Rolling Stone magazine has compiled a list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The magazine first published such a list in 2003 and made a slight update in 2012. Acknowledging that tastes change over time and that new musical genres emerge, Rolling Stone decided to update its list again in 2020. It received Top 50 album lists from over 300 music industry stakeholders, including artists, producers, critics, radio programmers, label heads, and others. These professionals included current superstars, rising stars, and music industry veterans such as Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, H.E.R., Tierra Whack, Lindsey Jordan, Adam Clayton, Raekwon, Gene Simmons, and Stevie Nicks. The magazine also recognized that compiling such a list has become more difficult in the era of streaming music and fragmented tastes, but reported it was just this difficulty that made the reboot of the list fun in 2020.
Eighty-six of the 500 albums on the list come from the 21st century, while 154 are new additions that were not included in the 2003 or 2012 versions.
Ranked at Number 344 from 1973 on the Island label is “Funky Kingston” by Toots & The Maytals. It is described as the “quintessential document” by the greatest music act after Bob Marley for its “loose, funky, and exuberant” vibe. The album offers some of the group’s best songs, notably “Pressure Drop,” which was covered later on by The Clash. This album also introduced Toots Hibbert to the world.
At Number 174 is Jimmy Cliff’s 1972 Mango label soundtrack to “The Harder They Come,” the album that brought reggae to the global audience. This soundtrack to the film of the same name tells the story of a reggae singer who becomes an outlaw hero. As the dialogue was in patois, audiences in the US had to have subtitles. Jimmy Cliff in the starring role sings six songs, including “Many Rivers to Cross,” and featured artists on the soundtrack include Desmond Dekker, the Melodians, and Toots & The Maytals.
“Catch a Fire” from 1973 on the Island label by Bob Marley and the Wailers is ranked Number 140. This album introduced the world to Marley and expanded his audience beyond Jamaica’s borders. The Wailers featured Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingston, the group’s drummer Carlton Barrett and bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett defined the reggae beat.
At Number 71 is another recording on the Island label from Bob Marley & The Wailers. The 1977 “Exodus” album was recorded in London following the 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley. It includes the classic tracks “Jamming” and “Three Little Birds,” reflecting the essence of reggae and life at home on the island. Marley showed his spiritual intent for music with “One Love” and its twin messages of redemption and revolution.
A third album, “Legend,” by Bob Marley & The Wailers is ranked at Number 48. This compilation of Marley’s greatest hits from Island in 1988 has sold millions of copies, and one just one disc, it offers all the things that made the musician an international icon: his songcraft, political message, and the “universal soul” he brought Jamaica’s rhythm and Rastafarian spirituality in “I Shot the Sheriff,” “No Woman, No Cry,” and “Redemption Song.”
The Top 20 of the 500 greatest albums ranked by Rolling Stone include:
20. Radiohead – Kid A
October 2, 2000
19. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
March 16, 2015
18. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
August 30, 1965
17. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
November 22, 2010
16. The Clash – London Calling
December 14, 1979
15. Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
April 14, 1988
14. The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St.
May 12, 1972
13. Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
March 10, 1967
12. Michael Jackson – Thriller
November 30, 1982
11. The Beatles – Revolver
August 5, 1966
10. Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
August 25, 1998
9. Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks
January 20, 1975
8. Prince & The Revolution – Purple Rain
June 25, 1984
7. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
February 4, 1977
6. Nirvana – Nevermind
September 24, 1991
5. The Beatles – Abbey Road
September 26, 1969
4. Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
September 28, 1976
3. Joni Mitchell – Blue
June 22, 1971
2. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
May 16, 1966
1. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
May 21, 1971
Source: Rolling Stones