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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.

430

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)

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429

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)

428

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)

427

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)

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426

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)

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425

N.W.A, ‘Fuck tha Police’

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

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)

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