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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  • Sean Murphy

    The only thing I have to say is that Metallica’s Black album was actually released in the early nineties, not the eighties. Dig the list.

  • Patrick

    Just an FYI, Metallica’s Black album is from 1991, not the 80′s.

  • cao689

    good list.. .except the BLACK ALBUM.. the one where Metallica sold out and ceased to make good music.. .sure Black is the last one worth a crap… but MASTER OF PUPPETS? Ride the Lightning and Garage Days were all FAR MORE prolific albums… and Radiohead shouldn’t appear anywhere except for nailed to their whiny little crosses.. play your silly wish I was special crap on the VH! list, but you don’t belong on best album, best band, and you SUCK compared to the Beatles.

  • Rich

    Iggy Pop – Lust For Life. Post-Stooges Iggy with some Bowie collaborating!! That’s cool!

  • Diego

    “Ten” of Pearl Jam could easily be there instead of at least a couple, just sayin’..

  • feloniousmax

    Run DMC – Raising Hell should be there, not their self titled debut.

  • Joe

    “Loveless” by My Bloody Valentine should be in here.Only the coolest kids listened to it in the early 90s.

  • frank

    wow…that list is filled with a lot of garbage! you might want to consider some real music
    how about aerosmith “get your wings”………………rolling stones “hot rocks”…….jethro tull “aqualung”………kansas “point of know return”……….maybe a little steppenwolf……animals…..cream…..yes…….”who’s next or tommy or quadrophinia” by the who……..”thriller”…………etc etc

  • Timothy

    NO MICHAEL JACKSON?!

  • winston

    the best (and apparently most underrated) outkast record is Aquemini. i love Stankonia and have actually been listening to it quite a bit lately, but Aquemini is damn-near perfect.

  • Soviet

    Aerosmith? Really? Delta Arilines is way cooler…

  • DoubleGin

    No jazz albums? How can this be?

  • evad

    Licensed to Ill? I think you meant Paul’s Boutique or Ill Communication at least!

  • yeld

    Probably because Jazz is old fashioned, not “cool”.

  • J

    Illmatic- Nas
    In a Silent Way-Miles Davis
    Welcome To Detroit- Jay Dee (J Dilla)
    Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo- Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery
    Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim- Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim
    Innervisions- Stevie Wonder
    Midnight Marauders- A Tribe Called Quest
    Only Built for Cuban Linx- Raekwon Guest Starring Tony Starks (Ghostface Killah)
    Blackstar- Mos Def & Talib Kweli
    Death Certificate- Ice Cube
    Madvillainy- Madvillain
    Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band- The Beatles
    Main Ingredient- Pete Rock & CL Smooth

  • Victor

    This list, as most lists of this nature are, is trite, uninformed bullshit. If you don’t care enough to listen to things outside of the obvious please don’t waste my time with a safe list of boring sonic diarrhea.

  • landostar

    Wilco…..Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Bring it haters.

  • jacobcrim

    Best joke of the day, thank you yeld.

  • jacobcrim

    This list isnt really that bad, it just lacks any imagination at all. Its like you took 30 big name artists and picked their most popular albums. Some make sense like “London Calling” but Metallica has far better work than the black album. And “Elephant” is no means bad but The White Stripes have better work as well. To me “cool” means something unique, or the artists best/most creative work. So in no particular order here is my list:

    PS – To that guy who said jazz is old fashioned, I am 23 and love jazz. Step your musical game up, jazz is amazing.

