500 Greatest Songs of All Time – Rolling Stone
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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.


The Temptations, ‘Just My Imagination’

Writers: Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong
Producer: Whitfield
Released: Jan. '71, Gordy
15 weeks; No. 1

Eddie Kendricks, who'd sung lead on the Temptations' first hit, "The Way You Do the Things You Do" in 1964, took his last lead as a Tempt. By the time the song hit Number One, Kendricks had left the group for a solo career. But he gave this one his all: Tempt Otis Williams said he left the studio at 6 a.m. the night they cut it, and Kendricks was still there, working out his part.

Appears on: Anthology (Motown)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Temptations 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Temptations' Anthology


The Police, ‘Roxanne’

Writer: Sting
Producers: The Police
Released: Jan '79, A&M
13 weeks; No. 32

"That song has been the turnaround for us," Stewart Copeland told Rolling Stone. Sting came up with the idea for the song while wandering around the red-light district of Paris after a canceled show, wondering what it would be like to be in love with a prostitute. The title came from a poster for the play Cyrano de Bergerac — featuring a heroine named Roxanne — in the band's hotel lobby in Paris.

Appears on: Outlandos d'Amour (Interscope)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Police 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Police's Outlandos d'Amour


Elton John, ‘Tiny Dancer’

Writers: John, Bernie Taupin
Producer: Gus Dudgeon
Released: Nov. '71, Uni
7 weeks; No. 41

Lyricist Taupin wrote this 1971 song about his first wife, Maxine Feibelman, who really was a seamstress for John's band and obviously did marry a music man. John's skyrocketing melody got a little help from Paul Buckmaster's strings and from Rick Wakeman, soon to join prog-rockers Yes, who played organ. "Tiny Dancer" was revived in the 2000 film Almost Famous.

Appears on: Madman Across the Water (Island)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Elton John 

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Elton John 


Eric B. and Rakim, ‘Know You Got Soul’

Writers: Eric B. and Rakim
Producers: Eric B. and Rakim
Released: July '87, 4th and Broadway
Did Not Chart

Rakim was the microphone fiend who was dripping steam. Eric B. was the DJ with the James Brown samples. They were New York legends before ever releasing a song ("Eric B. was driving a Rolls-Royce before he ever put out a record," Chris Rock once told Rolling Stone. "My man was gangsta"), but this cut, named for a 1971 song by Brown sideman Bobby Byrd, made the whole world take notice.

Appears on: Paid in Full (Island)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Eric B. and Rakim's Paid in Full


Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, ‘Ohio’

Writer: Neil Young
Producers: Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young
Released: June '70, Atlantic
9 weeks; No. 14

On May 4th, 1970, the National Guard killed four protesters at Kent State University in Ohio. Young wrote a fiery indictment of the shootings, and CSNY cut their version of the song just 11 days after the tragedy, then rush-released it, knocking their own "Teach Your Children" off the charts. "David Crosby cried when we finished this take," said Young.

Appears on: Decade (Reprise)


The Beatles, ‘Ticket to Ride’

Writers: John Lennon, Paul McCartney
Producer: George Martin
Released: April '65, Capitol
11 weeks; No. 1

Lennon claimed that this composition of his was the first heavy-metal song. For his part, McCartney played lead guitar. "We almost invented the idea of a new bit of a song on the fade-out," he said of "Ticket." "It was quite radical at the time."

Appears on: Help! (Capitol/Apple)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Beatles 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Beatles' Help!


The Allman Brothers Band, ‘Whipping Post’

Writer: Gregg Allman
Producer: Tom Dowd
Released: Nov. '69, Capricorn

This anthem was written on an ironing board in a darkened Florida bedroom by Allman. Punctuated by Duane Allman's knifelike guitar incisions, the song is best appreciated in the 23-minute incarnation on At Fillmore East.

