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500 Greatest Songs of All Time

Rolling Stone’s definitive list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

By Jay-Z

A great song doesn’t attempt to be anything — it just is.

When you hear a great song, you can think of where you were when you first heard it, the sounds, the smells. It takes the emotions of a moment and holds it for years to come. It transcends time. A great song has all the key elements — melody; emotion; a strong statement that becomes part of the lexicon; and great production. Think of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Queen. That song had everything — different melodies, opera, R&B, rock — and it explored all of those different genres in an authentic way, where it felt natural.

When I’m writing a song that I know is going to work, it’s a feeling of euphoria. It’s how a basketball player must feel when he starts hitting every shot, when you’re in that zone. As soon as you start, you get that magic feeling, an extra feeling. Songs like that come out in five minutes; if I work on them more than, say, 20 minutes, they’re probably not going to work.

Read Jay-Z’s full essay here.


Bob Marley and the Wailers, ‘I Shot the Sheriff’

Writer: Marley
Producer: Chris Blackwell
Released: Oct. '73, Island
did not chart

Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer saved some of their prettiest falsetto harmonies for one of the group's toughest songs. Inspired by the Impressions' "Keep On Pushin'," Marley originally had the song's outlaw hero say, "I shot the police," but imagined the song would be more government-friendly if he changed it to the revenge killing of a single sheriff.

Appears on: Burnin' (Island)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Bob Marley 

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Bob Marley 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Wailers' Burnin'


The Dell-Vikings, ‘Come Go With Me’

Writer: Clarence E. Quick
Producer: Joe Averbach
Released: Feb. '57, Dot
31 weeks; No. 5

Five airmen who came together at the NCO Service Club in Pittsburgh, the Dell-Vikings underwent several lineup changes because members kept getting sent to Germany. Eventually they became pop's first successful multiracial group on the strength of "Come Go With Me." The song was written by the group's bass singer and recorded one night in a Pittsburgh hotel room.

Appears on: Golden Classics (Collectables)


50 Cent, ‘In Da Club’

Writers: 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Mike Elizondo
Producers: Dr. Dre, Elizondo
Released: Dec. '02, Interscope/Aftermath/Shady
30 weeks; No. 1

50 Cent's rhyme skills caught the notice of Dr. Dre and Eminem, who helped assemble this party track. "50 walked into the studio and picked up a pen," Dre said. "We were done in an hour. We just made some shit we wanted to hear."

Appears on: Get Rich or Die Tryin' (Interscope/Aftermath/Shady)


John Cougar Mellencamp, ‘Pink Houses’

Writer: Mellencamp
Producers: Little Bastard, Don Gehman
Released: Oct. '83, Riva
16 weeks; No. 8

Recorded in a farmhouse in Brownstown, Indiana, "Pink Houses" was inspired by an old man "sitting on the porch of his pink shack," Mellencamp told Rolling Stone. "He waved, and I waved back. That's how the song started."

Appears on: Uh-Huh (Mercury)


100 Best Albums of the Eighties: John Cougar Mellencamp's Uh-huh


Salt ‘n Pepa, ‘Push It’

Writer: Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor
Producer: Azor
Released: Nov. '87, Next Plateau
25 weeks; No. 19

In 1985, Azor recruited fellow Sears employees Cheryl James and Sandy Denton for a music-school project. With the addition of Dee Dee "Spinderella" Roper, Salt 'N Pepa became the first female MCs to crack the pop Top 20 when this track was remixed by San Francisco DJ Cameron Paul. "Push It" was nominated for a Grammy, but Salt 'N Pepa boycotted the show when the rap category wasn't televised.

Appears on: Hot, Cool and Vicious (London)


The Stooges, ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’

Writers: Dave Alexander, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, Iggy Pop
Producer: John Cale
Released: August '69, Elektra
Did Not Chart

These groundbreaking Detroit punks tapped into the brutal side of the blues for this primitive classic. They also offer a one-note piano tribute to the Kinks' "You Really Got Me." Over the ultimate bone-crunching three-chord guitar riff, Iggy Pop screams about the agony of teenage hormones the way only Iggy Pop can.

