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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.

353

Big Brother and the Holding Company, ‘Piece of My Heart’

Writers: Bert Berns, Jerry Ragovoy
Producer: John Simon
Released: Aug. ’68, CBS
12 weeks; No. 12

The original was sung by Erma Franklin, Aretha’s sister. "Erma’s 'Piece of Heart' had a delicacy and a sense of mystery that was just beyond us," said guitarist Sam Andrew. But what Big Brother did have was a raw, fearless singer named Janis Joplin.

Appears on: Cheap Thrills (Columbia)

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352

Lavern Baker, ‘Jim Dandy’

Writer: Lincoln Chase
Producers: Ahmet Ertegun,Jerry Wexler
Released: Dec. '56, Atlantic
19 weeks; No. 17

Baker was a Chicago singer with a pedigree — her aunt was blues singer Memphis Minnie. Her big voice helped usher in the rock era on songs like "Soul on Fire." When white covers outsold her originals, she was so infuriated she wrote her congressman and even filed a lawsuit (neither worked). The swinging "Jim Dandy" was one of her sweetest hits.

Appears on: Soul on Fire: The Best of LaVern Baker (Atlantic)

351

Dion, ‘Runaround Sue’

Writers: Dion DiMucci, Ernie Maresca
Producer: Gene Schwartz
Released: Sept. '61, Laurie
14 weeks; No. 1

Dion was a country-music fan and member of a gang called the Fordham Baldies when a family friend got him his first record deal. "'Runaround Sue' was created at a neighborhood party," said Dion. This bluesy doo-wop single was Dion’s only Number One. For 47 years, he’s been married to his high school girl, Susan, but he claims the runaround girl was really named Roberta.

Appears on: Runaround Sue (Capitol)

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