Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums – An “Appreciation”

Hey Pal!

Let me be perfectly clear. As you know, I love Rolling Stone magazine. It has been my musical bible ever since it taught my 15-year-old self that Springsteen and Midnight Oil were a better way to spend my time than Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot. I may never have discovered most of my favourite albums and artists if not for them (Here’s looking at you, Velvet Underground and Nico, Love’s Forever Changes and Joni Mitchell’s Blue).

But, as one of our biggest fans has pointed out, I prefer to criticize than praise, so without further adieu, I present:


Number four is the real number one!

Sgt. Peppers is a predictable and dull choice for the top spot. I know its release was a watershed moment in rock history, but for those of us who weren’t around to witness its impact, it doesn’t even sound like the best Beatles album. As for Pet Sounds at #2, I give up. I have tried and I have no idea why that album is such a big deal. Revolver at #3? No argument here – great album, right where it should be.

And then comes Highway 61 Revisitedway down at number four. How can that be? Dylan is the best, and this is the best Dylan. It opens with Like a Rolling Stone and closes with Desolation Row, with nothing but perfection in between. Sample lyric:

The geometry of innocent flesh on the bone
Causes Galileo’s math book to get thrown
At Delilah who’s sitting worthlessly alone
But the tears on her cheeks are from laughter.

I have no idea what that means – I just know it’s awesome. It’s Bob’s world; the rest of us are just trying to keep up. Number four?  As if. Number one, all the way, Baby!

BOB DYLAN       Beach Boys

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot way too low.

At #493, Wilco’s masterpiece barely makes the list. Are you kidding me? One reviewer aptly called it “OK Computer for the heartland.” It’s a moody, mesmerizing blend of rock, country and electronics that feels like it’s being transmitted from the distant past and the distant future. I don’t know how a band does that, but I do know that when life sucks and I’m not looking for anyone to cheer me up, I just need to go someplace faraway and strange and be reminded that pain can be beautiful too – this is the place. Top 50, easy.

Speaking of OK Computer

OK Computer too low.   

Before looking at the list I took it for granted that OK Computer or Kid A would be in the top 20. My personal choice is OK Computer. Turns out it’s only the third highest Radiohead album. Kid A is #67 and The Bends is #111. OK Computer doesn’t show up until #162. Arguably, they’re all too low, but OK is definitely too low.

Here’s what you do: throw on a pair of headphones, hit play on OK, lay back and close your eyes – then, when you return from your journey, tell me this isn’t one of the top tier accomplishments in rock. It’s the modern day Dark Side of the Moon. Our great grandkids are going to study it in music class. I should point out that #162 puts it precisely 10 spots behind the B52s’ debut album. “Rock Lobster” > “Paranoid Android”? Just wonderin’.

It includes Greatest Hits collections.

If you took the best nine innings in the history of the New York Yankees and spliced them together, could you call that the best game they every played? I don’t think so. Same goes for music. An album is a collection of songs that represents a moment in time for an artist. A gathering of singles spanning a career doesn’t count. That’s a playlist. So Madonna’s Like a Prayer (#239)? Fine. Immaculate Collection (#184)? No.

Note – this rule (my list, my rules!) does not apply to live albums. A kick-ass show or tour is a moment in time. So KISS Alive (#159) – rock on.


Not enough Neil Young.

OK, so the Beatles, Stones and Dylan all get 10 albums each – that’s cool, they are the crowned kings of rock. But if Springsteen gets eight and The Who get seven, Mr. Young deserves similar numbers. Five ain’t quite enough. On the Beach and Freedom ought to fill things out nicely.  

Wrong Stones album in the Top Ten.

Time has been kind to the reputation of Exile on Main St (#7). Too kind, if you ask me. This was not always considered the Stones’ best album – somehow that notion has crept into the collective consciousness in recent years. Upon its release, many critics panned it. Lenny Kaye wrote in Rolling Stone: “There are songs that are better, there are songs that are worse, and others you’ll probably lift the needle when the time is due.”

Forty years later, he’s still right (except the needle part). The album is fine, but it’s ragged and sloppy, and when it’s over, not a single song sticks with me. I think we can agree the Stones belong in the top ten, but give me Beggar’s Banquet, Let it Bleed or Sticky Fingers any day of the week.

I’ll say this about Exile, though – side two is awesome and so is the cover.

Wrong Steve Earle.

I should probably just be pleased that there’s even one Steve Earle album on the list (Guitar Town, #482), but Mr. Hard Core Troubadour has provided the soundtrack of my life and I ain’t satisfied with this choice. Guitar Town is just his debut – the man evolved! I’m glad he gets his one spot, but let’s use it properly: Copperhead Road, El Corazon, or Train a Comin’ – in that order. Guitar Town’s fourth.


In a related side note, I’m delighted Los Lobos got a spot, but How Will the Wolf Survive (#455) should have been Kiko.

They’re living in the past!