Appears on: The Stooges (Elektra)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Stooges 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Stooges's The Stooges 

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Iggy Pop


Elvis Presley, ‘Love Me Tender’

Writers: Presley, Vera Watson
Producer: Steve Sholes
Released: Oct. '56, RCA
23 weeks; No. 1

"Love Me Tender" was the theme song from the first Elvis movie and represented a new sound for the King. He sang in his softest voice, accompanied only by his own acoustic guitar. The melody came from the Civil War-era ballad "Aura Lee."

Appears on: Elvis: 30 #1 Hits (RCA)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Elvis Presley 

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Elvis Presley


The Rolling Stones, ‘Beast of Burden’

Writers: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards
Producers: The Glimmer Twins
Released: June '78, Rolling Stones
13 weeks; No. 8

By 1978, the Stones were in turmoil, after trouble with drugs, women and the law. On "Beast of Burden," they faced up to their struggles with world-weary defiance. On other takes, Jagger tried the song in falsetto, but his straight-ahead version went to the Top 10.

Appears on: Some Girls (Virgin)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Rolling Stones' Some Girls

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Mick Jagger

100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Keith Richards

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Rolling Stones


Love, ‘Alone Again Or’

Writer: Bryan MacLean
Producers: Arthur Lee, Bruce Botnick
Released: Jan. '68, Elektra
3 weeks; No. 99

The psychedelic cowboys of Love became famous for their dark, poetic L.A. folk rock. But "Alone Again Or," the opening track on the band's masterwork, Forever Changes, was written and partly sung by guitarist MacLean — who later left the band to join a Christian ministry — as a tribute to his mother's flamenco dancing. The final take is a decidedly trippy swirl of strings, horns and Spanish-style acoustic guitars.

Appears on: Forever Changes (Rhino)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Love's Forever Changes


Wilson Pickett, ‘Mustang Sally’

Writer: Sir Mack Rice
Producer: Jerry Wexler
Released: Nov. '66, Atlantic
9 weeks; No. 23

"Mustang Sally" nearly ended up on the studio floor — literally. After Pickett finished his final take at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the tape flew off the reel and broke into pieces. But engineer Tom Dowd calmly cleared the room and told everyone to come back in half an hour. Dowd pieced the tape back together, saving one of the funkiest soul anthems of the Sixties.

Appears on: The Very Best of Wilson Pickett (Rhino)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Wilson Pickett


Led Zeppelin, ‘Ramble On’

Writers: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant
Producer: Page
Released: Oct. '69, Atlantic

Groupies and The Lord of the Rings inspired "Ramble On," recorded in New York on Led Zeppelin's first U.S. tour. Over Page's acoustic guitars, Plant wails, "In the darkest depths of Mordor/I met a girl so fair." Middle Earth influenced more than the music: "After reading Tolkien," Page said, "I knew I had to move to the country." According to legend, John Bonham is banging on a plastic garbage can.

Appears on: Led Zeppelin II (Atlantic)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Led Zeppelin 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin II 

100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Jimmy Page 

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Robert Plant


Gladys Knight and the Pips, ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’

Writer: Jim Weatherly
Producer: Tony Camillo
Released: Sept. '73, Buddah
19 weeks; No. 1

Originally titled "Midnight Plane to Houston," the ode to long-distance romance from Mississippi songwriter Weatherly (who also wrote Knight's "Neither One of Us") became the biggest hit ever for Gladys Knight and the Pips. Cissy Houston had an R&B hit with it first, before Knight rode it to the top of the pop charts.

Appears on: Essential Collection (Hip-O)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time:  Gladys Knight


Fats Domino, ‘Ain’t It a Shame’

Writers: Dave Bartholomew, Domino
Producer: Bartholomew
Released: July '55, Imperial
13 weeks; No. 10

In the summer of 1955, "Ain't It a Shame" became Domino's first pop smash, after a string of R&B hits. Pat Boone's whitebread cover (retitled "Ain't That a Shame" — though Boone allegedly wanted it to be "Isn't That a Shame") reached Number One, but as Jerry Wexler put it, "Fats Domino is still the thing. Who cares about what's his name with the white buck shoes?"

Appears on: The Fats Domino Jukebox: 20 Greatest Hits (Capitol)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Fats Domino


The Clash, ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’

Writers: Mick Jones, Joe Strummer
Producers: The Clash
Released: July '79, Epic
Did Not Chart

"We can't play reggae," Strummer said in 1977. But the Clash invented a skank of their own, toasting the solidarity they saw between punks and Rastas. The anti-racist fusion of "Hammersmith Palais" also skewered sellouts in both scenes. "I was trying to talk about revolution and how we weren't ever gonna have one," he said.

Appears on: The Clash (Epic)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Clash 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Clash's The Clash


Solomon Burke, ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love’

Writers: Burke, Bert Berns, Jerry Wexler
Producer: Berns
Released: July '64, Atlantic
8 weeks; No. 58

Philadelphia-born Burke started preaching at the age of seven and often recorded his vocals from behind a pulpit. He attacks this song in the style of a fire-and-brimstone Southern preacher, calling out for a witness and testifying to the power of love. In the congregation: the Rolling Stones, who covered it in 1965.

Appears on: The Very Best of Solomon Burke (Rhino)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Solomon Burke


U2, ‘New Year’s Day’

Writers: Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.
Producer: Steve Lillywhite
Released: April '83, Island
12 weeks; No. 53

"New Year's Day" lifted U2 out of the rock underground for good. As he often did, Bono made up his lyrics on the spot. "We improvise, and the things that came out, I let them come out," he said. "I must have been thinking about Lech Walesa being interned. Then, when we'd recorded the song, they announced that martial law would be lifted in Poland on New Year's Day. Incredible."

Appears on: War (Island)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: U2's War 

100 Best Albums of the Eighties: U2's War

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Bono

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: U2


Deep Purple, ‘Smoke on the Water’

Writers: Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillian, Roger Glover, Jon Lord, Ian Paice
Producers: Deep Purple
Released: May '73, Warner Bros.
16 weeks; No. 4

Keyboardist Lord claimed that the working title for this song was "Durh Durh Durh" — a transliteration of the riff that some beginner guitarist is probably trying out for the first time right now. The lyrics tell the story of a fan shooting a flare gun during a 1971 Frank Zappa show at the Casino in Montreux, Switzerland, setting the venue ablaze.

Appears on: Machine Head (Rhino)


100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Richie Blackmore


Rolling Stones, ‘Tumbling Dice’

Writers: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards
Producer: Jimmy Miller
Released: April '72, Rolling Stones
10 weeks; No. 7

Originally titled "Good Time Women" (an early take is on the recent Exile on Main Street reissue), "Tumbling Dice" had numerous faster incarnations before it was recorded at Richards' villa, Nellcôte. "I remember writing the riff upstairs in the very elegant front room," said Richards, "and we took it downstairs the same evening, and we cut it." Since Bill Wyman wasn't around, Mick Taylor played bass.

Appears on: Exile on Main Street (Virgin)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Rolling Stones

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Mick Jagger

100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Keith Richards


Green Day, ‘American Idiot’

Writers: Green Day
Producers: Rob Cavallo, Green Day
Released: Oct. '04, Reprise
20 weeks; No. 61

No song captured the rancid zeitgeist of the Bush era like this Clash-style rave-up, which bashed the USA's "redneck agenda." The starting point for Green Day's punk opera, later a Broadway musical, "Idiot" signaled the band's evolution into righteously angry political rockers. "We did everything we could to piss people off," said Billie Joe Armstrong, who often performed the song in a George W. Bush mask.

Appears on: American Idiot (Reprise)


The Smiths, ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’

Writers: Johnny Marr, Morrissey
Producer: John Porter
Released: Aug. '84, Sire
Did Not Chart

Asked in 1984 who was the last person to see him naked, Morrissey replied, "Almost certainly the doctor who brought me into this cruel world." But like many of the Smiths' early singles, "William" is a tale of traumatic teen sex, in this case a tragic love triangle in a humdrum town. OutKast's André 3000, a huge Smiths fan, once named "William" as his absolute favorite.

