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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


The Flying Burrito Brothers, ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’

A landmark of country rock — or, as Gram Parsons called it, “cosmic American music.” He and Chris Hillman were a pair of ex-Byrds who’d flown the coop. The Burritos put their poetic twist on hillbilly twang, proudly wearing Nudie suits and bringing in the pedal steel guitar of Sneaky Pete Kleinow. “Boy, I love them,” Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone. “Their record instantly knocked me out.” They sing “Sin City” in high-lonesome two-part harmony, sounding like country boys lost in the decadence of Sixties L.A.; “Wheels” is God-fearing hippie soul.


Bon Iver, ‘For Emma’

Justin Vernon didn’t plan on reshaping a generation’s understanding of love-torn folk music when he retreated to the Wisconsin woods to record his first album (“I was very sad and very lonely”), but that’s exactly what happened. What’s even more staggering is the way Vernon’s Auto-Tune and falsetto-laden DIY debut, which centered around the heartsick “Skinny Love,” would reshape the contours of the pop mainstream — from Ed Sheeran and Kanye West to James Blake and Taylor Swift — for years to come.


Lorde, ‘Melodrama’

Lorde was 16 when the blockbuster hit “Royals” earned her acclaim as the voice of a generation. As her second album showed, that wasn’t quite accurate — she’s more like the voice of smart, self-conscious, neurotic people of all generations. “I think that you might be the same as me/Behave abnormally,” she sings on “Homemade Dynamite.” The sound is bigger-sounding and more club-friendly than the spare sound of her 2016 debut (especially on the single “Green Light”), and she’s even more impressive on a big stage.


Kid Cudi, ‘Man on the Moon: The End of the Day’

Kid Cudi helped Kanye West shape his introspective R&B/hip-hop hybrid 808s & Heartbreak. On his debut LP, the Cleveland rapper took that sound further and deeper, merging emo and psychedelic rock with hip-hop bombast. His introspect runs the gamut from the severe depression of “Day ‘n’ Nite” to the sweet contentment of “Pursuit of Happiness,” both of which became unlikely hits. A decade after Man on the Moon, every chart is dominated by Kudi’s sad children.


Jason Isbell, ‘Southeastern’

After releasing three little-heard solo albums, Isbell turned his personal travails — fresh sobriety, getting married — into what would become his opus. “It gave me a story to tell,” the songwriter said of Southeastern, which featured his sharpest literary writing (“Elephant”), newfound vulnerability (“Traveling Alone”), and his new calling card (“Cover Me Up”). The album set a standard for new-age Seventies-inspired singer-songwriters and coronated the Alabama native and his wife and bandmate, Amanda Shires, as the new king and queen of Americana.


Sinéad O’Connor, ‘I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got’

“How could I possibly know what I want when I was only 21?” the Irish art rocker asked on her breakthrough second album. Sinéad O’Connor struck a nerve with her keening voice, her shaved head, and her tortured grandiosity in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “I Am Stretched on Your Grave.” But she hit Number One with an obscure Prince breakup ballad, “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Originally just filler on a flop album by the Family, it became O’Connor’s signature song.


Al Green, ‘Greatest Hits’

“In Memphis, you just do as you feel,” Al Green told Rolling Stone in 1972. “It’s not a modern, up-to-par, very glamorous, big-red-chairs-and-carpet-that-thick studio. It’s one of those places you can go into and stomp out a good soul jam.” In collaboration with producer Willie Mitchell and musicians like drummer Al Jackson Jr., Green was a natural album artist, making love-and-pain classics such as 1973’s Call Me. But this collection makes for a unified album in itself, compiling hits like “Let’s Stay Together,” “I’m Still in Love With You,” and “Tired of Being Alone” into a flawless 10-song suite.


Bo Diddley, ‘Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley’

Diddley’s influence on rock & roll is inestimable, from the off-kilter rhythmic thump of “Pretty Thing” to his revved-up take on singing the blues. This album — a repackaging of his first two records — has many of his best singles, including “I’m a Man” and “Who Do You Love?” Bands immediately started ripping off his signature rollicking beat, and they haven’t stopped yet — including many on this list, from Bruce Springsteen on Born to Run’s “She’s the One” to George Michael on “Faith.”


Can, ‘Ege Bamyasi’

Chugging out of Cologne, Germany, in the late Sixties, avant-psychedelic crew Can took influence from the Velvet Underground’s subterranean drones, Miles Davis’ molten jazz rock, and James Brown’s circular funk grooves. On Ege Bamyasi, new singer Damo Suzuki mumbles, chants, and shrieks his way through engulfing Kraut-boogie workouts like “Vitamin C” and “I’m So Green.” Spoon took their name from the LP’s Doors-meets-Stereolab closing track, and Kanye West sampled the lupine “Sing Swan Swing.”


Nine Inch Nails, ‘Pretty Hate Machine’

“The music I always liked as a kid was stuff I could bum out to and realize, ‘Hey, someone else feels that way, too,’” Trent Reznor said in 1990. “So if someone can do that with my music, it’s mission accomplished.” Led by the hit “Head Like a Hole,” Nine Inch Nails’ debut album took bleak Midwestern goth-industrial disco to the rock masses, a move that would shape pop culture just as much as Nirvana’s Nevermind did. When Reznor sang, “Grey would be the color if I had a heart,” on “Something I Can Never Have,” millions felt his pain.


Diana Ross and the Supremes, ‘Anthology’

In the heyday of Motown, the Supremes were their own hit factory, all glamour and heartbreak. Diana Ross and her girls ruled the radio with tunes from the Motown brain trust of Holland, Dozier, and Holland. The Supremes could blaze with confidence, as in “Come See About Me.” Or they could sound elegantly morose, as in “My World Is Empty Without You” and “Where Did Our Love Go?” But in “Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart,” when Miss Ross gulps, “There ain’t nothing I can do about it,” it’s a spine-tingling moment.


Roberta Flack, ‘First Take’

At the peak of psychedelic soul music, Roberta Flack debuted with a classy quietude and thoughtful grace, recording with jazz musicians and complex horn and string arrangements. Her record was widely admired, but it didn’t become popular until three years later, after her pained version of Ewan MacColl’s 1950s folk ballad, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” scored a love scene in Clint Eastwood’s movie Play Misty for Me, and the song spent six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart.