Rolling Stone magazine released its first edition of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003, with The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” claiming the top spot. Voted on by people ranging from producers to pop stars, this list aimed to define which albums left the greatest impact on audiences through the years. However, after updating in September, the list now reflects a broader scope of genres and artists, emphasizing the notion that a more diverse playlist is a better representation of the music industry as a whole.
The original list features all male artists in the top 10, with only one artist of color, Marvin Gaye, holding the No. 6 spot with “What’s Going On.” The 2020 version boosts Gaye to the top spot. While the 2003 list only included one woman in the top 25, the 2020 list now features three women in the top 10: Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac) and Lauryn Hill. These shifts account for a societal push for inclusivity and equitable representation of all artists.
No one is denying the success and influence of The Beatles in the music industry, but having four of their albums in the top 10 of the original list detracts attention from the societal impact of artists outside of The Beatles’ genre. One of the only ways to quantifiably measure an artists’ legacy throughout the years is through music sales, but quantity does not always equate to quality. With physical album sales on the decline in the recent decade, the sales of albums today cannot be objectively compared to those of the past; lists like this must take a more subjective approach to their rankings.
This year has highlighted the necessity of diverse voices in the mainstream. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and “Lemonade” albums, centered around social issues, received their respective nods in the 2020 list, with the former skyrocketing from No. 314 to No. 10, while the latter debuted at No. 32. The 2020 list rightfully addresses some of the injustices popular artists faced in the past when pushed to the bottom of the 2003 list.
Historically excluded groups should have an equal opportunity to a lasting legacy. The Beatles should be respected and idolized in their own right, but with a larger, more diverse playlist of artists to listen to today, more icons can emerge into the mainstream. Representation is critical in music, and with the recent adjustment to Rolling Stone’s list, this ranking is more representative of talent in the global music industry.
Although there is no definitive way to conclude which album is the “greatest,” it is undeniable that global impact, as the Rolling Stone list ranks, must be measured equitably.