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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


Otis Redding, ‘Dictionary of Soul’

Otis Redding’s last album before his tragic death in a plane crash, Dictionary of Soul, was just what the title promises: a definitive summary of an entire musical world. “Try a Little Tenderness” was a forgotten Bing Crosby oldie from the Thirties until Redding claimed it and turned it into pure Memphis soul. He does the same with “Tennessee Waltz” and the Beatles’ “Day Tripper,” as well as his own ballads “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” and “My Lover’s Prayer.”


Bad Bunny, ‘X 100pre’

Heralded by a subtly symbolic Christmas Eve release, Bad Bunny’s 2018 debut, X 100pre, was the Puerto Rican artist’s bid to court listeners new to Latin sounds, running through trap, reggaeton, dembow, synth-pop, and even pop punk, with help from Anglophonic ambassadors like Diplo and Drake. Bad Bunny could be shamelessly crude and totally vulnerable, with his slow-burning baritone opening the floor for Latin pop that’s not afraid to get uncomfortable.


Alice Coltrane, ‘Journey in Satchidanada’

Alice Coltrane was a key part of her husband John’s fiery late-era bands. You can hear her own musical voice in full flower on this LP, named for her spiritual teacher Swami Satchidananda. Coltrane blended the sprawling modal jams pioneered by her late husband with drones from the Indian tanpura, Pharoah Sanders’ spiraling soprano sax, and her own rapturous harp. The result is a meditative bliss-out like jazz had never seen: part earthy blues and part ethereal mantra, and a potent influence on sonic seekers from Radiohead to Coltrane’s grandnephew Flying Lotus.


Yes, ‘Close to the Edge’

Sessions for this album were so intense and taxing that monster drummer Bill Bruford quit the band when it was over due to stress. The hard work paid off. Close to the Edge is the best of Yes’ many lineups at an absolute peak, with Jon Anderson’s sun-king vocals pouring out over new member Rick Wakeman’s dazzling keyboards. The title track, an 18-minute epic in four distinct parts, remains the most majestic moment in the prog-rock history.


Fiona Apple, ‘Extraordinary Machine’

After cutting a pristine chamber-pop version of her third album with Jon Brion, her collaborator on 1999’s When the Pawn…, Apple’s label demanded revisions, so she redid almost the whole thing with Dr. Dre sideman Mike Elizondo and Beatles aficionado Brian Kehew. The changes and attendant delays spurred protests from fans, but the end result was hardly a compromise: Extraordinary Machine is a complex, versatile breakup record, with Apple playing McCartney-esque piano lines over skipping rhythms on melodically rich, lyrically thorny songs like “O’ Sailor” and “Better Version of Me.” You try squeezing the word “stentorian” into hooks you can belt at karaoke.


David Bowie, ‘Scary Monsters’

It’s the end, the end of the Seventies; it’s the end, the end of the century. Bowie looks back over a decade he helped define and rips it into pieces, with futuristic post-punk lampoons like “Fashion” and “Teenage Wildlife,” where he bitches about “the same old thing in brand-new drag.” He revisits the Major Tom story with “Ashes to Ashes,” where he screams along with the New Romantic synths, acting out the sad story of the lost astronaut who finds the higher he gets, the lower he feels.


The Weeknd, ‘Beauty Behind the Madness’

Abel Tesfaye lets you know who he is right out front, no metaphors, on the Kanye West co-produced track “Tell Your Friends”: His life is about “poppin’ pills, fuckin’ bitches, livin’ life so trill.” The Toronto R&B singer helped make pop music a darker place in the 2010s — “Bitch, I’m still a user,” he warns on his hugely successful second LP. His pristine, downy voice and spare, frosty electronic tracks suck you in, and Swedish pop genius Max Martin produces three tracks, including the bumping “Can’t Feel My Face,” a love song to cocaine as well as a massive pop hit.


Britney Spears, ‘Blackout’

The pop queen vents all her raging party-girl hostility in Blackout — the weirdest, wildest music of her life. Blackout is her avant-disco concept album about fame, scandal, divorce, and dancing on tables in a cloud of glitter and Cheetos dust. “I’m Miss American Dream since I was 17,” Britney sneers in “Piece of Me,” with her voice warped into an electro-punk snarl. When she asks, “You want a piece of me?” she’s either pimping herself out or threatening to kick your ass. Either way, it’s Britney, bitch.


