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The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time

The classics are still the classics, but the canon keeps getting bigger and better

Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time was originally published in 2003, with a slight update in 2012. Over the years, it’s been the most widely read  — and argued over — feature in the history of the magazine (last year, the RS 500 got over 63 million views on the site). But no list is definitive — tastes change, new genres emerge, the history of music keeps being rewritten. So we decided to remake our greatest albums list from scratch. To do so, we received and tabulated Top 50 Albums lists from more than 300 artists, producers, critics, and music-industry figures (from radio programmers to label heads, like Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman). The electorate includes Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Billie Eilish; rising artists like H.E.R., Tierra Whack, and Lindsey Jordan of Snail Mail; as well as veteran musicians, such as Adam Clayton and the Edge of U2, Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan, Gene Simmons, and Stevie Nicks.

How We Made the List and Who Voted

When we first did the RS 500 in 2003, people were talking about the “death of the album.” The album —and especially the album release — is more relevant than ever. (As in 2003, we allowed votes for compilations and greatest-hits albums, mainly because a well-made compilation can be just as coherent and significant as an LP, because compilations helped shaped music history, and because many hugely important artists recorded their best work before the album had arrived as a prominent format.)

Of course, it could still be argued that embarking on a project like this is increasingly difficult in an era of streaming and fragmented taste. But that was part of what made rebooting the RS 500 fascinating and fun; 86 of the albums on the list are from this century, and 154 are new additions that weren’t on the 2003 or 2012 versions. The classics are still the classics, but the canon keeps getting bigger and better.

Written By

Jonathan Bernstein, Pat Blashill, Jon Blistein, Nathan Brackett, David Browne, Anthony DeCurtis, Matt Diehl, Jon Dolan, Chuck Eddy, Ben Edmonds, Gavin Edwards, Jenny Eliscu, Brenna Ehrlrich, Suzy Exposito, David Fricke, Elisa Gardner, Holly George-Warren, Andy Greene, Kory Grow, Will Hermes, Brian Hiatt, Christian Hoard, Charles Holmes, Mark Kemp, Greg Kot, Elias Leight, Joe Levy, Angie Martoccio, David McGee, Chris Molanphy, Tom Moon, Jason Newman, Rob O’Connor, Park Puterbaugh, Jody Rosen, Austin Scaggs, Karen Schoemer, Bud Scoppa, Claire Shaffer, Rob Sheffield, Hank Shteamer, Brittany Spanos, Rob Tannenbaum, David Thigpen, Simon Vozick-Levinson, Barry Walters, Jonah Weiner

From Rolling Stone US


Aerosmith, ‘Rocks’

The bad boys from Boston perfected their Seventies guitar raunch on Rocks — it’s the musical equivalent of getting run over by a muscle car. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry sounded like America’s heirs to the Mick-and-Keith tradition with the filthy riffs of “Lick and a Promise” and “Back in the Saddle.” Tyler brings all his dirtbag swagger and gutter poetry to his favorite topic: sex. Surprise peak: “Sick as a Dog,” an incredible fusion of the Byrds, James Brown funk, and Sixties girl-group harmonies.


Madvillain, ‘Madvillainy’

This collaboration between rapper MF Doom and producer Madlib is one of underground hip-hop’s greatest moments. Madlib provides a shifting bed of warped funk and wildly unpredictable samples, drawing on everything from Thunder and Lightning’s “Bumpin’ Bus Stop” to “The Theme of the Justice League of America.” Doom’s rhymes are so casually adventurous that sometimes it takes a second to notice how stunning they are: “Still back in the game like Jack LaLanne/Think you know the name, don’t rack your brain/On a fast track to half sane” — hell yeah!


Talking Heads, ‘More Songs About Buildings and Food’

For their second record, Talking Heads found the ideal producer in Brian Eno: Their trilogy of albums with him made the band’s reputation. David Byrne splutters over the twitchy rhythms of “Artists Only” and “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel,” while crooning “The Big Country” as a ballad about feeling lost in America. The Heads cover Al Green’s “Take Me to the River,” a Memphis R&B hit just a year old at the time that they make feel like some kind of ancient prayer.


Parliament, ‘The Mothership Connection’

George Clinton leads his Detroit crew of “extraterrestrial brothers” through a visionary album of science-fiction funk on jams like “Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication” and “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker).” It’s a concept album inspired by Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey, with Clinton as an outer-space radio DJ, broadcasting uncut funk from “the Chocolate Milky Way” and telling the people of Earth, “Put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip, and come on up to the Mothership.”


Luther Vandross, ‘Never Too Much’

In the Seventies, Luther Vandross sang backup for Sister Sledge and Roberta Flack and co-wrote David Bowie’s “Fascination.” As a solo artist, he embodied sophisticated soul in the post-disco era. His debut LP shows off a dazzling range that came almost too easily — from the title track, one of the defining dance-funk hits of the Eighties, to his stunning rendition of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David classic “A House Is Not a Home,” which made the song uncoverable for future generations of singers.


