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Best Pop Albums Of All Time: 20 Essential Listens For Any Music Fan

The 20 best pop albums of all time have touched hearts around the world, represented cultural eras and, invariably, sound fresh to this day.

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The word “pop” derives from “popular”, which means universal – and that’s what we kept in mind while compiling a list of the 20 best pop albums of all time. These are albums that touched hearts around the world, represented a cultural era and, invariably, sound fresh to this day. You can probably name dozens of classic albums that should be on this list – and you’d probably be right. What we can say for these 20 classic pop albums, however, is that the world would be considerably poorer if any of them hadn’t been made.

Think we’ve missed some of your best pop albums? Let us know in the comments section, below.

Best Pop Albums: 20 Essential Listens For Any Music Fan

20: Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Get Happy!! (1979)

Elvis Costello’s melodic knack and wordsmithing were at their absolute peak for this manic 20-song outburst. While he was paying homage to classic soul (more Stax/Volt than Motown), he was already thinking like a classic pop writer. Every track here offers the best of both worlds; every song knocks you on the head from the first notes, and more than a few are surprisingly poignant.
Check out: ‘Riot Act’

19: Genesis: Invisible Touch (1986)

About as far as Genesis could get from their prog roots, the hit-filled Invisible Touch was the perfect mix of the creative and the commercial, in a sleek 80s style. By this point, Genesis knew how to pull every ounce of drama out of a darker piece like ‘Tonight, Tonight, Tonight’, and when to step back and let the emotions come through on a ballad like ‘Throwing It All Away’. Topping it off was the endlessly radio-friendly voice of Phil Collins.
Check out: ‘Throwing It All Away’

18: Lady Gaga: Born This Way (2011)

Lady Gaga’s finest album to date – and one of the best pop albums of the last decade – is inclusive in every way possible, taking in everything from 70s arena-rock to Judy Garland and Edith Piaf, to modern electronic pop, with the confidence that she can do it all her own way. The title-track opener to Born This Way assures the misfits and boundary-pushers in her crowd that she’ll always be one of them.
Check out: ‘Born This Way’

17: Harry Nilsson: Nilsson Schmilsson (1972)

“Harry’s got a rock album,” proclaimed the original ads for Nilsson Schmilsson. What Harry really had was one of the greatest pop albums of the era, exploring the scope of pop songwriting and excelling at every turn. The three hits alone ranged from tropical novelty (‘Coconut’) to manic rock’n’roll (‘Jump Into The Fire’) to one of the era’s great heart-on-sleeve vocal performances in ‘Without You’. If you love this classic pop record you may be ready for the brilliantly off-the-wall follow-up, Son Of Schmilsson.
Check out: ‘Without You’

16: Fleetwood Mac: Fleetwood Mac (1976)

Rumours may have been the last word on failed marriages and 70s decadence, but Fleetwood Mac, the first album by the Rumours line-up, was a more joyful affair, revelling in wide-eyed romance and scruffy rock’n’roll, while embracing the band’s blues roots (on ‘World Turning’) for the last time. Meanwhile, Lindsey Buckingham’s ‘I’m So Afraid’ and Stevie Nicks’ ‘Rhiannon’ hint at the angst and the mystic adventures to come.
Check out: ‘Rhiannon’

15: XTC: Skylarking (1986)

Even when they first appeared as a spiky new-wave band, XTC were already writing some of the sturdiest melodies in modern pop. On the pastoral Skylarking, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding turn the melodies loose while daring to reach for greatness as singers. Whether they got along with him or not, producer Todd Rundgren had the vision to turn a bunch of wonderful but unconnected songs into a resonant birth-to-death song cycle, resulting in one of the best pop albums of all time.
Check out: ‘Dear God’

14: Laura Nyro: Eli & The 13th Confession (1968)

A visionary album in a few respects: Laura Nyro’s Eli & The 13th Confession was the bridge between Brill Building “girl group” pop and the thoughtful singer-songwriter era (three years before Carole King’s Tapestry) and it blurred spiritual and sensual matters decades before Prince got the idea. Three songs were hits for others, but nobody matched Nyro’s own rapturous singing.
Check out: ‘Eli’s Comin’’

13: Aaron Neville: Warm Your Heart (1991)

