Albums might not be as important to laymen as they used to be, but they tell a story and have always been the best window to an artist we have. When everything comes together, it can have an impact beyond the music world, becoming part of a culture as a whole. Our list of the 55 best albums of all time looks at the most influential, successful, and important ones to be released.
55. Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
In many circles, Kind Of Blue is regarded as the greatest and most important jazz album ever recorded. It had a far-reaching impact, influencing music within jazz, rock, and classical scenes. It was also one of the 50 initial recordings chosen for preservation in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
54. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel’s final album together, Bridge Over Troubled Water, produced two of their most iconic songs, the title track and The Boxer. It topped album charts in 10 countries and won six Grammy Awards a year after its release.
53. Horses – Patti Smith
Horses was a successful album by any metric you measure it with, however, it was its importance as a rock and punk album that set it above many others. Incredible chord progressions, detailed imagery, and avante-garde traits pushed the genre beyond what it had been before.
52. Stand! – Sly & the Family Stone
Sly & The Family Stone is a staple of the funk genre, and Stand! was the highest point of their career. In 1969, it sold over 500,000 copies and spent nearly two years on the Billboard 200, making it one of the most successful albums of the 1960s and an absolute classic of the genre.
51. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is thought of as this British singer’s magnum opus, combining the themes of his other works and becoming quintessentially Elton John. Over 20 million copies of the album have been sold, with similar numbers stacking up for singles like the title track and Candle In The Wind.
50. Disintegration – The Cure
Disintegration was The Cure’s best-charting album for quite a long time. To date, it’s still their best-seller, which is impressive because it shifted to their origins rather than pop-influenced songs meant to appeal. Essentially, it’s what they wanted to produce in the 1980s but weren’t able to yet.
49. Hotel California – Eagles
If not for Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Hotel California would have won a Grammy for Album of the Year. The title track did win Record of the Year though, so fair trade. With over 32 million worldwide record sales, it’s the Eagles’ second best-selling album, coming only after a greatest-hits compilation.
48. The Downward Spiral – Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails was one of the most important and imitated rock bands of the 1990s, but it was The Downward Spiral that established them in the scene. While abrasive to some, the music was widely loved and more than influential.
47. A Night At The Opera – Queen
A Night At The Opera was one of the most wide-ranging albums of all time in terms of instrumentation, production, and musical styles. At the time, it was reportedly the most expensive album ever recorded. Bohemian Rhapsody was the biggest draw on it, helping it eventually earn a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame and a spot in any discussion about the best albums of all time.
46. The Wall – Pink Floyd
The Wall was the last album to see Pink Floyd record as a quartet, but it was one of their most successful. A rock opera following the character Pink, it sold over 30 million copies and became one of the all-time best-selling albums on the back of songs like Brick In The Wall, Comfortably Numb, and Run Like Hell. It remains to this day the best-selling double album of all time.
45. The Score – Fugees
The Score is one of the most important albums in hip hop history because much of the techniques in sampling and in studios dominated the scene in the 1990s. It won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album and even got a nod from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on their list of 200 Definitive Albums.
44. Paranoid – Black Sabbath
Outside of Master Of Puppets, it’s hard to argue an album is more influential in the metal scene than Paranoid. Several of Black Sabbath’s signature songs appeared on it, including War Pigs, Iron Man, and the title track. It was one of the foundational albums for the metal genre in general as well.
43. Doolittle – Pixies
Doolittle is not for the faint of heart, as it contains descriptions of death and torture. Since it was released in 1988, it has consistently sold well and was one of the best albums of the 1980s. Both singles released from the album topped the modern rock charts, and it has remained a significant piece of alt-rock history.
42. Red – Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift is one of the biggest music stars in the world today, but her transition into a mega-star began with her Red album. It touched on all kinds of genres outside of her typical country and pop sound and made her the first female artist to have three consecutive albums spend at least six weeks atop the Billboard 200.
