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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.

204

New Order, ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’

Writers: Bernard Albrecht, Gillian Gilbert, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris
Producers: New Order
Released: Oct. '86, Qwest
2 weeks; No. 98

After the death of Joy Division's Ian Curtis, his band became New Order. "There's life, and there's death," drummer Morris said in 1983. "We were still alive, so we thought we'd carry on doing it." New Order wrote their synth-pop hits in a Manchester rehearsal room next to a cemetery. Said Morris, "Fate writes the lyrics, and we do the rest."

Appears on: Substance (Qwest)

RELATED:

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203

Beck, ‘Loser’

Writer: Beck Hansen
Producer: Karl Stephenson
Released: 1993, Bong Load   
24 weeks; No. 10

In 1992, 22-year-old Beck Hansen was scraping by as a video-store clerk while performing bizarro folk songs at L.A. coffeehouses. After friends offered to record some songs, Beck cut "Loser" in his producer's kitchen. It became the centerpiece of an album (1994's Mellow Gold) that cost $200 to make.

Appears on: Mellow Gold (Geffen)

202

Parliament, ‘Flash Light’

Writers: George Clinton, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins
Producer: Clinton
Released: Dec. '77, Casablanca
16 weeks; No. 16

"Flash Light" is the P-Funk Nation's groove manifesto. "We're going to get the message out," Clinton declared in 1978. "We want to put the show on Broadway – tell the story straightforward so people understand that funk mean funk."

Appears on: Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome (Mercury)

RELATED:

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201

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Hey Joe’

Writer: William Roberts
Producer: Chas Chandler
Released: Dec. '66, Reprise
Did not chart

Thismurder ballad was the Experience's first single, recorded two weeks after their live debut. Hendrix was so shy about his voice that manager Chandler even hired a female vocal group, the Breakaways, for backup. The song had already been recorded by the Byrds, Love, the Standells and many other bands, but Hendrix learned it from folkie Tim Rose's version.

Appears on: Are You Experienced? (MCA)

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