Appears on: At Fillmore East (Mercury)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Allman Brothers Band 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Allman Brothers Band's At Fillmore East 

100 Greatest Guitarists: Duane Allman 

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Gregg Allman


The Verve, ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’

Writers: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Richard Ashcroft
Producers: The Verve, Christopher Marc Potter, Youth
Released: Sept. '97, Virgin
20 weeks; No. 12

Since it used a sample from an orchestral version of the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time," this song was credited to JaggerRichards. But Allen Klein, who owned the "Last Time" rights, broke an agreement and demanded 100 percent of the royalties. Ashcroft called it the best song the Stones had written in 20 years.

Appears on: Urban Hymns (Virgin)


Aaron Neville, ‘Tell It Like It Is’

Writers: George Davis, Lee Diamond
Producer: Davis
Released: Nov. '66, Par Lo
14 weeks; No. 2

"I heard 'Tell It Like It Is' and I said, 'Bro, this is the shit right here,'" said Art Neville. Aaron was working as a longshoreman when he cut this sublime ballad. He originally felt something so sweet wouldn't catch on in an era of gritty R&B. "A lot of people come up to me and say, 'That song got me and my wife together,'" he recalled. "And others say, 'It broke me and my wife up.'"

Appears on: Tell It Like It Is: Golden Classics (Collectables)


Elton John, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’

Writers: John, Bernie Taupin
Producer: Gus Dudgeon
Released: Sept. '73, MCA
17 weeks; No. 2

Inspired by the Rolling Stones' Goats Head Soup, John and lyricist Taupin went to Kingston, Jamaica, to record John's sixth album. "The studio was surrounded by barbed wire," said Taupin, "and there were guys with machine guns." Too scared to leave their hotel, the duo wrote 21 songs in three days, including "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."

Appears on: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Island)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Elton John 

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Elton John 


R.E.M., ‘Radio Free Europe’

Writers: R.E.M.
Producers: Mitch Easter, Don Dixon
Released: July '83, I.R.S.
5 weeks; No. 78

"We hated it," said Peter Buck of the sound on the first version of "Europe," on indie label Hib-Tone. "It was mastered by a deaf man, apparently." R.E.M. rerecorded it for Murmur, with a richer melody and tighter rhythm — "like Motown," Buck recalled. Michael Stipe mumbled his lyrics — a vague riff on U.S. cultural imperialism — because he hadn't finished writing them when it was time to record.

Appears on: Murmur (A&M)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: R.E.M.'s Murmur 

100 Best Albums of the Eighties: R.E.M.'s Murmur


U2, ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’

Writers: Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.
Producers: Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois
Released: Oct. '84, Island
15 weeks; No. 33

The chords came from a 1983 soundcheck in Hawaii; the lyrics about Martin Luther King Jr. were inspired by an exhibit at Chicago's Peace Museum. With backing vocals by Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde (credited as Mrs. Christine Kerr; she was married to Jim Kerr of Simple Minds at the time), the result was the band's first Top 40 hit.

Appears on: The Unforgettable Fire (Island)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: U2 

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Bono


Ray Charles, ‘Hit the Road Jack’

Writer: Percy Mayfield
Producer: Sid Feller
Released: Sept. '61, ABC-Paramount
11 weeks; No. 1

Charles asked Mayfield, a one-time R&B hitmaker whose performing career was curtailed by a car accident in 1952, if he had any songs for Charles to record. Mayfield offered up "Hit the Road Jack." The snarling female vocal was provided by Margie Hendricks of the Raelettes. Hendricks' affair with Charles produced a son in 1959; Charles fired her from the Raelettes in 1964.

Appears on: Ultimate Hits Collection (Rhino)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Ray Charles 

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Ray Charles


Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Maps’

Writers: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Producer: David Andrew Sitek
Released: Feb. '04, Interscope
13 weeks; No. 87

"Maps" is both a soul ballad and an art-punk classic, with torrents of jagged guitar noise and thundering drums backing up Karen O's lovesick wail. The YYY's breakthrough hit was inspired by a case of real-life rock & roll romance: The Divine Miss O (real name Karen Orzolek) wrote the song about being on tour and missing her boyfriend, Angus Andrew, singer for fellow New York band Liars.

