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.

152

The Penguins, ‘Earth Angel’

Writers: Jesse Belvin, Curtis Williams
Producer: Dootsie Williams
Released: Dec. '54, Dootone
15 weeks; No. 8

Crudely recorded in a garage and released on a small label, "Earth Angel" turned out to be a pivotal record in the early development of rock & roll. The artless, unaffected vocals of the Penguins, four black high schoolers from L.A., defined the street-corner elegance of doo-wop. The Penguins' version also outsold a sanitized, big-label cover by schmaltzy white group the Crew-Cuts.

Appears on: Earth Angel (Ace)

151

The Byrds, ‘Eight Miles High’

Writers: Gene Clark, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby
Producer: Allen Stanton
Released: April '66, Columbia
9 weeks; No. 14

A rare collaboration between three Byrds, it was supposedly about an airplane flight. McGuinn's 12-string solo was inspired by John Coltrane's sax playing and Rod Argent's piano on the Zombies' "She's Not There." "Of course it was a drug song," Crosby said. "We were stoned when we wrote it. But it was also about the [plane] trip to London."

Appears on: Fifth Dimension (Legacy)

Show Comments