How do you harness an unearthly voice like Aaron Neville’s? Producer Linda Ronstadt knew the answer. You insist on nothing but first-rate material and let a little funk slip into the mix, so that the ballads stand out in higher relief. The peak of Warm Your Heart is a pair of Allen Toussaint compositions that do just what the album title says.
Check out: ‘With You In Mind’

12: Frank Sinatra: Come Fly With Me (1958)

Long before “world music” became a marketing strategy, Frank Sinatra and arranger Billy May took a jet-set trip around the globe, making every destination sound like a place where you could fall in love, savour the food and spirits, and generally live the good life. While Come Fly With Me’s high-spirited tracks are a blast, ‘Autumn In New York’ may be the most loving musical caress that city’s ever gotten.
Check out: ‘Autumn In New York’

11: Elton John: Tumbleweed Connection (1970)

One of the best pop albums and greatest Americana albums was made by an artist who hadn’t yet set foot the States. But then, most of us have never lived in the Old West era, either, which is beautifully evoked in these figments of Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s imaginations. He never topped the grandeur of ‘Burn Down the Mission’ or the bliss of ‘Country Comfort’, and while the love songs don’t fit the concept of the Tumbleweed Connection, they’re still pretty wonderful.
Check out: ‘Country Comfort’

10: Blondie: Parallel Lines (1979)

In which new wave opens its heart to the whole of pop history; never again would Buddy Holly (who gets covered) and Robert Fripp (who guests) fit comfortably on the same album. Debbie Harry gives one stellar performance after another – playing a West Side Story heroine one minute and sending it all up the next – and every track on Parallel Lines sounds like the AM radio of your dreams.
Check out: ‘Heart Of Glass’

9: David Bowie: Hunky Dory (1971)

Considering David Bowie wasn’t remotely famous when he made this album, its audacity is something to behold. Every track practically screams, “Here’s another place you didn’t think pop music could go.” He begins the album by effectively killing off the 60s on ‘Changes’, then ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ celebrates a sexual-freedom movement that hadn’t even kicked into gear yet. And let’s not forget the album’s closer, the glammy rocker ‘Queen B__ch’, followed by the most disturbing song Bowie ever wrote, ‘The Bewlay Brothers’.
Check out: ‘Oh You Pretty Things’

8: Madonna: Like A Virgin (1984)

Madonna still had a foot in New York’s dance subculture when she made one of the greatest pop albums of the 80s, and the spirit of that world (before it was cruelly ravaged by AIDS) is forever preserved in Like A Virgin’s teasing sexuality and self-mythologising. Meanwhile, tracks like ‘Angel’ revealed the classic-model pop singer she aspired to (and soon would) become.
Check out: ‘Material Girl’

7: Michael Jackson: Off The Wall (1979)

Michael Jackson invites the world onto his dancefloor, crafting a universal version of pop with Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney both in the mix. At this point he was unmatchable as a singer, writer and stylist, and the grooves don’t let up. It might even be a better album than its mega-hit follow-up, Thriller.
Check out: ‘Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough’

6: Taylor Swift: Red (2012)

Taylor Swift’s Red is the perfect update of Blondie’s Parallel Lines, and it took a fast-evolving country artist to make it. Swift ups the ante for sass and attitude while adding in the last couple decades’ worth of pop history, with hip-hop and electronic touches. Once again, it’s an album of terrific (and mostly non-autotuned) vocal performances; Swift is your tour guide for one gloriously dramatic love life.
Check out: ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’

5: Tina Turner: Private Dancer (1984)

Tina Turner pulled a small coup here by harnessing the sleek sounds of mid-80s synth-pop to the lyrical perspective of a worldly-wise diva. Classic soul (‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’) meets theatrical monologues (‘Private Dancer’), with a strong feminist sensibility throughout on one of the greatest pop albums of the era. Hidden gem: the rocker ‘Steel Claw’, a Paul Brady tune that Dave Edmunds also cut that year.
Check out: ‘Steel Claw’

4: Tony Bennett: The Beat Of My Heart (1957)

The young Tony Bennett recruits a dream team of jazzmen – including six drummers, hence the title and theme – to give definitive versions of songs by Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer and others. You decide if it’s a pop or a jazz record, but both worlds came out ahead. And while we love Bennett as an elder statesman, he sounds spry and downright sexy here.
Check out: ‘Let’s Face The Music And Dance’

3: The Beatles: Help! (1965)

What, instead of Sgt Pepper? Sure enough, Help! (in its proper, UK version) was where The Beatles’ creative imagination really took flight: John with his daring lyrical angles (the title song and ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’), Paul with his most soaring melodies (‘The Night Before’ and ‘Yesterday’). And, to cap it off with something Pepper didn’t have: a wild rocker in ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’.
Check out: ‘Help!’

