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.

63

U2, ‘Achtung Baby’

Island, 1991

After fostering a solemn public image for years, U2 loosened up on Achtung Baby, a prescient mix of sleek rock and pulsing Euro grooves recorded in Berlin and Dublin with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. They no longer sounded like young men sure of the answers; now they were full of doubt and longing. "It's a con, in a way," Bono told Rolling Stone about the album in 1992. "We call it Achtung Baby, grinning up our sleeves in all the photography. But it's probably the heaviest record we've ever made." "One" may be their most gorgeous song, but it's a dark ballad about a relationship in peril and the struggle to keep it together. Yet the emotional turmoil made U2 sound more human than ever.

62

Guns N’ Roses, ‘Appetite for Destruction’

Geffen, 1987

The biggest-selling debut album of all time, Appetite for Destruction, features a lot more than the yowl of Indiana-bred W. Axl Rose, the only member still in Guns N' Roses. Guitarist Slash gave the band blues emotion and punk energy, while the rhythm section brought the funk on hits such as "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Mr. Brownstone." When all the elements came together, as in the final two minutes of "Paradise City," G N' R left all other Eighties metal bands looking like poodle-haired pretenders, and they knew it, too. "A lot of rock bands are too fucking wimpy to have any sentiment or any emotion," Rose said. "Unless they're in pain."

61

Sly and the Family Stone, ‘Greatest Hits’

Epic, 1970

Sly and the Family Stone created a musical utopia: an interracial group of men and women who blended funk, rock and positive vibes. Sly Stone, the Family mastermind, was one of the Sixties' most ambitious artists, mixing up the hardest funk beats with hippie psychedelia in hits such as "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)." Greatest Hits ranges from gospel-style ballads ("Everybody Is a Star") to rump shakers ("Everyday People") to soulful bubblegum ("Hot Fun in the Summertime"). Stone discovered his utopia had a ghetto, and he brilliantly tore the whole thing down on 1971's There's a Riot Goin' On [see No. 99]. But nothing can negate the joy of this music.

60

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, ‘Trout Mask Replica’

Straight, 1969

On first listen, Trout Mask Replica sounds like a wild, incomprehensible rampage through the blues. Don Van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart) growls, rants and recites poetry over chaotic guitar licks. But every note was precisely planned in advance – to construct the songs, the Magic Band rehearsed 12 hours a day for months on end in a house with the windows blacked out. (Producer and longtime friend Frank Zappa was then able to record most of the album in less than five hours.) The avant-garde howl of tracks such as "Ella Guru" and "My Human Gets Me Blues" have inspired modern primitives from Tom Waits to PJ Harvey.

59

Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Chronicle Vol. 1’

Fantasy, 1976

Between 1968 and early 1972, CCR rolled out 13 Top 40 songs, which still stand as the most impressive run of hits made by an American band. Former Army reservist and Little Richard fan John Fogerty was the dance-band populist on the San Francisco ballroom scene, writing concise, catchy songs like "Down on the Corner" and "Proud Mary" that fused R&B boogie with longhaired West Coast chooglin'. He also tapped into the spirit of the times, tackling the Vietnam War on "Who'll Stop the Rain" and class politics on "Fortunate Son." This compilation demonstrates over and over how much American possibility you can pack into two-minute blasts of car-radio heaven.

58

The Rolling Stones, ‘Beggars Banquet’

ABKCO, 1968

"When we had been in the States between 1964 and '66, I had gathered together this enormous collection of records, but I never had any time to listen to them," Keith Richards recalled. "In late 1966 and '67, I unwrapped them and actually played them." After the wayward psychedelia of 1967's Their Satanic Majesties Request, and with guitarist Brian Jones largely AWOL, Richards' record collection led the Rolling Stones back to their version of America: country music on "Dear Doctor," the blues on "Prodigal Son" and urban riots on "Street Fighting Man." And "Sympathy for the Devil" is an anthem for the darkness in every human heart – in other words, just one more example of the Stones getting back to basics.

