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.
"The studio was like a psychiatrist's couch for me," Jay-Z told Rolling Stone, and his debut is full of a hustler's dreams and laments. It established Jay as the premier freestyle rapper of his generation and includes a filthy guest appearance from a 16-year-old Foxy Brown on "Ain't No Nigga."
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."
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."
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.
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.
"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."
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.
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."
"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.
Chicago blues at its raunchy best, "The Rocking Chair Album" features an outrageous set of sex songs written by Willie Dixon, including "Shake for Me," "The Red Rooster" and "Back Door Man." In 1971, on The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions, Wolf finally taught an enraptured Eric Clapton how to play "The Red Rooster."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
A shoegazer masterpiece, the fourth MBV album reportedly cost £250,000 to make. It was worth every penny, expanding the possibilities of noise-as-melody by combining dizzying guitar drone and Bilinda Butcher’s ethereal vocals.
Def Jam, 1986
Recorded when the New York rap trio were barely out of high school, Licensed to Ill remains a revolutionary combination of hip-hop beats, metal riffs and some of the most exuberant, unapologetic smart-aleck rhymes ever made. It became the bestselling rap album of the Eighties.