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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Greatest Double Albums of All Time

Your selections include ‘The Wall,’ ‘London Calling’ and ‘Quadrophenia’

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Pulling off a great double album was much easier in the vinyl age. Back then, most records over 45 minutes long were forced onto two separate discs. (When they crammed much more than that onto a record, the sound quality began to suffer.) Until 1966, few artists even thought about releasing a double album, but the huge success of Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde kicked open the door. Suddenly, everyone from the Beatles to Frank Zappa were releasing double albums. Visionaries like Pete Townshend and Roger Waters were no longer forced to tell a story in 45 minutes or less – but by the CD age, the length of an album suddenly doubled.

That probably explains why most of the winning albums on this poll were released before CDs. Two hours of music is a lot and you need a pretty great album to justify all that time. Click through to see your selections for the greatest double albums of all time. 


Bruce Springsteen The River 

Courtesy of Columbia Records

4. Bruce Springsteen – ‘The River’

It's pretty amazing that The River is the only double album in the Bruce Springsteen catalog. The songwriter often writes way more songs than a single album can hold. He wrote over 60 songs for 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town, cutting off classics like "Because the Night" and "Fire." He originally gave Columbia a record in 1979 called The Ties That Bind, but later called it back so he could continue recording. He wanted to balance out somber tracks like "Drive All Night" and "The River" with party songs like "Ramrod" and "Crush on You."

The result is an extremely solid double album, though Steve Van Zandt will tell you the Boss still cut many of the best songs. Check out the Tracks box set to hear River outtakes like "Restless Nights" and "Loose Ends." Maybe it should have been a triple album. 

The Rolling Stones Exile on Main St. 

Courtesy of Rolling Stones Records

3. The Rolling Stones – ‘Exile on Main Street’

Nearly 40 years after the release of Exile on Main Street, Keith Richards was still trying to figure out what made the album so magical. "There was something about the rhythm section sound down there [in France]," he said in 2010. "Maybe it's the concrete, or maybe it's the dirt, but it has a certain sound to it that you couldn't replicate if you tried." Today, the album is seen as the Stones' absolute best work, but there was no huge single off the double album and it was met with some very mixed reviews.

"We kind of expected that just from the fact that it was a double album," said Richards. "First of all, the record company wanted to cut it in half. So we said, 'Oh, this is not looking good.' But also we insisted, 'No, this is what we did. This is Exile on Main Street, and we insist that it's a double album.' So it kind of got a slow take-off, but ever since then, it's been up there. Also, it's the first album with no particular single on it, you know? There was no 'Brown Sugar' or whatever. We made it as an album, rather than looking for a hit single."

Pink Floyd The Wall 

Courtesy of Columbia Records

2. Pink Floyd – ‘The Wall’

Pink Floyd absolutely dominated the rock scene in the 1970s, so it was fitting that they released their last masterpiece in the final weeks of the decade. Inspired by the death of Roger Waters' father in World War II and the songwriter's increasingly uneasy feelings about rock fame, The Wall is a crazily ambitious 30-song collection that has aged remarkably well.

Roger Waters spent the past three years taking it to stadiums and arenas all over the planet, selling out everywhere he went. The album gave Floyd a ton of radio hits ("Comfortably Numb," "Hey You," "Mother," "Young Lust," "Another Brick in the Wall Part II"), but it also proved that the band no longer functioned as a unit. Roger Waters fired keyboardist Richard Wright midway through the sessions, and the bassist/songwriter dominated the singing and writing on the album. Pink Floyd carried on for three more albums but never with the classic lineup, and they never managed to create anything again that could even compare to The Wall

The Beatles The White Album

Courtesy of Apple Records

1. The Beatles – ‘The White Album’

The Beatles were barely functioning as a band when they began cutting The White Album in the spring of 1968. The death of manager Brian Epstein left them without a leader and long-simmering personal and creative issues began boiling over. Things got so bad that Ringo Starr quit the group for a brief time, forcing Paul McCartney to play drums on some of the songs. The four members were all writing on their own at this point, and many critics have pointed out that the album is almost four solo discs fused together. None of that takes away from the power of the album and, if anything, the wildly varying tone of the songs is the album's greatest strength. "Rocky Raccoon" sounds nothing like "Revolution 9," which sounds nothing like "Piggies," but somehow, it all works. The Beatles simply couldn't make a bad album, even when they couldn't stand the sight of each other. 

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