57

Stevie Wonder, ‘Songs in the Key of Life’

Motown/Universal, 1976

Making this record, Stevie Wonder would often stay in the studio 48 hours straight, not eating or sleeping, while everyone around him struggled to keep up. "If my flow is goin', I keep on until I peak," he said. The flow went so well, Wonder released 21 songs, packaged as a double album and a bonus EP. The highlights are the joyful "Isn't She Lovely" and "Sir Duke," but Wonder also displays his mastery of funk, jazz, Afrobeat and even a string-quartet minuet. Nineteen years later, Coolio turned the haunting groove of "Pastime Paradise" into the Number One single "Gang­sta's Paradise," just one example of Life's vast influence on decades of pop.

56

Elvis Presley, ‘Elvis Presley’

RCA, 1956

In November 1955, RCA Records bought Presley's contract, singles and unreleased master tapes from Sun Records. His first full-length album came out six months later, with tracks drawn from both the Sun sessions and further recordings at RCA's studios in New York and Nashville. It became the first rock & roll album to make it to Number One on the Billboard charts. "There wasn't any pressure," guitarist Scotty Moore said of the first RCA sessions. "They were just bigger studios with different equipment. We basically just went in and did the same thing we always did." On tracks such as "Blue Suede Shoes," that meant revved-up country music with the sexiest voice anyone had ever heard.

55

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Electric Ladyland’

Reprise, 1968

Hendrix's third album was the first he produced himself, a fever dream of underwater electric soul cut in round-the-clock sessions at the Record Plant in New York. Hendrix would leave the Record Plant to jam at a club around the corner, the Scene, and "Voodoo Chile" – 15 minutes of live in-the-studio blues exploration with Steve Winwood on organ and Jefferson Airplane's Jack Casady on bass – reflects those excursions. In addition to psychedelic Delta blues, there was the precision snap of "Crosstown Traffic" and a cover of "All Along the Watchtower" that took Bob Dylan into outer space before touching down with a final burst of spectral fury.

54

Ray Charles, ‘The Birth of Soul: The Complete Atlantic Recordings’

Atlantic, 1991

Soul music is a blend of the holy and the filthy: gospel and blues rubbing up against each other. And Ray Charles was just about the first person to perfect that mix. Charles was knocking around Seattle when Atlantic bought out his contract in 1952. For the next seven years, he turned out brilliant singles such as "What'd I Say" and "I Got a Woman," which was a takeoff on a gospel tune, "It Must Be Jesus." He was inventing the sound of ecstasy, three minutes at a time. This box collects every R&B side he cut for Atlantic, though his swinging take on "My Bonnie" will have you thinking it covers his Atlantic jazz output as well.

53

The Beatles, ‘Meet the Beatles!’

Capitol, 1964

For Americans in the full grip of Beatlemania, this was the first album they could buy. Meet took the Fab Four's second British record, With the Beatles, dropped five covers and added three tracks, including the singles "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There." (This may have made a hash of the Beatles' artistic intentions, but it made for a much better record.) John Lennon and Paul McCartney were on a songwriting roll that would be unmatched in rock history, and at this point they were still a real team. They wrote "I Want to Hold Your Hand" together on a piano in the basement of Jane Asher, McCartney's actress girlfriend – as Lennon put it, "eyeball to eyeball."

52

Al Green, ‘Greatest Hits’

Hi, 1975

Al Green made some of the most visionary soul music of the Seventies, in Memphis with producer Willie Mitchell. "In Memphis, you just do as you feel," he told Rolling Stone in 1972. "It's not a modern, up-to-par, very glamorous, big-red-chairs-and-carpet-that-thick studio. It's one of those places you can go into and stomp out a good soul jam." In collaboration with Mitchell and subtly responsive musicians like drummer Al Jackson Jr., Green was a natural album artist, making love-and-pain classics such as 1973's Call Me. But this collection makes for a unified album in itself, compiling hits like "Let's Stay Together," "I'm Still in Love With You" and "Tired of Being Alone" into a flawless 10-song suite.

51

Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’

Columbia, 1970

On their fifth and final studio album, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were pulling away from each other: Simon assembled some of it while Garfunkel was in Mexico starting his acting career with a part in the film version of Catch-22. Garfunkel vetoed Simon's "Cuba Sí, Nixon No," and Simon nixed Garfunkel's idea for a Bach chorale. But what remains is the partnership at its best: wry, wounded songs with healing harmonies such as "The Boxer," though the gorgeous title track was sung by Garfunkel alone, despite his resistance. "He felt I should have done it," Simon told Rolling Stone in 1972. "And many times I'm sorry I didn't do it."

Show Comments