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The 100 All-Time Greatest Albums

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." Henry David Thoreau

We continue our exploration of Entertainment Weekly's 100 All-Time Greatest Everything by moving on to Albums. I have approached this list slightly differently than the other four.

Jess Cagle, in his opening Editor's Note, says, "[the music] department focused our music list on the modern album era, specifically pop, rock, and hip-hop, because that's the kind of music that fill our audience's iPods." While I understand that the editors wanted the list to include albums their audience had heard of, I think this was, finally, a mistake. There was spectacular music written before 1965 and, personally, my iPod includes a lot of it. My iPod also includes a fair number of the albums represented on this list.

I think that focusing on albums was an interesting choice as music buying has changed. Many articles I have read on the subject talk about the fact that modern music buyers tend to buy single songs and create playlists. Frankly, this is how I now listen to music. I struggle to remember the last time I listened to a full album, other than to research this article.

Unlike the other lists, I will not comment a great deal on the individual choices as, for me, music is as subjective as subject as there is. What speaks to me this morning will, most likely, have changed by this afternoon. That is the power of music. One can always find something to listen to.

100: Ramones, Ramones (1976)
99: Mama's Gun, Erykah Badu (2000)
98: Songs for the Deaf, Queens of the Stone Age (2002)
97: Dusty in Memphis, Dusty Springfield (1969)
96: Home, Dixie Chicks (2002)
95: Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, Various Artists (1977)
94: B'Day, Beyoncé (2006)
93: Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A. (1988)
92: Either/Or, Elliott Smith (1997)
91: There's a Riot Goin' On, Sly and the Family Stone (1971)

90: White Blood Cells, The White Stripes (2001)
89: Dig Me Out, Sleater-Kinney (1997)
88: Power, Corruption & Lies, New Order (1983)
87: Coat of Many Colors, Dolly Parton (1971)
86: Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, PJ Harvey (2000)
85: Rain Dogs, Tom Waits (1985)
84: Horses, Patti Smith (1975)
83: In the Jungle Groove, James Brown (1986)
82: Slanted and Enchanted, Pavement (1992)
81: Doolittle, Pixies (1989)

80: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John (1973)
79: Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin (1971)
-- I am shocked how far down the list this album is. The definitive album for the rockers of my generation, it is one that everyone I know who listens to music has on his or her iPod. I was discussing this article last night with a group of 20-somethings. All of them, without exception, at least own Stairway to Heaven.
78: Post, Björk (1995)
77: Loveless, My Bloody Valentine (1991)
76: Remain in the Light, Talking Heads (1980)
75: My Aim Is True, Elvis Costello (1977)
74: Back to Black, Amy Winehouse (2006)
73: The Harder They Come Soundtrack, Various Artists (1972)
72: Paul's Boutique, Beastie Boys (1989)
71: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, The Kinks (1968)

70: Raw Power, Iggy and the Stooges (1973)
69: Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth (1988)
68: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Public Enemy (1988)
67: After the Gold Rush, Neil Young (1970)
66: Live Through This, Hole (1994)
65: Forever Changes, Love (1967)
64: The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails (1994)
63: The Marquee Moon, Television (1977)
62: Let It Be, The Replacements (1984)
61: 3 Feet High and Rising, De La Soul (1989)

60: Odelay, Beck (1996)
59: Master of Puppets, Metallica (1986)
58: The Chronic, Dr. Dre (1992)
57: Songs in A Minor, Alicia Keys (2001)
56: Funeral, Arcade Fire (2004)
55: Illmatic, Nas (1994)
54: Lifes Rich Pageant, R.E.M. (1986)
53: The Soft Bulletin, The Flaming Lips (1999)
52: The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest (1991)
51: The Great Twenty-Eight, Chuck Berry (1982)
-- The man who more or less invented rock & roll should be a tad higher up this list, right?

