Rolling Stone’s New TOP 50 of 500 Best Albums

Rolling Stone’s New TOP 50 of 500 Best Albums BLOG Sunday 18th October 2020

What Rolling Stone’s new 500 best albums list says about our shifting musical landscape

By Nathan Weinbender

Rolling Stone’s updated list of the 10 greatest albums

In 2003 Rolling Stone released a special issue exhaustively ranking the supposed 500 greatest albums of all time. At the time, it seemed like the ne plus ultra of rock supremacy: The definitive music publication definitively enumerating which records were most definitive.

The magazine updated the list in 2012, though most of the new additions were to the back half of the list, and the top 100 remained mostly intact. But last week, the magazine decided to rewrite its 500-album list from the ground up, and the 2020 version looks unrecognizable from its first two iterations.

Just look at the top 10. It was originally dominated by the Beatles, who had four records in the upper echelons, including Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the very top spot. Now the Fab Four only has one title in the top 10 (that would be Abbey Road), and Sgt. Pepper’s has been knocked from its No. 1 perch all the way down to No. 24. The new champ: Marvin Gaye’s Motown masterpiece What’s Going On, previously ranked at No. 9. It’s one of only two albums from the original top 10 that still remain; the other is the Beach Boys’ tour de force Pet Sounds.

Considering Sgt. Pepper’s long-held reputation as the Citizen Kane of rock records, this is a big deal. And as a list lover and devotee of the original Rolling Stone feature, I find this kind of development exciting. So often when a work of art is declared the greatest and most important of its medium, it remains ascendant forever and ever, so that the notion of it ever being usurped becomes tantamount to heresy. But why shouldn’t things, especially things as arbitrary as music magazine lists, get shaken up a bit? Popular tastes shift, listening habits evolve, and artists are always in the process of being rediscovered and reassessed. A best-of list should reflect that.


  1. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill (1998)
  2. Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan (1975)
  3. Purple Rain, Prince (1984)
  4. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac (1977)
  5. Nevermind, Nirvana (1991)
  6. Abbey Road, the Beatles (1969)
  7. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder (1976)
  8. Blue, Joni Mitchell (1971)
  9. Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys (1966)
  10. What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye (1971)

Of course, people are mad. So many of the negative comments I’ve seen on Facebook take issue with the inclusion of 1) albums released within the last 15 years, and 2) so many contemporary pop and hip-hop artists. I can’t say I’m surprised — there are still fuddy-duddies who protest whenever a groundbreaking rapper gets inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — but anyone who would deny the seismic cultural impact of, say, Kendrick Lamar or Kanye West (or, for that matter, Taylor Swift, who has two albums in the top 500) simply isn’t paying attention.

The argument that a piece of art can only be considered an all-timer if it’s decades old is starting to lose its merits. Take Lauryn Hill’s 1998 magnum opus The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which seems to be raising eyebrows for its leap from No. 314 all the way to No. 10 on the new list. That might seem high, but Miseducation is one of the most beloved and influential records of the last 25 years, its heartfelt lyrics and genre-busting production inspiring countless R&B and hip-hop artists. Its new spot isn’t unearned.

I have my own issues with the list. It features too many anthologies, greatest hits collections and box sets, which I think is designed to be more inclusive of more singles-oriented genres. It’s also odd that ubiquitous, era-defining records like Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and Led Zeppelin’s IV didn’t crack the top 50. And like the previous lists, this one is extremely mainstream in its tastes, and music made outside the U.S. and Europe is mostly ignored.

But this is exactly the kind of debate that lists are supposed to spark. And it’s not like the voting body is deliberately erasing important works of art; those artists simply didn’t get the votes. And that’s precisely what’s so fascinating to me: Why didn’t they get the votes? Is it possible that an album like The Dark Side of the Moon has so completely ensconced itself within our cultural DNA that it doesn’t sound as radical as it once did? Did voters opt to pick other, less regularly canonized albums they thought might be overlooked?

Maybe, and there’s something to be said for Rolling Stone’s deliberate diversification of the new voting body. Consider that a voter raised on Stevie Wonder is going to vote differently than a voter raised on Paul Simon. That sort of nostalgia certainly weighs heavily in which albums one would consider the “greatest,” because a millennial voter might get the warm and fuzzies over a Missy Elliott album rather than a Fleetwood Mac album. The new top 100 has the likes of Amy Winehouse, Beyonce, Liz Phair, Drake and Erykah Badu rubbing elbows with the Clash, the Stones and Joni Mitchell, and why not?