Appears on: Fever to Tell (Interscope)


Radiohead, ‘Fake Plastic Trees’

Writers: Radiohead
Producer: John Leckie
Released: March '95, Capitol
4 weeks; No. 65

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke would describe "Fake Plastic Trees" as the song on which he found his lyrical voice. He cut the vocal, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, in one take, then the band filled in its parts around him. Yorke said the song began as "a very nice melody which I had no idea what to do with, then you wake up and find your head singing some words to it."

Appears on: The Bends (Capitol)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Thom Yorke 

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Radiohead 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Radiohead's The Bends 


Pink Floyd, ‘Another Brick in the Wall Part 2’

Writer: Roger Waters
Producers: Bob Ezrin, Waters, David Gilmour
Released: Nov. '79, Columbia
25 weeks; No. 1

Waters' attack on teachers who practice "dark sarcasm in the classroom" was inspired by his own schoolmasters. "The school I was at — they were really like that," Waters said. "[All] they had to offer was their own bitterness and cynicism." There are three versions of "Another Brick" on The Wall, but "Part 2" was the hit.

Appears on: The Wall (Capitol)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Pink Floyd's The Wall 

100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: David Gilmour


Chuck Berry, ‘Brown Eyed Handsome Man’

Writer: Berry
Producer: Leonard Chess, Phil Chess
Released: Sept. '56, Chess
Did Not Chart

Berry was inspired to write this song while he was touring through heavily black and Latino areas of California. As Berry put it, "I didn't see too many blue eyes." He did see a good-looking Chicano nabbed for loitering until "some woman came up shouting for the policeman to let him go." Over a manic guitar lick, the song spins a riotous tale about a dark-eyed loverman.

Appears on: The Anthology (Chess)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Chuck Berry 

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Chuck Berry 

100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Chuck Berry


Sam Cooke, ‘Wonderful World’

Writers: Cooke, Herb Alpert, Lou Adler
Producers: Cooke, Adler
Released: May '60, RCA
15 weeks; No. 12

Cooke was rooming with Adler, who had already finished this song when Cooke came up with the academic conceit that made it work. Cut while Cooke was still signed to Keen, it sat around until he'd moved to RCA — then sold a million. Before it came out, Cooke liked to sing it for women he met, telling them he'd made it up on the spot just for them.

Appears on: Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 (ABKCO)


100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Sam Cooke 

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Sam Cooke 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Sam Cooke's Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964


Television, ‘Marquee Moon’

Writer: Tom Verlaine
Producer: Andy Johns
Released: Feb. '77, Elektra
Did Not Chart

"Marquee Moon" is Television's guitar epic; Verlaine and Richard Lloyd stretch out for 10 minutes of urban paranoia. "I would play until something happened," Verlaine said. "That comes from jazz, or even the Doors, or the Five Live Yardbirds album — that kinda rave-up dynamics."

Appears on: Marquee Moon (Elektra)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Television's Marquee Moon 

100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Tom Verlaine


The Who, ‘I Can’t Explain’

Writer: Pete Townshend
Producer: Shel Talmy
Released: March '65, Decca
2 weeks; No. 93

For their debut single, the Who recorded Townshend's alleged answer to the Kinks' blazing "You Really Got Me." The Who even hired that song's producer, Talmy, who recruited additional players for the recording, among them Jimmy Page, who contributed rhythm guitar.

Appears on: The Ultimate Collection (MCA)


The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Who 

100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Pete Townshend 

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Roger Daltrey


The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘The Wind Cries Mary’

Writer: Hendrix
Producer: Chas Chandler
Released: May '67, Reprise
8 weeks; No. 65

A dish-smashing argument with his girlfriend left Hendrix alone to scrawl the words to "The Wind Cries Mary" in January 1967. A few days later, the guitarist taught the uncharacteristically tender ballad — built around a gentle riff inspired by soul man Curtis Mayfield — to the Experience. The trio knocked out the track in 20 minutes.

