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.

390

The White Stripes, ‘Elephant’

V2, 2003

Jack and Meg White proved their minimalist garage rock had more depth and power than anyone expected. On tracks like the slow-burning "Seven Nation Army" and "The Hardest Button to Button," Jack's songwriting finally matches his blues-fanboy, art-school shtick.

389

Don Henley, ‘The End of the Innocence’

Geffen, 1989

Returning to the theme of "Desperado," the former Eagle hitched some of his finest melodies (especially on the gentle title track) to sharply focused lyrical studies of men in troubled transition – from youth to adulthood, innocence to responsibility.

388

Various Artists, ‘The Indestructible Beat of Soweto’

Shanachia, 1985

The best album ever tagged as "world music," this compilation of South African pop is still fresh – full of funky, loping beats and gruff vocals, with a sweet track by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who soon appeared on Graceland.

387

Wu-Tang Clan, ‘Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers’

Loud/RCA, 1993

East Coast hip-hop came back in 1993, thanks to a nine-man troupe of Staten Island MCs with a fascination for Hong Kong martial-arts mythology and producer RZA's love of menacing atmospherics. Hip-hop had rarely been this dirty.

386

Steely Dan, ‘Pretzel Logic’

ABC, 1974

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker make their love of jazz explicit, covering Duke Ellington and copping the intro of "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" from hard-bop pianist Horace Silver. The guitars on their third LP are dialed back for a sound that's slick and airtight without being cold. The lyrics? As twisted as ever.

385

Bob Dylan, ‘Love and Theft’

Columbia, 2001

Blood, desperation and wicked gallows humor are in the air as Dylan and his road band provide a raucous tour of 20th-century musical America via jump blues, slow blues, rockabilly, Tin Pan Alley ballads and country swing. "Summer Days" sounds like the exact moment when R&B morphed into rock & roll.

384

The Who, ‘A Quick One (Happy Jack)’

MCA, 1966

The Who were in the middle of an experimental phase, and the results were fascinatingly quirky. "Boris the Spider" is a basso-profundo jape, and the miniopera title track foreshadows Pete Townshend's songwriting ambition.

383

Talking Heads, ‘More Songs About Buildings and Food’

Sire, 1978

The Heads' second album weaved funk and gospel (including a cover of Al Green's "Take Me to the River") into their twitchy, Spartan sound, announcing themselves as the newest of the New Wave bands.

382

Modern Lovers, ‘Modern Lovers’

Beserkly, 1976

Jonathan Richman moved from Boston to New York in the hopes of sleeping on Lou Reed's couch. That influence shows on the two-chord anthem "Roadrunner." Recorded in 1972 but not released until 1976, Lovers hot-wired the Velvets' tough sounds to odes of suburban romanticism.

381

The Beach Boys, ‘Smile (2011 Version)’

Capitol, 2011

The five-disc director's cut of the Greatest Pop Album Never Made is an unfinished symphony of exquisite ping-ponging harmonies and psychedelicized Cali-surf soul. The included demos and fragments show Brian Wilson painting his masterpiece. 

380

Toots and the Maytals, ‘Funky Kingston’

Island, 1975

Loose, funky, exuberant, Kingston is the quintessential document of Jamaica's greatest act after Bob Marley. Showcasing some of the Maytals' best songs ("Pressure Drop" and borrowing from soul, pop and gospel, the album introduced the world to the great Toots Hibbert.

379

TLC, ‘CrazySexyCool’

Things were not well with TLC during the making of CrazySexyCool: Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes was lighting literal fires, and the trio would soon be filing for bankruptcy. But they emerged with the most effervescent and soulful girl-group R&B anyone had seen since the Supremes.

378

Oasis, ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’

Epic, 1995

With their second album, the fighting Gallagher brothers embraced the Stones and Beatles comparisons and established themselves as a force in their own right, especially on the majestic "Wonderwall."

377

John Lee Hooker, ‘The Ultimate Collection 1948-1990’

Rhino, 1991

"Boogie Chillen" was Hooker's first hit and one of the last songs he ever played. In between that was a lifetime of pure mojo. Collection houses that historic song, plus "Boom Boom" and a voice Bonnie Raitt said could "tap into all the pain he'd ever felt."