There’s been lots of talk about who gets to decide what’s in the canon, anyway. The gatekeepers of taste and importance within the rock realm — something Rolling Stone helped popularize in the first place — have long been boomer-aged White dudes, and their tastes often reflect their own demographic. That’s starting to change, and this list, as wildly imperfect as it is, serves the same function of its predecessors: It’s as good a starting place as any for the burgeoning music critic, who might stumble across it, become obsessed with it, and use it as a gateway to more radical sounds. ♦





  1. Jay-Z, ‘The Blueprint’ Roc-A-Fella, 2001
  2. OutKast, ‘Aquemini’ LaFace, 1998
  3. Bob Marley and the Wailers, ‘Legend’ Island, 1984

47           Ramones, ‘Ramones’                                                                          Sire, 1976

46           Paul Simon, ‘Graceland’                                                                     Columbia, 1986

45           Prince, ‘Sign O’ the Times’                                                                 Paisley Park/Warner Bros., 1987

44           Nas, ‘Illmatic’                                                                                        Columbia, 1994

43           A Tribe Called Quest, ‘The Low End Theory’                                Jive, 1991

42           Radiohead, ‘OK Computer’                                                               Capitol, 1997

41           The Rolling Stones, ‘Let It Bleed’                                                     ABKCO, 1969

40           David Bowie, ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars’

RCA, 1972

39           Talking Heads, ‘Remain in Light’                                                     Sire, 1980

38           Bob Dylan, ‘Blonde on Blonde’                                                        Columbia, 1966

37           Dr. Dre, ‘The Chronic’                                                                        Deathrow, 1992

36           Michael Jackson, ‘Off the Wall’                                                        Epic, 1979

35           The Beatles, ‘Rubber Soul’                                                                 Parlophone, 1965

34           Stevie Wonder, ‘Innervisions’                                                            Tamla/Motown, 1973

33           Amy Winehouse, ‘Back to Black’                                                     Island, 2006

32           Beyoncé, ‘Lemonade’                                                                         Parkwood/Columbia, 2016

31           Miles Davis, ‘Kind of Blue’                                                                Columbia, 1959

30           Jimi Hendrix, ‘Are You Experienced’                                              Track, 1967

29           The Beatles, ‘White Album’                                                               Apple, 1968

28           D’Angelo, ‘Voodoo’                                                                            EMI, 2000

27           Wu-Tang Clan, ‘Enter the Wu-Tang(36 Chambers) ‘                    Loud, 1993

26           Patti Smith, ‘Horses’                                                                            Arista, 1975

25           Carole King, ‘Tapestry’                                                                       Sony, 1971

24           The Beatles, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’                Capitol, 1967

23           The Velvet Underground, ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’  Verve, 1967

22           The Notorious B.I.G., ‘Ready to Die’                                               Bad Boy, 1994

21           Bruce Springsteen, ‘Born to Run’                                                     Columbia, 1975

20           Radiohead, ‘Kid A’                                                                               Parlophone, 2000

19           Kendrick Lamar, ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’                                           TDE, 2015

18           Bob Dylan, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’                                                 Columbia, 1965

17           Kanye West, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’                     Roc-A-Fella, 2010

16           The Clash, ‘London Calling’                                                               CBS, 1979

15           Public Enemy, ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’ – Def Jam, 1988

14           The Rolling Stones, ‘Exile on Main Street’                                     Rolling Stones Records, 1972

13           Aretha Franklin, ‘I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You’    Atlantic, 1967

12           Michael Jackson, ‘Thriller’                                                                  Epic, 1982

11           The Beatles, ‘Revolver’                                                                       Apple, 1966

10           Lauryn Hill, ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’                             Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1998

9              Bob Dylan, ‘Blood on the Tracks’                                                     Columbia, 1975

  1. Prince and the Revolution, ‘Purple Rain’ Warner Bros., 1984

7              Fleetwood Mac, ‘Rumours’                                                                Warner Bros., 1977

6              Nirvana, ‘Nevermind’                                                                          Geffen, 1991

5              The Beatles, ‘Abbey Road’                                                                Apple, 1969

4              Stevie Wonder, ‘Songs in the Key of Life’                                      Tamla/Motown, 1976

3              Joni Mitchell, ‘Blue’                                                                            Reprise, 1971