    The Beatles – Revolver
    Pink Floyd – Animals David Bowie – HeroesBeach Boys – Pet Sounds King Crimson – In the Court of King Crimson Led Zeppelin – Houses of The Holy Fugazi – In on the Killer TakerAnimal Collective – Sung Tongs The White Stripes – White Blood Cells The Arcade Fire – Funeral The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt Bob Dylan – Blood on The Tracks Death From Above 1979 – I’m A Woman, You’re A Machine Madvillain – Madvillainy Beastie Boys – Pauls Boutique (Everyone knows License to Ill is their least cool album) A Tribe Called Quest – Low End Theory Nas – Illmatic Massive Attack – MezzaninePortishead – Dummy DJ Krush and Toshinori Kondo: Ki-Oku Submotion Orchestra – Finest HourDJ Shadow – Endtroducing…Boards of Canada – Music Has a Right To ChildrenOrnate Coleman – The Shape of Jazz To ComeDuke Ellington – Far East SuiteBADBADNOTGOOD – BBNG2Charles Mingus – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Jaga Jazzist – What We Must The Clash – London CallingMastodon – Leviathan

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=651900028 Richard Eicke

    You wasted your own time clicking the link bud, and thanks for all those swell examples of music “outside of the obvious”. No really, you seem so informed with your typical petty, music snob comment.

  • anonymous

    Wheres 36 chambers? Enter the Wu-tang

  • MoMo

    Jeff Buckley, Paul Simon, Raul Malo,

  • Topher

    pro·lif·ic/prəˈlifik/
    Adjective:(of a plant, animal, or person) Producing much fruit or foliage or many offspring.(of an artist, author, or composer) Producing many works.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jjhlavaty John J. Hlavaty

    I disagree with your U2 choice. First, their last album – barring maybe a few tracks (and I can name a few crappy tracks on ALL of the albums you posted above) – really rocked. It was the best U2 album I’ve heard since 1991. Second, I felt U2 put out some great tunes well after that 1983 release. So while that album was strong, I felt there has been far stronger material. But hey – it’s your list.

  • Luiz Augusto

    I can’t agree with White Stripes, MGMT or Outkast when you don’t have room for Pearl Jam, Velvet Revolver or Lynard Skynard.. I don’t no why but I belive there is something about Bono that makes U2 not so cool as it could be, I’m now imagining Mick Jagger slaping Bono’s face, them, I also belive that RS must be listed here..

  • yeld

    This isn’t eh 50′s. The only people who think Jazz is “cool” are either old or Jazz musicians themselves. I’m not saying Jazz is bad, I actually love Jazz. But that doesn’t make it cool.

  • jacobcrim

    I guess it all depends on the persons definition of “cool”. Because for me jazz is cool due to its complexity and skills needed. Which is the total opposite of what the kids listen to.

  • jacobcrim

    How do you hate perfection?

  • http://twitter.com/awequiteabit RS Hardisty

    I’d probably put Daft Punk’s Homework on any list like this before Discovery. It was my, and almost everyone I know’s, first introduction to French House and probably (to my understanding) one of the most widely respected 90s-era house albums. The two djs really set the bar pretty high with their debut album and while Discovery is a fine album, I don’t think it dethrones Homework.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kristopher.spencer Kristopher Spencer

    What? No Eno? Not even Roxy or Heads? An incomplete list indeed.

  • amkwan

    your list is amazing! DJ Krush + Toshinoro Kondo is one of my favorite albums of all time! You should have written this article. Shadow, Fugazi, and Illmatic. Bravo, man!

  • amkwan

    Absolutely an amazing list! Well done … Most people will never hear that Krush/Toshinoro Kondo – that’s too bad.

  • amkwan

    been listening to outkast since 94 (early HS … player’s ball was our anthem) … one of my all time favs … id say ATLIENS and Aquemini are both A LOT better than Stank. Atliens was a complete genre bender.

  • amkwa

    very true!

  • http://www.facebook.com/viktor.muerte Viktor Muerte

    No Miles Davis?? Seriously???

  • Guest

    I’ve assembled this playlist on Spotify here: 30 Albums That Define Cool – By Cool Material I’m building fan suggestions here: Albums That Define Cool – By Fans of Cool Material
    Almost all the suggested artists are licensed on Spotify, with exception of most classic rock bands.

