As if there wasn’t enough to argue about in the world right now, Rolling Stone released a new edition of its iconic “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list. First published in 2003, Rolling Stone updated the massive ranking in 2012. The new list was tabulated from over 300 top 50 lists submitted by critics, industry workers, and musicians. The musicians list especially is a flex fit for Rolling Stone, with the magazine collecting ballots from Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Stevie Nicks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Billie Eilish, Big Boi, and Carly Rae Jepsen, among many, many others. Time to update those résumés with that coveted Rolling Stone byline, guys. And for us to wonder what they voted for, and who was bold enough to rank themselves on the list.
Or, you know, to do the usual thing of hopping on Twitter and litigating every detail of a big list like this. For starts, the 2020 edition includes a new No. 1, Marvin Gaye’s soulful protest song cycle What’s Going On?, ranked sixth on both previous editions. It replaces the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the top album in ’03 and ’12 but down at 24th on this year’s list. The new Beatles leader is Abbey Road at No. 5, and Revolver also edges Sgt. Pepper’s out at No. 11. Yet the Beatles still lead the list with the most albums, at nine. The top ten is especially shaken up, with the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds joining Gaye as the only other album to remain in the top ten; it’s been second place on all three lists. And the highest-ranked album released since the 2012 update is Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, at No. 19. (Three albums from 2019 even made the cut: Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, and Harry Styles’s Fine Line.) In all, the list added 154 albums, both new and previously unranked.
The new list is full of little details to scrutinize and argue over: Led Zeppelin out of the top 50? Achtung Baby ahead of Joshua Tree? No St. Vincent? Harry Styles better than [checks notes] Arcade Fire? Six Kanye albums? Beyoncé, did you rank Lemonade ahead of self-titled? At least when we need a break from all this discourse, we’ll have some good new music to put on.