41. Master of Puppets – Metallica
Master Of Puppets is often thought of as the most influential metal album of all time and was one of the pioneering ones for thrash metal. In 2015, it was selected as the first metal recording to be selected for the National Recording Registry.
40. Harvest – Neil Young
Harvest was a bit of a who’s who in the folk music genre. David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, and James Taylor all appeared on it on one track or another. The London Symphony Orchestra even participated in two of the songs. When it was released, it topped the Billboard 200 and produced the number-one hit single Heart Of Gold. It remains Neil Young’s best-selling album and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
39. Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A.
There aren’t too many albums that get the artist(s) in trouble with the law, but Straight Outta Compton was one of them. The debut album for N.W.A., radio censorship didn’t stop its massive commercial success. The example set in the album transitioned hip hop towards the hardcore gangsta rap style and saw it rise to number 37 on the Billboard 200. Eventually, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
38. A Love Supreme – John Coltrane
A Love Supreme is likely the only album on this list that was recorded in a single session. It’s a suite in four parts that is emblematic of jazz music in the post-war era. It’s John Coltrane’s second album to earn an induction into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
37. Illmatic – Nas
Illmatic was another one of the most influential hip hop albums on the East Coast. The lyricism and biographical content have earned it numerous accolades over the years. So, while it garnered nearly the same sales figures as many on this list, it remains among the greats for its sheer influence and the recognition for being one of the greatest in hip hop history.
36. Legend – Bob Marley and the Wailers
Legend is an incredible compilation album from Bob Marley and The Wailers, with some of their songs from their time together and a few inclusions of The Wailers as solo artists. To date, it’s the best-selling reggae album of all time and has sold well over 25 million copies worldwide. Even today, it still appears on the Billboard 200 and UK Albums Chart. On the Billboard 200, it spent a total of 805 non-consecutive weeks on the chart. On the UK Albums Chart, it has spent 1,106 weeks inside the top 100.
35. The Chronic – Dr. Dre
The Chronic was Dr. Dre’s first solo album after leaving N.W.A. and Ruthless Records and launched not just his own solo career but also Snoop Dogg’s as well. It spent eight months inside the top 10 of the Billboard charts and popularized the G-funk genre within gangsta rap. Easily one of the best-produced hip hop albums of all time, it is one of the most important albums in West Coast hip hop as a whole.
34. The Joshua Tree – U2
The Joshua Tree is largely considered U2’s greatest album. Influenced by American and Irish music, it mixes social consciousness and spirituality in a way that is rarely seen. It topped album charts in 20 different countries, selling over 25 million copies and winning the Grammy Awards for Best Rock Album and Album of the Year.
33. Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
Dark Side Of The Moon largely focused on the concept of madness and was mostly produced as a tribute to former band member Syd Barrett. It’s likely the album of Pink Floyd’s you’ve heard references or know them for today. It’s the fourth-best-selling album of all time and the best-selling album of the 1970s with over 45 million worldwide record sales today.
Recommended: Top albums of the 1970s
32. Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars – David Bowie
Ziggy Stardust—the shortened name of this album—serves as a rock opera and concept album following David Bowie’s alter-ego of the same name. The glam rock style was the perfect way to discuss themes of how artificial rock music had become, political issues, stardom, and sexuality as a whole. It would eventually be recognized as one of the greatest albums of all time and found a place in the National Recording Registry.
31. Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin released an untitled album as their fourth studio production, which has commonly become known as Led Zeppelin IV. It was obviously a massive success, becoming their most commercially successful album and one of the best-selling albums of all time in the US. Over 37 million copies have been sent worldwide, thanks in large part to songs like The Battle Of Evermore, Stairway To Heaven, and Misty Mountain Hop.
30. Self-titled Album – The Doors
The Doors only spent five years together with Jim Morrison at the helm, but in that time, they released some of the most important rock records in history. It all started with their eponymous debut album in 1966.
Over 13 million sales would eventually be credited to the album, with its breakthrough single Light My Fire eventually earning a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Utterly inspirational for other artists, it is often acknowledged as an essential album in the psychedelic rock world.
