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Old 07-30-2008, 02:02 AM   #1
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Default Top 20 Albums of All Time

Music Blogs > The Y! Music Playlist Blog > The Top 20 Albums of All Time (For Real)
The Top 20 Albums of All Time (For Real)
Posted Mon Jul 28, 2008 3:21pm PDT by Robert of the Radish in The Y! Music Playlist Blog
I completely understand the frustration of "best of lists", and I can assure you that I read hundreds of comments here on the Yahoo Music blogs whenever we post one. Many times our "best album" lists generate thousands of comments. And although many of the remarks are ridiculous, many are valid in a subjective sort of way.

For this playlist I wanted to find the true top 20 albums once and for all, but to do this I needed to clear my mind of all opinion and approach it as a science. My own personal taste did not influence this list in any way. In fact, I would have made many different choices, but the time I put into collecting the data and crunching the numbers leaves no doubt in my mind that this is the most accurate top 20 album list in existence.

To begin with I had to set the parameters, and I have set them as follows:

1. The list is based on the American market - I did this only because I had mounds of detailed data on the American music market at hand- to include the whole world or even Europe would increase the complexity of the analysis greatly - So this is really the "Top 20 Albums of All Time (To Americans)"

2. "Greatest Hits" albums and live albums were not eligible. The idea here was to identify the very best true albums, not compilations that cherry pick the best songs from an artist's career.

3. The following mathematical formula was used:

"Album Staying Power Value + Sales Value + Critical Rating Value + Grammy Award Value"

Now if you wish to argue, I welcome intelligent comment on how to hone the formula further, but please try to control the passionate fan-speak that drives so many of the comments. Remember, the idea is to completely remove your personal opinion from the process.

To offer a bit more detail on the components of the formula:

The initial group of albums selected was based solely on sales. Please know that I believe sales alone are probably the worst measure we have of an album's quality and I will speak to how I addressed this problem in a few. But as a starting point sales made the most sense. Sales are by no means the only measure of a "great album", but without big sales an album doesn't have much footing on which to claim the moniker "greatest". A vote with a dollar is a much stronger indicator than any other.

I looked at the biggest selling albums of all time in America based on actual RIAA data - this produced 71 non-Greatest Hits/Live albums that have all sold over 10 million units. Any of these that sold more than 10 million units received a 1% Sales Multiplier for every 1 million units sold over 10 million.

Sales Value = Sales Multiplier X Staying Power Value

Next, I determined what the Staying Power Value (SPV) was of all 71 albums. To determine Staying Power Value I looked at used CD sales data to determine how well each album's value has held up over time. For example, in the secondary market you can expect to pay around $9.50 for a copy of Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, but you would only pay $1.38 for a copy of Cracked Rear View by Hootie and The Blowfish. The Staying Power Value is important because it shows what the current value of the album is in the marketplace. So it's a good reflection of supply and demand. Rumours sold 19 million copies and Cracked Rear View sold 16 million. Rumours gets more points for selling more units, but even more important than the higher overall sales figures is that people want to hold onto their Fleetwood Mac CD, but don't mind parting with their Hootie CD. SPV captures this. In simple terms, Staying Power Value reflects current supply and demand for each album. *Please note that for double albums we reduced the SPV to align with a standard-length album.

So if we take the previously mentioned SPV of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours album and multiply it by that album's Sales Multiplier of 9% (1% for each million sold over 10 million) we get $10.38. But this only shows us how much people still desire the album + how many have sold at retail.

The next part of the formula takes into account critical acclaim.

I would agree with anyone who says a critical review means nothing, but when you start to see a pattern among the critics the data becomes much more reliable. If ten out of ten reviewers give an album 5 stars chances are good that the album is a winner. Basically the more reviews you average the more reliable the rating.

For the Critical Rating Value I looked at multiple reviews for each album from a diverse cross section of music magazines, newspapers and music review websites to come up with the average review number for each based on a 5 star scale. From these ratings I assigned a Critical Rating Multiplier to each album ranging from 0% to 10%.

So now our formula has factored in critical acclaim making the end result more reliable.

