Special Report

The 50 Greatest Albums by Women

With the rise of the streaming era, many in the music industry have referred to the “death of the album.” It may be true that we are living in a post-album era, when people are more likely to stream individual songs or custom playlists than to sit through 50 straight minutes of a single LP. However, the album format has an undeniably long and important heritage in American pop music.

In September 2020, Rolling Stone put together an updated list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, ranking two albums by female artists – Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” and Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” – in the top 10. To highlight these women and the many others who have contributed outstanding albums to the treasury of popular music, 24/7 Tempo extrapolated the albums by solo female solo musicians or bands composed entirely of women on the Rolling Stone list, then ranked them according to an index we developed 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. Billboard performance is current through the week of August 20, 2022.

Click here to see the 50 greatest albums by female musicians

The albums that made our top 50 list represent every decade from the 1960s to the 2010s – from Etta James’s “At Last” from 1960 to Billie Eilish’s “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” from 2019. Many musicians have two albums on the list, including Taylor Swift, Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Sade, Janet Jackson, Erykah Badu, Joni Mitchell, and Fiona Apple. A few musicians with best-selling albums, on the other hand, didn’t make our top 50, including Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, and Britney Spears. (These are the women who have won the most Grammys of all time.)

The “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin, has 3 albums on the list – more than any other female artist aside from Beyoncé, who has two solo albums in the top 10, and also performed on the Destiny’s Child album “The Writing’s on the Wall,” which reached no. 29. (Beyoncé is one of many solo artists who were more successful than their bands.)

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