Rolling Stone – The 500 Greatest albums ever

Rolling Stone recently updated it’s 500 greatest albums of all time, in a fresh print version. It’s good fun and has some nice album artwork and other good photos of well known artists. It is an update of a list originally put together in 2003 (for which I believe I still have this issue, somewhere “in the vaults”), which can be viewed here. I don’t believe the top ten has changed but other entries have been added and therefore some dropped off.

In a previous post I mentioned how I like lists, especially where music is concerned. I don’t take them totally seriously, but they make, for me anyway, interesting reading. Of course any list is subjective and one mans good, is anthers bad, blah blah. Well taking that into consideration I’m still going to have a little fun / gripe at it. Being Rolling Stone, the list is mainly focused on Rock or Pop music, with some Hip Hop, little dance, and little (some what crappy generic term warning) world music. But that is Rolling Stone for you, it’s primarily a rock magazine, so you get what you pay for.

I could loosely divide up the analysis into 1) top ten, 2) albums I own and quibble about the ranking, and 3) albums I don’t have but want, or are inspired to check out, 4) Albums not included. So let’s start with the top ten:

  1. Sgt Pepper – The Beatles
  2. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys
  3. Revolver – The Beatles
  4. Highway 61 revisited – Bob Dylan
  5. Rubber Soul – The Beatles
  6. What’s going on – Marvin Gaye
  7. Exile on main street – The Rolling Stones
  8. London Calling – The Clash
  9. Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan
  10. The White Album – The Beatles

A similar poll by Mojo magazine in the nineties had the first two reversed but a similar top ten. Whether you agree depends on your criteria. I would agree that there is not a duff album among them. Out of the ten I’m not overly fond of London Calling, but I do realise how good it is, it’s just not a favourite for me. The White album is my favourite Beatles album, but in music history I can see why Sgt Pepper is more significant. This highlights where criteria comes into the equation. My fave Stones album is Sticky fingers (no 64), my fave Dylan album Blood on the tracks (16). I would make a distinction here between favourite albums of all time and greatest albums. I did a post on my favourite albums of all time which are albums personal to me for various reasons. I would suggest this is different to what I might consider the greatest albums, which might take into account a wider context of music history, how influential and so on, plus which genres I want to consider, which is along similar lines to what this list is about.

To add to where I might have changed a few albums in the top ten, I also take umbrage with the position of other albums. Here are a few examples. Wilco’s “Yankee hotel Foxtrot” is at 493 compared to U2’s “All that you can leave behind” at 280. What? 213 places different? I don’t even think that U2 album is that great, certainly not as good as Wilco’s YHF. Radiohead’s “OK Computer” only features at 162. I would likely have this in the top twenty or if not, top ten. But at number 37 is “Hotel California” by the Eagles. I agree with The dude Lebowski on this one, to quote him, “‘I hate the f*ckin’ Eagles, man!” (the same quote which convinced Allen Klein to allow the film the rights to use the Stones song “Dead Flowers”). Is that really better than Ok Computer? I think not. Further comedy with “the Queen is dead” by The Smiths being at 218. Again a stone cold classic, ranked further down the list than three Elton John albums. Three? Sorry Elton, but you are there with the Eagles for me. I would also quibble about The Who’s “Tommy” being ranked at 96 whilst “Quadrophenia” is at 267. I’m not overly fond of Tommy, but I love Quadrophenia, I think it is the Who’s best album. I could quibble about a few more, but I won’t bore you any longer on that point.

I own a lot of music, in fact out of the top 100 here, I have 64 of them, including the entire top ten. There are always things to buy and what I have noticed on the list so far, is a few I definitely want to check out, and have had on my list for a while. They are The Allman Brothers band at Fillmore East (no 49), Dr John’s “Gris Gris” (No ), and Big Star’s “3rd / Sister lovers”. There are a few more but these ones stand out for now. If you asked me again in a month once I’ve read the magazine, I will likely have a few more.

I have mentioned in previous posts, how my music tastes originally developed as an indie kid, and how I like bands like Sugar, The Boo Radleys, The Flaming lips, The Super Furry animals. These days I have much more varied tastes and an appreciation for many albums that might be considered “classic rock”. However the list contains no Sugar “Copper Blue” yet two by Green Day, No Flaming Lips, yet MGMT’s “Oracular Spectacular”, and numerous others I could mention. The Boo Radleys were never even close to big in North America so it is no surprise to not see them, even if I or many others who have heard it, would consider “Giant Steps” a classic. There is no Blur either. What in the top 500 albums ever? But on the other hand, there are entries by PJ Harvey, Arctic Monkeys, Pavement (although not the album I would have chosen).