50: The Queen Is Dead, The Smiths (1986)
49: Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem (2007)
48: Stankonia, OutKast (2000)
47: Disintegration, The Cure (1989)
46: Rubber Soul, The Beatles (1965)
45: OK Computer, Radiohead (1997)
44: Off the Wall, Michael Jackson (1979)
43: Madonna, Madonna (1983)
42: Back in Black, AC/DC (1980)
41: The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem (2000)

40: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon (1970)
39: Who's Next, The Who (1971)
38: The Velvet Underground & Nico, The Velvet Underground (1967)
37: The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd (1973)
36: The Blueprint, Jay-Z (2001)
35: Some Girls, The Rolling Stones (1978)
34: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, David Bowie, (1972)
33: Enter the Wu-Tang, Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
32: Appetite for Destruction, Guns N' Roses (1987)
31: Ready to Die, The Notorious B.I.G. (1994)

30: Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul, Otis Redding (1965)
29: Rumours, Fleetwood Mac (1977)
28: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill (1998)
27: Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan (1965)
26: Are You Experienced, Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)
25: Catch a Fire, Bob Marley and the Wailers (1973)
24: Discovery, Daft Punk (2001)
23: Achtung Baby, U2 (1991)
22: Abbey Road, The Beatles (1969)
21: Innervisions, Stevie Wonder (1973)

20: Beggars Banquet, The Rolling Stones (1968)
19: Call Me, Al Green (1973)
18: Graceland, Paul Simon (1986)
17: 21, Adele (2011)
-- Seriously? This relatively brand-new album is #17? Seriously?
16: Sunrise, Elvis Presley (1999)
15: Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen (1975)
14: At Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash (1968)
13: What's Going On, Marvin Gaye (1971)
12: The White Album, The Beatles (1968)
11: Blue, Joni Mitchell (1971)

10: Nevermind, Nirvana (1991)
-- One of the great album covers of all time. Smells Like Teen Spirit is a song worthy of being called a classic.
9: Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys (1966)
-- A departure from the bubblegum pop for which they were known, this is my favorite of their albums. Wouldn't It Be Nice is on more than one of my playlists.
8: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West (2010)
-- The only album in the top ten I did not already own, I downloaded and listened to it yesterday. I really liked it, but I wouldn't call it the eighth best album ever.
7: Lady Soul, Aretha Franklin (1968)
-- The Queen of Soul, hands down. I love, love, love this album.
6: Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan (1975)
-- Shelter from the Storm is one of my favorite songs of all time.
5: London Calling, The Clash (1979)
-- When this album was released, we all rushed out to buy it. It was the epitome of cool at the time; it has held up well.
4: Thriller, Michael Jackson (1982)
-- Still the best selling album of all time, and for good reason. This was the soundtrack for the early '80s.
3: Exile on Main Street, The Rolling Stones (1972)
-- Almost universally acknowledged as their best album; I tend to agree.
2: Purple Rain, Prince (1984)
-- This is a very interesting choice for the second greatest album of all time. It was a game changer in its day, but I would argue that others have been as influential, or more so.
1: Revolver, The Beatles (1966)
-- I would have chosen Sgt. Pepper as the best, but that's just me.

There is so much missing from this list that it is hard to know where to start. Jazz, blues, classical, opera, not enough country, folk to name just a few genres that have been ignored. As for the artists that were overlooked -- many of the pioneers of rock (without whom this list would not exist), Eric Clapton, The Eagles (who have the third best selling album of all time), the huge rock bands from the '70s (some of whose songs have been rediscovered thanks to Glee), Carole King, Simon & Garfunkel, Bon Jovi, Phil Collins, Tina Turner, The Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, Coldplay are all ones who spring to mind.

Let us know what you think of this. Is your favorite album/song on this list? What should have been on it and isn't? Where did they get it right? I'm looking forward to reading this discussion.

The Top 100 All-Time Greatest Lists:


  1. I will simply say that I agree wholeheartedly that Led Zeppelin should be much, much, much higher on the list. It seems like whenever people argue about "the greatest rock band of all time" it comes down to Zeppelin, The Beatles, and the Stones. So how does their definitive album end up at #79 when the Beatles and the Stones have multiple albums in the Top 50? Poppycock.

  2. Honestly, this was a dumb idea for a list. The exclusion of other genres felt arbitrary and I agree that no one listens to albums anymore. The only ones I listen to like that are movie scores (and even then, they're often on shuffle). I remember when 21 first came out I sat down to listen to the whole thing and I got bored after three songs. Don't get me wrong: GREAT album, LOVE Adele, but variety is the spice of life, right?

    I also own Stairway to Heaven. I lost a lot of my not entirely legal music in my last computer transfer, so I'm missing some Zeppelin and almost all my Clash. It's sad.

    Chris, I'm dying for a look at your music! It sounds like we have similar tastes.

