100 Greatest Songs of the Century - So Far - Rolling Stone
Home Music Music Lists

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

We polled artists, critics and industry insiders to create a list of the era’s truly essential moments

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

The 2000s has produced a shocking amount of incredible music – and since changes in technology have made it all pretty much free, we’ve been able to hear more of it than ever before. We’ve been lucky enough to see some larger-than-life superstars roll through, from Beyoncé to Drake to Jack White to Adele, and we’ve seen greats from the previous century like Beck, Outkast and U2 change and re-up their game.

It’s been 18 years teaming with great indie-rock guitar bangers, overwrought dance anthems, heart-on-sleeve punk rock and emo, genre-mutating R&B and sonically adventurous, politically radical hip-hop. Kanye West has also been somewhat productive throughout this period.

To compile our list the “100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far,” we reached out to a large group of artists, producers, critics and industry experts who sent us ranked lists of their favorite songs. We tabulated the votes. Our own editorial list might look a little different, but the result is an excellent reflection of an incredible period in music history.

You can also read the list in the July issue of Rolling Stone. We’ve relaunched the magazine with a new look and we think this list perfectly embodies our commitment to giving you the deepest sense of the best music happening now and shaping the future.

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“Bodak Yellow,” Cardi B

2017 | ATLANTIC; Highest Chart Position: 1

“I like to talk shit about people that used to talk shit,” said Cardi B. “Like, yeah, I fixed my teeth. And it wasn’t cheap either, bitch. While I was recording it, every bitch I don’t like came into my head and I was picturing me rapping it to them.” On her debut single, Cardi B flipped the flow from a freestyle by rapper Kodak Black into a hard-edged, bloody-shoed boss boast. She promptly launched herself from mixtape rapper and Instagram personality to one of Time‘s 100 most influential people and a Number One chart-topper – the first female rapper to do so since 1998. “I just heard the pain and the hunger in her voice on this track,” said producer J. White. “I was like, ‘This might be a record that gives us an opportunity to get another record out.” … I wasn’t trying to make no record to go Number One or change the game, I was only trying to make a record that would get us another record.”

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“Ni**as in Paris” Jay-Z and Kanye West

2011 | Roc-A-Fella; Highest Chart Position: 5

Jay-Z and Kanye West once played “Ni**as in Paris” 12 times in a row at one concert – a fittingly indulgent move for a song that pays homage to over-the-top indulgence. Alongside a tweedling hook that seems to taunt haters, two kings trade quips about the high life like they’re three bottles of Armand de Brignac in. But there’s a dark truth underlying the mayhem, as Jay-Z imagines the fate that could have awaited him had he not become Jay-Z: “You escaped what I’ve escaped, you’d be in Paris getting fucked up too.” As Jay later explained, “It’s not, like, ‘We’re here! We’re balling harder than everybody,’ it’s like, ‘I’m shocked that we’re here.’ … Having so much fun and then stopping and saying, ‘What are we doing here?'”

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“Do You Realize??” The Flaming Lips

2002 | Warner Bros.; Highest Chart Position: Did not chart

Wayne Coyne described the band’s 2002 LP Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots as a set of “storytelling acid rock” with a “theme of sunshine funerals.” Part cartoon Beatles psychedelia, part Moody Blues space-schmaltz, the album features this melodic crown jewel that’s the epitome of Coyne’s genius for combining garden-variety bliss with bad-trip realism to create something greater and deeper than the sum of its parts. It was a defining, inspiring moment for a band that had evolved from Midwestern acid-punk noisemakers to mainstream rock redeemers. “There’s that strange little nuance of meaning in that lyric ‘Where everyone you know someday will die,’ ” Coyne said. “That will pop up in little quotations that you see out there next to other cosmically hippie, philosophical lyrics. It feels like we’re talking about life and love and happiness and death and all the things.”

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi,” Radiohead

2007 | XL; Highest Chart Position: Did not chart

Radiohead debuted initial versions of “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” a liquid, thrilling track, on the road in 2006 before holing up in what producer Nigel Godrich once described as “a Scooby-Doo mansion” to record In Rainbows. The guitars in “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” mingle and curl gently upward as the drums race forward. Thom Yorke sings cryptic lyrics that are typically bizarre and alluring, equating love with drowning and being eaten by worms. “I follow to the edge of the Earth,” he sings. “And fall off.” It might be the band’s most gorgeous moment. 

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“212,” Azealia Banks feat. Lazy Jay

2011 | Self-released; Highest Chart Position: Did not chart

After being dropped by XL Recordings, Banks self-released this gem, a bawdy, galloping hip-house cut about a “coked-out, overly ambitious bitch.” “‘212’ came out of a place of desperation,” Banks said. “But it also came out of a place of anger. It was like, ‘Fuck all y’all. I’m the best bitch here.'” And for a brief moment, she was: “212” sold more than 250,000 downloads in the U.S. and climbed to Number 12 in the U.K. Who needs a label?

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“Portions for Foxes,” Rilo Kiley

2004 | Warner Bros.; Highest Chart Position: Did not chart

In a just world, Kiley’s power-pop classic would have dominated the airwaves; in this one, it was merely the greatest song from a great (and totally underrated) band. Jenny Lewis outlines a relationship built on conflicted feelings and physical attraction, alternating between vulnerability and belt-it-out boldness as co-writer Blake Sennett digs into a big bag of guitar tricks. The title comes from a Bible verse about how we all become worm food; the chorus is both a little cynical and totally irresistible: “And it’s bad news/Baby, I’m bad news/I’m just bad news, bad news, bad news.”

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“Oblivion,” Grimes

2012 | 4AD; Highest Chart Position: Did not chart

With sunrise-tinted bangs and an otherworldly soprano, Canadian eccentric Claire Boucher ushered in a new era of oddball dance pop with her 2012 album, Visions. In the standout track, “Oblivion,” Boucher contemplates the perils of being a woman out after dark, over an undulating synth. “I was assaulted and I had a really hard time engaging in any types of relationship with men,” Boucher told Spin. “I was just so terrified of men for a while.” The video shows Boucher wandering blithely around sport stadiums,​ surrounded by screaming, shirtless boys – a dream of the feminine coexisting peacefully inside a masculine domain.

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“Chandelier,” Sia

2014 | RCA; Highest Chart Position: 8

Sia had had a long and successful career as an A-list writer for other artists, including Rihanna and Beyoncé. But she really broke out as a solo artist with this drama storm of a song, inspired by her own struggles with alcoholism. It was her response to the hard-partying tone of much pop music. “That’s why ‘Chandelier’ was interesting to me. …” she said. “I wrote the song because there’s so many party-girl anthems in pop. And I thought it’d be interesting to do a different take on that. For some reason … I didn’t wanna give it away.”

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” Beyoncé

2008 | Columbia; Highest Chart Position: 1

Beyoncé and Jay-Z were already secretly married when she released “Single Ladies.” With its swinging beat and splashy black-and-white video, it became an empowerment classic. Her dance routine in the song’s black-and-white video was unforgettable too, inciting countless homages and parodies. Beyoncé later said the inspiration for the routine was Bob Fosse’s 1969 performance of “Mexican Breakfast” on The Ed Sullivan Show. As she herself put it, this was “the most iconic” song and video of her career up to that time. 

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.