100 Most Influential Albums of All Time
A quick google search of “100 Essential Vinyl Records” will land you in a sea of obvious, overplayed, or flat-out uninspired selections. There is more to music than just the most popular hits. There are groundbreaking albums that inspired social movements, albums that changed the sound of their decade, and albums that simply make you want to boogie at any given moment.
Our team at Victrola believes each of these albums should be celebrated, so we’ve put together a list of the top 100 greatest albums that changed music history, most of which can be found in our record store. Read on for a complete crash course in the albums that changed everything, starting with classic albums from the 1930s through today.
Robert Johnson is the master of the Delta blues, an offshoot of the general blues genre, originating from the Mississippi Delta and known for its heavy use of guitar and harmonica instrumentation. Legend has it Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical ability at the infamous crossroads. While the folklore adds intrigue to the artist, it’s the music that scored this album a spot on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2020.
Muddy Waters took the Delta Blues and electrified it, helping to create a new form of the genre called Chicago Blues. It was a more urban-inspired, amplified style. His use of a stop-time musical arrangement and reference to hoodoo folk magic makes this one of Waters’ most recognizable and coveted work. The two-LP, 28-track album was one of his first records with a full backing band and is a classic addition to any blues vinyl collection.
The Oscar-nominated film, "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom," about the life and songs of blues legend Ma Rainey was released in 2020 with Viola Davis taking the lead as the “Mother of the Blues” herself. Ma Rainey put forward an emotional, powerful presence on every recording, connecting vaudeville expressions with the sounds of Southern-style blues. This official soundtrack features score music by critically-acclaimed saxophonist and composer Branford Marsalis as well as newly recorded covers of both popular Ma Rainey tracks and blues and jazz standards from the era.
B.B. King was an innovative guitarist who was one of the most influential musicians of the century. He helped to bridge the gap between blues and pop with his "singing" soloing style. He rose to fame in the mid-1950s. Nearly all his album singles reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s Race/R&B singles charts and critics and fans alike consider Singin’ the Blues one of the top albums of all time. When it comes to naming the all-time greatest blues musicians, B.B. King usually takes place near the top of the list.
#5 Louis Armstrong- Satchmo at Pasadena
As one of the early masters of jazz, Louis Armstrong helped to popularize the genre with his exquisite trumpet playing and distinctive voice. His live album recorded at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in 1951 gives fans young and old a taste of what it was like to see Satchmo in person. He’s known as one of the most influential jazz figures of all time with a career spanning five decades, making this album a must-have for any jazz vinyl collector.
#6 Duke Ellington- The Carnegie Hall Concerts: January 1943
Duke Ellington, a contemporary of Armstrong, wrote many of the jazz standards that defined the genre and made it into what it is today. A world-renowned pianist and composer, he performed and recorded an album at New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall in 1943. It’s the only full-length version recorded by his orchestra. The Carnegie Hall Concerts: January 1943 includes 25 memorable tracks and is considered one of the most influential albums of all time.
A master guitarist in the Gypsy jazz genre, Jean “Django” Reinhardt is known as being one of the first major jazz artists to hit the scene in Europe in the 1930s. He started from humble beginnings, experimenting on the guitar and becoming familiar with the sounds of American Jazz. Later, he went on to tour with Duke Ellington’s orchestra in 1946. The Best of compilation album features 20 of the artist’s best-known tracks to the delight of his fans and those exploring different areas of this broad music genre.
#8 Benny Goodman- The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert
Benny Goodman made jazz the popular form of music in the U.S. His Famous 1983 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert has been described as the most important jazz event in history, showcasing his mix of swing and jazz in 1938. It was among the first jazz albums to sell over a million copies. In its original format, the concert record was sold in a set of nine 45 rpm records and has since been reissued as a collector’s item perfectly suited for any vinyl record lover.
Woody Guthrie was a political force who captured the spirit of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl era. His music was the foundation of the folk movement of the 1960s. His Ultimate Collection holds a spot as one of the most influential albums of all time and is revered across generations. With an impressive 50 tracks, including the instant classic, “This Land Is Your Land,” Guthrie’s Ultimate Collection preserves an important time in history with music.
