Karla Clifton Reviews Rolling Stone Magazine’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”

There are a few reasons that I’ve begun this maniacal project that nobody asked for, but the main one is this: Last December, I suddenly had to take two 25 hour solo road trips.

It’s not important why I took these road trips; just suffice it to say that 2020 was a real crappy year for all of us. (Since I took these road trips in the Year of Our Lady of Corona, I’ll add that I did test negative for the virus before embarking on these road trips, and tried to limit my social contact outside a handful of people.) Anyway, the realization struck me at some point while I was packing that this would be the perfect time to take on my longtime nemesis: Rolling Stone Magazine.


I’ve been enslaved by — sorry, subscribed to — Rolling Stone (RS) since I was a young teen, and have pretended to know what music is ever since. Frankly it’s been exhausting and unrewarding. I’ve been listening to this stuff since I grew ears and all I have to show for it are a bunch of t-shirts from Hot Topic and a rock-star-zombie romance novel.

Last October, RS released their updated list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The magazine itself is obnoxiously huge, like all copies of RS are nowadays, and has Bruce Springsteen looking very pensive on the cover. There were two previous versions of this list published, one in 2003 and one in 2012, but it was a different RS list that kickstarted my animosity towards the magazine’s “authoritative” rankings.

(Most musicians I’ve met have scoffed at my fascination with these lists. This is because most musicians can’t read.)

No, the first RS list to truly agitate me was its list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, published December 2011. I was obsessed with it. In college, I was able to take on the list in a philosophy paper, writing with the unearned confidence only an undergraduate philosophy minor possesses. Eddie Van Halen should be #2, not Eric Clapton! And wasn’t it a crime that Lindsey Buckingham was listed as #100 when Kurt Cobain was #75? And why was John Mayer, maligned as he is, not ranked on the list at all (though he was included in an insert titled “The Young Guns” [pg. 64])? I retrieved my copy of the magazine to double-check these numbers but, friends, I knew them all off the top of my head; that is how ingrained this list was in me. My professor was intrigued, playfully suggesting that Jerry Lee Lewis should be #1, balking at my love of Van Halen. I wanted to prove to him that hair metal was better than rockabilly, and that I would be the next Cameron Crowe.

However, I proved something much more important than any of those things to myself: that these rankings are bullshit, and nobody should listen to magazines. Any list that tells you what to listen to is selling you a lifestyle that isn’t actually linked to anything real or true or canonical.


Why did I decide to listen to the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, then? I don’t know. I can’t tell you. All I know is that it felt right, perhaps because of the odd musical rut I’ve found myself in lately. My Spotify 2020 Rewind consisted of Grimes, Ween, Frank Ocean, FKA Twigs, Guided By Voices, and quite literally no other artists. I don’t know what that says about me, but I do know that I’m ashamed of it. My mega-road trip felt like the perfect time to start expanding my own musical limits, even if my means of doing so was the dreaded Rolling Stone Magazine.

Feeling like a vagabond about to take on a dragon, I put together a spreadsheet, a Spotify playlist, and a cooler full of junk food. Then I set out for my trip.

This futile project has begun to completely dominate my thoughts. I have thought of nothing except for these albums. The people in my life are sick to death of me talking about Jay-Z and Stevie Wonder and Radiohead. However, if I don’t make sense of this incessant inner monologue, I’ll die.


So this is the coping mechanism I have devised: I will put all my thoughts about RS’s top 500 albums right here, until I am through with it or until I get bored. Then, hopefully, I will never have to listen to music again.

The purpose of these reviews is not to act as a musical authority or arbiter of taste. I am neither of these things. I once listened to Goldfinger’s cover of “99 Red Balloons” fifty consecutive times because I was convinced it was the only cure for my hangover. I have terrible taste.

No, I am simply sharing my journey from Fake Music Fan to Even Faker Music Fan.

One final note: I opted to listen to the albums from “best” to “worst” and started from #1 rather than #500. I wanted to hear the “best” stuff first, not last! If you dislike this choice, simply wait a year and a half for me to finish; then you can read the reviews in the correct order.


