What makes an album great? An album is a collection of an artist’s songs, sure, but the best ones are so much more than that. A select few albums have firmly established themselves as cultural touchstones, and we couldn’t imagine our lives without them. 24/7 Tempo has assembled a ranking of the 100 best examples ever released.
For many artists, an album is the highest expression of their art. It’s a glimpse into their state of mind and the stage of their musical development. Playing an album from start to finish takes listeners on a sonic journey. (You might be surprised at some of the artists with the most hit albums.)
The first record albums were book-like folders containing numerous 78 rpm discs in individual sleeves. The first 12-inch long-playing vinyl disc was released in 1948 — a recording of Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E Minor — but the LP really caught on in the latter 1950s and early ‘60s. Since that time, albums in various formats have filled the world with unforgettable music — from the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” (1965) to Taylor Swift’s “Folklore,” last year’s best-seller. (Click here to see the most popular album every year since 1960.)
The era of the album might be coming to an end, however. In this singles-heavy, streaming world, album sales are in decline. According to Billboard, the most recent year that they posted an increase in sales was 2011. In 2020, overall album sales across all formats were down by 9.2%.
But there’s still a place for albums. Listening to a favorite song is one thing, but taking the time to take in a complete album from start to finish with no interruption offers a totally different experience. Read on to learn about the 100 best albums of all time. If you haven’t sat down and listened to at least some of them in their entirety, you’re missing a real musical treat.
To determine the 100 best albums of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the rankings in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, published in September 2020. Considering only those albums, we developed an index based on Billboard chart performance and certified U.S. unit sales. An inverted ranking of an album’s performance on the Billboard 200 album charts — wherein a week at position No. 200 is worth one point, a week at position No. 199 two points, and so on, up to a week at position No. 1 worth 200 points — was included in the index and given full weight. Certified U.S. unit sales in the United States came from the Recording Industry Association of America and were also given full weight.