An undersung influential artist who was a progenitor of rock music, Sister Rosetta Tharpe rose to popularity in the 1930s and 1940s and was best known for infusing gospel influences into her electric guitar riffs. She was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and her Live in 1960 album is a true testament to the heart and soul of one of music’s greats.
Hank Williams was an extremely influential country artist who rose to fame in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His 40 Greatest Hits album has been ranked on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and is the best-selling record of his career. The album was released in 1978, 24 years after his death, and was greatly appreciated by fans for its deeper song selection and rich, pure sound.
Billie Holiday was an incredibly talented singer who was also a leader in the Civil Rights movement. She used music as a way to connect and share her messages with audiences across the nation. With an iconic voice and reputation to match, Holiday is one of the most prolific American jazz musicians of our time. Lady Sings the Blues was produced from sessions taped between 1954 and 1956 and still holds strong as one top 100 albums of all time.
An influential album that began to bridge the gap between swing and bebop, Basie in London was actually recorded with his orchestra in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1956. Basie was an American jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer who formed the Count Basie Orchestra in 1935. As a leader of the group for nearly 50 years, he innovated their sound throughout the decades with big band influences mixed with modern arrangements.
Parker’s Jazz at Massey Hall has been dubbed one of the greatest live performances of all time. Parker was a virtuosic jazz saxophonist who appeared at Massey Hall in Toronto with “The Quintet” for this special performance. He joined the likes of other jazz greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach for the only time the five musicians recorded together as a group. This album speaks for itself and goes down as one the most influential albums of all time.
Monk had an unorthodox style and was a larger-than-life presence in jazz. Thelonius Himself is an album that features him almost exclusively solo on the piano. He’s been revered by other artists for his ability to improv and he will always be remembered as one of music’s all-time greats.
This jazz trumpeter was also known for his improv skills and his distinctive, puffed-up cheeks when he played. A little bit goofy, a little bit scattered, Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac shows off all sides of Dizzy Gillespie’s legendary talent across five tracks. It’s a collector’s item for any vinyl lover, jazz aficionado or not.
John Coltrane is one of America’s premier jazz saxophonists who recorded this album following the modal jazz genre, which has an avant-garde style fans appreciate. A Love Supreme molded bebop with meticulous composition. It is a true masterpiece of an album. The emotional drama and the spiritual influences of the album make this a treasure in the catalog of works throughout this era in music.
A favorite among music fans young and old, Frank Sinatra used his voice as an instrument. He is one of the most influential artists of the century. In the Wee Small Hours is his ninth studio album and showcases a conceptual melancholy appeal and was issued on two 10-inch LP discs. It reached number two on the Billboard chart and became Sinatra’s best-performing album since Songs by Sinatra in 1947. It’s been listed several times on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and continues to be a fan favorite.
Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is a truly perfect album, the seminal jazz masterpiece. Easily regarded as one of the most influential albums of all time, no one can deny the impact the effect Davis had on the jazz genre. His influence on music through his instrumentation has landed him on many prolific lists, including being added to the National Recording Registry. Kind of Blue is one of those iconic albums everyone owns and enjoys.
#20 Ray Charles- Ray Charles
Ray Charles is a pioneer of soul music and has been tremendously influential in a variety of genres. His namesake album was his first release on LP debuting in 1957 and re-released under a different name - Hallelujah I Love Her So - in 1962. All but one of the songs was written by Ray Charles himself, solidifying his stance as one of the top talents of our time.
#21 Chet Atkins- Finger-Style Guitar
This virtuosic country music guitarist helped create the "Nashville sound." His sixth studio album was released in 1956 and had Chet singing solo on side two. The album was later re-released in 2006 with 10 additional tracks. He’s been ranked one of the greatest guitarists of all time and received numerous awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, throughout his career.
Considered the father of Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry molded R&B into what we now consider rock and roll. On his debut album, After School Session, the tracks were compiled from Berry’s first five recording sessions to be released in May 1957. A pioneer of the era, his music will go down in history as some of the greatest there ever was.
