30 Albums That Define Cool

Any album “list” is going to be incomplete. It’s going to be filled with albums you agree with, artists you hate and some sort of commentary that you probably disagree with. This list is no different. However, rather than ranking these in order of importance or influence, we decided to pick 30 Albums that Define Cool. It’s not a “Best of XXXX” list by any stretch of the imagination (because honestly, that would be presumptuous), just thirty albums that we think are cool. These things tend to spark huge debates, so feel free to let us have it in the comments.

London Calling – The Clash

Long before Punk Rock was about frosted tips and dudes wearing eyeliner, there was The Clash. Anti-establishment, without being destructive, you only need to put on “London Calling” or Google Image search “The Clash” to figure out why they’re definitively cool. Amazon | iTunes


Legend – Bob Marley & The Wailers

The likelihood of anyone reading this having heard of Reggae music without Bob Marley is unlikely. More than just a man with a positive message, Marley was a poster boy for positive change in the world. Amazon | iTunes


The Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd

Four words: The Wizard of Oz. Or, maybe, Best Space Rock Ever. Floyd’s been on the cutting edge of music for longer than most of us have been alive, and they helped birth a good portion of the music on your phone today. Amazon | iTunes


OK Computer / Kid A – Radiohead

Debating OK Computer and Kid A is like discussing religion or politics in public, so we’re not going to. Radiohead gets a twofer because we love both these cool albums like the children we don’t have—equally but differently.

OK Computer: Amazon | iTunes
Kid A: Amazon | iTunes


Licensed to Ill – Beastie Boys

9 million copies sold. First hip hop LP to top Billboard. Columbia’s fastest-selling debut record. Includes “Girls,” “Fight For Your Right,” “No Sleep til Brooklyn,” and, scratch the track listing. Every song on this album is awesome. RIP MCA. Amazon | iTunes


American Recordings – Johnny Cash

The Man in Black’s place on this list needs no explanation, but we will say this: To this day, Cash is the only person to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. The name is fitting because this album is the epitome of ‘Merica. Amazon


The Black Album – Metallica

Don’t even pretend like you don’t know the chorus to “Enter Sandman” word for word. Overzealous legal lawsuits aside, The Black Album is one of the few metal records of the 80s early 90s that you can put on today and listen to front to back without snickering. Amazon | iTunes


Live at Wembley ‘86 – Queen

You can’t talk about cool musical albums and not mention Freddie Mercury’s Queen. It’s too late to experience Mercury’s on-stage antics at a live concert, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go back in time with this album. Amazon | iTunes


Stankonia – Outkast

Even if you remove André 3000’s considerable style from the equation, he and Big Boi are two cool dudes. Stankonia blended dirty south with catchy lyrics and even more groove worthy melodies and beats. Amazon | iTunes


Rocket to Russia – Ramones

Punk rock is cool. The Ramones are punk rock. Therefore, the Ramones are cool. Amazon | iTunes


Ready to Die -The Notorious B.I.G.

There are plenty of reasons to call him big poppa, but they all started with this album. It’s time to give it another listen remember why. Amazon | iTunes


Blood Sugar Sex Magik – Red Hot Chili Peppers

We’re not going to get into the current state of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but we will definitely go back and revisit what made them one of the coolest bands of the 90s with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Amazon | iTunes


Unplugged in New York – Nirvana

You could easily make a case for this Nirvana spot being occupied by Nevermind, but that’s a little too main stream for our tastes. We never got to see Nirvana live, so we choose to revisit the legacy with this unplugged album. Amazon | iTunes


The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan essentially invented modern rock music. This particular album ended up on our list because a) it’s cool and b) it was one of the first 50 recordings to be added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. Yeah, that’s right, even Congress thinks this album is cool. Amazon | iTunes


IV – Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and John Bonham walk into a recording studio. Magic happens. IV (or ZoSo, Four Symbols, The Fourth Album, etc., etc.) is a testament to four guys throwing a big middle finger to the industry, and it also includes that one song that all drunk people request, well, everywhere there is live music. Amazon | iTunes


Discovery – Daft Punk

If you’ve never danced to this album, you’re doing it wrong. Two awesomely dressed French Robot DJs bringing acid house and techno to the masses in the form of songs that will be stuck in your head for days. Amazon | iTunes