376

Björk, ‘Post’

Elektra, 1995

"I have to recreate the universe every morning when I wake up," Björk said, explaining her second solo album's utter lack of musical inhibition. Post bounces from big-band jazz ("It's Oh So Quiet") to trip-hop. Fun fact: For her vocals, Björk extended her mic cord to a beach so she could sing to the sea.

375

Jackson Browne, ‘Late for the Sky’

Asylum, 1974

On his dark third album, Browne explored, in the words of one Rolling Stone reviewer, the "romantic possibility in the shadow of an apocalypse." There's an undercurrent of dread on Late for the Sky, from "Before the Deluge" to "For a Dancer" – not to mention a lot of obvious songwriting genius.

374

Roxy Music, ‘Siren’

ATCO, 1975

"New customers are always welcome!" Bryan Ferry joked as "Love Is the Drug" became his band's first U.S. hit. This delicious LP of lounge-lizard ennui, inspired in part by Ferry's girlfriend Jerry Hall, draws upon Roxy's arty roots even as it anticipates the more rarefied atmospheres of Avalon.

373

Jefferson Airplane, ‘Volunteers’

RCA Victor, 1969

Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen called Paul Kantner's revolutionary cheerleading "naive," but that didn't prevent the band from delivering this album with sweeping fervor. Also here: the gorgeous "Wooden Ships" and "Eskimo Blue Day," where Grace Slick sings, "The human name doesn't mean shit to a tree."

372

The Police, ‘Reggatta de Blanc’

A&M, 1979

The Police may have been lumped in with U.K. punk, but Sting said the mission was always to "sell great music to masses of people." They did that with Reggatta, an album best known for "Message in a Bottle" but distinguished by the mutant reggae of "The Bed's Too Big Without You" and "Walking on the Moon."

371

Arctic Monkeys, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’

Domino USA, 2006

Scrappy, lager-fueled tunes about being young and bored in a bleak Northern England steel town. Even Yanks couldn't resist these raging Brit-pop-punk gems. 

370

Mott the Hoople, ‘Mott’

Columbia, 1973

David Bowie's "All The Young Dudes" had revived Mott's career, but Ian Hunter "wanted people to know that David didn't create this band." Producing themselves, they weathered skepticism and studio fistfights to record this examination of rock as "a loser's game." Mott became their greatest success.

369

The Smiths, ‘Louder Than Bombs’

Sire/Rough Trade, 1987

Designed to whet U.S. interest while the Smiths completed a new LP, this dazzling assortment of singles and album tracks became an unintended epitaph when the group dissolved. Its best songs are here, from "Sheila Take a Bow" to "Panic."

368

The Eagles, ‘The Eagles’

Asylum, 1972

This debut created a new template for laid-back L.A. country rock. Behind the band's mellow message – "Take It Easy," "Peaceful Easy Feeling" – was a relentless drive. "Everybody had to look good, sing good, play good and write good," Glenn Frey told Cameron Crowe in Rolling Stone.

367

Madonna, ‘Ray of Light’

Maverick/Warner Bros., 1998

For her first disc as a mother, Madonna and producer William Orbit showed the world that electronica doesn't have to be cold. Songs like the title track and "Nothing Really Matters" are filled with warmth and wonder. Ray also features her best singing ever.

366

Johnny Cash, ‘American Recordings’

American, 1994

After years of neglect from the country establishment, Cash returned with this stark acoustic album produced by Rick Rubin. It was a reminder that a giant still walked among us.

365

Rage Against the Machine, ‘Rage Against the Machine’

Epic Associated, 1992

Singer Zack de la Rocha's radical politics found sympathetic muscle in Tom Morello's howling one-guitar army, making a furor unheard since the MC5 and the Clash.

364

The Doors, ‘L.A. Woman’

Elektra, 1971

Jim Morrison said the Doors wanted to "get back to what we did originally: just be very primitive… very relaxed." Recorded in their rehearsal space with Morrison's mic set up in the bathroom, this was a bluesier, confident Doors. It was the last album Morrison recorded. He died soon after.

