For the top 200 so far, the 1990s have shown up pretty well. 13 of the 50 picks came from the decade. With only 4 albums from the 21st century involved, every other decade did pretty well. The ’60s will be top heavy the rest of the way.
- Buddy Holly – 20 Golden Greats
49. Cream – Disraeli Gears (1967) — Cream are beloved only by a increasingly smaller group of rockist critics that value technical virtuosity above all else.
48. The Who – Tommy (1969) — Concept albums are fun for documentaries and Wikipedia reads, but one of the most famous of them all (Tommy) is an absolute dud, start to finish.
47. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) — The RHCP have improved their critical standing since 2012 based on this list, but that doesn’t mean they are anywhere near universally-beloved.
46. Crosby, Stills, & Nash – Crosby, Stills, & Nash (1969) — One must have a deep love for that late-’60s/early-’70s American folk sound to think highly of this album because to my ears, it’s just mostly fine.
45. James Taylor – Sweet Baby James (1970) — This one’s ultra pleasant, but for its stature, there’s not much to Taylor’s lone classic.
44. The Police – Synchronicity (1983) — There is a bit of that U2 effect on the Police where their self-seriousness detracts from the melodic appeal, but unlike U2, they’re too low-key.
43. Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story (1971) — I’ve honestly never thought too much about Stewart’s critical status beyond “Maggie Mae.” This album’s solid, but the top 200 is special territory.
42. Various Artists – Saturday Night Fever (1977) — Everyone knows this album and has something they love from it. In 2020 though, I think it’s safe to criticize this album for it being a palatable version of disco.
41. The Beatles – Meet the Beatles! (1964) — Part of me doesn’t want to include this at all because it’s not in the true Beatles canon, but putting that aside, this is still mostly just With the Beatles — one of the weakest Beatles albums.
40. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poor Boys (1969) — I mentioned this about CCR earlier, but it’s hard to pin down one of their albums as one that’s obviously worthy of inclusion.
39. Steely Dan – Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972) — Even with some of their greatest songs, their debut isn’t always what Steely Dan aficionados love them for.
38. Pearl Jam – Ten (1991) — The best song from these sessions ended up only a B-side, but the album still ended up pretty loaded.
37. Billy Joel – The Stranger (1977) — If you ask me my five favorite Billy Joel songs, they all come from this album.
36. Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970) — This one’s even with Bookends as their best album, so it seems weird that this might be their only album to appear on the list.
35. Pretenders – Pretenders (1980) — This classic is easy to love, and the only major debate around it is whether it came out in ’79 or ’80.
34. Oasis – What’s the Story (Morning Glory)? (1995) — This is the only Oasis album that should be on here, but it should definitely be behind Parklife.
33. Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual (1983) — The big singles get the spotlight, but this album’s a lot more frisky than one would expect.
32. Etta James – At Last! (1960) — Albums from women of color in this time were so rare, and the ones we did get were soul classics like this.
31. Depeche Mode – Violator (1990) — Depeche Mode feel like such a classic ’80s act, but their most notable album was released in 1990.
30. Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill (1986) — The whole album’s amateurish but also one of the funnest party albums ever made.
29. Jay-Z – The Black Album (2003) — It’s not like I expect Jay-Z to be undervalued on this list, but getting presumably 3 albums in the top 160 is a pretty great showing for him.
28. Michael Jackson – Bad (1987) — This is MJ’s third best album, well behind his prior two, but it’s still a classic document of pop music.
27. The B-52’s – The B-52’s (1979) — The B-52’s really are in their own space: punkish, goofy, retro, forward-thinking, etc. Their debut is an easy inclusion.
26. George Michael – Faith (1987) — One of the greatest A-sides in pop album history: “Faith,” “Father Figure,” “I Want Your Sex,” and “One More Try.”
25. T. Rex – Electric Warrior (1971) — This is always the T-Rex go-to album, but The Slider might be just as good.
24. Ice Cube – AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990) — The greatness of Ice Cube’s solo discography has been downplayed for too long, and the first one is probably the best.
23. Jimmy Cliff & Various Artists – The Harder They Come (1972) — One part soundtrack and one part classic Reggae compilation, The Harder They Come is an essential listen.
22. Robyn – Body Talk (2010) — I’m not completely sold on it as Robyn’s best album, but it might be the best representation of her pop talents.
21. Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison (1968) — The setting and timing are the most critical aspects of any live album, and this one checks the boxes pretty obviously.
20. The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death (1997) — In the late-’90s, rap classics had to be big, resulting in double albums like this one. It might the greatest double album in hip-hop history.
19. Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out (1997) — Sleater-Kinney had to be a breath of fresh air in the ’90s considering how they just got to the point with their songs.
18. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (2017) — This has to be the most recent album in the top 200, and I’m totally fine with that. There should be two more from Kendrick in the top 150.
17. The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet (1968) — It’s clear that the ’60s rock acts are being knocked down a peg, but I can’t tell if it’s due to the age of the voters or an actual critical stance.
16. Love – Forever Changes (1967) — Is this the greatest one-album wonder of all time? You never hear much praise for their other work.
15. D’Angelo – Brown Sugar (1995) — Today, this album seems like it plays it safe when considered what came after for D’Angelo, but this album really did bring the classic r&b sound back across a whole full-length.
14. The Replacements – Let It Be (1984) — It’s good to see this album as critically-beloved as when it first came out — something that their punk rock contemporaries cannot say.
13. Otis Redding – Otis Blue (1965) — We can only wonder how Otis Redding’s ’60s albums would be viewed if he went into the ’70s and started taking more creative control, but this is all we have and it’s still stunning.
12. Pulp – Different Class (1995) — Just in my time of being a music critic, Pulp have moved from the third wheel in Britpop to the best band of the bunch with one of the greatest British albums of all time.
11. Aretha Franklin – Amazing Grace (1972) — I was so happy to see this on here considering it doubles as maybe the best display of Franklin’s voice and one of the best live albums of all time.
10. Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home (1965) — Seeing this out of the top 150 might seal that The Beatles will have the most albums on here.
9. R.E.M. – Murmur (1983) — In a discography full of good albums, Murmur easily stands out as the best of R.E.M.’s career. Automatic for the People will probably end up higher on this list.
8. Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun (2000) — This list’s treatment of r&b in the 21st century is hard to pin down, but this might be the best of the whole genre for the era, so it’s a good choice for the top 200.
7. PJ Harvey – Rid of Me (1993) — PJ Harvey’s recent discography is the work of a legend going through the motions, but with her early work, she rewrote the indie rock rulebooks.
6. Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted (1992) — The first three Pavement albums making this list is certainly a sigh of relief, and S&E is probably the best of the three.
5. Sade – Diamond Life (1984) — If it were up to me, Sade gets four albums on the list. Only two is fine and is a major improvement from zero in 2012.
4. Nirvana – In Utero (1993) — Unlike seemingly every other ’90s hard rock album, In Utero earns every scream and dark thought poured into it.
3. Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967) — This album wasn’t on the 2012 list at all, which is stunning if you consider Leonard Cohen one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time.
2. Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet (1990) — More so than any other rap act, Public Enemy have always received critical adoration, but Fear of a Black Planet seems to have improved its critical status over the years.
1. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation (1987) — If everyone voted on the greatest indie rock album of all time, Daydream Nation has a good chance of coming out on top. Top 50 is the minimum for this in my eyes.