Abbey Road – The Beatles

No explanation required. Amazon | iTunes


The Downward Spiral – Nine Inch Nails

Somehow, Trent Reznor made industrial goth rock cool. Lighter and more refined than Pretty Hate Machine (and featured in Rock Band!), The Downward Spiral takes you right to the edge without going over. Amazon | iTunes


The Queen is Dead – The Smiths

Without Morrissey and Marr’s work as The Smiths, it’s unlikely alternative rock would exist today. If, somehow, it still managed to limp along (these things happen), it wouldn’t sound anything like the emotional odyssey that is The Queen is Dead. Amazon | iTunes


Is This It – The Strokes

No shit, we could listen to this album on repeat for hours in the office and never want to steal back control of the Grooveshark account. Groovy without being sleepy, catchy without being annoying and effected without being affected, this is it. Amazon | iTunes


Appetite For Destruction – Guns N’ Roses

For us, Guns N’ Roses albums are like Matrix movies—we pretend like the first one is the only one that exists. Bandanas, Slash, top hats, Axl, gravelly vocals and a wicked strut are just a few of the reasons that make Appetite for Destruction cool… and a necessity in your karaoke repertoire. Amazon | iTunes


Under a Blood Red Sky – U2

We’re not going to get into the current state of U2, but the guys have, in the past, put out some pretty great tunes. They also made skullcaps and giant sunglasses (kind of) cool again. We dare you not to be moved by “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or “The Electric Co.” live. Amazon | iTunes


Oracular Spectacular – MGMT

At least partially responsible for making “indie” music what it is today, the seminal release from MGMT will make you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Oh yeah, and sweet vintage keyboards. Amazon | iTunes


Elephant – The White Stripes

The White Stripes made stripped down rock and roll cool again. Percussion, plus guitar and vocals, mixed with an excellently monochromatic color scheme make The White Stripes a force to be reckoned with. For our money, it doesn’t get better than Elephant. Amazon | iTunes


The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – David Bowie

Glam rock is David Bowie. David Bowie is glam rock. Without Bowie, music would never have brought space back to Earth. Ziggy Stardust gave birth to the rock persona. Amazon | iTunes


Run-DMC – Run-DMC

Three dudes from Queens put a new breed of hip-hop on the pop culture map with this album. The C in DMC stands for cool. Seriously. Amazon | iTunes


The Chronic – Dr. Dre

Dre left N.W.A. and released a solo album. Not only is The Chronic one of the best hip hop albums of all time, it also launched Snoop’s solo career. Need we say more? Amazon


Back in Black – AC/DC

If you can listen to this album without wanting to break shit, be a rock star and sing along, we will pick up your next bar tab. No one needs a description why AC/DC is cool. Amazon


Up Your Alley – Joan Jett

Hot chicks in leather with guitars playing pure rock and roll. Thanks, Joan Jett. Amazon | iTunes


Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A.

Eazy-E, Arabian Prince, Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, Ice Cube and MC Ren are undeniably cool. This album made N.W.A., and gangsta rap, a certifiably cool force to be reckoned with. Amazon | iTunes



So that’s our list. What would be on yours? Tell us in the comments.

By Related Items: Features, The Roundup.


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  • saoirse

    Back in Black is not AC/DC’s best album. Granted, it was AC/DC best post Bon Scott album, but it just wasn’t that great. And yeah, I’d say Master of Puppets was Metallica’s best album. :) Apart from that, perfect

  • charlieb

    you must be taking the piss, this is a terrible list

  • http://twitter.com/Wolfie_Rankin Wolfie Rankin

    Kate Bush – Hounds of Love.

  • PreferMetal

    I think this article should be called “Here are 30 albums I like” cause that’s all it really explained. Most of it is “This album needs no explanation” or just described why the author like the album.

  • The Duke

    Since I suppose you could define “cool” as being mainstream but still possessing a sense of individuality, I think this list is (mostly) defensible. But I agree with all the jazz people. It’s too modern. Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool has the word “cool” in it! And no one who claims to appreciate hip-hop can do so without listening to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. That album is sampled by almost every artist, from Eric B. and Rakim to Lupe Fiasco. I’ll give you credit. When I sat down to come up with just 30, it was really hard. I can think of at least 20 artists that I legitimately feel bad for excluding. But here I go anyway.