Loretta Lynn, ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’

Loretta Lynn crossed over into pop with the autobiographical “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” in which she proudly recalled her meager upbringing amid weepy steel guitar — her mother read the Bible by “coal-oil light,” her dad sold hogs to buy her shoes. That resilient spirit carried over into the Coal Miner’s Daughter LP’s tunes about feeling jilted (“What Makes Me Tick”) and loving another woman’s man (“Any One, Any Worse, Any Where”), and the album, as well as the like-titled memoir and biopic, secured her place as one the most important country singers ever.


James Brown, ‘Sex Machine’

Kicked off by its hypnotic 11-minute title track (a studio jam, to which Brown added fake crowd noise), Sex Machine signaled a new funk renaissance for Soul Brother Number One, thanks in part to the groovy skills of bassist Bootsy Collins and his guitarist brother Catfish, who had just joined the band. Pairing “Sex Machine” with a legit live set recorded by Brown’s previous ensemble (“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” sounds devastating), the LP continued his legend as one of the all-time greatest live showmen.


Blur, ‘Parklife’

Blur improbably burst into the mainstream with Parklife‘s “Girls & Boys,” a five-minute disco-rock barnburner about cross-dressing, bisexual libertines. They also sang about the joys of slacking (“Parklife”) but also how boring it is to conform (“End of the Century”), and they transformed a map of England into a metaphor for surviving rough patches (“This Is a Low”). Frontman Damon Albarn’s gifts for storytelling, singalong melodies, and Anglophilia set up Blur as heirs apparent to the Kinks and fierce rivals to Oasis for Brit pop’s crown.


Primal Scream, ‘Screamadelica’

Primal Scream was a run-of-the-mill U.K. alt-rock band who discovered rave culture, overdosed on acid-house music, and retrofitted their sound with the fun, trippy, druggy disco-rock diversions on Screamadelica. The single “Loaded,” their first U.K. hit, combined house piano, folk melodies, and a danceable beat, while “Movin’ On Up,” their U.S. breakthrough, drew from hippie-folk strumming, gospel choruses, and Stones-y guitar and tambourine. Sure, some of Screamadelica feels like meandering mood music, but that’s proof that sometimes the journey is more fun than the destination.


2Pac, ‘All Eyez on Me’

2Pac wanted it all: credibility and success, “murderous lyrics” and voice-of-a-generation gravitas. On his fourth (and final) album, he briefly gets it. In the course of 27 songs and two discs, Pac empties his brain of the contradictory impulses. The Dr. Dre track “California Love” became a huge house-party hit, but what unifies the album, through an array of different producers and guest stars, is Pac’s charisma and his struggles with morality: “It’s similar to Rhythm Nation, but thugged out — forgive me, Janet.”


Pet Shop Boys, ‘Actually’

Neil Tennant was one of England’s best-known music journalists when he formed this Eighties synth-pop duo with Chris Lowe. The Pet Shop Boys scored a Number One smash with “West End Girls,” their ode to queer cruising. But they took their satirical wit even further on Actually — perhaps the only album on this list where the singer is yawning on the cover. The Boys dissect the sex-and-money connection in “Rent,” “Shopping,” and the Dusty Springfield duet, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”


Pavement, ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’

After the indie-rock slacker kings’ dazzling debut, Slanted and Enchanted, nobody knew what Pavement would try next for an encore. But Crooked Rain turned out to be their sunniest, most tuneful music — a concept album about turning 28, full of pastoral beauty and wiseass melody, with echoes of Creedence and Hendrix, maybe even the Dead. Stephen Malkmus’ breathy vocals and bittersweet guitar ripples in “Gold Soundz,” “Silence Kid,” and “Range Life” capture the moment of feeling stranded halfway to adulthood, so drunk in the August sun.


LCD Soundsystem, ‘Sound of Silver’

James Murphy had proven his kung fu as the most badass electro-punk producer in clubland. But not even fierce fans dreamed he’d make a masterpiece like Sound of Silver. Every track sounded like a different band’s greatest hit, from the political punk goof “North American Scum” to the synth-pop breakup lament “Someone Great.” The song for the ages was “All My Friends,” huge, sweeping, ferociously emotional, with disco keyboards and rock guitars pulsing as Murphy looked back on a youth of killer parties and silent mornings.


