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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.

127

Big Joe Turner, ‘Shake, Rattle & Roll’

Writer: Charles Calhoun
Producer: 
Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler
Released: 
April '54, Atlantic
Predates chart

Atlantic Records' contribution to the birth of rock & roll (Wexler and Ertegun even sang backup), "Shake, Rattle & Roll" was written specifically for big-voiced blues singer Turner, one of the label's early stars. "Everybody was singing slow blues when I was young, and I thought I'd put a beat to it and sing it uptempo," Turner said. This track, with its big bounce and raunchy lyrics ("I'm like a one-eyed cat peepin' in a seafood store"), topped the R&B charts; typical of the times, a sanitized cover by Bill Haley and the Comets got white America bopping. 

Appears on: The Very Best of Big Joe Turner (Rhino)

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126

The Shirelles, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’

Writers: Gerry Goffin, Carole King
Producer: Luther Dixon
Released: Nov. '60, Scepter
19 weeks; No. 1

After a few minor Shirelles hits, Scepter Records founder Florence Greenberg asked King and Goffin to write the group a song. On the piano in Greenberg's office, King finished a song the team had been working on. "I remember giving her baby a bottle while Carole was writing the song," Greenberg said. Lead singer Shirley Owens initially found "Tomorrow" too countryish for the group, but Dixon's production changed her mind. King's devotion to the song was so strong she replaced a subpar percussionist and played kettledrum herself. With its forthright depiction of a sexual relationship, it became the first girl-group record to go Number One.

Appears on: Girl Group Greats (Rhino)

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