Arguably the biggest musical presence of the 20th century, Elvis popularized rock and roll and was an incredible showman. He is one of the most influential artists releasing many of the top albums of all time, including his self-titled record as well as Elvis’ Golden Records and How Great Thou Art. Gospel, soul, and of course, rock and roll - Elvis could do it all.
Ray Charles combined soul with country and broke racial barriers with this album. It was a massive success and is considered one of the greatest of all time. Known primarily for his R&B music, he crossed over into the country/folk space with four hit singles from the album. And both Rolling Stone Magazine and Time magazine have credited Modern Sounds in Country and Western one of the greatest albums of all time.
The Godfather of Soul. Live at the Apollo is James Brown at his best and most energetic. It’s an iconic album performed at an iconic venue. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 and earned a spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003.
A best-of list doesn’t work without the Queen of Soul. Aretha Franklin delivered extreme power in her voice and is one of the most celebrated artists in American music. Her second album, Electrifying Aretha Franklin, may not have the hits she’s most known for, but it represents the beginning stages of her stardom, a true music gem for any vinyl record collector.
The Beatles are the biggest and arguably most influential rock band in the world, pre-psychedelic transition. For their third studio album, they released songs from their soundtrack of the same name with hits including “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” both of which went on to become major number one records for the band.
Bob Dylan’s title track of his seminal folk album of the 1960s captures the spirit of the politics of the era. It was the first of his albums to feature only original compositions made up mostly of ballads covering issues of poverty, racism, and social change. As one of the most influential albums of all time, it preserves an important time in American history through music.
#29 Buddy Rich- The Best of Buddy Rich
Considered the greatest drummer of all time, this greatest hits album includes a number of his hits and shows off his mastery of the drums. Buddy Rich was known for his power, speed, and technique on the drums. And what makes him such a highly regarded artist is he never learned to read sheet music but rather listened and played drum parts from memory.
Simon and Garfunkel’s third studio recording was considered perfect for the time, known for its phenomenal production value. Continuing with their folk rock sound, it debuted some of the best received songs of their career, “Homeward Bound” and “Scarborough Fair.”
#31 The Kinks- Kinks
The Kinks represented a grittier side to the British invasion and was one of the first groups to incorporate distorted guitars. Their self-titled debut has been re-released several times and has been credited as one of their most successful rock and roll albums ever recorded.
#32 The Supremes- Where Did Our Love Go?
The Supremes are one of the most influential all-female groups that began the career of Diana Ross. For their second album, they reached number one on Billboard Pop Singles with “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” and the album’s title track. Their album shot them to superstardom as one of the well-known artists from the decade.
Glen Campbell was an extremely talented musician who began to cross over from his country roots and into popular music in the late 1960s. He went on to win two Grammy Awards for Gentle on My Mind as well as have his album inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Nina Simone was a jazz singer and champion of the Civil Rights movement, using her voice to make powerful statements. Her live recordings marked her entry into including civil rights messages in her music with political songs like “Mississippi Goddamn.” A pioneer of her time, her work is considered one of the top albums of all time.
The Beach Boys massively advanced the field of music production. Brian Wilson used an extreme variety of instruments in the album, and it was the most expensive album ever produced at the time. Iconic in nature, straying from their typical pop-friendly, surf sound, Pet Sounds continues to top the list as one of the 100 most influential albums of all time.
The live album recorded at Folsom Prison features most of Johnny Cash's hits and is considered one of his greatest performances. A rebel on the music scene with a dark public and private persona, Cash added deep emotion to his well-recognized gravelly vocals, giving an edge to country music, which appealed to audiences across all genres.
The Beatles is a band that speaks for itself. However, they fully embraced the psychedelic movement with this album, and it marked an extreme departure from their earlier music. It was released in 1967 and spent 15 weeks at number one Billboard Top LPs. It eventually went on to win four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, and continues its reign in the list of top 100 albums of all time.