1              Marvin Gaye, ‘What’s Going On’                                                      Tamla/Motown, 1971






50 Little Richard, ‘Here’s Little Richard’                                                        Specialty, 1957

49 The Allman Brothers Band, ‘At Fillmore East’                                        Mercury, 1971

48 Public Enemy, ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’          Def Jam, 1988

47 John Coltrane, ‘A Love Supreme’                                                               Impulse, 1964

46 Bob Marley and the Wailers, ‘Legend’                                                       Island, 1984

45 The Band, ‘The Band’                                                                                   Capitol, 1969

44 Patti Smith, ‘Horses’                                                                                       Arista, 1975

43 Pink Floyd, ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’                                                  EMI, 1973

42 The Doors, ‘The Doors’                                                                                 Elektra, 1967

41 The Sex Pistols, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’      Warner Bros., 1977

40 Love, ‘Forever Changes’                                                                               Elektra, 1967

39 The Beatles, ‘Please Please Me’                                                                   Parlophone, 1963

38 Muddy Waters, ‘The Anthology’                                                                 Chess/MCA, 2001

37 The Eagles, ‘Hotel California’                                                                      Asylum, 1976

36 Carole King, ‘Tapestry’                                                                                 Ode, 1971

35 David Bowie, ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars’

RCA, 1972

34 The Band, ‘Music From Big Pink’                                                               Capitol, 1968

33 Ramones, ‘Ramones’                                                                                     Sire, 1976

32 The Rolling Stones, ‘Let It Bleed’                                                               London, 1969

31 Bob Dylan, ‘Bringing It All Back Home’                                                  Columbia, 1965

30 Joni Mitchell, ‘Blue’                                                                                       Reprise, 1971

29 Led Zeppelin, ‘Led Zeppelin’                                                                       Atlantic, 1969

28 The Who, ‘Who’s Next’                                                                                 Decca, 1971

27 U2, ‘The Joshua Tree’                                                                                    Island, 1987

26 Fleetwood Mac, ‘Rumours’                                                                          Warner Bros., 1977

25 James Brown, ‘Live at the Apollo’                                                               King, 1963

24 Stevie Wonder, ‘Innervisons’                                                                       Tamala, 1973

23 John Lennon, ‘Plastic Ono Band’                                                                Capitol, 1970

22 Robert Johnson, ‘The Complete Recordings’                                             Columbia, 1990

21 Chuck Berry, ‘The Great Twenty-Eight’                                                     Chess, 1982

20 Michael Jackson, ‘Thriller’                                                                            Epic, 1982

19 Van Morrison, ‘Astral Weeks’                                                                      Warner Bros., 1968

18 Bruce Springsteen, ‘Born to Run’                                                                Columbia, 1975

17 Nirvana, ‘Nevermind’                                                                                     Geffen, 1991

16 Bob Dylan, ‘Blood on the Tracks’                                                               Columbia, 1975

15 The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Are You Experienced?’                         Reprise, 1967

14 The Beatles, ‘Abbey Road’                                                                           Capitol, 1969

13 The Velvet Underground and Nico, ‘The Velvet Underground’            Verve, 1967

12 Miles Davis, ‘Kind of Blue’                                                                          Columbia, 1959

11 Elvis Presley, ‘The Sun Sessions’                                                                RCA, 1999

10 The Beatles, ‘The White Album’                                                                 Capitol, 1968

9   Bob Dylan, ‘Blonde on Blonde’                                                                   Columbia, 1966

8  The Clash, ‘London Calling’                                                                          Epic, 1980

7  The Rolling Stones, ‘Exile on Main Street’                                             Rolling Stones Records, 1972

6  Marvin Gaye, ‘What’s Going On’                                                                 Motown, 1971

5  The Beatles, ‘Rubber Soul’                                                                             Capitol, 1965

4  Bob Dylan, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’                                                             Columbia, 1965

3  The Beatles, ‘Revolver’                                                                                   Capitol, 1966

2  The Beach Boys, ‘Pet Sounds’                                                                      Capitol, 1966

1   The Beatles, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’                           Capitol, 1967






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A time for the Rolling Stone’s 2020 500 best albums list…A time for the Rolling Stone’s 2003 500 best albums list


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The Goon Show is a British radio comedy programme, originally produced and broadcast by the BBC Home Service from 1951 to 1960, with occasional repeats on the BBC Light Programme. The first series, broadcast from 28 May to 20 September 1951, was titled Crazy People; subsequent series had the title The Goon Show.


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Michael Bentine (1951–1953)

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