Appears on: Are You Experienced? (MCA)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Jimi Hendrix 

100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Jimi Hendrix 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced?


Bo Diddley, ‘I’m a Man’

Writer: Diddley
Producer: Leonard Chess
Released: June '55, Checker
Did Not Chart

The B side of Diddley's first single was built around a four-note guitar stomp that was a trademark of mid-Fifties Chicago blues. Songwriter Willie Dixon, who supervised the 1955 session, said it was Diddley's sense of rhythm that set him apart from everyone else at Chess: "The drums are speaking, and he'll tell you what the drums are saying."

Appears on: His Best: The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection (Chess)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Bo Diddley 

100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Bo Diddley


Depeche Mode, ‘Personal Jesus’

Writer: Martin Gore
Producers: Depeche Mode, Flood
Released: Nov. '89, Sire
20 weeks; No. 28

Depeche Mode's breakthrough single was based on a surprising source: Priscilla Presley's book Elvis and Me. "It's about how Elvis was her man and her mentor and how often that happens in love relationships," Gore said. "How everybody's heart is like a god in some way."

Appears on: Violator (Sire)


500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Depeche Mode's Violator


Cream, ‘White Room’

Writers: Pete Brown, Jack Bruce
Producer: Felix Pappalardi
Released: Aug. '68, Atco
11 weeks; No. 6

Powered by Eric Clapton's wah-wah work, the song's unnerving psychedelic imagery came from Brown, emerging from a period of drug and alcohol excess. "It was in my white-painted room that I had the horrible drug experience that made me want to stop everything," he said.

Appears on: Wheels of Fire (Polygram)


100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Cream 

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Cream's Wheels of Fire


Bee Gees, ‘How Deep Is Your Love’

Writers: Bee Gees
Producers: Bee Gees, Karl Richardson, Albhy Galuten
Released: Sept. '77, RSO
33 weeks; No. 1 

The first single from Saturday Night Fever wasn’t a disco track but this slow jam. It went to Number One in December 1977, and the Bee Gees then controlled the top spot for 15 of the next 20 weeks. The song was originally intended for Yvonne Elliman, who had her own Number One with “If I Can’t Have You.”

Appears on: Saturday Night Fever (Polygram)


The Righteous Brothers, ‘Unchained Melody’

Writers: Alex North, Hy Zaret
Producer: Phil Spector
Released: July '65, Philles
13 weeks; No. 4

This song first hit the charts in 1955, when three different versions of it landed in the Top 10. The Righteous Brothers picked up the torch in 1965, making it the B side to their single "Hung on You." When DJs began playing "Unchained Melody" instead, Spector decided the duo should put out only covers of pre-rock pop songs as its singles; their version of Sinatra’s "Ebb Tide" also hit big.

Appears on: Anthology 1962-1974 (Rhino)


Bob Dylan, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’

Writer: Dylan
Producer: Bob Johnston
Released: Aug. '65, Columbia
Did not chart

"Highway 61 begins about where I came from," Dylan writes in Chronicles. "Duluth, to be exact." The road runs through the heart of America — and so does the song. It’s Dylan at his wildest, both musically and lyrically, topping the band's roadhouse stomp with his surreal cosmic jokes. The police-siren whistle was courtesy of session man Al Kooper.

Appears on: Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia)


The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited

The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Bob Dylan

The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Bob Dylan


The Box Tops, ‘The Letter’

Writer: Wayne Carson Thompson
Producer: Dan Penn
Released: July '67, Mala
16 weeks; No. 1

On "The Letter," Alex Chilton moans like a gruff soul man, though he was just 16. He credited the performance to his producer, Memphis legend Penn. "[He] coached me pretty heavily on singing anything we ever did," Chilton said. “In a lot of cases, it sounds more like him singing than it sounds like me.” Chilton went on to front Big Star but participated in Box Tops reunion tours until his death in 2010.

