It’s very easy to pick apart any given person’s or periodical’s “Greatest of All Time” list, especially these days when consuming lists like these seems to be less about filling the holes in one’s knowledge base (which they’re intended to do), and more about inducing arguments when they don’t validate one’s personally-held opinions, with most readers laser focused on what isn’t included on a list as opposed to what is.
But it’s worth noting that Rolling Stone‘s new updated version of their “500 Best Albums of All Time” significantly diminishes iconic titles from the classic country canon. Originally published in 2003, and then freshened in 2009 and 2012, a media outlet that has since launched its own country music subdomain seems to be okay giving actual country music a downgrade.
Not only are albums like Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger—which is considered by many to be the greatest country music album of all time—knocked down the list by over 50 places on the revised list, albums like Willie’s Stardust, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings, and Steve Earle’s Guitar Town were taken off the list entirely. Even stuff that’s more on the country rock side that you would expect to appeal to the Rolling Stone set took a slashing. The Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo lost some 150 spots, and Grievous Angel by Gram Parsons got axed entirely.
What got added from country? A grab bag of very recent titles like Taylor Swift’s Red, Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves, Shania Twain’s Come On Over, and Chief by Eric Church. Meanwhile there is nothing from country music’s Class of ’89, really nothing from the 80’s and 90’s in general despite that time period in country experiencing a huge resurgence at the moment, along with nothing from legends such as Waylon Jennings, George Jones, or Charley Pride. Sure, this is not a list of names, but of albums. But since list makers made the lazy decision to include Greatest Hits compilations in the mix, you would expect maybe something from these names to make it in.
Meanwhile there were a few classic country titles that did receive an uptick, including Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, and Loretta Lynn, as list makers were clearly looking to emphasize the female influence in country, especially with some of the newer titles entered. Miranda Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings made it in as well. Out of the eight “country” albums added in the revised list, seven were from women, and all but one were from the modern era.
As far as any titles from the independent country and roots realm? About the only one you can point to would be Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, which came in at #458. With the way Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and Purgatory from Tyler Childers have shaken the music world beyond country, you were hoping for some interest in them perhaps, or Adobe Sessions from Cody Jinks, or Diamonds and Gasoline from the Turnpike Troubadours, though granted these titles are much more obscure. But no dice.
Of course Rolling Stone is always going to cater more to the rock mentality of music, and that’s understandable. But it seems like overall, country still didn’t get its due. Out of 500 selections, only 15 could you label as actual country, or that were country titles released on country imprints, or only 3%. Factoring albums from the greater roots world with titles from folks like John Prine, Lucinda Williams, and Jason Isbell, it still only gets you to 6% of entries.
Below you can see all the country titles from the most recent update of Rolling Stone‘s 500 Best Albums, including what albums got diminished or eliminated, as well as what was upgraded and added, broken down by country titles and then roots adjacent titles.
Country Albums Downgraded:
• Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison – Downgraded from #88 to #164
• Ray Charles – Modern Sounds in Country Music – Downgraded from #015 to #127
• Hank Williams – 40 Greatest Hits – Downgraded from #94 to #132
• The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo – Downgraded from #120 to #274
• Willie Nelson – The Red Headed Stranger – Downgraded from #183 to #237
• The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin – Downgraded from #192 to #462
• Jerry Lee Lewis – All Killer, No Filler (mostly country) – Downgraded from #245 to #325
• Willie Nelson – Stardust – Downgraded from #260 to out of the Top 500
• Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead – Downgraded from #264 to #409
• Johnny Cash – American Recordings – Downgraded from #366 to out of the Top 500
• Gram Parsons – Grievous Angel – Downgraded from #425 to out of the Top 500
• Steve Earle – Guitar Town – Downgraded #482 to out of the Top 500
Roots Album Downgraded:
• Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East – Downgraded from #49 to #105
• The Band – Music From Big Pink – Downgraded from #34 to #100
• The Band – The Band – Downgraded from #45 to #57
• Various Artist (incl. Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis) – The Sun Records Collection – From #311 to out of the Top 500
• Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out The Lights – #332 to out of the Top 500
• Richard & Linda Thompson – I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight – #471 to #485.
Country Albums Upgraded:
• Patsy Cline – The Ultimate Collection – Upgraded from #235 to #229
• Dolly Parton – Coat of Many Colors – Upgraded from #301 to #257
• Merle Haggard – Down Every Road (1962-1994) – Upgraded from #477 to #284
Roots Albums Upgraded:
• Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – Upgraded from #305 to #98
• John Prine – John Prine – Upgraded from #452 to #149
• Grateful Dead – American Beauty – Upgraded from #261 to #215
• Lynyrd Skynyrd – (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) added at #381
• Lucinda Williams – Lucinda Williams – Added at #426
• Jason Isbell – Southeastern – Added at #458
Country Albums Added:
• Taylor Swift – Red at #99 (officially released as a country album)
• The (Dixie) Chicks – Fly at #224
• Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour at #270
• Shania Twain – Come On Over at #300
• Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator) at #348
• Eric Church – Chief at #419
• Loretta Lynn – Coal Miner’s Daughter at #440
• Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings at #480