My Chemical Romance, ‘The Black Parade’

Just as the Who did with Tommy, or Pink Floyd with The Wall, New Jersey act My Chemical Romance served up an era-defining rock opera, tailored for the golden age of emo. Frontman Gerard Way — the goth millennial answer to David Bowie — stars as a cancer patient who marches boldly into the afterlife (“The Black Parade”), where Liza Minelli, of all people, awaits him for a smashing horror-punk duet (“Mama”).


Funkadelic, ‘One Nation Under a Groove’

George Clinton led two of the 1970s’ wildest bands: Funkadelic for rock guitars, Parliament for dance beats. But this album sums up his whole P-Funk empire, as Clinton spreads the gospel of mind-altering, loose-booty rhythms for the body and brain. “One Nation Under a Groove” is a call to arms, demanding “the funk, the whole funk, and nothing but the funk.” Another song asks, “Who Says a Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?!” It’s the same message Uncle Jam has always preached: Free your mind and your ass will follow.


Big Star, ‘Radio City’

Alex Chilton and his band of Memphis misfits were years ahead of their time — when they released Radio City in 1974, hardly anyone heard it. But like the Velvet Underground, they became hugely influential when future generations discovered them and got their minds blown. Big Star came up with their own skewed pop sound, filtering their love of the Beatles through their Memphis-soul roots. “September Gurls” and “Life Is White” should have been hits, soaring with the sweetly eccentric guitar chime and the romantic ache in Chilton’s voice.


Sonic Youth, ‘Goo’

With their sixth full album, the New York art-of-noise band made the leap from indie to major label, but few sold out so beautifully. From Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo’s frazzled guitar freakouts to Kim Gordon’s ghostly ode to Karen Carpenter, Goo retained all of Sonic Youth’s quirks and hallmarks. The sessions were technologically fraught, but they used those added production dollars to amp up their sonic assault. On tracks like “Kool Thing” and “Disappearer” they’d never sounded burlier — and yet more true to their alt-nation selves.


Tom Waits, ‘Rain Dogs’

“I like weird, ludicrous things,” Tom Waits once said. That understatement plays out most clearly on Rain Dogs, his finest portrait of the tragic kingdom of the streets. Self-producing his music for the first time and recording in his native Los Angeles, he went for a sound he described as “kind of an interaction between Appalachia and Nigeria.” Waits abandoned his signature grungy minimalism on the gorgeous “Downtown Train” (later a hit for Rod Stewart) and gets backing by Keith Richards on “Big Black Mariah.”


Dr. John, ‘Gris-Gris’

Mac Rebennack was a New Orleans piano player on songs for Professor Longhair and Frankie Ford who moved to L.A. in the Sixties, where he played on Phil Spector sessions and encountered California psychedelia. Rechristening himself Dr. John Creaux the Night Tripper, he made this swamp-funk classic. Gris-Gris blends New Orleans R&B, voodoo chants, and chemical inspiration. The groovy Afro-Caribbean percussion and creaky sound effects aren’t just otherworldly — they seem to come from several other worlds all at once.


Black Sabbath, ‘Black Sabbath’

Recorded in a single 12-hour blurt by a hippie-leaning former blues band, this lumbering debut conjures up a new, sludgy sound: the birth pains of heavy metal. The slide guitar on “Wizard” and the grungy boogie of “Wicked World” would influence not only future metal spawn but even the sound of Nirvana. The album’s most vivid nightmare is the six-minute “Black Sabbath,” which even scared the band itself. “We always wanted to go heavier than any other band,” said bassist Geezer Butler.


X-Ray Spex, ‘Germfree Adolescents’

Teenage multiracial London girl Poly Styrene had braces on her teeth and wore Day-Glo rags, screeching anthems like “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” over saxophone blasts, and chanting, “I am a poseur and I don’t care! I like to make people stare!” X-Ray Spex’s explosive punk-rock debut went criminally unreleased in the U.S., but it became a word-of-mouth cult classic throughout the indie-rock underground in the Eighties and Nineties, influencing Sleater-Kinney, the Beastie Boys, and many others.


The Cars, ‘The Cars’

“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, and yet so catchy that nearly every track (“My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Just What I Needed”) landed on the radio. When Ric Ocasek died in 2019, Eason offered a fitting tribute: “If the goal was to have great success making pop music with a sense of irony, then mission accomplished, right?”


Eminem, ‘The Slim Shady LP’

On which Eminem introduced himself as a crazy white geek, the “class-clown freshman/Dressed like Les Nessman.” Hip-hop had never heard anything like Em’s brain-damaged rhymes on this Dr. Dre-produced album, which earned Em respect, fortune, fame, and a lawsuit from his mom. Yet, while he claimed that God sent him here to piss off the world, his most endearing quality was that he saved his most unsparing rhymes for the worst villain in his messed-up life — not mom or his ex-wife, but himself.


Roxy Music, ‘For Your Pleasure’

Keyboardist Brian Eno’s last album with Roxy Music is the pop equivalent of Ultrasuede: highly stylish, abstract-leaning art rock. The collision of Eno’s and singer Bryan Ferry’s clashing visions gives Pleasure a wild, tense charm — especially on the driving “Editions of You” and “Do the Strand.” The album’s deeply weird centerpiece is “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”: Ferry sings a seductive ballad to an inflatable doll (“I blew up your body, but you blew my mind”), one of the creepiest love songs of all time.