    John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
    Miles Davis – Birth of the Cool
    Frank Sinatra – In the Wee Small hours
    The Clash – London Calling
    The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced?
    The Specials – Specials
    Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps
    Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison
    Nirvana – Unplugged
    Iggy Pop – Lust for Life (or the Stooges Raw Power; it was close)
    Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (after that, I would have gone Wish You Were Here, The Wall, Piper at the Gates, and then Animals)
    White Stripes – Elephant
    Eric B. and Rakim – Paid in Full
    Nas – Illmatic
    The Mothers of Invention – Freak Out!
    Wu-Tang Clan – 36 Chambers (hard to leave off several solo efforts, most notably Fishscale and Tical, but also Liquid Swords and Built 4 Cuban Linx)
    Jeff Buckley – Grace (admittedly not very cool, but just beautiful. A way better pick then anything by the Smiths)
    Beatles – Revolver
    Rolling Stones – Let it Bleed
    G. Love and the Special Sauce – G. Love and the Special Sauce
    The Who – Who’s Next
    The Ramones – The Ramones
    Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
    Gorillaz – Gorillaz (tough call between this and Demon Days. This gets the edge for the variety, although any album that has both MF Doom and Ike Turner on it is hard to turn away)
    The Allman Brothers Band – Live at Fillmore East
    Lupe Fiasco – Food and Liquor
    Nick Cave – Henry’s Dream
    Elvis Costello – My Aim is True
    Bob Marley – Exodus
    Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (I’m willing to say that it’s not their best, but I’ve had a personal attachment since the first time I heard it back when I was 4).

    Some artists who I feel terrible for leaving out: Jay-Z, 2Pac, Biggie, Kanye, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, OutKast, Foo Fighters, Streetlight Manifesto, The Kinks, Eric Clapton, The Yardbirds, Cream, Robert Johnson, Elvis Presley, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Motorhead, Sex Pistols, Bob Dylan (but not all that bad), Beach Boys, Common, Beastie Boys, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Janis Joplin, Smashing Pumpkins, Germs, Crickets, Parliament/Funkadelic, Velvet Underground, and Air. I’m sure a bunch more will come to me too but I think it’s best if I just cut it off right….here!

  • nin10dojo

    Wow, why stop at three? Why don’t you list 30 jazz saxophone artists/albums? Everybody knows that no cool music came out after the 1930-1950s Cool Music Revolution. Didn’t the author specifically write “Any album “list” is going to be incomplete. It’s going to be filled with
    albums you agree with, artists you hate and some sort of commentary
    that you probably disagree with. This list is no different” at the start? Don’t be so up your own ass, it’s just the writer’s opinion.

  • Mr.coolman

    CCR!!!

  • Tim

    A lot of the albums on here are totally awesome, although there’s tons more albums that are defining forces in history.

  • timmage89

    excellent list good sir!

  • mjkswim

    Any “cool list” without at least one Van Morrison album has ZERO cred. Sorry, nice try.

  • MrGuinness

    There may actually not be ONE album on here that defines “cool”

  • MrGuinness

    Jellyfish – Bellybutton
    Jellyfish – Spilt Milk
    Big Star – #1 Record
    Human Radio – Self Titled
    Black Crowes – Amorica
    Tear for Fears – Amerika
    Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville
    Terrell – Wings of Dirty Angels
    King’s X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
    The Grays – Self Titled
    Bleu – Redhead
    The Merrymakers – Bubblegun
    Joe Walsh – Barnstorm
    Toy Matinee – Self Titled
    Thin Lizzy – Fighting
    Huffamoose – We’ve Been Had Again
    The Once Soundtrack
    Owsley – Self Titled
    Oingo Boingo – Boingo
    Genesis – Foxtrot
    Urge Overkill – Exit the Dragon
    Masters of Reality
    Redd Kross – Third Eye
    Jeff Beck – There and Back
    Journey – Next
    Neil Young – Harvest Moon
    Kevin Gilbert – Thud
    Todd Rundgren – Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren
    If I were a Carptenter
    Pink Floyd – Meddle

  • dvrfa dfgs

    HAHAHA this list is really awful. In the Nirvana unplugged description you write “we don’t want to be too mainstream” when this entire list is a mainstream blowjob to every big record company out there. Where is Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, or Dizzie Gillespie? That is cool. This list is simply atrocious, lazy journalism

  • Ryanhq

    Live Throwing copper.

