The 300 Greatest Albums of All Time

For nearly 70 years, recorded music’s canon has breathed life into every corner of humanity.

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The 300 Greatest Albums of All Time

Paste has been in existence since July 2002, but it’s taken 22 years for us to sit down and make a “Greatest Albums of All Time” list. Every reputable outlet has done this at some point or another; each magazine piecing together a vastly different collection of picks. Doing a list like this is a fool’s errand for the most part, as picking any number of records and labeling them “the best” is subjective and likely wrong—but, if the internet has taught us anything, it’s that we all love to tap in, disagree and hold discourse. It’s the lifeblood of criticism and art forms with canons that are diverse and extensive, and the history of popular music spans decades: from Depression-era radio through the Moondog Coronation Ball birthing rock ‘n’ roll in Cleveland in 1952 through the British Invasion through the alt-rock explosion of the 1990s to now, as Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are monolithic in a global ecosystem of sights and sounds. The criteria for what constitutes a “great album,” to us, falls someplace in-between influence and timelessness. That’s how you get a list featuring the Talking Heads, Death, Mariah Carey and Lana Del Rey.

For this list, we called on our entire writing cohort—including editors, staff writers, interns and freelancers far and wide—to send in their individual Top 20 lists. We then took those lists, along with editorial oversight, and compiled what we believe is a selection of music that represents what Paste believes is the best to have ever been recorded. Our picks are subjective, and we aren’t going to sit back and consider this list some end-all, be-all document. Truthfully, we had a lot of fun putting this whole thing together and considering what music has been so definitive to us as a publication over the last 22 years. Now, we can’t wait to hear what you all think. (See the end of our list for a mix of our favorite songs from the 300 greatest albums of all time.)

Contributors: Matt Mitchell, Olivia Abercrombie, Josh Jackson, Garrett Martin, Robert Ham, Grant Sharples, Niko Stratis, Sam Rosenberg, Devon Chodzin, Hayden Merrick, Elizabeth Braaten, Elise Soutar, Matty Pywell, Tom Williams, Matt Melis, Ellen Johnson, Victoria Wasylak, Sean Fennell, Annie Nickoloff, Andy Steiner, Eric R. Danton, Annie Parnell, David Feigelson, Taylor Ruckle, Natalie Marlin, Madelyn Dawson, Ben Salmon, Ted Davis, Alex Gonzalez, Pat King, Wyndham Wyeth, Jeff Gonick, Grace Ann Natanawan, Doug Heselgrave, Holly Gleason, Ryan Burleson, Bonnie Stiernberg, Max Blau, Leah Weinstein


300. Modest Mouse: The Lonesome Crowded West (1997)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIt’s been over 25 years since the release of Modest Mouse’s iconic second album, and few indie-rock records in the decades since have managed to blend the chaotic showmanship, enduring hooks and lasting vision present in the 78-minute opus. As vast, gnarly and, at times, as downright ugly as its namesake, this is a record where an Orange Julius is made as holy as God’s shoeshine and a Saturday night with Cowboy Dan doing the cockroach is the height of culture. Frontman Isaac Brock and his bandmates have made many good to great records, but it is The Lonesome Crowded West that captures their vision of a warped American Dream most succinctly. —Sean Fennell

299. Rihanna: Anti (2016)

By the time Rihanna released her eighth album, she’d never really captured a complete, well-rounded project. Rated R, Loud and Unapologetic were all good, but caught themselves illuminated by the successes of hit singles rather than a full-bodied cohesion. But Anti changed all of that in 2016. Songs like “Work,” “Love on the Brain” and “Needed Me” remain bombastic fusions of hip-hop, soul, dancehall and psychedelia, and deeper cuts like “Desperado,” “Consideration” and “Higher” are massive earworms toned by lo-fi beats and cross-tempo vocalizations and arrangements. As a whole, Anti didn’t make itself out to be a radio-friendly smash hit; Rihanna leaned into her superstardom by exploring sonic eclecticism and penning tracks that reached into the pockets of desire, alcohol and relationships, both through betrayal and empowering love. It’s the kind of career-triumph that few artists of the last 25 years have had. —Matt Mitchell

298. Queen: Jazz (1978)

The two songs I first remember sticking with me from my mom’s Queen Greatest Hits CD were the absurd, catchy lyricism of the sonic siblings “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Bicycle Race”—there was nothing funnier to my six-year-old self than a guy fervently proclaiming he wants to ride his bicycle. Jazz continues the ridiculous lyrics with “Don’t Stop Me Now,” which is just Freddie Mercury going on and on about being a “sex machine.” However, it is often interpreted as a song about perseverance—which fits right into the hilarity Jazz achieves. The record is also iconic for being tagged as a “fascist” record by Rolling Stone upon its release. Jazz showcases an exorbitantly confident Queen, who are playful and campy in a way that encapsulates an entire career of pushing boundaries and prioritizing their unique sense of humor. —Olivia Abercrombie

297. Terry Riley: A Rainbow in Curved Air (1969)

Terry Riley is often lumped in with 20th Century minimalists, like Philip Glass and Steve Reich. But where those artists aimed to reinvigorate classical techniques, Riley’s work is more heady and colorful. His 1969 record, A Rainbow In Curved Air, isn’t just an ambient masterpiece; it’s a tour de force in psychedelia. After spending years working to recontextualize orchestral instrumentation, A Rainbow In Curved Air found Riley playing into bohemian tropes of the era. Across two compositions that both hover around the 20-minute mark, fluttering synthesizer and harpsichord melodies are permeated by fleeting tambourine and hand drum rhythms, as well as innovative tape effects. The original cover art featured a poem by Riley, imagining America toppled by utopianism—reinforcing A Rainbow In Curved Air’s place as one of the most upward-gazing records ever. —Ted Davis

296. The Raincoats: The Raincoats (1979)

A favorite of anyone with a Kat Stratford obsession, the Raincoats were a driving force in the female-led punk movement, and their self-titled debut cemented them as icons of feminist punk. In 1979, they released The Raincoats, an experimental DIY rock record with Ana da Silva and Gina Birch’s vocal sass dueling with a playful intensity. Their debut became a cornerstone for many “riot grrrl” bands for its unapologetically messy production, off-kilter rhythms and vulnerable yet snarky lyricism. Palmolive’s frenzied drumming style paired with da Silva’s jerky guitar are a match made in DIY heaven, notably for how their chaos intertwines with the melodic bass grooves of Birch. It’s a seamless combination of musicality and havoc. —Olivia Abercrombie

295. Bad Brains: Bad Brains (1981)

Recording the Bad Brains in the early ‘80s must have been like trying to photograph the moment a tornado touches down. By the time the punk pioneers committed this self-titled record to tape, they’d already inspired a generation of DC bands and decamped to New York City, ready to strum stormy circles around their counterparts, the Ramones. The Yellow Tape, as it’s also known, isn’t their cleanest work of this era—they had a Ric Ocasek-produced LP on the way a year later—but it may be the most impactful document of the Bad Brains’ early efforts to push punk and reggae fusion past the limits of shrieking speed and spirituality. It remains undisputed hardcore canon, but in another few years, they were already “Sailin’ On” to more ambitious genre blends. —Taylor Ruckle

294. Deulgukhwa: 들국화 (1985)

Deulgukhwa’s debut studio album is a masterful entry into South Korea’s rock pantheon, dropped right into the middle of the country’s pop music renaissance in the mid 1980s. March is the only album Deulgukhwa made that features their OG lineup (Jeon In-kwon, Choi Seong-won, Jo Deok-hwan, Heo Seong-wook), and it sounds like a perfect amalgam of the chart-topping arena music of its era and the jaw-dropping hooks of modern K-pop. “That’s My World” blisters along with a head-splitting guitar solo from Deok-hwan enveloped by Seong-won’s synthesizers. In-kwon establishes himself as one of the greatest Korean frontmen of all time, belting stadium-sized vocals with a backdrop of anthemic technicolor from Deok-hwan and drummer Joo Chan-kwon. The sublime, sugar-sweet euphoria of “Bless You” pairs nicely with the acoustic, piano-pillowed balladry of “Just Love,” and “Until the Morning Rises” is the kind of crooner bravado replicated later in the decade by English-language great George Michael on something like “One More Try.” March sounds as epic as anything American and English pop rock was producing at the same time, perhaps even more so. —Matt Mitchell

293. Ice Cube: AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990)

After walking away from N.W.A., the L.A. group that instantly put him in the upper echelon of lyricists and rappers, Ice Cube spent some time in New York, holed up in the studio space of production team the Bomb Squad. He went through their voluminous record collection looking for inspiration and what would become the sound of his first solo album. What they landed on was an album that carried the same density as the Squad’s other famous collaborators Public Enemy but was much more funky. The feel of the beats loosened Cube’s tongue considerably. He remained true to the storytelling vibe he established on Straight Outta Compton with his clear-eyed perspective on life in South Central L.A. but developed a leaner pugnaciousness that helped fuel the war on words with his former partners and cut down to size the fools that dared to question his skills and strength. —Robert Ham

292. David Bowie: Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)

Few artists held court over rock ‘n’ roll quite like David Bowie did between 1971 and 1980. Starting his reign with Hunky Dory, the Thin White Duke dropped a run of 11 albums that, when it was all said and done, stand alone in the canon of popular music. You could go Heroes or Station to Station here, sure, but there’s something particularly perfect about Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), the perfect merger of glam rock and disco. “Ashes to Ashes” calls back to Major Tom, while “Fashion” blurs the line between trends in music and clothes. Bowie here is at the forefront of his clubbiest self, and the title-track is a perfect mirage of metallic, sleazy, post-punk debauchery. Time and time again, when I return to Scary Monsters, it is to check in with “Teenage Wildlife,” the track that has long flown under the radar of Bowie’s career but might just be the most anthemic piece of his chameleonic, influential puzzle—the same old thing in brand new drag. —Matt Mitchell

291. Camarón: La leyenda del tiempo (1979)

Camarón de la Isla is one of the greatest flamenco singers of all time, and his 10th album—La leyenda del tiempo—is his best and most polarizing work. The record saw Camarón making a departure from the traditional flamenco styles that had become definitive of Spain’s music scene, and the work alienated the genre’s purists and wound up culminating into a commercial failure (despite its critical acclaim). Now, we can look back at La leyenda del tiempo as the key example of flamenco’s sea change—as the genre was never the same before or after, all thanks to songs like the rumba of “Volando Voy” and the otherworldly-good title-track that catalyzes the album’s forward-momentum. Camarón’s voice here is one-of-a-kind, and the dual flamenco guitars from Tomatito and Raimundo Amador are some of the best guitar work on an album ever. —Matt Mitchell

290. The Fall: The Wonderful and Frightening World Of… (1984)

Addictively repetitive melodies, the banging of not one, but two drummers, Mark E. Smith’s signature vocal snarl and a world of garagey post-punk experimentation go into one freaky, fun The Fall album. This, the band’s seventh of an impressive 31-studio album roster, showcases some real bits of discordant wonderful-and-frightening tunes, like “Disney’s Dream Debased,” “Elves,” “C.R.E.E.P.” and “Oh! Brother”—a slew of punky, political touchpoints which still feel relevant four decades later. The Wonderful and Frightening World Of The Fall captures the influential post-punk band in a solid, shining moment of scuzzy excellence. —Annie Nickoloff

289. Britney Spears: …Baby One More Time (1999)

We all know it. The pigtails. The mini skirt. The complete schoolgirl fantasy. However, when a 16-year-old future pop phenomenon grabbed that narrative and made it her own, the mainstream musical landscape was altered forever. A star straight from the crib, Spears spent her entire childhood crafting a persona fit for a pop princess performing in the Mickey Mouse Club, appearing in Broadway shows and even on Star Search. It was practically written in the stars that she was destined to become a megastar, and she proved it on …Baby One More Time. With her distinctive mellowed-out sexy vocals and unstoppable presence, the album’s lead single, “…Baby One More Time,” blasted her to international success. While it’s impossible to compare the caliber of the other tracks to such a mega-hit, the dial-up pop ballad “Sometimes” and the bubblegum pop fantasy “(You Drive Me) Crazy” proved that Spears’s vocal ability was one to be reckoned with. —Olivia Abercrombie

288. The Who: Tommy (1969)

To borrow slightly from Tommy’s “Overture,” Captain Walker never came home, and he’ll never know that his (fictional) absence helped spawn one of rock’s most epic narratives. To follow The Who Sell Out, the British band devoted 24 tracks and 74 minutes to unraveling the fraught life of one pinball wizard, Tommy Walker. Bursts of acoustic suspense and hard rock rapture on songs like “Sparks” and “I’m Free” demonstrate the band’s approach to sound-driven storytelling, as they hone the vibrations that their “deaf, dumb and blind” titular character largely relies on to understand the world. “When you listen to the music you can actually become aware of the boy, and aware of what he is all about, because we are creating him as we play,” guitarist Pete Townshend reflected, an approach that has resulted in Tommy doubling as the quintessential rock opera, and to many fans, the quintessential record from The Who. —Victoria Wasylak

287. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy: I See a Darkness (1999)

Love and loss. Hope and fear. Dreams and dread. Death, death and more death. These are the themes that ripple through I See A Darkness, Will Oldham’s sixth full-length album but first as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, a name he has used ever since. Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that this is where the Kentuckian’s eccentric vision comes into sharp focus: Appalachian-inspired country-folk, existential musings, vivid storytelling, strange phrasing and a pervasive sense of unease. These are timeless songs that keep you on your toes. —Ben Salmon

286. The KLF: Chill Out (1990)

While largely a thing of the past, every great party used to have a chill-out room—a space for overwhelmed ravers to decompress as night trudged into morning. UK duo The KLF spent most of their career putting out blocky acid house bangers. But their third album, 1990’s Chill Out, is an uncharacteristically atmospheric detour. Intended as a balm for clubbers on the come down, the record uses clattering samples, stabby synths and lonesome slide guitar swells to portray a journey through the American Gulf Coast states. On top of being an interesting relic from a formatively hedonistic moment in underground culture, the interconnected tracks are downright stunning. The whole thing captures the energy of watching the sunrise over a muddy field, dissociated from the constraints of societal convention. —Ted Davis

285. Lil’ Kim: Hard Core (1996)

Lil’ Kim’s finest fashion moment was not when Diana Ross jiggled her purple-pasty-clad breast at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, nor was it the photoshoot where she snapped into an iconic squat wearing little more than a leopard print bikini. Instead, it’s one of the first lyrics on her album Hard Core, demanding one orgasm per carat in her diamond rings. “That’s how many times I wanna come / 21 / And another one, and another one,” she begins to boast on “Big Momma Thang,” the Jay-Z collab from her raunchy solo debut. Lil’ Kim’s ravenous libido and no-nonsense attitude penetrate every aspect of Hard Core—as she assumes the role of self-appointed rap royalty, her first decree being to refocus the public’s perception of women’s sexuality. When she flipped the Notorious B.I.G.’s objectifying tune “Just Playing (Dreams)” on its head with “Dreams,” her own equally-sexed-up take, Hard Core asserted that it’s not just on par with the hip-hop greats—it is one of the greats, and remains so to this day. —Victoria Wasylak

284. Talk Talk: Laughing Stock (1991)

If you know anything about Talk Talk as a casual fan, it might be the confounding trajectory of their five albums—from the slow progression from the New Romantic-aligned synth-pop of their 1982 debut The Party’s Over to the complex, pastoral post-rock of final two albums Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. With the latter, lead singer and songwriter Mark Hollis arguably crafted his masterpiece, recording his atmospheric, jazz-tinged hymns entirely in the dark and ruminating on sin, divine wrath and redemption. Even in its dramatic existentialism or perhaps less accessible structure, Laughing Stock prevails as one of the most important albums of all time because of the way it expresses that which is singularly human—both in the fear of the unknown and the beauty which sustains us in the meantime. —Elise Soutar

283. Bob Marley and the Wailers: Burnin’ (1973)

For listeners who may only know Bob Marley’s musis through the ubiquitous Legend compilation, a true misconception would be that his music is colored by a sunny, positive, outlook on the world. The truth is, Marley, much like Curtis Mayfield or Fela Kuti, wrote as much about his anger towards the injustices being committed against his people in Jamaica and the oppressed around the globe as he did about the redemptive powers of love. On their sixth album Burnin’—the last true album as the Wailers since founding members Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer would leave the group shortly after its release—Marley and the group offer their fiercest calls to action up until that point. The most recognizable tunes here are the immortal anti-authority anthems “Get Up, Stand Up” and “I Shot The Sheriff.” But perhaps the album’s hidden thesis statement is it’s closing track, the seething “Burnin’ and Lootin’.” The song takes the positive outlook of his peer Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers To Cross” and calls out how futile the kumbaya approach towards militarized police aggression truly is. “How many rivers do we have to cross before we can talk to the boss,” he asks with an inflection so palpably frustrated you can envision his tightly clenched fist in the vocal booth. Evil and oppressive forces only listen to strong action. Marley knows this and that’s why his call for not only “burnin’ and lootin’” but burning “all illusion” of a society that works for all remains as powerful as ever today. —Pat King

282. Brian Eno: Another Green World (1975)

Brian Eno’s third solo album is the bridge between his rock beginnings and his ambient trailblazing. On Another Green World, Eno builds warm textures through organ and piano, synthesizers and noise generators, early drum machines, Robert Fripp’s extraterrestrial guitar leads, and even a couple of drum performances by Phil Collins. It’s definitely more minimal than his first two LPs, but it’s far from Music from Airports; there’s still singing on five of its 14 songs, most notably on the beautiful (and oft-covered) pop song “St. Elmo’s Fire” and the swaying trot of “I’ll Come Running,” and instrumentals like “The Big Ship” and “Sombre Reptiles” explore rhythms, melodies, and emotions in structures not too far removed from more conventional pop music. It’s clearly a transitional work that combines the best of Eno’s early era with some of the techniques and ambitions that would come to define him; the songs with vocals are more abstract and experimental than what he accomplished on Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain, and you can hear the seeds of Eno’s later work throughout. All in all it’s a foundational classic from a weird era when the mainstream rock world and major labels still had a bit of room for groundbreaking experimentalists. —Garrett Martin

281. Shin Joong Hyun & Yup Juns: 신중현과 엽전들 (1974)

The self-titled debut album from Shin Joong Hyun & Yup Juns is one of the greatest documents of psych- and blues-rock to ever exist, running circles around what many of their American contemporaries had done the decade prior. The three-piece, led by guitarist and vocalist Shin Jung-hyeon, drummer Kim Ho-Sik and bassist Lee Nam-yi, only lasted three years—destroyed over time by South Korea’s government, who arrested Shin Jung-hyeon for marijuana use in 1972 and committed him to a mental institution for treatment. After years of censorship, the Ministry of Culture and Public Information banned 54 artists from releasing albums and playing in public in 1976, including Shin—leading to the Yup Juns’ disbandment. The Yup Juns’ song “The Beauty” was banned under Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship, but tracks like “Think” and “Anticipation” are such perfect old-school rhythm and blues gems that merge elements of swamp and roots. The Yup Juns remain one of the greatest South Korean groups to ever exist, and they were instrumental in helping integrate a harder, grittier rock ‘n’ roll into the tastes of their generation in Seoul. —Matt Mitchell

280. Townes Van Zandt: The Late Great Townes Van Zandt (1972)

Townes Van Zandt isn’t exactly what you would call an “album artist.” A perpetual vagabond and often at the end of his rope, Van Zandt’s albums are often messy and haphazard. And yet, when you are able to cobble together an album featuring two of the greatest country-folk songs of all time, you make a great case for yourself on a list like this. “Pancho and Lefty” and “If I Needed You” are wonderful encapsulations of Townes as a songwriter and a storyteller, one for whom existential loneliness is often the lingua franca. The latter may be about a girl, the former about life on the road, but both are about leaving and what gets left behind—universal notions Van Zandt always spun into utter masterpieces. —Sean Fennell

279. Robyn: Body Talk (2010)

Best Synth Pop AlbumsNo pop singer/songwriter in the last 20 years has made as much monumental dance music as Robyn has. The Swedish singer is as close to a one-in-a-million star as anyone else on this list, but her album, Body Talk is one of the best synth-pop projects ever. Though you might consider it to be a compilation album, it’s still a studio work that combines all of the tracks from her two-part Body Talk series—and both entries deserve some spotlight. Spearheaded by the monster single “Dancing On My Own,” it’s here, in 2010, where Robyn found her own immortality. Pulling influence from Prince’s Dirty Mind, the Knife’s Silent Shout and Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside, she made a dance record that is still, 13 years later, a club fixture. “Fembot,” “Dancehall Queen” and “Hang with Me” are each perfect on their own accord and help propel Body Talk into the echelons of electronic music forever. —Matt Mitchell

278. Hiroshi Yoshimura: Music For Nine Post Cards (1982)

On his 1982 debut, Music For Nine Post Cards, Hiroshi Yoshimura burst into the world with a daylit, dreamy formula. The Japanese producer self-recorded the album using a Fender Rhodes, sonically aiming to evoke seasonal changes in a small town. But until a 2017 reissue via the label Empire of Signs, Yoshimura remained unjustly overlooked on an international scale. The posthumous re-release transformed him into a giant on streaming platforms, acting as a mesmerizing gateway for listeners just starting to dabble with wordless music. Music For Nine Post Cards is not just the quintessential Japanese ambient album, it’s the most earnest and pure New Age record of all time. —Ted Davis

277. Pulp: Different Class (1995)

If 1994’s His N’ Hers was Pulp’s first foray into the mainstream consciousness, then Different Class was the album that made sure that Jarvis Cocker and his band would remain pop culture figures for years to come. The band’s most successful single, “Common People,” was an anthem that continued the band’s dedication towards exploring ‘90s Britain from a working-class perspective, with its narrative of class divide and poverty tourism still ringing true to this day. Different Class exemplified all the best aspects of Cockers’ lens into the homes of everyday people as he explored horniness, fractured relationships and dreams of stardom. Pulp were proudly flying the flag for those who saw themselves as outsiders. —Matty Pywell

276. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City (2013)

Vampire Weekend emerged in the late 2000s as one of indie rock’s coolest and most distinctive bands. With two critically acclaimed records under their belt by the time 2013 hit, the hype for the intellectual millennial outfit’s third record was so immense that someone had infamously fabricated a cover for it and titled it Lemon Sounds. Luckily, 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City, their actual third album, would effectively defy the preppy-twee mold that people began boxing Vampire Weekend into. Where their charming 2008 self-titled debut and their giddy 2010 follow-up Contra were home runs, Modern Vampires of the City felt like a grand slam, somehow both playful and precise in its experimentation with pitch-shifting (“Diane Young,” “Ya Hey”), hyper-speed vocals (“Worship You”) and dense wordplay (“Step”). Producer Ariel Rechtstaid and former band member Rostam Batmanglij were especially integral to shaping the album’s haunted quality, giving a chilly yet vibrant life to frontman Ezra Koenig’s poetic musings about faith and mortality. —Sam Rosenberg

275. Kraftwerk: The Man-Machine (1978)

German quartet Kraftwerk have about five albums that could’ve fit into this slot, but we’ve opted to move forward with The Man-Machine—the band’s 1978 masterpiece that is, at its core, the godfather of synth-pop as we know it. It’s here where Kraftwerk took their mechanical style of old and re-tuned it into a club-worthy aesthetic. The album is a beautiful example of early-era electro-pop architecture, and it laid the groundwork for what bands like Depeche Mode, OMD and Pet Shop Boys would aim to do in the decade that followed. Centerpiece “The Model” feels as brand-new now as it did 45 years ago, while songs like “Neon Lights,” “Metropolis” and “The Robots” all signal early installments of the cybernetic dance-pop that would flood the charts at the turn of 1981. Like always, Kraftwerk were ahead of the curve. Although, you could argue that—on The Man-Machine—they invented the curve altogether. —Matt Mitchell

274. Songs: Ohia: The Magnolia Electric Co. (2003)

After releasing a series of excellent, oft-bleak lo-fi indie-rock albums in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Jason Molina expanded his ambitions with 2003’s The Magnolia Electric Co.—a rocking Americana epic that paired intimate musings with an expansive soundscape. Over two decades later, the LP remains Molina’s most incisive, offering a devastatingly unfiltered look into a beautiful tortured soul. “Everything you hated me for / Honey there was so much more / I just didn’t get busted,” he opined on the devastating “Just Be Simple” 10 years before his demons would eventually catch up to him. But on Magnolia Electric Co., Molina was more than just a tragic figure; he was a brave troubadour unafraid to shy away from all the beauty and tragedy of life. On the bittersweet closer “Hold On Magnolia,” he stared down the abyss and held on to the “last light” he saw. In doing so, he created torch songs for the bruised and battered among us. —Tom Williams

273. Neil Young: After the Gold Rush (1970)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAlong with Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, After the Gold Rush is one of the greatest break-up records ever made regardless of intention. Even though it has nothing to do with the album, which was inspired by a Dean Stockwell-Herb Berman screenplay, I liked to imagine that it was written to capture the feeling too often ignored by movies and music. Songs like “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and “When You Dance I Can Really Love” charted, while songs like “Tell Me Why,” “I Believe in You” and “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” became fixtures in Neil Young’s sets for years after After the Gold Rush’s release. The 11 songs embrace the truth of loss that comes after the magic, after the bum-rush of serotonin and possibilities, after you realize the holes inside haven’t been plugged, that the overflow of emotion you poured in ran right out. —Jeff Gonick

272. Blondie: Parallel Lines (1978)

As a fellow blond, Debbie Harry has always been an idol of mine, and her badass personality just adds to the adoration. After bursting onto the New York music scene with their punk-centric, self-titled debut—followed up by the rowdy Plastic Letters—fans got a taste of what silkier new wave hooks would come on their third album, Parallel Lines. “Heart Of Glass” is an enduring Blondie classic for its funky guitar grooves and Harry’s biting lyricism of a toxic romance—the theme song for many a scorned lover. Though “Heart Of Glass” and the taunting roar of “One Way Or Another” are the most recognizable tracks, the rest of Parallel Lines boasts Blondie’s unmistakable flavor of intoxicating post-punk. The doo-wop-inspired “Pretty Baby” is infectiously catchy, and the CBGB icons brought groovy psychedelia to the front of the line with “Fade Away And Radiate” (with a guest appearance from Robert Fripp of King Crimson on a wailing guitar solo). Blondie’s Parallel Lines solidified the band as pioneers of a beloved musical movement.. —Olivia Abercrombie

271. Wire: Chairs Missing (1978)

The art school punk provocateurs in Wire put out three albums during their initial phase, and all three are classics that sound very different from each other. Chairs Missing, their second LP, is the best of the bunch, and one of the most important albums ever recorded. It’s hard to imagine “post-punk” even existing as a genre tag without this record; although a couple of songs recall the minimal, straight-forward punk of 1977’s Pink Flag, the rest of the album adds synthesizers, guitar effects, a disco beat on “Another the Letter,” and various other flourishes and experiments that clearly marked this as something new and different at the time. It foreshadowed so much of the punk-derived music that followed that you can draw a straight line from Chairs Missing to a handful of different indie-rock subgenres. —Garrett Martin

270. Mississippi John Hurt: Today! (1966)

While pickers like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker have endured as the most recognizable faces in the history of blues music, none of them made an album quite as soul-stirring as Mississippi John Hurt’s 1966 classic, Today! Recorded in 1964, Hurt compiled 12 songs—five of them traditional, the rest original compositions, including “I’m Satisfied” and “Coffee Blues”—completely rewrote his own success. Today! came after Vanguard Records “rediscovered” him, and his voice hadn’t missed a beat. There’s a soft-spoken warmth rippling from end to end, as Hurt doesn’t ever quite growl with the same gravelly haze employed by his contemporaries. There was no need, though, as the gentleness of Today! works beautifully with the mellow, heavy-hearted tunes of Hurt’s greatest effort. As far as folk revival albums are concerned, the one made by a bluesman might be the very best of them all. —Matt Mitchell

269. Fiona Apple: When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ‘Fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right (1999)

After SPIN wrote a bad cover story about Fiona Apple, she wrote a poem that wound up being the entire title of her second studio album, When the Pawn… The Washington Post declared it Apple’s version of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping,” but the art-rock starlet’s sophomore LP gave out far greater tongue-lashings than “I get knocked down, but I get up again.” Apple didn’t just get up, she grew taller than those who criticized her after Tidal came out three years earlier. Jon Brion’s production is the game-changer here, and the music was not just melodically more complex—her voice had been worn down into a soulful vessel for misery, the arrangements limping around her like they came from the rib of a wounded orchestra. This was the moment Fiona Apple became bigger than Alanis, bigger than Tori, bigger than Jewell, bigger than Garbage and bigger than Liz Phair. —Matt Mitchell

268. Tom Petty: Wildflowers (1994)

Unconfined, Tom Petty brought a whole lot of heart into the songs of Wildflowers. The album, Petty’s second solo record following two decades of recording with the Heartbreakers (though many of them are featured on it), stands as a glimmering standout of folk-rock brilliance in his discography—one he referred to as his pet project, a career highlight. The title track’s declaration, “you belong somewhere you feel free,” is a motto for the record’s creation, crafted with longtime bandmates and producer Rick Rubin during a period of pure musical clarity. —Annie Nickoloff

267. Dolly Parton: Coat of Many Colors (1971)

The narrative that Dolly Parton lays out on “Coat of Many Colors,” the title track of her eighth solo album, is among the most endearing she has ever penned. “My coat of many colors that my mama made for me / Made only from rags but I wore it so proudly,” Parton sings in the refrain, her distinct voice soaring with glee and gratitude. Like Dolly’s mother, the country lodestar possesses a gift for crafting something memorable with unassuming materials. Nowhere in her immense catalog is that more evident than on Coat of Many Colors, as Parton fashions her simple yet affecting vocals and acoustic guitar for a grander purpose: to tell stories that stay with us for decades. —Grant Sharples

266. Mahmoud Ahmed: Éthiopiques, Vol. 7: Ere Mèla Mèla (1975)

The Éthiopiques series has gifted the world some of the greatest Ethiopian music to ever exist, including work from Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, Mulatu Astatke and Tlahoun Gessesse. But it’s the series’ seventh volume that towers over the rest. Made in 1975 by singer Mahmoud Ahmed, the album blends touches of psych-soul with jazz and lounge singing to make one of the greatest East African fusion projects of all time. The organ-heavy R&B band behind Ahmed get their kicks on a truly global range of influences, evoking everything from James Brown-rambunctiousness to Spanish flamenco. It’s an epic album, galvanized by the silk-woven “Tezeta” and the booming groove of “Belomi Benna.” —Matt Mitchell

265. Thin Lizzy: Jailbreak (1976)

By the time Thin Lizzy put out their sixth album in 1976, the Irish rockers had found their groove completely. Jailbreak wasn’t just a commercial breakthrough in the United States for Phil Lynott and his band; it was a colossal achievement of hard-nosed rock ‘n’ roll. The songs are surprisingly baroque, given just how disgusting those guitars from Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson sound, but Lynott’s whiskey-soaked refrains inspired by the blues and glam-rock, Thin Lizzy soared beyond expectations, turning in three of the greatest rock tracks of the era: “The Boys Are Back in Town,” “Jailbreak” and “Cowboy Song.” While “The Boys Are Back in Town” has become TouchTunes royalty, “Cowboy Song” remains one of the most epic songs of the 1970s (that final guitar solo will split your head clean down the middle if you’re not careful). Jailbreak is strange, cosmic and pilled with grit. —Matt Mitchell

264. Stars of the Lid: The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid (2001)

On their sixth album as Stars of the Lid, The Tired Sounds of, Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie don’t just come across groggy: They seem to dwell in some sleep-induced otherworld, doused in heavenly light. While it might sound like the Texas duo were working around traditional synthesizer pads in the studio, the 19-track record was actually built on groundbreaking tones generated from processed string and woodwind instruments, peppered with occasional samples pulled from arthouse films. Extended drone pieces can sometimes have a tendency to become pleasant, yet ignorable background noise. But The Tired Sounds of proves that this isn’t always the case, with a capacity to be as entrancing as it is cloudy. —Ted Davis

263. Alvvays: Blue Rev (2022)

Alvvays are masters of quality over quantity—they know what they have to say, and they waste no time getting to the point. The most recent release on this list, Blue Rev is a joyride of masterfully written jangle-pop tunes that were recorded in one sitting, with producer Shawn Everett filling in the gaps and fleshing out the texture of the record’s all-killer-no-filler 14 tracks. The group became Grammy underdogs with the standout single “Belinda Says,” which contains one of the best key changes of the last decade. The musical chemistry between every member of Alvvays soars through each track’s story, many of which are inspired by frontwoman Molly Rankin’s favorite books, lyrics and Go-Go’s member. Blue Rev is an album about identity and sense of self. Alvvays, who’ve never dropped an EP or a standalone single, act without flaw. —Leah Weinstein

262. Silver Jews: American Water (1998)

In the almost five years since his passing, David Berman has come to be known as something of a tragic figure—a reputation born out of both his suicide and his final album, Purple Mountains, which he released four weeks prior to his death. But Berman was far more multifaceted and harder to box in, something captured on his magnum opus with Silver Jews: American Water. Here, he found connection in isolation (“Honk If You’re Lonely”) and poetic insight into life’s banalities, like the color of the road (“Random Rules”). On closer “The Wild Kindness,” he found hope. “I’m gonna shine out in the wild kindness,” he declared triumphantly, a fitting mission statement from a painfully empathetic, ingenious songwriter whose music offered a lifeline to other wandering souls. —Tom Williams