The Beggars Banquet album cemented the Stones' signature sound and featured experimentation with new timbres. It’s been certified platinum in the U.S. and was in the top ten of both U.S. and U.K. markets. It also found a spot on several greatest albums of all time and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
Cream embodied the pinnacle of psychedelia music. This album molded together blues, rock, and free jazz. The 11-track album has been remastered and re-released to critical acclaim. Representative of the time, Disraeli Gears is still revered as one of the top albums of all time.
Hailed as one of the all-time most innovative guitarists, this album is Jimi's debut and showcased his jazz and blues-influenced guitar playing. He fused together the psychedelic and hard rock sounds of the era and solidified his stance as one of music's greats. It’s been listed on several top albums lists and continues to be applauded today.
Released after her death, Janis Joplin’s Pearl album was a huge success and featured Joplin's soulful, gritty voice. It hit number one on the Billboard 200 chart and stayed at the top for nine consecutive weeks. All tracks on the record were approved and arranged by Joplin and features one of her most well-known songs, “Me and Bobby McGee.”
English rock band Led Zeppelin ushered in hard rock with their self-titled debut. Their self-titled album featured heavy distortion, acrobatic vocals, and blisteringly fast guitar solos. They achieved critical acclaim and a massive fan following throughout their career making them one of the best-selling artists of all time.
Miles Davis was an extreme innovator and combined jazz and rock into a new genre, jazz fusion. Bitches Brew is a double album and was released in 1970 with a focus on his innovation with electric instruments. Though it had a slow start, fans of Davis consider this one of the greatest jazz albums of all time and a huge influence on crossover musicians that followed.
What's Going On is a concept album that explores political and social upheaval in a rapidly changing landscape. It’s often been cited as the greatest of the 20th century, which Marvin Gaye released on Motown Records subsidiary label. It was Gaye’s first time to hold a producer title on an album, which paid off, as the album is hands-down one of the most influential albums of all time.
#45 Sly and the Family Stone- Stand!
The band’s fourth album combined soul with psychedelia to pioneer the funk genre. Sly and the Family Stone achieved certified gold status with this record and reached the Billboard charts top 20. As a cultural powerhouses of the time, it’s no wonder Stand! is considered one of the band’s greatest achievements.
Cited as one of the greatest albums of all time, Blue features brilliant compositions with Mitchell's soft, gentle voice guiding them. She recorded it following relationships with fellow artists, Graham Nash and James Taylor, and her pain is felt through the lyrics. Highly revered by both music critics and fans of the singer-songwriter, the emotion of Joni Mitchell’s classic album speaks to fans from all generations.
Joan Baez was a huge presence in the 1960’s folk scene and a symbol of the counterculture movement. Her debut album was recorded and released in the same year and was later reissued with three bonus tracks. It’s a fixture on several ‘best of’ lists and solidifies her position as one of the greatest artists of all time.
Frank Zappa was an eclectic musician who was one of the original progressive rock artists. This album is a progressive rock and jazz masterpiece that features his masterful guitar playing prominently. Influenced by jazz compositions, the majority of the album is instrumental and was the first album Zappa recorded on a 16-track equipment. As a result, he has been deemed one of the best artists to emerge from the progressive rock genre.
Black Sabbath built on Led Zeppelin's earlier release and went heavier and darker to create what we now know as heavy metal. Though the band went through different lineups and took time to be accepted by the mainstream, they’re considered pioneers in their genre and have numerous awards and accolades for their achievements.
#50 The Who- Tommy
A massive production, Tommy was one of the first rock operas and established The Who as a massive presence. Composed by guitarist Pete Townshend, it went on to become one of the most influential albums of all time and led to an extensive tour and other media to celebrate its success. Since its debut in 1969, it has been reissued several times, most recently in 2013, when the album included previously unreleased demos and material.
Bill Withers' debut album was a retrospective about his life and the songs he wanted to sing. He had complete creative control, a rarity for a young, black, emerging artist. Just As I Am Features his memorable hit single, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and has been ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone.
Maggot Brain is a psychedelic funk masterpiece. Funkadelic bandleader George Clinton was a perfectionist and featured heavy use of studio effects. This third studio album turned out to be the last one recorded by the original band lineup and is best known for its extensive, 10-minute title track. For fans of the progressive soul and psychedelic funk era, this is one of the greatest.
Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is a masterpiece album from one of the most popular artists of the 20th century. It was first released as a double LP in 1973 and has gone on to sell more than 30 million copies around the world. With an impressive 17 tracks, it features several number one hit singles and has been ranked on lists for top 100 albums of all time.
Dolly Parton is one of the most successful and influential country artists of all time. Period. Coat of Many Colors started out with a song she wrote on the back of a dry cleaning receipt about her mother. The album famously went on to soundtrack a TV movie of the same name and has become one of her most beloved albums.
David Bowie was an eclectic musician who put artistry first and foremost and pioneered the glam rock genre. His fifth studio album featured his alter ego Ziggy Stardust for a concept album/rock drama which he recorded almost back-to-back with his Hunky Dory album. Stardust is a cult classic and has been revered as one of the artist’s greatest works of all time.
Bob Marley is an extremely influential musician who popularized reggae and made it mainstream. Catch a Fire was released in 1973 with his group the Wailers and was a favorite among critics. His tour for the album propelled his popularity in the U.S. and has been deemed one of the best reggae albums ever since.
Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is one of the best-selling albums of all time that helped make progressive rock mainstream. The iconic prism spectrum cover art for the concept album represents the themes of the song for an album that has become one of the most critically acclaimed records in history. Its cultural impact worldwide made this one of the most influential albums of all time.
Freddie Mercury was one of the greatest vocal talents of the century, and this album was what vaulted Queen into stardom. A Night at the Opera became the band's first U.S. platinum-certified album and has been praised for its production value and musical diversity. It received multiple Grammys and still ranks on Rolling Stone’s list as one of the greatest albums of all times.
Weather Report was a group of highly skilled jazz musicians, and this is their most popular release to feature bassist Jaco Pastorius, who revolutionized the bass guitar. The original LP format debuted in 1977 and the opening instrumental track was welcomed with commercial success. It’s ranked on both the U.S. Top Jazz Albums and U.S. Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.
#60 Steely Dan- Aja
Steely Dan was the height of musicianship. They played prog rock with a jazzy flair, and their albums were spectacularly recorded. Aja was recorded with nearly 40 musicians and won the Grammy for Best Engineered Recording - Non-Classical in 1978. For audiophiles and vinyl collectors alike, this record is treasured for its high production value and is one of the greatest the band ever released.
Stevie Wonder brought pop to soul and created one of the greatest albums of a generation. With 17 studio albums already under his belt, he debuted his double album, Songs in the Key of Life, in 1976, which won a Grammy for Album of the Year. It is his most critically acclaimed and best-selling album ever recorded and has long been known as one of the most influential albums of all time.
Hotel California is one of the best-selling albums of all time, with the Eagles dominating the 1970s. This album is often referred to as their magnum opus. It’s been U.S. certified 26x Platinum and earned the rock band two Grammy Awards. It’s been listed in the top 100 albums of all time, and the title track continues to be one of the most played and recognized songs to this day.
Rumours is the best-selling album of the decade, beating out Hotel California for Album of the Year at the Grammys. This album is still ridiculously popular and contains hit song after hit song. In 2020, it broke the top 10 of Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, settling in at number seven. It’s received both critical and commercial success and still holds relevance among today’s new generation of listeners.
The Ramones were the face of New York punk, often cited as the first punk rock band. For their debut studio album, they recorded it in seven days and paid $125 for their now famed cover art. The album opens with the band’s widely recognized hit single, “Blitzkrieg Bop,” and earned a top spot on Spin magazine’s list of 50 Most Essential Punk Records.
Still the best-selling album of all time, Michael Jackson was the King of Pop. Every song on the Thriller album is memorable and marked Jackson's complete transition from child star to pop superstar. It became Jackson’s first number one album on the Billboard charts and produced seven hit singles. It’s won nearly every musical award possible and continues to be a fan favorite nearly 40 years later.
The Clash were known for their "intellectual punk" lyrics and music that incorporated politics and social upheaval in its subject matter. London Calling is the band’s third studio album and was released as a double album first in the U.K. in 1979 and then in the U.S. in 1980 with success in both markets. The album reflects the band's diverse style of incorporating punk, reggae, ska, and jazz, and has been called one of music’s greatest achievements.
