500 Greatest Albums of All Time – Rolling Stone
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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.


The Who, ‘Live at Leeds’

Decca, 1970

Faced with the task of following up Tommy [see No. 96], the Who just cranked up their amps and blasted. There's no finesse, just the pure power of a band able to play as loud as it wants. When the Who blew up Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" to Godzilla-like proportions, they invented Seventies arena rock.


Bob Marley and the Wailers’ ‘Exodus’

Island, 1977

As the title suggests, this album wasn't recorded in Jamaica; after Marley took a bullet in a 1976 assassination attempt, he relocated the Wailers to London. But tracks such as "Jamming" and "Three Little Birds" are still suffused with the deep essence of reggae and life at home.


Elvis Costello, ‘My Aim Is True’

Columbia, 1977

Costello obsessively listened to The Clash while recording his debut. And though the songs are more pub rock than punk, they're full of punk's verbal bite; the murder mystery "Watching the Detectives" and the poisoned-valentine ballad "Alison" established Costello as one of the sharpest and nastiest lyricists of his generation.


Metallica, ‘Master of Puppets’

Elektra, 1986

Metallica's third album has a lyrical theme: manipulation. "Drugs controlling you," singer-guitarist James Hetfield said. It also has a sonic theme: really loud guitars, played at warhead speed. When the band slows down on "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," it just emphasizes the unrelenting nature of the rest of the songs.


Elvis Costello and the Attractions, ‘Imperial Bedroom’

Chess, 1982

Costello wanted his music to be as complex as his lyrics (which increasingly documented marital tension). So for his seventh album he and Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick experimented with an adult sonic palette (accordions, Mellotron, horns) that highlighted grown-up stress and sorrow.


Marvin Gaye, ‘Let’s Get It On’

Motown, 1973

On this album, Gaye meditated on the gap between sex and love and how to reconcile them – an adult version of the Motown tunes he had built his career on. It’s some of the most gorgeous music he ever made, resplendent with sweet strings and his clear-throated crooning.


Linda Ronstadt, ‘The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt’

Rhino, 2002

So very SoCal (her band became the ­Eagles), Ronstadt was more empathetic interpreter than songwriter. But she could knock out a pop song – check "Long Long Time," where she sounds like a girl next door with a voice that can peel chrome.


Prince, ‘1999’

Warner Bros., 1982

"I didn't want to do a double album," Prince said, "but I just kept on writing. Of course, I'm not one for editing." The second half of 1999 is exceptional sex-obsessed dance music; the first half is the best fusion of rock and funk anyone had achieved to that date, and it lays out the blueprint for Prince's next decade.


Radiohead, ‘OK Computer’

Capitol, 1997

OK is where Radiohead began pulling at their sound like taffy, not worrying if it was still "rock." The result is a slow, haunting album with unforgettable tracks such as "Karma Police" and "Paranoid Android." Guitarist Jonny Greenwood arranged white-noise strings, and Thom Yorke made alienation feel alluring.


Otis Redding, ‘The Dock of the Bay’

Atlantic, 1968

Redding recorded his Monterey Pop-inspired "soul-folk" experiment "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" four days before he died in a plane crash. The posthumous album guitarist Steve Cropper compiled out of unreleased sessions is essential soul.


T. Rex, ‘Electric Warrior’

Reprise, 1971

Marc Bolan cast a spell over all of England with this album, giving his Tolkienesque hippie music a glammed-out update. This was rock that thrusted, quivered and recklessly employed metaphors equating cars with sex ("You got a hubcap diamond star halo").


Kiss, ‘Alive!’

Casablanca, 1975

A double live LP, cut largely in Detroit (plus studio overdubs), Alive! was Kiss' breakthrough, with hot versions of "Strutter" and "Rock and Roll All Nite." "I really enjoy myself onstage: prancing around, shaking my ass," said singer Paul Stanley. "I am entertaining myself up there."


Elton John, ‘Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy’

MCA, 1975

This self-mythologizing spectacle about John and lyricist Bernie Taupin features "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" – from the time Taupin talked John out of suicide.


Joy Division, ‘Closer’

Factory, 1981

This is one of the most chilling albums ever made, with droning guitars, icy bass lines and stentorian vocals. And that's not even considering the lyrics, about singer Ian Curtis' epilepsy and failing marriage. When Curtis hanged himself at age 23 on May 18th, 1980, Closer officially became the stuff of rock legend.


The Beastie Boys, ‘Paul’s Boutique’

Capitol, 1989

For their second album, the Beasties hired the Dust Brothers, a production team that provided some of the best samples ever on wax – from the Ramones to the Funky 4+1. The title is a goof on Abbey Road, which was Paul McCartney's boutique; like that LP, it stitches together song fragments in a way rarely seen before or since.


The Pretenders, ‘Pretenders’

Sire, 1980

After years of writing record reviews and hanging with the Sex Pistols, Chrissie Hynde put together a band as tough as she was. Pretenders is filled with no-nonsense rock like "Brass in Pocket," a meditation on ambition and seduction that stands as one of New Wave's greatest radio moments.


Howlin’ Wolf, ‘Moanin’ in the Moonlight’

Chess, 1959

Wolf's sound – a fierce growl mixed with explosive playing by guitar geniuses Willie Johnson and Hubert Sumlin – was huge and eerie, and this compilation taught the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and the rest of England the ways of the blues.


A Tribe Called Quest, ‘The Low End Theory’

Jive, 1991

Many connected the dots between hip-hop and jazz, but this LP drew the whole picture. As legendary stand-up bassist Ron Carter gets dope, Tribe discourse on everything from music biz to sexual politics – and the groove keeps getting deeper.


The B-52’s, ‘The B-52’s’

Warner Bros., 1979

The B-52's sounds like high school friends cramming their in-jokes, wacky sounds and private nicknames into a New Wave LP. Nobody could resist the campy, arty funk. And with the toy instruments and bouffant hair, the B-52's' thrift-store image was as colorful as their music – which, given "Rock Lobster," was pretty colorful.


Arcade Fire, ‘Funeral’

Merge, 2004

Love, loss, forced coming-of-age and fragile hope: The debut from this seven-­member band touched on these themes as it defined indie music of the 2000s. It's surging orchestral rock that actually rocked – and found solace, and purpose, in communal celebration.

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