261. The Meters: Rejuvenation (1974)

Few American bands have deserved more flowers than the Meters, who came out of New Orleans and completely transformed funk music forever. They were a backing group for folks like Lee Dorsey and Dr. John over the years, and their work is, by far, a mark of origination. When Mick Jagger saw them play at the release party for Wings’ Venus and Mars, he asked them to open for the Rolling Stones from 1975-76. Few funk bands have ever done it like the Meters, and their 1974 album Rejuvenation is a marquee entry into the genre’s history. Part-funk and part-swamp rock, Rejuvenation lives up to its title, as songs like “Just Kissed My Baby” and “Hey Pocky A-Way” celebrate the co-lead vocalist triumphs of bandleaders Ziggy Modeliste and Art Neville while ushering the choral flourishes of female backing vocalists into the fray. The Meters have continuously been one of the most influential bands ever, and that much is true for Rejuvenation—as the Red Hot Chili Peppers covered “Africa,” Public Enemy sampled “Just Kissed My Baby” on their album Yo! Bum Rush the Show and the Grateful Dead often performed “Hey Pocky A-Way” in the late-1980s. Incorporating country, R&B, gospel and Mardi Gras rhythm into their sound, Rejuvenation is the Meters at a zenith. —Matt Mitchell

260. PJ Harvey: Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000)

Stories does defiance in a way she hadn’t yet explored, and feels confident in a way that floats above the rest of the world, rather than fighting back. What else in her discography captures the head-on swagger of something like “Big Exit” or “This is Love”? What else sounds like the gentle glide of Thom Yorke’s voice underpinning Polly’s in “Beautiful Feeling,” or the heavy, warm piano march that carries “Horses In My Dreams”? Even the gentle collapse and defeat of “We Float” feels like light flooding your senses in the best possible way. Though it’s unlikely that Polly will ever make anything this purposefully polished again, it’s a little blip of calm in the eye of the larger storm, a moment of shimmering assurance among a back catalog that largely aims to make the listener uncomfortable. Few albums by anyone have captured that precise feeling, making Stories something truly special. —Elise Soutar

259. The Byrds: Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968)

Considered the definitive moment when hippie rock met country, Sweetheart of the Rodeo marked Chris Hillman’s buddy Gram Parsons joining the band that defined folk-rock with “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Suddenly aligned with a hardcore right-wing genre, stereotypes were shattered—not with Clarence White’s electric guitar, but pools of Jay Dee Maness and Lloyd Green’s plangent steel. Songs from bluegrass stalwarts The Louvin Brothers (“The Christian Life”), hard folkie Woody Guthrie (“Pretty Boy Floyd”) and emerging superstar Merle Haggard (“Life in Prison”) sat comfortably beside Dylan (“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”) and Tom Hardin (“You’ve Got A Reputation”) as simpatico companions, making the synthesis seamless. Parsons’ enduring “Hickory Wind,” a wistful song of time spent growing up, embodies what’s to come, stands out along with his “100 Years From Now.” Considered a failure when it was released, the visionary adaptation of country & western with California rock and pop paved the way for the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Poco and Emmylou Harris. —Holly Gleason

258. Janet Jackson: Control (1987)

What’s unique about Control is that it’s only a drop in the bucket of how incredible of a pop star Janet Jackson was and still is. It kicked off a run of five classic albums in a row, released between 1986 and 2001. Few musicians have ever had such a consequential 15-year run, and it can all be traced back to the very first words uttered on “Control”: “This is a story about control. My control—control of what I say, control of what I do. And this time, I’m gonna do it my way.” Janet makes her mission known from the jump; Control was not going to be a conventional pop record about chasing lovers and dancing. And she stayed true to her word, as Control is an autobiographical powerhouse triumphant in ways that most albums of its era aren’t. Janet’s recent marriage to James DeBarge had been annulled, she quit doing business with her family (especially her father, Joseph) and took on John McClain as her manager. To say it’s a brilliant mark of empowerment would be an understatement; to try and get to the root of just how game-changing Control was for Black women (especially Black women in music) would take more than just one greatest albums list blurb. —Matt Mitchell

257. OutKast: Aquemini (1998)

“The South got something to say,” André 3000 famously declared at the 1995 Source Awards. As one-half of the Atlanta hip-hop duo Outkast, André was accepting the Best New Rap Group award, a victory met with boos from the audience more invested in the East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry. It’s a historic moment, a prophecy that foreshadowed Atlanta’s prominent configuration in rap. Although 1996’s ATLiens would follow that now-famous speech, 1998’s Aquemini would be the hard, undeniable proof that the South did, in fact, have something to say. On their third album, 3 Stacks and Big Boi complement each other like yin and yang, making effortless work of their syllable-laden bars like nimble Olympic gymnasts. Grounded by production trio Organized Noize’s globe-shattering beats, the Dungeon Family rose from the late Rico Wade’s basement to the stratosphere. “Even though we got two albums, this one feel like the beginning,” Big Boi presciently raps on “Y’All Scared.” He was dead-on. —Grant Sharples

256. Marty Robbins: Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs (1959)

Not only did Marty Robbins’ fifth LP make him a star, Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs became one of the most influential albums of post-World War II American music by defining a romantic vision of the Old West that has resonated ever since. Anchored by the Grammy-winning crossover hit “El Paso,” the album drew on the influence of Hollywood cowboys like Gene Autry on songs that are lean, taut and unfailingly catchy. Even decades later, tracks from the album continue to appear in pop culture as a kind of musical shorthand for the themes they address: “Big Iron” appeared in the 2010 video game Fallout: New Vegas, while “El Paso” played early in the final episode of Breaking Bad. Robbins was essentially the last of the real cowboy singers, and Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs was his crowning achievement. —Eric R. Danton

255. Cyndi Lauper: She’s So Unusual (1983)

There’s no denying that everything about Cyndi Lauper’s debut, She’s So Unusual, was peak ‘80s—from bubbly pop melodies to the crazy neon outfit she wore on the cover. Through a barrage of covers, the influential queer icon delivered two of her biggest hits: “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” and “Time After Time.” The latter pop ballad is Lauper’s greatest musical triumph, with its simple synth composition and fitting clock-like percussion. Potentially one of the most universally well-known choruses of all time, it’s impossible to restrain from screaming out, “If you’re lost you can look and you will find me / Time after time / If you fall, I will catch you, I’ll be waiting / Time after time.” The soft beauty of “Time After Time” is perfectly paralleled with the feminist anthem “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” which celebrates the notion that women don’t need men to have fun; they just need each other. —Olivia Abercrombie

254. Nico: The Marble Index (1968)

Christa Päffgen always wanted to be an artist, badgering the male musicians in her life for information about any blues, jazz and classical music she could get her hands on long before her fateful meeting with Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground. Yet, it took two other fateful meetings—one with Jim Morrison, who encouraged her to write lyrics, and the other with her beloved harmonium—for Nico to finally transform herself into the artist she was meant to be. Following her personal disappointment with her debut Chelsea Girl, Nico dyed her famous blond hair red and took to the studio with the Velvets’ John Cale to abandon pop and rock conventions entirely, working more in the tradition of the European avant-garde to craft the funereal discordance of The Marble Index. Amorphous, experimental and yet to be successfully replicated, the record might have registered as a cult oddity upon release, but now stands as a foundational text for all alternative music that similarly embraced the darkness in the decades that followed. —Elise Soutar

253. George Jones: I Am What I Am (1980)

I Am What I Am found the Possum in a dark place. By 1980, George Jones hadn’t charted in years, was buckling under the weight of addiction and debt, and was constantly fighting with himself in the form of arguing personas he called “the Duck” and “the Old Man.” In the midst of this, he recorded a song that at the time he called a “morbid son of a bitch” and later called the three minutes that saved his four-decade career: “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Many troubled artists have fallen on country music’s altar, but few could expose the morbid core of it as perfectly as George Jones—a feat that’s clear not only in the tremendous success of I Am What I Am’s breakout single, but also in the literal bloodletting on “If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)” and the all-too-real “I’ve Aged Twenty Years in Five.” —Annie Parnell

252. Lorde: Melodrama (2017)

Following the acclaim of 2013’s Pure Heroine, a 19-year-old Lorde had something to prove. She holed up for 18 months with Jack Antonoff in his Brooklyn apartment, creating what is still lauded as a magnum opus for the both of them. Melodrama is a triumph in pop that simply cannot be replicated, finding its strength in its vast world of emotional resonance. The lyrical gravitas of instrumentally minimal tracks like “Liability” and “Writer In The Dark” only emphasize the bombast brought on by their respective predecessors in “Hard Feelings / Loveless” and “Supercut.” Lorde’s already prodigious storytelling chops are enhanced from the heightened emotional intensity of young adulthood. Whether through larger-than-life synths or vocals that feel like Lorde is pouring her heart out right in front of you, Melodrama refuses to release its grip until you vividly remember what it’s like to be 19 and on fire. —Leah Weinstein

251. Popol Vuh: Hosianna Mantra (1972)

The third album from the German band Popol Vuh, Hosianna Mantra is a decadent blend of space rock, chamber pop, krautrock, New Age and ambient. At 37 minutes in length, bandleader Florian Fricke stepped away from the electronica that had defined previous albums In den Gärten Pharaos and Affenstunde and embraced a cutting-edge hodgepodge of acoustic instruments like the oboe and tambura. Between Conny Veit’s guitar playing and Djong Yun’s vocals, Hosianna Mantra sounds like it comes from a different constellation entirely. Songs like the title track, “Maria (Ave Maria)” and “Ah!” are ethereal and mind-bending, taking on a somber guise that converges head-on with lush, patient arrangements that are so gentle they could fracture at any moment. Hosianna Mantra is one of the greatest German music albums ever made, and Popol Vuh turned in a bold, timeless, holistic masterpiece in 1972. —Matt Mitchell

250. Burial: Untrue (2007)

William Bevan (aka Burial) quietly changed the course of contemporary electronic music before anyone even knew his name. The shadowy artist anonymously came up adjacent to the mid 2000s UK dubstep boom, putting out spindly, crackling dance tracks on Kode9’s Hyperdub label. His 2007 sophomore LP, Untrue, is beautiful, albeit wholeheartedly glum. Crafted using the unconventional software Soundforge, lopsided jungle and 2-step grooves are outlined by gritty effects and chopped-up pop vocal samples. It paints an overcast portrayal of meandering city life and clubbing, resulting in the most poignant party record ever. —Ted Davis

249. Joni Mitchell: Hejira (1976)

​​In 1976, after spending years in the limelight, singing and playing hippie-friendly anthems like “Big Yellow Taxi” and “The Circle Game” for people who came of age in the ‘60s, Joni Mitchell needed time off to reflect and reassess. Her solution was to drive across America by herself, and the time away gave birth to the songs on Hejira, a word that loosely translates as “traveler” in Arabic. Songs like “Amelia,” “Coyote” and especially “Song for Sharon” expressed a new depth and maturity in her lyrics that perfectly fused with the challenging new music she was composing. Supported by a stellar who’s who of modern jazz musicians including Jaco Pastorious, Tom Scott and Larry Carlton, Mitchell’s guitar-playing that had previously comprised of little more than folk strumming attained a mastery of expressing, phrasing and tone that has lost none of its power or innovation with the passage of time. Rhythmically complex, daring and beautiful, Hejira’s travelogues of despair and illumination have inspired many to consider it the finest album in her discography. —Doug Heselgrave

248. Steely Dan: Aja (1977)

Aja is one of the most impressive feats of musical excellence this world has seen—a spectacular display of jazz-rock, which perfectly utilized the services of over 40 acclaimed musicians and was gorgeously produced by Gary Katz. That Aja never hits a wrong note across its 40 minute run time alone would be enough to ensure its classic status, but Walter Becker and Donald Fagen did us one better: Rather than surrender to the ambience of their enviable full band, the duo penned moving vignettes of love, aspiration and dejection. On Aja’s apex, “Deacon Blues,” Fagen sings: “They got a name for the winners in the world / I want a name when I lose.” Hitting rock bottom never sounded so good. —Tom Williams

247. The Shangri-Las: Leader of the Pack (1965)

Even with the plaudits heaved onto The Shangri-Las in the wake of their lead singer Mary Weiss’ passing in early 2024, music history as we know it will probably always downplay the four Queens girls’ legacy—though it’d be difficult to tell the full story of popular music without them. Aside from their prescient visual and thematic sensibility, the impact of which can be clearly felt on the first wave of punk, Side A of their first full-length album, Leader of the Pack, contains of some of the strangest songs to ever be heard in regular rotation on pop radio, dishing out tales of teen melodrama with enough grit and nuance that listeners were compelled to take the young female voices seriously. Everyone from the Ramones to Amy Winehouse to Lana Del Rey to Garbage owes Mary, Betty, Marge and Mary Ann beyond measure for their bombast and tenderness alike. —Elise Soutar

246. LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver (2007)

Released in the era of Myspace and indie-sleaze, LCD Soundsystem achieves greatness in the nine anthems that make up Sound of Silver. But the sophomore album never confines itself to one theme; there’s something enduring about these droney indie-dance-punk grooves, these forward-looking sounds paired with James Murphy’s best lyrics, which are forever preoccupied with aging and the past—and memories, kept alive. “And it keeps coming,” Murphy repeats and repeats on “Someone Great,” before reminding us all of one inevitability: “till the day it stops.” —Annie Nickoloff

245. Eric B. & Rakim: Paid in Full (1987)

The legend goes that DJ / turntablist Eric B. put out a call to find “New York’s top MC” to complement his wizardly work on the decks. Boy, did he get what he asked for. Rakim was the antithesis to the shouty spirit of most New York rappers. His flow was smooth and laid back as if he recorded the entire album while seated in a cozy throne. It would be off putting if Rakim didn’t have the kind of cutting lyricism that commanded respect and sliced down his enemies—perceived or legit—with deceptive ease. Let’s not forget what Eric B. brought to this party. His choices of samples and breakbeats were judicious and thoughtful, minimalist and clean in contrast to the hard-edged assault of what producers like Rick Rubin and the Bomb Squad were up to at the time. The duo didn’t break new ground so much as suggest an alternate path through the hip-hop landscape. One that would allow them to collect their dead presidents by a show of subtle strength instead of brute force. —Robert Ham

244. Four Tet: There Is Love in You (2010)

There’s something profound about music that assumes form through live feedback, where natural movement can embed itself in the fabric of a piece. This was the foundation of Four Tet’s There Is Love in You, which grew out of experiments in London’s seminal nightclub Plastic People. The result is a constantly evolving sea of grooves, packed to the brim with shimmering, fragmented vocal samples that spin around the stereo field. The album shines in its simplicity, finding strength in subtlety and reaching hypnotic highs through pristine layering. It both rewards close listening and plays wonderfully as background music to accompany life’s hustle and bustle, and, as such, is an essential 2010s electronic record. —David Feigelson

243. Alice Coltrane: Turiya Sings (1982)

Alice Coltrane’s cosmic, spiritual harping is one of most transportive sounds in all of jazz. 1981’s Turiya Sings is an inadvertent New Age milestone, recorded in a whirlwind one-day session. The album is an impassioned tribute to Hinduism, and was originally only available as a cassette sold at Coltrane’s Vedantic Center ashram in the Los Angeles mountains. It’s also an early landmark in soundscaping, Coltrane’s Sanskrit singing gracefully placed atop a bed of heavenly synthesizers and strings. Coltrane’s output was typically sticky and surrealistic, as if melded from delicate tendrils of incense smoke. But Turiya Sings is comparably upward-gazing and spine-tingling, like the brittle blue tint of the Malibu sky. —Ted Davis

242. The Promise Ring: Nothing Feels Good (1997)

Formed in Milwaukee in 1995, the Promise Ring are heralded as one of the most crucial emo bands to ever do it—that is, until they shifted to making poppier stuff in 1999. But right in the middle of those bookends, the four-piece released Nothing Feels Good, an LP carved into emo’s Mount Rushmore with a gilded chisel. The songs are brash, catchy and thunderous—the kind of heavy record you’d expect a bunch of pop lovers to make, and it’s a bright, strange collection of rock music that sounds as indebted to the punk explosion from 20 years prior as it does the wave of radio-friendly alt-rock that would swallow the counterculture around the turn of the new millennium. Songs like “Is This Thing On?,” “Why Did Ever We Meet” and “Raspberry Rush” are guitar tracks that endure as syrupy as they do colossaly noisy. Without Nothing Feels Good, we don’t get Jimmy Eat World and the Get Up Kids. —Matt Mitchell

241. Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977)

It would’ve been more shocking if the Pistols stuck around long enough to make a second LP. Every marketing gimmick has a shelf-life and the Pistols’ was particularly short. Bollocks is a musical Ouroboros, as its reputation has cycled from “dangerous salvation of rock ‘n’ roll” to “embarrassing cartoon” multiple times over since 1977. If you can ignore big sweeping statements and the misplaced notions of grandeur forced upon it you might be able to appreciate its relatively frills-free take on caustic rock ‘n’ roll recidivism. And hey, at least two people responsible were in on the joke, which is probably two more than The Police. —Garrett Martin

240. Lady Gaga: The Fame Monster (2009)

The monstrous follow-up to Lady Gaga’s decade-defining EDM revival 2008’s The Fame was initially planned to be a deluxe-edition of the pop superstar’s debut—but with the star-power and sheer weight of the eight impeccable tracks, Gaga opted for it to stand on its own. The Fame Monster dropped just over a year after her smash-hit introduction with a feature from Beyoncé and a slew of new chart-toppers in “Bad Romance” and “Alejandro”—admittedly a go-to karaoke song of mine—and an early showcase of her vocal talent in “Speechless.” The Fame Monster explored the darker side of fame that Gaga gushed about a year earlier, and the album delivered one of the most iconic collaborations of the 2000s with “Telephone.” Along with her captivating performances and outlandish yet iconic fashion choices, Lady Gaga became a creative visionary in a pop scene dominated by commercialization. —Olivia Abercrombie

239. The Mountain Goats: The Sunset Tree (2005)

Maybe the prettiest thing about The Sunset Tree is how it is now both an album and a beacon of inspiration. The record unfortunately succumbed to the Tumblr era sometime in the late-aughts, falling into the clutches of an entire generation pasting those quintessential lyrics from “This Year” over night sky stock photos. But eons beyond that, The Sunset Tree holds up better than so many other albums have—because from top to bottom, it’s a ritualistic yet damning portrait of hope, love and domestic violence. Titled after a scene in Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh, where a character beats his son for having a speech impediment, The Sunset Tree continues to inspire universes of new fans, caught up in abusive environments, just looking for a reason to hold on a while longer. “Love, Love, Love” and “Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod” take John Darnielle’s childhood abuse in different directions, pivoting between ruminations on powerlessness, escape and revenge. But it’s the closing track, “Pale Green Things,” that’s the album’s triumph—where Darnielle learns of his abusive step-father’s passing and reminisces on when they spent a good day together at the race track, ending the record in a place where we relearn how love and family are still complicated, even in death. The Sunset Tree is a reflection on whether we can forgive those who hurt us in the name of love, and it still reminds us that we are not responsible for the violence inflicted on us by the people we live with. May we all find our own sunset trees to run to. —Matt Mitchell

238. Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is perhaps the best example of the magic that was the Elton John-Bernie Taupin songwriting partnership. It produced some of John’s best-known tracks, including the rollicking “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” the Marilyn Monroe tribute “Candle in the Wind,” the titular ballad and the karaoke staple “Bennie and the Jets.” John seamlessly shifts from brash to mournful over the course of its 17 tracks, and the result is not unlike when Dorothy steps into the Technicolor land of Oz for the first time. —Bonnie Stiernberg

237. Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition (2016)

Coming off of the cultish excitement of records like XXX and Old, Detroit rapper Danny Brown maintained his impressive streak with his masterful 2016 album, Atrocity Exhibition. Even though he was now signed to the electronic label Warp Records and capable of securing big-name features like Kendrick Lamar, Danny hadn’t lost the eccentric idiosyncrasies that made his music so appealing in the first place. His nasal delivery and queasy, off-kilter instrumentals are a match made in hip-hop heaven. Featuring cuts like the rap Avengers anthem “Really Doe,” the brassy four-on-the-floor banger “Ain’t It Funny” and the sample-heavy fever dream “Lost,” Atrocity Exhibition firmly cemented Danny as one of the greatest rappers doing it. —Grant Sharples

236. Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures (1979)

Greatest Albums of All TimeOne of the most recognizable album covers post-Dark Side of the Moon, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures continues to find audiences—in some way or another—in 2023. The work of Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris was just a stepping stone for what direction post-punk and new wave could take. The results are sometimes menacing, as Curtis’ deadpan delivery on songs like “Disorder” and “Shadowplay” are haunting and stirring. Other cuts, like “She’s Lost Control” and “Wilderness” exude gothic tones and hues, as Joy Division primed themselves to become one of England’s greatest bands. It’s hard to know what might have come of the band had Curtis lived beyond 1980, but I’d like to think that Joy Division was on a crash-course for the heights and reverence that The Smiths would get four years later. Of course, New Order would arise from the ashes of Unknown Pleasures and Closer, but the groundwork laid by Curtis and his bandmates in 1979 can still be felt 44 years later. It’s a perfect album that continues to influence groups like Fontaines D.C., shame and Yard Act. —Matt Mitchell

235. Aretha Franklin: Amazing Grace (1972)

Recorded at the New Temple Baptist Church in Los Angeles in early 1972, Aretha Franklin joined Reverend James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir for an 85-minute performance of some of the most beautiful gospel music you’ve ever heard. Not only is Amazing Grace the best-selling live gospel album of all time, it’s one of the single greatest performances ever captured on tape. But it’s not simply a gospel record; Aretha plays around with traditional styles and bends them to her liking. It’s a document of liberating abandon, a bird’s-eye-view into the call-and-response transcendence of a church party performing in unison. The work is powerful, and Aretha’s voice is captured in its greatest form here—as her renditions of “How I Got Over,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the 10-minute “Amazing Grace” are stunning, operatic and downright soul-stirring. —Matt Mitchell

234. D’Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah (2014)

14 years dissolved. One key-stroke, and the mythic follow-up to D’Angelo’s Voodoo could be yours. Luxurious, raw, crashed-up, silky, a funky collage of sounds and grooves, Black Messiah takes listeners even deeper into the dozen songs with repeated listening. More heartening than the hodgepodge of elements and seeming precision of their interweaving is the social consciousness rising. Yes, D’Angelo, that glorious objet d’amour, has not eschewed his romantic bent, but with the exhortative-sample, wah-wah guitar-slither collapsing into writhing moans on “1000 Deaths,” the drum-rolling phased vocal delight “Til It’s Done (Tutu)” and the elegantly moody “The Charade” with its wailing chorus “all we wanted was a chance to talk / ‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk…,” his desire to expand higher societal awareness dominates. Also declaring in the liners the all-analog recording of real hands on real instruments, Black Messiah churns the “old school” in ways that bristle with vitality, yet are as fresh and urgent as anything on radio. 14 years is a long time. Devotees were aware of the personal issues which have plagued the artist and delayed the album; each passing year suggested a lessening of what might be hoped for. To his credit, D’Angelo didn’t attempt to “supersede” what he’d built, but rather develop the nitty gritty gospel/soul/jazz/hip-hop bindings of his nu-funk excavations. —Holly Gleason

233. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Déjà Vu (1970)

Crosby, Stills & Nash had something really great going on across their eponymous debut album in 1969—but when the trio brought Canadian folk hero and former Buffalo Springfield member Neil Young into the fold in 1969, they made their best work. Déjà Vu is one of the greatest folk-rock records ever made. Lead single “Woodstock,” written by Joni Mitchell, reflected the titular music festival (where CSNY played one of their earliest four-piece gigs together), while “Teach Your Children” is a country-rock staple that paints a deft portrait of CSNY’s harmonizing. Any record with those two tracks on it would be a slam-dunk, but Déjà Vu also features David Crosby’s roaring hippie lament “Almost Cut My Hair,” Neil Young’s lost innocence standout “Helpless” and Graham Nash’s “Our House,” a generational ode to the ordinary bliss of his then-relationship with Mitchell (“Life used to be so hard, now everything is easy ‘cause of you”). For good measure, “Carry On” is Stephen Stills’ psych-folk album opener that solidified CSNY as a no-nonsense ripper (Stills’ guitar solo lurking in the background is subdued yet fierce, bubbling over into the band’s three-part harmony). CSNY wouldn’t make another record together until 1988, and Déjà Vu remains a career-high for all four men wrapped up in its brilliance. —Matt Mitchell

232. Portishead: Dummy (1994)

As one of the progenitors of trip-hop, a uniquely British mix of electronic, hip-hop and dub, the Bristol trio Portishead made a potent statement with their debut album, 1994’s Dummy. It’s diaphanous but tangible all the same; Beth Gibbons, Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrow demonstrate that there’s a power, and even a biting edge, in serenity. Across its 11 songs, like the hypnotically groovy “Sour Times” and the rhythmic yet atmospheric “It Could Be Sweet,” Portishead remains relatively quiet without ever sounding staid, proving that stillness can be its own device for profundity. —Grant Sharples

231. Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959)

How incredible 1959 was for jazz music—as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Sun Ra Arkestra and Cannonball Adderley all dropped some of the best records of their lives. Add saxophonist Ornette Coleman into the mix, and it’s hard to see how any other year for any other genre was better. But Coleman’s third album, The Shape of Jazz to Come, continued to display just how multi-dimensional the Texan was. The record reinvented the idea of what a free jazz record could be, enduring as a crowning achievement in the genre altogether. Coleman found much praise from critics and contemporaries, with Mingus even saying the work was “like organized disorganization or playing wrong right. It gets to you emotionally like a drummer.” Davis was reportedly not thrilled by Coleman’s work, but he and his backing trio—Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins—turned the jazz world upside down on The Shape of Jazz to Come. “Lonely Woman” is the greatest opening track on a jazz record ever, and “Chronology” might just be the greatest closer. —Matt Mitchell

230. Carly Rae Jepsen: Emotion (2015)

On Emotion, Carly Rae Jepsen transformed from a future one-hit-wonder to a pop phenom. Opener “Run Away With Me” is the rare breed of pop perfection that inspires people to make a 12 minute musical analysis about it. Skeptics would diminish Emotion as yet another white girl pop album about crushes and fantasies, but the way in which Jepsen delivers these songs is what makes it so timeless. Carly’s vocal performances and the stacked cast of producers (Shellback, Ariel Rechtshaid, Rostam and Blood Orange, just to name a few) are full of personality and refuse to shy away from their masterclass of ‘80s pop pastiche. Jepsen’s desire on this record is constant and unrelenting in the way young love and infatuation are supposed to be. —Leah Weinstein

229. Beck: Odelay (1996)

Beck would not be consigned to the unwelcome fate of a one-hit wonder. He may have disagreed at the time, but he was not a loser. He had plenty more to offer, as evidenced by the album he recorded and released after “Loser” catapulted him into the upper echelons of alt-rock radio rotation. 1996’s Odelay, Beck’s fifth studio album, is easily one of the greatest achievements throughout his now-decades-long career. On Odelay, he flaunts his eclecticism: the gnarly, distorted screams on opener “Devils Haircut,” the hip-hop-inspired sample-delica on “Where It’s At,” the twangy slide-guitar blues of “Lord Only Knows.” It’s a record that laid the foundation for a broad, extensive discography. —Grant Sharples

228. The Avalanches: Since I Left You (2000)

Since I Left You set a precedent upon its release 24 years ago. The debut outing from Australian electronica outfit the Avalanches, the record is a daring, 18-track foray into the wondrous universe of sampling and a Phil Spector-style, bassless production scope. There are varying estimates of how many samples exactly emerged from the thousands of hours Robbie Chater and Darren Seltmann spent concocting Since I Left You—some say over 3,500, while others argue it’s closer to 1,000. The band had roots in punk scenes, and you can hear that foundational rebellion throughout Since I Left You—notably in how Robbie Chater and Darren Seltmann (Bobbydazzler) cut up every piece of source material under the sun and fashioned it into this ambitious, relentless and buoyant masterpiece. Standout tracks like “Frontier Psychiatrist,” “Electricity” and “Radio” boast some of the album’s rowdiest energy, while entries like “Summer Crane” and “Tonight” are much more subdued and sublime and whimsical—showcasing jazz elements as often as they are bits of pop and soul. But, the cornerstone of Since I Left You is its title track, a slice of plunderphonics that endures as, quite possibly, one of the greatest songs of the last 25 years. The Avalanches wouldn’t make another record together for 16 (!) years, but not even their near-two-decade hiatus could ever even come close to puncturing the legacy built on the shoulders of Since I Left You. Perfect records are like that—unshakable and effortlessly singular. —Matt Mitchell

227. Germs: (GI) (1979)

The American counter to the Sex Pistols, Germs busted onto the scene in 1979 with their only album, (GI), and set the Western punk world ablaze. Many have thought of it as the first-ever hardcore punk album, and it was produced by a longtime friend of the band: Joan Jett. In an alternate universe, (GI) was actually produced by Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & the Raiders—but, instead, Jett was able to get Germs’ raucous, gnarly live presence (which included a usually-intoxicated Darby Crash barely even singing into the microphone) into the studio. (GI) cost Slash Records $6,000 but immediately made an impact, even if Germs called it quits a year later. The band spawned the career of a young guitarist named Pat Smear, who would go on to play in Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, and changed the trajectory of punk rock in the States forever. Songs like “Communist Eyes,” “Lexicon Devil” and closer “Shut Down (Annihilation Mix)” are among the greatest punk tracks ever written, with the latter being infamous for its nine-minute runtime and improvised breakdowns. California punk rock was never the same after (GI), and its bruised, sadistic and violent shake-ups have made Germs immortal. Even as attention swirled around the band following the release of (GI) in 1979, Germs barely survived another year and came to an abrupt close with the death by suicide of Crash in late December of 1980—a piece of news that was quickly plowed over the shooting death of John Lennon a day later. —Matt Mitchell

226. Solange: A Seat at the Table (2016)

Solange sounds reborn on her third album, 2016’s A Seat at the Table. It opens with “Rise,” a fitting introduction to a record that Solange spent approximately eight years making. Her filigreed vocals, backed by rich harmonies, remain front and center. “Fall in your ways, so you can wake up and rise,” she sings, hanging on to that last word and stretching it out. A Seat at the Table is a record about easing the toil through self-realization, and, here, Solange achieves that goal on her own terms. —Grant Sharples

225. Curtis Mayfield: Super Fly (1972)

Curtis Mayfield pulled off a rare trifecta with his third solo album: Super Fly was a touchstone of its era, it was highly political and, perhaps as a result of the first two, it was the rare soundtrack album that made more money than the film it accompanied. With an irresistible, highly assured mix of funk and soul, Mayfield offered a searing portrait of the inner-city poverty and desperation that the movie’s conflicted drug-dealing protagonist, Youngblood Priest, is making worse even as maneuvers to escape it. With wah-wah guitar, sharp brass and gooey string arrangements, the nine songs on Super Fly (including the Top 10 singles “Freddie’s Dead” and the title track) helped define the sound of ’70s funk, while Mayfield delivered a timeless message. —Eric R. Danton

224. U2: The Joshua Tree (1987)

U2’s legacy seemed unassailable before their 13th album, the underwhelming Songs of Innocence, showed up unwanted on everyone’s iPhone. It was an unexpected and unintentional heel turn for a band with humble post-punk roots that once sat on top of the world. For many, that peak came with 1991’s Achtung Baby, but for me, it’ll always be their fifth album, The Joshua Tree. Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, building on their work on The Unforgettable Fire, turned every Edge guitar lick into an atmospheric dream designed to fill every corner of the arenas the band suddenly found itself in, and a perfect foundation for Bono’s earnest, hopeful lyrics. Bombast never sounded so good. The album is front-loaded with hits—the one-two-three punch of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You”—but the quietly building ballads “Running to Stand Still” and “Red Hill Town” equally capture the magic of those four friends from Dublin. —Josh Jackson

223. Bruce Springsteen: Nebraska (1982)

When you think of Bruce Springsteen, you typically think of grand ambitions, big stages and larger-than-life, arena-packing choruses. On Nebraska, Springsteen’s 1982 album recorded with a Tascam Portastudio and a couple mics in a modest Colts Neck, New Jersey house, the Boss discarded the histrionics entirely for sparse, heart-wrenching lamentations like “Mansion on the Hill” and “State Trooper.” This suite of acoustic tunes was originally a demo collection, but, famously, he thought the songs sounded best this way. At his peak, even 10 of Springsteen’s demos are gifts to be treasured, rife with vulnerability, sincerity and, above all, humanity. —Grant Sharples

222. The Cure: Pornography (1982)

Disintegration seems to get the lion’s share of the love among the Cure’s discography, but the poignant echoes of “Lovesong” and “Lullaby” would not exist if it were not for the indulgent gloom of Pornography. After wading through the fertile mire of early goth music on Seventeen Seconds and Faith, Pornography presents the Cure’s freefall into the genre’s mushrooming abyss, immediately heralded by the opening doom spiral “One Hundred Years.” Pornography finds the Cure not just surrendering to misery, but committing to their muse through offerings of Stygian soundscapes, foglike synthlines and lyricism polluted with existential dread. While never particularly lascivious, Pornography made the Cure’s woe unprecedentedly explicit, crafting an inky sketch of an entire generation—as frontman Robert Smith wails—“waiting for the death blow.” —Victoria Wasylak

221. The Supremes: Where Did Our Love Go (1964)

The Supremes are Motown royalty, and Where Did Our Love Go is their crowning achievement. In a world where singles reign supreme, the second studio album from the legendary girl group is a triumph of romantic bliss from start to finish. Diana Ross plunges us into her rich, soulful soprano over classic doo-wop tunes. This historic album was the first ever to have three #1 singles come from one work: “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me.” Where Did Our Love Go introduced Motown to the masses and gave us the gorgeous harmonies of Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson at their best. —Olivia Abercrombie

220. Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

It’s hard to argue against a record that is responsible for housing one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time, and Highway 61 Revisited kicks off with the six-minute wonder of “Like a Rolling Stone.” But what makes Highway 61 Revisited such an important album is not just its immortal opener. Songs like “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Queen Jane Approximately” and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” are bulletproof treasures you’d be a fool to skip during a playback. A tracklist greatly defined by its exorbitant display of organ-playing by Al Kooper and Paul Griffin, Highway 61 Revisited showcased Dylan going fully electric for the first time ever (save for a few numbers), and it christened a new age of rock ‘n’ roll—famously seeing Bob leave his protest singer image behind, exchanging social causes for absurdist, poetic musings that give blues-based rock arrangements a surreal and raucous energy. And then there’s the album’s final song, “Desolation Row,” which—I would argue—is a better encapsulation of Dylan’s greatness than “Like a Rolling Stone.” At 11 minutes and done with an extravagant use of stream-of-consciousness vignettes and biting language, it solidifies Highway 61 Revisited as a masterpiece. —Matt Mitchell

219. Jeff Buckley: Grace (1994)

There is something about the plight of artists riddled with tragedy who create some of the most beautiful albums. After a decade of being a session guitarist, Jeff Buckley emerged with his only studio album in 1994 before his tragic death only three years later. Grace was the legacy of a young man gifted with a bloodline of musical talent wrestling with the pain of having an absent father—’60s folk singer Tim Buckley. Jeff found the beauty in pain on Grace with his moving cover of “Hallelujah,” which remains his most well-known track. The vocal intimacy strips you bare from the first sigh he breathes, as the opening notes ring out and the unapologetically naked production from every delicate pluck of the strings. Far from getting the flowers it deserved in Buckley’s lifetime, the tortured yet romantic album gave us the cries of anguish in “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over,” a gorgeous rendition of Nina Simone’s “Lilac Wine” and the languid beauty of “Grace.” Fighting tirelessly to stand out from his father’s shadow, Buckley found himself by intimately sharing his soul and pouring it into every note on Grace. His prowess as a musician was always the root of his guitar-centric music, but the delicacy with which he feels emotion in Grace is something that gets under your skin and won’t ever crawl out. —Olivia Abercrombie

218. The Band: Music from Big Pink (1968)

As the legend goes, The Band knocked out their debut album live in the studio in a matter of just two weeks. Apocryphal or not, Music From Big Pink certainly sounds as organic as that—the product of five musicians that have spent years on the road or in rehearsal spaces with one another, honing a sound that combined their varying interests in folk, R&B, jazz, country and soul. Why wouldn’t these 11 songs come out in one great big gush of inspiration as if guided by the Holy Spirit and a mess of weed and beer. Following their lead were folks like George Harrison and Eric Clapton, envious that this Canadian-American group were as authentic as it gets and trying desperately to ride their collective coattails toward a rootsier sound. But as Big Pink lays out, these boys had this sound in their bloodstream, in their bones, in their muscle memory. It all came natural and sounded as perfect and lived-in as could be. —Robert Ham

217. Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville (1993)

Liz Phair’s debut might just be the purest encapsulation of indie rock’s greatness that has ever been recorded. A lo-fi collection of largely four-chord tunes that was developed from 4-track demos with the help of producer Brad Wood, Exile in Guyville alternates between the anthemic (“Never Said,” “6’1””) and quietly intimate (“Gunshy,” “Explain It To Me”). A keenly insightful lyricist, Phair penned an all-timer breakup anthem (“Divorce Song”), an emboldened sex anthem that could make even Cardi B blush (“Flower”) and a downcast reflection on hookup culture, whose brutally honest final-leg lyrical twist never fails to punch the gut (“Fuck and Run”). The end result is an album far better than anyone in the toxic, macho “guyville” scene that Phair came of age in could ever dream of creating. —Tom Williams

216. The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs (1999)

In the eyes of Magnetic Field’s mad songwriting scientist Stephin Merritt, love can be almost anything—a chicken with its head cut off, grand pianos crashing together, a long forgotten fairytale, a trucker’s hand, jazz. And so, too, can the love song. Clocking in at almost three full hours, 69 Love Songs is a theatrical revue of sorts—a methodical exploration of the past, present and future of the love song in its most granular form. What’s incredible is how ingeniously Merritt manages to pull off this indelibly ambitious undertaking, taking us down every musical rabbit hole he can find and coming out the other side, in love and mad as a hatter. —Sean Fennell

215. Led Zeppelin: IV (1971)

Imagine writing an eight-track album and every single on it is a massive hit. When you team up Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, the impossible becomes relatively achievable. IV is a staggering, genre-bending record with influences from proto-heavy metal, folk and blues that defined a decade of hard rock. IV is as dramatic—fueled mainly by Plant’s adoration for mythology—as it is a masterclass of pure rock ‘n’ roll. The cyclical, multi-layered riffs of “Black Dog,” the euphonious mandolin on “Going to California” and the somber cry of the guitar and flute on “Stairway to Heaven” have all become integrated into the classic rock ethos and endure as some of the most iconic songs of the ‘70s hard rock era—and heavy music altogether. —Olivia Abercrombie

214. Joanna Newsom: Ys (2006)

Joanna Newsom’s Ys conjures an inexplicable magic that is as expansive as it is intimate. With only five tracks, Newsom arranges an ambitious and mythical 55-minute epic of internal struggle and wonder. Ys widens the scale set up by her 2004 album The Milk-Eyed Mender, crafting a rich and grandiose orchestral album that adeptly narrates tales of sorrow and change as if the text was pulled straight from a medieval tale. Newsom’s signature harp is showcased throughout, accompanied by a stirring blend of strings, reeds and woodwinds. Jaunty strums of banjo decorate the tracks, embellishing the album with surprising whimsical flare and texture. The complex and sweeping arrangements feel as though they were carried here from a distant and enchanting land. As fantastical as it is, Newsom asserts that each of the tracks were inspired by real events within her own life. The gravity of these potent emotions ground the whimsy of the album into a stately and striking monument of work with both depth and eccentricity. It’s widely regarded as Newsom’s best work for good reason: Ys showcases her reaching unforeseen heights with grace and mastery. —Grace Ann Natanawan

213. Lil Wayne: Tha Carter III (2008)

His sixth album, Tha Carter III cemented Lil Wayne as his generation’s greatest MC—but only without delays and leaks. Still, it sold a million copies in its first week on the shelves and spawned five singles, including “Lollipop,” “A Milli” and “Got Money,” the former of which hit #1 on the Hot 100. With contributions from Jay-Z, T-Pain, Babyface, Static Major, Busta Rhymes and Fabolous, Tha Carter III was one of the first true blockbuster rap albums of the 2000s—holding court with projects like 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and Jay-Z’s American Gangster, but outpacing them both for its pop sensibilities. It’s the kind of album that elder millennials hold close and for good reason: While many of his peers have fallen out of the zeitgeist in some form or another, Lil Wayne remains just as crucial now as he was 16 years ago. Tha Carter III, despite having a producer list longer than the Bill of Rights and songs that have fallen out of sonic style and trend, is one of the greatest rap records ever made, period. —Matt Mitchell

212. Grace Jones: Nightclubbing (1981)

By the time Grace Jones released her fifth album, Nightclubbing, the Jamaican club singer was nothing short of a star. Not only is it the best post-disco album, but it’s Jones’ strongest set of songs she’s ever put out. Galvanized by singles “Pull Up to the Bumper,” “I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)” and “Use Me,” Nightclubbing saw Jones embracing the campy side of disco’s rubble—building on the passionate gay and cult following she’d gained through her music’s popularity in club scenes. Jones took aim at making a pop record fit with stylings of New Wave, rock, funk, reggae, R&B and post-punk, all while honing the electronic presence that her earlier work, like Fame and Muse had embodied. Nightclubbing is more of a punk record than it is a dance triumph, yet you can certainly enjoy both at the same time during a track like “Demolition Man.” Jones was the ultimate chameleon of her era, never trying to do too much with her voice and, instead, coelescing with the arrangements until every song is a character for her to embody. Ever the androgyne, Nightclubbing wears many masks and succeeds because Jones buys into the larger-than-life wardrobe of her own art. —Matt Mitchell

211. Fugazi: Repeater (1990)

With Repeater, Fugazi announced themselves. Having already established a devoted local fanbase with their first two EPs and the compilation 13 Songs, they broadened their scope ahead of their full-length debut, shifting to a collectivist songwriting model that lets the whole group shine. On the anti-consumerist manifesto “Merchandise,” Joe Lally’s bassline steadily raises the stakes until Ian MacKaye erupts with that famous rallying cry: “You are not what you own.” They also render a surprise extended metaphor from the Beatles’ mid-career landmark Revolver on the album, bucking expectations with an homage and a hippie sendup at once—particularly as Guy Picciotto sneers “I’m only sleeping” into the mic on “Turnover” with pummeling drums from Brendan Canty and MacKaye on guitar surging behind him. —Annie Parnell

210. The Blue Nile: Hats (1989)

Before Taylor Swift gave them a shoutout on her album The Tortured Poets Department, the Blue Nile made one of the greatest sophisti-pop records of all time: Hats. Listening to this album will change your life, I promise you that. Singles “Headlights on the Parade” and “Saturday Night” are magnificent synth-pop efforts, but the sugar-sweet melancholy of Paul Buchanan’s aching lead vocals transform the entire project. But, yes, the sheer pop triumph of “The Downtown Lights” is big enough to cement the handsomeness of Hats altogether. Few pop songs have ever risen to the Blue Nile’s level on “The Downtown Lights” or “Over the Hillside” or “From a Late Night Train” and few ever will. Hats has inspired everyone from Rickie Lee Jones to Annie Lennox to The 1975 to black midi, and the album’s enduring perfection only grows more sublime and superior with each passing year. Few records of the era can claim the same truth. —Matt Mitchell

209. The Stooges: Fun House (1970)

At once cretinous and riveting, often for the same reasons, it’s hard to understate the Stooges’ influence on the punk scene that would soon follow. The band’s second album, Fun House, assembles all the elements. There are brutish guitars, pounding beats and a general air of mayhem enhanced by the sense that frontman Iggy Pop was just barely keeping himself under control. He sets the tone with a feral whoop at the start of the greasy, strutting opener “Down on the Street,” yowls over scabrous guitars on “T.V. Eye” and loses himself in the sprawling psychedelia of the title track, which comes complete with honking saxophone. Though nothing could fully capture the chaos of the Stooges onstage, Fun House came as close as possible. —Eric R. Danton

208. Joni Mitchell: Court and Spark (1974)

There is a key moment in any songwriter’s career where they cross the line between “us” and “them”—meaning when they’re writing about the lives of their audience, which they too once lived while working on their earliest material, versus when they start writing about their less-relatable new lives as prominent musicians. Even the best songwriters have failed to stick the landing on this transition, but with her own turning point captured on Court and Spark, Joni Mitchell firmly cemented her legacy as a defining artist of the medium. Showing her mettle as a titan arranger and producer, it also marked the most defiant shedding of Mitchell delicate songbird image listeners had seen to date, sticking rollicking, playful gems like “Raised on Robbery” or “Free Man in Paris” alongside the razor-sharp character studies of “People’s Parties” and “Down to You.” Even in its tales of lavish travels or the music industry at large, she is able to tap into emotional truths that feel both rooted in their time and context while also transcending all of those things. —Elise Soutar

207. Tom Waits: Rain Dogs (1985)

If 1983’s Swordfishtrombones saw Tom Waits stumble away from the barroom piano and wander into a junkyard, Rain Dogs sees him set up shop there and send out change-of-address cards. The album begins in the iron bowels of a ship set for Singapore and ends in drunken heartache on the streets of London town. In between, Waits takes us on a menacing, rhythmic romp through the rain-soaked haunts of the downtrodden and dispossessed. It’s a grimy, seamy, loving ode to the people and places decent society ignores, with Waits pushing his madcap kitchen sink production and near-pop songcraft to new levels of debauched sublimity. It’s his howling, Bukowskiesque masterpiece. —Matt Melis

206. American Football: American Football (1999)

Nothing fills me with existential dread more than the opening riff of “Never Meant,” and I mean that in the best way possible. The Midwest emo suburbia hellscape is something American Football knows all too well, and their self-titled debut has that angst plastered all across it. Nothing got me through my middle school years more than a bunch of twenty-something white guys whining about their emotions because I was whining about all the same things in my mind—being stuck in my hometown but wanting something more. There is a reason we connect with the coming-of-age story. We all went through it in some capacity, which is why American Football remains a pillar of teenage dread so many years later. The soft sting of “Stay Home” captures a biting morning breath in the dead of winter; the yearning trumpet on “The Summer Ends” recreates a quiet afternoon at home with nothing to do; the cascading riff of “Never Meant” might as well be the designated sound of growing up. Perhaps the nature of emo is too self-indulgent, but honestly, the drama of teendom is worth contemplating in such an introspective way, no matter how small the problems may seem. —Olivia Abercrombie

205. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica (1969)

Don Van Vliet’s notorious, avant-garde double LP masterwork is so impossible to ever fully grasp that its inscrutability has emerged, over time, as the main reason for why it remains such a marvel decades later. Like that old adage about trying to teach a fish to bike, trying to describe the appeal of Trout Mask Replica is like trying to deliver repair instructions after the fall of the Tower of Babel. Instruments rush by in seemingly arbitrary flurries, only to cohere into brief moments of harmonizing clarity, before disintegrating into carefully orchestrated cacophonies once again. Technically proficient pisstakes like “Pena” and “When Big Joan Sets Up” hold just as much muster in the sprawling tracklist as the unflinchingly horrifying proto-Tom Waits track “Dachau Blues,” or Van Vliet’s own acapella interstitials, or the blues-by-way-of-free-jazz “Hair Pie” instrumental jam sessions, or the relatively straightforward onslaught of “Moonlight on Vermont.” Perhaps, like a deep sea expedition, we may never completely chart Trout Mask Replica’s eccentric depths, but that’s the joy in diving back into its choppy waters time and time again. —Natalie Marlin

204. Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (2018)

To experience Janelle Monae in all their glory, Dirty Computer is best experienced in its Black Mirror-esque, “Emotion Picture” sci-fi film form—a 48-minute romp through Monae’s Afrofuturist, dystopian world. (After all, multimedia tends to be Monae’s forte; beyond the video and album, the project also inspired them to write the short story collection The Memory Librarian.) These 14 perfectly funky pop songs are powerful, sometimes-celebratory and sometimes-biting odes to bodies and sex and race, these bits of codes and numbers that make up the computer algorithm of human identity. Dirty computers should be celebrated, Monae asserts in this masterpiece. They would know—“I am not America’s nightmare,” they sing on “Crazy, Classic, Life,” “I am America’s dream.” —Annie Nickoloff

203. Leonard Cohen: Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)

Leading up to the release of Leonard Cohen’s debut album, he’d been getting noticed around New York for his poetry and prose. Many years prior, he was a guitarist in a country band called the Buckskin Boys, and the orbits of his writing and musicality were beginning to converge. He wrote a song called “Suzanne” and then Judy Collins recorded it. Folks in the industry, namely John Hammond, came to notice Cohen’s lyricism and he got a contract from Columbia within a year. Songs of Leonard Cohen sets itself apart from most other folk records of its era, namely for how pronounced and thoughtful it was from the jump. Cohen was 33 when he made it, and being that old in New York City was like being 75 in the Midwest. There’s ample wisdom and thoughtfulness across every speck of the record, on songs like “So Long, Marianne” and “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” and “The Stranger Song.” Songs of Leonard Cohen was ahead of its time, with Nancy Priddy’s harmonies and David Lindley’s use of violin, jaw harp and flute; when I listen to it now, 56 years later, it still feels that way. —Matt Mitchell

202. Built to Spill: Perfect From Now On (1997)

Every word and strum from Doug Martsch cradles a kind of cosmic magnitude, like the phenomenological metal sphere he sings of in the arresting opening moments of “Randy Described Eternity.” Built to Spill’s best albums all capture the apotheosis of their chosen modes—the airtight alt-rock of Kept It Like A Secret, the lo-fi jangle sensibilities of There’s Nothing Wrong With Love—but the way the song structures on Perfect From Now On expand and become their own galaxies is a special entity all its own, as if welding the properties of prog rock and jam bands onto the songwriting stylings of the ‘90s indie boom that Martsch emerged into. Martsch is just as likely to break into understated solos after a verse as he is a chorus, and tracks often conceal hairpin turns into crescendos or extended instrumental passages, like the numerous axis-tilting pivots of “Stop the Show” or the sudden galloping bursts of “Out of Site.” There are entire universes in each song on Perfect From Now On, beckoning you to be lost in their gravitational pull. —Natalie Marlin

201. Danger Mouse: The Grey Album (2004)

Jay-Z loved it. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr loved it. EMI hated it. Danger Mouse’s 2004 mash-up album, The Grey Album, collaged a cappella versions of Jay-Z’s The Black Album with samples from The Beatles 1968 self-titled album. It’s one of the greatest what-could’ve-beens in the history of rap music, and it’s one of the greatest deconstructions in the history of music altogether. The way Danger Mouse paired “99 Problems” and “Helter Skelter” is a standout, but “Dirt Off Your Shoulder / Julia” and “Justify My Thug / Rocky Raccoon” can’t be ignored. It was a revolutionary concept, putting Danger Mouse on the map before he’d get big with Gnarls Barkley a few years later. It’s the kind of record that can introduce rap fans to the Beatles and Beatles fans to Jay-Z’s rap world; “December 4th / Mother Nature’s Son” will always be one of the coldest, most emotional mashups ever. As one YouTube comment says perfectly: The Grey Album is “an album for the streets, never meant for the mainstream world. Forever beautiful.” Amen to that. —Matt Mitchell

200. Massive Attack: Blue Lines (1991)

It’s hard to name a record more suave and chrome-y than Massive Attack’s Blue Lines. The 1991 debut from the schlubby Bristol, UK collective served as a framework for trip-hop, setting the American hip hop formula to a mossy electronic backdrop. “Unfinished Sympathy” and “Safe From Harm” are chillout classics, driven by undulating basslines, blissful synthesizer pads, and crisp percussion. But the album’s clear highlight is “Five Man Army,” which features spoken-word verses from The Wild Bunch sound system affiliate Willy Wee. Calmly rapping over a dub reggae-laced downtempo beat, the song pinpoints a grayscale, marbled smoothness at the heart of Blue Lines. —Ted Davis

199. The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream (2014)

I wasn’t sure I needed an album like Lost in the Dream until I heard it. Even then, it took a few listens before I could articulate why it scans the way it does: Wistful but not resigned, invigorated but not wide-awake. As its title suggests, Lost in the Dream often trades in gaseous, impressionistic hues, and a cavalry of affected guitar, synth, lap steel, sax, harmonica and piano tracks gel into luminescent aural sunsets at several points throughout the album. These ambient drifts bookend Adam Granduciel’s tender songs, the lyrics of which also tend to reveal themselves in refracted ways. Indeed, it can be difficult to discern more than a handful of lines in succession—Granduciel’s feathery, mostly reserved delivery sees to this, as well as the tonnage of reverb baked into the mix—but listeners can’t miss the sense of melancholy and anxiety woven into nearly every second of Lost’s hour-plus run-time. “Am I alone here, living in darkness?” he asks on “Eyes to the Wind,” his questioning telling all in a handful of words. —Ryan Burleson

198. Buena Vista Social Club: Buena Vista Social Club (1997)

Every so often, an album hits outside of its normal genre buckets, and listeners all over the globe are reminded that there’s more good music out there than they’ll ever be able to listen to. That was certainly the case with a group of 20 Cuban musicians who became known to the world as Buena Vista Social Club. Gathered by Nick Gold, Ry Cooder and Juan de Marcos González, performers like Ibrahim Ferrer and Rubén González had been active in Cuba in the ’40s and ’50s, and many of the songs take the listener back to a very different Havana before Fidel Castro was sworn in as Prime Minister in 1959. The opening track “Chan Chan,” written in the 1980s by trovador and BVSC member Compay Segundo, set the tone for the gorgeous music to follow. After a Wim Wenders performance documentary on the group in 1998, several members released well-received solo albums and the surviving members continue to tour as Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, but they’ve never held so many in awe as with the release of their only studio album, which sold over 8 million copies. —Josh Jackson

197. Slayer: Reign in Blood (1986)

In 1986, no metal band was heavier or more controversial than Slayer, and their signing to a major label didn’t keep them from melting everyone’s faces with their third album. At just under 30 minutes, Slayer riled you up and ripped you to shreds on Reign in Blood. It’s all killer and zero filler, backed with timeless riffs and unmatched energy, especially in “Raining Blood” and “Angel Of Death.” The introduction of Rick Rubin—most known for his work with Run-DMC and LL Cool J at the time—initially worried hardcore thrash fans who were riding the high of Metallica’s Master Of Puppets, yet his presence reigned in the band’s havoc just the right amount. What came of it was the best of Slayer’s craft, and Reign in Blood leaves you thirsty for more of their evocative thrash metal. —Olivia Abercrombie

196. Rush: Moving Pictures (1981)

The venerable Canadian prog-rock three-piece Rush have been many things in their storied history—ambitious blues rockers, synth-pop auteurs, conceptualists across several albums and artistic fields. But let’s face it: If there can only be one album that demonstrates the pure undeniable chemistry of a trio on a song-to-song basis, it has to be their 1981 classic Moving Pictures. It’s not just that bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer/lyricist Neil Peart were all at the top of their game here—it’s that they all work in such ideal harmony with one another. It’s the emphatic fills from Peart and Lee’s labyrinthine bass licks that charge in when Lifeson’s lead riffs hit rests on “YYZ,” or the ways all three players harmonize in the dynamic shifts of “Red Barchetta.” As Lee himself sings at the climax of the bifurcated centerpiece “The Camera Eye,” “I feel the sense of possibilities,” and Moving Pictures is Rush realizing their possibilities to the fullest, the musicianship of all three members in the sharpest focus it’s ever been. —Natalie Marlin

195. Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory (2017)

Big Fish Theory is Vince Staples’ electronic album, and he has even said as much himself. The Long Beach rapper’s sophomore record opens with a trance cut courtesy of none other than Justin Vernon, and the late dance savant SOPHIE handles the jittery, caustic production of standout “Yeah Right.” Like the Californian ocean itself, Big Fish Theory is aqueous and expansive, bridging Detroit techno and UK garage with harrowing details about Staples’ experiences with gang activity and police violence. “Swimming upstream while I’m tryna keep my bread from the sharks / Make me wanna put the hammer to my head,” he raps on the quasi-title track. It’s dark and nihilistic yet nonetheless inviting, like a beautiful, blue sea beckoning you into its depths where sharks hunt for prey. —Grant Sharples

194. The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground (1969)

Lou Reed’s musical career got its kickstart through writing knock-off doo-wop tracks for Pickwick Records—and despite experimental detours and transgressive, literate lyrics scattered across his body of work spanning decades, he never really strayed too far from his roots as a pure pop songwriter. In 1969, left with the lion’s share of control over The Velvet Underground following John Cale’s and benefactor Andy Warhol’s exit, Reed wrote some of his most meditative, emotional songs to date, spanning everything from bittersweet semi-love songs (“Pale Blue Eyes”, “Some Kinda Love”), ebullient guitar workouts (“What Goes On”) and empathetic portraits of those he met in Warhol’s factory (“Candy Says”). The 1967 debut might have been the album to launch a thousand bands, but this might be the Velvet Underground album whose influence on music is most clearly still felt in 2024. —Elise Soutar

193. Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters (2020)

For those of us who lived through its album cycle, we will always associate Fiona Apple’s long-awaited fifth record with pandemic malaise—a message regarding the urge to break free of shackles imposed upon us resonating in ways Apple could never have imagined. However, when further generations listen through Apple’s discography—as they surely will, with fresh ears—they will still place it on par with long-acclaimed entries like When the Pawn and Bolt Cutters’ predecessor, The Idler Wheel. Inventive, delightfully shambolic in its use of a percussive palette and, above all, hopeful in the face of difficult odds, it sounds like the moment Apple fully frees herself from others’ expectations, defying any restraints you might try to place on her. This is the sound she makes when she “only move[s] to move”, and what a glorious thing to be privileged enough to hear. —Elise Soutar

192. Dinosaur Jr.: You’re Living All Over Me (1987)

Not many alt-rock legends from the 1980s are still doing it, so let’s consider ourselves lucky that J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph are still kicking up a fuss for us. Dinosaur Jr. have dropped 12 albums since 1985, but none have been more crucial than their sophomore LP, You’re Living All Over Me. Their hardcore roots were stripped away, revealing a noisy foundation glossed with earworm guitar tones. It was the first record where Mascis carried the brunt of the lead vocal duties, and his and Barlow’s songwriting finally kicked into high-gear on tracks like “In a Jar,” “Little Fury Things” and “Lose.” You’re Living All Over Me was extremely influential on the burgeoning shoegaze scene happening across the pond around the same time, and we might not have ever heard loveless if it weren’t for those grunge punks from Amherst. You’re Living All Over Me feels like a perfect convergence of what Dinosaur Jr. loved growing up: speed metal and “wimpy-jangly stuff.” They had it in spades on one of the most crucial alt-rock texts of the 1980s. —Matt Mitchell

191. TLC: CrazySexyCool (1994)

A solidly ‘90s creation, CrazySexyCool defined an era of scratchy hip-hop beats and shimmery R&B production that effectively changed the game for girl groups in perpetuity. (Oh, and it also spawned a set of all-time bangers: “Waterfalls,” “Creep” and “Diggin’ On You.”) This epic from Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas marked a high point in the group’s one decade of music-making as a trio, preceding Lopes’ death in 2002. Now, CrazySexyCool continues to age finely, providing a nostalgic capsule of well-crafted, sultry, feminine pop anthems for all time. —Annie Nickoloff

190. Pavement: Slanted & Enchanted (1992)

When Pavement formed in the late ‘80s, the band resisted press and live performances in favor of seeing themselves as solely a recording project. This detached demeanor, coupled with the group’s general zaniness, allowed them to create an uninhibited and raucous debut album. The delightfully messy lo-fi romp known as Slanted & Enchanted was released in 1992 to critical acclaim, solidifying Pavement as an indie rock band on the rise. Stephen Malkmus’s haphazard vocals led listeners through tracks saturated with loose, ringing guitars caked in distortion and thick, rumbling percussion. There’s a casual irreverence to Slanted & Enchanted that drives the album into wild and unchecked places; the album’s voracious momentum tears through the tracklist with abandon. We can hear the fresh, unrestrained songwriting of the group shine through on tracks like “No Life Singed Her,” as Malkmus yelps and wails over a cacophony of a dissonant array of guitar and bass. Its cutthroat transitions and sharp-edged instrumentation are cushioned with sly humor as well as hints of vulnerability. “Here” strips back the noise and glimpses into a sense of introspective melancholy that is wielded with care and patience, a sudden and refreshing turn from the turbulent tracklist. Slanted & Enchanted shows us a snapshot of Pavement at their most volatile. —Grace Ann Nantanawan

189. The Microphones: The Glow Pt. 2 (2001)

The Glow Pt. 2 is what I always considered to be a rite of passage album. Anyone who is familiar with the Microphones can easily recall the first time they heard this seminal album. It’s the type of project that every 20-year-old should be mandated to listen to upon reaching a certain point in their adolescence. Phil Elverum was only 22 years old when the album came out on September 11, 2001, and he affirms it as a product of his coming of age, stating that, in his older age, he now finds the songs to be almost unrecognizable. The youthful threads of Elverum’s early songwriting are woven together with a disjointed and immersive lo-fi sound set against a crisp Pacific Northwest haze. We see him emerge for the first time with a newfound mastery of space and structure as he navigates through a fluid and ever-evolving tracklist. From the introduction of “I Want Wind to Blow” leading into “The Glow Pt. 2,” Elverum presents us with an album of subtle contradiction and volatility. If you think the tracklist is going in one direction, it veers left in the other. The vast, rumbling instrumentation of “Instrumental – 2” softly bleeds into the bare acoustic guitar of “I Felt Your Shape” as Elverum creates an expanding canvas of sound and feeling. Eerie corridors of sparse noise trail through the tracklist, ringing out in melancholic fragments that culminate in the ambient and evocative final track “My Warm Blood.” The timeless magic of The Glow lies within its tragic and radiant exploration of youth and human connection. —Grace Ann Natanawan

188. Kate Bush: The Dreaming (1982)

Where Kate Bush’s 1980 album Never For Ever operated as her dark fairytale with specks of light dazzling across its runtime, its follow-up The Dreaming takes both the euphoria and the darkest depths of the human existence to extremes, using each song’s character sketch vignette to capture an artist at a crossroads—and creating the most daring work of her career in the process. No other album captures the ambition to “have it all”—namely as a woman artist—in all its rage-filled, grotesque glory like The Dreaming does. A witches’ brew of sweat, blood and the desire to consume any oncoming obstacle whole (something women had been told for centuries prior they weren’t supposed to do), it stands as an unfiltered testament to the wrath of Bush’s vision, as well as one of her crowning creative achievements in a career full of them. —Elise Soutar

187. Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)

No matter how transgressive The Marshall Mathers LP remains, it is, without a doubt, the most important rap album of its time. Eminem, who’d achieved a rags-to-riches surge of fame on The Slim Shady LP a year prior, was now facing his celebrity status head-on—and his response is uncomfortable, hilarious and downright unnerving. Blending horrorcore, satire and hardcore hip-hop, The Marshall Mathers LP is as beautiful as it is violent. The comedy of tracks like “The Real Slim Shady” and “Criminal” are contradicted by the torture of “Kim,” and songs like “The Way I Am” and “Stan” wrestle with the pitfalls of stardom. Eminem was one of the most famous musicians in the world at the turn of the millennium, and the follow-up to his own breakout hit record is one of the greatest middle-fingers ever thrown at the music industry. —Matt Mitchell

186. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (2015)

Delicate yet deep, 2015’s Carrie & Lowell once again proved that some of the most personal art is often the best kind. Following 2010’s heavily electronic The Age of Adz, Sufjan Stevens returned to his indie-folk roots, mining thematic inspiration from the loss of his mother in 2012 and his relationship with his stepfather (both are name-dropped in the title and adorn the album’s cover). This process resulted in a devastating trove of songs about grief and death that still resonates due to Stevens’ impeccable craftsmanship and piercing autobiographical detail. It’s strange to say that an extremely vulnerable record has “no skips,” but truly, there isn’t a single track on Carrie & Lowell that feels out of place, from the amusing-turned-heartbreaking “Eugene” to the striking, stormy “Fourth of July.” It remains Stevens’s tightest, most cohesive work to date and a powerful testament to using art as a path toward finding closure and meaning in our memories. —Sam Rosenberg

185. Beyoncé: Beyoncé (2013)

Anticipation is always high for a new Beyoncé album. But little did we know that, in 2013, she would flip the game on its head. On a magical night in December 2013, Bey’s self-titled fifth studio LP hit iTunes without any prior notice. Stacked with 14 songs and 17 music videos, Bey gave us the album she had always wanted to make, and the kind of art her fans needed. Known for her grandiose performances and impressive range, Bey switched it up this time around with minimalistic production—allowing her sharp vocals and visual stylings to climb to the forefront. Setting the stage for what was to come—some of her best music coming at the later portions of her career, as opposed to her peaking early—Beyoncé began making music on her own terms, creating the sonic and visual body of work she sought out to make upon her debut nearly 30 years ago. Bringing those elements into future albums, like Lemonade, Renaissance, and Cowboy Carter, she continues to remind us why she is on nobody’s timeline, nor is she anyone’s peer or competition. —Alex Gonzalez

184. The Strokes: Is This It (2001)

When the Strokes hit the NYC rock scene with their debut album in 2001, no one could have predicted that Julian Casablancas, Nick Valensi, Albert Hammond Jr., Nikolai Fraiture and Fabrizio Moretti were going to become figureheads of a “revival.” Continuing the history of what bands like the Talking Heads, Television and Blondie started 25 years prior, Is This It emerged as a game-changer. You’ve heard it all before, how it inspired bands like the Arctic Monkeys, Kings of Leon and the Libertines to kick up a fuss, or how it was a “template for rock ‘n’ roll in the modern day,” as Zane Lowe once said on BBC Radio 1. And maybe that much is true, as songs like “Last Nite,” “New York City Cops,” “Someday,” “The Modern Age” and “Hard to Explain” were all certifiably top-notch rock tracks fit for elder millennials yearning for a post-adolescent identity. The Strokes set the gold standard for Y2K bands, showing that you can make a modern classic on your first go. What you know now about rock ‘n’ roll likely owes a big number of thanks to Is This It. —Matt Mitchell

183. The Ronettes: Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica (1964)

The Ronettes—Ronnier Spector (then known as Veronica Bennett), Estelle Bennett and Nedra Talley—are rock pioneers, and I stand by that. How many acts can say the Rolling Stones opened for them? The three teens were known for their exaggerated eye makeup, massive beehive up-dos and (in 1960s standards) tight skirts—all of which were small acts of rebellion against the demure images of other girl groups of the time. Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes is a kaleidoscope of teenage angst, manipulative producers and all the “baby” songs anyone could ever need. The 12-track LP is a compilation of singles and covers with a few originals explicitly recorded for the album. We all know their smash hit “Be My Baby”—in all its snappy romantic glory. Still, this album has so much more to offer, like Ronnie’s velvety smooth vocals on “Walking In the Rain,” the sprawling layered production of “You Baby” and the swaying melody of “So Young” paired with the heavenly harmonies of Estelle and Nedra. Sitting at just over 36 minutes, the album’s brevity is the perfect mirror to the Ronettes’ time as a group—short but sweet yet timeless. —Olivia Abercrombie

