Adele

21

1 When Adele came by the office to preview her second album for me and a handful of staffers, it was clear that it was something special. That 21 would turn out to be such a phenomenon-a triumph of soul-baring songwriting and soul-busting singing-was beyond all expectation. Striking in its intimacy, it connected with the masses-especially anyone who's ever been through a break- up. "We could have had it all," she wails on "Rolling in the Deep." In 2011 Adele did have it all.

Foo Fighters

Wasting Light

2 In a year celebrating the 20th anniversary of Nevermind, Foo Fighters-recording on analog tape alongside Butch Vig, producer of that Nirvana classic-emerged from Dave Grohl's garage with a beast of a rock album.

Drake

Take Care

3 The title of Drake's debut album, Thank Me Later, suggested that there would be more to come before he was fully deserving of all the props he was getting from the hip-hop hype machine. Well, just a year later, the rapper-singer has taken it to the next level with an ambitious, Kanye-esque effort. Nearly 80 minutes, Take Care is one long, lush mood piece that is cohesively-and oh-so-meticulously-realized.

Florence + the Machine

Ceremonials

4 Like both Adele and Drake, Florence Welch defied the sophomore slump in stellar style. Ceremonials possesses such transcendent power that you might think it had some divine assistance. (Actually, the album was produced by Paul Epworth, who also worked on Adele's 21.) In the first three songs, Flo is by turns ethereal ("Only If for a Night"), tribal ("Shake It Out") and gothic ("What the Water Gave Me")-a goddess in every guise.

Plan B

The Defamation of Strickland Banks

5 While 2011 saw Amy Winehouse leave us far too soon, another gritty Brit, Plan B, displayed a knack for Motown-inspired soul-pop with a hip-hop swagger. Rapping as well as crooning, he makes this concept album his own Back to Black.

Raphael Saadiq

Stone Rollin'

6 Whereas Plan B puts a modern twist on retro sounds, Saadiq is strictly old-school mining the vintage R&B of the '50s, '60s and '70s. In the spirit of Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson, this is stone-groovin'.

Chris Brown

F.A.M.E.

7 For some it may still be difficult to separate the man from the music, but Brown delivered the kind of R&B-pop blockbuster that a young Michael Jackson might have made in 2011. Rocking the club (the pumping "Beautiful People"), the street ("Look at Me Now" with Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes) and your heart (the Justin Bieber duet "Next to You"), he was a star reborn.

The Decemberists

The King Is Dead

8 From Mumford & Sons to Bon Iver, it was a very good year for alt-folk. In all its rustic splendor, this R.E.M.-ish gem is a regal achievement.

James Blake

James Blake

9 Haunting and hypnotic, this Brit's ambient debut transports you into the otherworld of dubstep, as electronic beats belie a soulful heart.

Miranda Lambert

Four the Record

10 Lambert may have gotten hitched to Blake Shelton, but on her fourth album, the country star is still the "Fastest Girl in Town." Songs like "Safe," though, find the beauty in smelling the roses-instead of more gunpowder.

People TABLET BONUS VIDEO More on Chuck's '11 faves

"All of the Lights"

Short of "We Are the World," it's hard to think of a starrier cut than this brilliant jam from Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Fergie, Alicia Keys and more. Heck, even Elton John joined the party!

1. Beyonce

Somehow "Run the World (Girls)" wasn't a big hit. But behind its militaristic beat and empowering message, the mom-to-be still ran this mutha!

2. Lady Gaga

It's a close call with "Born This Way"-I never got the controversy-but "The Edge of Glory" wins out for its sax by the late Clarence Clemons.

3. Britney Spears

Brit had a big year with three Top 10 singles off Femme Fatale, her finest album ever. Best of all was the apocalyptic euphoria of "Till the World Ends."

Pitbull

After helping J.Lo get her groove back with "On the Floor," the rapper gave his everything to keep the clubs hopping on Planet Pit.

Worst Party Rockers

LMFAO

Sure, this duo scored the No. 1 smash "Party Rock Anthem," but their album Sorry for Party Rocking was a truly regrettable affair.

R.E.M. Collapse into Now

These alt-rock heroes pulled the plug after 31 years, but not without leaving behind a final studio album that reminded us of their glory days.

Worst Comeback

Donny & Marie Osmond Donny & Marie

Surely no one was waiting for the recording return of this brother-sister act. And now we know why.

Joe Jonas

"Rolling in the Deep" by Adele. The whole album [21] blows you away.

Fergie

Watch the Throne [by Jay-Z & Kanye West]. It motivates me to work out.

Selma Blair

The Coldplay album [Mylo Xyloto]. Amazing songs. It never gets old.

Robin Thicke

Lil Wayne's [Tha Carter IV] is amazing. He's got so many quotable lines.

Taylor Swift

"Super Bass" [by Nicki Minaj]. Because you can memorize the whole thing!