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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.

83

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Axis: Bold as Love’

Reprise, 1968

Jimi Hendrix's first album remade rock & roll with guitar magic that no one had ever dreamed of; his second album had even more sorcery. It started with some musings on extraterrestrial life, then got really far-out: jazzy drumming, funky balladry, liquid guitar solos, dragon­fly heavy metal and the immortal stoner's maxim from "If 6 Was 9": "I'm the one who's gonna have to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to." All over the album, Hendrix was inventing new ways to make the electric guitar roar, sing, talk, shriek, flutter and fly. And with the delicate "Little Wing," he delivered one of rock's most cryptic and bewitching love songs.

82

Neil Young, ‘Harvest’

Reprise, 1972

Harvest yielded Neil Young's only Number One hit, "Heart of Gold," and helped set the stage for the Seventies soft-rock explosion – both James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt sing on the album. Along with Young, they were in Nashville to appear on Johnny Cash's ABC-TV variety show the first weekend that Harvest was being cut with an odd group of accomplished session musicians that included bassist Tim Drummond, who had played with James Brown (Young's bandmates Crosby, Stills and Nash also appeared on the album). The sound, on tracks like "Old Man" and "The Needle and the Damage Done," was Americana (steel guitar, slide guitar, banjo) stripped down and rebuilt with every jagged edge exposed.

81

The Clash, ‘The Clash’

Epic, 1979

"I haven't got any illusions about anything," Joe Strummer said. "Having said that, I still want to try to change things." That youthful ambition bursts through the Clash's debut, a machine-gun blast of songs about unemployment ("Career Opportunities"), race ("White Riot"), the Clash themselves ("Clash City Rockers") and the sick English music industry ("[White Man] In Hammersmith Palais"). Most of the guitar was played by Mick Jones, because Strummer considered studio technique insufficiently punk. The American release was delayed two years and replaced some of the U.K. tracks with recent singles, including "Complete Control" – a complaint about exactly that sort of record-company shenanigans.

80

John Lennon, ‘Imagine’

Apple, 1971

After the primal-scream therapy of Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon softened up and opened up on his second solo album. There is still the stinging "Gimme Some Truth" and Lennon's evisceration of Paul McCartney, "How Do You Sleep?" – both featuring George Harrison on guitar. But there is also the aching soul of "Jealous Guy" and the irresistible vulnerability of "Oh Yoko!" Imagine is self-consciously luminescent, pointedly embraceable, the sound of cynicism melting. Lennon said of the title track, "Anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti­conventional, anti-capitalistic, but because it is sugarcoated it is accepted… Now I understand what you have to do. Put your political message across with a little honey."

79

Led Zeppelin, ‘Led Zeppelin II’

Atlantic, 1969

This album – recorded on the fly while the band was touring – opens with one of the most exhilarating guitar riffs in rock & roll: Jimmy Page's searing stutter in "Whole Lotta Love." As Page told Rolling Stone, "On the second LP, you can hear the real group identity coming together," by which he meant the unified might of his own white-blues devilry, John Bonham's hands-of-God drumming, Robert Plant's misty-mountain howl and John Paul Jones' firm bass and keyboard colors. Other great reasons to bang your head: "The Lemon Song," "Heart­breaker" and "Ramble On," where Plant meets a girl in the darkest depths of Mordor and single­handedly engenders a sales spike for J.R.R. Tolkien books.