182. The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers (1971)

Recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, “Brown Sugar” continues Mick Jagger’s newfound penchant for writing controversial lyrics, touching on issues of interracial sex, slavery and heroin use. On “Sway,” Jagger plays rhythm guitar, while Mick Taylor takes the impressive solos on his shoulder. Featuring the likes of Gram Parsons and Jim Dickinson, “Wild Horses” has become one of the most frequently covered songs in rock ‘n’ roll history. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” starts off with classic Stones’ memorable riffs, hooks, fills and choruses—until halfway through where the band departs into one of their most dexterous instrumental displays, slowly building up into a triumphant guitar-and-sax-led frenzy before end on an abrupt high note. Jagger and Richards teamed up on “Bitch,” creating an electric opening track for the album’s second side that nearly stands up to the album opener “Brown Sugar”—sans the racy lyricism. “Dead Flowers” sees the group brilliantly succeeding with a stab at making country music. Sticky Fingers comes to a close with “Moonlight Mile,” a lushly arranged ballad that lasts for roughly six minutes, offering listeners a chance to reflect on the tyranny of distance and madness on the road. —Max Blau

181. John Prine: John Prine (1971)

For all of the ways that Bob Dylan became one of our lifetime’s greatest storytellers across 40 studio albums, John Prine achieved all of that on his very first record. Released in autumn 1971, John Prine is a perfect assembly of 13 songs, many of which endure as some of Prine’s all-time greatest. From “Illegal Smile” to “Flashback Blues,” the Illinois folk troubadour took us through a century’s worth of stories told from the attic of a nasally voice. Prine was a poet with no interest in fashioning a catchy imprint; the work was hard-nosed and blunt, compassionate and universal. Some of the cornerstone tracks, like “Hello in There” and “Sam Stone” and “Angel From Montgomery,” are their own novels, populated with characters that arrive like we’ve known and loved them forever—from drug-addicted war veterans to strip miners to middle-aged women to junkyard treasure hunters. There is also “Donald and Lydia,” Prine’s ode to a young couple who’ve become narrow-minded in their own love. And then “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore” comes at us as an anti-war tune waging critiques at performative patriotism. From top to bottom John Prine is not just one of the greatest debut albums ever; it’s the greatest folk record ever written. —Matt Mitchell

180. Missy Elliott: Supa Dupa Fly (1997)

I remember hearing Supa Dupa Fly for the first time and being swept off my feet, having never experienced such a perfect rap album before. Missy Elliott got her start with Timabaland writing songs for Aaliyah’s record One in a Million in 1996 and, a year later, the two musicians made Missy’s first record. Supa Dupa Fly features everyone from Busta Rhymes to Ginuwine to Lil’ Kim to Aaliyah, and Missy even executive produced the joint herself (alongside Timbaland). The work is steadfast and hypnotic, as tracks like “Sock It 2 Me,” “Hit Em Wit Da Hee,” “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and “Best Friends” are just unbeatable benchmarks of avant-rap and experimental funk. The successes of the record—which included a tour with Jay-Z and a #3 peak on the Billboard 200—vaulted Missy into the echelons of rap history, and she’s remained one of the greatest MCs of her generation. Few rappers have ever established themselves in such a punctuated manner on their first outing but, then again, there’s no one like Missy Elliott. —Matt Mitchell

179. Angelo Badalementi: Soundtrack from Twin Peaks (1990)

Though David Lynch is an inspired talent, his vision for the 1990 drama Twin Peaks would have been missing its heart without the haunting melodies Angelo Badalementi dreamed up for the iconic television series. His atmospheric work—mixed with three entries from the virtuosic Julee Cruise—brought the sleepy town of Twin Peaks to life with a foreboding curiosity and an evocative mystery. “Laura Palmer’s Theme” evokes a sense of dread and solemn beauty, which is the perfect soundtrack for a girl doomed to misery. “Audrey’s Dance” is a mischievous, horn-driven jazz number mimicking the inquisitive nature of the titular Audrey Horne’s insatiable hunger for hijinks. The snappy “Dance of the Dream Man” delivers a jazzy brilliance, fitting for a small town still frozen in time. Badalementi created a soundtrack that was a character itself, dominating and engulfing the quiet spaces of a wooded edge of a strange and peculiar world. —Olivia Abercrombie

178. Yo La Tengo: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000)

Yo La Tengo are capable of both extreme quiet and jarring volume. The Hoboken trio’s disarming dynamism, partly exemplified by their stellar ninth album, 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, is one of their key draws. “Cherry Chapstick” heralds the fuzzy indie-rock boom of the early 2020s in the vein of Feeble Little Horse or Hotline TNT. The Thomas Pynchon-referencing “The Crying of Lot G” induces a gauzy pensiveness with its 6/8 sway, hushed vibraphones and Ira Kaplan’s murmured delivery. Like many YLT records, it’s a maze to get lost in, one in which you secretly hope to never find the exit. —Grant Sharples

177. Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour (2018)

Why do we cry even when we’re overwhelmingly happy? Kacey Musgraves sought to answer that question on her 2018 masterpiece, Golden Hour, namely on the fittingly titled “Happy & Sad.” “You got me smiling with tears in my eyes,” she sings in the chorus. Golden Hour, magnetizing and mystifying, underlines the nuances of love young and old, how the strongest emotions contain countless multitudes. Like love itself, Musgraves draws from a varied palette: vocoder-tinged reverie on “Oh, What a World,” wistful indie-pop on “Lonely Weekend,” buoyant disco on “High Horse.” She never provides a scientific reason for “happy crying,” per se, but she has given us its aural analog. —Grant Sharples

176. Nick Drake: Pink Moon (1972)

British folk singer-songwriter Nick Drake’s third and final record moves through its 11 songs in only 28 minutes, and for good reason. As much as one might love Pink Moon, it is not an easy album to live within, for the creator or the listener. Drake’s life and career is, sadly, often defined by its end—and it’s hard not to see his battle with depression within the haunting and desolate structure of Pink Moon, a war between dark and light playing itself out on songs like “Place To Be,” “Road” and “Things Behind The Sun.” Darkness might have ultimately won out for Drake, but the enduring quality of Pink Moon remains the light that shines through even 50 years on. —Sean Fennell

175. Swans: Soundtracks for the Blind (1996)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe 10th album from New York no-wave darlings Swans, Soundtracks for the Blind is a landmark post-rock and drone record collaged together with samples, textures, audio clips and older Swans material. Bandleader Michael Gira wanted to embody Brian Eno and source non-musical elements, and the snippets build into electronic arcs and a fever dream of Dictaphone throwaways. Swans cut up, looped and reversed the album into an oblivion of noise and ambient soundscapes. The album is 141 minutes long, with each half lasting more than an hour—it’s the kind of record that you can’t just nosedive into; it’s best if you let the chapters of “Red Velvet Corridor” and “Helpless Child” nurse you into the calamitous, rending lingers of “I Love You This Much” and “Secret Friends.” Despite being longer than your average feature-film, Soundtracks for the Blind wastes no second—each note, glitch, clip and horror placed accordingly, the hues of the record anchored by the uncertainty after every turn. —Matt Mitchell

174. GZA: Liquid Swords (1995)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAside from 36 Chambers, GZA’s Liquid Swords is, without a doubt, the coolest record any Wu-Tang member has ever made (the name alone is a chef’s kiss). GZA and RZA made a philosophical, complex record that paired dialogue samples from Shogun Assassin and images of chess and crime. The album is dark as can be, with GZA lingering on a dead-eye of quick-tongued flows that are rivaled only by RZA’s ornate production—which includes massive kicks, head-splitting snares and vibing tones caught someplace between strings and bass. Liquid Swords doesn’t just sound great, it’s so dense you might get lost in it. Maybe one of the most underrated East Coast records ever made, and you can argue that nobody from Wu-Tang Clan (not even the ensemble itself) made anything quite so marvelous after Liquid Swords came out—and you’d be right. It’s everything Wu-Tang ever did right, shrunk down into GZA’s greatest lyrical talents and silk-spun flows. Liquid Swords is a rap instant-classic on a swivel. —Matt Mitchell

173. Public Image Ltd: Second Issue / Metal Box (1979)

If the first Public Image Ltd album helped pioneer the post-punk movement in England in 1978, then Second Issue (or Metal Box) tried to obliterate it completely. John Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols project took an avant-garde pivot in 1979, leaning into Keith Levene’s dub-inspired grooves and metallic guitar tones that were as brash as they were invigorating. There’s something cold and flashing and compelling about Second Issue, as if it was made to be the melodic, disorienting and abrasively cool future that Lou Reed envisioned on his once-maligned, industrial noise opera Metal Machine Music. Songs like “Poptones,” “Careening,” “Swan Lake” and “Albatross” re-invented PiL’s career and rewrote the book on experimental rock right in London in the wake of the encroaching 1980s. For as groundbreaking as the lone Sex Pistols album was, the second Public Image Ltd record remains an unforgiving and timeless part of the European alternative canon. —Matt Mitchell

172. Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIn the Aeroplane Over the Sea is the acclaimed final release from Neutral Milk Hotel that serves as both an album and a punchline for the chronically online RYM user. The album is undoubtedly Jeff Mangum’s magnum opus, blending a jumbled mix of neurotic observation, sexual awakening and lo-fi indie folk into a tight 40-minute runtime. Before writing In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Mangum found himself overcome by grief after reading Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl—which informed many of the references and thematic material on the album. The exploration of Mangum’s vibrant youth within the context of historical sorrow unveiled a newfound emotional space for Mangum rife with joy and anguish. This complexity is translated seamlessly into the instrumentation of the LP, as Mangum’s distorted acoustic guitar rattles and shakes under grandiose instrumental arrangements of accordion, orgran, brass and banjo. The faint warble of singing saw dances across the tracks, elevating the sound to mystical heights. Its peculiarities expand the scope of the album, creating a novel vaudeville-esque sound that exudes a refreshing whimsy and sentimentality. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea voyages through adolescence without flinching and unveiling some bittersweet truths along the way. —Grace Ann Nantanawan

171. Taylor Swift: Red (2012)

Greatest Albums of All TimeTaylor Swift’s fourth album, Red, showcased the megastar undergoing fundamental change—as she departed from her youthful country era to a more realized pop sound. To be clear, the singer always dabbled in pop, infusing her previous albums with a blend of radio-friendly country, sugary hooks and belted bridges. However, Red presented the idea of Swift as a full-blown, bona fide pop star for the first time. 2010’s Speak Now hinted at the inevitable metamorphosis, as she fully dropped the twang and opted for a more straightforward singer-songwriter approach. Singles such as “I Knew You Were Trouble.” shook audiences with blaring synths and snappy verses that seemingly existed in contrast to the schoolgirl acoustic love songs that populated her debut. At the time, Red unveiled the most bombastic and daring version of Swift we’d seen thus far but it also revealed what her songwriting can look like at its most vulnerable. The heart-stopping, nearly 6-minute ballad “All Too Well” remains a fan favorite, with Swift even releasing a viral 10-minute version of the track in the 2021 re-recording of Red. The album planted itself atop the Billboard 200 chart for seven weeks in the United States, a feat that only the Beatles had accomplished prior to Swift. Red marked a distinct turning point for Swift, blazing her path to becoming the most famous modern singer of today. —Grace Ann Nantanawan

170. Guns ‘N Roses: Appetite For Destruction (1987)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWhat makes a record like Appetite for Destruction so damn important is that, without a doubt, it might just be the greatest debut rock ‘n’ roll album ever released—and not the proto-indie stuff like The Smiths or the jangly alt-pop of Murmur. I’m talking about stone cold rock and hair metal. Los Angeles quintet Guns N’ Roses had put out the Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide EP a year prior, and they’d later get a re-release on GN’R Lies in 1988. But Appetite for Destruction is the album that has defined the masses of a generation—and it’s the seventh best-selling album of all time in the US, which is a bonkers accolade to get with your first-ever album. The classics—“Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and “Paradise City”—are classics for a reason, as they represent crystalline, anthemic benchmarks of hard rock. But non-singles like “Rocket Queen” and “My Michelle” are brilliant and catchy. Other cuts like “Nighttrain” and “Mr. Brownstone” established Axl Rose, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler as rock gods then and there. What’s impressive, though, is that GN’R would continue to build on that moment, as the two-part Use Your Illusion release in 1991 would be the perfect end-cap on the greatest four-year run in rock ‘n’ roll history. —Matt Mitchell

169. Talking Heads: Fear of Music (1979)

Greatest Albums of All TimeI have long contended that Fear of Music is the best Talking Heads album, and I stick by it now. Featuring certified classics like “I Zimbra,” “Air” and “Drugs,” it found the New York four-piece and Brian Eno exploring their interest in African popular music in inventive ways. These were symphonies within pop songs, compositions so dynamic you’d be remiss to not engage with tracks like “Cities” and, of course, the roaring, kinetic, moody “Life During Wartime.” Fear of Music is odd, out-there and terminally funkified—until the beautifully mundane splendors of “Heaven” kick in. David Byrne sings about the afterlife as ordinary, lamenting that when the party’s over, “it will start again.” It’s a sincere lament that accentuates a perfect album, its dreams of eternal life nothing more than a fantasy of a boring, monotonous bar—it ain’t no disco, indeed. —Matt Mitchell

168. Marvin Gaye: I Want You (1976)

Greatest Albums of All TimeMarvin Gaye is one of the greatest singers to ever live, and there is no doubting that truth. And, he made one of the greatest albums of all time in What’s Going On in 1971. When you reach such a mountain, where do you go next? For Gaye, he made the less great Trouble Man and the above-average Let’s Get It On in back to back years before taking a three-year break. It was then, in 1976, that he saw that familiar peak once again. I Want You was a return to form and Gaye’s most complete record—thanks to the title-track, which arrives with three different versions on the album (vocal, intro jam, jam) and later inspired one of Kendrick Lamar’s best songs. But elsewhere, “Come Live with Me Angel,” “I Wanna Be Where You Are” and “Since I Had You” are some of Gaye’s greatest songs ever. While What’s Going On rightfully gets its flowers first and foremost, I Want You is its undersung sibling—a crowning R&B and soul achievement that has influenced everyone from Todd Rundgren to Madonna to Mary J. Blige to Sade and D’Angelo. Gaye is credited with perfecting the quiet storm and slow jam music, and it found him fully pivoting from the Tamla-Motown sound that had made him a superstar years prior. Critics were mixed on I Want You in 1976, but time has been in Gaye’s corner and the once-controversial nature of the album and its sexual themes and neo-soul, disco stylings have all but metamorphosed into deserved praise. —Matt Mitchell

167. X-Ray Spex: Germfree Adolescents (1978)

Greatest Albums of All TimeListening to X-Ray Spex’s debut album is like hearing punk rock get its wisdom teeth—Poly Styrene’s torn-up, growling lead vocal influenced an entire generation of women to get rowdy and unmerciful on stage, and the world is so much better because of it. Germfree Adolescents is a one-of-a-kind smattering; “I Am a Poseur” is an all-time punk anthem. “Identity” then flips the genre on its head by throwing in a seething saxophone solo from Ted Bunting. The guitars across the album are like machine guns; the drumming is like a metallic sheet being run across a field of spikes. Where would rock music be without “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” and “Warrior in Woolworths”? Germfree Adolescents is kitschy, technicolor punk—London’s counter to Blondie that went off without a hitch. Good luck coming down from the high of this album, it’ll swallow you up whole. —Matt Mitchell

166. Death Cab for Cutie: Transatlanticism (2003)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThis is what love and longing sounded like in 2003. On a concept album about long-distance relationships, Ben Gibbard’s lyrics capture a broader need for connection, framed gorgeously by Chris Walla’s expansive guitar and production. Gibbard had just unexpectedly introduced indie rock to electronic dance music with his one-off project The Postal Service and Walla had gone on to produce The Decemberists and The Thermals and they came back together with bassist Nick Harmer and new drummer Jason McGerr to create the band’s opus. Songs like the title track, “The New Year” and “The Sound of Settling” blend sweetness and bittersweetness, providing the perfect late-night soundtrack no matter how your date went. —Josh Jackson

165. Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Rust Never Sleeps (1979)

Rust Never Sleeps is an exodus, an exorcism of a curse. And it all begins with an acoustic guitar and one man playing it. It’s a unique entry in Neil Young’s catalog, because its release caught no inclusion in some immaculate, critically-acclaimed run of music, nor was it the mark of a late-career renaissance. It exists as a lighthouse stuck in-between Young’s greatest chapter and his most middling. Just like how the Tonight’s the Night tour in 1973 was enraptured by the looming grief of all of those rock heroes’ too-soon deaths, Rust Never Sleeps is a token of a man five, six years removed from watching death trickle into his own band finally marking a momentary goodbye to those tragedies. But, then again, we can never truly outrun our grief and, for all of the ways that the album is a cautionary tale, it is, too, a startling arrangement of someone’s own desire to go out ambitiously rather than corrode alongside those who play it safe. But Rust Never Sleeps is categorically not just an album about loss. It’s a political record spun into a tapestry of love, be it through measures of praise for single mothers or acknowledging the hypocrisy of white men with power by acknowledging cavalry slaughters of Native Americans or making it out alive from a ribboned road stretching from Phoenix to Salinas. Across 38 minutes, Neil Young conveys a lifetime’s worth of American iconography and pensive, passionate and racking bluntness laced with poetic language like arsenic on a sweet tooth. —Matt Mitchell

164. Aretha Franklin: I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (1967)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAretha Franklin had released nine studio albums before I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. “There was no compromising,” Aretha said of the release. “No deliberate decision to go pop.” Her voice seers from the first utterance: “What you want / I got it,” indisputable and crystal clear as it soars. Any criticisms that have previously been levied against the record’s production, percussion or polish have since been crushed under the sheer magnitude of its soul. “Respect” alone warrants a placement like this, but songs like “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” and the title-track hammer Aretha’s legacy home. —Madelyn Dawson

163. Pixies: Doolittle (1989)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThere aren’t many albums that feel downright evil for their entire runtime but the Pixies’ Doolittle is saturated in an aura that things could go very wrong at any given moment. Doolittle feels like a rite of passage for anyone who wants to get into alt-rock, there are riffs on this album which have influenced god knows how many artists but, most notably, one Kurt Cobain. Everything about Doolittle is maniacal—from the frantic, relentless energy of “Gouge Away” to the fake smiles you can hear on the deceptively jolly “Here Comes Your Man.” It’s an album that grabs your attention in a way that makes you scared to look away. Few albums have ever been so exhilarating. —Matty Pywell

162. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

Greatest Albums of All TimeMy Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was the most expensive rap record ever made and, clocking in at more than 70 minutes in length with a collaborator list that’s a day-long, you can tell exactly why. Kanye West’s fifth album was such a strong pivot from 808s & Heartbreak that it could have failed if the right era of culture didn’t rise up to accept it. And, of course, we all adored Kanye’s vision, which came after he exiled himself to Hawaii after interrupting Taylor Swift at the VMAs in 2009. Much of MBDTF was made in Honolulu, and it features some of Kanye’s most important tracks—including “Monster,” “All of the Lights,” “Gorgeous” and, lest we forget, “Runaway.” And that one single piano note that gets carried across the first vignette of “Runaway,” it is recognizable by even the most casual rap and pop fans. Featuring guest performances from Kid Cudi, Elton John, Pusha T, Rick Ross, John Legend, Bon Iver, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna, among others, MBDTF was ambitious and stuck every landing. Kanye would outdo himself later in the 2010s, but this was the record that cemented his stardom in not just the rap game, but in the modern zeitgeist of music altogether. It’s Beatles-level territory, a type of celebrity that transcends eras. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy very well might be Kanye’s Sgt. Pepper, if only because rap music was never the same after it hit the shelves. —Matt Mitchell

161. Oasis: Definitely Maybe (1994)

Greatest Albums of All TimeOasis saved our lives, and maybe more than anything they don’t get enough credit for that one simple truth. The ‘90s are often misremembered as a great many things, and in truth they were often pieces of all of those disparate memories all at once, but it was the Gallagher brothers—Noel and Liam—and their debut album Definitely Maybe in 1994 that made the decade an era of bright and beautiful memories. In the face of the heaviness of grunge’s brief rise and fall they brought a breath of fresh air with singles like “Supersonic,” “Shaker Maker” and “Live Forever.” A swaggering, towering record that delivered a much needed refreshing landscape for music to land on, Definitely Maybe is athemic, beautiful, raucous and gritty—an instant classic that arrived as a change on the airwaves of our hearts right when we needed to start feeling something new. —Niko Stratis

160. Gillian Welch: Time (The Revelator) (2001)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe best Americana albums are so attuned to our shared reality that they enhance our understanding of the world around us—and our place in it. Gillian Welch’s third album, Time (The Revelator), is no exception. Written and recorded with David Rawlings, the timeless project radiates with wisdom and a quiet lust for life. On the title track, Welch mulls the cruel passage of time and uses it as inspiration to hit the road and find new horizons. While on “Everything is Free,” she delivers the ultimate anthem for creatives everywhere (“We’re gonna do it anyway / Even if it doesn’t pay”). “Everything I ever done / Gonna give it away,” she declares later, a fitting mission statement for an endlessly generous album whose existence feels like a gift. —Tom Williams

159. Van Halen: Van Halen (1978)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIt can be easy to underscore the importance of Van Halen’s eponymous debut record, given that they were never the most primitive or marquee name working in rock ‘n’ roll. But, Van Halen is, to say the least, a perfect album packed to the brim with some of the most exciting and energetic rock tunes post-Beatles break-up. From their riotous, sensual cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” to the anthemic, blistering “Runnin’ with the Devil,” Van Halen pulled no punches when it came to stockpiling all of their hits and letting them unravel right out of the gates. “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” is an underrated stunner that showcases David Lee Roth’s enigmatic frontman sensibilities, while Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo “Eruption” is, perhaps, one of the greatest instrumental tracks in rock history. And we can’t forget about “Jamie’s Cryin’” and “Ice Cream Man.” Without Van Halen, glam and hair metal wouldn’t exist the way it does today—there would be no Appetite For Destruction or foil to mainstream pop. There’s an unquantifiable, daring magic here, and it’s what has made Van Halen a household name for nearly 50 years. —Matt Mitchell

158. Waylon Jennings: Dreaming My Dreams (1975)

Greatest Albums of All TimeEven as a badass outlaw country star, Waylon Jennings could still bring the romance—and he proved as much with his 1975 LP, Dreaming My Dreams. Already 22 albums into his career, Dreaming My Dreams was the first record of Jennings’ to hit #1. He brought the swooning adoration in his love songs and tributes to his country music forefathers, like Hank Williams, Roger Miller and Bob Wills, while making biting commentary on the genre. It’s emotional, sentimental and captivating, all while maintaining that rugged edge that made the Texan cowboy so lovable in the first place. —Olivia Abercrombie

157. Sly and the Family Stone: There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe muddy, murky There’s a Riot Goin’ On was recorded in a swirl of chaos and drug-fueled self-indulgence, both a response to and result of the turbulent era in which it was made. Even popular singles like “Family Affair” and “(You Caught Me) Smilin’” sound like late night, smokey evocations of the darkness that hung over America as the ‘60s gave way to the ‘70s. It’s a far cry from the optimistic, psychedelic funk music that made Sly and his band a massive success just a few years earlier, but perhaps even deeper and richer, and with an uncompromising vision that foreshadows much of the funk, R&B, and hip-hop that came over the next two decades. With its copious use and multitracking of early drum machines and Stone’s shifting vocals, Riot sounds overburdened, like it’s weighed down by all the ills of society and the injustices America perpetually inflicts upon its Black population. It’s bitter, despondent, and a musical marvel, especially the slow-burning, hopeless sounding redo of 1969’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” that closes out the album. —Garrett Martin

156. Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis (1969)

Greatest Albums of All Time“Don’t forget about me,” Dusty Springfield pleads on the fifth track of Dusty in Memphis, as the English singer was fighting a rapidly changing musical landscape driven by the Beatles’ knack for experimentation in the late ‘60s. Dusty Springfield endured much throughout her lifetime as a queer woman who feared the spotlight, and she belted out that pain on her fifth studio album—bringing the grit of her namesake to life with a soulful band on “Son of a Preacher Man” and “No Easy Way Down,” and preserving her classic sultry croon on “The Windmills Of Your Mind” and “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore.” And truly, not much else compares to the slick opening riff of “Son of a Preacher Man.” For an album so rooted in the past, it was far ahead of its time in its appreciation of timeless soul music. —Olivia Abercrombie

155. Dismemberment Plan: Emergency & I (1999)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIt takes tremendous effort to carry empathy, melancholy, and loving criticism for your younger self in equal measure, and fewer albums have captured that ambivalent mix of feelings quite like the Dismemberment Plan’s landmark third record. There’s good reason why the most vivid evocations of mid-20s malaise, like those on “Spider in the Snow” and “The Jitters,” resonate with those coming into that age, but nestled within that introspection is a bittersweet longing for connection amid the seemingly barren landscape of those years, evidenced by the unshakeable bonds—no matter how ephemeral—that tracks like “You Are Invited” and “Back And Forth” finally rest upon. The volleying sentiments find perfect synchronicity in the band’s compositions—from the spare, wintery howls of “The Jitters,” to the more chaotic fare like “Memory Machine” and “Gyroscope” that hinge on elements like Joe Easley’s dense drum frenzies and atypically tense time signatures, respectively—while Travis Morrison’s vocals always nestle obliquely figurative hauntings, no matter whether his lyricism is blunt or overflowing, muted or cried. Emergency & I is that rare record that takes on newfound significance at every stage it’s carried—from the aching closeness of adolescent discovery, to the plaintive looks back at the years and figures that have long since passed over the horizon. —Natalie Marlin

154. Jason Isbell: Southeastern (2013)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIt’s easy to take Jason Isbell for granted. At this point, his force as a songwriter and performer is hard to deny. But back in 2013, he was still finding his footing as a solo artist after his run with the Drive-By Truckers came to an end in 2007. Southeastern is the album that changed all that, and announced Isbell as a mecca in modern country music. Written in direct response to both his newfound sobriety and burgeoning love affair with fellow songwriter Amanda Shires, songs like “Cover Me Up,” “Live Oak” and “Traveling Alone” display the literary craftsmanship that would come to define the next decade for Isbell. Then, of course, there’s “Elephant,” perhaps the most devastating song written this century—and one I will never stop subjecting myself to, no matter how efficiently it rips me to shreds every single time. —Sean Fennell

153. Fishmans: Kuuchuu Camp (1996)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe fifth album from the greatest Japanese band of all time, Kuuchuu Camp is a threaded needle of dream-pop. Not quite the Shibuya-kei phantasm of Long Season but just as transcendentally catchy, Kuuchuu Camp is the “masterpiece before a masterpiece,” as tracks like “Night Cruising,” “Subarashikute Nice Choice” and “Slow Days” showcase a one-of-a-kind convergence of rock ‘n’ roll and dub. But it’s “Baby Blue” that sticks out on every listen, sounding like the godfather of every trippy bedroom pop song that has come out since 2011. You can hear about 25 years worth of electronica in those dancing synths, along with a tinge of psychedelia in Shinji Sato’s guitar chords. Sato sings in an upper register that’ll just melt over your eardrums, too. Kuuchuu Camp is the sound of one of the greatest ensembles of virtuosos not just finding their footing, but redefining the music surrounding them with each step. —Matt Mitchell

152. Slowdive: Souvlaki (1993)

Greatest Albums of All TimeSlowdive’s enchanting second album is a cornerstone of the shoegaze genre—and they remain one of the few true shoegaze bands out there, I might add. Souvlaki helped define the ethereal melodies, heavy guitar distortion and suffocating volume of the late 1980s/early 1990s genre—exploring themes of youth, anxiety and romance that endure as comforts to adolescents looking to drown their confusing emotions in a gooey world of lush and dreamy music. With the help of experimental ambient rock artist Brian Eno, the English band brought an otherworldly quality to the melancholia they expressed so well. —Olivia Abercrombie

151. Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell! (2019)

Greatest Albums of All TimeEven when certain critics panned Lana Del Rey’s record Born to Die—and the infamous Saturday Night Live performance that preceded it—most of them acknowledged that the singer’s debut album contained a kernel of American songwriting greatness. On Norman Fucking Rockwell!, that seed (which was already blossoming in 2012, frankly) shoots into a flourishing magnolia tree, with every lyric a fragrant petal that reveals a flicker of her personality: a poised clapback at a reporter (“You took my sadness out of context / At the Mariners Apartment Complex”), sighing eyerolls at a tortured poet beau (“Cause you’re just a man / It’s just what you do”) and muted optimism whispered to herself (“Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have / But I have it”). As the petals drop, the scenery flits between a waning summer over Venice Beach, teary backseat arguments, and vaguely witchy Laurel Canyon parties, all distinctly American scenes rooted in Del Rey’s knack for braiding minute details into achingly ornate renditions of the U.S. flag. Normal Fucking Rockwell! isn’t Del Rey’s first masterstroke, but it is the album that converted some of her steeliest critics, who finally resigned to join the singer’s new refrain of “Fuck it, I love you!” —Victoria Wasylak

150. Radiohead: OK Computer (1997)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAt this point, every nuance harbored in the depths of OK Computer’s runtime has been explored in some capacity—and that truly speaks to its undeniable excellence. Arguably one of the most seminal records of the ‘90s, Radiohead’s meticulously crafted art-rock masterpiece sparked from a car accident Thom Yorke got into with his girlfriend. The pair came out unscathed, but it instilled a sense of paranoia within Yorke to envision a dystopia the album then centered around. This technology-dependent society only becomes more realistic and relevant as OK Computer ages. It is the helpless cry of a man admitting defeat. “I’ll take a quiet life / A handshake of carbon monoxide / And no alarms and no surprises,” Yorke wails atop Ed O’Brien’s gently arpeggiated guitar and a glockenspiel. The throughline of contemptment for the corporate world and the way in which it intertwines with capitalist governments results in a cautionary tale akin to Orwell’s 1984. On OK Computer, Yorke is screaming from a soundproof glass box—and, for nearly 30 years, people continue to lean in and listen. —Leah Weinstein

149. Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE (2012)

Greatest Albums of All TimeA mere few days before the release of his major label debut channel ORANGE, Frank Ocean published a letter on his Tumblr disclosing his affection for another man. The revelation of the enigmatic Odd Future vocalist’s queerness acted both as a major turning point for his still-nascent career and as an exciting primer for what was to come. Backed by gorgeous, sun-soaked R&B/pop production, channel ORANGE sounds like falling in love in the summertime. It gave us a swooning ballad (“Thinkin Bout You”), a 10-minute strip club epic (“Pyramids”), a sweet ode to his first love (“Forrest Gump”) and some clever class satire (“Sweet Life,” “Super Rich Kids”). Though Ocean has continued to maintain his mystique, having only churned out two back-to-back records in 2016 and a string of one-off singles, channel ORANGE paved fertile ground for other queer Black musicians to make unconventional, intimate pop music. —Sam Rosenberg

148. Boards of Canada: Music Has the Right to Children (1998)

Greatest Albums of All TimeMusic Has the Right to Children is a uniquely haunting exploration of nostalgia and wonder, meticulously tracing outlines of memories that feel palpable yet out of reach. The record strikes a delicate balance between sounding playful and ominous, allowing for profound ambiguity in the emotions it conveys, often feeling desolate, ghostly, warm and inviting all at once. It’s a timeless album whose musical and aesthetic influence are hard to overstate. Until the late ‘90s, electronic music was hailed as the sound of the future, soundtracking a new age of technological glory; but Boards of Canada set their sights elsewhere, using analog equipment and sampling old movies and nature documentaries to not so much envision a new world but rather mourn a future that never was. Through subtle layering and incredible attention to texture and detail, Music Has the Right to Children remains a hazy, psychedelic masterpiece. —David Feigelson

147. Madonna: Erotica (1992)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe answer to the question of what Madonna’s second-best album is normally points at the usual suspects: Like a Virgin or Ray of Light. But, it’s her fifth LP that sticks around better. Erotica is clubby, sexy and ambitious—as the Queen of Pop adopts a dominatrix alter-ego named Dita on “Erotica” and tackles everything from oral sex (“Where Life Begins”) to LGBTQIA+ anthems (“Deeper and Deeper”) to the AIDS Crisis (“In This Life”). It’s one of her most vulnerable records, gilded with a liberated polish of sex, reinvention and radicalized pop superstardom. Making Erotica at the height of her powers was a risk for Madonna; no one was surprised when she landed feet first in an ocean of sensual, sexual and pleasurable enlightenment. —Matt Mitchell

146. Jay-Z: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Greatest Albums of All TimeLike Nas before him, Jay-Z is a part of a prestigious cohort of rappers whose best albums are their debuts, and Reasonable Doubt is one of the most influential hip-hop projects ever released. Put out on his own label, Roc-A-Fella Records, Reasonable Doubt combined the production of DJ Premier, Ski, Knobody and Clark Kent and welcomed contributions from Mary J. Blige, the Notorious B.I.G. and Foxy Brown. It carried the torch Raekwon lit on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, and Jay-Z’s arc as one of the biggest hip-hop figures was cast in 1996 at D&D Studios in New York. Singles “Ain’t No N***a,” “Can’t Knock the Hustle” and “Feelin’ It” were massive, and lead teaser “Dead Presidents” (which ended up as “Dead Presidents II” on the final tracklist) is, perhaps, one of the greatest introductions to a musician ever. “In due time, when crime flees my mind,” Jay spit, “all sneak thieves and player haters can shine.” It’s tough-guy rap that’s lyrically magnificent; the muscle of a record like Reasonable Doubt is vivid storytelling of socio-economics and hood politics, and Jay cast a large net of detail and honesty across all 14 songs on his debut. —Matt Mitchell

