Reflections on Rolling Stone’s Updated 500 Greatest Albums List

Yes, yes I know. Everybody hates Rolling Stone and thinks their Top X lists are full of shit. However, give them this credit – at least they do a Top X list now and again. Back in 2003 – before the world went entirely went down the toilet – RS published their first Top 500 Albums list.

What caught my attention in reading about this is how they said the list is “less rock-oriented.” True, it is but there’s still a hell of a lot of rock. There’s more rap and such, still some jazz, maybe even more jazz. Not sure. I haven’t compared the lists side by side.

Their post says: “Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time was originally published in 2003, with a slight update in 2012. Over the years, it’s been the most widely read  — and argued over — feature in the history of the magazine (last year, the RS 500 got over 63 million views on the site).

But no list is definitive — tastes change, new genres emerge, the history of music keeps being rewritten. So we decided to remake our greatest albums list from scratch. To do so, we received and tabulated Top 50 Albums lists from more than 300 artists, producers, critics, and music-industry figures (from radio programmers to label heads, like Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman).

The electorate includes Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Billie Eilish; rising artists like H.E.R., Tierra Whack, and Lindsey Jordan of Snail Mail; as well as veteran musicians, such as Adam Clayton and the Edge of U2, Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan, Gene Simmons, and Stevie Nicks.

Of course, it could still be argued that embarking on a project like this is increasingly difficult in an era of streaming and fragmented taste. But that was part of what made rebooting the RS 500 fascinating and fun; 86 of the albums on the list are from this century, and 154 are new additions that weren’t on the 2003 or 2012 versions. The classics are still the classics, but the canon keeps getting bigger and better.”

Back in 2003, The Top Ten looked like this;

10 – White Album – Beatles
9 – Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan
8 – London Calling – The Clash
7 – Exile on Main Street – Rolling Stones
6 – What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
5 – Rubber Soul – Beatles
4 – Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan
3 – Revolver – Beatles
2 – Pet Sounds – Beach Boys
1 – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – Beatles.

Below is the new Top Ten. Pet Sounds and What’s Going On are the only two that stayed in the Top Ten. The Beatles went from four albums to one. Sgt. Pepper? Not only not number one, at #24, not even in the Top Twenty. Lo, how the mighty have fallen.

My beloved At Fillmore East by the Allmans? A drop from 49 to 105 probably signaling the lack of long-term influence of “Southern Rock” as anything else. If it drops any further I’ll have to recognize it for the piece of shit it must actually be and throw it in the garbage.

And I’m bummed out that Exile – simply the greatest rock album of all time – is now #14. Anyway, here’s the new list:

10 – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
9 – Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan**
8 – Purple Rain – Prince and the Revolution**
7 – Rumours – Fleetwood Mac**
6 – Nevermind – Nirvana**
5-  Abbey Road – Beatles**
4 – Songs in the Key of Life – Stevie Wonder**
3 – Blue – Joni Mitchell
2 – Pet Sounds – Beach Boys
1 – What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye**

Just going by those two lists what do I think? Well, it’s not the list I would have come up with for a Top Ten. But I put a couple of **’s next to the ones I really like.

And I’m sure the 500 have quite a few albums that just don’t interest me. But all that said, yes, times and tastes change. And I’m well aware that rock is not and has not been for some time now the force that it used to be.

It does not make those albums any less great – it just means that some great, celebrated albums have been released for a new generation and those should be recognized. “It’s every generation,” says Paul Simon on the Graceland album (#46) – “throws a hero up the pop charts.” Time for new heroes.

But I will also say this – those albums that I love whether Beatles or Allmans or Stones still sound great and I still get a lot of enjoyment out of them. But I also think I’m long overdue to give Ms. Lauryn Hill a spin. At least.

 

40 thoughts on “Reflections on Rolling Stone’s Updated 500 Greatest Albums List

  1. I think the list is fine – it’s a good reflection of the times that it features more women and more non-white people in the top ten since the last one. I don’t really take these things very personally – my favourite album of all time is languishing down at #445 but I’m not losing sleep about it.

    I like all the records in the top ten, even though there are a few entries further down the list that surprise me like Shania Twain and John Mayer. It’s mostly interesting for looking through the lower portions of the list for stuff I’ve missed – I don’t really know anything about The Raincoats at #398.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I mentioned to CB, I have mixed emotions. On the one hand I afree with everything you say. On the other, I mourn the fact that some of the all-time classics have either dropped low or disappeared altogether. To your point, does it really matter? Of course not. By the same token, a new generation might look to this list for ideas. And yes it will confirm some of what they already know and like. But they will have lost something as well. Is “What;s Going On?” really that much better than “Sgt Pepper,” arguably the most influential album of all time?

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      1. I don’t think you can really expect one source to be authoritative. Music’s subjective, and whether something’s #1 or #501 on the list, it’s probably worth checking out if it’s within your wheelhouse. My technique has always been to read from lots of different places and pick and choose what interests me.

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        1. I don’t even really look to these lists for ideas of what to listen to. I find them interesting. But as someone who read Rolling Stone religiously for years and given the mag’s history, I tend to find theirs more compelling. Even if I don’t always agree.

          I think, however, you’re misunderstanding my take on this. At no point did I indicate that I thought it was authoritative. But you seem to want to argue some point I never made so have a good time.

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  2. As Rolling Stone notes, streaming services add a wrinkle to this process. Do folks really still listen to albums as we did when we were only armed with a turntable and an LP? I dunno.