363

New Order, ‘Substance’

Qwest, 1987

This assemblage of 12-inch singles and remixes charts New Order's tranformation from gloom rockers to electro-disco pioneers. Club hits like "Blue Monday" and "Bizarre Love Triangle" are full of bass melodies that beat-loving guitar bands are still trying to figure out.

362

The Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Siamese Dream’

Virgin, 1993

On their second disc, the Pumpkins pushed further from alt-rock to a grander, orchestrated sound with multiple guitar parts, strings and Mellotron. Siamese Dream is packed with hits ("Cherup Rock," "Today") and alt-rock followed its lead.

361

OutKast, ‘Stankonia’

LaFace, 2000

"We call it slumadelic," said Big Boi of OutKast's far-reaching blend of hip-hop, funk, rock and otherworldly sounds. "Ms. Jackson" was something new for rap: an apology to the mother of an ex-girlfriend. And "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)" twitches to techno beats and screeching guitar.

360

Buzzcocks, ‘Singles Going Steady’

I.R.S., 1979

Singles collects eight British 45s into a perfect punk album. This Manchester group took the sound of the Ramones and made it jittery and even faster. Songs such as "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" define a world of permanently frustrated desire.

359

Elton John, ‘Honky Chateau’

Uni, 1972

After a couple of weightier singer-songwriter outings, it was delightful to hear John revel in the simple pop pleasures of "Honky Cat." Written in five days, and using his signature touring band for the first time, Honky Château is a snapshot of an artist loosening up and coming into his full powers.

358

Miles Davis, ‘Sketches of Spain’

Columbia, 1960

This collaboration between Davis and ­arranger Gil Evans took 15 orchestral sessions to record and six months to assemble. It wasn't an attempt to play Spanish music but to suggest it; the album's muted beauty contains enormous passion. But is it jazz? Davis responded, "It's music, and I like it."

357

The Rolling Stones, ‘Between the Buttons’

London, 1967

Andrew Loog Oldham called it their "most English" album. Music-hall piano abuts the psych-soul of "Ruby Tuesday"; the lovely "She Smiled Sweetly" offsets the great Chuck Berry rip, "Miss Amanda Jones."

356

Randy Newman, ’12 Songs’

Reprise, 1970

Newman's second disc was his artistic breakout, with Ry Cooder and a few of the Byrds contributing to the loose, confident sound. It's prime caustic, funny Newman – especially the piano rockers "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)" and "Have You Seen My Baby?" and the tormented "Suzanne."

355

The Yardbirds, ‘Having a Rave Up With the Yardbirds’

Epic, 1965

Freed from Eric Clapton's blues purism and spurred by Jeff Beck's reckless exhibitionism, the Yardbirds launched a noisy rock & roll avant-garde. This is the bridge between beat groups and psychedelia.

354

Billy Joel, ’52nd Street’

Columbia, 1978

The heavy roadwork dictated by the success of The Stranger produced a leaner, rock-oriented follow-up. Like Elton John, Joel assimilated whatever styles (jazz, Latin rhythms) suited his purpose. "I don't want to limit my diet," he said, "sampling only one vegetable in the garden."

353

Kanye West, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’

Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella, 2010

Epic hip-hop as messily inspired as Kanye's life, with Elton John pianos, vocoder freakouts, Bon Iver cameos and hilarious insights on Kanye's self-torpedoing genius. 

352

Dire Straits, ‘Brothers in Arms’

Warner Bros., 1985

Mark Knopfler started writing "Money for Nothing" when he overheard a New York appliance salesman's anti-rock-star, anti-MTV rant. The song, of course, became a huge MTV hit, and this album shows off Knopfler's incisive songwriting and lush guitar riffs on "Walk of Life" and "So Far Away."

351

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, ‘Rust Never Sleeps’

Reprise, 1979

This live Rust is essential Young, full of delicate acoustic songs and ragged Crazy Horse rampages. Highlights: "My My, Hey Hey" (a tribute to Johnny Rotten) and "Powderfinger," where Young's guitar hits the sky like never before.

Show Comments