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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.

454

The Shangri-Las, ‘Leader of the Pack’

Writers: George "Shadow" Morton, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich
Producers: Morton, Barry, Greenwich
Released: Oct. '64, Red Bird
12 weeks; No. 1

Morton found the inspiration for this song at a diner in Hicksville, New York. "Bikers, hot rodders, gum-smacking ladies," he said, "not careful at all about their language." He brought a bike into the studio for the motorcycle sounds.

Appears on: Myrmidons of Melodrama: Definitive Collection (RPM)

453

Toots and the Maytals, ‘Pressure Drop’

Writer: Toots Hibbert
Producer: Leslie Kong
Released: Feb. '73, Mango
Did Not Chart

Toots and the Maytals were already reggae stars — they coined the word on 1968's "Do the Reggay" — before "Pressure Drop." They were rumored to be Chris Blackwell's choice over Bob Marley and the Wailers when he wanted a group for his Island label.

Appears on: The Harder They Come (Hip-O)

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452

Nirvana, ‘Come As You Are’

Writers: Kurt Cobain, Nirvana
Producers: Butch Vig, Nirvana
Released: Sept. '91, Geffen
18 weeks; No. 32

"It's just about people and what they're expected to act like," Cobain said. "The lines in the song are really contradictory. They're kind of a rebuttal to each other." The song is driven by a simple riff that Vig goosed with a flanged, subaquatic guitar effect. Cobain apparently lifted it from a 1985 song by U.K. art-metal band Killing Joke, whom Dave Grohl paid back 12 years later by drumming on their 2003 album.

Appears on: Nevermind (Geffen)

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500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Nirvana's Nevermind

451

Sonny and Cher, ‘I Got You Babe’

Writer: Sonny Bono
Producer: Bono
Released: July '65, Atco
14 weeks; No. 1

Late one night, while Sonny and Cher were living in their manager's house, Bono woke up Cher and asked her to listen to "I Got You Babe" and to sing the lyrics, which he had written on a piece of shirt cardboard. She thought it was OK but really wanted a song that modulated. So he changed the key at the bridge and woke Cher up again hours later to hear it; she was delighted.

Appears on: The Beat Goes On: The Best of Sonny and Cher (Atlantic)

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