Usher, ‘Confessions’

Usher was already a star in 2004, a sly singer and slick dancer whose R&B hits found a home with pop fans. But Confessions, which is one of the last 10-million-plus sellers ever made, turned him into an unstoppable juggernaut. Usher worked with a murderers’ row of R&B and hip-hop talent, from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to Jermaine Dupri to Just Blaze; the album moves easily from club wreckers like the Lil Jon- and Ludacris-assisted smash “Yeah!” to forgive-me-for-cheating ballads to love-you-forever duets.


Los Lobos, ‘How Will the Wolf Survive?’

“We were kids with long hair and plaid shirts playing Mexican folk instruments,” said Los Lobos’ Louie Perez. But the band, lifelong friends from East L.A., became a surprise success, mixing traditional Mexican sounds with blues and rockabilly for tough, whomping roots rock like “I Got Loaded” and “Don’t Worry Baby.” There are excellent songwriting moments, too, like “A Matter of Time,” a tender, moving dialogue between a young married couple with dreams of immigrating to find a better life.


Elvis Costello, ‘My Aim Is True’

Elvis Costello on the fuel for his debut: “I spent a lot of time with just a big jar of instant coffee and the first Clash album [see No. 102], listening to it over and over.” The music is more pub rock than punk rock, but the songs are full of punk’s verbal bite. The album’s opening lines — “Now that your picture’s in the paper being rhythmically admired” — and the poisoned-valentine ballad “Alison” established Costello as one of the sharpest, and nastiest, lyricists of his generation.


The Four Tops, ‘Reach Out’

The Four Tops were the most dramatic of the Motown singing groups, driven by the towering vocals of Levi Stubbs. Reach Out has overwrought classics like the title track, the goth-soul tsunami “7 Rooms of Gloom,” and “Bernadette,” on which lust and paranoia spontaneously combust. They also branch out into rock and folk with covers of the Monkees and Tim Hardin. It was the last Motown album for the label’s definitive songwriting team Holland, Dozier, and Holland.


Hüsker Dü, ‘New Day Rising’

These three Minneapolis dudes played savagely emotional hardcore punk that became a key influence on Nirvana, among others (Hüsker Dü guitarist Bob Mould was an early candidate to produce Nevermind, before the job went to Butch Vig). Mould and the band created a roar like garbage trucks trying to sing Beach Boys songs, especially on the anthems “Celebrated Summer” and “Perfect Example,” and on the wondrous “Books About UFOs,” drummer Grant Hart gets on the piano and plunks out a jaunty love song to an amateur astronomer.


Al Green, ‘Call Me’

Green was absolutely fearless at this point, an innovator willing to try any crazy idea — country ballads, jazz chords, even a gospel tune. Producer Willie Mitchell and his studio band of virtuoso Memphis R&B pros create the sultriest grooves south of the Mason-Dixon line. Green testifies to the glories of love in “Call Me” and “Have You Been Making Out O.K.” When he reaches up for that falsetto growl at the end of “Your Love Is Like the Morning Sun,” it’s like he’s bringing down the sugar walls of Jericho.


Lucinda Williams, ‘Lucinda Williams’

In 1988, this album didn’t make sense. It was twangy, but it wasn’t country. It rocked, but it wasn’t rock. It was blue, but wasn’t the blues. Williams hadn’t released an album in eight years, perhaps worn down by the lack of attention her music received. That began to change with this self-titled LP, recorded with a taut three-piece band. Her consistent theme is longing (“I Just Wanted to See You So Bad,” “Passionate Kisses”), but there’s also defiance and desperation in “Changed the Locks,” later covered by Tom Petty.