Ratings Value = Sales Value X Rating Multiplier

The final portion of the formula is the Grammy Award Value and it simply looks at how many Grammy Awards each album has won. Our formula already has the voice of the people (Sales Value) and the voice of the critics (Critical Rating Value) so the only missing component is the acclaim each album holds among it's peers. The Grammys are an industry specific award and are the best reflection we have of how the music business itself feels about an album. I would agree that this is the least important of the components in our formula, and as such each Grammy award adds only a .5% bonus. So an album that wins 4 Grammys would receive an extra 2% to it's value. This in my estimation is a fair weighting to give for a Grammy award.

So now I give you The Top 20 Albums of All Time based purely on the analysis provided above and devoid of any personal opinion. If you would like to see the complete analysis you can download the Microsoft Excel version here: (Top Album Analysis.xls).

#20. Faith - George Michael
Play Album
Year: 1987 Units Sold: 10 Million
SPV: $9.19 Rating (Stars): 4 Grammys Won: 1
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $9.79

.
#19. Appetite For Destruction - Guns N' Roses
Play Album
Year: 1987 Units Sold: 15 Million
SPV: $8.81 Rating (Stars): 4 Grammys Won: 0
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $9.81

.
#18. Purple Rain - Prince
Play Album
Year: 1984 Units Sold: 13 Million
SPV: $8.74 Rating (Stars): 4.75 Grammys Won: 2
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $9.82

.
#17. Houses Of The Holy - Led Zeppelin
Play Album
Year: 1973 Units Sold: 11 Million
SPV: $9.10 Rating (Stars): 4.5 Grammys Won: 0
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $9.93

.
#16. Born In The U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen
Play Album
Year: 1984 Units Sold: 15 Million
SPV: $8.91 Rating (Stars): 5 Grammys Won: 0
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $10.29

.
#15. Nevermind - Nirvana
Play Album
Year: 1991 Units Sold: 10 Million
SPV: $10.07 Rating (Stars): 4 Grammys Won: 0
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $10.67

.
#14. Van Halen - Van Halen
Play Album
Year: 1978 Units Sold: 10 Million
SPV: $10.23 Rating (Stars): 4.25 Grammys Won: 0
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $10.84

.
#13. Rumours - Fleetwood Mac
Play Album
Year: 1977 Units Sold: 19 Million
SPV: $9.52 Rating (Stars): 5 Grammys Won: 1
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $11.47

.
#12. The Wall - Pink Floyd
Play Album
Year: 1979 Units Sold: 23 Million
SPV: $10.20 Rating (Stars): 4.75 Grammys Won: 1
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $12.51
.
#11. The Joshua Tree - U2
Play Album
Year: 1987 Units Sold: 10 Million
SPV: $11.50 Rating (Stars): 4.5 Grammys Won: 2
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $12.54
.
#10. Metallica - Metallica
Play Album
Year: 1991 Units Sold: 14 Million
SPV: $12.08 Rating (Stars): 4.25 Grammys Won: 1
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $13.38
.
#9. Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin
Play Album
Year: 1969 Units Sold: 10 Million
SPV: $12.83 Rating (Stars): 4 Grammys Won: 0
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $13.60
.
#8. Hotel California - Eagles
Play Album
Year: 1976 Units Sold: 16 Million
SPV: $12.00 Rating (Stars): 4.75 Grammys Won: 0
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $13.81
.
#7. The White Album - The Beatles
Play Album
Year: 1968 Units Sold: 19 Million
SPV: $12.00 Rating (Stars): 5 Grammys Won: 0
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $14.39
.
#6. Led Zeppelin IV - Led Zeppelin
Play Album
Year: 1971 Units Sold: 23 Million
SPV: $12.42 Rating (Stars): 5 Grammys Won: 0
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $15.44
.
#5. Abbey Road - The Beatles
Play Album
Year: 1968 Units Sold: 12 Million
SPV: $14.94 Rating (Stars): 4.25 Grammys Won: 1
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $16.23
.
#4. Physical Graffiti - Led Zeppelin
Play Album
Year: 1975 Units Sold: 16 Million
SPV: $14.31 Rating (Stars): 4.75 Grammys Won: 0
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $16.38
.
#3. Thriller - Michael Jackson
Play Album
Year: 1982 Units Sold: 27 Million
SPV: $13.49 Rating (Stars): 4.5 Grammys Won: 4
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $17.39
.
#2. Dark Side Of The Moon - Pink Floyd
Play Album
Year: 1973 Units Sold: 15 Million
SPV: $16.08 Rating (Stars): 5 Grammys Won: 0
Calculated value per unit based on the formula: $18.57
.
#1. Songs In The Key Of Life - Stevie Wonder
Play Album
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Old 07-30-2008, 05:59 AM   #2
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Default Re: Top 20 Albums of All Time

Wow. Talk about a blast from the past! I listened to a ton of Led Zep and the Beatles growing up so like the list. Also loved Rumors. Favorite album (and most listened to):White album. Favorite song: Blackbird. McCartney wrote it about the civil rights struggle in the US. Beautiful song.