145. Belle & Sebastian: If You’re Feeling Sinister (1996)

Greatest Albums of All TimeBuilding on the success from their debut album Tigermilk, Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister saw the band perfect their craft of capturing the young adolescent experience. Stuart Murdoch writes with grace and care for our young teenage years, capturing our first steps into intimacy and the ups and downs of early relationships but also the first forays we take into sex and also mental health problems. With a balance between quiet indie folk and alternative pop, Belle and Sebastian weaved the stories of those who felt as though no one might notice them and made them the star of the show. At a time when the laddish nature of Britpop was dominant, the Scottish group provided a much-needed alternative. —Matty Pywell

144. Paul Simon: Graceland (1986)

Greatest Albums of All TimeOver the past 35 years, no American album has changed the world-music landscape more than Paul Simon’s Graceland. Initially lauded as the folk singer’s comeback record, it made a cultural impact far greater than anyone could’ve possibly guessed. The album integrated American pop, rock and folk songwriting with traditional South African musical styles on songs like “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” “You Can Call Me Al” and, naturally, the generationally sublime title-track. By no means was this the first time that Simon or other Western and non-Western cultures intersected, but Graceland marked a watershed moment where world music began to emerge from being a series of isolated musical pockets to an institutionalized transnational music scene. —Max Blau

143. Björk: Homogenic (1997)

Greatest Albums of All TimeSo much of what we think of when we think “Björk”—grandiosity, innovation, versatility, emotion—truly comes to the fore on her third solo album. Where Debut and Post allowed the former Sugarcubes singer to feed house and electronic music through her own eccentric musical filter, all accompanied by her singular voice, Homogenic is a dense culmination of it all, blending electronica with lush acoustic instrumentation to create what still might stand as the artist’s defining work. Maybe best describing the album’s point of view in 2022 when she referred to it as “an emotional warrior”, Björk ensures that even within orchestrated, maximalist glory, there are moments of staggering vulnerability woven in, making even the rare chink in her armor amid confrontation an essential element of her art. It’s rare to say that a writer’s love songs feel like love songs to the whole world, but in the sheer wonder they contain, the tracks on Homogenic accomplish this feat. —Elise Soutar

142. Boris: Pink (2005)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWhat Boris have managed to do in their 32 years is simple: They’ve made metal music sound beautiful. The Japanese trio formed in 1992 and have consistently kept their sound in an evolving focus ever since. While albums like Akuma No Uta and At Last – Feedbacker are tremendous, nothing quite captures the band’s lasting legacy quite like their 2005 opus Pink. It sounds like Black Sabbath doing shoegaze, or Slowdive doing heavy metal, and it’s so sludgy, drony and dense. Few Japanese experimental groups have ever made such a fuzzed-out, blackened heart of doom sound so cosmic and accessible. The heaviness is resounding, and songs like “Pseudo Bread,” “Woman on the Screen” and “Farewell” are among the greatest metal songs of noise tracks of all time—and it’s why Pink is, without a doubt, one of the greatest records of the 21st century. —Matt Mitchell

141. Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch! (1964)

Greatest Albums of All TimeImagine a lineup of Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Richard Davis and Tony Williams. Okay, now go listen to Out to Lunch! and you’ll hear it. The world of avant-garde jazz was never the same, and Dolphy passed away just two months before its release. The former Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Chico Hamilton sideman’s greatest record may very well be the best Blue Note LP ever. At just five compositions, including the unrivaled “Hat and Beard” opener, Out to Lunch! features the quintet following the mantra of everyone solos all the time—leading to a mirage of a vision that should sound chaotic but, miraculously, sounds like one of the greatest jazz performances ever documented on tape. The timbres and individualism and loose, episodic structure made for the perfect storm of bop writing, and Dolphy’s clarinet, flute and alto sax work here is just the tip of the iceberg. Hutcherson’s vibraphone sounds like teardrops on the catacombs of terror, while Williams’ drumming and Hubbard’s trumpet glow together just right. Out to Lunch! changed the game, turning free jazz into the genre’s greatest form. —Matt Mitchell

140. Spiritualized: Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (1997)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIn 1997, space rock changed forever when Spiritualized released Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. From the moment that the opening title-track clocks in, you’re immediately transported someplace beautiful and celestial. Written before and after vocalist Jason Pierce and keyboardist Kate Radley broke up, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space sounds like a broken heart and a hot party all at once, draping itself in a tapestry of multi-dimensional, emotive brilliance disguised as a rock record. Spiritualized incorporate elements of Elvis Presley and John Prine songs into the album’s framework, and contributions from the Balanescu Quartet, London Community Gospel Choir and Dr. John fill out the soundscape. The album is a supernova of electricity and ambient static and crushing noise. It very well might be the closest cousin to Sgt. Pepper that the 1990s ever gave us—and Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space more than cemented Spiritualized as one of the best bands we’ve ever had. —Matt Mitchell

139. Gang of Four: Entertainment! (1979)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAll our modern post-punk roads lead back to this starting point. Reared on a diet of Marxist tracts, the slashing guitar playing of Dr. Feelgood’s Wilko Johnson, disco and Krautock, four young men from Leeds set the course for generations of artists by winding together this taut, lacerating masterpiece. The connective tissue that they discovered within all of those influences was the power of repetition. Singer Jon King circled back on the same phrases throughout his lyrics while drummer Hugo Barnham and bassist Dave Allen had a collective understanding of the hypnotic power of locking into a singular groove. The X-factor throughout was Andy Gill, a guitarist whose tone was as corrosive and sharp as a rusting spool of barbed wire. With their collective power and force of will, the four were able to drill down to the core of still-simmering issues like capitalism, the Great Man Theory, media manipulation and sexual politics. Few albums from this era remain as prescient and as influential. —Robert Ham

138. Sparks: No. 1 in Heaven (1979)

Greatest Albums of All TimeEver the chameleonic band, California pop duo Sparks haven taken many shapes in their 50-year career. However, few projects stack up against their eighth record, No. 1 in Heaven. Though many of the albums on this list are masterpieces to some degree or another, this Sparks record is the one stroke of brilliance that any band or artist who wants to make synth-pop should look at first and foremost. Energized by the hit synth-disco single (and Joy Division-influencing) “The Number One Song in Heaven,” No. 1 in Heaven is a club record that combines the iconic collaboration between Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer with their own bizarre taste. In turn, Moroder produced No. 1 in Heaven and helped transform Sparks into one of the most daring bands around. Gone were the days of their guitar-focused records that preceded their work with Moroder. They quickly adopted sequencers and synthesizers and built witty, energetic and genius songs like “Tryouts for the Human Race” and “Academy Award Performance”—both of which expanded the contemporary palette of synth-pop, a sub-genre that was only just recently getting its wings. Rivaled only by their 1982 album Angst in My Pants, No. 1 in Heaven is not just the greatest Sparks record of all-time; it’s the greatest synth-pop record ever made, with a nebula soundscape as technicolor as it is curious and era-defining. —Matt Mitchell

137. James Brown: ‘Live’ at the Apollo (1963)

Greatest Albums of All TimeNever bet against an artist dubbed the “Hardest-Working Man in Show Business.” Nobody, including James Brown’s record label, thought a live album with no new songs had a chance to succeed. Sixty years later, we recognize Brown’s self-financed Live at the Apollo as a seminal live recording, a time capsule documenting the latter days of the Chitlin’ Circuit and an album that influenced countless artists across genres. It’s equal parts Saturday at the juke joint, Sunday sermon and last dance of the night, as Brown and his Famous Flames blaze through a string of his early R&B hits. Hearing Brown’s emotive style and soulful crooning elicit both fevered screams and intense concentration from the Apollo audience showcases the raw power of “Mr. Dynamite” at his dynamic best. —Matt Melis

136. Metallica: Master of Puppets (1986)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIn 1986, mutually assured destruction was all the rage. Metallica’s third studio album pushed the sound of total annihilation to its logical conclusion, railing against violence, war and the imperial machine responsible for the aggression that their sound encapsulated. The metal band wasn’t just blowing off steam, though; they were technically tremendous and knew their way around a perfectly catchy riff, phrase or solo. Master of Puppets cuts deep, remaining as incisive now as it was almost 40 years ago. —Madelyn Dawson

135. Tatsuro Yamashita: For You (1982)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe greatest city pop album ever made, Tatsuro Yamashita’s For You is just beautiful from beginning to end—and it’s absent from streaming services altogether. Merging elements of pop, soul and funk, Yamashita’s world-building is a brightly lit one—and he produced and promoted the album knowing that car stereos and Walkmans were getting better and better, allowing for there to be more intentionality in hitting peak audio quality in the studio. And thus, For You sounded like it was born in a different cosmos entirely upon its release 42 years ago. It’s a collection of 12 summer songs, packed with quick interludes and masterful transitions. “Sparkle” and “Music Book” as a one-two punch kicks off the album, and “Morning Glory” and “Love Talkin’ (Honey It’s You)” are two of the best city pop tracks ever composed. The horns across this album sound like someone made disco songs on a two-story yacht; the ballads are as good as anything that hit the Hot 100 in the 1980s. For You is a revelation that belongs on streaming services for the world to hear. —Matt Mitchell

134. Elliott Smith: Either/Or (1997)

Greatest Albums of All TimeEither/Or captures an essential turning point in Elliott Smith’s career. He was a poet of the late ‘90s, channeling a gritty and melancholic voice that would soon resonate with major audiences. The 1997 LP was Smith’s final independent album release before signing to DreamWorks to release XO the following year. It’s also widely considered to be his most acclaimed album, despite never charting in the United States—but producing sleeper hit tracks that would remain culturally relevant throughout the 2000s. Songs from Either/Or such as “Between the Bars,” “Say Yes” and “Angeles” were immortalized in the film soundtrack for Good Will Hunting, contributing to Smith’s later mainstream recognition. Today, the low, smoky tone of Smith’s acoustic guitar on the album feels iconic and instantly recognizable. We can hear him refining his sound on the songs, pursuing more expansive and complex structures and themes beyond just the stripped-down acoustic reflections of his past. He crafts with sharp striking intention, both lyrically and sonically. Listening to Either/Or conjures both grief and wonder as we see Smith fully coming into his own as an artist for the first time, a feat done with such tangible vulnerability that few artists have achieved since. —Grace Ann Nantanawan

133. Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti (1975)

Greatest Albums of All TimeLed Zeppelin’s sixth album is unequivocally their best, and potentially the greatest double-album ever. Physical Graffiti runs a massive 82 minutes in length and commands every bit of your attention. If Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones reached the mountaintop on IV, then Physical Graffiti is them lighting the entire peak on fire. Side Two may very well be one of the greatest three-song runs in all of rock ‘n’ roll, as the stretch from “Houses of the Holy” through “Kashmir” is so singular that you couldn’t imagine the record getting better after that—and then the band performs “In the Light,” “Bron-Yr-Aur,” “Down by the Seaside” and “Ten Years Gone” in a row on Side Three. The quality of Physical Graffiti is maddening, if only because few rock bands have ever lit such a pronounced match of badassery in such a small vacuum. The album is brutal, symphonic, dense and, at the end of the day, a tour de force of rock ‘n’ roll brilliance. Few records made after 1975 sound this good. —Matt Mitchell

132. PJ Harvey: Rid of Me (1993)

Greatest Albums of All TimeFor any artist with a devoted fanbase, it’s common that people who get into them have a first album they listened to that changed their life, and therefore, will always represent what that artist means to them, holding a special place in their heart. Rid Of Me is that PJ Harvey album for me. The combination of Steve Albini’s divisive (but certainly distinctive) production and Harvey’s daring lyricism sends shivers up the spine every time. Songs like “Man-Size,” “Me-Jane” and “50ft Queenie” twisted all expectation in how someone could write about masculinity and misogyny, not only with a sense of humor, but also with a sense of real danger, like this one person might single-handedly topple everything about the gender roles we force ourselves to fit into. The way this voice seethed through her teeth on “Man-Size Sextet,” truly howled on “Snake” and sounded like it could collapse into a fit of rage at any second on “Legs” (“And I might as well be dead / But I could kill you instead”) felt powerful, like it held something so heavy, you couldn’t even fathom the substance it contained. You simply weren’t meant to question her conviction—you just believed her. Yes, she’s king of the world, no follow-up questions. It was this idea of indestructible strength I had never thought someone like me could wield before, building upon what something like Horses had already instilled in me. Never shying away from its own intensity, the album builds a monument to the self that’s both vengeful and freeing. Also, in a career of everlasting songs, the title track might be (or at least should be considered) the definitive PJ Harvey track. Argue amongst yourselves. —Elise Soutar

131. George Michael: Faith (1987)

Greatest Albums of All TimeA record that boasted four #1 singles on the Hot 100 and spent 12 weeks at #1 one the Billboard 200, George Michael’s Faith might just be the greatest solo debut for a bandleader in the history of modern music. Near the end of his band Wham!, Michael had grown tired of being seen as a “teenybopper” pop group making novel, rudimentary dance tracks. He and longtime best friend and collaborator Andrew Ridgeley split up, and Michael made Faith (and won Album of the Year at the Grammys in 1989). The title track is brilliant, “Father Figure” is a sensual, divine gospel, “One More Try” is one of the greatest ballads to ever top the pop charts. But songs like “Monkey” and “Kissing a Fool” establish Faith as a dangerously wide spectrum of tones—ranging from funk to synth-pop to folk and soul music. My favorite track has always been the three-part “I Want Your Sex,” and it’s where George Michael established himself as a star just as bright as Michael Jackson—perhaps even brighter, Faith sure argues in favor of such a truth. —Matt Mitchell

130. Herbie Hancock: Head Hunters (1973)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe early ’70s found keyboardist Herbie Hancock, as he put it, “spending so much time exploring the upper atmosphere of music and the more ethereal kind of far-out spacey stuff” with his group Mwandishi. To move forward, he needed to ground himself. To do so, he constructed a new band featuring saxophonist Bennie Maupin and bassist Paul Jackson, and with them, started working in a space where funk and jazz danced together lasciviously. The four tracks they conceived for Hancock’s masterpiece Head Hunters are earthy and nasty. In their collective hands, “Watermelon Man,” a song from Hancock’s bop days became a slow strut across a nightclub dancefloor, and an ode to Sly Stone zips along like a copy of There’s A Riot Goin’ On playing at 78 RPM. And what seems like a soft landing in “Vein Melter” is actually a seamy little composition akin to sinking uncomfortably into a bed of wet potting soil. —Robert Ham

129. Minutemen: Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)

Greatest Albums of All TimeMinutemen’s magnum opus is a stream-of-consciousness jumble of punk, jazz, funk, country and folk, with a handful of abbreviated classic rock covers thrown in for context’s sake. It’s a legitimately overwhelming piece of work, hard to listen to in one sitting but always worth it, and as overtly political as anything in the band’s catalogue, with its kaleidoscope of fractured, bite-sized songs treating personal and global politics as equally important. D. Boon and Mike Watt complimented each other perfectly, both as two halves of the band’s skronky, funky guitar/bass heart (with George Hurley’s startlingly versatile drums pumping behind it all), and as politically conscious citizens who together could address issues both macro and micro—while also writing an ideal theme song for a future TV show about dudes injuring themselves for laffs. And don’t think of it as a history lesson: Double Nickels on the Dime is as timeless as it is vital. —Garrett Martin

128. The Beatles: Rubber Soul (1965)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIt wouldn’t be a reach to say that the 1960s—or, at least how the decade is regarded in America’s collective memory—began on December 3rd, 1965, when the Beatles released Rubber Soul. The album arrived on the heels of a transformative era for the band, which included meeting both Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley as well as playing to an earth-shattering crowd of over 55,000 at Shea Stadium (their largest ever). A record that John Lennon once referred to as their “pot album,” Rubber Soul saw the Beatles come of age in the recording studio under the influence of the rock, folk and soul music they’d encountered during their time in the U.S. Credited with helping elevate the pop genre to true artistic relevance, the LP’s release marked a cultural turning point that would forever change the landscape of American rock music. And if you’re still not convinced, just take it from Brian Wilson, who said he made Pet Sounds as an attempt to match the standard the Beatles set with Rubber Soul—and hailed it as “probably the greatest record ever.” —Elizabeth Braaten

127. David Bowie: Low (1977)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIn 1977, David Bowie had shed his Thin White Duke persona and began cleaning up after the severe cocaine addiction that fueled the Station to Station sessions. He relocated to France and then Berlin to begin work on his next album, Low. The record embraced a highly experimental and avant-garde style that was directly influenced by the work of bands like Kraftwerk and Neu! as well as Bowie’s collaboration with Brian Eno. The result is an LP that is simultaneously compelling and confounding. Polarizing critics and fans when it was released, Low is split into two distinct halves with their own unique sounds. The first is made up less of songs, but rather “song fragments” that seem to start and end from out of nowhere, fascinating the listener nonetheless. The second half is characterized by mostly instrumental sprawling, spacey tracks. Low became the first installment in Bowie’s famous “Berlin Trilogy,” and would go on to become highly influential in its own right through its structure, embrace of electronic sounds, and unique production techniques. —Wyndham Wyeth

126. Daft Punk: Discovery (2001)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAllow us to flash back to a time when robots making music was a neat concept and not a hotly-debated doomsday topic. On their groundbreaking sophomore record, Daft Punk assembled 14 tracks that glimmered brighter than the chrome lining of their signature helmets, welding French house and nu-disco, then forging the alloy in electro-funk. Singles like “Digital Love” incurred just that—hordes of new electronica devotees—and while it’s tricky to ensure that “One More Time” alone doesn’t dominate the record’s legacy, how many other EDM songs can any given non-clubgoer identify on the spot? Discovery wasn’t just a model for the next wave of EDM—it was an inimitably futureproof blueprint that was “harder, better, faster, stronger” than anything before it. —Victoria Wasylak

125. Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

Greatest Albums of All TimeMore than just a cultural institution, Pink Floyd’s eighth album is a landmark achievement in what rock music in the 1970s could become. For the band, it represented a global smash unlike any previous release, translating their penchant for often abstract prog into a more accessible format. As a “concept album,” The Dark Side of the Moon expanded the term’s boundaries to its most literal definition, cohesively threading broad explorations of madness and existentialism. But, above all, it endures as a formidable powerhouse of a record, in sound and conceptual execution—staggering, moving, just as pristine as ever. Its defining moments rest in its ability to capture inarticulate emotion as on Clare Torry’s vocal performance on “The Great Gig in the Sky,” or the bursts of release that make “Us and Them” and “Brain Damage/Eclipse” especially dynamic compositions. In its poignance, The Dark Side of the Moon remains Pink Floyd at their most transcendent, a release as brilliant in construction as it is immensely cathartic. —Natalie Marlin

124. R.E.M.: Murmur (1983)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAthens, Ga., was as unlikely a birthplace for a nationally renowned music scene as Muscle Shoals, Ala., before it. But there’s something about a college town nestled in some small corner of rural America that ignites creativity in kids who grow up and discover that there actually are others out there who share their passion for music, film or art. In 1983, the spotlight was on Athens, thanks to R.E.M.’s full-length debut, Murmur. All four of the band’s members spent part of their lives far from Georgia, but Murmur became indelibly tied to its city of origin because it sounded unlike anything from anywhere else. Peter Buck didn’t invent the jangly Rickenbacker tones he employed so wonderfully on the album, but it had been a long while since The Byrds had taken flight. And the way Buck’s guitar and Mike Mills’ bass busily bounced around otherwise simple choruses created something entirely new. Michael Stipe put his stamp on this already singular sound, crooning mumbled, enigmatic phrases like, “They called the clip a two-headed cow / Your hate clipped and distant, your luck, pilgrimage,” and it sounded like the most important sentiment uttered on record since Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. —Josh Jackson

123. Ramones: Ramones (1976)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe Rosetta stone of punk rock came together in a blur. A week-long recording session wherein all the instrumental tracks were knocked out in a few days and the vocals were kicked down in a few more. Sure, that speaks to the boneheaded three chords and a dream truth behind the quartet and the amount of time that they had to hone their arrow-like trajectory while dominating the underground clubs of New York. Yet it still feels bold for an era of major label, arena rock bloat and overproduced palaver that was all over the airwaves. What the Ramones had to offer was rock music stripped down and lean, inspired by the hooky radio hits of Phil Spector and the Beatles but not beholden to it. They understood the structures of pop songcraft but were young and steamed up enough to use it as a canvas on which to paint scenes from their favorite horror films, real-life scenes from the grimy streets of downtown New York and valentines to potential partners rendered in garish colors. The snotty and the sweet presented in one under-30 minute speed trip. —Robert Ham

122. The Breeders: Last Splash (1993)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWhile the “grunggae” genre descriptor didn’t exactly catch on, the Breeders did—their legacy secured right from the mangled vocal warm-up that opens “Cannonball” and calls “action!” on an album as cantankerous and all-over-the-place as it is seamless and prescient for the shape of grunge to come. Kim and Kelley Deal and co. bastardize surf music on “Flipside” and country music on “Drivin’ on 9.” They make us feel warm and gooey with “Divine Hammer,” but angry on “S.O.S.” and vulnerable on “Do You Love Me Know?” With Last Splash, the Breeders made one of the best albums of all time, transcending their side project docket—and they made it look easier and cooler than their peers ever could. —Hayden Merrick

121. Michael Jackson: Thriller (1982)

Greatest Albums of All TimeBeyond its revolutionary music videos or its cultural gravity, or the fact that it remains the best-selling album ever, Thriller is still undeniable—nine air-tight pop songs as precise as an Exacto blade and twice as sharp. Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones applied elements of rock, funk, soul, disco and New Wave to a set of songs that fire on all cylinders. You already know Thriller’s hits. But as an album, there’s no excess, no concept and no gimmick. Thriller’s ubiquity comes from its note-for-note, in-the-pocket pop. It sparkles like a diamond and it’s certainly RIAA-certified as such. —Andy Steiner

120. Fugees: The Score (1996)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe mid-1990s were chock full of blockbuster hip-hop talent, but the formidable Lauryn Hill had yet to deliver her artistry to the airwaves—until 1996 came around. The Fugees learned from the failure of their debut Blunted on Reality, where they attempted to conform their style to the gangsta rap records dominating the scene at the time. On The Score, Wyclef Jean, Pras Michel and Hill toned down the rapid-fire flow and leaned into their personal influences: ‘70s R&B and soul, rock and pop, and a Caribbean-influenced flavor that stitched their new sound together. The second and, sadly, final project from the trio was a melting pot of musical textures and socially conscious lyricism, with Hill following in the footsteps of Missy Elliot and Salt-N-Pepa by putting her stamp on a man’s world of hip-hop. Packed with reinterpretations of classics from legendary Black musicians like Bob Marley and Roberta Flack—and originals featuring the inventive lyricism and silky flow of Jean, Michel and Hill—The Score gave us instant classics in “Killing Me Softly With His Song” and “Ready or Not,” all while paving the way for future experimental hip-hop artists to embrace their imaginations and influences. —Olivia Abercrombie

119. Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation (1988)

Greatest Albums of All TimeYou never forget the first time you hear the guitar-noise collage on “Silver Rocket.” It’s only the second track on 1988’s Daydream Nation, the fifth album from influential avant-garde punks Sonic Youth. It comes so early in the tracklist that this harsh, jarring blast of sound is like a litmus test: If you don’t want noisy art-rock, then this album won’t be for you. But if you stick around, you’ll come to appreciate the masterful balance of gritty, crunchy textures and melodic tunefulness. People tend to regard Daydream Nation, and Sonic Youth as a whole, as an aloof concept oozing with capital-I “importance,” as an academic exercise devoid of feeling. That would be reductive. This record and the band that made it are, yes, undeniably Important, but have you considered for a moment that the songs themselves rip? —Grant Sharples

118. The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are You Experienced? (1967)

Greatest Albums of All TimePower trios rarely get as powerful as the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The rhythm section of Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell were the perfect match for the guitar wizardry of Jimi Hendrix. They held down the low end with loose yet steady grooves that their fearless leader vamped over with the colorful splashes of an action painting. Their debut album was, at least in its American version, a perfect summation of the speedy evolution of this project. The doors of perception are forcibly opened by “Purple Haze” and the psychedelic luge ride that follows carries you along hopped up expressions of lust and longing (“Fire,” “Love or Confusion”), cushy balladry (“May This Be Love”), sweaty blues (“Hey Joe”) and the kind of pleasantly meandering playfulness that goes all too well with the peak of an LSD trip (“Third Stone From the Sun,” the title track). Everyone says that it was Sgt. Pepper that sent dozens of bands scrambling to make their own psychedelic masterpiece, but in our heart of hearts, I think we know that it was this masterpiece that truly turned people on in the best possible way. —Robert Ham

117. Willie Nelson: Red Headed Stranger (1975)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWhen Willie Nelson turned in his 18th (!) album, executives at his label famously thought the unadorned songs were a collection of demos. Nope. Nelson did a complete about-face from the lush musical arrangements then dominated Nashville with a concept album full of skeletal songs mostly featuring guitar, drums, piano and harmonica. It was a smash hit. An essential entry in the outlaw country canon, Red Headed Stranger turned a moderately successful recording artist into a huge star. The album went double-platinum, crossing over onto the mainstream music charts and making Nelson one of the few country artists with an ardent following among rednecks and hippies. Nelson’s 57 solo albums (and more than a few collaborations) since then have included plenty of gems, but none have outshined Red Headed Stranger. —Eric R. Danton

116. Dr. Dre: The Chronic (1992)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWithout Dr. Dre, West Coast hip-hop wouldn’t be the same and the game would be eons worse for it. After departing N.W.A., Dre started Death Row Records and dropped The Chronic in 1992. We have The Chronic to thank for the burgeoning superstar careers of MCs like Snoop Doggy Dogg and 2Pac, as it effectively reinvented an entire generation of music. All three singles—“Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,” “Dre Day” and “Let Me Ride” were all Top 10 singles, with the former hitting #2 on the Hot 100. G-funk was vaulted into the mainstream, and gangsta rap became the prevalent mode of performance on the West Coast. And Dr. Dre brought his whole crew with him to make such a truth stick, including Warren G, RBX, Nate Dogg, The D.O.C. and Kurupt, among others. The Chronic is all precision, sampling everyone from Led Zeppelin to Jewell to Parliament-Funkadelic to Ohio Players and Gil Scott-Heron. It was a party that sounded like a study session, with Dr. Dre taking up his post as one of rap’s greatest educators. —Matt Mitchell

115. Lou Reed: Transformer (1972)

Greatest Albums of All TimeLou Reed’s second album in only six months, Transformer broke a mold no one knew had even existed. David Bowie and Mick Ronson co-produced Reed’s opus, injecting their own finesse into the monotone hubris of the ex-Velvet Underground’s oeuvre—and the results are otherworldly. In one of the first rock records to truly boast songs about gender, sex work, drugs and sexuality in ways that were not indicative of the mainstream psyche, Transformer destroyed everyone’s preconceptions of who Lou Reed was or what Lou Reed was capable of. Sure, “Walk on the Wild Side” is the go-to hit from the album, but songs like “Vicious” and “Satellite of Love” and “Perfect Day” are poppy, patient and dense. Given that the second side of the record is full of Broadway-inspired, campy tunes, you can see how the project might have inspired later glam records, but Transformer is, at its very core, a love-letter to the imperfect ugliness of New York City—how the streets wanted Reed and his friends dead, yet they still glowed each morning. The album is pastoral poetry tinged with Bowie and Ronson’s touch. What an orbit to be in 51 years ago. —Matt Mitchell

114. System of a Down: Toxicity (2001)

Greatest Albums of All TimeEven if this list wasn’t being published in the midst of an ongoing nu-metal revival, the sheer prescience of the Armenian-American quartet’s crossover smash makes it worthy of all the newfound retrospective praise it’s been garnering in recent years. In the two decades since plagued with still-increasing mass incarceration, police brutality targeting the weak and young, rapid industrialization at the cost of environmental decay and the bloodletting shed over land division and subjugation of entire peoples, the lyricism of Serj Tankian and Daron Malankian—pointed, winding, but knowing exactly when to jab the spear of brevity into the jugular—remains just as striking a vessel for infusing headbanger earworms with subversive punch as ever. Toxicity’s penchant for variety is its greatest weapon of all, though: there’s never a moment to rest, but there’s never a retread of what came before, thanks to System of a Down’s steadfast attention to dynamics and melody. The band also recognizes the value in tonal idiosyncrasy too—where else can you find a track with a handful of statistics about how governments profit off prisons followed up with the hook “pull the tapeworm out of your ass”?—and know that any nu-metal record that aims to keeps its listeners’ attention can never be too dour or too unserious for its own good. Toxicity is the rare record that keeps its foot pinned to the gas without ever talking down to its audience, speaking the foregone realities of global conflict into such vivid detail that it won’t come as a surprise if it remains just as relevant in the decades to come. —Natalie Marlin

113. Madvillain: Madvillainy (2004)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe only studio album made by MF DOOM and Madlib for their Madvillain project, Madvillainy is one of those hip-hop records that lives in the spaces beyond the limits and continuums of time and space. Madlib created most of the instrumentals on a Boss SP-303 sampler, a turntable and a tape deck in a hotel room in Brazil, while DOOM penned relaxed, confident and free-associative lyrics. The product of their collaboration is a string of vignettes that glow like full-bodied portraits. Much of the tracklist is full of brevity, yet cuts like “America’s Most Blunted” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” sprawl where they need to and boast impeccable beats and slick, attractive and soulful verses. “Fancy Clown” is a devastating effort that orbits a relationship crumbling to pieces, while “Accordion” is catchy yet minimal. Released into a hip-hop landscape that bent to the will of the pop charts, Madvillainy was a revelation and a risk. The work is methodical, intricate and wholly sublime album—influenced greatly by crate-diggers and flow-scholars alike and unabashed in its scope. Look no further than the pinnacle of Madvillainy—“All Caps”—where you’ll find the crux of the best debut record from this century: “Hit it on the first try, villain, the worst guy. Spot hot tracks like spot a pair of fat asses,” DOOM spits. “Shots of the scotch from out the square shot glasses, and he won’t stop ‘till he got the masses and show ‘em what they know not through flows of hot molasses.” Like one-half of its namesake, Madvillainy rebels against the safety of living in lowercase. —Matt Mitchell

112. Mariah Carey: Music Box (1993)

Greatest Albums of All Time1993 was the year Mariah Carey took over the world, and her album Music Box is still one of the greatest pop records ever. “Hero” and “Without You” are her stadium-sized ballads, both inspirational, memorable and beautiful tracks full of supportive kindness—the type of slow-burn gems that the charts just eat up. “Hero” remains one of Carey’s most performed songs across her entire career. Using a sample of the hook from the Emotions’ “Blind Alley,” Carey put together a mid-century soul track glossed atop a hip-hop-tempo backbeat in “Dreamlover.” With a Hammond B3 organ from Walter Afanasieff that can transform any composition across rock ‘n’ roll’s vast spectrum of subsets, “Dreamlover” has a groove that is relentless, catchy and lovely. Though you might consider the production on Music Box to be relatively simple, it arrives with a masterful, uncluttered shine that metabolizes into melodic, breezy instrumentation. Like an acrobat floating in thin air, Carey transcends even the most familiar pop-chart boxes in the name of graceful, romantic and velvet confidence and attitude. —Matt Mitchell

111. Godspeed You Black Emperor!: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThere cannot be any fight for a better future without the hope for light, no matter how vast the swathes of darkness before you, and it’s an outlook that post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor have been striving toward since their formation, even as their music descends to its grimmest and most morose depths. Yet, if there’s any single album of theirs that captures this ethos best, it’s Lift Your Skinny Fists, structured as if taking an Alighieri-esque descent through a Hell of our own design—what little scattered scene-setting its movement notes provide evoking images of barren, polluted highways, Atomic Age paranoia, and violent police states—and emerging to a catharsis that’s the closest the group has ever come to touching a form of transcendence. The ebbs and flows, rises and falls of Godspeed’s largely instrumental approach lend themselves to this absolute immersion in the duality of optimism and despair—take, for instance, the rushing, panicked whines of “Monheim” giving way to the soaring coda of “Broken Windows, Locks of Love Pt. III. / 3rd Part,” or the triumph of the opening title track movement darkening into “Gathering Storm.” The unhurried patience of it all makes the crescendos feel that much more urgent—infused with purpose—as on “She Dreamt She Was a Bulldozer, She Dreamt She Was Alone in an Empty Field,” whose droning pregnant pauses infuse all the more ebullience into its sudden bursts into dreamy exuberance. Lift Your Skinny Fists thrives on these pockets of hope, grace that is made all the more heavenly in the restless digging for light. —Natalie Marlin

110. The Smiths: The Queen is Dead (1984)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe Queen is Dead is the Smiths at their most clever, politically poignant and musically adventurous. The anti-royalist record’s lyrics had more bite than the commentary of any popular British punk group through Morrissey’s particularly English wit. The title track opens with a sample of “Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty,” a song written during World War I, which twists into an uncharacteristically aggressive barrage of drums from Mike Joyce—as Johnny Marr’s distorted wah-wah effect explodes alongside Morrissey’s vocal while he wails “Her very Lowness with her head in a sling / I’m truly sorry, but it sounds like a wonderful thing” in an unflinching display of vitriol for English royalty. The belligerence quickly fades to the Smiths’ mellow ruminations on “I Know It’s Over” before jumping into the catchy jangle-pop of “Cemetry Gates,” which rears its head again on the morbidly romantic “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” The Queen is Dead is droll, experimental and peculiar—the perfect recipe for the Smiths’ greatest record. —Olivia Abercrombie