Did I mention I love Rolling Stone? I really do. But they favour the old guard just a little too much. You see it in their reviews. And you see it on this list. The top 50 has just one album newer than 1990 (Nirvana, Nevermind, #17), and only four from the 1980s (but one of those is Bob Marley’s Legend and, like I said, Greatest Hits don’t count). Everything else is older. In fact, the whole list is old, old, old. I’m pretty old, so it’s mostly what I listen to too. But you can’t tell me there haven’t been more masterpieces in the last 20 years. Do the list again in 50 years and we’ll see where Radiohead, Wilco, LCD Soundsytem, Bjork and PJ Harvey shake out. Even better, why wait to give them their due?


Dookie higher than American Idiot.

I have two wishes for Green Day. The first is that we all come to our senses and realize that American Idiot (#225) is the band’s crowning achievement, not Dookie (#193). Dookie is three punks farting around. American Idiot is the punks GROWN UP – angry, rocking and politically-charged. It’s a sophisticated concept album – a rarity now – and it makes Dookie look like child’s play.

My second wish for Green Day is that they one day take a picture where they don’t look like total jackasses.

Automatic for the People too low.

REM’s somber masterpiece clocks in at a respectable #249 so you might wonder what I’m complaining about. I’m not saying this one’s personal, but I think the voters just didn’t have enough information. For instance, they probably didn’t know that “Everybody Hurts” got my wife and me through some lonely nights when we were first together and going to school in separate cities. And I doubt they were aware that “Nightswimming” was our wedding song. And they probably weren’t at Toronto’s Molson Ampitheatre on June 13, 1995 when REM put on a show so cosmically perfect that a huge full moon actually glowed above the stage during “Man on the Moon”.

No, I’m not saying this one’s personal at all. I’m just wondering how anyone with a heart could float along from the opening notes of “Drive” through to the final strains of transcendent closer “Find the River” and not call it best album ever.

Well, right after Highway 61 Revisited, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and OK Computer of course. That goes without saying.

OK, Pal, over to you. Feel free to give me your take on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums sometime. There is at least one big juicy oversight I let slide because I know you feel even stronger about it than I do. 


6 responses to “Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums – An “Appreciation”

  1. And not a single Bon jovi album? For shame.

  2. I can’t believe that Midnight Oil’s “10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1” or Hunters & Collectors “Human Frailty” were not included. And no I’m not from Oz, I’m Canadian. 🙂

  3. As an opinionated lover of music, I took issue with many things on this list… Two of my main complaints involved the greatest hits thing and “OK Computer”, which any sane person should place in top 20. But my biggest issue, which invalidated the whole list for me, was already mentioned in the first comment….. NO BON JOVI? “SLIPPERY WHEN WET” NOT IN THE TOP FIVE HUNDRED?

    …Rolling Stone, your argument is invalid.

  4. The list has been endless criticised in far more radical ways than seen here.

    Many writers have said that those 1990s and 2000s bands included are of little long-term significance because they were not original, and it’s hard to see much of note in Radiohead, Beck, Pavement or a lot of Sonic Youth. Those artists who did stay cutting-edge and sell records at the same time preached a message too radical for a 1960s hippie – consider that there’s no Ministry, no Pantera, no Slayer and no ‘Korn’ (let alone more underground metal bands like Meshuggah) despite their major influence of Millennial and Generation X culture. Coverage of rap is patchy if not as bad as metal, and most other “alternative” selections from the 1990s and 2000s are not clearly the best. No Joanna Newsom for one, none of the post-rock bands like Slint, Godspeed You Black Emperor, latter Talk Talk or others.

    There are problems too with earlier artists. The German “Krautrock” bands and the artists on Ivor watts-russell’s 4AD label produced some of the most original music of any era, yet only the Pixies is included among this diverse group – no Can, no Faust, no Neu!, no Tangerine Dream, no Cocteau Twins, no Dead Can Dance, no His Name Is Alive.

  5. Julien, thanks for your comment. It’s a great reminder that the ocean of good music is so vast and deep it’s pretty much a futile exercise to try to encapsulate it in a list. I can’t say I’m on board with your dismissal of Radiohead, but I appreciate the reminder that I need to spend more time with Godspeed You Black Emperor.
    As for Rolling Stone’s list, I’m afraid a guy with your eclectic tastes was bound to be disappointed. It’s a classic rock magazine all the way, so Krautrock and the Cocteau Twins never had a chance. Have you seen NME’s list? I’m sure you’ll find plenty of oversights there too, but all in all I assume it’s more to your tastes. I’m more of a Rolling Stone guy, but I do admire NME’s refusal to accept conventional wisdom:

  6. I should also say thanks to #1 Fan, Terry and Slanty for your comments too. I propose a cage match between you three and Julien to decide if the list should include Bob Jovi and more Midnight Oil, or Pantera and Dead Can Dance. There isn’t room for everything, people — unless of course Rolling Stone listens to us and boots the Greatest Hits albums from the list!

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