Arguably the greatest of the New Wave genre, frontman David Byrne's musical genius was on full display with this great album. Speaking in Tongues is the fifth studio album and became the band’s commercial breakthrough landing their U.S. top-ten hit, “Burning Down the House.” It received praise for its crossover from pop to deep funk and has been slated as one of the best albums of the decade.
Prince was a musical genius. This 1987 release represented a slight departure from the pop influence of his earlier work and was an eclectic mix of rock, funk, and R&B. His double album, Sign o’ the Time, resulted in several singles and eventually became a concert film of the same name. Known for its artistry, Prince’s ninth studio album has been ranked one of the best in his catalog of work and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2017.
Tina Turner was known as the Queen of Rock and Roll. Private Dancer was her comeback after divorcing her abusive husband and a departure from her R&B-inspired sound. The album resulted in seven singles and is her best-selling album in North America, propelling her to commercial success worldwide. Toeing the line between pop and soul with her raw emotion and onstage energy, Tina Turner is a mainstay of pop music culture.
A massive seller, Bruce Springsteen brought Americana into the mainstream and sang about the trials of the working class. Recorded with his E Street Band, Born in the U.S.A. produced seven top-10 singles, including the album’s title track and “Glory Days.” It’s one of the best-selling records of all time and received critical acclaim across the board.
#71 Run-DMC- Run-DMC
The first Gold hip-hop record, Run-DMC was massively influential on the then-burgeoning genre. Their cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” charted higher than its original version and became one of the best known songs across both hip hop and rock genres. They’ve been named the greatest hip-hop group by several outlets and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.
Straight Outta Compton was a heavier, rougher album than the hip-hop releases that preceded it. It helped to create the gangsta rap genre and was a visceral look at subjects like police brutality. NWA is considered one of the most influential groups in hip hop history, and this album solidifies their presence in the genre as one of the greatest of all time. By 1989, it had sold one million copies and received the first platinum certification for the gangsta rap genre. In 2016, it also became the first rap album to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Like a Virgin was one of the first albums to utilize digital recording; Madonna owned the '80s, and this album was a massive controversy, juxtaposing religion and sex in its marketing material. It produced her first number-one hit, “Like A Virgin,” and went on to achieve critical and commercial success. At the time of its release, her second album sold 12 million copies worldwide and continues to be treasured among fans today.
U2 came out of the Troubles in Ireland, and their music was extremely political. They carried that over to the American landscape with their Joshua Tree album, which received critical acclaim and worldwide commercial success. It was the fast-selling record in British history and produced some of the band’s most well-known singles. It’s a frequent presence on the greatest albums of all time, has been remastered and re-released, as well as preserved in the U.S. National Recording Registry.
Metallica was the biggest band in '80 thrash metal, designed to be a heavier, faster alternative to their glam band contemporaries. Master of Puppets was certified six times platinum in 2003 and became the first metal recording to be preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Recording Registry. As a leader in their genre, Metallica’s album is still known as one of the greatest thrash metal works of all time.
Grunge came about as a desire to shirk the glitz and glam of the '80s, and Nirvana was the poster child for the genre. Their gritty, bare-bones style defined the '90s. Nirvana’s Nevermind and its iconic cover art was the band’s second studio album and reached number one on the U.S. Billboard 100. It’s been certified Diamond and is one of the best-selling, most influential albums of all time, which helped define an important era in music history.
#77 Nas- Illmatic
Nas' masterpiece reignited the hip-hop scene in New York and remains one of the greatest rap albums ever released. A favorite among critics, Illmatic is a focal point of East Coast hip hop and has been attributed to influencing other artists in the genre. The album has appeared on a number of best album lists and is still revered by fans today.
Tupac was the pinnacle of West Coast rap. This album also received contributions from virtually every prominent California rapper. All Eyez on Me was the last album to be released during his lifetime and featured several guest appearances from other artists. It produced two number-one hit singles and was the first double full-length hip-hop solo studio album. Still revered as one of the best rap albums of all time, Tupac received numerous awards posthumously for his achievements.
