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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


Hole, ‘Live Through This’

One week before Hole’s breakthrough album was released, Kurt Cobain killed himself and made Courtney Love a widow. The media attention that followed guaranteed a close listen for Love’s fearsome songs and her shift from pure riot-grrrl punk to a more stable sound that MTV could embrace. Her coded songs have dark topics, including death (“Kill me pills”), violence (“Pee girl gets the belt”), and body shame (“Bad skin, doll heart”), as well as motherhood. (Cobain and Love became parents two years earlier, and briefly lost custody after she was reported to have used heroin while pregnant.) The horror in Love’s exposed voice on “Asking for It” and “Doll Parts” gives immediacy to her firsthand stories about being an outcast “pee girl.”


The Allman Brothers, ‘At Fillmore East’

Although this double album is the perfect testimony to the Allman Brothers’ improvisational skills, it is also evidence of their unprecedented connection with the crowds at New York’s Fillmore East. “The audience would kind of play along with us,” singer-organist Gregg Allman said of those March 1971 shows. “They were right on top of every single vibration coming from the stage.” The guitar team of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts was at its peak, seamlessly fusing blues and jazz in “Whipping Post” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” But their telepathy was cut short: Just three months after the album’s release, Duane died in a motorcycle accident.


The Rolling Stones, ‘Sticky Fingers’

Drummer Charlie Watts remembered the origin of Sticky Fingers as the songs Mick Jagger wrote while filming the movie Ned Kelly in Australia. “Mick started playing the guitar a lot,” Watts said. “He plays very strange rhythm guitar … very much how Brazilian guitarists play, on the upbeat. It is very much like the guitar on a James Brown track — for a drummer, it’s great to play with.” New guitarist Mick Taylor, replacing Brian Jones, stretches out the Stones sound in “Sway,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” and “Moonlight Mile.” But “Brown Sugar” is a classic Stones stomp, and two of the best cuts are country songs: one forlorn (“Wild Horses”) and one funny (“Dead Flowers”).


De La Soul, ‘Three Feet High And Rising’

Long Island high school friends Posdnuos, Trugoy, and Maseo linked up with Stetsasonic DJ Prince Paul to create a left-field hip-hop masterpiece, heralding a “D.A.I.S.Y. Age” and weaving samples of Steely Dan, Malcolm McLaren, and Johnny Cash with raps about everything from Public Enemy-style politics (“Ghetto Thang”) to individualism (“Take It Off”) to body odor (“A Little Bit of Soap”). “There was no plan back then,” Trugoy told Rolling Stone in 2009. Indeed, De La Soul’s anything-goes spirit sparked generations of oddballs to rise up and get theirs.


The Clash, ‘The Clash’

“I haven’t got any illusions about anything,” Joe Strummer said. “Having said that, I still want to try to change things.” That youthful ambition bursts through the Clash’s debut, a machine-gun blast of songs about unemployment (“Career Opportunities”), race (“White Riot”), and the Clash themselves (“Clash City Rockers”). Most of the guitar was played by Mick Jones, because Strummer considered studio technique insufficiently punk. The American release was delayed two years and replaced some of the U.K. tracks with recent singles, including “Complete Control” — a complaint about exactly those sort of record-company shenanigans.


Led Zeppelin, ‘Led Zeppelin’

On their first album, Led Zeppelin were still in the process of inventing their own sound, moving on from the heavy rave-ups of guitarist Jimmy Page’s previous band, the Yardbirds. But from the beginning, Zeppelin had the astonishing fusion of Page’s lyrical guitar playing and Robert Plant’s paint-peeling love-hound yowl. “We were learning what got us off most and what got people off most,” said Plant. Yet the template for everything Zeppelin achieved in the 1970s is here: brutal rock (“Communication Breakdown”), thundering power balladry (“Your Time Is Gonna Come”), and acid-flavored folk blues (“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”).