    My initial reactions to these things are along the lines of “How in the world can anyone disagree that Momma Turnip & The Lime Jello Dildo released the greatest album ever?!?!”. Then I calm down, and look at things more objectively. No one has removed my favourite albums from my library, I can still pick & choose what to listen to, and as Aphoristical said, it is a lead on new stuff that I haven’t heard.

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    1. Yes, the stuff I love still sounds great, much of it like it was recorded yesterday. I wonder what this list will look like in 25 years’ time. Still, shocking how far down Sgt. Pepper in particular and The Beatles in general have fallen. But as great and influential as they were, one has to remember that a lot of the RS voters have little memory of them (broke up 50 years ago) and were probably more influenced by Nirvana or Public Enemy or whomever.

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    1. Oddly this popped up on a CNN news feed. Interesting list. I applaud the diversity and reflection of what’s popular today while at same time I watch my favorites sink lower and diisappear altogether. Where, for example, is Dan Hill?

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      1. “That’s their opinion man”. My tastes have always been outside of lists like this.
        I have an old article I cut out of a paper about 20 years ago. ‘National Public Radios most important musical works of the 20th century”. I think the Doc would get a lot out of it. I’ll try to find a way to send it to you.

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  3. I guess I like to cite this Rolling Stone list when it suits me and one of my favorite artists is on there. 🙂

    Other than that, I don’t pay a lot of attention.

    Overall, I like the old top 10 list better than the new one, though I think Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” is a fantastic addition.

    I’ve never quite understood the big fuzz about “Pet Sounds.” It’s not that I dislike it, but I think “Sgt. Pepper” is far superior. Of course, it’s not an unbiased opinion.

    The new list clearly is a sign of the times, especially the fact that Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is no. 1. It’s kind of frightening how relevant his lyrics remain in this country today!

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    1. I love lists, I always love the RS lists and they always piss me off. But what can you do? 🤔

      Yeah I agree that the old Top Ten and the old list is better. Let’s face it – it reflected a golden era of popular music and creativity that is now gone. And yes, ‘Songs’ is a great addition. About a year before I started blogging, my wife and I -finally – went to see Stevie Wonder and he did that whole allbum. What a joy that was. And nice to see an integrated audience which you don’t often see in Boston, alas.

      ‘Pet Sounds’ popularity mysifies me as well. Ironically, the Beatles in general and McCartney in particular were big fans of the Beach Boys and especially this album. Wilson made ‘Pet Sounds’ in response to ‘Rubber Soul’ and the Beatles made ‘Pepper’ part;ly in response to ‘Pet Sounds.’ But I agree with you on ‘Pepper.’ Should it still be number one? I don’t know. But it should never be overtaken by the fucking Beach Boys.

      Yeah, I too was thinking that ‘What’s Going On’ is highly relevant. I had initially considered just doing that album as a post and then referring to the 500. But that wouldn’t be as much fun. 🤣

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      1. Thanks, Jim. I don’t recall reading this specific piece but knew the story. It’s interesting how The Beatles and Brian Wilson apparently influenced each other.

        I just listened to “God Only Knows” again. Other than the great harmony singing, which you can find on many other Beach Boys tunes as well, I don’t see anything extraordinary about this song.

        For what’s it’s worth, my favorite Beach Boys tune is “Good Vibrations,” a left-over tune from the “Pet Sounds” recording sessions. Why they didn’t include this track on the album beats me.

        Of course, you can say the same about “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” when it comes to Sgt. Pepper!

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        1. I think it’s as much the album’s sound and production that was influential perhaps as much or more than the songwriting. My own favorite is “Don’t Worry Baby.” But still I don’t feel compelled to write about the Beach Boys. I guess I’ll just have to leave the ultimate write-up to you. 😂

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  4. Rolling Stone can crawl back from whence it came. They’re good albums but a very sketchy top 10. I still think Purple Rain is one of the most overrated albums of all time. And above Blood on the Tracks? Please. Just my personal view. Also Songs in the Key of Life isn’t even Stevie’s best masterpiece.

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    1. That’s funny. Yeah their lists are totally fucked up but I get a kick out of them anyway. I like ‘Purple Rain’ but agree that it’s overrated, especially the title song. I’d disagree with you on ‘Songs.’ Although you’re right he had a fantastic string of albums.

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      1. That strong of album is unbelievable, it depends on my mood or any given day as to which one is the best. I get a kick out of lists too. I’m forever putting pitchfork down but I’m always on there reading up on new releases etc. I love Prince’s Dirty Mind album the best but I really do struggle with a lot of his material, although I’ve tried very hard. Great write up.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. There’s no one ‘great’ Prince album for me. I love lot of his stuff, am indifferent to a bunch. He was a superb guitar player. We saw him once some years ago. Outstanding show. As to Pitchfork, I probably should check that out once in a while.

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    1. Good luck with that. Two seconds later people will be barraging you with comments like, “What kind of a fucking list is this? Everybody knows that (take your pick) is the greatest album of all time.” OR “These lists are bullshit. They’re all subjective.” OR “I’ll publish MY definitive 500 Albums list and then that Man of Kent will be yesterday’s news.”

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Well, that’s what you lot say. Here in NEW England, we eat our fair share of fish and chips. But it’s often eaten at the beach and even then in a plastic basket of some sort. Takes all the charm out of it, doesn’t it, guv’nor?

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Did I say bucket? Meant to say basket. So if you’re at the beach eatine in of them cheap little seaside bars, it’s a little basket. If you’re at a restaurant it’s a plate like anything else. The only ones that might sell it in newspaper are the occassional Anglophile places you might run across.

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        3. to be fair the chippies haven’t used newspapers for decades – just think of all that ink on your cod. Those I had for lunch were wrapped in standard ‘chip shop paper’

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