  3. I still listen to albums..
    Umm why is there no Nina Simone on this list? Or Nick Drake? Or Leonard Cohen? What is Adele doing there? So many questions.

  4. I don't know what makes me more sad, the lack of Oasis, AC/DC, Frank Sinatra, Blur, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush (Adele has a great voice, but she hasn't got one tenth of Kate's creativity), Zeppelin languishing at #79, or that bloody Kanye West made it into the top 10.

  5. I missed that. Yet another reason to be outraged.

  6. It's the omissions which I find the most troubling. Just one album from Bowie? Just one album from Pink Floyd? Just one Springsteen Album? Just one AC/DC album? This feels more like a 'best sellers' list than it does a 'greatest' list. Unfortunately, the buying public will splash out for all manner of useless nonsense. I should know: I own some real shit.

  7. And I should add: discovering Hole led to me discovering other (better) bands and the whole riot grrl scene, which basically got me through high school without going crazy. So I appreciate Hole, a lot, for personal reasons.

    But it simply is not a better album than anything that has Jimmy Page playing guitar. I don't even think that's opinion. It's just fact, right? :-)

  8. Eleanor Rigby is an amazing song, but what is Revolver doing at #1. It should be Sgt. Pepper (which I don't even see on the list, am I wrong?). Nine Inch Nails Petty Hate Machine is better than the Downward Spiral, where's Tool's Aenima (or Undertow)?

    Where's Pearl Jam? Or Soundgarden? Where's the Doors? Or Marilyn Manson and Green Day? Adele is good, but if we include her where's Lady Gaga? What about the Mama's and Papa's. Paul Simon made the list, but what about Simon and Garfunkel.

    This is an awful idea for a list, it should be songs not albums, and even then it would be way too arbitrary. Then again, it is still a personal list, written by someone who must've had reasons for choosing all these albums.

    That said, I am really loving this series you're doing Chris.

  9. A dozen or so albums I love are there. My two favorites are at 18 and 34. But the fact that Sergeant Pepper isn't even on the list completely invalidates it, IMHO. Seriously. It should be number one.

    Obviously, great series of articles, Chris. :) They're certainly getting us talking.

  10. Josie -- Jimmy Page is a rock god, no doubt.

    Thanks, J.D. I am having a blast doing it, but the comments are the most fun. I was talking to my mom today who went ballistic over the list of books. I told her she should come onto the site and comment...


  11. I'm trying to get my mom to come and be angry with us too. :) I told her Rumours was #29, Tapestry wasn't on here, and The Eagles were completely ignored and she was apoplectic. I think I'll leave Kanye as a surprise...

  12. The first thing I did is scan for my favorite, Blood on the Tracks!

    I must admit, I am peeved that Hole (Hole???) appears on the list at all. Hole, but no Pearl Jam? Ten (along with Nevermind) was the soundtrack for the 90's. Eric Clapton is a pretty glaring omission, too.

    I agree that Revolver is not the best Beatles album, although I often hear people say it is their favorite. I don't have a favorite, because it seems like my favorite songs are spread out amongst their albums, but I prefer Abbey Road or The White Album to Revolver, save Eleanor Rigby.

    I think the same is true elsewhere on the list, that they didn't pick the best album for certain artists. For one example (although I could list many), I think The Flaming Lip's "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" is considered by many to be their best.

    And, what, no Phish? :)

  13. sunbunny -- it sounds as though your mom and I have startling similar taste in music. I was able to forgive the Carole King omission because Joni Mitchell was so high up the list. But The Eagles? Really?

    Only seven albums have ever sold greater than 40 million copies:

    7: Whitney Houston et al's The Bodyguard soundtrack has sold 40 million. While this album was hugely popular, I can understand its not being one of the all-time greatest.

    6: Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (#29) has also sold 40 million. Back when it was released, it was all anyone listened to and it was all we heard on the radio. Personally, I would have put this one in the top 10.

    5: Bee Gees et al's Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (#95) has sold 40 million. I believe it belongs on the list in about where it is.

    4: AC/DC's Back in Black (#42) has sold 40 million. Another that, if not in my top 10, would be in my top 20.

    3: Eagles' Their Greatest Hits has sold 42 million. The most glaring omission of which there are many. This album, or at least Hotel California should have been on the list, towards the top.