  1. What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye
  2. Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys
  3. Blue, Joni Mitchell
  4. Songs In The Key of Life, Stevie Wonder
  5. Abbey Road, The Beatles
  6. Nevermind, Nirvana
  7. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac
  8. Purple Rain, Prince & the Revolution
  9. Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan
  10. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Ms. Lauryn Hill
  11. Revolver, The Beatles
  12. Thriller, Michael Jackson
  13. I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, Aretha Franklin
  14. Exile on Main Street, The Rolling Stones
  15. It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Public Enemy
  16. London Calling, The Clash
  17. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West
  18. Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan
  19. To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
  20. Kid A, Radiohead
  21. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
  22. Ready To Die, The Notorious B.I.G.
  23. Velvet Underground & Nico, Velvet Underground & Nico
  24. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, The Beatles
  25. Tapestry, Carole King
  26. Horses, Patti Smith
  27. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Wu-Tang Clan
  28. Voodoo, D’Angelo
  29. The White Album, The Beatles
  30. Are You Experienced, Jimi Hendrix
  31. Kind of Blue, Miles Davis
  32. Lemonade, Beyonce
  33. Back to Black, Amy Winehouse
  34. Innervisions, Stevie Wonder
  35. Rubber Soul, The Beatles
  36. Off The Wall, Michael Jackson
  37. The Chronic, Dr. Dre
  38. Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan
  39. Remain In Light, Talking Heads
  40. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders From Mars, David Bowie
  41. Let It Bleed, The Rolling Stones
  42. OK Computer, Radiohead
  43. The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest
  44. Illmatic, Nas
  45. Sign O’ The Times, Prince
  46. Graceland, Paul Simon
  47. Ramones, Ramones
  48. Legend, Bob Marley & the Wailers
  49. Aquemini, Outkast
  50. The Blueprint, Jay-Z
  51. The Great Twenty-Eight, Chuck Berry
  52. Station to Station, David Bowie
  53. Electric Ladyland, Jimi Hendrix
  54. Star Time, James Brown
  55. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd
  56. Exile In Guyville, Liz Phair
  57. The Band, The Band
  58. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin
  59. Talking Book, Stevie Wonder
  60. Astral Weeks, Van Morrison
  61. Paid In Full, Eric B. & Rakim
  62. Appetite for Destruction, Guns N Roses
  63. Aja, Steely Dan
  64. Stankonia, Outkast
  65. Live At The Apollo, James Brown
  66. A Love Supreme, John Coltrane
  67. Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z
  68. Hounds of Love, Kate Bush
  69. Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette
  70. Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A.
  71. Exodus, Bob Marley & The Wailers
  72. Harvest, Neil Young
  73. Loveless, My Bloody Valentine
  74. The College Dropout, Kanye West
  75. Lady Soul, Aretha Franklin
  76. Super Fly, Curtis Mayfield
  77. Who’s Next, The Who
  78. The Sun Sessions, Elvis Presley
  79. Blonde, Frank Ocean
  80. Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, The Sex Pistols
  81. Beyonce, Beyonce
  82. There’s A Riot Goin’ On, Sly and the Family Stone
  83. Dusty in Memphis, Dusty Springfield
  84. Back In Black, AC/DC
  85. Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon
  86. The Doors, The Doors
  87. Bitches Brew, Miles Davis
  88. Hunky Dory, David Bowie
  89. Baduizm, Erykah Badu
  90. After the Gold Rush, Neil Young
  91. Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen
  92. Axis: Bold as Love, Jimi Hendrix
  93. Supa Dupa Fly, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott
  94. Fun House, The Stooges
  95. Take Care, Drake
  96. Automatic For The People, R.E.M.
  97. Master of Puppets, Metallica
  98. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Lucinda Williams
  99. Red, Taylor Swift
  100. Music From Big Pink, The Band