Paul Simon, ‘Paul Simon’

Simon’s first solo effort after the breakup of Simon & Garfunkel had plenty to prove, and it did, with a tour de force of songcraft, virtuosic guitar picking, upper-register vocal dazzle, and vivid storytelling about sex (“Duncan”), politics (“Peace Like a River”), and everyday life in New York (“Paranoia Blues”). The album also laid a blueprint for the fluid international fusion Simon explored further on Graceland — from the reggae of “Mother and Child Reunion” to the samba-inflected “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”


Beck, ‘Odelay’

Burrowing into the studio with the Dust Brothers, Beck came back with a Technicolor version of his Woody Guthrie-meets-Grandmaster Flash vision, demonstrating to all his rock peers on “Devil’s Haircut” and “Where It’s At” that turntables had a brighter future than refried grunge, while reminding listeners of the Sixties and his own folk roots with the shabby, lovely “Jack-Ass.” As he told Rolling Stone in 1997, “I’m a traditionalist in a lot of ways. A lot of what my generation is into, what it represents, I’m totally against.”


Yo La Tengo, ‘I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One’

In rock, as in life, breakups get all the attention; successful marriages tend to generate fewer headlines. But Yo La Tengo — the long-married couple of Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan, plus bassist James McNew — is a testament to figuring it out together. The band’s 1997 masterpiece is indie rock at its most joyfully exploratory, with deeply catchy fuzz-jams, some Casio-keyboard bossa nova, a cover of the Beach Boys’ “Little Honda, and “Autumn Sweater,” a stone-cold classic that turns organ, percussion, and shy murmuring into something mesmerizing and beautiful.


Marvin Gaye, ‘Let’s Get It On’

“I mumble things into the microphone,” Gaye said. “I don’t even know what I’m saying, and I don’t even try to figure it out. If I try, it doesn’t work. If I relax, those mumbles will finally turn into words.” On this album, those words turn into meditations on the gap between sex and love and how to reconcile them. Songs like “Just to Keep You Satisfied” and “You Sure Love to Ball” are some of the most gorgeous music of his career.


M.I.A., ‘Arular’

What’s the opposite of a girl next door? Perhaps it might be a radicalized, globalized pop star like M.I.A., an English-Tamil writer who provocatively questioned and deconstructed ideas about power and rebellion throughout her first album. She raps and cajoles in hard-chopping cadences (“I bongo with my lingo,” indeed), and mixes jokes, disses, and political insight about the abuse of authority over electronic beats that can sound like New York City electroclash or Brazilian funk. And her hipster hit “Galang” hit as hard as any hip-hop around at the time.


Earth, Wind and Fire, ‘That’s the Way of the World’

Before he got into African thumb piano and otherworldly philosophizing, founder Maurice White was a session drummer at Chess studios (that’s him on Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me”). He stayed behind the kit as he led EWF. Their sixth album is make-out music of the spheres, incorporating doo-wop, jazz, and African music into a sound that’s sleek but never too slick; the title track is one of funk’s most gorgeous ballads, and “Shining Star” is a Seventies self-help seminar delivered over one of the decade’s sweetest grooves.


Eric Church, ‘Chief’

Eric Church emerged in the mid-2000s as one of country music’s best new singer-songwriters, and his third album rolled all of his gifts into a tight package that was rock-influenced, rough around the edges, and catchy as hell. “Hungover & Hard Up” shows the North Carolina native’s abiding gift for drowning his sorrows in booze and melody, and on the classic “Springsteen,” he invokes Bruce’s music as a way to access the passion of youth. The songwriting is so confident, even the ballads swagger a bit.


Dire Straits, ‘Brothers in Arms’

Mark Knopfler started writing “Money for Nothing” when he overheard a New York appliance salesman’s anti-rock-star, anti-MTV rant. The song, of course, became a huge MTV hit, and this album shows off Knopfler’s incisive songwriting and lush guitar riffs on hits like “Walk of Life” and “So Far Away,” as well as hidden gems like the Dylanesque blues “The Man’s Too Strong” and “Why Worry,” where Knopfler’s clear, subtle playing flows by like a cool brook over slick pebbles.


Ornette Coleman, ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’

Ornette Coleman’s sound was so out there, one audience at an early gig threw his tenor sax over a cliff. He switched to alto and pioneered free jazz: no chords, no harmony, any player can take the lead. It’s still a jarring sound to encounter for the first time, but Coleman’s freedom was grounded in the cathartic release of the gospel and blues of his native Texas. On his first album for Atlantic Records, his music can be just as lyrical as it is demanding, particularly on the haunting “Lonely Woman.”