    2: Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon (#37) has sold 45 million. Again, at least it made it the list, but I would have put it higher.

    1. Michael Jackson's Thriller (#4) has sold anywhere from 51 to 65 million. That is simply astonishing and I agree that it belongs in the top 10. Not only a great album, it defined the early '80s.

  14. Holy crap I just realized there is no Queen here. Are you freaking kidding me!? *turns over table angrily* (pretend I'm strong enough to turn over a table, k?)

    My mom (who is seemingly too lazy to abandon her Wordfeud game atm) would also like me to complain on her behalf that there is no CCR. Not sure she has such cause to complain there. I love them; they're fun to listen to, but I'm not convinced they deserve "best" status.

    Awww, I love complaining about things with you guys. Hugs!

  15. Your mom has a point, sunbunny. This list has shockingly few groups from the '50s, '60s and '70s. While not all of them have stood the test of time, certainly some of them paved the road for the albums on this list.

    I would have been tempted to include Fats Domino, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, CCR, the Supremes, the Doors, Simon and Garfunkel, Queen, Skynyrd, Aerosmith, Bob Seger, Steve Miller, Deep Purple, Boston, Jackson Browne, Jim Croce, Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, Carole King, BTO, ELO, Journey, Foreigner and Kansas.

    And yes, before anyone else comments on it, I am aware that Dean Winchester and I have very similar taste in music. Just another reason I love the man...

    Or, maybe, I am just a child of my generation...

  16. I'm in my twenty-tens, and I love most of Dean's music.

    As for how much was omitted on this list, I was thinking about it and 100 seems a bit slim for music. My current play list has over 236 albums on it, that's not even all the music I have on my computer (although to be fair a good portion of those are singles). And that's not even all of my collection (which is over 300, I'm a bit eclectic when it comes to music).

    Narrowing just those albums down to 100 feels hard, maybe impossible. Narrowing down the thousands of songs contained within those albums would be insane. Like movies, there is thankfully so much variety and choice, that no two lists would ever be completely the same.

    That's why conversations like this are so much fun.

  17. ChrisB - You and I must be of the same era... to add to your list...Jethro Tull, Chicago, Yes - and then some other of my favorites: Genesis (Peter Gabriel era), Steely Dan, Santana, Loggins & Messina, Hall and Oates (some of the best pop songs ever - have you caught Live from Daryl's House? ), Billy Joel...and seriously, no Eagles and no Doobies is a crime. Saw the Doobies last night at Wolf Trap...still rockin!!!

  18. Sooze -- I am sure we are! :-)

    My original list of the missing bands included many that you have. However, my list began to make the penultimate paragraph look and sound a bit snarky, so I edited it down.

    I agree with all of your choices and have all of them on the iPod. So jealous that you got to see the Doobies! I saw them back in the day and they were fantastic. It looks as though you and I not only share an age, we share a geographical location. I have never been to the Wolf Trap, but friends who have rave about it.

  19. I'm not sure I'd say any one of their albums deserves to be on a Best Albums list, but I'd nominate Soundgarden for a Best Live Show list. I've seen them twice and both times had to pick my jaw off the floor.

    And the floor of an arena? Sticky sticky sticky.

  20. I hardly know where to start with that list. How are these lists compiled? There are a lot of fantastic albums on there but the order is crazy. Love's Forever Changes at number 65 is, for me, insanity. That album is utter genius, there's no album that I have listened to more in my lifetime...

    Other gripes -

    Adele at #17 when Amy Winehouse Back to Black is at #74 - no way!

    I love LCD Soundsystem, sound of silver's a good album but it is absolutely not one of the 100 best albums of all time, that's just crazy talk.

    I could go on and on but I wont.

  21. Just want to add that I do still listen to albums in their entirety and there are some albums where I would just never consider listening the tracks individually because the album is like one piece of music, and in taking it apart, something is lost.

    Albums that consider this way are:
    Most Beatles Albums
    Piper at the Gates of Dawn (and most other Pink Floyd Albums until R Waters left)
    Forever Changes
    The Stone Roses

    I'm sure there are more I can't think of now.

    Top 100 lists are always infuriating but never more so than when it comes to music! When looking at these lists I'm kind of tempted to disregard anything that was released in the last 5, or even 10 years... If they truly are great then they will be remembered to appear on future lists.


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