Appears on: The Letter (Sundazed)


The Clash, ‘Complete Control’

Writers: Mick Jones, Joe Strummer
Producer: Lee "Scratch" Perry
Released: July '79, Epic

The Clash were hardcore reggae fans, so it was natural they would want to work with legendary dub producer Perry. But the resulting single wasn’t dub at all — it was the Clash’s toughest, noisiest punk anthem, with Mick Jones cranking the guitar to ear-bleeding levels. "Complete Control," a U.K. hit in the fall of 1977, was appended to the American version of the band's debut album.

Appears on: The Clash (Epic)


The Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Clash's The Clash


The Beatles, ‘All You Need is Love’

Writers: John Lennon, Paul McCartney
Producer: George Martin
Released: July '67, Capitol
11 weeks; No. 1

Twenty-four days after the release of Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles represented England on the six hour TV show Our World, a satellite broadcast seen by 400 million. "All You Need Is Love" was the simple message they wanted to send to the world. "It was for love and bloody peace," Ringo Starr said. The backing choir on the single included Mick Jagger, Keith Moon and Donovan.

Appears on: Magical Mystery Tour (Capitol)


Roberta Flack, ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’

Writers: Norman Gimbel, Charles Fox
Producer: Joel Dorn
Released: Jan '73, Atlantic
16 weeks; No. 1

Inspired by a Don McLean gig at L.A.'s Troubadour, folk singer Lori Lieberman took her idea for the song to Gimbel and Fox. Flack later heard Lieberman’s recording on an in-flight radio station and "absolutely freaked," she said.

Appears on: Killing Me Softly (Atlantic)


Muddy Waters, ‘Got My Mojo Working’

Writer: Preston Foster
Producers: Phil Chess, Leonard Chess, Willie Dixon
Released: 1957, Chess
Did not chart

Waters made his version of "Mojo" after hearing R&B singer Ann Coleper form it while they toured together in 1956. He retooled the rhythm and lyrics, turning it into a speedy howl about voodoo and sexual power.

Appears on: The Anthology (Chess/MCA)


The Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Muddy Waters' The Anthology

The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Muddy Waters

The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Muddy Waters


Martha and the Vandellas, ‘Nowhere to Run’

Writers: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland
Producers: Brian Holland, Dozier
Released: Feb. '65, Gordy
11 weeks; No. 8

Martha Reeves was working as a secretary for A&R man Mickey Stevenson at Motown when Mary Wells missed a session date; Reeves stepped in for her and eventually became a star. Her wail makes "Nowhere to Run" a scary tale of obsessive love; the heavy percussion was enhanced with snow chains.

Appears on: The Ultimate Collection (Motown)


The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Martha and the Vandellas


The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Little Wing’

Writer: Hendrix
Producer: Chas Chandler
Released: Feb. '68, Reprise

Blissed out from his appearance at Monterey Pop, Hendrix brought a delicate touch to this ballad at a 1967 London session. In a mere 145 seconds, he conjured a gossamer reverie. Hendrix played one of his most lyrical solos through a Leslie speaker cabinet (creating an oscillating sound) and later added glockenspiel to complete the mood.

Appears on: Axis: Bold as Love (Experience Hendrix/MCA)


The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Axis: Bold as Love

The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Jimi Hendrix

The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Jimi Hendrix


Eurythmics, ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’

Writers: Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart
Producer: Stewart
Released: April '83, RCA
26 weeks; No. 1

"Sweet Dreams" was a deceptively catchy single from two former lovers. "The day Dave and I ended our romance, Eurythmics began," Annie Lennox told Rolling Stone. But the tense sessions for "Sweet Dreams" nearly ended their musical partnership. "I was curled up in the fetal position," Lennox said. "He programmed this rhythm. It sounded so good. In the end I couldn't resist it."

