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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.

377

Depeche Mode, ‘Personal Jesus’

Writer: Martin Gore
Producers: Depeche Mode, Flood
Released: Nov. '89, Sire
20 weeks; No. 28

Depeche Mode's breakthrough single was based on a surprising source: Priscilla Presley's book Elvis and Me. "It's about how Elvis was her man and her mentor and how often that happens in love relationships," Gore said. "How everybody's heart is like a god in some way."

Appears on: Violator (Sire)

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376

Cream, ‘White Room’

Writers: Pete Brown, Jack Bruce
Producer: Felix Pappalardi
Released: Aug. '68, Atco
11 weeks; No. 6

Powered by Eric Clapton's wah-wah work, the song's unnerving psychedelic imagery came from Brown, emerging from a period of drug and alcohol excess. "It was in my white-painted room that I had the horrible drug experience that made me want to stop everything," he said.

Appears on: Wheels of Fire (Polygram)

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375

Bee Gees, ‘How Deep Is Your Love’

Writers: Bee Gees
Producers: Bee Gees, Karl Richardson, Albhy Galuten
Released: Sept. '77, RSO
33 weeks; No. 1 

The first single from Saturday Night Fever wasn’t a disco track but this slow jam. It went to Number One in December 1977, and the Bee Gees then controlled the top spot for 15 of the next 20 weeks. The song was originally intended for Yvonne Elliman, who had her own Number One with “If I Can’t Have You.”

Appears on: Saturday Night Fever (Polygram)