500 Greatest Albums of All Time - Rolling Stone
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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.


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.


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.


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.


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."


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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."


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.


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."


My Bloody Valentine, ‘Loveless’

Sire, 1991

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.


The Meters, ‘Look-Ka Py Py’

Josie, 1970

The New Orleans rhythm killers' second album exemplifies their foundational groove. These instrumentals – sampled by rappers including Nas and N.W.A – are funk of the gods, with George Porter Jr.'s monster bass and the incredible off-the-beat drumming of Ziggy Modeliste.


Beastie Boys, ‘License to Ill’

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.


The Smiths, ‘The Queen Is Dead’

Sire/Rough Trade, 1986

The original kings of British mope rock could have earned that title on the basis of this album alone. The Smiths' most tuneful record is full of emulsifying rage ("The Queen Is Dead"), epic sadness ("There Is a Light That Never Goes Out") and strummy social commentary ("Frankly, Mr. Shankly").


Bobby Bland, ‘Two Steps From the Blues’

Duke, 1961

Bland's stirring, guttural howl is epitomized by "Little Boy Blue" and "Cry, Cry, Cry," which erase any distinction between blues and soul. "I Pity the Fool" and "Lead Me On" may just be some of the purest, most heartbroken singing you'll ever hear.


Bo Diddley, ‘Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley’

MCA, 1990

Diddley's influence is inestimable, from the off-kilter thump of "Pretty Thing" to his revved-up blues singing. This album – a repackaging of his first two records – has many of his best singles, including "I'm a Man" and "Who Do You Love?"


New York Dolls, ‘New York Dolls’

Mercury, 1973

"Could you make it with Frankenstein?" they asked, not kidding. Glammed-out punkers the New York Dolls snatched riffs from Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and fattened them with loads of attitude and reverb. Produced by Todd Rundgren, songs like "Personality Crisis" and "Bad Girl" drip with sleaze and style.


Ike and Tina Turner, ‘Proud Mary: The Best of Ike and Tina Turner’

EMI, 1991

On early singles like "A Fool in Love," Tina Turner has wild power and raw vulnerability. Then come the rock & roll covers, the Seventies funk and "River Deep, Mountain High." Amazing.


The Rolling Stones, ‘Tattoo You’

Virgin, 1981

Tattoo You was lean, tough and bluesy – the Stones relying on their strengths, as if they'd matured into the kind of surefire bluesmen they'd idolized as kids. It spent nine weeks at Number One on the strength of "Start Me Up," in which Mick Jagger snuck the line "You make a dead man come" onto the radio.


Pavement, ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’

Matador, 1994

Pavement's second album was about love and rock & roll, with bouncy pop, stretches of lyrical noise and "Range Life," which slagged the Smashing Pumpkins while searching for the right way to settle down.


Pink Floyd, ‘Wish You Were Here’

Columbia, 1975

The follow-up to The Dark Side of the Moon was another essay on everyday lunacy – capped by the liquid-rock suite "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," a poignant allusion to errant ex-member Syd Barrett. 


Neil Young With Crazy Horse, ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’

Reprise, 1969

Young and Crazy Horse had been together for only a couple of months when they cut Nowhere – and the jammy outing sounds that way, in the best sense possible.


Pearl Jam, ‘Ten’

Epic, 1991

When their debut came out, Pearl Jam were competing with Nirvana in a grunge popularity contest they were bound to lose. Yet Ten was just as key in reshaping hard rock: Eddie Vedder's shaky, agonized growl and Mike McCready's wailing guitar solos on "Alive" and "Jeremy" push both songs to the brink and back again.


Cat Stevens, ‘Tea for the Tillerman’

A&M, 1970

Chamber-pop arrangements made this the British folkie's most ambitious album. And his toughest: "Wild World" and "Hard-Headed Woman" find Stevens condemning his ex, Patti D'Arbanville – who later shacked up with Mick Jagger.


Santana, ‘Abraxas’

Columbia, 1970

"Black Magic Woman," the Top Five hit from Abraxas, is definitive Santana: Afro-Latin grooves and piercing lyrical psychedelic blues guitar. It was a cover of a Fleetwood Mac song written by one of Carlos Santana's guitar heroes, Peter Green. The album's other hit was also a cover: Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va."


Prince, ‘Dirty Mind’

Warner Bros., 1980

A mix of slinky funk, synth-driven rock, jittery pop and sexual innuendo, Dirty Mind is a New Wave R&B masterwork. It includes the world's merriest done-me-wrong song, "When You Were Mine," and the incest ditty "Sister." "I wasn't being deliberately provocative," Prince said. "I was being deliberately me."


Cream, ‘Wheels of Fire’

Polydor, 1968

Half studio album, half live album, Wheels of Fire not only has the definitive Cream tune – "White Room" – but it is also incontrovertible proof of Eric Clapton's interpretive mastery. "Crossroads," a live reworking of Robert Johnson's haunted blues classic, features one of the most blazing guitar solos ever recorded.


Bob Dylan, ‘Modern Times’

Columbia, 2006

This is history repeating itself – in Dylan's specific echoes of Slim Harpo and Memphis Minnie, and in his refusal to bend even in the harshest winds. "Heart burnin', still yearnin'," he sings in "Ain't Talkin'," the album's last song, a proud walk through a scorched Earth that Woody Guthrie would have recognized in an instant.


Michael Jackson, ‘Bad’

Epic, 1987

The feverishly anticipated follow-up to Thriller added more hits to Jackson's collection: "Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "Man in the Mirror." He also began venting some of his darker emotions in the violent fantasies of "Smooth Criminal" and the paranoia of "Dirty Diana."


Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’

Columbia, 1966

The duo's third album yielded uptempo hits like "The 59th Street Bridge Song" and the fine English-major folk of "For Emily" and "The Dangling Conversation."


Nine Inch Nails, ‘The Downward Spiral’

Nothing/Interscope, 1994

Holing up in the one-time home of Manson-family victim Sharon Tate, Trent Reznor made an overpowering meditation on NIN's central theme: control. 

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