974

Smooth and straight-ahead, Court and Spark is the biggest record of Mitchell's career. Working with saxophonist Tom Scott's fusion group, L.A. Express, Mitchell settles into a folk-pop-jazz groove that remains a landmark of breezy sophistication, particularly on the Top 10 single "Help Me."

112

The Mamas and the Papas, ‘If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears’

MCA, 1966

The First Family of Cali-folk rode their gorgeous four-part harmonies to pop stardom – but Papa John Phillips' sunny melodies had a seductively dark undercurrent.

111

Radiohead, ‘The Bends’

Capitol, 1995

The first half of Nineties rock was shaped by Nirvana, and the second half was dominated by Radiohead. Their second album married a majestic and somber guitar sound to Thom Yorke's anguished-choirboy vocals, drawing on the epic grandeur of U2 and the melancholy of the Smiths.

110

The Velvet Underground, ‘Loaded’

Cotillion, 1970

Lou Reed quit the Velvets just before their fourth album was finished. But he left behind two perfect hits ("Sweet Jane," "Rock & Roll") and a record that highlights the doo-wop roots and Sun Records crackle buried in VU's noir-guitar maelstrom.

109

The Rolling Stones, ‘Aftermath’

London, 1966

The first Stones album completely written by JaggerRichards was full of bad-boy songs about Swinging London's overnight stars, groupies, hustlers and parasites. It's got tough riffs ("It's Not Easy"), girls seeking kicks ("Under My Thumb"), zooming psychedelia ("Paint It Black") and baroque-folk gallantry ("I Am Waiting").

108

David Bowie, ‘Hunky Dory’

RCA, 1971

Recorded when he was 24, Bowie's first great album was a visionary blend of gay camp, flashy rock guitar and saloon-piano balladry. Bowie marked the polar ends of his artistic ambitions with tribute songs to Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol while inventing – and perfecting – a new style of rock & roll glamour.

107

Sam Cooke, ‘Portrait of a Legend’

ABKCO, 2003

Cooke was a gospel star who crossed over to rock & roll, helping to invent soul music. This career-spanning collection peaks with the civil rights anthem "A Change Is Gonna Come," a posthumous hit after he was shot to death at an L.A. motel in 1964.

106

Ramones, ‘Rocket to Russia’

Sire, 1977

The Ramones' third album took the gospel of three chords, a jackhammer beat and ripped denim beyond New York. Rocket to Russia was a polished bottling of the quartet's CBGB-stage napalm, bursting with Top 40 classicism and deepened by the lonely-boy poignancy of Joey Ramone's vocals.

105

Ray Charles, ‘Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music’

ABC-Paramount, 1962

Charles' biggest-selling record was the audacious racial-boundary-smasher its title promised, applying gospel grit and luscious soul-pop strings to standards by Hank Williams and Eddy Arnold.

104

James Taylor, ‘Sweet Baby James’

Warner Bros., 1970

Taylor went through a private hell on the way to recording his hugely successful second album – including two stays in a psychiatric institution (a fellow patient's suicide inspired "Fire and Rain"). But the confessional lyrics, spare melodicism and quiet strength in his voice made the album a model of Seventies folk-pop healing.

103

John Coltrane, ‘Giant Steps’

Atlantic, 1960

Coltrane made two giant steps in 1959: playing on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and recording his first classic. He played flying clusters of notes that declared new possibilities for jazz improvisation and predicted the ferocious, harmonically open lyricism of his mid-Sixties albums.

102

Cream, ‘Fresh Cream’

ATCO, 1966

Bassist Jack Bruce, drummer Ginger Baker and guitarist Eric Clapton – rock's first supergroup – put a psychedelic pop spin on the blues. Their debut is tight and concise, a blueprint for the band’s onstage jams, where they stretched these tunes into quarter-hour improvisations.

101

Frank Sinatra, ‘In the Wee Small Hours’

Captiol, 1955

The first set of songs Sinatra recorded specifically for an LP sustains a midnight mood of loneliness and lost love – it’s a prototypical concept album. Listen close and you'll hear the soft intake of his breath.

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