The Roots, ‘Things Fall Apart’

The Nineties’ alternative-rap scene hit its high-water mark as an album-length art form with this love letter to black music in the late 20th century. That theme is most explicit on on “Act Too (The Love of My Life),” a tender dedication to hip-hop’s redemptive power, but it’s also there in the playful way Black Thought and Malik B bounce rhymes off each other and in the beats that riff affectionately on everyone from Sly Stone to Schoolly D in a kaleidoscopic celebration of musical soul.


The Meters, ‘Looka Py Py’

The Meters were the house band for New Orleans’ genius producer Allen Toussaint and played on Seventies landmarks such as LaBelle’s Nightbirds, while also running off a series of their own rock-solid LPs. These instrumentals — sampled by rappers including Nas and Salt-N-Pepa — are funk of the gods; tight, cutting, but also relaxed and inviting, with Art Neville’s lyrical Hammond B3 organ adding chill texture to George Porter Jr.’s monster bass and the off-the-beat Second Line swing of drummer of Ziggy Modeliste.


Chic, ‘Risqué’

Nobody thought a disco band was supposed to make a brilliant third album — but Chic always thrived on defying the odds. On Risqué, the dynamic duo of guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards fuse sleek tropical R&B, Anglophile New Wave, and NYC club flash for a sound that’s been the blueprint for pop radio ever since. “Good Times” is Chic’s most prophetic groove — the story of hip-hop on wax begins here, with the Sugarhill Gang rhyming over it for “Rapper’s Delight.”


Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Cosmo’s Factory’

Cosmo’s Factory was CCR’s third classic album in under a year. John Fogerty began it with the seven-minute power-choogle “Ramble Tamble,” raging against “actors in the White House.” The hits include the country travelogue “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” the Vietnam nightmare “Run Through the Jungle,” the Little Richard tribute “Travelin’ Band,” and the Stax-style ballad “Long as I Can See the Light.” But the triumph is CCR’s 11-minute cowbell-crazed jam on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” proof these guys could mix hippie visions with populist grit.


Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, ‘Going to a Go Go’

Motown at its most debonair and sexy. Smokey Robinson works his sweeping soul falsetto over unbelievably sad ballads, including “The Tracks of My Tears” and “Ooo Baby Baby,” as the Miracles sob along. Robinson made it seem effortless to write a constant string of hit singles for the Miracles, as well as the rest of the Motown roster, but this album also has some of his finest deep cuts, especially the helpless yearning of “Choosey Beggar.”


Bob Dylan, ‘Love and Theft’

The blood and glory of 1997’s Time Out of Mind had raised the bar: This was the first Dylan album in years that had to live up to fans’ expectations. He didn’t just exceed them — he blew them up. Dylan sang in the voice of a grizzled drifter who’d visited every nook and cranny of America and gotten chased out of them all. Love and Theft was full of corny vaudeville jokes and apocalyptic floods, from the guitar rave “Summer Days” to the country lilt of “Po’ Boy.”


The Beach Boys, ‘Wild Honey’

After Pet Sounds and the aborted Smiley Smile, what was left for the Beach Boys to do? Invent the idea of DIY pop. Ditching the opulent and intricate arrangements of those two albums, Wild Honey returned them to their days as a spunky, self-contained band. In 24 concise but utterly winning minutes, they romp through set of low-fi sunbaked melodies and R&B and soul homages — all suffused with warmth, sly hooks, and a sense of band unity, even as a frazzled Brian Wilson was starting to pull back.


Grateful Dead, ‘Workingman’s Dead’

“We weren’t feeling like an experimental music group, but were feeling more like a good old band,” Jerry Garcia said. The Dead stripped down for Workingman’s Dead, with eight spooky blues and country songs that rival the best of Bob Dylan, as in the morbid “Black Peter” and “Dire Wolf.” Garcia and Robert Hunter proved themselves one of rock’s sharpest songwriting teams, with the acoustic hymn “Uncle John’s Band.” Hunter said, “It was my feeling about what the Dead was and could be. It was very much a song for us and about us, in the most hopeful sense.”