Thanks LambertisGod58! That made my day.
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Old 07-30-2008, 07:21 AM   #3
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Default Re: Top 20 Albums of All Time

Though arguments could be made for placement, details of the formula and such, it's still a pretty good list which should minimize argument.s Naturally, because music (and art in general) is in the eye of the beholder, arguments will be made.

I wonder if country and R&B (in general) genres were ignored, or if the pop/rock culture is that much larger (as a whole) when it comes to "true" Chart Toppers. Generally, these genres are treated as entities unto themselves. I'm pretty sure that we could come up with at least 1 album from each of those genres that belongs on this list.
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Old 07-30-2008, 08:21 AM   #4
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Default Re: Top 20 Albums of All Time

Given the criteria, I'm not going to argue with this list. I own many of these albums, too, even they don't get spun much anymore.

As far as Country and R&B, I think it's probably the sales gap that leaves many off the list. The popularity of Country is a relatively new thing (I mean mega-sales of Country albums), and I'm thinking R&B is probably more of a niche market too(relatively speaking). Plus how much staying power does an album like Garth Brooks No Fences really have? Other than the occasional wedding or maybe some of the older school country stations, do you really hear "Thunder Rolls" that often? But there are tons of songs from these other albums that are still in heavy rotation on AOR/Classic rock stations even 30 years after they were released.
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Old 07-30-2008, 08:30 AM   #5
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Default Re: Top 20 Albums of All Time

I would have to argue this list simply because most of these albums are considered big sellers because at the time, you had to buy an entire album to get one or two songs that you wanted. Some of these albums aren't Great Albums all together. Look at each album individually and determine if really every song is good, or the majority of songs are good, or if it doesn't just have one or two hits on it that pushed the record sales.

Case in point.

Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin. Now I'm a big Zep fan. But this album isn't that good. Sure there are some hits on it, like Kashmir and Trampled Under Foot, but other than that, its not great. But because it was their Sixth album, and because of the popularity of the song Kashmir, the album sales were big.

Same can be said about Born in the USA. Now I am NOT a Springsteen fan. And the popularity of the song Born in the USA which was a protest song that most people didn't get when it initially took off on the airways, happy to just sing the Chorus, pushed this album on the charts. Hometown is an ok song and so is I'm on Fire, but as an album, there are songs that really don't cut the mustard.

However, I would agree with Nevermind and Joshua Tree and The Wall and Darkside on this list. They are complete albums.

Don't even get me started on the Beatles. The White Album is not that good. Look at the song list. Its got 30 songs. Not all 30 are great, and I'd argue only 5 are. Dear Prudence, Guitar Gently Weeps, Helter Skelter, Revolution (Twice). The rest of the songs I can do without. 5 out of 30? Not Impressed.
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Old 07-30-2008, 08:30 AM   #6
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Default Re: Top 20 Albums of All Time

Quote:
Originally Posted by revefsreleets View Post
Given the criteria, I'm not going to argue with this list. I own many of these albums, too, even they don't get spun much anymore.

As far as Country and R&B, I think it's probably the sales gap that leaves many off the list. The popularity of Country is a relatively new thing (I mean mega-sales of Country albums), and I'm thinking R&B is probably more of a niche market too(relatively speaking). Plus how much staying power does an album like Garth Brooks No Fences really have? Other than the occasional wedding or maybe some of the older school country stations, do you really hear "Thunder Rolls" that often? But there are tons of songs from these other albums that are still in heavy rotation on AOR/Classic rock stations even 30 years after they were released.
Agreed. It has taken artists that basically go with the Cross-Genre (Garth Brooks, Shaniah Twain, Faith Hill, Toby Keith are initial thoughts) that have really put "country on the map."

