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The 30 Most Critically Acclaimed Music Albums of All Time

These are the best records ever, according to the critics.

Good music is in the ear of the beholder, but even though opinions differ on what makes a great album, those inarguable classics exist that are recognized as among the best of all time—at least according to professional critics. Metacritic is a website that aggregates music reviews and assigns a numerical score representing the critical consensus on an album. We used that data to countdown the 30 best albums ever made, in order of how the experts ranked them. Read on to find out if your favorite record made the list.

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The 30 Best Albums Ever Recorded, According to Critics

Abbey Road: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition by The Beatles

"Abbey Road" by The Beatles album cover

Metacritic score: 99

Released five decades after the original 1969 version was released, the album featuring the Fab Four at the peak of their collaboration was remastered by a team co-led by George Martin's son Giles Martin and features 23 demos and outtakes. It scored a 99 out of 100 based on 10 critic reviews, with Classic Rock Magazine commenting that it has "a freshness and immediacy that makes a mockery of the passage of half a century."

Rumours [35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] by Fleetwood Mac

"Rumours" by Fleetwood Mac album cover
Warner Bros.

Metacritic score: 99

Famously produced amid the dissolution of every romantic relationship in the band plus ample drug use, Fleetwood Mac's 1977 album produced some of the most enduring hits of the late '70s, including "You Can Go Your Own Way," "Dreams," and "You Make Loving Fun." The 2004 anniversary edition revisits the drama with a remaster of the iconic 1977 album, plus an an additional disc of outtakes, live recordings, and previously unreleased tracks.

Girly-Sound to Guyville [Box Set] by Liz Phair

"Girly-Sound to Guyville" by Liz Phair back album cover
Matador Records

Metacritic score: 99

Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville broke indie ground with unapologetic, confessional lyrics that challenged the male-dominated Wicker Park, Chicago scene of the early '90s. This 7 LP/3 CD box released in 2018 gives fans a look at her artistic evolution from the lo-fi demos of Girly-Sound to Phair's breakthrough album.

Ten Freedom Summers by Wadada Leo Smith

"Ten Freedom Summers" by Wadada Leo Smith

Metacritic score: 99

This epic, four-disc opus from trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith was composed over 34 years. Each of its 19 tracks tackles a moment in the Civil Rights Movement and American history—from Dred Scott to the Montgomery Bus Boycott to September 11—blending improvisation with composed elements to create a profound, emotionally charged listening experience.

American Dreamer [Box Set] by Laura Nyro

"American Dreamer" by Laura Nyro album cover

Metacritic score: 99

This 2021 box set collects seven albums and assorted rare recordings from singer-songwriter Laura Nyro, who both wrote her own music and penned tunes for Barbra Streisand and the Fifth Dimension. She died in 1997 at age 49 and was later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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Band on the Run [50th Anniversary Edition] by Paul McCartney & Wings

"Band on the Run" by Paul McCartney and Wings album cover

Metacritic score: 99

In addition to several albums from the Beatles, Paul McCartney snags a spot on the list for his work outside of that iconic group. The third album by Paul McCartney & Wings, released in 1973, marks the singer-songwriter's most successful post-Beatles project, named one of the best British rock albums ever by Rolling Stone.

Live in Europe 1967: Best of the Bootleg, Vol. 1 by Miles Davis

"Live in Europe 1967" by Miles Davis album cover

Metacritic score: 99

This epic three-disc live album from blues master Miles Davis was recorded across three concerts in Belgium, Denmark, and France, capturing an indelible tour in which Davis performed alongside his "Second Great Quartet," including Herbie Hancock on the keyboard, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams.

Sign O' the Times [Deluxe Edition] by Prince

"Sign O' the Times" by Prince album cover
Paisley Park/Warner Bros.

Metacritic score: 99

Prince's ninth studio album—and first after disbanding the Revolution—is arguably the artist's best and most creatively expansive record, even as it failed to match the sales of preceding albums including Purple Rain and 1999. Since its 1987 release, it has been frequently named among the best albums of all time. Released in 2020, the Deluxe Edition includes a remastered version of the original album, as well as unreleased songs, demos, and a book with essays and interviews about the album.

The Queen Is Dead [Deluxe Edition] by The Smiths

"The Queen Is Dead" by The Smiths album cover
Rough Trade

Metacritic score: 99

The 1986 follow-up to Meat is Murder took the unlikely heroes of Manchester rock to new places. Built on the foundation of the beloved "The Boy With the Thorn in His Side" and "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out," the band is at the top of their game on this record, from Morrissey's alternately wistful and witty lyricism to band's the now-perfected sound. The 2017 Deluxe Edition features a remastered album plus additional recordings, and the live album Live in Boston.

The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 by Bob Dylan

"The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete" by Bob Dylan album cover

Metacritic score: 99

A legendary collection of unreleased recordings from Bob Dylan and The Band, The Basement Tapes Complete is a must-have for any Dylan fan. This six-CD set features over 100 tracks, including alternate versions of classic songs such as "Like a Rolling Stone" and "It Ain't Me, Babe."

