The Velvet Underground. Fela Kuti. Björk. We've pulled out all the stops to find the best music from every corner of the globe.
Music battles it out on Rate Your Music (the Internet's review site for music nerds), where every album is rated out of 5 stars according to a public vote. The site's 'top albums of all time' function lets you filter by country, revealing all albums created by musicians born or living in each location—we used this nifty tool to find the best tunes on the planet.
Excluding albums with less than 50 user reviews or under 3.00 stars left us with 149 albums from every continent. If you've ever wondered the best year for music, what's hot in Hungry or groovy in Gibraltar, we've figured it out (with some surprises).
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The highest-rated albums ever
The highest-rated album of all time is Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) from the United States with 4.27 stars, closely followed by Dublin darlings My Bloody Valentine with Loveless (1991) and 4.24 stars.
Other highly rated albums include:
- OK Computer (Radiohead): United Kingdom - 4.23 stars
- The Velvet Underground & Nico (The Velvet Underground & Nico): Germany - 4.23 stars
- Long Season (Fishmans): Japan - 4.17 stars
These artists missed the cut
Despite being the best-selling music act of all time, you won't find the Beatles in our world rankings. Other surprising omissions include:
- David Bowie (UK)
- Miles Davies (US)
- The Beach Boys (US)
- Kraftwerk (Germany)
- Lorde (New Zealand)
- Leonard Cohen (Canada)
Most popular music genres
For the record (pun intended), we’ve had to simplify some genres. Users tagged the 149 albums with a mindboggling 255 unique genres: everything from Piphat and Proto-Punk, to Melodic Death Metal and Cloud Rap. Classical is the most popular music genre, making up 27.52% of the top-rated albums. As well as 41 classical albums, there were:
- Metal: 16
- Rock: 15
- Traditional: 13
- Other: 11
- Jazz: 10
- Electronic: 10
- Pop: 9
- Hip Hop: 7
- Folk: 6
- Soukous: 4
- Afrobeat: 3
- Morna: 2
- Polynesian: 2
Surprisingly, Metal is the second most popular genre in the world after Classical. It’s also really popular in Scandinavia. Whether it’s the freezing writers or something mysterious in the air up north, all the top-rated albums from Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden were Heavy Metal (or stuff like Dungeon Synth and Progressive Metal, to get technical). Despite the harsh rep, listening to Metal music reportedly has health benefits.
The best music from films
Some soundtracks are inextricably linked with their country of origin, like the top-rated album from Samoa: Disney’s Moana soundtrack performed in part by Samoa-born Opetaia Foa'i. Likewise, Ennio Morricone’s composition for the 1966 Spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly makes complete sense for Italy.
Greece’s top-rated album, judged by over 5,000 participants, is the synthy, futuristic Blade Runner soundtrack composed by Vangelis—we couldn't imagine it any other way.
The best music from games
In the 21st century, video game music is part of the identity of the game. It can generate tension, excitement or give auditory clues to the player—important stuff. Given that most gamers play for hours on end, it's no wonder the soundtrack becomes an earworm we just have to hear.
Guilty Gear XX's Heavy Metal soundtrack takes the top spot for South Africa. Composed by Daisuke Ishiwatari and Koichi Seiyama, it's impossible to imagine this high-energy fighting game without the heavy backdrop. Meanwhile, the soundtrack for the universally-acclaimed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt takes the number one spot for Kenya. This classical-driven soundtrack has medieval and folky elements that make perfect sense in the game universe.
The best year for music is 1992 … or 1973
Nostalgia rules—at least where music is concerned. While the average year hovers around 1992, 1973 is the most frequently occurring year on our list. Besides one Classical album, unbelievably (we jest), Psychedelic Rock was big around this time.
- Turandot - London Philharmonic Orchestra & others (India & Spain)
- Turn Onto Music - Mantis (Fiji)
- Waiters on the Dance - Julian Jay Savarin (Dominica)
- Sumut - Sume (Greenland)
Around 37% of albums were released in the last 20 years and only 22% of albums were released in the last ten years, but these include goodies like Daft Punk (France), Björk (Iceland), Kendrick Lamar (United States). The tectonic plates of music taste are forever shifting, so we'd expect more great albums overtaking number one spots in 2022 (and beyond)!
Albums with multiple countries of origin
Music is often a collaboration between performers across different locations and even continents—particularly classical orchestras. Tabula Rusa appears four times on the list. The main headliner is Germany-based symphony orchestra Staatsorchester Stuttgartcoming, but this album is top for Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia (The Velvet Underground & Nico sneaks in a win for Germany).
The full data
Danny Munday, General Manager of vouchercloud, said:
"Music is the universal language, but all too often we find ourselves listening to the same kinds of artists on repeat. With that in mind, we decided to look at musical tastes from around the world and put together a map celebrating musical diversity. We couldn't imagine a best music chart without Radiohead, but we were pretty surprised by some of the other results!"
Data and methodology
- Data based on the top-rated album on Rate Your Music for each country - set to 'All-time' and 'Artist location'.
- Low-quality results were removed, including top albums below 3.00 stars and albums with less than 50 ratings.
- Data collected 4th to 8th October 2021.