29. The Sun Sessions – Elvis Presley
Everyone knows who Elvis Presley is and has heard one of his songs at some point in their life. The Sun Sessions was a compilation album of his earliest commercial recordings, featuring most of the tracks he produced while at Sun Records. At the time of release, it made it to number one and number two on the Billboard Country Albums and Cashbox Country Albums charts, respectively.
28. Songs in the Key of Life – Stevie Wonder
Songs In The Key Of Life is the double album that signifies the culmination of Stevie Wonder’s musical career. It was the first album by an American to debut at the top of the Billboard Pop Albums chart and spent 13 consecutive weeks on top of the Billboard 200. It won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and eventually earned a spot in both the Grammy Hall of Fame and the National Recording Registry.
27. Appetite for Destruction – Guns N’ Roses
It’s rare for an album to be an initial failure and still produce some of the best-known songs in history. Appetite For Destruction only became a commercial success after Guns N’ Roses went on a yearlong tour.
Welcome To The Jungle, Sweet Child O’ Mine, and Paradise City all went on to become staples of the hair metal and arena rock genres. In the US, the album still holds the record for being the seventh-best-selling album of all time, and it eventually racked up over 30 million worldwide record sales.
26. OK Computer – Radiohead
Most people know Radiohead for their song Creep, but their true masterpiece was the OK Computer album. Released in 1997, it was abstract, eclectic, and introspective. The band would become extremely experimental in later years, but this album laid the foundation for all of that. Its influence is such that it moved British rock away from Britpop to an interesting mix of alternative genres.
Recommended: Top albums of the 90s
25. Graceland – Paul Simon
Graceland is one of the most contentious albums on this list, as Paul Simon broke a cultural boycott of South Africa during the apartheid years. However, after a long bout of depression, he produced an album with an incredible mix of genres. It remains his most successful studio album and won the 1987 Grammy Award for Record of the Year.
24. Back in Black – AC/DC
AC/DC became stars with the release of their Highway To Hell album, but it was Back In Black that cemented their place among rock’s pantheon. Their seventh studio album, this record went on to sell over 40 million copies worldwide and was supported by a yearlong tour that made them one of the most popular music acts of the 1980s. Its 25x Platinum certification makes it the best-selling album to never top the US albums chart and the fourth-best-selling album in the US in history.
23. I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You – Aretha Franklin
Every great album on this list produced a song that you could argue has a place in a list of the best tracks of all time, but this one might just top the list. I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You saw Aretha Franklin move from jazz to soul and was an immense critical and commercial success. The highlight of the album has to be her famous single Respect, though the themes and style of the album were just as influential, as it would be copied for decades to come.
22. Saturday Night Fever – Bee Gees
The Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever album was the soundtrack for the 1977 film of the same name. For a time, this disco album was the best-selling album of all time with over 40 million sales, a title it held until Michael Jackson released Thriller. It spent 120 weeks on Billboard’s album charts and produced three number-one singles, How Deep Is Your Love, Stayin’ Alive, and Night Fever. No album in history epitomizes the 1970s disco craze like this one.
21. Self-Titled Album – Ramones
The Ramones debut album wasn’t a commercially successful venture at all. Only two singles were released to promote it and neither made it onto the charts. It did earn quite a few nods from critics though, thanks in large part to songs like Blitzkrieg Bop and I Don’t Wanna Go Down In The Basement.
In hindsight, the album now is given its due as one of the most influential punk albums in history. The music they produced on this—and future albums—laid the groundwork for both grunge and heavy metal music of the future.
20. Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix is largely considered to be one of, if not, the greatest guitar player in history. His debut album as the Jimi Hendrix Experience was wildly innovative and changed the course of rock history. Are You Experienced ended up spending 33 weeks on the UK albums chart and rose to number two but spent a whopping 105 weeks on the US Billboard Top LPs chart.
19. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) – Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang Clan holds a special place in hip hop history. Their nearly unmatched lyricism, humor, and social consciousness set them apart in the musical landscape. Their debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), essentially created the blueprint for hardcore hip hop throughout the 1990s and cemented their place among the greatest rappers of the East Coast scene. It was also a chart success, reaching number 41 on the Billboard 200 and selling over 30,000 copies in its first week.
18. Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen today is a music superstar, but his first two albums didn’t make it big. His third album, Born To Run, was a conscious effort to break into the mainstream and turned into a massive commercial success. It sold over seven million copies in the US, spawning top-40 hits that cemented The Boss’s mainstream popularity. Critics and fans alike lauded the album for its romanticized American themes, universal lyricism, and rock-n-roll traditionalism.
17. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
Another incredible album from The Beatles and another entry near the top end of our list. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the eighth studio album released by them and is considered one of the earliest concept albums in music.
Fashion, drugs, mysticism, and empowerment were all key themes of the album, but the innovations it brought on in songwriting and production were massively influential. Though they had permanently retired from touring by the time this album was recorded, this was one of the first art-rock LPs in history and went on to sell over 32 million records worldwide.
16. Ready to Die – The Notorious B.I.G.
The first and only studio album to be released by The Notorious B.I.G before his untimely death in 1997, Ready To Die is ranked by many as the greatest hip hop album of all time. Certified six times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in 2018, the album was an instant commercial success for him and made him an instant star in the hip hop scene.
Recommended: Top hip hop albums of all time
15. London Calling – The Clash
Released as a double album in the UK in 1979, London Calling is a combination of punk rock and new wave, showing the growing range of styles The Clash would go on to venture and experiment with. It charted in the top 10 in the UK and the title track of the album was also listed as one of the Top 20 Singles. The cover was also featured on a UK postage stamp in 2010.
14. Purple Rain – Prince and the Revolution
The second of Prince’s albums on this list, some may not even realize Purple Rain was a whole album as it was released as part of a soundtrack to the 1984 movie of the same name. Known as the most pop-oriented of his albums, it was the first of his to reach number one on the Billboard 200. It was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
13. Exile on Main St. – The Rolling Stones
Released May 12, 1972, Exile On Main St. was the 10th British and 12th American studio album released by The Rolling Stones. A representation of all of the essential elements of rock and roll, the album is full of concert staples that have been performed numerous times over the years.
It quickly became seen as the high point among a steady release of albums by them starting back in 1968. After being remastered and re-released in 2010, it went on to chart again reaching number one on the UK charts and number two in the US.
12. Revolver – The Beatles
And here we get to yet another amazing album from The Beatles. Revolver was their seventh studio album and might have been their most experimental. It’s become one of the most popular albums in history thanks to its musical range and diverse sounds. It was important because it was their first time delving deep into studio technology, adding layers to songs, and revolutionizing standard practices in the studio. It was another smash record for them and one of the best-selling albums of all time.
11. Blood On The Tracks – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks album was recorded in two sessions, with him unexpectedly re-recording a lot of it shortly before it was due to be released. It initially received mixed reviews but has allowed us to see it for what it is—perhaps his best album.
It reached number one on the US and number four on the UK album charts, eventually earning an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The sheer amount of emotion in the album comes from the fact that it touches on his personal life and turmoils, serving as an outlet for an astounding songwriter to be true to their feelings.
10. Blue – Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell is often underappreciated as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, but her work was on full display in her album Blue. It explored the concepts of love and relationships, producing one of the most cohesive albums ever in terms of songwriting, vocal talent, and musical composition. The New York Times chose it as one of the 25 albums that represented turning points in 20th-century music and is often regarded as one of, if not, the greatest album created by a woman in history.
9. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill went through quite a lot dealing with her former group The Fugees and a tough pregnancy. Those hard times inspired her to release a solo album, touching on all that turmoil. In 1998, it became one of the best-reviewed albums of the year, debuting at the top of the Billboard 200 and breaking a record for first-week sales by a female artist. It’s been included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, and has earned a diamond certification from the RIAA.