Appears on: Louder Than Bombs (Sire)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Smith's Louder Than Bombs 

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Morrissey


Elvis Presley, ‘Blue Suede Shoes’

Writer: Carl Perkins
Producer: Steve Sholes
Released: March '56, RCA
12 weeks; No. 20

The day after Presley made his television debut, on Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey's Stage Show, he went into a studio in New York, kicking off the session with "Blue Suede Shoes"; Perkins' original was still climbing the charts. Despite 13 takes, Presley and Sholes felt they hadn't matched it. Maybe they were right: Perkins' single got to Number Two, but Presley's peaked at Number 20.

Appears on: 2nd to None (BMG Heritage)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Elvis Presley 

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Elvis Presley


Billy Joel, ‘Piano Man’

Writer: Joel
Producer: Michael Stewart
Released: Nov. '73, Columbia
14 weeks; No. 25

Joel grew up playing in rock bands, but a California hiatus as a lounge pianist (under the name Bill Martin) saw him pecking out standards for lost souls. "It was all right," he said. "I got free drinks and union scale, which was the first steady money I'd made in a long time."

Appears on: Piano Man (Columbia)


The Isley Brothers, ‘It’s Your Thing’

Writers: Rudolph Isley, Ronald lsley, O'Kelly Isley
Producers: R. Isley, R. Isley, O. Isley
Released: Feb. '69, T-Neck
14 weeks; No. 2

In 1969, the Isleys fled Motown and revived their own T-Neck Records, where they unleashed the free-will funk of "It's Your Thing." Their biggest hit, it earned a lawsuit from Berry Gordy, who claimed he owned the song.

Appears on: The Ultimate Isley Brothers (Legacy)


Dr. Dre, ‘Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang’

Writer: Snoop Dogg
Producer: Dr. Dre
Released: Jan. '93, Death Row
27 weeks; No. 2

Dre's debut solo single sampled the bass line from Leon Haywood's '75 hit "I Want'a Do Something Freaky to You." The mastermind on his working methods: "I sit around by myself in the studio at home, push buttons and see what happens."

Appears on: The Chronic (Death Row)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Dr. Dre 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Dr. Dre's The Chronic


Crosby, Stills and Nash, ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’

Writer: Stephen Stills
Producers: David Crosby, Stills, Graham Nash
Released: June '69, Atlantic
12 weeks; No. 21

Written by Stills for ex-girlfriend Judy Collins, this epic harmony showcase kicked off CSN' s debut album. Stills played most of the instruments, but as Nash told Rolling Stone, "The three-part vocal blend was fucking fantastic."

Appears on: Crosby, Stills and Nash (Atlantic)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Crosby, Stills and Nash's Crosby, Stills and Nash 

100 Greatest Guitarists: Stephen Stills


N.W.A, ‘Fuck tha Police’

Writers: Ice Cube, MC Ren
Producers: Dr. Dre, Yella
Released: Jan. '89, Priority

With one song, N.W.A brought the battle between rappers and cops to a new level. On August 1st, 1989, the FBI sent a bulletin to Priority Records, the group's label, denouncing this song. According to the feds, "Fuck tha Police" "encourages violence against, and disrespect for, the law-enforcement officer." The publicity established N.W.A as hip-hop's bad boys.

Appears on: Straight Outta Compton (Priority)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: N.W.A 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton


The Notorious B.I.G., ‘Juicy’

Writer: The Notorious B.I.G.
Producers: Sean "Puffy" Combs, Poke
Released: Aug '94, Bad Boy
20 weeks; No. 27

Biggie's debut single chronicled the rapper's rise from "a common thief to up close and personal with Robin Leach." He rhymes about his childhood poverty growing up in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn (although he claimed to be from Bed-Stuy) — despite protests from his mom. "I told him, 'No landlord dissed us!'" said Voletta Wallace. "He said, 'Mom, I was just writing a rags-to-riches kinda story.'"

Appears on: Ready to Die (Bad Boy)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die


Don Henley, ‘The Boys of Summer’

Writers: Henley, Mike Campbell
Producers: Henley, Campbell, Danny Kortchmar, Greg Ladanyi
Released: Nov. '84, Geffen
22 weeks; No. 5

Henley gave California rock a stylish Eighties makeover with this poignant lament for his generation, featuring the famous line "Out on the road today/I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac." When the Ataris did their hit punk-rock cover version in 2003, they changed it to a Black Flag sticker — but the sentiment was the same.