A definitive alt-rock outfit, Weezer was an unassuming group that challenged the rock lifestyle, and Blue set the tone. They have secured popularity over the decade, largely thanks to their hit singles from the album - “Undone - The Sweater Song,” “Buddy Holly,” and “Say It Ain’t So,” which helped to shape the music of the ‘90s. Their debut is still their best-selling album and has received critical acclaim, landing a spot on Rolling Stone’s 2020 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Ready to Die is a semi-autobiographical album that details Biggie's life and experiences. It is considered one of the seminal albums of New York's rap scene. His debut generated three successful singles and landed him on several of Billboard’s top-selling charts. It was nominated for a Grammy Award and was certified 6x Platinum. For critics and fans alike, it is still deemed one of the top albums of all time.
Lauryn Hill's debut solo album made her the first woman to earn 10 Grammy nominations (winning 5) in one night. It is the essential 1990’s soul album and is considered one of the best of the decade. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill broke a record for first-week sales by a female artist and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. It has sold over 20 million copies worldwide, garnering numerous honors and accolades, and is one of the best-selling albums of all time.
This album is unique for its production, in which D'Angelo used both vintage analog equipment and modern electronic recording devices. The result is an album that celebrates music in a time when overproduced R&B albums were prominent. Brown Sugar received four Grammy nominations and brought neo-soul into the spotlight. It generated four singles, including the gold-certified Billboard Hot 100 hit, “Lady.”
A double album that essentially functions as dual solo albums. Big Boi's Speakerboxxx is a gritty Southern Rap record with a more traditional feel. Andre 3000's The Love Below features little rapping, but is instead an avant-garde blend of jazz, funk, and R&B. It was beloved by music critics and praised for its eclectic music style. It won Album of the Year and Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards and debuted at number one in 2003.
#84 Radiohead- Kid A
An early electronic-influenced album, Kid A represents Radiohead at its most eclectic. The recording process incorporated samples, synths, and modulation, and no singles or videos were released. It was the alt-rock band’s first number one album in the U.S. and won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album. Gaining popularity and steam over the years after its release, it eventually won over audiences and has been ranked number 20 on Rolling Stone’s 2020 list for 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
#85 Beck- Sea Change
Beck seemingly switches up genres with every release, but this is him at his most raw. Sea Change is a picture of modern folk and features heavy use of sampling from his earlier releases. The album was certified Gold in 2005 and was touted as one of the best albums of the 2000s. It’s one of his best-reviewed projects and received a five-star review Rolling Stone critic David Fricke, who called it “the best album Beck ever made.”
Jay-Z's "farewell" album is often cited as his masterpiece. Though The Black Album was supposed to be his final recording before retiring, he did resume his career three years later in 2006. It received massive commercial success, debuting number one the U.S. Billboard 200, and two top-ten hits, “Change Clothes,” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” A classic in the world of rap, Jay-Z’s album has secured its place on multiple top album lists.
A punk-rock opera, American Idiot, focuses primarily on the backlash to the Iraq War and Bush administration as told through the lens of coming of age story. The album marked a career comeback for Green Day, reaching the number one spot on Billboard 200 and charting in over 27 countries. It won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in 2005 and has been listed as one of the greatest albums of all time.
A raw, visceral album, Justin Vernon recorded this alone in a cabin, with just a couple of instruments and an eight-track. For Emma, Forever Ago received several awards and accolades, and his single “Skinny Love” went Gold. Bon Iver’s signature indie-folk sound has made him popular among the festival crowd and earned him a spot for greatest of all time by Rolling Stone.
Amy Winehouse is one of the greatest voices of her generation. Back to Black was her final album, which was a musical throwback to the 1960s. In 2008, the album won Best Pop Vocal Album and was nominated for Album of the Year. Five singles were released from the album, including “Rehab,” “Love Is a Losing Game,” and the album’s title track. Back in Black became a best-seller in both the U.K. and U.S., cementing her legacy as one of music’s greats.
