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.
Warner Bros., 1971
The greatest sludge-metal band of them all in its prime. Paranoid may have bigger hits, but Master of Reality, released a mere six months later, is heavier. The highlight is "Sweet Leaf," a droning love song to marijuana. But the vibe is perfectly summed up by the final track, "Into the Void."
On his debut, the self-proclaimed "first [rapper] with a Benz and a backpack" beat the producer-tries-to-rap jinx and broke boundaries others wouldn't acknowledge – from the gospel riot "Jesus Walks" to the Luther Vandross tribute "Slow Jamz."
A milestone of studio mischief and a merciless satire of anything that pissed Frank Zappa off in flower power's heyday – drippy hippies, the Establishment, whatever.
Inspired by Can riffs and bookended by lengthy, brutal songs about corporal punishment and the horrors of the cattle industry, Murder is the darkest entry in the U.K. group's catalog. On "How Soon Is Now?" Morrissey sums up with great pathos and hilarity what a drag it is to be shy. More pathos would come.
The Montreal poet-turned-songwriter's most intense album. Cohen strums an acoustic guitar and murmurs about the destructive powers of love, and his tender croak of a voice gives every song an air of hushed drama.
It's the ultimate rock salute: "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!" Recorded live in Detroit by Rob Tyner and his anarchist crew, Kick Out the Jams writhes and hollers with the belief in rock & roll as civil disobedience. The proof: It was banned by a Michigan department store.
Drowning their songs in guitar fuzz and drone, VU made the most extreme disc in their extreme catalog. "Sister Ray" is 17 minutes of amplifiers screaming.
A folk-rock free-for-all recorded in 1967 at the Band's house near Woodstock, New York. The much-bootlegged sessions were finally released eight years later.
The Heads wore button-down shirts and embraced a tightly wound normality as rebellion. "For a long time, I felt, 'Well, fuck everybody,'" David Byrne told Punk magazine in 1976. "Well, now I want to be accepted." The result was the tense, ingeniously constricted sound of their debut – geek-chic with hooks and charm.
By the time they recorded the graceful, almost perfectly rendered Call Me, Green and producer Willie Mitchell could do little wrong. To hammer that home, Green showed he could rival Ray Charles as an interpreter of country songs on the killer downtempo cover of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
The quintessential L.A. punk band made the first great West Coast punk album with its debut. Los Angeles is best known for its city-defining anthem and the torrid "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene." Produced by Ray Manzarek of the Doors, it also proved that punk and classic rock could hang out together.
Recording after an onerous contract with Motown had expired, a newly empowered Wonder flexed his artistic control, making a relaxed, love-smitten warm-up for the blockbusters to come and playing nearly every funky note on classics such as "Love Having You Around."
"We used to joke that the first album should be called The Cars' Greatest Hits," said guitarist Elliot Easton. Their debut was arty and punchy enough to be part of Boston's New Wave scene, yet so catchy that nearly every track ("Good Times Roll," "My Best Friend's Girl") landed on the radio.
20th Century, 1974
In 1974, White had three albums on the charts simultaneously, all containing orchestrated hits that fanned the flames of disco fever. But the newly married maestro was also a master balladeer, and "I Can't Believe You Love Me" keeps the boudoir drama coming for 10-plus minutes.
Worried that the folk-music fad was luring listeners away from the blues, Chess Records directed Waters to record with acoustic instruments. These sessions – by Waters, Willie Dixon and a young Buddy Guy – went astonishingly well, and this pioneering "unplugged" set is beloved by blues and folk fans alike.
Graced by soulful samples and revisions of classic R&B, this Puff Daddy-helmed second album is Blige's most autobiographical. Upbeat jams like "Be Happy" were created during her struggle with substance abuse and a tumultuous relationship. "There's a real bad suicide spirit on there," she admitted.
"I think Aladdin was much more in the area of 'Ziggy goes to America,'" Bowie remarked of the Ziggy sequel written largely during his first extensive U.S. tour. "Time" bridges the two albums, but "The Jean Genie" and a raunchy cover of "Let's Spend the Night Together" show a louder, harder, sexier Bowie.
Jackson bought a military suit and ruled the radio for two years with this album. Along with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, she fashions a grand pop statement with hip-hop funk, slow jams and even hair metal.
