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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.

28

The Beatles, ‘A Day in the Life’

Writers: John Lennon, Paul McCartney
Producer: George Martin
Released: June '67, Capitol
Non-single 

"A Day in the Life" was one of the last true Lennon-McCartney collaborations: Lennon wrote the opening and closing sections, and McCartney contributed the "Woke up/Fell out of bed" middle. For the climax, they hired 40 musicians, dressed them in tuxedos and funny hats, and told them they had 15 bars to ascend from the lowest note on their instruments to the highest. "Listen to those trumpets — they're freaking out," McCartney said. The final piano chord concluded Sgt. Pepper and made rock's possibilities seem infinite.

Appears on: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Capitol)

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27

Derek and the Dominos, ‘Layla’

Writers: Eric Clapton, Jim Gordon
Producers: Tom Dowd, the Dominos
Released: Nov. '70, Atco
15 weeks; No. 10 

Embroiled in a love triangle with George and Patti Boyd Harrison, Clapton took the title for his greatest song from the Persian love story "Layla and Majnoun." Recorded by the short-lived ensemble Derek and the Dominos, "Layla" storms with aching vocals and crosscutting riffs from Clapton and contributing guitarist Duane Allman, then dissolves into a serene, piano-based coda. "It was the heaviest thing going on at the time," Clapton told Rolling Stone in 1974. "That's what I wanted to write about most of all."

Appears on: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (Polydor)

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