Appears on: Sweet Dreams (RCA)


Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Bad Moon Rising’

Writer: John Fogerty
Producer: Fogerty
Released: April '69, Fantasy
14 weeks; No. 2

"This song is definitely not about astrology," Fogerty once joked. "[It’s] scary, spooky stuff." With violence at home and a war abroad, there was a bad moon on the rise, and CCR effortlessly tapped into the darkening national mood. The song had one of CCR’s catchiest swamp-rock riffs, an homage to Elvis Presley’s guitarist Scotty Moore that Fogerty wrote in high school.

Appears on: Green River (Fantasy)


The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Creedence Clearwater Revival's Green River


Elvis Costello, ‘Watching the Detectives’

Writer: Costello
Producer: Nick Lowe
Released: Nov. '77, Columbia
Did not chart

In the summer of 1977, Costello was still an aspiring songwriter when he took the Clash’s debut back to his London flat and "listened to it for 36 hours straight," he recalled. "And I wrote 'Watching the Detectives.'" Still, he maintained, "I was never part of any punk-rock thing. I couldn't afford to go to nightclubs at night. I had a wife and kid, and I had to go to work."

Appears on: My Aim Is True (Rhino)


The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time:  Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True

The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Elvis Costello


Eric Clapton, ‘Tears in Heaven’

Writers: Clapton, Will Jennings
Producer: Russ Titelman
Released: Jan. '92, Duck/Reprise
26 weeks; No. 2

On March 20th, 1991, four-year old Conor Clapton died in a fall from an apartment window in New York. His father wrote the heartrending "Tears in Heaven" and "The Circus Left Town" for his son. "They’re sweet little songs, almost like folk songs, and I feel the need to have people hear them," he told Rolling Stone. "Tears" anchored his 1992 MTV Unplugged set.

Appears on: "Rush" Soundtrack (Warner Bros.)


The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Eric Clapton

The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: Eric Clapton


Elvis Presley, ‘All Shook Up’

Writers: Otis Blackwell, Presley
Producers: Steve Sholes
Released: March '57, RCA
30 weeks; No. 1

Songwriter Al Stanton walked up to Blackwell one day shaking a bottle of Pepsi and challenged him to write a song called "All Shook Up." Presley fell in love with the tune the first time he heard it and gave it the same freewheeling charm he had brought to Blackwell’s "Don’t Be Cruel," even reprising the guitar-backslapping trick he’d used on that track. It worked: The song went on to sell 2 million copies.

Appears on: Elvis 30 #1 Hits (RCA)


The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Elvis Presley

The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Elvis Presley


The Platters, ‘The Great Pretender’

Writer: Buck Ram
Producer: Ram
Released: Dec. '55, Mercury
24 weeks; No. 1

Heirs to the crooning style of the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers, the Platters became the first R&B vocal group to top the pop charts, heralding the arrival of doo-wop. Ram, who also co-wrote "Only You" and "Twilight Time," was pushing 50 when "Pretender" hit.

Appears on: The Magic Touch: An Anthology (Mercury)


Little Eva, ‘The Loco-Motion’

Writers: Gerry Goffin, Carole King
Producer: Goffin
Released: June '62, Dimension
16 weeks; No. 1

At 17, Eva Boyd was hired to baby-sit King and Goffin’s newborn during recording sessions. One day they asked her to cut a demo for this song. "There never was a dance called the loco-motion until it was a hit," King said. "So Little Eva had to make up a dance."

Appears on: The Loco-Motion (Rhino)


Ben E. King, ‘Spanish Harlem’

Writers: Phil Spector, Jerry Leiber
Producers: Mike Stoller, Leiber
Released: Dec. '60, Atco
16 weeks; No. 10

Just split from the Drifters, King was eager to make an auspicious solo debut and insisted on cutting this rare collaboration between Spector and Leiber. (King grew up mere blocks from Spanish Harlem.) Spector said this was Lenny Bruce’s favorite song.