Appears on: Building the Perfect Beast (Geffen)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Don Henley 

100 Best Album of the Eighties: Don Henley's Building the Perfect Beast


The Four Tops, ‘Can’t Help Myself’

Writers: Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland
Producers: Holland, Dozier, Holland
Released: June '65, Motown
14 weeks; No. 1

"My real style of singing is just a natural thing," said Four Tops frontman Levi Stubbs. "What I mean by that is I don't consider myself as being a heck of a singer, man. I'm more of a stylist, if you will." His soul stylings sent this Tops classic to Number One — after the four original members had already been performing together for 10 years.

Appears on: The Ultimate Collection (Motown)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Four Tops


The Coasters, ‘Young Blood’

Writers: Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Doc Pomus
Producers: Leiber, Stoller
Released: May '57, Atco
11 weeks; No. 1

The Coasters were named after the West Coast, home turf of the four singers. After evolving from the doo-wop group the Robins, the Coasters had a couple of small R&B hits, "Down in Mexico" and "Turtle Dovin'." But after almost a year away from the studio, the group relocated to New York and cut its first blockbuster.

Appears on: The Very Best of the Coasters (Rhino)


Little Richard, ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’

Writer: Bobby Troup
Producer: Robert "Bumps" Blackwell
Released: Jan. '57, Specialty
8 weeks; No. 49

Richard screamed the theme from one of the first great rock movies, starring Jayne Mansfield. "She was a wonderful person," Richard said. "Her breasts were 50 inches, and she didn't wear a brassiere. They didn't hang down."

Appears on: The Georgia Peach (Specialty)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Little Richard 

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Little Richard


Bobbie Gentry, ‘Ode to Billie Joe’

Writer: Gentry
Producers: Kelly Gordon, Bobby Paris
Released: July '67, Capitol
14 weeks; No. 1

Once and for all: Exactly what did Billie Joe throw off the Tallahatchee Bridge? Gentry never revealed the secret of this spooky country blues. "The real message," she said, "revolves around the way the nonchalant family talks about the suicide."

Appears on: Greatest Hits (Curb)


Donna Summer, ‘I Feel Love’

Writers: Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte
Producers: Moroder, Bellotte
Released: May '77, Casablanca
23 weeks; No. 6

Summer would dismiss "I Feel Love" as a "popcorn track," but its impact on dance music is incalculable. When Brian Eno first listened to this, he told David Bowie, "I've heard the sound of the future." Thanks to Moroder's throbbing Moog synthesizers and Summer's epic-orgasm vocals, "I Feel Love" claimed tomorrow in the name of disco.

Appears on: The Donna Summer Anthology (Casablanca)


Pixies, ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’

Writer: Black Francis
Producer: Gil Norton
Released: March '89, Elektra
Did Not Chart

Numerology, sludge in the ocean, a hole in the sky — what's it all supposed to mean? Said Francis (a.k.a. Frank Black), "The phrase 'monkey gone to heaven' just sounds neat." Norton cleaned up the band's sound, adding the eerie strings, but the Pixies didn't bother to try for pop appeal. Said Francis, "It wasn't like we thought we'd get played on the radio."

Appears on: Doolittle (4 AD/Elektra)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Pixies' Doolittle


Aerosmith, ‘Sweet Emotion’

Writers: Steven Tyler, Tom Hamilton
Producer: Jack Douglas
Released: April '75, Columbia
8 weeks; No. 36

As the sessions for Toys in the Attic, Aerosmith's third studio album, reached the 11th hour at the Record Plant in New York, producer Douglas called out for ideas. Bassist Hamilton resurrected a riff that had been germinating for several years, and it was outfitted with bass marimba and Joe Perry's voice-box recitation of the song title. A few months later, Aerosmith had their first Top 40 single.

Appears on: Toys in the Attic (Sony)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Aerosmith 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Aerosmith's Toys in the Attic 

100 Greatest Guitarists: Joe Perry 

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Steven Tyler


Nirvana, ‘In Bloom’

Writer: Kurt Cobain
Producer: Butch Vig
Released: Sept. '91, DGC

"I don't like rednecks, I don't like macho men," Cobain once said. This track about a guy who "loves to shoot his gun" would become one of Nirvana's biggest live anthems. It started out as more of a hardcore rant. "It sounded like a Bad Brains song," said Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. Then, "One day Kurt called me and started singing. It was the 'In Bloom' of Nevermind, more of a pop thing."

