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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.

268

Paul Simon, ‘Paul Simon’

Columbia, 1972

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."

267

The Who, ‘Quadrophenia’

MCA, 1973

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.

266

Blood, Sweat and Tears, ‘Child Is Father to the Man’

Columbia, 1968

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.

265

Ray Charles, ‘The Genius of Ray Charles’

Atlantic, 1959

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.

263

Tracy Chapman, ‘Tracy Chapman’

Elektra, 1988

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.

262

Crosby, Stills and Nash, ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’

Atlantic, 1969

Jimi Hendrix called CSN "groovy, Western-sky music." The trio first combined their golden-hippie harmonies on this debut, featuring "Marrakesh Express" and the seven-minute "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."

260

Willie Nelson, ‘Stardust’

Columbia, 1978

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.

259

Janet Jackson, ‘The Velvet Rope’

Virgin, 1997

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."

258

The Kinks, ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’

Reprise, 1968

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.

257

Whitney Houston, ‘Whitney Houston’

Arista, 1985

She had been a model and a nightclub singer when she cut this smooth R&B debut. Her vocal gifts and technique are astounding; even slick tracks such as "Greatest Love of All" stick. Best song: "How Will I Know," perky synth funk evoking Houston's family friend Aretha Franklin.

256

Kraftwerk, ‘Trans-Europe Express’

Capitol, 1977

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."

255

Metallica, ‘Metallica’

Elektra, 1991

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.'"

254

Otis Redding, ‘Dictionary of Soul’

Volt, 1966

"Try a Little Tenderness" was a Bing Crosby tune from the Thirties until Redding turned it into pure Memphis soul. On Dictionary, he does the same with "Tennessee Waltz" and the Beatles' "Day Tripper," as well as his own ballads "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" and "My Lover's Prayer."

253

Bruce Springsteen, ‘The River’

Columbia, 1980

Springsteen said it took him five albums to begin writing about real relationships, "people tryin' to find some sort of consolation in each other." The River balances those stories with E Street romps through bar-band R&B, rockabilly and epic rock.

251

David Bowie, ‘Low’

RCA, 1977

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.

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