2: The Beach Boys: Smile (1967)

For decades it was more a rumour than an album, but when the world finally heard Smile (in both Brian Wilson’s newly recorded 2004 version and, later, the restored 1967 original), it turned out to be everything it was long promised to be: a visionary song cycle of unique resonance and beauty, plus a joy and humour that the surrounding myth had threatened to forget. Sure, it missed its chance to change the world in 1967, but that’s a small wrinkle since, whatever year it was release, The Beach Boys’ Smile stands as one of the best pop albums of all time, and will endure for centuries to come.
Check out: ‘Good Vibrations’

1: Stevie Wonder: Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)

If one album could bring everybody together under a groove, it was Songs In The Key Of LifeEarlier Stevie Wonder albums may have been more daring, but on this two-and-a-half record set, Stevie knew he had the whole world’s ears. The hit songs are positively anthemic (and ‘Sir Duke’ is easily the only 70s chart-topper to reference Duke Ellington), but the album’s depth comes from lesser-known tracks like the sobering ‘Village Ghetto Land’ and the great lost funk workout, ‘All Day Sucker’. But even while it honours love and sex, Songs In The Key Of Life is marked, above all, by a conscience and positivity that gets more necessary every year.
Check out: ‘All Day Sucker’

Looking for more? Discover the greatest albums you’ve never heard.

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Rob

    June 23, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    Not a mention of Mr David Bowie ? What a load of crap

    • uDiscover

      June 23, 2016 at 4:14 pm

      We would argue that David Bowie is rock, not pop…

      • Wayne Chapman

        May 22, 2018 at 7:19 pm

        That’s odd . . . Bowie himself preferred to be known as a pop artist. And “Hunky Dory” is quite pop if you ask me.

      • Will Fox

        November 21, 2019 at 8:05 pm

        Why no Aretha?

  2. Enzo Giraldo

    June 23, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    Dears, …and what about Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney, Sergio Mendes and so on: are they less than Taylor Swift or Spice Girls? Please let me know 🙂

    • uDiscover

      June 23, 2016 at 4:15 pm

      Not less at all, but this was trying to look at pop over 60 years…

  3. Roger Miller

    June 23, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    Barry Manilow?

    • uDiscover

      June 23, 2016 at 4:16 pm

      Which album?

  4. Andrew Massey

    June 23, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Spice Girls??? I think NOT!!!! ABBA’s Best Album would be ABBA The Album. Arrival a close second.

  5. Shawn

    June 23, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    Absolutely rubbish. Queen one of the biggest selling groups of all time. Their music played consistently on all types of programmes and bohemian rhapsody one of the biggest selling singles of all time.

  6. DAVID

    June 23, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    In 1956 Elvis WAS rock n roll. Not pop. Times change and music changes as well.

    • Diane

      June 23, 2016 at 8:53 pm

      I totally agree, David. The term Rock & Roll was created for that music! If music is alive it grows and evolves.

  7. Adam

    June 23, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    The problem with this list is that the author clearly does not know what pop is. Donna summer was disco not pop (you could argue disco is a Subgenre of pop but at the time there was a clear distinction between the two). Elvis was rock and roll not pop. Marvin gaye was also not pop more r&b. Shania twain and that specific Taylor Swift album both were country not pop. It would be great when doing a list they would distinguish the genres properly.

  8. Peter Evans

    June 26, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    Hi Adam I think you’ll find Marvin Gaye was Soul.
    Which sums him up better than R&b me thinks
    Spice Girls again,I give up!!!

  9. Steve

    June 26, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    What a fantastic list – some true pop classics in here. Glad to see some Beach Boys in the list 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  10. Matt

    June 29, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    No Pet Shop Boys?

