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.
Warner Bros., 1971
The greatest sludge-metal band of them all in its prime. Paranoid may have bigger hits, but Master of Reality, released a mere six months later, is heavier. The highlight is "Sweet Leaf," a droning love song to marijuana. But the vibe is perfectly summed up by the final track, "Into the Void."
On his debut, the self-proclaimed "first [rapper] with a Benz and a backpack" beat the producer-tries-to-rap jinx and broke boundaries others wouldn't acknowledge – from the gospel riot "Jesus Walks" to the Luther Vandross tribute "Slow Jamz."
A milestone of studio mischief and a merciless satire of anything that pissed Frank Zappa off in flower power's heyday – drippy hippies, the Establishment, whatever.
Inspired by Can riffs and bookended by lengthy, brutal songs about corporal punishment and the horrors of the cattle industry, Murder is the darkest entry in the U.K. group's catalog. On "How Soon Is Now?" Morrissey sums up with great pathos and hilarity what a drag it is to be shy. More pathos would come.
The Montreal poet-turned-songwriter's most intense album. Cohen strums an acoustic guitar and murmurs about the destructive powers of love, and his tender croak of a voice gives every song an air of hushed drama.
It's the ultimate rock salute: "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!" Recorded live in Detroit by Rob Tyner and his anarchist crew, Kick Out the Jams writhes and hollers with the belief in rock & roll as civil disobedience. The proof: It was banned by a Michigan department store.
Drowning their songs in guitar fuzz and drone, VU made the most extreme disc in their extreme catalog. "Sister Ray" is 17 minutes of amplifiers screaming.
A folk-rock free-for-all recorded in 1967 at the Band's house near Woodstock, New York. The much-bootlegged sessions were finally released eight years later.
The Heads wore button-down shirts and embraced a tightly wound normality as rebellion. "For a long time, I felt, 'Well, fuck everybody,'" David Byrne told Punk magazine in 1976. "Well, now I want to be accepted." The result was the tense, ingeniously constricted sound of their debut – geek-chic with hooks and charm.
By the time they recorded the graceful, almost perfectly rendered Call Me, Green and producer Willie Mitchell could do little wrong. To hammer that home, Green showed he could rival Ray Charles as an interpreter of country songs on the killer downtempo cover of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
The quintessential L.A. punk band made the first great West Coast punk album with its debut. Los Angeles is best known for its city-defining anthem and the torrid "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene." Produced by Ray Manzarek of the Doors, it also proved that punk and classic rock could hang out together.
Recording after an onerous contract with Motown had expired, a newly empowered Wonder flexed his artistic control, making a relaxed, love-smitten warm-up for the blockbusters to come and playing nearly every funky note on classics such as "Love Having You Around."
"We used to joke that the first album should be called The Cars' Greatest Hits," said guitarist Elliot Easton. Their debut was arty and punchy enough to be part of Boston's New Wave scene, yet so catchy that nearly every track ("Good Times Roll," "My Best Friend's Girl") landed on the radio.
20th Century, 1974
In 1974, White had three albums on the charts simultaneously, all containing orchestrated hits that fanned the flames of disco fever. But the newly married maestro was also a master balladeer, and "I Can't Believe You Love Me" keeps the boudoir drama coming for 10-plus minutes.
Worried that the folk-music fad was luring listeners away from the blues, Chess Records directed Waters to record with acoustic instruments. These sessions – by Waters, Willie Dixon and a young Buddy Guy – went astonishingly well, and this pioneering "unplugged" set is beloved by blues and folk fans alike.
Graced by soulful samples and revisions of classic R&B, this Puff Daddy-helmed second album is Blige's most autobiographical. Upbeat jams like "Be Happy" were created during her struggle with substance abuse and a tumultuous relationship. "There's a real bad suicide spirit on there," she admitted.
"I think Aladdin was much more in the area of 'Ziggy goes to America,'" Bowie remarked of the Ziggy sequel written largely during his first extensive U.S. tour. "Time" bridges the two albums, but "The Jean Genie" and a raunchy cover of "Let's Spend the Night Together" show a louder, harder, sexier Bowie.
Jackson bought a military suit and ruled the radio for two years with this album. Along with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, she fashions a grand pop statement with hip-hop funk, slow jams and even hair metal.
George Clinton leads his Detroit crew of extraterrestrial brothers through a visionary album of science-fiction funk on jams such as "Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication" and "Give Up the Funk."
"Lady Marmalade" has one of the funkiest chants in Seventies disco: "Hey, sister, go sister, soul sister, go sister!" Nobody did the disco girl-group thing quite like the ladies of Labelle: They were Funkadelic-meets-the-Supremes, complete with platform heels, silver-lamé spacesuits and songs about New Orleans prostitutes.
Motown at its most debonair and sexy. Robinson works his sweeping soul falsetto over unbelievably sad ballads, including "The Tracks of My Tears" and "Ooh Baby Baby," as the Miracles sob along.
Kill Rock Stars, 1997
When drummer Janet Weiss joined singer-guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein on the group's third LP, a riot-grrrl force of nature became one of the world's most potent rock bands. Tucker's indelible vibrato takes off with avenging-angel feminine ferocity.