Naming the best 500 albums of all time is bound to cause controversy. So it’s not surprising that Rolling Stone magazine’s latest attempt has raised some eyebrows.
The last time the chart was updated, in 2003, it looked very different. But while the latest version is still very American, it is much more diverse.
More than 300 industry figures sent their top 50 lists, including Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Gene Simmons of Kiss, and The Edge and Adam Clayton from U2.
Soul legend Marvin Gaye has knocked the Beatles off the top spot. There are five women in the top 30 as well as 13 black musicians.
1 Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
Gaye’s most political album was number six in 2003. Its new higher position marks the chart’s move away from guitar-based rock.
2 The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
The panel from 2003 and 2020 agree that these delicious harmonies are the second best album of all time.
3 Joni Mitchell – Blue
Made in 1971, Mitchell’s self-produced masterpiece wrote the blueprint for every soul-bearing singer-songwriter for the next 50 years.
4 Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
Another political disc, this features the autobiographical I Wish and a list of African American heroes in Black Man.
5 The Beatles – Abbey Road
White guitar music might be falling from grace but there’s always room for the Fab Four’s warmest and cuddliest album.
6 Nirvana – Nevermind
The game-changing album that defines grunge and contains the generation-defining anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit.
7 Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
The four-person band’s internal soap opera inspired the songs that make this the sixth best selling album of all time.
8 Prince and the Revolution – Purple Rain
The 2020 list gives Prince his rightful place as one of the most inventive, genre-crossing musicians in rock history.
9 Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks
This hard-edged break up album is the only survivor of three Dylan offerings in the 2003 top 20.
10 Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
In 2003, this was at 312. The former Fugees frontwoman now takes her rightful place in the top 10 and is the magazine’s best rap album ever.
Three Scottish bands make the cut. Belle & Sebastian’s 1996 chamber pop classic If You’re Feeling Sinister is at No481.
Rolling Stone describes it as “like a cup of tea brewed for you by a hopeless crush with a really good record collection”.
Primal Scream’s 1991 decade-defining classic Screamadelica is at No473 and the American magazine seems less than sure of it, saying: “Some of Screamadelica feels like meandering mood music but that’s proof that sometimes the journey is more fun than the destination.”
The highest placed Scots, at 245, are the Cocteau Twins.
The magazine’s description of them as “Scot goths” hits a bum note but it’s hard to argue that this is “their arrestingly beautiful pop peak”.
Scottish critics agree that these are strong, if predictable, choices.
Writer Stuart Smith said: “The US are crazy for Belle & Sebastian, they have a big cult following. If You’re Feeling Sinister is one of their best albums.
Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy
The 1985 debut from the East Kilbride-based Reid brothers has been influencing bedroom musicians for 45 years. Euan said: “A heady mix of noise punk and the Ronettes – it shouldn’t work but it does.”
Kathryn Joseph – Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled
Euan described Inverness-born Kathryn Joseph as “one of this generation’s best songwriters, one day she will be as revered here as Joni Mitchell in the US”. Was 2015 Scottish album of the year.
John Martyn – Solid Air
Stewart Smith was surprised the 1973 folk rock masterpiece was not on the Billboard list. “It came out of folk, it had a heavy jazz influence. You can hear everyone from Miles Davis to Herbie Hancock in there.” Eric Clapton went on to cover May You Never.
The Blue Nile – A Walk Across The Rooftops
For Stewart Smith, the Blue Nile’s first album was “the most interesting example of what came to be known as Caledonian Soul”. Despite having lots of fancy kit, their music was “lo-fi, they created their own sound world with spare synths and drum machines, with Paul Buchanan’s voice soaring over the top”.
Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque
Their US breakthrough and beat Nirvana’s Nevermind as Spin’s LP of 1991. Critics including Euan agree – this is the record where Teenage Fanclub’s effortless melodies and lyrical charm first had a chance to shine.
“Screamadelica is a classic crossover album, it introduced a lot of people to dance music while still having a rock element.
“The Cocteau Twins are another big cult band for US indie fans.
There is such a romantic myth around them, coming from Grangemouth, putting on their own gigs, creating their own world and their own sound.”
Music journalist Euan L Davidson added: “Heaven or Las Vegas, arguably their most coherent LP, is littered with classics.”