If you think you love great music, we’re here to test that theory!
Of course, opinions on what great music is can be subjective. What one person thinks is great, another person may think is garbage.
But we’re confident none of the albums compiled here would be considered anything but exceptional. But all for different reasons.
Let’s look at these five great musical albums and see if you love them as much as we do.
What Makes These Albums Great?
Is an album considered great based on sales, song lyrics, musicianship, or originality? The short answer is yes.
The longer answer requires a deeper dive into the specifics of each album. What makes Led Zeppelin’s IV a great album is very different from what makes Paul Simon’s Graceland great. And while we didn’t include IV on this list, we could have! It was hard enough narrowing the list down to just five.
What makes an album a hit often has to do with how it was produced. When listening to the tracks, you may not realize how critical the album’s making was in its overall success. But having a forward-thinking producer offering suggestions on how to improve the sound and flow of the album can make a difference.
Song lyrics also play a big part in the reception of an album. When the songs tell a story the listener can relate to, the greater chance of success the record will have.
Another component to consider is the album’s cohesion. When asked what makes an album great, Reddit user lifeinaglasshouse said, “An album can be loaded with great songs, but if it doesn’t have a cohesive element to it, it just won’t be as great as it could have been.”
In other words, how the songs fit together and flow throughout the album impacts its greatness.
Marketing and Focus is Important Too
Of course, record sales can also tell part of the story. But just because an artist can sell one million records doesn’t mean the album is great. It might simply mean they have good marketing behind them!
And then there’s opinion writer Michael Tedder’s suggestion that the number of tracks can indicate how great an album is. In an article he wrote for Inside Hook, Tedder explains why eight is the magic number.
He said, “When artists embrace the eight-song mindset, it forces them to focus. If you only have eight songs to make a statement, those eight songs have to be as sharp as possible. You’ll have to edit yourself, which doesn’t come easy to some artists.”
There’s no set recipe for artists to follow in making a great album with music millions of people will love. It’s different for every musician and their production company. But suffice to say, some bands have nailed the magic it takes to create excellent records.
These five albums aren’t in any particular order. But they are considered great by a large consensus of music lovers. Let’s see if you agree.
#5 Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
About the Artist and Album: Stevie Wonder has won the hearts of music fans worldwide. Considered a child prodigy, Stevie Wonder signed his first recording contract with Motown at 11. He never let his blindness, which happened shortly after birth, get in the way of his musical passion.
Songs in the Key of Life flies in the face of Michael Tedder’s theory mentioned above. Released as a double LP (long play) record, there are 17 tracks on this masterpiece. Many music critics and musicians consider this to be one of the greatest albums ever recorded.
This was the 18th album released by Stevie Wonder, and it earned him a Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1977.
Greatest Track: I Wish
First Appearance: Tamla Records released this album in September 1976.
#4 The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
About the Artist and Album: The Beatles popped onto the music scene from Liverpool, England, in 1960. It would be three years before they released their first two studio albums, Please Please Me and With the Beatles. Not long after, Beatlemania spread around the world with screaming teens greeting The Fab Four wherever they toured.
Considered an innovative album based on lyrics, instrumentation, and production style, Sgt. Peppers stands out as one of the best albums ever recorded. This 13-track record includes great music and songs about mysticism, love, psychedelia, and cultural experiences.
It won four Grammy Awards in 1968 and is one of the best-selling albums in music history.
Greatest Track: Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
First Appearance: Parlophone Records released this eighth album from The Beatles in May 1967.
#3 Paul Simon – Graceland
About the Artist and Album: Paul Simon began his musical journey at the age of 15 in New York City. A singer, songwriter, and actor, Simon’s career spans over six decades with multiple award-winning albums. Winning 16 Grammy Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award, Simon’s contribution to music has been well-loved by fans worldwide.
Inspired by the sounds of South African musicians, Paul Simon traveled there to record music for his seventh album, Graceland. When Simon released this album, it topped music charts around the world. It remains Simon’s best-selling album and earned the Album of the Year Grammy Award in 1987.
The National Recording Registry added Graceland to its roster in 2006 as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”
Greatest Track: Graceland
First Appearance: Warner Bros. released this 11-track album in August 1986.
#2 Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
About the Artist and Album: The Beach Boys formed in Southern California in 1961, consisting of three brothers, a cousin, and their friend. They rose to fame with their debut record Surfin’ Safari in 1962 and became an iconic band of the California surf culture.
The Beach Boys have sold over 100 million records globally, making them one of the most commercially successful bands in history.
Their eleventh album, Pet Sounds, set them apart as an innovative band at the time. Brian Wilson not only contributed vocals for the band but also produced this album entirely on his own.
Several styles used in the recording of this album revolutionized music after its release. It incorporated jazz, pop, classical, and psychedelic music, creating a fantastic masterpiece that lovers of various musical genres appreciated.
The Beatles, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and R.E.M. have all stated Pet Sounds as influential to their music.
Greatest Track: Wouldn’t It Be Nice
First Appearance: Capitol Records released Pet Sounds in May 1966.
#1 Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run
About the Artist and Album: Proud New Jersey-native Bruce Springsteen started his music career in 1964. Over nearly 60 years, Springsteen, aka The Boss, released 20 studio albums and won 20 Grammy Awards. He’s become a great symbol of the American heartland rock music that his fans love.
Born to Run fits in with writer Michael Tedder’s claim that an 8-track album has a high potential for being great. Springsteen’s third album attempted to break him into the popular mainstream music crowd. That attempt proved successful, moving The Boss into the music spotlight after his first two albums received a lukewarm reception.
Rolling Stone reviewer, Greil Marcus, called Born to Run a “magnificent” album. He stated, “the stories Springsteen is telling are nothing new, though no one has ever told them better or made them matter more.”
Greatest Track: Born to Run
First Appearance: Columbia Records released the album in August 1975.
Which of These Albums is Your Favorite?
We know you love great music, so we’re sure you’ve listened to most of these albums already. But if you haven’t, take some time to listen to them. Maybe you’ll be surprised by one you previously disregarded.
What other albums would you add to this list?