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.
Big Star recorded their third and final album in 1974, but it didn't get released until 1978, in part because singer Alex Chilton sounds like he's having a nervous breakdown. It's a record of gorgeous, disjointed heartbreak ballads.
"I do my best work when I'm in pain and turmoil," Sting told Rolling Stone. And indeed, the dissolution of his first marriage produced some of his best work yet, including "King of Pain" and the stalker's anthem "Every Breath You Take." There was pain and turmoil in the band, too – it would be the Police's last album.
Brazilian bossa nova met American jazz, as saxman Getz teamed up with guitarist-singer Gilberto and pianist-composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. Gilberto's wife, Astrud, became a star herself with a sensual guest vocal on "The Girl From Ipanema."
In the late Sixties, the Motor City Five were the house band for the White Panther Party, devoted to "dope, guns and fucking in the streets." But on their second album, they channel their ferocious sound and politics into the concise, Chuck Berry-like riffs of "The American Ruse," "Looking at You" and "Shaking Street."
After a 1972 car accident sidelined him for nearly a year, Miller returned with a pop-rock sound that dominated Seventies radio: slick guitar boogie as catchy as Abba and as danceable as disco. "Rock 'n Me" and "Take the Money and Run" kept Eagle on the charts for nearly two years.
They were down-home Midwestern boys from Rockford, Illinois, but Cheap Trick had a rock & roll approach as twisted as guitarist Rick Nielsen's bow ties. With blond pinup boy Robin Zander on vocals, the Trick rocked Beatles-style melodies such as "Oh Caroline," "Downed" and "Come On, Come On."
Warner Bros., 1978
They came from Akron, Ohio, wore matching jumpsuits and had a sinister theory of devolution. Their debut album runs on rubber-punk guitars and even more sinister mechanized New Wave beats.
Red Star, 1977
These New York synth punks evoke everything from the Velvet Underground to rockabilly. Martin Rev's low-budget electronics are violent and hypnotic; Alan Vega screams as a rhythmic device. Late-night listening to "Frankie Teardrop," a 10-minute-plus tale of a multiple murder, is not recommended.
With a voice like an ashtray, Shane MacGowan led this fabulous disaster of an Irish folk-punk band. Produced by Elvis Costello (who married bassist Cait O'Riordan), Rum careens between the maudlin and the explosive.
Cooke was elegance personified, but he works this Florida club until it's hotter than hell, while sounding like he never breaks a sweat. He croons "For Sentimental Reasons" like a superlover, and when the crowd sings along with him, it's magic.
Before they became a goth-punk group, the Cure were a minimalist, inventive post-punk power trio. Boys is all hummable hooks, choppy guitars and mopey vocals. "10:15 Saturday Night" and "Jumping Someone Else's Train" are ingenious: You wait for a guitar solo and get a club-footed bass line instead.
Cash Money/Universal Motown, 2008
"I am so far from the others," Wayne rapped. "I can eat them for supper/Get in my spaceship and hover." And the N'awlins-bred genius made good on that boast on a weird, luscious pop-rap odyssey.
Nirvana hired hard-nosed Steve Albini to record the follow-up to Nevermind. Geffen asked them to clean up some of the results, and you can hear the tension in white-noise ruckus like "Serve the Servants." But the only thing that can explain the scalding "Rape Me" is inner pain.
Alex Chilton and Chris Bell were the Memphis whiz kids at the heart of Big Star. They mixed British-pop finesse with all-American hard rock, from the surging "Feel" to the acoustic "Thirteen." Big Star didn't sell many records, but the Eighties explosion of poppy garage bands would've been unimaginable without them.
Harrison had almost enough songs stored up from his Beatles days for a triple LP – the gas starts to run out during the jams on Side Six. But spiritual guitar quests like "My Sweet Lord" and "What Is Life" became classics.
Eno's first solo album pioneered a new kind of glammy art rock: jagged, free-form and dreamy. "Baby's on Fire" and "Needles in the Camel's Eye" are vicious rockers with detached vocals, and Robert Fripp's warped guitars swarm and stutter.
Polly Harvey, happy? It was a surprise: But album number five found her in New York and in love. The result was lusher than anything she had recorded but also vibrant and surprisingly catchy.
Vampire Weekend came out of Columbia University displaying an affinity for boat shoes and African guitar music. Their debut was full of suavely seductive indie-pop songs about college campuses and trysts with Benetton-wearing ladies. Ezra Koenig's Paul Simon-esque melodies are as refined as his education.
After years as a rock eccentric, Eno said goodbye to pop-song form with this album of pure synthetic beauty, mixing lush electronics ("Becalmed") with acoustic intruments ("Everything Merges With the Night") to cast a truly hypnotic spell.
After three studio albums, Cheap Trick were bigger in Japan than in America. But this record of a live Tokyo gig became their first U.S. hit. The Japanese schoolgirls are practically the lead instrument here, screaming their lungs out to "Surrender" and "I Want You to Want Me."
Parsons helped invent country rock with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and he deepened it here. Emmylou Harris was his ideal singing partner, and their voices blend in the high-lonesome wail of "Brass Buttons" and "$1,000 Wedding." Weeks after finishing the album, Parsons was dead at 26.
Springsteen's response to 9/11 was an extraordinary 15-song requiem that searched for meaning in the inexplicable tragedy while saluting the grace and courage of the dead and those who mourn them. The first E Street Band album since the Eighties, it kicked off Springsteen's creative resurgence.
In the heyday of Motown, the Supremes were their own hit factory, all glamour and heartbreak. Diana Ross high points like "You Keep Me Hangin' On" and "Where Did Our Love Go" are still spine-tingling.
The Ronettes were pop goddesses dressed as Catholic schoolgirls gone to hell and back, with Ronnie Bennett belting out hits like "Be My Baby" over future husband Phil Spector's Wall of Sound.
Holly was only 21 when he cut these tracks, some on an Oklahoma Air Force base. "That'll Be the Day," "Oh Boy!" and "Not Fade Away" fused country, rockabilly and R&B into epochal rock & roll.
Go! Discs, 1994
Portishead uses some of the same building blocks as fellow Bristol, England trip-hoppers Massive Attack – woozy break beats, jazzy samples, live guitar, girl-singer/guy-programmer dynamic – but Beth Gibbons' brooding, pop-cabaret vocals showed to the world that you could feel real pain over a trip-hop groove.