The Complete Columbia Album Collection by Johnny Cash

"The Complete Columbia Album Collection" by Johnny Cash

Metacritic score: 99

No stone is left unturned in this box set to end all box sets released in 2012. The staggering collection consists of 59 albums across 63 discs, from Johnny Cash's 1958 debut LP with the label, The Fabulous Johnny Cash, through his 1990 release with the Highwaymen supergroup, The Highwayman 2, as well as some previously unreleased tracks.

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Tago Mago [40th Anniversary Edition] by Can

"Tago Mago" by Can album cover
United Artists

Metacritic score: 99

An 18-minute drum groove ("Halleluhwah") isn't for everyone, but neither are the kings of Krautrock, Can. Their second studio album, first released in 1971, epitomized their improvisational prowess and established them as a pioneers who would later influence artists as diverse as the Sex Pistols and A Tribe Called Quest.

Tim: Let It Bleed Edition [Box Set] by The Replacements

"Tim: Let It Bleed Edition" by The Replacements album cover

Metacritic score: 99

With classics like "Bastards of Young" and "Kiss Me on the Bus," 1985's Tim embodies the Replacements' raucously energetic yet poignantly relatable rock. But the original lo-fi production, by Tommy (Ramone) Erdelyi, wasn't exactly what the band was looking for—per bassist Tommy Stinson, Erdelyi's ears "were shot" by then and his tastes leaned louder than what the band was interested in. This crisp, 2023 remaster by Erdelyi's longtime production partner and Ramones collaborator Ed Stasium gives fans the Mats as they were always meant to sound.

Purple Rain [Deluxe Expanded Edition] by Prince and the Revolution

"Purple Rain" by Prince album cover
Warner Bros.

Metacritic score: 100

Prince became a true legend with the release of Purple Rain, a concept album-turned-blockbuster film that crystalized his image as the world's most sexed-up pop lothario. This expanded edition of the album, released a year after the singer's death, includes 11 previously unreleased songs.

Doolittle 25 by The Pixies

"Doolittle 25" by The Pixies album cover

Metacritic score: 100

The second studio album by alt-rock icons the Pixies solidified their signature quite/loud sound, and became a favorite of the late Kurt Cobain. This anniversary reissue includes previously unreleased B-sides and demo sessions.

1999 [Super Deluxe Edition] by Prince

"1999 Deluxe Edition" by Prince album cover
Warner Bros.

Metacritic score: 100

Prince's first album recorded with the Revolution hit the charts in 1982, and nothing in pop music was ever the same.  His success spurred along by his sultry vocals and the hypnotic beats of singles including "Little Red Corvette," "Delirious," and the title track, intended as a protest against the nuclear arms race.

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Sticky Fingers [Deluxe Edition] by The Rolling Stones

"Sticky Fingers" by The Rolling Stones album cover
Rolling Stones

Metacritic score: 100

The Rolling Stones' stripped-down ninth album was the band's first without founding member Brian Jones, who had died two years earlier. It was also the first featuring guitarist Mick Taylor, and the first to top the charts in both the U.S. and the U.K. The 2015 deluxe edition includes alternate takes and a new remaster.

Live and Dangerous [Super Deluxe Edition] by Thin Lizzy

"Live and Dangerous" by Thin Lizzy album cover
Vertigo, Mercury, Warner Bros.

Metacritic score: 100

This double album from Irish heavy metal rockers Thin Lizzy was recorded at concerts in 1976 and 1977, capturing the band at its peak. Released shortly before the departure of original guitarist Brian Robertson and assembled from multiple previous shows when the group didn't have time to record new material, it's been ranked alongside the best live albums ever.

What's Going On [40th Anniversary Edition] by Marvin Gaye

"What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye album cover

Metacritic score: 100

Inspired by his brother's experiences in the Vietnam War and the social unrest and police brutality of the late '60s, Marvin Gaye reshaped R&B with his 1971 album tackling the heavy themes of the time as well as spirituality. What's Going On was a monumental shift from the "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" fame he achieved in the years before he took artistic control of his work. And its impact, described by John Legend in 2014 as "the voice of Black America speaking out that we couldn't always smile on cue for you," has been felt ever since.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band [50th Anniversary Edition Deluxe Version] by The Beatles

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: 50th Anniversary Edition" by The Beatles album cover

Metacritic score: 100

One of most successful efforts by a band to redefine and expand its sound, the Beatles' eighth album tries to do so many things—mixing influences from circus music, vaudeville, British pop and classical Indian music—that it would have been a disaster if it hadn't turned out to be one of the best works by the best band ever. The 50th Anniversary Edition includes a new stereo remix assembled by the son of original producer George Martin.