Though Country and R&B could be considered niche, that's still a really big niche to have. It is apparent that he's made a big deal out of sales, which IMO, isn't necessarily the biggest indicator for a song/album. I believe replay value will be the biggest factor.

As for Garth Brooks, he made the mistake of releasing another album very shortly (relatively speaking) after No Fences. So some of the "staying power" fame that it might have had was cut short by his newer album. Of course, because people were still clamoring for "Thunder Rolls" or "Friends In Low Places" the other album never really had a great shot.

Still, I wonder how both of the other genres would hold up against this list. I'm not saying that we'd see 6 of the top 10, but I'm sure 1 album from each Genre could knock off at least 9 and 10.
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Old 07-30-2008, 08:32 AM   #7
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Default Re: Top 20 Albums of All Time

Quote:
Other than the occasional wedding or maybe some of the older school country stations, do you really hear "Thunder Rolls" that often?
lol. so true.

when i read the thread title "the wall" and the "white" album immediately popped into my head as #1 and #2.

glad to see metallica recognized, but bummed to see george michael up there. kinda suprised prince wanst higher. good call on the joshua tree.

if this list proves anything its that acid rock still lives.

turn on. tune in. and drop out.
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Old 07-30-2008, 08:41 AM   #8
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Default Re: Top 20 Albums of All Time

Rush: Moving Pictures probably didn't sell enough albums (4 million) and I don't think won any grammys (although I'd probably toss that category out altogether), but talk about Acid Rock! I still have that album in regular rotation, and I sing "Tom Sawyer" whenever I do karaoke. I'm usually told I'm the only person to ever sing that song.
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Old 07-30-2008, 08:44 AM   #9
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Default Re: Top 20 Albums of All Time

country music has long been said to have americas largest following. however i think that has more to do with radio stations and airplay as opposed to album sales. my impression of country music fans is that theyre more than satisfied to listen to about 20 hit singles over and over and over and over on the radio as opposed to going out and buying those 20 albums.

as far as country goes i would put "highwayman" on the top of my list.

ahhhh.... i remember 1982 well. hall and oats "h2o", police "synchronicity" and mj's "thriller" all dropped at about the same time. as good as the previous 2 were they never really stood a chance against "thriller". (oh yeah, and moving pictures would have to be on my personal list- tom sawyer is something i definitely wouldnt attempt im public)

if it werent for the immense hatred of yoko ono, i bet lennons solo album would be up there.
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Old 07-30-2008, 08:53 AM   #10
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Default Re: Top 20 Albums of All Time

I think it's pretty strongly biased toward boomers and post boomers myself. Nothing before 1968, nothing after 1991?

IMO it is the man's formula for rating that is flawed. First, If you count "staying power", then it tilts the whole thing towards older stuff; they get a double boost for both sales and staying power! Every 13 and 14 year old who can't steal "Dark Side of the Moon" from their parents has to buy it; but their parent's aren't going to buy "OK Computer".

Second, it obviously only covers the years when albums mattered, and only the core of those years. Albums started to matter around 1965, and stopped mattering a few years ago. It only makes sense that the list would look the way it does... sort of like, "best piston powered fighter planes" would all come from WW2. When piston powered fighter planes mattered. No Elvis Presley's Elvis, from 1956? No OK Computer from 1997?

Third, following on #2, it will only cover the years when the music money machine functioned at its peak. That machine undoubtedly was firing on all cylinders from about 1972 through 1985, give or take; that's the meat of this list. It wasn't any more or less a creative era of music; I would say that pop music being made today is far, far more creative than what was being made then. The difference is that music today is also far, far more fractured than it was then. With increased creativity comes decreased marketability, as fringe acts appeal to a more limited audience. I love Robert Earl Keen, but he is just too "out there" to ever break into the mainstream... and he isn't even really all that out there. Substitute your favorite artist for mine, and you can see the same is true. I don't think we'll ever again see artists generate the kind of excitement and sales that they did when the hype machine functioned 24/7. Most of those who do generate mega sales are those who appeal to the people who funded that boom of the late millennium; Maria Carey, Celine Dion, Rod Stewart and Bette Midler singing songs from the '40s... stuff like that. Those who generate mega excitement only do so for an instant, as the fractured pop artistic landscape shifts in a moment to somewhere else.

So, sure, it's a list. But it's a list that is rigged.
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