Home Music Music Lists

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 Replacements, ‘Let It Be’

Twin/Tone, 1984

Copping a Beatles title was cheeky; attaching it to a post-punk masterpiece was a sign of maturity. Songs like "I Will Dare" sizzle with ambition. Mixing punk and country with wry lyrics, "Unsatisfied" sounds like Paul Westerberg demanding more of himself and of his band. He got it.


Steely Dan, ‘Can’t Buy a Thrill’

MCA, 1972

Working as hired songwriters by day, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker rehearsed this debut in executives' offices by night. "We play rock & roll, but we swing," said Becker. For proof, check the cool lounge-jazz rhythms of "Do It Again" and the hot guitar of "Reelin' in the Years."


Madonna, ‘Like a Prayer’

Sire, 1989

"I like the challenge of merging art and commerce," Madonna said. She won artistic recognition with her most personal set of songs, including "Till Death Do Us Part" and "Oh Father"; commerce with "Express Yourself" and the title track, whose video had the Vatican talking about blasphemy.


Howlin’ Wolf, ‘Howlin’ Wolf’

Chess, 1962

Chicago blues at its raunchy best, "The Rocking Chair Album" features an outrageous set of sex songs written by Willie Dixon, including "Shake for Me," "The Red Rooster" and "Back Door Man." In 1971, on The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions, Wolf finally taught an enraptured Eric Clapton how to play "The Red Rooster."


The Who, ‘The Who Sings My Generation’

Decca, 1966

The Who debuted in maximum R&B mode: power-chorded reductions of James Brown ballads. When a manager badgered Pete Townshend into beefing up his laid-back demo of "My Generation," the resulting explosion knocked a hole in the future.


Jackie Wilson, ‘Mr. Excitement!’

Rhino, 1992

Wilson was a knockout live performer who made R&B that rocked and sang ballads with a voice, said arranger Dick Jacobs, "like honey on moonbeams." The highlight of this three-disc set – which spans from the Fifties to the Seventies – is the endless build of "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher."


Patsy Cline, ‘The Ultimate Collection’

UTV, 2000

She died in a plane crash at 30, but Cline made her mark as one of country's great singers. "Walkin' After Midnight" and "I Fall to Pieces" also made the pop charts, and her version of "Crazy" was a godsend to struggling writer Willie Nelson.


Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Bookends’

Columbia, 1968

Paul Simon called this "the quintessential Simon and Garfunkel album." It is certainly far-ranging – a mostly dark, beautifully written voyage that includes both the epic "America" and the Graduate theme, "Mrs. Robinson." The duo produced the rec­ord themselves, with brilliant restraint.


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.