George Clinton leads his Detroit crew of extraterrestrial brothers through a visionary album of science-fiction funk on jams such as "Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication" and "Give Up the Funk."
"Lady Marmalade" has one of the funkiest chants in Seventies disco: "Hey, sister, go sister, soul sister, go sister!" Nobody did the disco girl-group thing quite like the ladies of Labelle: They were Funkadelic-meets-the-Supremes, complete with platform heels, silver-lamé spacesuits and songs about New Orleans prostitutes.
Motown at its most debonair and sexy. Robinson works his sweeping soul falsetto over unbelievably sad ballads, including "The Tracks of My Tears" and "Ooh Baby Baby," as the Miracles sob along.
Kill Rock Stars, 1997
When drummer Janet Weiss joined singer-guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein on the group's third LP, a riot-grrrl force of nature became one of the world's most potent rock bands. Tucker's indelible vibrato takes off with avenging-angel feminine ferocity.
Rolling Stones, 1978
"Keith fuckin' gets busted every year," Mick Jagger fumed. Keith Richards was in drug hell, and the Stones were verging on destruction, but they bounced back with "Miss You," the sleazy "Shattered" and "When the Whip Comes Down." Richards does his best song, "Before They Make Me Run."
Pretty Scottish boys surfing a wave of doom and gloom and enjoying every moment of it. The Jesus and Mary Chain's debut is a decadent alt-rock masterpiece of bubblegum pop – with "Just Like Honey," "My Little Underground" and "Never Understand" – drowned in feedback.
Simon's first album after the breakup of Simon and Garfunkel was a tour de force of songcraft, storytelling, virtuosic guitar picking and upper-register vocal dazzle. It also forecast the fluid internationalism of Graceland with the reggae of "Mother and Child Reunion" and the samba-inflected "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard."
The album that brought back Vespa scooters, parkas and uppers: Pete Townshend drew on the Who's roots in the London mod scene of the early Sixties and composed this expansive, messy rock opera about a lonely teenage boy looking for love in the city. It gets even better when you check out the movie.
Organist Al Kooper formed this eclectic rock-jazz collective, putting horns up front with the guitars. On Tim Buckley and Randy Newman covers, and the hard-bitten original "I Can't Quit Her," it worked.
Charles spent the Fifties working hard to pioneer his own sound: fusing jazz, gospel and the blues into the new soul style that reshaped American music. But on Genius he relaxes for some easy-swinging pop, with big-band arrangements.
Somehow, this young folk singer caught everyone's ear in the hair-metal late Eighties. Chapman had spent time strumming her acoustic guitar for spare change on the streets around Boston, and her gritty voice and storytelling made "Fast Car" hit home.
Stardust is Nelson's love song to old-time American music: At the height of his country popularity, the crooner digs up his favorite Tin Pan Alley standards – "Georgia on My Mind," "Unchained Melody," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" – making yesterday's hits swing as if he had just come up with them in his La-Z-Boy.
Janet Jackson left behind her girl-next-door image forever with The Velvet Rope, an album of sexy, confessional, freewheeling hip-hop soul. She pairs Joni Mitchell and Q-Tip in "Got 'Til It's Gone" and does house music on "Together Again," but the shocker is her girl-girl version of Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night."
Having shed their early garage-rock grit in favor of more baroque arrangements, the Kinks made one of their loveliest albums, Ray Davies' nostalgic ode to British pastoral life. The sound is delicate, like a picture of a small town vanishing before your eyes.
This German group's robotic synthesizer grooves influenced electro-disco hitmakers, experimentalists such as Brian Eno and rappers including Afrika Bambaataa, who lifted the title track for "Planet Rock."
One of the bestselling metal albums ever, created with Bon Jovi producer Bob Rock and led by "Enter Sandman" and the ballad "Nothing Else Matters." "It's scary to look out and see couples hugging during that song," frontman James Hetfield said. "'Oh, fuck, I thought this was a Metallica show.'"
Moving to West Berlin to kick cocaine, Bowie hooked up with producer Brian Eno. Low was the first of the trilogy of albums they made, full of electronic instrumentals and quirky funk like "Sound and Vision." During this time, Bowie also produced Iggy Pop's Lust for Life and The Idiot, the high point of Iggy's solo career.