8. Abbey Road – The Beatles
Abbey Road is the most famous album to come from The Beatles, featuring their iconic crosswalk photo as the album cover. While it ended up being a divisive album with some critics calling the music unauthentic at the time, today, it’s revered as one of the greatest albums in history.
It was the final album recorded by them in 1969, and by the time it was released, they had mostly broken up. Legendary songs like Here Comes The Sun and Come Together set the tone of the album and helped turn it into one of the best-selling albums of all time with over 31 million worldwide record sales.
7. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys
Pet Sounds might have been released to lukewarm critical reception, but it became one of the most influential albums of all time. It was promoted as one of the most progressive pop albums in history when it was released in 1968 and served as one of the earliest concept albums.
Jazz, pop, classical, and avante-garde music were all featured on the album, creating elaborate and layered vocal harmonies and incorporating several rarely used instruments. The production behind the album laid the groundwork for music production going forward. And while mainstream audiences largely underappreciated it, studios in the industry recognized it as one of the most important pioneering albums of all time.
6. Sign o’ the Times – Prince
Sign O’ The Times wasn’t Prince’s most successful album in terms of sales, but the double album is the most complete example of his artistry and creativity. Some critics argued that it was the best album of the 1980s, touching on numerous styles of music from pop to soul.
It was a worldwide top-10 hit album, producing successful singles like U Got The Look and its title track. The album spawned several documentaries and films, becoming known as one of the last great R&B albums before hip hop took over.
5. Thriller – Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson was a bigger star in the 1980s than even Elvis Presley or The Beatles were able to become. After crossing over from his child stardom and the disco scene, he produced his Thriller album which earned one of the best-selling albums of all time.
Meant for every song to be a killer hit, this lofty goal was achieved with tracks like Billie Jean, Beat It, and the title track. The album itself spent 37 weeks on top of the US album chart and sold well over 30 million copies by the end of 1983. Today, it stands as the second-best-selling album of all time with over 70 million worldwide record sales.
4. Nevermind – Nirvana
Nevermind was an unexpected hit album. A cornerstone of the grunge genre, the singles from it—namely Smells Like Teen Spirit—are largely responsible for introducing and popularizing alternative rock in the mainstream music world.
Few albums have had the impact that it was able to achieve, eventually earning a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame and dubbing Kurt Cobain as the voice of a generation in the 1990s. It ended the dominance of hair metal in the rock genre on its way to becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time with over 30 million worldwide record sales.
3. Rumours – Fleetwood Mac
Rumours was a massive commercial success for Fleetwood Mac, selling over 10 million copies in its first month of availability. Serving as their magnum opus, it aired out much of the personal drama behind the scenes and was recorded in the aftermath of several relationship breakups within the band.
The emotional highs and lows produced an astounding number of hits, including Dreams, Go Your Own Way, You Make Loving Fun, and Don’t Stop. All of those singles reached the top 10 of the US charts and helped propel the album to number one on the US and the UK album charts.
2. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On remains one of the best concept albums of all time. Each song segues into the next, telling a story from the perspective of a Vietnam veteran returning home after the war and seeing the suffering and injustices in the US.
Released in 1971, the track helped promote awareness of both environmental issues and the ongoing social turmoil during the Vietnam War era. Retrospective looks at the album consider it one of the finest ever created, helping it top the list of several major publication’s lists of the best albums of all time. It made him the first male artist to place three singles in the top ten of the Hot 100 from one album and remains a staple of classic 1970s soul music.
1. Self-Titled Album (White Album) – The Beatles
The Beatles’ White Album was their ninth studio album and the only double album ever released by them, coming out in 1968. It was also one of their most varied albums, covering several different musical genres and showing their true range artistically. You’ll find blues, ska, folk, proto-metal, and even avante-garde styles within the 30 tracks selected for it.
Even more than 50 years later, it’s recognized as one of the best and most successful albums of all time, earning a 24x Platinum certification from the RIAA and easily topping the charts in both the US and the UK despite issuing no singles from the album in either country.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.