We’re halfway, and the list is coming into focus. This group was definitely the hardest to rank because few albums here should’ve been ranked higher, and most of the albums were good picks. In other words, it was the most accurate group of 50 thus far, but there were still too many albums that should’ve been left off altogether.
- 2010s – 22 Albums so far; 10 of them good picks. This is the decade where I expect the least amount for the top half.
- 2000s – 28 Albums so far; 14 of them good picks. Only 3 albums appeared in this group of 50 and none of them were good picks. I also expect representation for this decade to drop significantly in the top half, which is going to lead to many recent classics being omitted.
- 1990s – 41 Albums so far; 29 of them good picks. After a slow start, the ’90s has actually had the best rate of good picks with solid representation for rap and indie rock. There’s still quite a bit to go, so we’ll see if the ’90s is still done relatively well.
- 1980s – 32 Albums so far; 16 of them good picks. The ’80s has been really shaky with the mediocre picks piling up. Some better inclusions came near the halfway mark, so let’s hope it trends better.
- 1970s – 76 Albums so far; 49 of them good picks. Any all-time list will depend on the ‘1970s the most, and it lives or dies by how it’s handled. As the ’70s pick piled up after #350, the choices became a lot better and the entire list has improved for it. It should reach 150 albums from this decade by the end pretty easily.
- 1960s – 30 Albums so far; 14 of them good picks. The ’60s is hard to get right because it’s dominated by a few artists and they can easily be over-represented. The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Kinks, and Beach Boys have all had inclusions from this decade so far that I wouldn’t include. It’s a decade you have to dig deep for, and it doesn’t help having absolutely zero jazz albums from the decade so far.
- 1950s – 7 Albums so far; 7 of them good picks. Every ’50s album included has been a good pick, but it has also been the bare minimum representation. I think it will be even less for the top half.
Greatest Hits Compilations
- Merle Haggard – Down Every Road (1962-1994)
49. Shania Twain – Come on Over (1997) — Yeah, this sold a lot of copies but so did The Bodyguard soundtrack. The music is fine, but never stellar.
48. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Full Moon Fever (1989) — I hope Tom Petty’s legacy isn’t reduced down to this mediocre album on this list.
47. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication (1999) — The moments of RHCP making good music doesn’t make up for their dumb funk rock M.O.
46. 50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003) — Here’s another pick that is a result of it being massively popular rather than being the best representation on ’00s rap.
45. Pink Floyd – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) — I’ve always found early Pink Floyd overrated and not at all on par with their ’70s classics.
44. The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man (1965) — The Byrds mostly struggled to have a standout album until they incorporated Gram Parsons.
43. Elton John – Honky Chateau (1972) — For all the platinum albums in the ’70s, Elton John’s critical focus has never really been his albums. They’re not bad; they just struggle to stand out beyond the singles outside of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
42. B.B. King – Live at the Regal (1965) — B.B. King is an influential figure in rock & roll, but this is mostly just standard blues music.
41. Van Halen – Van Halen (1978) — This album is significantly better than their other releases, but it carries too much of that sleazy hard rock style to be great.
40. OutKast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003) — OutKast should be all over this list, but their biggest-selling album is also a distant 5th-best in their catalog.
39. Alicia Keys – The Diary of Alicia Keys (2003) — This was one of the most surprising inclusions so far when you account for how high it is. Keys deserves a little more critical love, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s one of the best albums of the 2000s.
38. Peter Gabriel – So (1986) — Without MTV, this album isn’t treated as a classic. It’s often “artsy” without factoring in how enjoyable it should be.
37. Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman (1988) — Chapman is a great success story where the artist refused sacrificing her artistic direction for popularity. The album went six-times platinum anyway, but the album still could have used less acoustic instrumentation.
36. The Beatles – Help! (1965) — Pre-Rubber Soul Beatles’ albums all have their flaws, and there are too many duds on Help! for inclusion.
35. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013) — This is an album full of great songs, but it’s also tough to get all the way through in one sitting.
34. The Breeders – Last Splash (1993) — “Cannonball” hangs over the whole album as one of the greatest rock songs of the ’90s. The rest is quality noise rock.
33. Janis Joplin – Pearl (1971) — This album was a big improvement from her Big Brother work as she expanded her sound into more soulful territory.
32. The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968) — This is easily the best Byrds’ album, and the only one I would include in the top 500.
31. Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy (1973) — This might be Zep’s third best album and benefits from flying under the radar a bit.
30. Mary J. Blige – What’s the 411? (1992) — This is certainly a classic and one of the best R&B debuts of the ’90s.
29. Beastie Boys – Check Your Head (1992) — This album is mostly a huge goof as intended, and while some would knock it for that, it totally fits in with the Beastie Boys vibe.
28. Dolly Parton – Coat of Many Colors (1971) — Dolly’s beloved status often gets reduced down to a few songs and her warm personality, but she has one of the greatest country singing voices of all time.
27. Randy Newman – Sail Away (1972) — Newman released many great albums around this time, so 12 Songs and Good Old Boys could just as easily be here.
26. Frank Sinatra – In the Wee Small Hours (1955) — Nowadays, Sinatra sounds beamed in from another universe, but he’s a necessary inclusion as one of the greatest voices to ever do it.
25. Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963) — I was surprised to see this one out of the top 250, but it’s about where I would put it.
24. DEVO – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO! (1978) — “Whip It” was a blessing and curse for the band; it made them stars but jokingly so. Their ’70s work and this album were really vibrant.
23. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Rust Never Sleeps (1979) — What makes this live album so great is the studio overdubbing that offers that studio album polish to some of Young’s best songs.
22. Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson (1972) — Nilsson had a unique pop rock vision, and this album is the most enjoyable display of it.
21. Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York (1994) — Is this the last classic live album? It certainly will be hard to top.
20. Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975) — It’s always treated as the third best album of theirs, but it might be on par or better.
19. Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime (1984) — This is such a great drumming album; it provides the enjoyable base for all the punk experimentation to flourish.
18. The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers (1976) — Jonathan Richman has one of those voices on this album that oozes cool. If you have that, it’s hard to fail.
17. Destiny’s Child – The Writing’s on the Wall (1999) — Music critics have slowly gone from praising every single on this album to explicitly calling this album the classic it is.
16. The Slits – Cut (1979) — Post-punk is making some noise on this list, so this was an easy inclusion.
15. Gang of Four – Entertainment! (1979) — I didn’t know if Gang of Four would appear on this list, but it’s actually ended up higher and to about where it needs to be.
14. The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night (1964) — This is easily the best early-Beatles album, and it’s no coincidence that every track is Lennon/McCartney-penned.
13. Big Star – Third/Sister Lovers (1978) — Without this album, Big Star aren’t as cultishly-beloved, so it’s a good choice as their highest-ranked.
12. Pavement – Wowee Zowee (1995) — I’ve seen some music critics say Wowee Zowee is their favorite Pavement album, but I didn’t expect to see that reflected in this list. Their first three albums are all about equal for me with maybe this one third.
11. Weezer – Weezer (The Blue Album) (1994) — Much lower than I expected but Pinkerton might actually end up higher, which I don’ disagree with.
10. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour (2018) — It’s already one of the greatest country albums of all time and certainly the best of my lifetime.
9. Joni Mitchell – The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975) — This album essentially ended Mitchell’s modest commercial success and instrumentally, it might be her best work.
8. Curtis Mayfield – Curtis (1970) — Before Gaye’s and Wonder’s classics, there was Curtis, an epochal debut album that greatly influenced his peers.
7. The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat (1968) — This one is also fourth for me among the Velvet Underground classics, so I don’t have much of a problem with it outside the top 250.
6. Donna Summer – Bad Girls (1979) — This album is a debut appearance, which shows how disrespected women of color usually were at Rolling Stone. This is a disco and pop classic for sure.
5. Radiohead – The Bends (1995) — Somehow, this album was ranked higher than OK Computer in 2012, and that has been rectified. It’s a little though and not a great sign for Radiohead overall.
4. Björk – Post (1995) — The hope for four Björk albums probably went out the door with Post ending up out of the 250. In 2012, Post was the only album of hers to make it.
3. New Order – Power, Corruption, and Lies (1983) — A consensus on the best New Order album has been reached. This is a new inclusion as Substance was Rolling Stone’s choice in 2012.
2. Kanye West – Yeezus (2013) — Kanye made his first appearance, and it comes too low out of the top 250. Kanye could have 4-6 albums on the list in total.
1. Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters (1973) — This ends up #1 for this group because 1) it’s a jazz fusion classic of the highest order, and 2) there wasn’t that much competition here.