Home Music Music Lists

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.

182

OutKast, ‘Hey Ya!’

Writer: André 3000
Producer: André 3000
Released: Sept. '03, LaFace
32 weeks; No. 1

Not a likely recipe for a hit: a rock song with a bizarre 11/4 time signature by half of a hip-hop duo. Dré played almost all the instruments on this irresistible party jam — he said that its guitar chords, the first he ever learned, were inspired by "the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, the Smiths." Fun fact: The "ladies" who cheer halfway in are one lone woman, engineer Rabeka Tuinei.

Appears on: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (LaFace/Arista)

181

Joy Division, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’

Writers: Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner
Producers: Martin Hannett
Released: April '80, Enigma
Did not chart

Singer Ian Curtis did not live to see this Manchester, England, band's best single become a hit. He committed suicide in May 1980, two days before a scheduled American tour. "Ian's influence seemed to be madness and insanity," said guitarist Bernard Sumner. After Curtis' death, Joy Division carried on under the name New Order.

Appears on: Substance 1977-1980 (Qwest)

180

Big Star, ‘September Gurls’

Writer: Alex Chilton
Producers: Big Star
Released: May '74, Ardent
Did not chart

Big Star were totally unfashionable in their day – early-Seventies Memphis rockers inspired by Sixties British Invasion pop. A nonhit from the band's second LP, Radio City, "September Gurls" is now revered as a power-pop classic. "They were fairly dark records wrapped in a pop package," drummer Jody Stephens said of Big Star's now-adored catalog. "Maybe that's what's made them enduring."

Appears on: Radio City (Stax)

179

Tom Petty, ‘Free Fallin”

Writers: Petty, Jeff Lynne
Producer: Lynne
Released: June '89, MCA
21 weeks; No. 7

Petty and Lynne wrote and recorded "Free Fallin' " in just two days, the first song completed for Petty's solo LP Full Moon Fever. The label initially rejected the album because of a lack of hits. "So I waited six months and brought the same record back," Petty said. "And they loved it."

Appears on: Full Moon Fever (MCA)