Motörhead, ‘Ace of Spades’

Neither punk nor metal, Motörhead played rock & roll nastier, grittier, and snarlier than their forebears on Ace of Spades. Amid a miasma of hypercharged guitar riffs and death-rattle drumming, frontman Lemmy Kilmister, splits his time between sleazy come-ons (“Love Me Like a Reptile”), war stories (“(We Are) The Road Crew”), and underdog maxims (“Live to Win”). The blazing title track epitomized the Motörhead experience: “You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools,” Lemmy growls, “but that’s the way I like it, baby, I don’t wanna live forever.” He meant it, too.


Neil Young, ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’

Neil Young and Crazy Horse hadn’t been together for more than eight weeks when they cut this album. It’s down-home hippie-grunge with the feel of a jam session conducted by master jammers. Both sides of the album end in monster, 10-minute guitar excursions, especially “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand,” and “Cinnamon Girl” was Young’s first big solo single, three minutes of crunching distortion featuring a one-note guitar solo for the ages — “the closest thing Crazy Horse had to a hit,” Young said.


Magnetic Fields, ’69 Love Songs’

“It started with the title,” Stephin Merritt said of 69 Love Songs, which he imagined in the Sinatra-era tradition of “theme” albums. A tour de force of pop mastery, his three-disc splurge had everything from lounge jazz to Podunk country to punk parody, peaking with sidelong standards like “Papa Was a Rodeo” and “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side.” God-level moment: “The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure,” which is titled after a French linguist and rhymes his name with closure, bulldozer, and classic Motown songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland, hooking it all to an unforgettable tune.


Various, ‘Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era’

This collection of Sixties garage rock, compiled by rock critic and soon-to-be Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye, became a touchstone for Seventies punks and, years later, for the aftershock of post-punk. The 27-track, two-LP set was a radical idea in 1972: While rock was getting bigger, Nuggets established a new canon out of forgotten AM-radio hits — brutally simple singles like the Standells’ “Dirty Water,” the Shadows of Knight’s “Oh Yeah!” and the Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction.” Rhino expanded Nuggets into a sprawling four-CD box in 1998.


Anita Baker, ‘Rapture’

Before releasing Rapture, her breakout album, Anita Baker spent months “going to every publishing house in Los Angeles” hunting for what she described as “fireside love songs with jazz overtones.” She found eight songs that satisfied her requirements and polished them until they gleamed, combining an unpredictability that hinted at jazz with reassuring, unimpeachable hooks to create an album of deep romantic intimacy that sounded like little else in Eighties pop but still went multiplatinum.


Ghostface Killah, ‘Supreme Clientele’

“I feel like I got my whole style from Ghostface,” Kanye West has said. Lavishly unhinged and viciously hard-hitting, Ghostface Killah’s second solo album helped revive the Wu-Tang franchise, marinating lines like “Ghost is back, stretch Cadillacs, fruit cocktails/Hit the shelves at Paul’s pastry rack,” in serrated Seventies-soul samples. On “Nutmeg” he drops a mind-boxing cluster of psychedelic bullshit, then simply stands back during the chorus, letting the tape roll as he mocks all comers — an untouchable champ at the top of his game.


Fela Kuti and Africa 70, ‘Expensive Shit’

The title track is a 13-minute odyssey that epitomizes Nigerian funk king Fela Kuti’s knack for channeling fearless social commentary into body-moving grooves; the Africa 70 horns blare out infectious riffs as peerless drummer Tony Allen keeps up an indefatigable shuffling pulse, while Fela calls out the “fools” who would “use your shit to put you for jail.” Side Two’s “Water No Get Enemy” slows things down to a celebratory strut, concluding a short-yet-sweet effort that plays like a primer on the joys of Afrobeat.


Blondie, ‘Blondie’

“We’re gonna shoot the tube!” Debbie Harry promises on “In the Sun,” hanging 10 on the Bowery. Blondie had a hard time getting taken seriously in the CBGB punk scene. But while the band’s debut celebrates Sixties rock & roll at its campiest — girl groups, garage trash, surf bubblegum — Harry’s heart-on-sleeve swoon during “In the Flesh “ sincerely updated the Shangri-Las for the Lower East Side circa 1977, and the gritty “Rip Her to Shreds” showed Blondie could get down with the tough guys, too.