    Disgraceful

    • Ricardo Reyes

      August 11, 2017 at 4:02 am

      Exactly, that is the comment I’ve been looking for

  11. Ray King

    June 30, 2016 at 11:37 am

    what a shitlist

  12. little monster

    October 3, 2016 at 7:55 am

    too many men + where is britney spears

    • Blackout Britney

      April 25, 2019 at 3:01 am

      exactly! Blackout is literally one of the best and most influential pop albums of the 2000s. It should’ve been on this list over “Taylor Swift” especially since TS IS COUNTRY

  13. Jane

    January 9, 2017 at 12:28 am

    Taylor was country at the time? Taylor definitely deserves to be on this list, though. Maybe trade in Taylor Swift for 1989

  14. jamesdeansghost55

    January 9, 2017 at 1:32 am

    “Steve McQueen” by Prefab Sprout… “Hounds Of Love” by Kate Bush. This list was a waste of time with a lazy approach to research and review.

  15. Daniel B

    March 13, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    Can people please just stop trying to dismiss the Spice Girls. That album is a masterclass of pop music. You do not have to like them, you can even actively despise them (and you would definitely have legitimate cause to do so) but you cannot disregard the impact of their first album and on pop music.

  16. Dave

    April 23, 2017 at 11:35 pm

    Any list with Taylor Switf is invalid. She’s absolute trash. Many of these are not even pop by the way. And Where is Mariah? Janet? MADONNA???

  17. Tony

    June 22, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    Where are The Bee Gees?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. RichC

    June 23, 2017 at 8:51 am

    I’d say “SaturdayNight Fever” should have made the list! Definitely agree with Simon and Garfunkel. “Sgt Pepper” is usually considered one of the greatest rock albums.

  19. Moeman

    June 23, 2017 at 10:58 pm

    I miss THE pop album from the 80’s…
    Duran Duran’s Rio

  20. Antonnio N.

    June 26, 2017 at 8:32 am

    Genesis are not pop, but “Invisible Touch” yes!

  21. jim giordano

    June 28, 2017 at 4:38 am

    Frank Sinatra’s “Songs For Swingin’ Lovers” is technically a jazz album. Karen Carpenter’s Tan album is basically torch songs/light jazz/lounge music. These are both great albums-but could hardly be considered mainstream pop.

  22. Flavio Ezequiel Gonzáles Turanza

    August 14, 2017 at 5:45 am

    LOS 25 MEJORES ÁLBUMES OCCIDENTALES CON ENFOQUE DE SONIDO POP

    1. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
    2. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead
    3. Cocteau Twins – Head over Heels
    4. Lisa Germano – Geek the Girl
    5. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
    6. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
    7. The Byrds – The Notorious Byrd Brothers
    8. Sinéad O’Connor – The Lion And The Cobra
    9. Love – Forever Changes
    10. Something/Anything? – Todd Rundgren
    11. The Olivia Tremor Control – Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume One
    12. Dogbowl – Cyclops Nuclear Submarine Captain
    13. Talk Talk – The Colour of Spring
    14. The Bonzo Dog Band – The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse
    15. Solex – Low Kick and Hard Bop
    16. Kate Bush – The Kick Inside
    17. Mercury Rev – Deserter’s Songs
    18. Montage – S/T
    19. How To Dress Well – Love Remains
    20. Carole King – Tapestry
    21. Frank Sinatra – In the Wee Small Hours
    22. Laura Nyro – Eli and the Thirteenth Confession
    23. Debut – Björk
    24. The Zombies – Odessey And Oracle
    25. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

  23. miguel

    February 14, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    Faltan BREAKFAST IN AMERICA de SUPERTRAMP y SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER de BEE GEES

  24. Wayne Chapman

    May 22, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    Any list of great pop albums should include the Beatles, the Monkees, ABBA, Belle and Sebastian, Madonna, the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Squeeze, XTC, and a number of others. I have a soft spot for Milla Jovovich’s “The Divine Comedy.”

  25. Zachary Brown

    August 15, 2019 at 2:19 am

    Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” is the GREATEST pop album of all time. There’s so much to dissect. With every song having multiple catchy hooks around every corner, unique blends of interesting sound, recurring themes and nuances. I get mad every time I don’t see it on a Best Of list. It is responsible for a lot of things that are still present in pop music and albums in general. I don’t think it could be topped, in fact it’s way more ambitious than Thriller.

  26. Gary Theroux

    November 21, 2019 at 9:34 pm

    Everybody is entitled to their own opinions — their fave raves and deep dislikes. This list is simply one man’s perception and is no more valid than anyone else’s. BTW: “pop,” as in “popular,” is a very generic term which can encompass music of ANY style which appeals to a large enough audience.

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