  • Amy T

    Also, very little representation of women artists. What about Joanie Mitchell? Madonna? LIz Phair? Annie Lennox…..

  • muncie

    how dare you leave off lupe fiasco’s the cool?

  • JazzyJazz

    You can’t even talk about cool without mentioning Miles Davis, Coltrane, or even the cool jazz era at all. You need to broaden your horizons a little and listen to “Birth of the Cool”

  • http://www.facebook.com/rbalsters Ryan Balsters

    Seriously Bad or Thriller not making it is out of bounds

  • WP

    wrong, wrong, wrong. wrong,wrong. i take it you guys forgot what cool is with the stuff you’ve been playing lately. i’m outta here.

  • IpsoFausto

    Dylan invented rock music? Fucking nonsense. Absolutely moronic, asinine, deluded crap. Rock was well underway by the time Dylan hit the scene (ElvisBillHaleyLilRichardChuckBerryetcetcduh), and he basically just wanted to be the next Woody Guthrie. When he did pick up finally an electric guitar, most of his fans railed against him, despite that fact that Maggie’s Farm rocks like a muhfucka.

    Somehow (I blame the drugs) people still think that his garbled vocals and “deep” metaphorical lyrics make him jesus fucking christ. I actually like Dylan, but he’s just another folk musician.

  • http://www.johnkirkdesign.net/jk John Kirk

    There are way to many albums to narrow this list. Beyond that….opinions are like a**høles-

  • Ari

    Sublime “Sublime”

  • Don

    A lot of these albums would qualify, but it’s already been said before that some of these are basically albums the author likes. A better test would be what albums do you think will still be heavily listened to in 50 yrs. I agree with some of the jazz comments on being cool, and I understand that jazz is not an easily digestible as rock. However, it would be a huge miss not to include at least one blues album on here – the type of music that inspired early rock and roll. I tried to like Radiohead… I really have – I just don’t get it anymore than I got the craze about Oasis.

  • LIK

    the fact that you put The Black Keys – Brothers album up here as opposed to ANY of there other earlier music makes you gravely misinformed about music in general and what makes it good.

  • Johnny Ray

    I can’t believe you took that much time to type all those albums. You are a loser. get life.

  • mcdj

    The fact that you think what YOU like makes ME misinformed makes me laugh. Literally. Oh and speaking of misinformed, it’s “their”, not “there”.

  • jacobcrim

    Yeah because two minutes is a long time, and the author asked what would be on our list. God forbid being part of a conversation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.brink.gosling John Goose Gosling

    My first time listening to BADBADNOTGOOD…
    Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/phil.smith.5074644 Phil Smith

    Just my opinion, but Al Stewart is the songwriter Dylan WISHES he could have been.

    In any case, if music defines cool or is what you think makes you cool, you don’t understand cool. “Cool” is listening to what you like regardless of what others think of it (or you.)

  • jacobcrim

    You may also enjoy: Trioscapes, Portico Quartet and Jazzanova.

  • Gary

    excellent list

  • Nickname

    Love it. With the nerd revolution comes the freedom of liking off beat, even if it comes from a mainstream artist. It is like listening to Stand By Your Van by Sublime instead of Sublime by Sublime. This is beautiful list that actually defines cool

  • Danielmx04

    Pearl Jam – Ten

  • Camo

    Try defining cool in 30 words. Then I’ll be impressed.

  • peter parker

    a difficult and interesting list to attempt to make.
    as an older dude it will be very interesting to see how the albums that “we” treasure will be treated by younger fans.

    certainly listening to the radio is how most people initially got turned on to a genre or specific band. and that’s a real thing of the past.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dustin.pardue Dustin M Pardue

    MGMT, Daft Punk? If this is considered cool I think I may jump off a bridge. I know longer understand the whole I’m living in.

  • jesus

    This is retarded.
    The Downward Spiral is LIGHTER than Pretty Hate Machine and it’s GOTH?
    Get your facts straight, or at least listen to the albums.

  • Spaceman

    Wheres the Kid Cudi? “Man on the Moon 2″

  • LaBoheme

    What? No female artists? Think again, grasshopper.

  • steez

    hip hop but no illmatic…weak