Appears on: Nevermind (Geffen)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Nirvana 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Nirvana's Nevermind


Carpenters, ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’

Writers: Paul Williams, Roger Nichols
Producer: Jack Daugherty
Released: Sept. '70, A&M
17 weeks; No. 2

"Begun" began life as a TV jingle for a California bank that caught Richard Carpenter's ear. He called Williams to see if there was an actual song attached to the short bit he'd heard. "I assumed that it would never, ever get cut again," Williams said. He wrote several hits for the Carpenters, but this soft-rock ode remains the watershed. Richard later called it "our best single."

Appears on: Singles 1969-1981 (Interscope)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Karen Carpenter


Bob Dylan, ‘Visions of Johanna’

Writer: Dylan
Producer: Bob Johnston
Released: May '66, Columbia

"It's easier to be disconnected than connected," Dylan confessed in late 1965. "I've got a huge hallelujah for all the people who're connected, that's great, but I can't do that." He never sounded lonelier than in this seven-minute ballad, originally titled "Seems Like a Freeze-Out." Dylan cut it in a single take on Valentine's Day 1966, with Al Kooper on Hammond B3 organ.

Appears on: Blonde on Blonde (Columbia)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Bob Dylan 

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Bob Dylan 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde 


Rihanna Featuring Jay-Z, ‘Umbrella’

Writers: The-Dream, Kuk Harrell, Jay-Z, Christopher "Tricky" Stewart
Producers: Harrell, Stewart
Released: March' 07, Def Jam
27 weeks; No. 1

The songwriters initially offered the track to Britney Spears, whose career was spiraling out of control. "We thought, 'Let's save our friend,' " the-Dream says. But Spears' management brushed them off. "I'm so thankful for it," Rihanna said. "I prayed for this song."

Appears on: Good Girl Gone Bad (Def Jam)


Eddie Cochran, ‘C’mon Everybody’

Writers: Cochran, Jerry Capehart
Producer: Capehart
Released: Oct. '58, Liberty
12 weeks; No. 35

Cochran was paid $82.50 for the three-hour session that produced this classic rockabilly track. The follow-up to his smash "Summertime Blues," "C'mon" is a good-natured bad-boy tune powered by heavy strumming on his Martin guitar. Although he died at age 21, in a 1960 car crash that also seriously injured rockabilly pioneer Gene Vincent, Cochran became a huge influence in England.

Appears on: Something' Else (Razor and Tie)


100 Greatest Guitarists: Eddie Cochran


Sly and the Family Stone, ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’

Writer: Sly Stone
Producer: Stone
Released: Jan. '70, Epic
13 weeks; No. 1

The double-sided smash "Thank You"/"Everybody Is a Star" was Sly's sole new release in 1970. "Thank You" rode on the finger-popping bass of Larry Graham, who played like that in a duo with his organist mother. "I started to thump the strings with my thumb," he said, "to make up for not having a drummer."

Appears on: Anthology (Epic)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Sly Stone

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Sly and the Family Stone


The Shirelles, ‘Tonight’s the Night’

Writers: Luther Dixon, Shirley Owens
Producer: Dixon
Released: Sept. '60, Scepter
12 weeks; No. 39

The Shirelles, who originally called themselves the Pequellos, formed while at their Passaic, New Jersey, high school. Lead singer Owens was only 19 when she co-wrote this hit about romantic surrender, full of Latin-style syncopation and soulful yearning.

Appears on: 25 All-Time Greatest Hits (Varèse Fontana)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Shirelles


Metallica, ‘Enter Sandman’

Writers: James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett
Producers: Bob Rock, Hetfield, Ulrich
Released: July '91, Elektra
20 weeks; No. 16

Thanks to producer Rock, the coiled, brooding "Enter Sandman" was the first Metallica tune that sounded perfect for the radio. As drummer Ulrich pointed out in 1991, "The whole intro, the verse, the bridge, the chorus — it's the same riff."