109. Sleater-Kinney: Dig Met Out (1997)

Greatest Albums of All TimeListening to the title track from Sleater-Kinney’s third album, it’s hard to imagine anything this trio couldn’t dig themselves out of. “Dig Me Out” starts with the kind of wiry riff Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein started mastering on their sophomore record, Call the Doctor–too technical for straight punk, too lean and abstract for alternative rock radio, but just right to lodge itself between your ears forever. Enter Janet Weiss, one of the greatest drummers in all of indie, whose run with the band begins here in a single earth-shaking snare hit. By the time the first chorus lands like a cannon blast, Dig Me Out proves the truth of something Sleater-Kinney would sing almost 20 years later: No outline would ever hold them. —Taylor Ruckle

108. This Heat: Deceit (1981)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWhile punk flourished in the ‘70s, a few oddballs who loved the DIY ethos it espoused turned towards progressive, avant-garde methods of musicianship. The resulting “post-punk” movement blew the experimental rock door wider open than ever before, with London freaks This Heat leaning extra hard into abstraction. Their second and final full-length, Deceit, offers some of their most song-like recordings, uncovered through the improvisational process and a shared concern with the hellscape of that era’s imperialism and impending nuclear catastrophe. The odd catchiness of “Cenotaph” contrasts with the disorienting properties of “Radio Prague,” but they all feel right at home on what was obviously a masterwork then and remains a staple today. —Devon Chodzin

107. J Dilla: Donuts (2006)

Greatest Albums of All TimeDonuts was one of the last albums J Dilla would ever get to work on, a fact that he knew quite clearly when he was hospitalized for complications with TTP and lupus in 2005. As he confronted his own mortality, Dilla recorded 29 of the 31 tracks on Donuts in his hospital room. The intensity of his pain increased, with moments where it was so intense he could barely move his hands, but Dilla persisted through it all to continue his work on the impending posthumous release of The Shining and Dounts. The latter was his last gift to the world, a sprawling instrumental tapestry of grief and expression in which he faces his own diminishing life with heartbreaking clarity. The short, disjointed instrumental arcs feel frantic at times, abruptly cutting out of sequences in alignment with Dilla’s fraught emotional and physical state. He masterfully shapes samples of Dionne Warwick, Frank Zappa, 10cc and the Isley Brothers into his final declarations. Dilla died three days after the album’s release in 2006 at the age of 32, with Donuts fully cementing his legacy as one of the most influential producers and creatives to grace the world of hip-hop. —Grace Ann Nantanawan

106. N.W.A.: Straight Outta Compton (1988)

Greatest Albums of All TimeHow powerful was the first album by gangsta rap group N.W.A.? It sold hundreds of thousands of copies with little support from mainstream radio and MTV, both of which had deemed the group too hot to handle. Their unabashed hatred of the police and all authority figures landed the on the radar of the FBI whose assistant director sent a letter to the group’s label urging them to think twice about releasing a record with the song “Fuck Tha Police” on it. The group was banned from performing in some cities due to the incendiary tone of their rhetoric and a lot of fear mongering from the press. That’s power. While fully acknowledging this also remains one of the most grossly misogynistic albums ever recorded, we can’t deny the impact of this album on the hip-hop community. It established the West Coast as a prime player in the culture and turned its creators—especially Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre—into instant icons. And if you can’t see how their more politicized messages are still applicable in our modern times, you really haven’t been paying attention. —Robert Ham

105. Paul & Linda McCartney: Ram (1971)

Greatest Albums of All TimePerhaps the first-ever indie pop record ever made, Ram is the only studio album credited to Paul and Linda McCartney as a duo—and it’s a ravishingly magnificent affair from start to end. Lead single “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” was a #1 hit, while “Too Many People,” “Dear Boy” and “Monkberry Moon Delight” showcased the kookier sides of Paul’s pop-songwriting gifts. The work is stellar and a logical evolution for the best Beatle, whose more cartoonish offerings were never held in too high of regard by his former bandmates—but, in the company of Linda, David Spinozza, Hugh McCracken and Denny Seiwell, Paul’s writing had never been more at home. “The Backseat of My Car” is one of the most underrated tracks in all of Paul McCartney’s catalog, and the critical adoration of Ram has only continued to grow in the 53 years since it was first thrown to the wolves of the world. Whether or not it’s the best solo Beatles album is up for debate; it being the most influential, however, is not. —Matt Mitchell

104. Bruce Springsteen: The River (1980)

Greatest Albums of All TimeBruce Springsteen’s The River falls right in the middle of one of the greatest decade-long runs by any artist, coming after Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town and just before Nebraska and Born in the U.S.A. While arguments can be made for any of the five albums recorded from 1975-1984, The River remains my favorite given its ambitious and cohesive message. It was a working-class record made in the height of a recession, chronicling the ups and downs of living in harsh economic conditions. The Boss has been both more triumphant and darker in singular moments, but it’s throughout this sprawling double album that he makes his most honest statements. Springsteen’s message throughout The River no longer simply echoes sentiments of a singular experience but has emerged as a timeless sentiment speaking to the American workingman’s struggle. —Max Blau

103. Sunn O))): Black One (2005)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThere are few experimental metal bands with the reach of droning freaks Sunn O))), and Black One is a key reason why. Black metal is a subgenre with a fraught history, but its heavy use of distortion and atmospheric production (not too far from shoegaze, as later precocious experimentalists noticed) gives it broader appeal than typical metal subgenres. Sunn O)))’s version of black metal is pummeling and immersive. Between standouts like “It Took The Night To Believe,” “Orthodox Caveman” and “Báthory Erzsébet,” there is a sense of dread and slow-moving terror that is entirely inescapable and keeps listeners coming back time and time again. There are few feelings as satisfying as enduring a Sunn O))) guitar-torture session. —Devon Chodzin

102. Prince and the Revolution: 1999 (1982)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAfter dropping four albums consecutively, 1999 immediately became Prince’s widest, and most musically ambitious, landscape of sex and love. He populated the whole thing generously with synthesizers, drum machines, sensual moans and screaming guitars. It’s a text that’s influenced three decades of techno and art pop. Built atop a funkified falsetto he’d patented four years earlier, 1999 was the perfect test-drive for a sound Prince would fully harness on Sign o’ the Times five years later. Yet, it was here, in-between the shimmying struts of showboating, apocalyptic electronica, where the multi-instrumentalist fully dove into the glamorous androgyny that codified him as such a singular, auteur figure in the 1980s. 1999’s first three singles (“1999,” “Little Red Corvette,” “Delirious”) each peaked high on the Billboard Hot 100 and “International Lover” garnered Prince his first ever Grammy Award nomination. “Little Red Corvette,” an unfathomably hot, metaphor-drenched, post-disco rock number about casual one-night-stands, helped Prince carry his funk roots over the line into full-fledged pop rock (a transition he’d fully embrace two years later on Purple Rain). But the record’s centerpiece is the nine-minute-long, bursting heart of “Automatic,” in which he fashions a sonic that is as accessible as it is indescribable and provocative, with insatiable, well-paced lyrics about the art of pleasure and coveting (“I’ll rub your back forever, it’s automatic” and “Baby you’re a purple star in the night supreme”). The song is Prince’s forgotten opus, just as 1999 is the masterpiece that preceded masterpieces. When the record begins, he asks what we should all make of the end of the world; by its end, there is only one right answer: we must go out grooving, with our bodies pushing against one another lovingly. —Matt Mitchell

101. Simon & Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)

Greatest Albums of All TimeSimon & Garfunkel are the great promise of a pairing—opposites that play against each other to build uncanny strength. Garfunkel’s angelic falsetto singing desperate, painful hymns to all who hear; Paul Simon with a voice that moves like a bare knuckle boxer in the ring—playful, desperate and hungry. Together, they built a machine of beautiful melody and slowly, over time, the tether between them unraveled and frayed until it finally came apart. With Bridge Over Troubled Water, they created a fitting farewell to each other and to those who knew them as a singular truth. It was God’s perfect little example of an ideal breakup record; a grand testament to what they had built together. “The Only Living Boy in New York” speaks to what will haunt you with the record, as Paul Simon laments and learns to let go of something and someone he can’t hold onto forever. Bridge Over Troubled Water is an album of the great possibility of hiding in change, of learning to accept that some things are not forever—that some partners are just too eager to fly, and that you can still take one final shot at saying goodbye together. —Niko Stratis

100. B.B. King: Live at the Regal (1965)

Greatest Albums of All TimeRecorded in 1964 at the Regal Theater in Chicago and then released by ABC in 1965, B.B. King’s landmark live album remains the greatest blues record of all time. Featuring a band of King, Leo Lauchie, Duke Jethro, Sonny Freeman, Bobby Forte, Johnny Board and Kenneth Sands, Live at the Regal bursts at the seams with some of the greatest beating-heart guitar-playing ever captured on tape. King’s vocals, too, sound unfathomably ripe, and tracks like “Sweet Live Angel” and “How Blue Can You Get?” have transcended touchstone status. But it’s the singular, crooning lament of “Worry, Worry” that makes Live at the Regal so unforgettable. King opens not with a riff, but with a blistering solo that aches and cries through Jethro’s tapestry of keys. “You hurt me so badly, baby,” King bemoans, and the audience viscerally cheers from off-camera, “when you said we were through. Oh, you hurt me! You know you hurt me, you hurt me so bad, baby.” His vocals don’t strain, instead diving downwards into some heavenly rapture at the bottom of his throat. “I would rather be dead, woman, then to be here so alone and blue.” No blues record has ever felt like such a strong encapsulation of the genre’s century-old imprint on rock ‘n’ roll, soul and R&B. —Matt Mitchell

99. Grateful Dead: American Beauty (1970)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAs remarkable as the Grateful Dead’s catalog is, there’s still nothing quite like American Beauty. The band recorded their fifth record mere months after the critical and commercial success of their stripped-down masterpiece Workingman’s Dead—in the wake of the unseemly discovery that their manager (and drummer Mickey Hart’s father) had left town and embezzled a good portion of their money. A stacked LP that boasts some of the group’s most iconic tracks (I’m looking at you, “Ripple” and “Friend of the Devil”), the album marked a noticeable shift from the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter songwriting partnership that dominated their previous records, with Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Pigpen McKernan each penning tracks (“Box of Rain,” “Sugar Magnolia” and “Operator,” respectively). A fusion of folk, rock, bluegrass and country, American Beauty sounded like the future upon its release in 1970—and it likely always will. Let there be songs to fill the air, indeed. —Elizabeth Braaten

98. Donna Summer: Bad Girls (1979)

Greatest Albums of All TimeDonna Summer is the Queen of Disco, and Bad Girls is the tour de force entry in her catalog of irresistible dance hits. Her larger-than-life vocals command the playful, sexy attitude of “Hot Stuff” while detailing the nightlife of various women around town looking for their own flavor of fun on “Bad Girls.” Her seventh studio album isn’t just about cheap thrills and fleeting romance; there is an underlying theme of finding love in every corner of life, including the dancefloor. The collaboration with legendary disco producer Giorgio Moroder solidified the record with rich sparkling disco rhythms, while Summer’s powerful vocal elevates it to a pristine combination of disco and R&B. Summer was a master of aesthetic, and Bad Girls is a sublime, lavish party from start to finish. —Olivia Abercrombie

97. Death: Symbolic (1995)

Greatest Albums of All TimeOne of the greatest Florida bands to ever do it, Death’s death metal masterpiece Symbolic will rummage its way into your bones and never get out. The vocals from bandleader Chuck Schuldiner are so gnarly that they’ll split you in two, and his and Bobby Koelble’s dueling guitars linger and thrash and pummel each note. And the backline of Gene Hoglan’s drums and Kelly Conlon’s bass rupture through the stratosphere on tracks like “Crystal Mountain,” “Zero Tolerance” and “1,000 Eyes.” The title-track is one of the all-time best, and closer “Perennial Quest” quakes in its own melody like a pop song stripped for parts, doused in gallons of acid and marinated in arsenic. Schuldiner’s throat rips itself raw for 50 minutes, and we’re all better off because of it. “It must be strange to not have lived so far into existence” remains one of the most harrowing lines in all of metal. —Matt Mitchell

96. Fleetwood Mac: Tusk (1979)

Greatest Albums of All TimeFleetwood Mac’s follow-up to one of the most important and influential rock albums ever was done through just as much tumult as its predecessor—costing $1.4 million to make ($5.88 million in today’s money), making it the most expensive rock album at the time. Tusk and Rumours are so sonically separated, but they are emotional siblings. You can’t make a record as heartbreaking and emotionally starved as Tusk without having first made a song like “The Chain” or a song like “Silver Springs” (though the latter did not appear on the final cut of Rumours). Tusk makes no logical sense, sounding like four or five albums mashed together—but it’s that chaos that sets it beautifully ablaze. From Christine McVie’s beautiful “Over & Over” to Lindsey Buckingham’s coked-out “What Makes You Think You’re the One” to Stevie Nicks’ double-dose of gut-wrenching ballads “Sara” and “Storms,” Tusk is messy and yet, somehow, perfect. Buckingham wanted to join in on the punk rock party, while Nicks and McVie further shaped their own romantic songcraft. The variety beckons you to refrain from skipping a single moment, and you’re rewarded with the blistering title-track and McVie cuts like “Honey Hi” and “Never Forget” on side four. “Don’t say that you love me,” they all cry out on “Tusk.” It’s a razor-sharp, gutteral demand sold well by a tragedy enveloping five people being ripped apart. —Matt Mitchell

95. Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAmbient music is commonly associated with spacious soundscapes, and incorrectly perceived as being purely arrhythmic. On his 1992 full-length debut, Selected Ambient Works 85 – 92, Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin) solidified rhythm’s role within the genre. Fusing techno beats with blissed-out synthesizers, the album’s 13 tracks bridge the gap between the airport terminal and dancefloor. Its counterpart, 1994’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II, backtracks into ominous, deconstructed terrain—a seminal dark ambient landmark that solidified James’ unpredictability and range. Together, the Selected Ambient Works installments establish both sides of the Aphex Twin coin, inadvertently creating the blueprint for IDM. —Ted Davis

94. Sade: Love Deluxe (1992)

Greatest Albums of All TimeSade Adu’s voice is a once-in-a-generation marvel. Her rich contralto stunned in the laid-back jazzy grooves of Sade’s debut Diamond Life, flowing into the subdued trip-hop drum beats of the band’s fourth album, Love Deluxe—a breathy beauty of smooth rhythms, highlighting Adu’s icy vocal as she sings of betrayal, romance, pain and sexuality. Her voice lifts the jazzy rhythmic backbeats to become a textured soundscape she can drift in and out of on songs like “No Ordinary Love” and “Like a Tattoo.” Love Deluxe’s ethereal instrumentals fuse soul, jazz, sophisti-pop and trip-hop in a mystical journey of the human condition. —Olivia Abercrombie

93. War: The World is a Ghetto (1972)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe World Is a Ghetto changed everything for War and for Long Beach funk, going on to become the best-selling album of 1973 and Billboard’s Album of the Year (beating out Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, just to name a few). The project went gold, selling 500,000 copies and producing two Top 10 singles—the title track and “The Cisco Kid,” the latter of which hit #2 on the pop chart. It’s crucial to understand that all of this was happening two years before their War’s recognizable pop hits—“Low Rider” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”—even came out. The World Is a Ghetto boasted samba-style arrangements done up in War’s signature Long Beach style. For a concept album to achieve such heights was a monumental moment in rock ‘n’ roll. From the kaleidoscopic horn jam on the title track to the stomp of melancholy ensconcing the magic of “Where Was You At” to the “na na na” singalong jubilancy of “Beetles In the Bog,” the record drapes itself in a mirage of tones and turns. em>The World Is a Ghetto blew the gates open—and everyone in America had turned their ears towards what Lonnie Jordan, Howard Scott, B.B. Dickerson, Harold Brown, Papa Dee Allen, Charles Miller and Lee Oskar had put together. The World Is a Ghetto helped make Southern California a part of the world as complex as ever. War wrote about low-riders because Miller had one and the band understood that culture; they wrote about Compton and Long Beach because that was their neighborhood. It was the West Coast’s answer to Funkadelic’s East Coast formula. —Matt Mitchell

92. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (2010)

Greatest Albums of All TimeBefore Halcyon Digest came out in 2010, Deerhunter bandleader Bradford Cox wrote on Facebook that its title was “a reference to a collection of fond memories and even invented ones, like my friendship with Ricky Wilson or the fact that I live in an abandoned Victorian autoharp factory. The way that we write and rewrite and edit our memories to be a digest version of what we want to remember, and how that’s kind of sad.” And, too, Halcyon Digest is one of the most important albums of the last 20 years, compiled like a newsletter and devastating like an open-casket funeral. Cox’s songwriting was in the echelons of the craft when he made this record, and songs like “Memory Boy,” “Helicopter” and “Revival” are such impressive, existentially profound demonstrations of lostness and our mortal coils. But it’s the closing track “He Would Have Laughed,” which Cox recorded alone in memory of the late Jay Reatard, that makes Halcyon Digest such a fixture in our hearts and tastes. “In sweetness comes suffering,” Cox announced to the world. And, without a second thought, we all listened. —Matt Mitchell

91. Otis Redding: Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965)

Greatest Albums of All TimeOtis Redding famously conceded that Aretha Franklin had stolen “Respect,” a song he’d written, out from under him by giving it her own indelible stamp. Of course, he could make this judgment call because he was a master of the same trick—taking anything from a stirring Sam Cooke track like “A Change Is Gonna Come” to the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and breathing so much of his own personality into it that you’d swear he’d written it on the spot. It’s difficult to believe we only got three years’ worth of material out of him before he died tragically in a plane crash, but spinning the likes of another Redding original, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” reminds you not only of the mercurial talent we lost, but just how far his influence stretches up to the present day. —Elise Soutar

90. The Stooges: Raw Power (1973)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe recording of Raw Power was a mess; touring for the album was even messier. By the time 1973 came around, the Stooges—or Iggy and The Stooges, or the Psychedelic Stooges—were pioneers, the definition of proto-punk. Peers like MC5 and the Sonics were excellent at making garage rock raucous like the Stooges had. In retrospect, they were the blueprint of punk rock. And, under the leadership of Iggy Pop, the Stooges brought theatricality to rock ‘n’ roll that wasn’t avant-garde or esoteric. Like a cauldron of blood, sex and anger, Raw Power is the antithesis of delicate. A monolith of brash. For their five years together, the Stooges were grossly unloved by the masses. Critics loved Raw Power, though. Creem journalist Lester Bangs, who infamously first referred to the band as “punk rock,” praised the album for “the ferocious assertiveness of the lyrics” that were “at once slightly absurd and indicative of a confused, violently defensive stance that’s been a rock tradition from the beginning.” Bangs was right, but he was also horribly wrong. What Pop and the Stooges did on Raw Power was singular and remains as such in 2023. —Matt Mitchell

89. Television: Marquee Moon (1977)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe NYC post-punk scene in the late ‘70s was unmatched, with figureheads like Talking Heads, Blondie and, of course, Television, at its vanguard. Marquee Moon, the 1977 debut album from Television, is a vivid distillation of the milieu that its bandmates inhabited. You can hear its influence throughout the ages, from the noisy, howling dynamism of the Pixies to the hooky, synthy guitar tones of The Strokes. Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Billy Ficca and Fred Smith, all these years later, have made certain that their names will be remembered. They’re still on the marquee, and they always will be. —Grant Sharples

88. Smashing Pumpkins: Siamese Dream (1993)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe sophomore album from Chicago’s iconic alt-rock band Smashing Pumpkins was Billy Corgan’s effort to blast you into another dimension. Siamese Dream is a sonic planet of guitar manipulations, overblown effects and Corgan’s angsty wail that drowns you in the lush, melodramatic sorrows of a man who felt outcast from the ‘90s indie-rock community. The record stands out amongst its grunge contemporaries for its dreamy, otherworldly quality—inspired by the rich tones of Kevin Shields—and massive volume that still maintains a quiet delicacy on songs like “Cherub Rock,” “Mayonaise” and “Today.” —Olivia Abercrombie

87. Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique (1989)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAfter conquering the hip-hop world in 1986 with Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys found themselves out at the Def Jam label and pigeonholed by many as a one-and-done gimmick. The trio responded by doubling down on their prankster prince personas and pairing with Los Angeles producers the Dust Brothers on the experimental Paul’s Boutique. As juvenile as ever, Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D break balls, puff chests and sling rhymes over the Dust Brothers’ dense layers of textured sampling, while perfecting their patented three-man weave and showing a keen knack for portraying their own unique Beastie vantage on the world. While Paul’s Boutique made a mere ripple at the time, it’s now rightfully exalted as a production masterpiece and a hip-hop game-changer. —Matt Melis

86. Kanye West: The Life of Pablo (2016)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIt’s incredibly difficult to encapsulate the tumultuous force in music, fashion and pop culture that is Kanye West—none of his peers have simultaneously stirred as much controversy, crafted as many masterpieces and wielded as much influence as he has. He revels in this position, and it’s no surprise that he was best suited to articulate his own mythos, which became the loose concept of 2016’s The Life of Pablo—a disorienting rollercoaster that masterfully blurs the line between the legend of Kanye West and the man himself. Everything about the album rejects cohesion, from its exhilarating mashup of high and low culture to its being proudly presented as an unfinished product, even receiving updates after its chaotic release. In its constant juxtaposition of the profound and the profane, and in its deconstruction of the music making process, The Life of Pablo is one of the best examples of postmodernism in album form. —David Feigelson

85. Nina Simone: I Put a Spell on You (1965)

Greatest Albums of All TimeBefore 1965, Nina Simone had found her stride through terrific live albums, like particularly her performances at Newport, Village Gate and Carnegie Hall. She was the greatest showman of her time who, unbelievably, put I Put a Spell on You and Pastel Blues out in the same year. Both are no doubt major superstars in the vocal jazz canon, but the former is simply just one of the greatest blues-pop records to ever exist. The title-track alone is an obvious example why, but “Feeling Good” is a good candidate for the title of the best Nina Simone song. Couple those two heavy hitters with “July Tree” (her best ballad) and “You’ve Got to Learn,” and it becomes obvious that Nina had found a groove in her career—where the excellence on-stage translated into excellence in the studio. I Put a Spell on You is a metamorphosis done up like a ballroom curtain call. How lucky we were to have Nina for as long as we did. —Matt Mitchell

84. SOPHIE: Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides (2018)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe emotional weight of SOPHIE’s maximalism is almost too much to bear now. In the years since the groundbreaking experimental pop musician’s tragic passing, her sole studio record has come to embody a new form altogether—a vessel for a kind of transfeminine hyper-expressiveness, a body and being whose seemingly familiar chemical makeup of bubblegum bass and club music is so radically altered that it becomes greater than its boundaries can hold, an overflowing of self. By inverting, eroding, exaggerating, or otherwise completely blowing out traditional pop and electronic structures, SOPHIE arranges with a palette all her own. Songs as thundering as “Faceshopping” or “Immaterial” feel as if they contain as many sentiments and outlooks at once—elation, apprehension, corporeal anxiety, longing, and disarming vulnerability—while more abstract cuts like “Pretending” find shape in constructing narratives of self-actualization using a language all their own, outside limiting norms entirely. Oil is a record defined by its own active reshaping of the landscape—like the restless seismic shifts that close “Whole New World / Pretend World.” For all the overt references and imitators that have come in SOPHIE’s wake, no one can ever replicate the idiosyncratic ways she altered the terrain with just a single album. —Natalie Marlin

83. Pixies: Surfer Rosa (1988)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe Pixies are one of those bands that were popular enough in their day but only just, resurrected in the love of all the artists who came after them—notes of influence scribbled in the margins of their work about slicing up eyeballs and how to pit the verse and the chorus against each other. A group that made bold decisions together, imploded, reformed, lived again as something new that felt like something old, I think Doolittle is the album people recommend when someone says they’ve never heard the Pixies before. But it’s Surfer Rosa that really speaks to the grand ideas of what the Pixies have always been: Taking pop music and hammering used nails into its weathered surface, adding punk rock with just enough dirt wiped away to give a hint of an unknown substance beneath. Surfer Rosa is the Pixies at their most Subterranean and haunting, “Where Is My Mind” being the song everyone recalls due to its expert placement at the collapse at the end of Fight Club, and “Gigantic” standing tall as one of the greatest alt-rock singles of all time. Frank Black’s voice like a siren’s call, Kim Deal’s the rocks unbreaking your sturdy hull—both working in tandem to welcome you home to the depths below. —Niko Stratis

82. Radiohead: In Rainbows (2007)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThere is constant debate over which Radiohead album tops them all, and for me, In Rainbows is it, no question. From the fuzzed-out riff at the beginning of “Bodysnatchers” to the funky groove of “Nude” to the utter devastation of “All I Need,” In Rainbows is a triumph of abstraction and honest reflection. The album feels more human than most of their works, with an injected warmth from the instrumentals of which their previous works were absent. Plus, the record gets bonus points in my mind because Radiohead self-released it as a pay-what-you-want download so all fans could have access to it. All of the band’s works transport me to another plane of existence, but wherever In Rainbows takes me is a place I’d love to reside eternally. —Olivia Abercrombie

81. D’Angelo: Voodoo (2000)

Greatest Albums of All TimeD’Angelo has only made three records in the last 28 years, but each one has been masterful—from his jet-setting debut Brown Sugar to the greatest comeback LP ever, Black Messiah. And yet, neither stack up with his 2000 sophomore effort, Voodoo, which cemented D’Angelo as the kingpin R&B performer of his generation. Voodoo sold 320,000 copies in its first week, leading to an eventual Platinum certification in the US. “Devil’s Pie,” “Send It On” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love” are peak neo-soul compositions injected with Memphis horns, Southern blues and timeless, Sly Stone-inspired funk—and Voodoo itself is a landmark curation of grooves and eroticism, a record as plentifully tender as it is melodically entrancing. It’s hazy, emphatic and unforgettable. A jazz critic called it an “aural aphrodisiac” upon its release 24 years ago; it’s hard to argue that songs like “Left & Right” and “The Root” are still anything but. —Matt Mitchell

80. Alice Coltrane: Journey in Satchidananda (1971)

Greatest Albums of All TimeRecorded with saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, bassists Cecil McBee and Charlie Haden and drummer Rashied Ali, Alice Coltrane’s fourth record, Journey in Satchidananda is one of the most spiritual LPs ever released. Here, Coltrane poured all of herself and her yearnings and her unabiding command of her instruments into five compositions that rang out like a beautiful storm of transcendental, personal revelations. A formative piece of the modal jazz canon, Journey in Satchidananda features potent strains of blues and classical Indian music—the frameworks of which can be found imprinted on the Brainfeeder catalog of the late 2000s and early 2010s. A ripe, entrancing take on meditative energy and biographical heartache and progress, Journey in Satchidananda is the text that gave us the greatest, most holistic version of Alice Coltrane’s genius—a brand of healing not yet forgottten. —Matt Mitchell

79. Black Sabbath: Paranoid (1970)

Greatest Albums of All TimeOzzy Osbourne is a rock icon. I mean, what will ever be cooler or more sinister than him biting the head off a bat? In 1970, Paranoid transformed the landscape of metal with the ruthless guitar riffs of Tony Iommi, the weighty basslines of Geezer Butler and the pounding percussion of Bill Ward. The album covers the raging Vietnam War, the threat of atomic weapons and the struggles of Britain’s working class in line with the eerie, apocalyptic nature of the music surrounding Osbourne’s eruptive screech. Paranoid refined the explosive dark metal energy of Black Sabbath’s debut and catapulted the genre to monumental heights at the start of the 1970s. Metal is what it is now because of this very record. —Olivia Abercrombie

78. Mingus: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963)

Greatest Albums of All TimeUpright bassist Charles Mingus is perhaps best known for his jumpy, post-bop masterpiece Mingus Ah Um—one of the liveliest jazz albums of the 1950s. But 1963’s more ruminative, Impulse!-issued The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is a testament to his creative genius and emotional depth. It’s an avant-garde ballet for 10 musicians, manifested as a continuous six-movement composition broken into four tracks. It has the capacity to shift between blues, classical, and swing on a whim, playing like the score to an imaginary crime film. The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady captures the energy of a night strolling through some rainy downtown, watching headlight reflections breath flashes of life into window displays. —Ted Davis

77. Erykah Badu: Baduizm (1997)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe name of the neo-soul genre was made up by a marketing-savvy music industry executive, and the artists at the forefront of the late-’90s movement never really embraced the term. Still, it’s an excellent descriptor for the music on Baduizm, the debut album from singer, songwriter and Neo-Soul Vibes Queen Erykah Badu. Funky, bass-driven and laid allll the way back, the 14 tracks here lock into a deep groove that has little in common with the contemporary R&B of the time. Instead, Badu brings together beguiling blues and jazz vocals, sturdy hip-hop beats, after-party languor and effortless cool, spinning them into an irresistible sound that’s all her own. —Ben Salmon

76. The Replacements: Let It Be (1984)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAfter making Hootenanny a year earlier, the Replacements left their loud and fast playing behind in favor of the more melodic, coming-of-age, post-punk-inspired hooks of Let It Be in 1984. It doesn’t resemble the Beatles album of the same name in any kind of way, but it does showcase how bandleader Paul Westerberg was a disciple of Alex Chilton and Todd Rundgren, who were among Paul McCartney’s brightest progeny. Let It Be put the Replacements on the college rock map, spearheaded by tracks like “I Will Dare” and “Unsatisfied.” It’s just brilliant, catchy rock ‘n’ roll turned up to an 11 on the maturity scale. Westerberg was easily becoming one of the best living pop writers, and the Replacements joined R.E.M. in the winner’s circle of alt-rock, a prestige later given to bands like Sonic Youth and the Pixies. But the Replacements were one-of-a-kind, made obvious by Let It Be centerpiece “Androgynous,” which is a no-fuss piano ballad that puts Westerberg and the band’s newfound seriousness at center-stage. Still, there’s a moment where, as he sings the song’s title, you can hear him let out the faintest laugh. —Matt Mitchell

75. Little Richard: Here’s Little Richard (1957)

Greatest Albums of All TimeHere’s Little Richard is not just the greatest debut album of all time, it’s the birth of rock ‘n’ roll as we know it. Without these songs, there is no Elvis, no Beatles, no Rolling Stones, no Elton John. There’s no one. When a scrawny, flamboyant pianist—who played like his entire body was on fire—broke out of Macon, Georgia and into the Billboard Top 40, the entire landscape of modern music’s past, present and future was forever transformed. “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip It Up,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’” and “Jenny, Jenny” all got major radio play, while “Ready Teddy,” “She’s Got It” and “Miss Ann” were mainstays on the R&B stations and charts. The album is frantic, hypnotic, catchy and refined; it’s a marvel older than nearly every other entry on this list. Sure, maybe the Velvet Underground still manages to tumble into the avant-garde drones without Little Richard; maybe the UK punk scene is unavoidable regardless. But Little Richard’s first album is why we have rock ‘n’ roll in the first place. Even folks starting bands in 2023 have him to thank for their wide-eyed ambitions. Here’s Little Richard isn’t just a documentation of our greatest musician, in real time, giving rock ‘n’ roll a lifetime warranty, it’s an astute projection of where all of our interests and obsessions stem from. No debut album gets a Top 100 bid just because it was an originator. It has to be great, too. And let me assure you, Here’s Little Richard is both of those things and about a dozen more. —Matt Mitchell

74. Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde (1966)

Greatest Albums of All TimeFor a long time, Blonde on Blonde would have been my no-doubt-about-it pick for #1. I mean, it’s the greatest double album ever made, after all. Recorded in New York City and Nashville across three months in 1966, Blonde on Blonde took Dylan’s modernist poetics and merged them full-on with the electric blues and folk rock he’d so poignantly fleshed out in the year prior. The true mark of our greatest lyrical visionary, Blonde on Blonde is massive in scale and execution, as songs like “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” “Visions of Johanna,” “Just Like a Woman” and “I Want You” are among the most important in the Dylan pantheon. Even the more underrated tracks, like “Fourth Time Around” and “Pledging My Time,” are stunning in their brilliance. You can see, from “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” all the way down to “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” that Dylan was at the height of his powers in every sense of the term. And “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” I will go to my grave contending that it is, without a doubt, the greatest song Bob Dylan has ever penned. At 11 minutes in length, it takes up all of side four by itself and fleshes out an entire colloquial ecosystem across its runtime. Blonde on Blonde should be credited with re-inventing the language of rock ‘n’ roll, as it remains miraculously taut and marvelously triumphant. —Matt Mitchell

73. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles: Going to a Go-Go (1965)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIt can be hard to discern the lasting legacy of albums released by doo-wop and Motown musicians, especially because so many of those artists’ successes were built on singles rather than full projects. But Smokey Robinson’s group the Miracles were able to set a benchmark with their 1965 album Going to a Go-Go. It helps that Robinson wrote or co-wrote all but one song on the LP (“My Baby Changes Like the Weather”), rather than some hired Tamla-Motown gun like Norman Whitfield or Barrett Strong. With Robinson’s vision front-and-center, the Miracles broke through soul music’s ceiling with songs like “Ooo Baby Baby,” “The Tracks of My Tears” and “My Girl Has Gone.” Going to a Go-Go is the greatest full-length album to ever come out of Hitsville, USA, and it cemented the Miracles as Motown’s brightest act. Not to mention, Robinson’s lead vocal was at its very best here, on great display during tracks like “Choosey Beggar” and “A Fork in the Road.” It’s not often a record of this kind was of this caliber, but the Miracles were always leagues ahead of their labelmates (and their peers across the board). —Matt Mitchell

72. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)

Greatest Albums of All TimeKendrick Lamar is a storyteller through and through. That narrative passion comes through clearest on his second album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, the 2012 record that solidified the Compton native’s title as one of the greatest rappers of his generation. Across its 12 tracks and hour-plus runtime, K.Dot documents his experiences growing up in Compton and how his home has shaped his understanding of the world and himself. He threads it together with trenchant lyrics about the perils of alcohol (“Swimming Pools (Drank)”), a successful home invasion (“The Art of Peer Pressure”) and the systematic nature of street violence (“m.A.A.d city”). On this bona fide SoCal tour de force, Kendrick sums up his legacy at the top of the closing track: “Now everybody serenade the new faith of King Kendrick Lamar.” —Grant Sharples

71. Madonna: Like a Prayer (1989)

Greatest Albums of All TimeBy 1989, Madonna had spent half the decade with one foot in the door of superstardom and the other in that of provocation; she showed no sign of slowing down. If anything, she ramped up the provocation for her fourth album, Like a Prayer. Hits like the title track, “Oh Father” and “Keep It Together” dealt nakedly with conflicts of faith and family with a level of artfulness that facilitated a pivot from star-of-the-moment to a more timeless, statement-making artist. How “Like a Prayer” dabbles in double entendre with a vivacious gospel choir’s backing is thrilling (or mortifying, depending on your faith) for anyone who’s wrestled with desire, gender and power. Few pop stars have pivoted successfully toward this kind of prestige pop, but Madonna’s revolution of both mass pop stardom and pop’s prestigious potential makes her, and Like a Prayer, essential for understanding today’s pop music landscape. —Devon Chodzin

70. my bloody valentine: loveless (1991)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAt first glance, shoegaze looks easy: Bury your vocals enough and you can say anything without critique because no one can hear you over a constant flood of flanged guitars. Once you’ve figured out how to make your guitars do that, it should be easy, right? For the obsessive Kevin Shields, everything from the guitar technique (“glide,” as it came to be known) to the hyperspecific conjuring of want found on 1991’s loveless had to be perfect, resulting in what should have been an overdetermined alternative rock album. Instead, it would become the defining album of shoegaze and play a major role in the subgenre’s canonization and periodic revivals. Legendary songs like “When You Sleep” and “Only Shallow” both show and tell emotional tapestries beyond what verse alone can conjure, resulting in a collection that’s not just the pinnacle of experimental rock but a wallop of feeling that’s palpable with every stroke. It hurts; it hurts so good. —Devon Chodzin

69. Nas: Illmatic (1994)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAmid socioeconomic inequality, gang violence and the emotional turmoil that accompanies these phenomena in Black communities, Nas was on a mission to make it. Upon its arrival in 1994, Illmatic became the motivation the world needed then, and endures as what it needs now. The album was widely-acclaimed immediately, receiving the coveted five mics rating from The Source. “The World Is Yours” features Nas laying the groundwork for his future as a G.O.A.T. in hip-hop, and a mission to give back to the community that brought him up. “Life’s A Bitch,” which has gone on to be one of Nas’s universal songs, finds the MC exploring his mortality after having moved through the wreckage of Queensbridge. On “One Love,” Nas writes letters to his incarcerated friends and maintains his loyalty to those who helped him in rough times, and promises to hold the community down for them until they come home. Critics lauded Nas for “portraying this bleak life honestly and with lyrical finesse—and without bashing women—unlike many so-called gangstas’ shock-for-sales rantings” and the socio-political lyricism, live instrumentation and jazz sounds of Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly can easily be traced back to Illmatic—and artists like Chance The Rapper, Vince Staples, J. Cole and Rapsody, too, are clear students of the New Yorker’s conscious craft. The album spawned a young MC ready to defy the odds through thought-provoking rhymes and striking lines. The focus on contemporary inner-city issues, paired with well-composed instrumentation and delivered with zeal and gusto, has cemented Illmatic as one of the greatest albums of all time, across all genres. —Alex Gonzalez

68. Aretha Franklin: Lady Soul (1968)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIt’s easy to forget that Aretha Franklin didn’t become the “Queen of Soul” overnight. After a string of nine mostly forgettable albums of standards, she finally ascended to that throne with 1967’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You and her signature song, “Respect.” On Lady Soul, we hear the Queen at the height of her reign. Crown jewels like “Chain of Fools,” “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” feature Franklin at her most regal: her singular, gospel-inspired voice coloring in all the shades of an empowered woman wisened by heartbreak and yet still vulnerable and hopeful when it comes to love. Lady Soul captures Franklin as we will always remember her: true musical royalty. —Matt Melis

67. A Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory (1991)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThere’s before The Low End Theory, and there’s after The Low End Theory. This crucial album transformed the industry’s approach to genre and production, and it solidified both Phife Dawg and Q-Tip’s legendary hip-hop MC statuses. This, A Tribe Called Quest’s second full-length release, melds the group’s crisp beats, perfectly-spliced samples and progressive lyricism for something entirely singular. You hear it in the bass on “Verses from the Abstract” and “Excursions,” or in the ruminations on “Show Business” and “Infamous Date Rape,” or in the back-and-forth between the Tip and Phife on “Check the Rhime” and “Buggin’ Out.” All of it, perfectly smooth—all of it, vital. —Annie Nickoloff

66. Michael Jackson: Off the Wall (1979)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWith Off the Wall Michael Jackson went from the star of the Jackson 5 to a pop icon. He wasn’t yet one of the biggest-selling solo artists of all time, still just a Motown singer trying to make it big without his family—and he did just that in 1979, after dropping “Rock With You,” “Off the Wall” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” You can hear MJ break down into tears at the end of “She’s Out of My Life,” and deeper cuts like “Girlfriend” and “Get On the Floor” flaunt the showboating allure that proved why he was destined to be the greatest pop star of all time. Before Thriller took over the world, MJ was charting on the Hot 100, winning a Grammy and making the most complete album of his career. For all of the ways that his 1982 commercial explosion is rightfully remembered as a turning in pop music, Off the Wall is where a superstar was born—and its singles are among the strongest teaser rollouts for any disco album ever. Without this record, Thriller likely doesn’t go on to be the best-selling album ever. I’ll take this era of Michael Jackson’s career eight days a week. —Matt Mitchell

65. Nirvana: Nevermind (1991)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWhat can you say about an album that changed the world? Nirvana’s second collection of bracing punk-disguised-as-pop knocked Michael Jackson from the top of the charts, killed hair metal, belatedly ended the 1980s, shifted fashion trends, put Seattle on the musical map like never before, saved Sub Pop Records, surfaced the underground, set off a major label feeding frenzy, sold a bazillion T-shirts, introduced the world to its (last?) big rock star and gave a generation its voice—one that seems to resonate with people as much now as it did back then. All of that stuff matters, of course. But what matters even more is that today, somebody somewhere will hear Nevermind for the first time—they’ll hear the jet-engine guitars and they’ll hear Kurt Cobain raggedly howl “I feel stupid and contagious”—and feel a little less alone. After everything else fades away, that will be the enduring legacy of Nirvana. —Ben Salmon

64. Ray Charles: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAfter conquering R&B, soul and blues music in a handful of years, pianist Ray Charles thought it would be appropriate to return to the musical roots he grew up with in Depression-era Georgia: country music. The result arrived in earnest in 1962, when Charles put together Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. At the time, it was the greatest country album ever made (it very well might still be, too), and Charles’ inclusion of big band arrangements and a towering string section mirrored the complexities of the burgeoning Nashville Sound happening in Tennessee around the same time. Two tracks from the record have stood the test of time, including “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “You Don’t Know Me,” which take Charles’ understanding of countrypolitan tones and merges them with soul-pop in ways that still honor the aforementioned source material. You can bend Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music any way you’d like, but it won’t break. Charles’ interpretations of traditional country songs should be studied by any wouldbe country musician coming up—it’s bulletproof work that, like the songs “Careless Love” and “I Love You So Much It Hurts,” can stand up for generations. —Matt Mitchell

63. Hüsker Dü: New Day Rising (1985)

Greatest Albums of All TimeHüsker Dü have gotten more than their fair share of Beatles comparisons over the years, and it’s definitely true in one way: They have at least three or four best albums. It doesn’t have the reputation of Zen Arcade, and Bob Mould shits all over the production in his autobiography, but New Day Rising is Hüsker Dü’s best collection of songs, and the most consistent example of the band’s trademark combination of hardcore virility and classic pop hooks. Somehow it looks larger than the equally great Zen Arcade and Flip Your Wig every year, despite all of them being solidly middle age at this point. It’s a prime influence on so many punk-derived subgenres that have flourished in its wake, but more importantly than that, it’s an album that’s full of brilliant songwriting (“Celebrated Summer”! “Books About UFOs”!) and that always sounds good—even if it sounds like the bass is in the Witness Protection Program and Grant Hart built his drum kit out of old Raisin Bran boxes. —Garrett Martin

62. The Beatles: The Beatles (1968)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe most chaotic double-album to ever germinate from the trenches of greatness, The Beatles (or, The White Album), was a 90-minute whirlwind of non-cohesive post-modernism that, somehow, worked. Much more fragmented than its predecessor, Sgt. Pepper, the White Album is brimming with everything from country, blues, folk, field recordings, doo-wop, proto-punk and music hall. Its smorgasbord of zigs and zags would run the risk of being a Code Red if performed by any other band in history. But, the Beatles used the White Album as an opportunity to tinker with everything but the kitchen sink. It features career-best songs from each Beatles, including “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (Harrison), “Don’t Pass Me By” (Starr), “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” (Lennon) and “Blackbird” (McCartney). At the same time, it features some of the Beatles most reviled compositions ever (“Rocky Raccoon,” “Everybody’s God Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”). The White Album is dimensional and features the greatest band of all time fracturing at the seams in real time. It’s exactly what Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk would be 11 years later: Four different albums converging on one four-sided LP. It’s hard to argue with the results the Beatles leave us with here; the music they made when they all hated being in a room together is infinitely better than the music being made by bands who adore each other. —Matt Mitchell

61. Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)

Greatest Albums of All TimeBy all accounts, the creation of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was a pained one involving scrapped original recordings, labels collapsing and conflicts in the studio. On reflection, it seems inevitable that the creation of Car Wheels would be prolonged and difficult—Lucinda Williams was creating something entirely new; a singular blend of country, folk, blues and rock. The end result was an enduring singer-songwriter classic; a highly melodic, earthy, lived-in set of tunes that spoke to life on the road, desire, disconnect and the terror and ecstasy of love. But Car Wheels wasn’t just a personal triumph, it laid the roadmap for future generations of assured female singer-songwriters like Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield and Margo Price to write boldly about their interior lives while discarding previously established genre constraints. —Tom Williams

60. Hole: Live Through This (1994)

Greatest Albums of All TimePlenty of people have called Kurt Cobain our “last great” rock star, but he’d be the first to tell you our last great rock star is still with us—and he should know, he was married to her. With her band Hole’s second album Live Through This, frontwoman for the ages Courtney Love finally hit the fearsome and hooky sweet spot that may have not shut her naysayers up, but certainly proved them wrong. Featuring maybe the best ever incarnation of Hole—including bassist Kristen Pfaff, who passed away only a few months after the album’s release—songs like “Violet,” “Miss World” and “Doll Parts” still resonate as some of the best products of the grunge era, allowing Love’s signature raw vocal delivery to speak to a population largely sidelined in the movement. The boys on the radio she sang about might have made the most of their brief time in the grimy rock ‘n’ roll limelight, but Love continues to have the last laugh—if only because she had the guts to kick the door down on her own terms and the material to back it up. —Elise Soutar

59. Notorious B.I.G.: Ready to Die (1994)

Greatest Albums of All TimeI discovered Notorious B.I.G. for the first time when I was 12 years old and heard “Big Poppa” in Superbad, and I was blown away by the production, by the flow, by the silk-spun groove. It was so smooth yet danceable to no end. Ready to Die being the only album released during Biggie’s lifetime is still as heartbreaking as ever, but what an album to stake your claim on. “Juicy” remains, for my money, the greatest lead single from a hip-hop album ever, and he followed it up with the equally brilliant “Big Poppa.” Throw “One More Chance” on top of that and you’ve got a trio of tracks that go toe-to-toe with any three songs made by anyone in rap history. Immediately, Biggie established himself as one of the greatest storytellers in modern music, something dashingly clear on “Juicy,” a rags-to-riches tale where he chronicles a childhood spent in poverty, being young and dealing drugs, committing crimes and then, of course, tasting success for the first time. To start your career with such a proclamation, this announcement of your stardom before even hitting the Billboard charts, was such a flex that would turn into a lifetime and a legacy of adoration. Had Biggie not been taken from us so soon, who knows what the landscape of rap would look like right now. I’d bet that, without a doubt, the conversation around who the greatest MC of all time is isn’t even a discussion. —Matt Mitchell

58. Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (1968)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWritten in Cambridge, Massachusetts and recorded in three days in New York City by a Belfast musician who’d fallen deeply in love—all after a long, now-legendary contract dispute involving the mob—Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks can feel impenetrable on paper, long heralded as an era-defining classic that always stands as a shoe-in for lists like these. In practice, all rock critic lore falls away the second you hear the title track’s opening guitar lines, launching you into an evocative, poetic song cycle depicting the euphoric dawning of a romance and its inevitable death rattle. When Morrison is “conquered in a car seat,” struck dumb by his infatuation on “Cyprus Avenue,” calling out an uncharacteristic order to “Kick off your shoes!” and dance with him on “Ballerina” or ad-libbing over the grandiose instrumentation on the outro of Madame George, you’re hearing maybe the purest audible distillation of love and loss ever pressed onto record. Speaking in absolutes about a subjective art form is usually a mistake, but in this case, it’s often true: in any music obsessive’s life, there is “before Astral Weeks clicks” and the earth-shattering effects of “after”. —Elise Soutar

57. Pharoah Sanders: Karma (1969)

Greatest Albums of All Time1969 yielded many great albums, but none have grown in greatness quite like Pharoah Sanders’ Karma. Influenced by the upheavals of the 1960s, free jazz rose to prominence within the genre as a measurement of unrest, and many of its practitioners can be traced back to the work of John Coltrane—as it was many of his closest collaborators who began to branch out, including Sanders. Karma found grace and nourishment in the hues of non-Western percussion, split-reed techniques, multiphonics and overblowing. Though only 37 minutes in length, Karma sounds like it spans a lifetime, operating perfectly as a backdrop to the tensions of yesteryear and the tensions of today. Mantra-style chants and loping grooves and spiritual, orchestral tonics add flair to the avant-garde alchemy of Sanders’ magnum opus, and the two-part composition “The Creator Has a Master Plan” is among the greatest jazz tracks ever—and he follows that up with the ornate, aspirational and career-defining beacon of “Colors.” —Matt Mitchell

56. Stevie Wonder: Innervisions (1973)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThough he was only 23 when he wrote and recorded Innervisions in 1973, Tamla/Motown guru Stevie Wonder already had 15 albums under his belt and was one of the biggest singer/songwriters on the planet. After releasing two number-one hits in 1972—“Superstition” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”—no other act in the world could catch his flame. The third entry in an unparalleled run of five albums (sandwiched in the middle of Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Songs in the Key of Life and Hotter than July), Innervisions remains one of Wonder’s greatest feats, a project that solidified him as a titan of funk and soul. There’s a reason it won Album of the Year at the 1974 Grammy Awards: Songs like “Higher Ground,” “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and “Living for the City” are perfect, unparalleled compositions tackling everything from love to drug addiction to racial inequality. The record took great aim at the Nixon administration, and Wonder even implemented traffic noise and cop sirens into the studio arrangements to bring the depictions of systematic racism into an even more vivid space. Few musicians have ever had an apex like Wonder’s, and Innervisions is one of the greatest albums ever made. —Matt Mitchell

55. Beyoncé: Lemonade (2016)

Greatest Albums of All TimeOn a Saturday night in April of 2016, Beyoncé’s sixth album dropped from out of nowhere—like manna from heaven—and everything changed. The hit-making singer from Destiny’s Child had already evolved into a pop superstar of significant substance (even now, many would point to 2011’s 4 or 2013’s self-titled LP as her artistic peak), but here, she became Beyoncé the Unfuckwithable. Lemonade is a concept album about infidelity, rage, accountability, forgiveness and redemption steeped in gritty blues, funk, soul, country, rock, hip-hop, sassy Southern culture, fire-breathing feminism and bold, beautiful Blackness. It is the moment Beyoncé became the Beyoncé we know today. —Ben Salmon

54. Wu-Tang Clan: Enter the Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers) (1993)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to fuck with. On their debut album Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the rap collective paved the way for a resurgence of East Coast rap. Granted, New York City is the birthplace of hip-hop, but 36 Chambers arrived as West Coast artists were taking over the landscape. 36 Chambers highlights the day-to-day life of a New Yorker, with ominous tales of street hustling on “C.R.E.A.M” over haunting piano trackings, and the empowered warning of “Protect Ya Neck” to any threats in their way. 36 Chambers’ gritty, rough sound is largely a result of the cheap studio equipment used to record, produce and master the album—but the heart of the rappers and their captivating melodies create a game-changing soul and immortal passion. —Alex Gonzalez

53. R.E.M.: Automatic For the People (1992)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAutomatic For the People was a solemn turn for the Athens-based R.E.M. after the sweeping success of 1991’s Out Of Time. Despite an initial desire to make a record that lived in sequence with the hits that shined on their breakthrough effort, Automatic is a bit softer, moodier. A long drive down a long and darkened road. In some ways, it’s an album about loss and pain in all its permutations; Michael Stipe’s grandmother is beautifully eulogized in “Try Not To Breathe,” the rumors abound of Stipe’s sexuality and physical health as the AIDs crisis decimated lives throughout North America, and the lingering violence of history in songs like “Monty Got a Raw Deal.” And yet, through this all, a headlight: “Drive,” at the head of the record asking what it means to move forward, leading tenderly down the road into a record of lush mid-tempo masterworks that are landmarks of the band at its most beautiful, whimsical and haunting. —Niko Stratis

52. Joni Mitchell: The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975)

Greatest Albums of All TimeForget Court and Spark. Forget Hejira. Hell, forget Clouds. There is something understated about the singularity of The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell’s seventh studio album. It found the folk heroine branching away from the bedrock of her own sound and embracing a more avant-leaning framework—which included sampling, Moog synths and elements performed by the LA Express and the Jazz Crusaders. It was, at the time, Mitchell’s most ambitious album ever. It was also her most liberated, focusing on a rebellion against patriarchal tropes and the mundanity of suburbia. With no hit singles in tow and a bunch of negative reviews upon release, The Hissing of Summer Lawns was treated like a career suicide by Mitchell’s peers and critics. But that just wasn’t the case. Instead, songs like “Edith and the Kingpin,” In France They Kiss on Main Street” and “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow” are some of Mitchell’s greatest songs ever. The naysayers have either died out or finally come around to the brilliance of The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and there’s always more room for devotion on this side of the tracks. Join us. —Matt Mitchell

51. Novos Baianos: Acabou Chorare (1972)

Greatest Albums of All TimeNovos Baianos’ Acabou Chorare (No More Crying, in English) was a perfect blending of samba rock and tropicália music made in the wake of Brazil’s ongoing military dictatorship and the band’s downtrodden peers. Instrumentally, Acabou Chorare is stunning; lyrically, the album is hopeful at a time when it shouldn’t have been. The whole project is full of passion and one-of-a-kind, sun-soaked easy-listening. Danceable and sublimely remarkable, Acabou Chorare is accessible to many and an uplifting masterwork largely unreplicated since. “Preta Pretinha” and “Brasil Pandeiro” are full of melodic splendor, and the slower tones that crop up on “A Menina Dança” and “Acabou Chorare” only color the dimensionality of the uptempo samba gems more so. It’s an album that can’t stop complimenting its own moving parts, a well-oiled machine embroidered with intoxicating glee and romance. —Matt Mitchell

50. Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison (1968)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIt takes a certain audacity to sing about prison to an audience full of prisoners, and who better to do it than Johnny Cash, the original country outlaw? The singer’s first live album, recorded at California’s notorious Folsom State Prison, showcases Cash’s charisma as a performer on some of his biggest songs, including “I Still Miss Someone” and, of course, “Folsom Prison Blues.” Backed by the Tennessee Three, with a guest spot from June Carter, At Folsom Prison finds one of American music’s all-time greats at the very peak of power. —Eric R. Danton

49. Frank Ocean: Blonde (2016)

Greatest Albums of All TimeMany of the best albums in history defy genre, and Frank Ocean’s Blonde is no exception. A shuffle of pop, soul, R&B, rap and experimental, Blonde is thematically bound to a headspace—articulating a swirl of emotions from euphoria and hunger to angst and sorrow—but listening to it is a bodily experience. Blonde features what were boundary-pushing recording choices at the time, like voicemail overlays and loopy vocal stacks, and it’s now clear those flourishes represent the apex of an entire era in popular music. Fellow generational greats like Kendrick Lamar, Solange and Radiohead also took artistic leaps on their sublime albums in 2016, but none jumped as high as the elusive Frank Ocean. Halfway through a decade defined by a transition to life online, Blonde was tangible. And that visceral nature is why it still rings clear today. —Ellen Johnson

48. Julee Cruise: Floating into the Night (1989)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWhen Laura Palmer once declared that the angels have “all gone away” in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, she must have never heard the enchanting croon of Julee Cruise. In 1989, the prodigious trio of David Lynch, Angelo Badalamenti and Cruise teamed up to create her evocative dream-pop debut—and Floating into the Night captures the vast emptiness of small-town life in a surrealist landscape of ethereal jazz and synths that tell stories of longing, romance and fear. You enter the world through the haze of “Floating” and its swell of strings and a gilded sax, only to drift into the nostalgic sting of “Falling.” The trio bring a subtle funk in “I Float Alone,” a foreboding mistiness in “The Swan” and the memory of a smokey Roadhouse Bar in the haunting burn of “Mysteries of Love.” Julee Cruise is forever intertwined with the creative excellence of David Lynch, and her siren song will enchant dream-pop lovers for eternity. Acts like Beach House, the Chromatics and M83 have Cruise to thank for such a one-of-a-kind blueprint. —Olivia Abercrombie

47. Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (1959)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWith the first few notes of “So What,” a delicate interplay between Bill Evans’ piano and Paul Chambers’ bass, Kind of Blue clues you in that something momentous is about to occur. Miles himself only soloes briefly on this track, a cool lope that starts around the end of its second minute, but the whole album is rooted in what was, in 1959, his latest philosophy: the modal sketches that he called “a return to melody.” To feel out the possibilities of this new sound, he assembled a legendary group, bringing Evans back into the fold of his quintet with John Coltrane and adding Cannonball Adderley on the alto saxophone. Along the way, despite Miles’ claims that the album was a “failed experiment,” they created something that changed everything that came after. —Annie Parnell

46. The Roots: Things Fall Apart (1999)

Greatest Albums of All TimeTariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson founded the Roots in 1987, helping redefine what hip hop would become. From their early jazz-based beginnings to their first-ever concept album, The Roots’ influence is nothing short of legendary. With Things Fall Apart, the Roots stood halfway between the jazz-influenced grooves prevalent throughout their ’90s work and their more accessible albums of the past decade. They called upon Erykah Badu, Lady B, Mos Def and Rehani Sayed to fill the open spaces. The result is songs like “You Got Me” and “The Spark”—the best of both worlds musically, as the Roots began building a still-going legacy. —Max Blau

45. The Beatles: Revolver (1966)

Greatest Albums of All TimeRevolver’s identity isn’t as clear-cut as other Beatles albums. It doesn’t contain any of McCartney’s tear-duct-busting singalongs. It doesn’t rock the hardest. It isn’t overly fantastical, save for “Eleanor Rigby”’s austere, stabby violins and the band’s budding love for the sitar. But for many of us, Revolver denotes a sweet spot, synthesizing the best bits of the Fab Four’s past and future offerings. This is exemplified by snappy pop gems such as “She Said She Said” as much as the undulating layers of psychedelic color on “Tomorrow Never Knows” and the weary lullaby “I’m Only Sleeping.” If you’re bringing one Beatles album to a desert island, Revolver has more than enough variety to hold your interest—plus a yellow watercraft to ensure a safe voyage home. —Hayden Merrick

44. De La Soul: 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe conversations around 1980s hip-hop almost certainly always revolve around the larger-than-life heavyweights, like N.W.A., Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Kurtis Blow—but it’s imperative that we never forget about De La Soul, the trio that, when at their best, outshined all of them. It wasn’t just about the chemistry between Posdnous, Maseo and the late Trugoy the Dove; these three New Yorkers were constructive geniuses. 3 Feet High and Rising came out in March 1989 and it punctuated a decade that saw rap music obliterate the mainstream—and you can point to the workings of De La Soul as a big, enduring piece of that. 3 Feet High and Rising is the greatest hip-hop debut to ever be released, an alpha joint in the echelons with 36 Chambers, Madvillainy and Illmatic. From the impenetrable brilliance of “Eye Know” and its interpolation of samples from Otis Redding and Steely Dan to the Johnny Cash-inspired “The Magic Number,” De La Soul threw this masterpiece of art and jazz rap into the belly of a cultural beast swallowed by the budding excitement around gangsta rap. But 3 Feet High and Rising is surreal and weird and gorgeous and primitive—using boundary-pushing samples, skits and bizarre subject matter (dandruff, gardening and talking animals, just to name a few) to further evolve hip-hop altogether. —Matt Mitchell

43. Cocteau Twins: Heaven or Las Vegas (1990)

Greatest Albums of All TimeTo quote the drag icon Trinity the Tuck: “I don’t know what the fuck she’s saying, but girl, I am living!” That’s how listening to any song by the Scottish quartet Cocteau Twins feels. Though often indecipherable, the group’s lyrics are the perfect foil for their lush, hypnotic sound and their interplay between lyrical and sonic abstraction is precisely what animated their dream pop masterpiece Heaven or Las Vegas. Released in the fall of 1990, it’s arguably the band’s most accessible and ambitious record, a text rendered endlessly rich by Robin Guthrie’s shimmering guitar riffs and Elizabeth Fraser’s enchanting, quivering vocals. Opener “Cherry-coloured Funk” and the title track are frequently (and rightfully) highlighted at some of their best work, but Heaven or Las Vegas is rife with otherworldly, goosebump-inducing deep cuts like “Fotzepolitic” and “I Wear Your Ring.” It’s also perhaps the greatest argument that an album can be more about evoking feeling than meaning. Sometimes, the feeling is the meaning. —Sam Rosenberg

42. PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love (1995)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAiming to write her own versions of the blues standards and Captain Beefheart songs she had loved for years, Harvey re-emerged in the public eye with the devil and God on her mind, and what she called her “Joan Crawford on Acid” look smeared on her face. Despite her assertion that the new theatrical stage look was a cover for how lost she felt in her personal life, it still stands as a lot of the public’s mental image of what PJ Harvey looks like, playing a dragged-out version of herself that communicated these stories of a lost love and literally diving into the pits of hell to retrieve it. Mirroring the old blues tales of meeting the devil at the crossroads or sacrificing a physical representation of the soul (like, for instance, an imaginary daughter) to him, To Bring You My Love balances terror and tenderness effortlessly. Songs like “Meet Ze Monsta,” “Long Snake Moan” and “I Think I’m A Mother” bare their teeth until they split; Harvey growls, “I’m not running / I’m not scared,” and yells, with a smile you can practically hear, “In my dreaming / You’ll be drowning!” and you can’t help but cower like she’s in the room with you. On the flip side, the ballads reveal a bleeding heart beneath the spiky exterior without ever feeling saccharine or overdone (“Teclo” still stands as one of the loveliest songs we’ve heard from her). Regardless of each song’s specific plan of attack, not a single shriek or whisper sounds anything less than fearless. She hisses, “Come back here, man,” painted grin stretched wide, and you can imagine whatever deity exists down below shaking in their boots. —Elise Soutar

41. The Replacements: Tim (1985)

Greatest Albums of All TimeTim was a sonic turning point for the Replacements, who’d taken the raw, oral intensity and early indie leanings of Let It Be and transposed them into these mature, understated articulations on growing up under the microscope of newfound fame—and it arrived such a far distance away from the bold, biting volume of Hootenanny and Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. “Bastards of Young” sounds ferocious, primeval, titanic and rowdy, while “”I’ll Buy” and “Little Mascara” ramble in their own crystalline pop perfections. And from the gauzy gallows imagery of “Swingin Party” to the honky-tonk-colored “Waitress In the Sky” to the jangly “Kiss Me On the Bus,” Tim is an untouchable assemblage of tracks. Paul Westerberg had found a lot of influence in everyone from Roy Orbison to Nick Lowe to Big Star, particularly in how each of them constructed pop melodies—and, in turn, Tim is a real halcyon affair brimming with golden, catchy rock cuts; lines like “unwillingness to claim us, you got no war to name us” and “if being alone’s a crime, I’m serving forever” and “everybody wants to be someone here” are still magnificently quotable 40 years on. —Matt Mitchell

40. Patti Smith: Horses (1975)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIn 1975, Patti Smith wasn’t just starting out. She had schlepped it up to New York in the late 1960s, poked around enough in the art world as the 1970s began and, by 1974, was a mainstay at the East Village’s CBGB. Horses was Smith’s assertion of herself and her place in a musical world that was changing more rapidly than anyone could keep track of. Smith’s debut was a rather perfect one—she could see exactly where she was along this timeline, and she wrote incisively, poetically and honestly about that. “Psychologically, somewhere in our hearts, we were all screwed up because those people died,” she noted of the rapid loss of many of the 1960s’ most innovative, free spirited musicians. “We all had to pull ourselves together. To me, that’s why our record is called Horses. We had to pull the reins on ourselves to recharge ourselves… We’re ready to start moving again.” Smith was simultaneously punk’s augur and its harbinger. Her foresight was as strong as her recollection of the past. What else is there to say about how the album opens, how she growls it into motion with the lyric “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine”? I can’t help but hear the way she sings it as a rallying cry for all outsiders. Maybe all of the damned can be saved by punk rock, hell if Horses hasn’t got you to believe that yet, then you’re long overdue for another listen. —Madelyn Dawson

39. Neil Young: On the Beach (1974)

Greatest Albums of All TimeOn the Beach is Neil Young’s opus, the object of his lifelong griefs and affections. Not quite as sparse or raw as Tonight’s the Night but as deeply melancholic (maybe even more so), On the Beach begins with a sad boogie (“Some get stoned, some get strange, but sooner or later it all gets real”) in “Walk On” and ends with a startling admonishment of critics, Nixon and Young’s former band Crosby, Stills and Nash (“It’s easy to get buried in the past when you try to make a good thing last”) in “Ambulance Blues.” In-between, Young delivers an elegy for his relationship with Carrie Snodgress on “Motion Pictures,” criticizes the sycophantic nature of the oil business on “Vampire Blues” and speaks about meeting Charles Manson in 1969 on “Revolution Blues.” “On the Beach,” however, is the record’s emotional core. A grievous portrayal of loneliness and media scrutiny after tumbling into celebrity, Young pulls no punches and sets the record straight: “He is mad at, unsatisfied with and alienated by his place in the world. “I went to the radio interview, but I ended up alone at the microphone,” he sings. “Now I’m livin’ out here on the beach, but those seagulls are still out of reach.” There’s a particularly stirring sense of doom on On the Beach, which endures as a mangled, eroding, horrific bummer that’ll haunt you forever. It’s vulnerability nailed to a crucifix. —Matt Mitchell

38. Sufjan Stevens: Illinois (2005)

Greatest Albums of All TimeSufjan Stevens’ Illinois vibrates with a shimmering, fantastical energy that bottles the magic of the Midwest into an impressive 22-track, 74-minute runtime. The album marks a departure from the more reserved sounds of his past albums, Seven Swans and Michigan. Stevens extensively researched the state of Illinois by taking trips to different parts of the state and poring over its historical texts and literature. It is widely considered to be Stevens’ magnum opus with its immersive, larger-than-life instrumentation and comprehensive lyrical content being the most dynamic work we had seen from Stevens at the time of release. The grandiose orchestrations are saturated with an eclectic blend of sounds including oboe, vibraphone, accordion and banjo. Stevens deployed a string quartet and a five-piece choir to expand the album sonically, creating triumphant blends of soaring sound through layered vocals and rousing strings. He adeptly navigates the space of the album, transitioning from lush theatrical tracks to acoustic elegies with cohesion and poise. Illinois captures a dreamlike vision of life in the Midwest with wondrous and spellbinding artistry. —Grace Ann Nantanawan

37. The Rolling Stones: Exile on Main St. (1972)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAfter releasing Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers all in a three-year span, the Rolling Stones opted to make a 60-minute double-album that transcended anything they’d made up until that point. Exile on Main St. is a grab-bag of genius, never resting in one sound for too long. The whole project sounds like the greatest party none of us ever attended, and songs like “Rocks Off,” “Happy,” “Ventilator Blues” and “All Down the Line” are some of the best country-rock joints ever conceived by a band from England. And likewise, “Tumbling Dice” is one of the most rambunctious blues-rock tunes in history, with a boogie-woogie rhythm that is a resounding gem of the Mick Jagger-Keith Richards songwriting partnership. The back-to-back finale of “Shine a Light” and “Soul Survivor” buries Exile on Main St. at sea with a white-hot entreaty. The Stones assembled a brilliant set of personnel around themselves, too, with Nicky Hopkins, Billy Prestoon, Ian Stewart, Jim Price and Bobby Keys laying down some absolutely ripping ensemble pieces and accentuating the music with such unkempt gnarliness that it sounds like the antithesis of Pet Sounds. Rather than use the studio as an instrument, the Rolling Stones are the instruments on Exile on Main St. They croon and the shake their hips and they all fall into each other, approaching every corner with perfection and beaming stone-cold rock ‘n’ roll up into the high-heavens. —Matt Mitchell