London Calling [25th Anniversary Legacy Edition] by The Clash

"London Calling: 25th Anniversary Edition" by The Clash album cover

Metacritic score: 100

The defining example of The Clash's sociopolitical punk rock, London Calling finds the band exploring a wider range of sounds, and reflects the influence of then-burgeoning new wave movement, as well as reggae, ska, jazz, and R&B. The 25th anniversary edition includes The Vanilla Tapes, a separate disc of "missing" recordings from around the time of the album's production.

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Revolver Special Edition (Super Deluxe) [Box Set] by The Beatles

"Revolver: Special Edition" by The Beatles album cover

Metacritic score: 100

This reissue of the Beatles' seventh album was released in 2022 and incorporates a new stereo mix, demos, studio sessions, and an additional EP of alternate mixes. While all the extras offer new insight into the band's creative process during a time of transition, they weren't really necessary to elevate it to a "best albums of all time list."

Pinkerton (Deluxe Edition) by Weezer

"Pinkerton: Deluxe Edition" by Weezer album cover

Metacritic score: 100

This reissue of Weezer's 1996 sophomore album revives Rivers Cuomo's Harvard-penned angst around success, loneliness, and seducing lots of groupies. While the follow-up to their preppier, poppier Blue Album let down mainstream fans, songs including "El Scorcho,""Across the Sea," and "I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams" were catnip for the emo kids of the mid-'90s who hadn't yet awoken to the album's more problematic stances toward race and women. The deluxe edition more than doubles the length of the original with a slew of live recordings and bonus tracks.

Ramones [40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] by Ramones

"Ramones: 40th Anniversary Edition" by The Ramones

Metacritic score: 100

Filled with classics including "Judy is a Punk" and "Blitzkrieg Bop," the self-titled 1976 debut laid the groundwork for pop-punk to become a chart-topping genre. The 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition showcases the timeless songs in both stereo and mono and gives fans previously unreleased demos and live material.

OK Computer: OKNOTOK 1997-2017 by Radiohead

"Okay Computer: OKNOTOK 1997-2017" by Radiohead album cover

Metacritic score: 100

Radiohead's record label was sure the band's moody, high concept, electronica-infused followup to 1995's The Bends would alienate mainstream listeners and flop commercially. Instead, the album hit No. 1 in the U.K., went double-platinum in America, and was immediately acclaimed a classic by critics. This 20th anniversary reissue includes previously unheard tracks.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vols. 1 & 2 [Reissue] by Ray Charles

"Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vols. 1 & 2" by Ray Charles album cover

Metacritic score: 100

When Ray Charles departed from his earlier R&B style with this 1962 album, he broke down the racial barrier that had kept Black performers from finding success playing country and western music. The album was instantly critically acclaimed and commercially successful, raising Charles' profile with both mainstream pop and country audiences.

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Exile On Main Street [Reissue] by The Rolling Stones

"Exile on Main St." by The Rolling Stones
Rolling Stones

Metacritic score: 100

Arriving after a string of critical hits, including Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street proved to be both a celebration of the Rolling Stones' success, with a lively, jovial atmosphere on many tracks; and an evolution of their sound, with a greater emphasis on exploring new sounds and genres, including blues, country and western, and gospel. The band's first double album, it initially received mixed reviews but eventually came to be recognized as one of the best albums ever recorded.

G Stands for Go-Betweens, Vol. 2 [Box Set] by The Go-Betweens

"G Stands for Go-Betweens: Vol. 2" by The Go-Betweens
Domino Recording Company

Metacritic score: 100

Relatively unknown in the U.S., the Go-Betweens made a splash when they moved to London and have a bridge named after them in their native Brisbane, Australia. The second box set in their anthology series celebrates the literate post-punk indie band at their prime with the remastered studio albums Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, Tallulah, and 16 Lovers Lane, plus B-sides and live recordings.

Led Zeppelin IV [Remastered] by Led Zeppelin

"Led Zeppelin IV [Remastered]" by Led Zeppelin album cover

Metacritic score: 100

The monumental 1971 fourth album by rock gods Led Zeppelin sold more than 37 million copies and boasts perhaps the most-requested song in radio history, "Stairway to Heaven," alongside seven iconic tracks, including "Black Dog," the bluesy "When The Levee Breaks," and epic, Tolkien-inspired "Battle of Evermore." The 2014 version was remastered by Jimmy Page himself and includes a second disc of unreleased alternate tracks.

The Beatles (The White Album) [50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition] by The Beatles

"The White Album: 50th Anniversary" by The Beatles album cover

Metacritic score: 100

The Beatles' most ambitious work, The White Album, is less a rock record and more a stream-of-consciousness art project—a picture of the group at a pivotal time in its history, when each member was increasingly exploring his own musical style and ambitions and, perhaps, the cracks were beginning to form. For its 50th anniversary in 2018, it was reissued with a new stereo mix and 50 previously unreleased recordings.

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller is a pop culture writer living in New York. Read more
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