Appears on: The Very Best of Ben E. King (Rhino)


The Isley Brothers, ‘That Lady (Part 1 and 2)’

Writers: The Isley Brothers
Producers: The Isley Brothers
Released: July '73, T-Neck
20 weeks; No. 6

In 1969, the Isleys added younger brothers Ernie and Marvin, who had been put through music school by their older brothers. Ernie repaid the debt on "That Lady" with a guitar solo recalling onetime Isleys sideman Jimi Hendrix.

Appears on: The Essential Isley Brothers (Legacy)


Elton John, ‘Candle in the Wind’

Writers: John, Bernie Taupin
Producer: Gus Dudgeon
Released: Oct. '73, MCA

John’s Marilyn Monroe tribute was a U.K. hit in 1973, but in the U.S. the single release was canceled when DJs began playing "Bennie and the Jets" instead. A live version with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra recorded in 1986 finally reached the U.S. charts, and a 1997 rerelease with new lyrics in honor of Princess Diana became the biggest-selling single of the 20th century.

Appears on: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Island)


The Top 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Elton John

The Top 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Elton John


Dr. Dre and 2Pac, ‘California Love’

Writers: Dr. Dre, Chris Stainton, Roger Troutman, Larry Troutman, 2Pac
Producer: Dr. Dre
Released: Feb. '96, Death Row
24 weeks; No. 6

When 2Pac left jail in October 1995, after serving eight months for a sexual-assault conviction, Dre had a hit ready for him: a slice of West Coast funk, built around a Joe Cocker sample and a vocal from Zapp frontman Roger Troutman. “I don’t want it to be about violence,” 2Pac said seven months before he was shot dead. “I want it to be about money.”

Appears on: Greatest Hits (Death Row)


Ritchie Valens, ‘La Bamba’

Writer: William Clauson
Producer: Bob Keane
Released: Oct. '58, Del-Fi
15 weeks; No. 22

Valens' version of this traditional Mexican wedding song was originally the B side to his first hit, "Donna." "La Bamba" entered the Top 40 two weeks before the 17-yearold died in the same plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.

Appears on: The Ritchie Valens Story (Rhino)


Big Brother and the Holding Company, ‘Piece of My Heart’

Writers: Bert Berns, Jerry Ragovoy
Producer: John Simon
Released: Aug. ’68, CBS
12 weeks; No. 12

The original was sung by Erma Franklin, Aretha’s sister. "Erma’s 'Piece of Heart' had a delicacy and a sense of mystery that was just beyond us," said guitarist Sam Andrew. But what Big Brother did have was a raw, fearless singer named Janis Joplin.

Appears on: Cheap Thrills (Columbia)


The Top 500 Greatest Albums of All time: Big Brother and the Holding Company's Cheap Thrills


Lavern Baker, ‘Jim Dandy’

Writer: Lincoln Chase
Producers: Ahmet Ertegun,Jerry Wexler
Released: Dec. '56, Atlantic
19 weeks; No. 17

Baker was a Chicago singer with a pedigree — her aunt was blues singer Memphis Minnie. Her big voice helped usher in the rock era on songs like "Soul on Fire." When white covers outsold her originals, she was so infuriated she wrote her congressman and even filed a lawsuit (neither worked). The swinging "Jim Dandy" was one of her sweetest hits.

Appears on: Soul on Fire: The Best of LaVern Baker (Atlantic)


Dion, ‘Runaround Sue’

Writers: Dion DiMucci, Ernie Maresca
Producer: Gene Schwartz
Released: Sept. '61, Laurie
14 weeks; No. 1

Dion was a country-music fan and member of a gang called the Fordham Baldies when a family friend got him his first record deal. "'Runaround Sue' was created at a neighborhood party," said Dion. This bluesy doo-wop single was Dion’s only Number One. For 47 years, he’s been married to his high school girl, Susan, but he claims the runaround girl was really named Roberta.

Appears on: Runaround Sue (Capitol)


The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Dion

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