36. Amy Winehouse: Back to Black (2006)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAbove all else, Amy Winehouse was funny. We saw that on “Fuck Me Pumps,” the standout track from 2003’s Frank, Winehouse’s contemporary R&B-indebted debut. She also knew that humor wasn’t necessarily just a ha-ha experience; she had a command of dark humor that few have ever matched. That talent showed itself on Back to Black, a daring collection where Winehouse embraced a vintage soul and Motown girl group-inspired aesthetics with the help of frequent collaborator Salaam Remi and some new talent: Mark Ronson, who’d jumped into production for Nikka Costa’s 2001 album Everybody Got Their Something, and Sharon Jones’ band The Dap-Kings. Hits like the title track, “Tears Dry On Their Own,” “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good” mixed breakup devastation with brassiness and a touch of dramatic humor that only she could wear elegantly, defying expectations and mainstreaming the underground retro-soul movement. —Devon Chodzin

35. John Coltrane: A Love Supreme (1964)

Greatest Albums of All TimeJohn Coltrane wrote this in the liner notes of A Love Supreme: “During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening…this album is a humble offering to Him.” Arriving in four parts, that offering crosses boundless terrain to honor the divine — and in doing so, sees Coltrane lay the groundwork of spiritual jazz in a grand artistic tradition of experimenting with technique to find new ways to exalt. “Acknowledgement” opens with him wielding his saxophone over tam-tams and cymbals like some holy trumpet before giving way to a chanted devotional, while “Psalm” laces the devotional into the music itself as he recites a poem through the reed. Accompanying on the journey is his classic quartet lineup: Elvin Jones’ polyrhythmic drums, Jimmy Garrison keeping the balance on the double bass and McCoy Tyner’s expansive piano soaring alongside him. —Annie Parnell

34. David Bowie: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)

Greatest Albums of All TimeRock ‘n’ roll alien David Bowie may have kicked off his career with a folky pop-rock sound, but he officially touched down on his visionary artistic planet with his first foray into glam rock The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Not only was the record a cornerstone of glittery rock excellence, but the rock opera served as inspiration for Bowie’s rotating cast of flamboyant characters that would define the eras of his legendary career. The birth of his first alter ego, the otherworldly Ziggy Stardust, gave us the acoustic-driven theme of the titular character in “Ziggy Stardust,” the hopeful call for inter-planetary peace in “Starman” and the absurdist lyricism of “Moonage Daydream. And with one of the most prolific closing tracks in rock history to close out the rise and fall of the album’s doomed protagonist, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is an artful display of Bowie’s innovative artistry and boundless creativity. —Olivia Abercrombie

33. Carole King: Tapestry (1971)

Greatest Albums of All TimeCarole King could’ve already tossed her piano into the ring for “Greatest Songwriter in the Universe” after penning an endless string of era-defining hits in the ‘60s. Tapestry, however, revealed that King could unlock another layer of magic in her songs through her own voice and performance. On classics like “I Feel the Earth Move,” “It’s Too Late” and her own version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” King weaves an heirloom drapery of perfect songcraft and raw, soulful emotion that welcomes the listener to step inside. Tapestry is arguably the definitive singer-songwriter album of the early ‘70s and worthy of its own chapter in any update of the “Great American Songbook.” —Matt Melis

32. Billie Holiday: Lady in Satin (1958)

Greatest Albums of All TimeLady in Satin is the penultimate album Billie Holiday released during her lifetime. It’s also her most extensive production, complete with a 40-piece orchestra to craft a soundscape fit only for jazz royalty. Toward the end of her career, the sweet tones of Holiday’s upper register were practically non-existent, but her voice remained an immovable force. Her raspy singing reflected a lifetime riddled with abusive relationships, drug addiction and time spent in prison. With her vocals at the center of Lady in Satin and a soft, elegant string backing, you can hear every fragile crack—as she envelops you in her pain. Lady in Satin is a languid romp through the emotional life of one of jazz music’s most influential women. It’s as heartbreaking and necessary as it is gorgeous. —Olivia Abercrombie

31. Björk: Post (1995)

Greatest Albums of All TimePost is certainly a sonic rupture. It breaks open the sound that the Icelandic pop virtuoso Björk created on her debut solo record just two years before. Tricky’s trip-hop production flirts with Björk’s reverberating voice—sometimes she sounds like a robot or alien trying to sound like a human; other times she sounds like a human herself, treading increasingly near a complete defamiliarization of her voice: her cadence, the way she articulates each syllable. It’s meticulous and masterful, perhaps one of the most influential records in the name of electronic music and craftsmanship. “Possibly maybe,” she sings on a track of the same name, “Probably love / Uncertainty excites me.” Yes, Post is filled with a wildness. But in the experiment, Björk finds so much hope. —Madelyn Dawson

30. Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks (1975)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWhile it’s not a shocking pick to make, there is no doubting that Blood on the Tracks is not just Bob Dylan’s greatest album, but one of the single greatest records in the history of modern music as we know it, too. While Dylan has long denied that Blood on the Tracks is an autobiographical album, it’s widely assumed that the 10 songs are greatly inspired by his estrangement from his then-wife Sara Lownds. What is true, no matter what, is that the album is a perfect breakup story that really gnaws away at the brutality of interpersonal grief and the anger, loss and vindictiveness that arises between two people who love each other but can’t keep growing together. “Tangled Up in Blue” is one of Dylan’s greatest songs ever, while “Simple Twist of Fate,” “Shelter from the Storm” and “Buckets of Rain” are cornerstones in his catalog. But when I revisit Blood on the Tracks, I immediately retreat to the singularity of “Idiot Wind” and “If You See Her, Say Hello,” two of Dylan’s finest lyrical outings that are often underscored by the more palatable and immediately devastating folk tunes on the album. After a string of so-so outings between 1970 and 1974 that didn’t move the needle much on his legacy, Blood on the Tracks was a welcomed return to form for Dylan—an album that cemented him, likely for good, as the greatest songwriter ever. No musician produced a narrative as sharp and devastating before Blood on the Tracks came out, and no one has come close since. —Matt Mitchell

29. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (2012)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIn substituting the bombastic chamber pop of albums past with threadbare acoustic arrangements—where every clatter and stray breath had meaning—Fiona Apple’s fourth album The Idler Wheel watched her wrest creative and personal autonomy back like never before. Howling where she would have once cooed, she birthed her most visceral statement to date, letting songs like “Every Single Night” and “Valentine” pulse with almost too much life. Before 2020’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters could serve as its predecessor’s foil—exploding outward with carefully concentrated rage, learned confidence and a tight-knit band supporting her—The Idler Wheel had to look inward, taking solace in the universes that exist within Apple and truly solidifying her place as one of our greatest working songwriters. —Elise Soutar

28. Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1999)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a revelation from start to finish. It’s a desert island album for me every time, and I could go the rest of my life only listening to it and be more than content. Ms. Lauryn Hill never held back from injecting the record with her own autobiographical history, touching on her pregnancy, her fallout with her Fugees bandmates and the intersection of love and God. The slate of songs on this record, including “Doo Wop (That Thing),” “Everything Is Everything,” and her cover of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” are immaculately constructed and distinctively perfect. The whole album is this grand amalgam of neo-soul, rap, singer/songwriter and R&B, and it originally broke the record for the most first-week sales for a female artist ever (422,000 copies). The single “Ex-Factor” very well might just be the greatest soul song (and breakup song) written in the last 30 years—I’d surely say so. I mean, who else could make “reciprocity” sound so damn devastating? It’s hard to say much of anything new about Miseducation. Ms. Hill carved out her brilliance from the jump. What else is left to add? It’s never been a secret that it’s the greatest debut album of the 1990s; it’s no secret that it’s the greatest debut album of the last three decades. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill will be in every “greatest of all time” conversation until there’s none left to be had. —Matt Mitchell

27. The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Electric Ladyland (1968)

Greatest Albums of All TimeJimi Hendrix’s third and final album with his Experience is elemental. He’s looking up at the sky after the purple haze has faded, suspended in mid-air between the moon and the sea. On songs like “Have You Ever Been” and “All Along the Watchtower,” Jimi is submerged, cutting through underwater undulations. Rarely is he ever down on Earth, weaving through crosstown traffic. Of course he’s on fire. There’s not much left to say about Electric Ladyland—its sprawling history in blues, jazz, progressive rock and psychedelia remains just as primitive now as it was 55 years ago. It’s a masterpiece of a record, one that created its own world just to burn it down. The riff on “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” is the mark of rock ‘n’ roll in its greatest iteration. No one else could touch Jimi Hendrix in 1968, and no one else has since. —Madelyn Dawson

26. The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAlong with Pet Sounds, no record has been referred to as the “greatest of all time” more than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Recorded in 1967 when the Beatles were at their creative peak, the record is a flawless, cohesive landmark of a sound that transcends the folk, rock and pop the Fab Four had spent more than four years trying to perfect. Sgt. Pepper is as orchestrally sound as it is progressively restless. For all of the precision Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr put into this magnum opus, they also were so clearly itching to master any technique that fell into their heads. That’s how you get songs like “Getting Better,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Within You Without You” all on the same record. Those tracks, on paper, don’t gel—but in the Beatles’ world, they are all one in the same and perfectly fit into one another. If there is any doubt as to whether or not Sgt. Pepper is one of the greatest feats in music history, then revisiting its closing number “A Day in the Life” will likely do the trick. Few songs have encapsulated an overall project’s legacy as deftly as that one. —Matt Mitchell

25. Talking Heads: Remain in Light (1980)

Greatest Albums of All TimeOnly David Byrne could flip frantic spoken-word verses into one of the most popular songs of the 1980s. “And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack,” he cries out on “Once in a Lifetime,” distraught by the hypothetical scenario he has crafted for himself only to realize its illusory nature come the second verse. Remain in Light, the NYC new-wavers’ fourth album and third with legendary producer Brian Eno, is not only a perfect entry point for Talking Heads’ pristine discography, but it’s also their magnum opus. The four-piece, comprising Byrne, bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz and guitarist Jerry Harrison, mines the sounds of Afrobeats, art-rock, post-punk and, in the parlance of Byrne on the album’s dizzying opening track, the list goes on. —Grant Sharples

24. Sam Cooke: Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 (1985)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAt the time of Sam Cooke’s untimely death in 1964, he’d had success as a gospel singer with the Soul Stirrers and as a crossover soul pop singer-songwriter with hits like “You Send Me.” Shortly after, he’d become a voice of the Civil Rights movement with “A Change is Gonna Come.” Still, his catalog was missing one of the rawest, raspiest, most raucous live albums ever recorded—which was taped in 1963 but shelved until 1985. On stage at the Harlem Square Club–in the historically Black neighborhood of Overtown, in then-segregated Miami—Cooke shines as a showman, delivering virtuosic performances with the kind of vigor and unbridled joy you just don’t get from Sam Cooke at the Copa. “Twistin’ the Night Away” has never sounded so subversive and triumphant. —Taylor Ruckle

23. The Clash: London Calling (1979)

Greatest Albums of All TimeA punk band in outlook and demeanor, the Clash’s third album demonstrated that the group’s musical interests and influences ranged much further. London Calling took shape as Joe Strummer and Mick Jones worked their way through writer’s block, drawing on elements of reggae, ska, rockabilly and even lounge music, along with the serrated riffage of the Clash’s earlier work. The result was punk’s first double-album, a sprawling and expansive collection of songs exploring disillusion, social unrest, consumerism and the use of power. Those timeless themes and the Clash’s open-hearted sense of musical exploration (plus that album art!) combined to make London Calling an enduring statement that encompasses punk and much more besides. —Eric R. Danton

22. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

Greatest Albums of All TimeArriving at a time of political unrest and visibility of hot-button social issues via social media, Kendrick Lamar’s second major label album To Pimp A Butterfly solidified him as a conscious rapper. Over smooth, jazz-inspired beats, Kendrick delivers thought-provoking bars and rhymes, detailing the issues that plagued the world, both then and still now. Songs like “i” highlight the mental health struggles in low-income neighborhoods, serving, too, as dedications to fans who have shown up at Kendrick’s shows telling him how his music saved their lives. A standout track, the Pharrell Williams-produced “Alright,” features a passionate Kendrick envisioning rising socioeconomic inequality. Having first arrived at the height of the blog era—among the likes of Drake, ASAP Rocky and J. Cole—Kendrick, from the beginning, was a promising act. Through his Interscope debut, good Kid, m.A.A.d. city received much acclaim upon its release in 2012, it was 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly that set him apart from his peers, and solidified him as a purveyor of strong and insightful concepts. —Alex Gonzalez

21. The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Undeground & Nico (1967)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThere’s a reason why that Brian Eno quote about how all 30,000 people who bought The Velvet Underground & Nico started a band has maintained such a strong relevance 56 years later: The album influenced at least a dozen sub-genres—including punk, garage rock, shoegaze, drone, indie and post-punk—and became, likely, the greatest thing Andy Warhol ever had a real hand in, aside from buying a postcard from Jean-Michel Basquiat. The Velvet Underground & Nico boasts some of the greatest songs ever made, period. “Sunday Morning,” “Femme Fatale,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Heroin”—the Velvets missed zero beats making this record. I love what Robert Christgau wrote in a 10-year retrospective in The Village Voice in 1977 about the album, that the record had been a tough listen, “which is probably why people are still learning from it. It sounds intermittently crude, thin, and pretentious at first, but it never stops getting better.” When the opening celesta and bass notes on “Sunday Morning” roll in, the wonder immediately sets in. Then, a lush guitar solo from Lou Reed along with his chamber-style singing. No one in the decade could touch what Reed, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison and Nico were doing on this record, and their work was so influential and off the wall and avant garde that hardly anyone knew it existed. It wasn’t stone cold rock ‘n’ roll or flower-power folk or club-worthy soul music; it just was and that’s all it ever needed to be. —Matt Mitchell

20. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

Greatest Albums of All TimeINT. Wilco Loft: Two warring visionaries collude with various drugs and musical toys. A cover photo of Chicago’s twin corn cob buildings becomes tangled in collective national trauma. A negligent label botches the album’s release. It’s juicy stuff, but Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is more than its biopic-ready plot points. This album made Wilco bigger than Jesus, etc., a transition from no-frills alt-country to multifarious experimentalism. With cigarettes and skyscrapers as their lodestars, the band alternates between exhausted and over-exhausted. There’s giddy noisemaking. You can practically hear the bags under Jeff Tweedy’s eyes. Still, there are frequent flashes of unadulterated joy—“Heavy Metal Drummer,” the opening track’s lilting piano bridge—and I often think about the young boy merrily eating corn on the cob while bouncing along to the band sound-checking “War on War” in the Sam Jones documentary. Your art is what you eat, or something. —Hayden Merrick

19. Prince: Purple Rain (1984)

Greatest Albums of All TimeYes, Prince’s second-best album is better than almost anyone else’s opus. If he had quit music after 1984’s Purple Rain, the soundtrack to the film of the same name, he would still be on the Mount Rushmore of American music. His sixth album brought funk to the world of pop, made synthetic music overflow with life and soul. Riding high on the success of 1999, Prince took advantage of his creative freedom and pursued every wild musical idea, from the sermon intro on “Let’s Go Crazy” to the psychedelic meanderings of “Computer Blue” to the scandalous “Darling Nikki,” a weird, noisy ditty that somehow found its way onto radio. But nowhere are Prince’s talents—as composer, producer, guitarist, vocalist, visionary—on better display than “When Doves Cry,” the song that would turn the Purple One into a global superstar. Add in the pop perfection of “I Would Die for U” and the gut-wrenching title ballad, and it’s a miracle that he actually topped this three years later. —Josh Jackson

18. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (1977)

Greatest Albums of All TimeConsider a world where Rumours wasn’t surrounded by media speculation on the group’s strained relationships—a world where you didn’t already know about the indulgence and turmoil within Fleetwood Mac at the time. Even after just one listen to “The Chain,” you would still be thinking, “What the hell have these guys done to each other?” When Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumours, they baked in all their sweat, tears and agony. The album swelters under the relentless California sun. It’s got heat—the heat of anger, attraction and love gone nowhere. The band members’ relationships improved over time, but Rumours captures wounds that hadn’t yet scabbed over, as bloody and raw as a heartbeat. —Andy Steiner

17. Funkadelic: Maggot Brain (1971)

Greatest Albums of All TimeMaggot Brain has the kind of grooves that sink into your bones and ground you to the earth. The mind-bending, wailing riff of the title-track drips with an effortless swagger after George Clinton’s silky voice echoes an evocative poem urging us to rise above the horrors of the world and not stoop to the vile low. The theme of failing humanity is relatively heavy for a funk band, but Clinton’s vision was to move people’s minds, not just their bodies. This isn’t to say Maggot Brain lacks groove. “Hit It and Quit It” brings the classic distorted guitar, and “Back in Our Minds” delivers a bizarre psychedelic energy that stacks up against the greatest funk hits. Then there’s “Can You Get to That,” which is the greatest folk song a funk band ever made. The seven-track album stretches to 36 minutes, with the robust 10-minute bookends of “Maggot Brain” and “Wars of Armageddon,” which are grand landscapes of storytelling with nasty solos from Eddie Hazel and Tawl Ross. Maggot Brain is a heady record, but when it comes to Funkadelic, they’ll never leave their infectious grooves on the cutting room floor. —Olivia Abercrombie

16. Janet Jackson: Velvet Rope (1997)

Greatest Albums of All TimeBy 1997, Janet Jackson had proved herself to be a fierce performer and outspoken advocate for gender and racial issues, but behind closed doors, the superstar was dealing with a declining mental health, emotional breakdowns and the looming pressure of writing her next hit album. The recording process for Velvet Rope took over six months to complete, as Jackson was working through her depression and body dysmorphia. The album quickly became a dumping ground for the negative thoughts and emotions plaguing the pop icon, and she wrote about the human need for belonging and how the “velvet rope” symbolized divisions within ourselves and between people. Though Jackson was no stranger to singing about sex and social justice on Velvet Rope, she pushed the boundaries even further, solidifying it as her boldest work. From openly discussing depression and domestic violence to advocating for LQBTQ+ rights, Jackson truly held nothing back. —Olivia Abercrombie

15. Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run (1975)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe most cohesive rock ‘n’ roll album ever made, Born to Run made Bruce Springsteen a superstar for the rest of his life. It brandishing the greatest title-track of all time is one thing, but that title-track being maybe the fifth-best song on the entire album is just a feat rarely accomplished by anybody in the history of modern music. But it’s true, as “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Backstreets,” “Jungleland” and “Thunder Road” perfectly encapsulate not only Springsteen’s monolithic, nostalgic, metaphor-doused songwriting, but they are top examples of just how great the E Street Band has always been. Born to Run is a journey chronicled by our greatest journeyman, full of tracks that’ll raise the hair on your neck while you’re cruising into the city with the top down. On Born to Run, the nightlife sounds conquerable. The battles against life’s relentless erosion feel winnable. Springsteen is standing before us with a grin and a guitar and he knows how to make it talk. There are killers in the sun, moons casting across the river’s shimmering surface, fleeting attractions to street-tough beauties. Born to Run dares you to leave your youth behind and embrace the reachable horizon resting before you, promising that the ghosts will only tail you for a moment. —Matt Mitchell

14. Joni Mitchell: Blue (1971)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWe’re accustomed to hearing ultra-confessional lyrics in popular music now, but Joni Mitchell was one of the first artists to make that brave leap in her songs. The ingeniously straightforward Blue—containing both the heart-wrenching hit “River” and one of the greatest ever lusty love songs in “A Case of You”—set a new bar for breakup albums and still remains the standard by which any acoustically inclined singer/songwriter today will be compared. Blue is proof that the key to a great song isn’t in an instrument or production technique—it’s in the artist’s heart and soul. —Ellen Johnson

13. Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On (1971)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIf Marvin Gaye had been a better athlete—or less obstinate—we might not have gotten one of the greatest albums of all time. In 1970, after the death of his musical partner Tammi Terrell, the Motown singer tried out for the Detroit Lions. When he returned to music, it was on his own terms. What’s Going On was an epic response to his brother Frankie’s letters from Vietnam—politically charged and musically ambitious, a soul album with jazz time signatures and classical instrumentation. The album’s posture was one of lament for the way things were rather than an angry protest, making the message both clear and difficult to tune out. It was such a departure from Gaye’s radio-friendly pop that his brother-in-law Berry Gordy Jr. initially refused to release it on Motown Records. Gaye had produced the album himself with backing from the Funk Brothers, and presented it as a complete nine-song suite. It was a singular vision and one that hasn’t lost its power over time. —Josh Jackson

12. Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (1970)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWhen Bitches Brew came out in March 1970, nobody knew what the fuck was going on—and critics were pretty mixed on the project in the moment. Miles Davis had taken the experimental turns from his previous LP, the well-loved In a Silent Way, and fleshed them out even further, leading to his magnum opus and the most important jazz album ever made. Included in the arrangements were fits of electric guitar and piano, leading to compositions of jazz fusion upended by rock archetypes and psychedelic upheavals. It was madness and messy, done only in a way that you can call controversially perfect. It was a middle-finger to the purists and the prestige labels, and Davis reveled in the chaos he created by upending the confines of jazz altogether. Working with a band that included Wayne Shorter, Bennie Maupin, John McLaughlin, left-right pianists Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea, and left-right percussionists Lenny White and Jack DeJohnette, Davis was at his most challenged on Bitches Brew, and those challenges were given to his audiences, too. At a time when it seemed like jazz had exhausted all of its own groundbreaking measures, Miles Davis turned the genre inside out and set it all ablaze. —Matt Mitchell

11. Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1987)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIf 1987’s hard-hitting Yo! Bum Rush the Show announced Public Enemy as an emerging force to be reckoned with, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back found the revolutionary hip-hop group in full effect a year later. A cross between a Black Panther rally and a neighborhood block party, Chuck D booms like a sportscaster while hypeman Flavor Flav bobs and weaves with playful antics as they bring the noise, dispel the hype and drop the double truth on pressing issues like the ‘80s crack epidemic and the industrial prison complex. Set to the dense, chaotic production of the Bomb Squad, this hip-hop answer to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On matched the velocity of the group’s live shows, tilled the soil for future socio-political hip-hop and proved that the revolution could also be a party. —Matt Melis

10. The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds (1966)

Greatest Albums of All TimeIf Pet Sounds was just “God Only Knows” it would still be perfect. The Beach Boys are a band of misplaced perception; brothers posturing as surfers, the unease masked by clean cut kids and the promise of an America that was never real but desperate to be. Pet Sounds, released in 1966, was panned by critics, met with confusion by listeners and seen as the imperfect masterpiece of a genius working in a spiral he had no control over. It’s chaotic and frantic, for certain, but it is also so much more—built from fragments of music that appear from dark corners and hidden angles to confront you with their sterling beauty, whimsy and craft working in unison to create bold pathways forward. Brian Wilson has many legacies, but Pet Sounds was his attempt at putting his desires to tape, capturing what delicate and frantic wonders he could see and hear that maybe no one else was capable of. It’s a bold technicolor vision of the ghost of music’s future, ahead of its time and steeped in the past all at once. Pop music would follow where Wilson led with Pet Sounds, and its legacy would change forever in the rearview and, perhaps more than anything, it leaves us with empathetic ears with which to process a world that might challenge us at first. —Niko Stratis

9. Milton Nascimento & Lô Borges: Clube da Esquina (1972)

Greatest Albums of All TimeBrazilian music had one hell of a 1972. Between Clube da Esquina and Acabou Chorare, it’s hard to imagine a combination of releases more enigmatic of one country’s musical history. But Milton Nascimento and Lô Borges came up with something so resounding and unique on Clube da Esquina that charms like a cloud of warmth and sonic miscellany. With meshes of baroque pop and folk, hued with tinges of psychedelia and MPB, Clube da Esquina pulls as deeply from the Beatles as it does Chopin—making for one of the richest South American projects ever composed. At 64 minutes in length, the double-album never outruns its own ingenue. The collectivized pop majesty of its 21 songs galvanize in the tropical bliss of “Cais” and the bossa nova of “Clube da Esquina No. 2,” and later finds downtempo samba reserves in “Os Povos.” Then a track like “Trem de Doido” quakes with a blistering electric guitar, cementing the song-cycle splendor of Clube da Esquina altogether. From beginning to end, the remarkable sights and sounds of Nascimento and Borges, who saw classical and pop music as equals begging to be enshrined in song together forever, make Clube da Esquina the greatest Brazilian album ever. —Matt Mitchell

8. Nina Simone: Wild is the Wind (1966)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe fact that one of Nina Simone’s most cohesive, universally acclaimed studio albums was entirely cobbled together out of leftover recordings that hadn’t made the cut for her prior few records speaks to her overwhelming power—not only as a performer, but as a songwriter, interpreter and artistic entity. Despite its slapdash origins, Wild is the Wind boasts a tracklist of some of Simone’s most stirring love songs, many of which have been attempted by others in years to follow and haven’t held a candle to what the High Priestess of Soul evokes here. Cuts like title track, “Lilac Wine” and “What More Can I Say?” operate at the level of gospel, letting Simone wring every ounce of blood from the material as the distinctive weight of her voice render what could simply be melancholic ballads into transmissions from a higher power. —Elise Soutar

7. Fishmans: Long Season (1996)

Greatest Albums of All TimeA 35-minute record made up of one song, Fishman’s sixth album, Long Season, is the crown jewel of Japanese rock music. Shinji Sato, Kin-ichi Motegi, Yuzuru Kashiwabara, Michio Sekiguchi, Jonzi, Shinya Kogure and ZAK combined to make one of the most relaxing, repetitive and cohesive pieces of music ever captured on tape. Every second of Long Season oozes into the next, slowly unraveling as a sincere, momentous, jammy overture rather than an overbearing slog of melancholia. Instead, Fishmans translate their own contradictory sounds into one epic collage with no rough edges. It’s nostalgic and wholly modern all at once, with every vignette radiating like it was touched by God. The whistling, the water droplets, the small flickers of ambient glitches that leave as quick as they came, the screeching violin from Honzi—it all culminates in one of the greatest finales of any album ever. The last 10 minutes of Long Season will set you free, as you tumble through Fishmans’ kaleidoscope of psychedelic, unspeakable charisma and magic. —Matt Mitchell

6. OutKast: Stankonia (2000)

Greatest Albums of All TimeWhen Outkast’s Stankonia arrived on Halloween 2000, André 3000 and Big Boi were outcasts no more. Ubiquitous hits like “Ms. Jackson” and “So Fresh, So Clean” launched the Atlanta rap duo to astounding new levels of fame. Their fourth record wasn’t just a simple retread of old ideas, though. Its first proper song, “Gasoline Dreams,” was the group’s most overtly political track yet, with Dre’s incendiary hook backed by industrial, noisy drums. The Rage Against the Machine-inspired “B.O.B” cranked up the BPM, injecting their typically laid-back, pocket-heavy beats with a hyperactive bolt of energy akin to a child after a successful night of trick-or-treating. Given that Stankonia went Platinum five times over in the United States, the rappers probably felt like that child themselves. —Grant Sharples

5. The Beatles: Abbey Road (1969)

Greatest Albums of All TimeAbbey Road was the Beatles final ride. Following the tumultuous Get Back sessions that almost broke the quartet up for good, Paul McCartney pushed for the group to record “the way [they] used to do it.” The closing chapter to the Beatles’ historically influential decade—which saw them change the landscape of rock music—is a sentimental farewell that revives the magic of their early work while expounding on their maturity as musicians. Abbey Road felt like a breath of fresh air from a band that had spent the previous few years in turmoil—and the Beatles knew this would be their last album, and that freedom of seeing the finish line helped create their most polished album. They came together as friends for a victory lap that brought the folksy croon of “Here Comes The Sun,” the distinctive, funky bassline of “Come Together,” the stunning drum solo of “The End” and the soul-bearing croons of “Oh! Darling.” The extraordinary production ties the diverse record up with a sleek bow and bonds the unique perspectives of Paul, George, John and Ringo with effortless ease. A sentimental conclusion to the legendary career of, arguably, the greatest band of all time—the Fab Four sent themselves off with a bittersweet and unforgettable goodbye, reshaping the future of rock ‘n’ roll forever. —Olivia Abercrombie

4. Prince: Sign o’ the Times (1987)

Greatest Albums of All TimePrince’s ninth album was a revelation upon arrival. While 1999 and Purple Rain were gemstones that redefined the 1980s, Sign o’ the Times was a masterpiece that redefined music. 80 minutes in length and towering in perfection, the record features some of Prince’s greatest songs ever—including “U Got the Look,” “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” and “Housequake,” the former of which peaked at #2 on the Hot 100. But it’s songs like “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” and “Hot Thing” and “Starfish and Coffee” that add unbelievable dimension to Prince’s alien bravado. He sang like a gender-bending James Brown, pitching up his own vocals so he could be “Camille,” his alter-ego, and would record his singing in private. Let’s not overlook that Prince performed almost all of Sign o’ the Times by himself, though it sounds like it took an entire army to deliver these grooves. The album is sexual, provocative, funky, tender and full of fear—and the survival Prince endures on Sign o’ the Times is magnified by his own unwavering confidence in the face of uncertain heartache. All of this culminates in “Adore,” the greatest closing track in the history of recorded music, when Prince utters one final declaration of togetherness: “Until the end of time, you are with me.” —Matt Mitchell

3. Kate Bush: Hounds of Love (1985)

Greatest Albums of All TimeUp until 1985, Kate Bush’s pioneering avant-pop had been of an acquired taste, resulting in a few runaway hits but comparatively modest commercial performance. However, once she released Hounds of Love, it seemed as if the globe suddenly acquired that taste all at once. Hounds of Love proved that prog could be catchy, feminine and memorable, offering all-time earworms like “The Big Sky,” “Cloudbusting,” and the perennial hit “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God).” Since charting at #3 in the UK and #30 in the US in 1985, “Running Up That Hill” has returned to the charts whenever featured in a major cultural artifact: in 2012, it peaked at #6 in the UK following its use in the closing ceremony at the London Summer Olympics, and in 2022, the song reached #1 in 8 Anglophone and European countries when young audiences first heard its repeated use in Stranger Things’ fourth season. The song and album have a time-defying appeal that keeps Kate Bush’s name at the forefront of all things weird, and considering the vitality of avant-pop in today’s musical landscape, Kate Bush is owed dozens of thanks. —Devon Chodzin

2. The Cure: Disintegration (1989)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe Cure perfected their vision on their eighth album, 1989’s Disintegration. As dark and icy as Pornography yet as instantly memorable and immediate as Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, it catapulted Robert Smith and his band to new levels of stardom and crystallized the core characteristics of their music: dark, emotional and meditative. On top of moody guitar tones courtesy of Porl Thompson and Smith, we also have a goth-rock album that features two of the best basslines in the history of recorded music: Simon Gallup’s melodic performance on “Fascination Street” and the driving momentum of the title track stand among the Cure’s finest moments. Each of the 12 songs is its own respective showcase for the group’s sprawling, meandering intros that induce a wistful haze before rewarding your patience with Smith’s unmistakable voice. Every classic band has that one album that presents them at their apogee, and even for a band with as many excellent albums as the Cure, Disintegration is undeniably the one. Despite the name of the record itself, this band has never sounded so locked in. —Grant Sharples

1. Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life (1976)

Greatest Albums of All TimeThe world didn’t know how to make music until Stevie Wonder started making it, and the greatest album of all time is his magnum opus double-album, Songs in the Key of Life. After winning Album of the Year Grammys in 1974 and 1975, few musical figures were as massive as Wonder. He had somehow climbed higher than the top of the mountain and, by 1975, had wanted to quit playing music, emigrate to Ghana and work with disabled children. He hated how the American government ran the country; he was considering a farewell concert. But then, he signed a seven-year, seven-album, $37 million deal with Motown and took the rest of 1975 off. By the time Wonder made it to Crystal Sounds Studio in Hollywood to record Songs in the Key of Life, his perfectionism had become unrelenting—and he’d spend hours in the studio recording, refusing to eat or sleep. His sessionmates struggled to keep up with Wonder’s pace, and bassist Nathan Watts once recalled Wonder calling him at 3 AM to come to the studio immediately and help out with “I Wish.” But what came of those sessions was a historical document of Black excellence, empowerment, equality, humanity, recollections of childhood, faith, love lost and love gained and economical divide.

130 musicians worked on Songs in the Key of Life, and it’s rumored that there is a vault, somewhere, someplace, of more than a hundred unreleased songs that Wonder had written during the album’s sessions. His opus was not a mark of brilliance dropped onto Crystal Sounds from some mythical, heavenly above. It was a labor of relentless, complicated and downright incessant love. Songs like “Sir Duke,” “As,” “Isn’t She Lovely” and “Village Ghetto Land” only scratch the surface of how dense and beautiful Songs in the Key of Life is. You don’t have 130 players featured—including Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Deniece Williams, Minnie Riperton, Michael Sembello, Jim Horn and Sneaky Pete Kleinow—and chalk up such genius to something indescribable. No, this is a record of 21 songs built from scratch by a coterie of the greatest musicians to ever pick up an instrument of any kind or sing a note. No double-album is as skipless as Songs in the Key of Life, and it’s likely that no record ever gets made again that even brushes the orbit of this one. “This world was made for all men,” Wonder belts on “Black Man.” And Songs in the Key of Life, too, was made for Stevie Wonder, made for you, made for me, made for us, made for everyone. —Matt Mitchell


Check out a playlist of our favorite songs from all 300 albums below.

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