Appears on: Metallica (Elektra)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Metallica's Metallica


Lynyrd Skynyrd, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’

Writers: Ed King, Gary Rossington, Ronnie Van Zant
Producer: Al Kooper
Released: April '74, MCA
17 weeks; No. 8

Van Zant sang this pissed-off answer to Neil Young's "Southern Man," and even Young loved it. "I'd rather play 'Sweet Home Alabama' than 'Southern Man' anytime," Young said. The admiration was mutual; Van Zant wore a Young T-shirt on the cover of Skynyrd's final album, Street Survivors, and according to legend, he is buried in the shirt.

Appears on: Second Helping (MCA)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Lynyrd Skynyrd


Big Star, ‘Thirteen’

Writers: Alex Chilton, Chris Bell
Producer: John Fry
Released: April '72, Ardent

Chilton wrote this acoustic ballad about two kids in love with rock & roll, featuring the deathless couplet "Won't you tell your dad, 'Get off my back'/Tell him what we said about 'Paint It Black.'" It's simple musically; as Chilton said, "I was still learning to play and stuff." It never came out as a single or got any radio play, but "Thirteen" is one of rock's most beautiful celebrations of adolescence.

Appears on: #1 Record/Radio City (Fantasy)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Big Star's #1 Record


Blue Öyster Cult, ‘(Don’t Fear) the Reaper’

Writer: Donald Roeser
Producers: Murray Krugman, Sandy Pearlman, David Lucas
Released: July '76, Columbia
14 weeks; No. 12

This Long Island band's death trip was picked by Rolling Stone critics as the best rock single of 1976. With its ghostly guitars and cowbell, "Reaper" has added chills to horror flicks from Halloween to The Stand. Bonus points for the crackpot theology about how "40,000 men and women every day" join Romeo and Juliet in eternity.

Appears on: Agents of Fortune (Columbia)


The Shangri-Las, ‘Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)’

Writer: George "Shadow" Morton
Producer: Morton
Released: Aug. '64, Red Bird
11 weeks; No. 5

The Shangri-Las, two sets of sisters from Queens, were in high school when producer Morton hired them to record "Remember" — a tune he claimed to have written in 20 minutes on the way to the studio. One story has it that a 15-year-old Billy Joel played piano on the session. Morton went on to produce the New York Dolls.

Appears on: The Best of the Shangri-Las (Mercury)


Elvis Presley, ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’

Writers: George Weiss, Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore
Producer: Joseph Lilley
Released: Oct. '61, RCA
14 weeks; No. 1

This adaptation of Giovanni Martini's 18th-century song "Plaisir d'Amour" was given to Elvis for his movie Blue Hawaii — hence the Hawaiian steel guitar. But this was no vacation for Presley: It took him 29 takes to nail his exquisitely gentle vocals. The song became the closing number for most of his Seventies concerts.

Appears on: Elvis 30 #1 Hits (RCA)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Elvis Presley 

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Elvis Presley


The Five Stairsteps, ‘O-o-h Child’

Writer: Stan Vincent
Producer: Vincent
Released: April '70, Buddha
16 weeks; No. 8

"O-o-h Child" gave the Five Stairsteps — four brothers and a sister from Chicago — a pop-soul classic that rivaled the hits of another sibling gang, the Jackson 5. The children of police detective Clarence Burke, the Five Stairsteps, who played their own instruments as well as sang, ranged in age from 13 to 17 when Curtis Mayfield signed them to his Windy C label.

Appears on: Soul Hits of the '70s: Didn't It Blow Your Mind! Vol. 2 (Rhino)


The Lovin’ Spoonful, ‘Summer in the City’

Writers: John Sebastian, Steve Boone, Mark Sebastian
Producer: Erik Jacobsen
Released: June '66, Kama Sutra
11 weeks; No. 1

"Summer in the City" was a stylistic turn for the Lovin' Spoonful — tougher and less daydreamy. "We felt the only way we could stick out would be to sound completely different from one single to another," said John Sebastian. With a barrage of car horns on the bridge, the record evoked its subject with urban grit and Gershwin-esque grandeur.

Appears on: The Lovin' Spoonful Greatest Hits (Buddha)

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