Hey, “LOL” and “NerdyGirl55”—we heard you. Nonetheless, here comes an explanation of how (and why) we picked our 100 Greatest Albums of All-Time list. Hopefully, Nerdy—do you mind if I call you Nerdy? Your EW.com comment condemning our list suggests some level of comfort and familiarity—you don’t throw your laptop against the wall, like you say you did your All-Time Greatest issue of the magazine, after reading this.
Like you, we love movies and TV and books and music—it’s our passion (and also, of course, our day job). And you know what? Love doesn’t always come easy. For instance, Love’s “psychedelic beauty” Forever Changes landed at No. 65 on our final list, but not without a lot of arguing and back and forth amongst the writers and editors. And that’s how, over time, a list like this takes form and gets made.
Everyone has their personal biases. My own top 100 list would have a few more Bowie records; The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars found itself at No. 34, but I’d happily add Hunky Dory, Station to Station, and Scary Monsters. I’d also want to add at least one more from from the Who—Tommy, can you hear me?—in addition to Who’s Next (No. 39). To make room, I’d probably cut an album or two from the Beatles, maybe one from Dylan. (He has two on the list: Blood on the Tracks at No. 6, and Highway 61 Revisited at No. 27.) And, for that, I know more than a few of you would probably want to cut me.
But in order for a list like this to come to life, clearly those personal biases need to be put aside. Professionally, I can’t argue against the Beatles being the most important and significant act of the album era, which we thought would make the best parameters for a definitive Entertainment Weekly music list. (Imagine a greatest songs of all time list in which you had to size up a traditional folk staple like “Greensleeves” against “Eleanor Rigby.”) That’s why our oldest entry (1965’s Rubber Soul, the album the lovely ladies above are packing at the EMI factory in 1965, which ranks No. 46) and our top entry (Revolver, perched at No. 1) belong to the Fab Four: They ushered in and defined the album era, not to mention pop music generally for the past 50 years. (In a recent interview, über-producer Rick Rubin put it thusly: “It’s much bigger than four kids from Liverpool. For me the Beatles are proof of the existence of God. It’s so good and so far beyond everyone else that it’s not them.”)
Not surprisingly, we received a lot of mail about Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band not making our final list; demerits were given for, among other things, “Lovely Rita.” (Not to mention every terrible album featuring a sitar that came after.) But four of our 100 albums are by the Beatles, so the point of their importance is made; they dominate our list. However, we also needed to consider that there have been thousands of albums, and many very, very good to great ones of differing genres. (As much as we love classical and jazz, it made the most sense for us to reflect what we tend to cover in the magazine and what fills our readers’ iPods: pop, rock, and hip-hop.)
Plus, let’s face it: It’s 2013, and for us to all assume nothing good happened in music after 1970 is just plain silly. So artists like Kayne West (No. 8 for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) and Adele (No. 17 for 21) need to be weighed against the no-brainer entrants such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Which also means you need to consider legacy and what’s going on in the culture right now that refocuses the lens: Daft Punk’s Discovery jumped a few spots (to No. 24) from when we started this list several months ago, because there’s a strong argument (of which I am sure some of you will take me up on below) that they’re largely responsible for the global rise of EDM, and even though their recent Random Access Memories has received rave reviews, it’s Discovery that made their current success at all possible. As indispensable as Pearl Jam’s Ten seemed 20 years ago, it’s hard to not take into account every awful Creed album it paved the way for.
We also wish it were possible to cram 500 albums into a top 100 list. It’s not, of course, but hopefully the takeaway from our 100 Greatest Albums list is an accurate snapshot of the landscape, defining artists, and game-changing music moments over the past 50 years. We will certainly argue it is.