  101. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin
  102. The Clash, The Clash
  103. 3 Feet High and Rising, De La Soul
  104. Sticky Fingers, The Rolling Stones
  105. At Fillmore East, Allman Brothers Band
  106. Live Through This, Hole
  107. Marquee Moon, Television
  108. When The Pawn…, Fiona Apple
  109. Transformer, Lou Reed
  110. Court and Spark, Joni Mitchell
  111. Control, Janet Jackson
  112. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John
  113. The Queen Is Dead, The Smiths
  114. Is This It, The Strokes
  115. good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar
  116. Disintegration, The Cure
  117. Late Registration, Kanye West
  118. Hotel California, The Eagles
  119. Stand!, Sly & The Family Stone
  120. Moondance, Van Morrison
  121. This Year’s Model, Elvis Costello & The Attractions
  122. The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails
  123. Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin
  124. Achtung Baby, U2
  125. Paul’s Boutique, Beastie Boys
  126. My Life, Mary J. Blige
  127. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Ray Charles
  128. A Night At The Opera, Queen
  129. The Wall, Pink Floyd
  130. 1999, Prince
  131. Dummy, Portishead
  132. 40 Greatest Hits, Hank Williams
  133. Hejira, Joni Mitchell
  134. The Score, Fugees
  135. The Joshua Tree, U2
  136. Maggot Brain, Funkadelic
  137. 21, Adele
  138. The Immaculate Collection, Madonna
  139. Paranoid, Black Sabbath
  140. Catch a Fire, Bob Marley & the Wailers
  141. Doolittle, Pixies
  142. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen
  143. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground
  144. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin
  145. The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem
  146. Parallel Lines, Blondie
  147. Grace, Jeff Buckley
  148. channel ORANGE, Frank Ocean
  149. John Prine, John Prine
  150. Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen
  151. Faith, George Michael
  152. Pretenders, The Pretenders
  153. Rid Of Me, PJ Harvey
  154. Amazing Grace, Aretha Franklin
  155. The Black Album, Jay-Z
  156. Let It Be, The Replacements
  157. (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, Oasis
  158. Mama’s Gun, Erykah Badu
  159. Synchronicity, The Police
  160. Ten, Pearl Jam
  161. Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crosby, Stills & Nash
  162. Different Class, Pulp
  163. Saturday Night Fever, Various Artists
  164. At Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash
  165. Murmur, R.E.M.
  166. 20 Golden Greats, Buddy Holly
  167. Violator, Depeche Mode
  168. Can’t Buy A Thrill, Steely Dan
  169. The Stranger, Billy Joel
  170. Disraeli Gears, Cream
  171. Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth
  172. Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon & Garfunkel
  173. In Utero, Nirvana
  174. The Harder They Come, Jimmy Cliff & Various Artists
  175. DAMN., Kendrick Lamar
  176. Fear of a Black Planet, Public Enemy
  177. Every Picture Tells A Story, Rod Stewart
  178. Otis Blue, Otis Redding
  179. Life After Death, The Notorious B.I.G.
  180. Forever Changes, Love
  181. Bringing It All Back Home, Bob Dylan
  182. Sweet Baby James, James Taylor
  183. Brown Sugar, D’Angelo
  184. She’s So Unusual, Cyndi Lauper
  185. Beggar’s Banquet, The Rolling Stones
  186. Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Red Hot Chili Peppers
  187. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Ice Cube
  188. Electric Warrior, T. Rex
  189. Dig Me Out, Sleater-Kinney
  190. Tommy, The Who
  191. At Last!, Etta James
  192. Licensed To Ill, Beastie Boys
  193. Willy and the Poor Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival
  194. Bad, Michael Jackson
  195. Songs of Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen
  196. Body Talk, Robyn
  197. Meet the Beatles!, The Beatles
  198. The B-52s, The B-52s
  199. Slanted and Enchanted, Pavement
  200. Diamond Life, Sade
  201. Midnight Marauders, A Tribe Called Quest
  202. Homogenic, Bjork
  203. Pink Moon, Nick Drake
  204. Graduation, Kanye West

Writer, fake music fan.