Before I went through the top 50, I listed out what would be on it. I ended up 50/50, meaning the list had practically no surprises. Some of the albums ranked higher than I thought, but things were pretty predictable. Predictable is a far cry from accurate, and the re-ranking of these will show why.
How about Marvin Gaye at #1? I thought it was possible, but I was still willing to bet more on Thriller, Pet Sounds, or Abbey Road on top. If you approach it logically, Rolling Stone has always considered it the best album of the ’70s, and that was the genre most-represented overall. It’s a solid pick, but if we’re being picky, the 7-minute “Right On” is just a fine song that takes up much of side B. It’s probably outside of my personal top 10.
This re-ranking of the list has been a great start to potentially do a 500 Greatest albums list in the future. Look for that possibly next year!
- Bob Marley & the Wailers – Legend (1984)
49. Paul Simon – Graceland (1986) — I’ve never loved Paul Simon, and this album has never seemed as great as it’s hyped up to be.
48. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (2006) — This is her definitive release, but not all of it is great. If an album is only 34 minutes long, everything has to stand out for it to be in the top 50 albums of all time.
47. Carole King – Tapestry (1971) — Out of all the unanimous classic ’70s albums, Tapestry sounds the least innovative and most inessential. I hear some of these songs and just want Aretha to sing them.
46. Beyoncé – Lemonade (2016) — The rockists probably had their eyes roll in the back of their heads at this inclusion. It’s a great album that is nowhere close to being the pop masterpiece many have suggested.
45. The Beatles – Rubber Soul (1965) — Everyone’s coming around to seeing this as the fifth best of the Beatles’ albums. There’s three songs here that don’t match up to their best work.
44. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced? (1967) — It’s not as exciting as Electric Ladyland, but it’s simply a great collection of songs.
43. Ramones – Ramones (1976) — I’m surprised this still gets in the top 50. It’s an obvious classic, but it’s not exactly an epic, which albums up here all need to be.
42. The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed (1969) — I’m mostly pleased with how Rolling Stone treated the Rolling Stones on this list. I wouldn’t have this in the top 50, but maybe the top 100.
41. Prince – Sign “O” the Times (1987) — This album is pretty solidly second in Prince’s discography; I would only have Purple Rain in the top 50.
40. David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972) — Shame on me for assuming Bowie would do a whole lot better on this list than in 2012, but he didn’t improve his critical standing all that much. I would have two from Bowie in the top 50, but not this one.
39. Patti Smith – Horses (1975) — Just an obvious classic that should be high on every greatest albums list.
38. Michael Jackson – Off the Wall (1979) — This will always be in Thriller‘s shadow, but it’s increasingly gaining critical love.
37. The Beatles – Abbey Road (1969) — This ended up the highest-ranked Beatles album unsurprisingly, but it’s kind of a boring pick if you ask me. This is undeniably one of the greatest albums of all time, but the Beatles have more innovative and interesting work.
36. The Clash – London Calling (1979) — Everyone loves this album — embraced by alternative music lovers and classic rock guys alike.
35. Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998) — The top 10 for this album is pretty surprising, but ’90s rap & r&b did exceedingly well on this list.
34. Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (1973) — Rolling Stone made a definitive call on Wonder’s best album, but I think the debate is still open.
33. A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory (1991) — ATCQ should’ve had three albums on the list, but at least this ended up in the top 50 where it probably belongs.
32. Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde (1966) — I agree with Rolling Stone that this is Dylan’s third best.
31. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) — This went from #1 to outside the top 25 — a fairly steep dropoff for the once-unanimous pick for the GOAT.
30. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977) — It’s a bit annoying that Fleetwood Mac only had one album on this list. They’re a lot more exciting than their best album.
29. Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (1967) — This album increased its standing considerably and deservedly.
28. Nas – Illmatic (1994) — The rap classics in this top 50 are hard to rank; they’re all great in their own way.
27. Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life (1976) — I would never have guessed this would make the top 5, but who doesn’t love Stevie Wonder?
26. Talking Heads – Remain in Light (1980) — Rolling Stone has an confounding treatment of ’70s/’80s alternative on this list, but Remain in Light is great enough to overcome that.
25. Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks (1975) — This is arguably his best album, so I’m fine with Rolling Stone arguing so.
24. Radiohead – OK Computer (1997) — Radiohead managed to improve its critical place despite many of their contemporaries being left behind.
23. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) — Top 20 seems extreme, but it’s great enough to be seen that way already.
22. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run (1975) — I’m surprised that this fell out of the top 20. I’m finding these albums the toughest to say anything about because I’m just like, ‘Yep that’s a classic.’
21. The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street (1972) — Think about how good this album is to stay in the top 15 despite seemingly every classic rock act being ranked lower.
20. Jay-Z – The Blueprint (2001) — This barely made the top 50, but this is easily up there for me.
19. Dr. Dre – The Chronic (1992) — Modern rap started here — plain and simple.
18. Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) — Rolling Stone ranked this the highest rap album; it’s close for me.
17. OutKast – Aquemini (1998) — If you want a good indicator of how different this list is, Aquemini was #500 just back in 2012.
16. D’Angelo – Voodoo (2000) — This is probably the greatest surprise of the entire list; I never thought Voodoo would make Rolling Stone’s top 50.
15. The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die (1994) — This is the greatest rapper ever in his best display — pretty easy choice for top 50.
14. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers (1993) — I went with this for the greatest rap album of the ’90s because it’s the most unique of all the classics.
13. The Beatles – Revolver (1966) — I’ve debated for a while what the best Beatles album is; I’m pretty sure this is a strong second.
12. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (1959) — The best Miles Davis album seems like an obvious top 10 pick, but it’s not entirely representative of why he’s great.
11. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965) — This has always been my favorite Bob Dylan album; it’s an absolute blast from start to finish.
10. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) — I’ve been pretty certain that this is Kanye’s best album and the best album of the entire 2010s. It feels good to be validated by this list.
9. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (1971) — I already explained why this isn’t #1 for me, but it’s still the greatest classic r&b album of all time.
8. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991) — Everyone’s in agreement that this is the greatest alt-rock album of all time.
7. Joni Mitchell – Blue (1971) — I ranked this the best album of the ’70s a couple years ago, and I still agree with that.
6. The Beatles – The Beatles (1968) — I was shocked to see this anywhere outside the top 10; it’s the greatest double album of all time.
5. Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982) — I thought this was top 10 for sure, maybe top 5. Maybe some voters hold his child abuse scandal against him.
4. Radiohead – Kid A (2000) — I guess I should be happy it made the top 20 at all, but this weird pop masterpiece still has room to improve its critical standing.
3. Prince & the Revolution – Purple Rain (1984) — Even in his esteemed discography, Purple Rain has no competition.
2. The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) — Nothing irked me in this top 50 more than where this album ended up; it actually fell a few spots from 2012.
1. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966) — This album is always the bridesmaid — #2 in 2012 and 2020 to different albums. Not for me! This is my pick for the greatest album of all time; pop music has never been more rewarding and forward-thinking.