  • http://twitter.com/Jordanthompson Jordan Thompson

    I’ve assembled this playlist on Spotify here: spotify:user:r.jordanthompson:playlist:7JcDymOkCuRnoSSPMQt2yg I’m building fan suggestions here: spotify:user:r.jordanthompson:playlist:00ZeWsxopXRyDeVwmgN7fH
    Almost all the suggested artists are licensed on Spotify, with exception of most classic rock bands.

  • coolmaterial

    Nice work, Sir.

  • jacobcrim

    I tried to hit a lot of genres. And i Would love for them to collaborate again, I got the album for my moms birthday. I hope she enjoys it.

  • http://twitter.com/Jordanthompson Jordan Thompson

    My pleasure, feel free to use it any way you like. Thanks for the music suggestions!

  • mcdj

    Black Keys – Brothers
    Thelonious Monk – Straight No Chaser
    Coltrane – Ballads
    Lucky People Center – Welcome To Lucky People Cemter
    Steely Dan – Aja
    Bent – Programmed to Love
    Kate Bush – The Sensual World
    Stevie Wonder – Fullfillingness’ First Finale
    Bowie – Hunky Dory
    Heatwave – Too Hot To Handle

    and ELBOW ELBOW ELBOW!!!

  • fursur

    I agree with your Metallica statement, but I have to disagree about Radiohead. Amazing fucking music.

  • Wfleitz

    I love you in a completely platonic kind of way.

  • illegitimix

    This list is just wrong. Any time you see these intangible lists that are based on ideas of “Cool” or “Revolutionary” or “Ground-breaking”, it’s gonna be all over the place. This one certainly is.
    As soon as I saw Dark Side of the Moon I knew this list was f*cked. Close your eyes and image the people who would sit at home and try to sync it up with Wizard of Oz, or the dudes who go to laser light shows of The Wall. What word comes to mind? “Stoners”, yes. “Cool”, not necessarily.
    Also, Legend? I know Bob Marley is cool as they come, but Legend just brings to mind repetitive plays out of a frat house stereo. For 95% of the people who’ve heard Bob Marley, these are the only songs they know, and they sure as sh*t don’t know a Peter Tosh from a Burning Spear. Uncool.
    Some of the other more questionable inclusions are:
    Under a Blood Red Sky – U2 might, literally, be the least cool thing ever. Especially live.
    Live at Wembley ’86: Queen, of course, is cool to the core. What’s with the live albums?
    Licensed to Ill: Great, but Paul’s Boutique is SO much cooler. C’mon, that’s a no-brainer.
    And in several places, they seem to have confused the word “Cool” with “Hard” See: Straight Outta Compton, The Black Album, The Downward Spiral.

  • illegitimix

    AB SO LUTELY

  • Michael Moscheck

    lol

  • Michael Moscheck

    Good list. Only a few I’d toss out. Let me add:

    Neil Young – Tonights the Night
    There are probably 3 other Neil Young albums I could have put here. That’s how cool he is. Neil’s most troubled and raw album, Tonight’s the Night catches Neil and friends in a drug haze and a little unsure about themselves and what’s going on around them.

    Big Star – Radio City
    Chris Bell quit Big Star and Alex Chilton was left left as a lone songwriter in Big Star. Instead of caving, Alex put out a power-pop masterpiece. Nobody actually bought the album, which makes it even cooler.

    Velvet Underground w/ Nico – self titled
    What do you do when it’s 1966-67 and everyone around you is into flower power, peace & love? When folk and blues based bands are exploding on the scene? You put out an album that talks about drug addiction and sadomasochism, and back it with music that sounds like monkeys banging on instruments. To today’s ears the album is not so shocking, but at the time most people thought this was unlistenable. At 35 years old, it’s still the definition of cool.

  • nacho

    I really think it is not a good list, except for london calling, legend, the dark side of the moon, live at wembleys, bob dylan’s and abbey road I wouldn’t even think of the rest as cool

  • jazzIScool

    The fact that Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker aren’t on here, shows you don’t know what cool really is.

  • Tizzer

    Mastodon and Death From Above 1979, I like your list!