So the list is interesting, there are hundreds of really good albums.  Not necessarily everything I would have chosen, or in the same order but a lot of good ones. It got me thinking. It is one of the reasons that I like these lists.

Lexicon word of the day: Quack (not the duck speaking definition).


23 comments on “Rolling Stone – The 500 Greatest albums ever

  1. crubin says:

    I was glad to see Alanis Morisette’s “Jagged Little Pill” made it. She really reinvented herself with that one. Great lyrics and great music. In my opinion, anyway.

    • Elliot says:

      Well apart from “ironic” with the irony being, it contains no irony, just bad luck! But I take your point. That album also reminds me of college. A friend didn’t like it, so he gave it to me!

      I find the list fun but a little baffling. It depends on criteria and context of course. I bet if the same list was chosen in the UK you would likely seem a similar top ten but beyond that a much different order. I would be interested out of the 500, how many would be in that list.

  2. Ann Marquez says:

    Just last week I finally opened a box of records that have been taped up since the 80s I think. Nothing terribly exciting in there (I think) but the memories! 😉
    My favorite album ‘cover’ is “You can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish” REO
    I know … but it makes me smile. 😀

    • Elliot says:

      I really wish I had kept a lot of old vinyl that I was given as a child. I sadly got rid of a lot of it in my late teens.

      Vinyl albums sure add a lot on the artwork front. It is just not the same looking at a small digital image. I used to go to a second hand record store in England (which is closed down now) which had this section which was seventies soul and funk records. I had not heard of most of them but they had some of the best album art, and plenty of comedy.

  3. Oh dear, I suck! Lol

    I haven’t got 1 that’s in the top 10 😦


  4. I put together a list of two dozen anti-war songs from the 60’s but havven’t thought of a way to post yet.

    • Elliot says:

      That sounds interesting. Presumably it wouldn’t be an amusing one.

      Maybe you could put a small story from your past, or why it is important to you, then dress it up as a list of the best anti war songs. Or “Are these the best anti war songs of the 60’s”. A little background to it would add the depth or personal touch.

  5. Dan says:

    Although I think our musical tastes are quite different, I really enjoy the posts you do about music. For me, it’s about the passion for it. I don’t really trust anyone who is not passionate about SOMETHING.

    • Elliot says:

      Thanks Dan, Yeah, I love music so it is clearly showing through in some of the posts. I know some of them won’t be for some of the regular readers, but I like doing them, and there usually are at least a few readers who get a little something from it.

      • Dan says:

        That’s the thing about blogging – I think you have to do it for you first and foremost. Obviously, you have to keep a potential audience in mind, but to thine own self be true.

  6. DyingNote says:

    It’s incredible that the Top 10 albums are all of the ’60s and ’70s. Did great music die then or is this some sort of time warp? 🙂

    While I agree that these lists are not to be taken very seriously, I do find them useful in discovering music and artistes I hadn’t heard before. Back when I was in school and college, lists such as this were all I had to ‘experience’ music. I made my own list of music to get hold of (which I did much, much later – well, mostly) based entirely on the reviews.

    • Elliot says:

      I completely agree. I suppose it is easier to put the top ten into a context of how relevant they were to culture of the time, given their age. It is all arguable and depends on what criteria you want to use. Plus this is Rolling Stone, even though it is supposed to focus on modern music, it always seems a bit old fashioned. Ironically to me, Mojo magazine, which does feature more older music seems more modern.

      I agree with your point about lists, that is the way I use them and why I like them. They can help you spot something you might like, but have missed so far.

      • Elliot says:

        Also I forgot to mention, there is stats in the back of the magazine for how many albums for each decade:
        50s – 11,
        60s – 105,
        70s – 187,
        80s – 82,
        90s – 75,
        2000s – 38,
        2010s – 2.

        So I guess it is thirty years since the best of music!

  7. Chris says:

    are you experienced by jimi hendrix is 15. what a joke. it should be #1. f**k sgt. peppers

    • Elliot says:

      I can argue about a lot of the list. I don’t know if I would have gone with that at number one either, although it probably would have been in the top ten. As I pointed out in the post, Sgt Peppers is not even my favourite Beatles album.

  8. Katy says:

    I am doing the 500 album marathon and have for a few years now. I try to weave the albums in with the human psyche and a bit of pop culture. let me know what you think!

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