#90 Brad Paisley- 5th Gear
Brad Paisley is one of the finest country artists of his generation, a talented musician who is one of Nashville's best-selling acts. His fifth studio album, 5th Gear, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum as of April 2008. The album generated four singles, all reaching number one on the country charts, and in 2009, NPR picked Paisley’s album as one of “The Decade’s 50 Most Important Recordings.”
Lady Gaga is one of the biggest pop stars in the world, and Born This Way is her anthem. The album features hit after hit and was a huge success. Her second studio album capitalized on the edgy, synth-pop, dance style of her debut and incorporated other music genres as well. It debuted number one on the Billboard 200 and sold more than one million copies its first week. All four album singles charted in the top ten, and her music has received numerous accolades among critics and fans, making it one of the most influential albums of all time.
Kanye West’s album is often called one of the best of the decade. Kanye blends a variety of genres into a no holds barred production, recorded while in self-imposed exile. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album in 2012. It’s been certified triple platinum by the RIAA and is one of the most respected and most listened to works he’s ever produced.
Red marks a transition in Taylor Swift's career, departing from her strict country stylings, and blending them with a pop influence, blending both genres seamlessly. A fan favorite, Swift’s fourth studio album reached the Billboard 200 top spot for seven weeks straight. This led her to become the first female artist to have three consecutive albums at least six weeks at number one. In 2020, Red broke into Rolling Stone’s top 10 of their list for 100 Top Albums of all time. Not only is Taylor Swift influential herself, but she has produced influential music that will become classic songs, as some already are.
One of the most celebrated artists of the last 20 years, Beyonce pulled out all the stops with Lemonade, blending genres like R&B, country, and hip-hop. The album features emotional lyrics about infidelity and race. The widely-acclaimed album debuted at number on the Billboard 200 and has been certified triple platinum by the RIAA. It was the best-selling album of 2016 and has earned numerous praise from critics, artists, and fans worldwide.
#95 Lorde- Melodrama
A rawer album than her debut, Lorde incorporates electronic elements into a product that deals with loneliness and isolation. On Melodrama, Lorde adds piano-based melodies to her electro pop sound. The album reached number one in the U.S. and was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year.
By the Way, I Forgive You is an album that celebrates the Americana genre, combining elements of folk, country, and rock. The result is a raw, powerful album which won Brandi Carlile a Grammy Award for Best American Album in 2019 and was nominated for Album of the Year. And NPR, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly all listed the album in their “best of” lists following the album’s release.
Cole presents an album that circumvents a lot of the traditional masculinity and bravado of hip-hop. It's a more vulnerable, mature release, and one of the best of the decade. 2014 Hills Drive debuted on the U.S. Billboard 200 at number one and earned J. Cole Album of the Year at the 2015 BET Hip Hop Awards. It was also nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2016 Grammys and has been considered one of his most successful albums to date.
To Pimp a Butterfly may be the best hip-hop album of the 2010s, combining elements of jazz, funk, and traditional music while dealing with subjects like black culture, race, and discrimination. With his number one debut on the Billboard 200, Kendrick Lamar also received 11 Grammy nominations for his album in 2016, winning for Best Rap Album. It’s one of the most critically acclaimed albums of its decade.
One of the biggest pop stars around, Billie Eilish's debut album features elements of pop and electronica, while her vocals are ethereal and spacy. When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? generated four multi-platinum certified singles and the album won Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical at the 2020 Grammy Awards. Critically and commercially, it’s revered as one of the top albums of all time
#100 BTS- Be
BTS is probably the biggest musical act in the business right now as K-Pop takes the world by storm. Be combines the elements of pop, hip hop, and EDM and resulted in the group’s first number one song on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Matching the craze of the Beatles’ debut, BTS is the fastest group to earn five chart-topping albums in the U.S. Due to its massive success of bringing K-pop music to the mainstream, it’s considered one of the most influential albums of all time.
In the end, from The Beatles to Beyonce, all of these albums are worth a listen because they helped shape music history. That said, starting with just one of the100 finest albums is a great place to start. If you’re a music fan and you plan to listen to one of these albums on vinyl, which we recommend for the full listening experience, be sure to check out our Victrola record store today!