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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.


Foreigner, ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’

Writer: Mick Jones
Producers: Jones, Alex Sadkin
Released: Nov. '84, Atlantic
21 weeks; No. 1

This gospel-rock hymn featured Dreamgirls star Jennifer Holliday, one of the Thompson Twins and, most notably, the New Jersey Mass Choir. Said Jones, "I'll always remember them getting in a circle before we did it and everyone saying the Lord's Prayer." That probably didn't happen for "Hot Blooded" — but this soaring ballad became Foreigner's biggest hit.

Appears on: Agent Provocateur (Atlantic)


The Strokes, ‘Last Nite’

Writer: Julian Casablancas
Producer: Gordon Raphael
Released: Aug. '01, RCA
Did Not Chart

Youthful angst on the Lower East Side: Lou Reed vocals and cool confusion, driven by the surging, garage-band sound that would go on to define early-2000s rock. The Strokes supposedly nicked the opening riff from Tom Petty's "American Girl." "I saw an interview with them where they admitted it," Petty told Rolling Stone. "I was like, 'OK, good for you.' It doesn't bother me."

Appears on: Is This It (RCA)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Strokes's Is This It


The Smiths, ‘How Soon Is Now?’

Writers: Johnny Marr, Morrissey
Producer: John Porter
Released: Feb. '85, Sire
Did Not Chart

Morrissey cribbed lyrics from George Eliot, but guitarist Marr cited another reference: Derek and the Dominos. "I wanted an intro that was almost as potent as 'Layla,'" he said. "When [it] plays in a club or a pub, everyone knows what it is."

Appears on: Meat Is Murder (Warner Bros.)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Morrissey 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Smiths's Meat Is Murder


Aretha Franklin, ‘Do Right Woman — Do Right Man’

Writers: Chips Moman, Dan Penn
Producer: Jerry Wexler
Released: March '67, Atlantic
11 weeks; No. 9

Franklin disappeared after a 1967 session in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, leaving this simmering ballad unfinished. A few weeks later, she resurfaced in New York. The resulting vocal, said producer Wexler, was "perfection."

Appears on: