Special Report

50 Greatest Pop Albums of All Time

With the development of a PVC-based material better known as vinyl came the long-playing record, or LP for short. Issued in both 10-inch and 12-inch formats, to be played at a speed of 33 1/3 turntable revolutions per minute (16 2/3 for spoken word records), the LP could hold much more music per side than pre-existing shellac records of the same diameters played at 78 rpm. This allowed for the release of albums on a single disc as opposed to heavy books – albums in the true sense – full of the aforementioned shellacs. So began the album era, which started in the late 1940s and steadily took off thereafter. 

Take classical music out of the equation and one might argue that artists such as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Miles Davis – the latter of whom released “Kind of Blue” in 1959 – fine-tuned the album concept by crafting LPs as collections of individual tracks but also as the sum of their parts. Then came rock acts like The Beatles and The Who, who took an increasingly calculated and thematic approach toward the album format as their sound and style evolved throughout the 1960s. (Those two groups are certainly among the most popular rock bands of all time.)

The notion of the studio itself being an instrument reached an early apex with 1967’s “Sgt.  Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” after which the music industry was never quite the same.  While not necessarily as unique as its reputation would suggest, it was this release that cemented the album as both a springboard for singles and a collective experience unto itself. By the 1970s, everyone from David Bowie to Marvin Gaye was taking a similar approach to their material, producing what became known as “concept records” – a trend that continues to this day. (These are the artists with the most hit albums.) 

To determine the 100 best albums of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on chart performance, record sales, and critical reception. Considering only albums ranked on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, published in September 2020, we developed an index based on three metrics: an album’s performance on the Billboard 200 album charts, giving one week at No.  200 one point, one week at No. 199 two points, and so on; the number of certified unit sales in the United States; and an album’s position on Rolling Stone’s greatest albums list. All data were given full weight in the index. (Data on Billboard 200 chart performance is from Billboard and is current as of May 2022.  Data on certified U.S. unit sales came from the Recording Industry Association of America and is also current as of May 2022.)   

Click here to see the 50 greatest pop albums of all time

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