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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.

433

Rolling Stones, ‘Tumbling Dice’

Writers: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards
Producer: Jimmy Miller
Released: April '72, Rolling Stones
10 weeks; No. 7

Originally titled "Good Time Women" (an early take is on the recent Exile on Main Street reissue), "Tumbling Dice" had numerous faster incarnations before it was recorded at Richards' villa, Nellcôte. "I remember writing the riff upstairs in the very elegant front room," said Richards, "and we took it downstairs the same evening, and we cut it." Since Bill Wyman wasn't around, Mick Taylor played bass.

Appears on: Exile on Main Street (Virgin)

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432

Green Day, ‘American Idiot’

Writers: Green Day
Producers: Rob Cavallo, Green Day
Released: Oct. '04, Reprise
20 weeks; No. 61

No song captured the rancid zeitgeist of the Bush era like this Clash-style rave-up, which bashed the USA's "redneck agenda." The starting point for Green Day's punk opera, later a Broadway musical, "Idiot" signaled the band's evolution into righteously angry political rockers. "We did everything we could to piss people off," said Billie Joe Armstrong, who often performed the song in a George W. Bush mask.

Appears on: American Idiot (Reprise)

431

The Smiths, ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’

Writers: Johnny Marr, Morrissey
Producer: John Porter
Released: Aug. '84, Sire
Did Not Chart

Asked in 1984 who was the last person to see him naked, Morrissey replied, "Almost certainly the doctor who brought me into this cruel world." But like many of the Smiths' early singles, "William" is a tale of traumatic teen sex, in this case a tragic love triangle in a humdrum town. OutKast's André 3000, a huge Smiths fan, once named "William" as his absolute favorite.

Appears on: Louder Than Bombs (Sire)

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