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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.

129

Chuck Berry, ‘Rock & Roll Music’

Writer: Berry 
Producers: Phil and Leonard Chess
Released: Sept. '57, Chess
19 Weeks; No. 8

This was a manifesto. "I was heavy into rock & roll and had to create something that hit the spot without question," Chuck Berry wrote in his autobiography. "I wanted the lyrics to define every aspect of its being." Set to a jolting rumba rhythm, "Rock & Roll Music" features Berry's genre-defining guitar licks and bass work from the legendary Willie Dixon. Berry's original made the Billboard Top 10, and the Beatles and the Beach Boys cut popular versions as well. For years it was this simple: If you played rock & roll, you knew this song.  

Appears on: Johnny B. Goode: His Complete '50s Chess Recordings (Chess/Hip-O Select) 

RELATED:

The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Chuck Berry

The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Chuck Berry

The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Chuck Berry

 

 

  


128

David Bowie, ‘Changes’

Writer: Bowie
Producer: 
Ken Scott
Released: 
Dec. '71, RCA
11 Weeks;
No. 41

The keynote from David Bowie's 1971 album Hunky Dory, "Changes" challenged rock audiences to "turn and face the strange." But the song originally stalled on the charts in both Britain and the United States, and it didn't really take off until after the commercial success of 1972's Ziggy Stardust. Eventually, Bowie fans adopted it as the theme song for the man who'd already given them Hippie Bowie, Mod Bowie and Bluesy Bowie. As it turned out, he had barely begun to show the world his wardrobe of disguises. The poignant sax solo at the end is played by Bowie himself.

Appears on: Hunky Dory (Virgin)

RELATED:

The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: David Bowie

The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: David Bowie

 

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 Bi