When it comes to ranking the best albums of all time, many of the selections are bound to be debatable. It’s nearly impossible to encompass the history of recorded music within a few entries. However, there are a handful of releases that stand out, frequently appearing within conversations of the best albums of all time.
- “The Dark Side of the Moon” – Pink Floyd Tackling weighty themes such as greed, discord and mental anguish, this 1973 release set a new standard for concept albums. Standout tracks include “Money” and “Breathe,” both epic journeys of sound that challenge the listener’s imagination.
- “The Joshua Tree” – U2 If you listen to this 1987 album in its entirety, you’ll experience what it’s like to hear a rock band fulfilling their potential and gelling together as a unit. Some of U2’s most legendary songs appear on this album, from the swelling crescendo of “Where The Streets Have No Name” to the charged sentimentality of “With Or Without You.”
- “Appetite For Destruction” – Guns N’ Roses The major label debut of quintessential rock band Guns N’ Roses is an unrelenting sonic assault from beginning to end. This 1987 album opens strong with “Welcome to the Jungle” before tiptoeing into romanticism with “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” This is the band at their best; a powder keg of rock n’ roll grit that’s scary in a good way.
- “Raising Hell” – Run DMC As the highest-ranking rap entry of the best albums of all time, this 1986 release was a defining moment in hip-hop culture. The rap-rock anthem “Walk This Way” started its own subgenre, while other iconic songs like “It’s Tricky” and “My Adidas” have earned iconic status with musicians everywhere.
- “Thriller” – Michael Jackson Nearly every song from this 1982 album has become legendary within the music industry. It was Jackson at his creative high-point, spouting off fiery performances in such songs as “Beat It,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” and the illustrious “Thriller.” The slow and mid-tempo songs on this album are also some of Jackson’s best, such as “The Girl Is Mine” and “Human Nature.”
- “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” – The Beatles A massive critical and commercial success, this 1967 album shattered the expectations of even the most optimistic. The Fab Four’s best album contains a cross-section sample of their extensive catalog, with acid rock staples such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” as well as tamer fare like “When I’m Sixty-Four.” The standout track on the album is “With a Little Help from My Friends,” a soul-searching anthem of sentimentality for the ages.
- “Nevermind” – Nirvana Few music fans saw this one coming. One of the best albums of all time dropped in 1991 to inspire a cultural shift in America’s youth. The first single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” single-handedly popularized grunge music, transforming the genre into a mainstream force. The rest of the album is equally inspiring, with grunge standards like “Lithium” and “Come As You Are.”
- “London Calling” – The Clash When it hit American shores in early 1980, this iconic album was a miniature British invasion of its own. It’s far and away the best punk rock album of all time, containing deceptively simple songs like “London Calling” and “Spanish Bombs.”
- “Pablo Honey” – Radiohead Although this 1993 album often gets lost among Radiohead’s subsequent releases, it’s the band’s best effort. This album is a stripped-down rock record, as pure and straightforward as guitar-driven songs get. “Creep” was the album’s biggest success, but the melodic genius in “Stop Whispering” and “I Can’t” deserves mention.
- “At Folsom Prison” – Johnny Cash Hands down the best live album of all time, Cash holds court on a frantic set performed for inmates at a California prison. Released in 1968, the album holds lively versions of several Cash classics, including “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Cocaine Blues” and “Jackson.”
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