The 30 Greatest EDM Albums of All Time – Rolling Stone
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The 30 Greatest EDM Albums of All Time

From Kraftwerk to Daft Punk to Deadmau5, it’s been a wild ride on the dance floor

The 30 Greatest EDM Albums of all Time

Superstars like Skrillex and Deadmau5 have helped make electronic dance music bigger than ever this year – but party people around the world have been getting down to programmed beats for decades before those guys showed up. At its broadest definition, EDM can cover everything from Chicago house to Dutch gabber to drum 'n' bass to dubstep, from the visionary bleeps of Kraftwerk to the ambient blues of Moby's Play to the synthed-up indie-rock of LCD Soundsystem. With this list of the 30 Greatest EDM Albums of All Time, we've tried to hit all the high points in that ludicrously varied, constantly evolving mix.

By Jon Dolan and Michaelangelo Matos

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21. Madonna, Ray of Light (Maverick, 1998)

Maverick

21. Madonna, ‘Ray of Light’ (Maverick, 1998)

Madonna's heart had always been in the club – from the New York electro of her earliest hits to the full-on house groove of "Vogue." With Ray of Light, she really went nuts with the bleeps and blips, the pillow-time breakbeats and Euro-trance synth-splash. British rave veteran William Orbit provided the shimmering pulse that backed Madge's exploration of new motherhood as a spiritual transformation. The lullaby "Little Star" is top-shelf mom & bass, and the chilly ballad "Frozen" and ginormously tidal "Drowned World" made for some of her most daring pop of the Nineties. Sure, it wasn't cutting-edge dance music, but that was part of its majesty – she gave electronica a makeover, not vice versa.

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20. The Avalanches, Since I Left You (2001)

Modular

20. The Avalanches, ‘Since I Left You’ (Modular, 2001)

"Welcome to Paradise," a voice invites us at the opening of the Avalanches' debut. Yep, pretty much. The Aussie trio tapped into the Beach Boys/De La Soul tradition of all-smiles cuteness for what might be the blissiest album in dance music history. Using an estimated 3500 samples – from classics like Madonna's "Holiday" and Kid Creole and the Coconuts' "Stool Pigeon," as well as hard-to-recognize hip-hop, funk, easy-listening and cheese-jazz records – they created a concept album about getting over a breakup by embarking on an island cruise. (Call it EDM's Forgetting Sarah Marshall.) On "Flight Tonight" and "Stay Another Season" the sense of escape into something exotic, but also kind of scary, gives all the bright, swirling music a needed emotional tension, while tracks like the butterfly-light lounge pop of "Two Hearts In 3/4 Time" are perfect serotonin surges.

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19. Underworld, Anthology, 1992-2002

Cooking Vinyl

19. Underworld, ‘Anthology, 1992-2002’ (JBO/V2, 2003)

It's no surprise that Underworld would get tapped to do music for the opening ceremony at the 2012 London Olympics. When it comes to being awesomely grandiose, few can beat them. Karl Hyde and Rick Smith were London house music DJs who impacted their tracks with an arena-rock grandeur. Yet even when they used rock instrumentation (as on the harmonica driven "BigMouth," which opens this greatest-hits set), they never tried to push their sound beyond EDM's essential building blocks: the God-touched keyboard stabs, a stomping four-on-the-floor groove and Hyde's bullhorn chant-sing vocals. It all came together best on the totally over-the-top "Born Slippy," a drunk's inner dialogue over a Balearic-Brontosaurus beat that got used brilliantly by Danny Boyle in the final scene in Trainspotting.

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18. Michael Mayer, Immer (Kompakt, 2002)

Kompakt

18. Michael Mayer, ‘Immer’ (Kompakt, 2002)

As rave culture began to dip into a lull during the early 2000s, the gauzy, loving feel permeating the releases of Cologne, Germany's Kompakt Records was the logical next step for longtime partiers pushing into their thirties. On this 2002 mix album, Kompakt star Michael Mayer crafted a lush, haunting suite. Unlike many DJs, Mayer never lets his mixing overshadow the tracks themselves, so the music flows organically and goes where it may – even when it verges on goth during Superpitcher and Tobias Thomas's remix of Phantom/Ghost's "Perfect Lovers." Mayer understands that melodrama is just one of the many things a dance floor is good for.

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17. Aphex Twin, The Richard D. James Album (Warp, 1996)

Warp

17. Aphex Twin, ‘The Richard D. James Album’ (Warp, 1996)

Warning: dancing to this album can cause headaches, temporary loss of appetite, blurred vision or swollen bladder; if symptoms persist, please put on a Jewel CD. Cornwall, England native Richard James is electronic music's great restless innovator, a prolific mad scientist blurring the lines between dance music, ambient and avant-garde composition, influencing a generation of "intelligent" dance music artists, as well as everything Radiohead did after OK Computer. His self-titled 1996 album might be the height of undanceable dance music, setting lush Victorian string arrangements and pastoral keyboard textures over brutally hard, quadruple-time breakbeats and toxic electro squelches. There’s loopy novelty (the slide-whistle driven "Logi/Rock Witch"), sonic terrorism ("Inkeys") and abstract whimsy ("Finger Rib"). The album's centerpiece, "Boy/Girl Song," combines all those things to sound like the world's meanest jungle DJ playing a tea party at Downton Abbey.

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16. v/a, Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story (2006)

Rhino

16. Various Artists, ‘Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story’ (2006)

New York disco and house temple the Paradise Garage, opened in 1977, is often considered the greatest club of all time. Its resident DJ, Larry Levan, perfected the role of DJ-as-shaman well before rave or EDM were glints in a dilated pupil. Every weekend until the Garage closed in 1987, Levan performed alchemical feats with a gargantuan, free-ranging assortment of vinyl, from classical etudes to the Clash and Talking Heads to his own beautifully teased-out 12-inch remixes of Taana Gardner's "Heartbeat" and Inner Life's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Both are on this superbly chosen and sequenced two-CD compilation of Levan favorites – some he mixed, many he didn't – which captures the DJ's loose effervescence and flair for high drama. Dance culture as we know it today begins here.

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15. Fatboy Slim, You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby (Astralwerks, 1998)

Astralwerks

15. Fatboy Slim, ‘You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby’ (Astralwerks, 1998)

Spike Jonze's brilliant, guerilla-style video for "Praise You" – in which a motley dance troupe does an impromptu routine in front of an L.A. movie theatre – perfectly mirrored Fatboy Slim's ability to take dance music to new corners of the American pop marketplace. With his second album, the former bass player in Eighties indie-pop preppies the Housemartins became the first EDM artist to enjoy genuine U.S. Top 40 success, and he did it by being a DJ who made like a screwball comic. Songs like "Gangster Trippin," "In Heaven" and the massive hit "Rockafeller Skank" bounced like old-school hip-hop at its most outrageously buoyant and were paced with the zany energy of a Benny Hill skit. In the U.K., they called the rocktronic style Big Beat. In America they called it "the only rave music my six year-old niece has heard." And "Praise You," which built a bubble-funk hymn out of a sample of Seventies spoken-word poet Camille Yarbrough, proved he could throw in some soul, too.

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