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The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time

For the first time in 17 years, we’ve completely remade our list of the best songs ever. More than 250 artists, writers, and industry figures helped us choose a brand-new list full of historic favourites, world-changing anthems, and new classics

Photo Illustration by Sean McCabe. Photographs used within illustration by Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images, 3; Paul Natkin/WireImage; Val Wilmer/Redferns/Getty Images; Theo Wargo/Getty Images; Jack Mitchell/Getty Images; C Flanigan/Getty Images; Scott Dudelson/Getty Images; Gie Knaeps/Getty Images; Emma McIntyre/Getty Images; Steven Nunez; STILLZ

In 2004, Rolling Stone published its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It’s one of the most widely read stories in our history, viewed hundreds of millions of times on this site. But a lot has changed since 2004; back then the iPod was relatively new, and Billie Eilish was three years old. So we’ve decided to give the list a total reboot. To create the new version of the RS 500 we convened a poll of more than 250 artists, musicians, and producers — from Angelique Kidjo to Zedd, Sam Smith to Megan Thee Stallion, M. Ward to Bill Ward — as well as figures from the music industry and leading critics and journalists. They each sent in a ranked list of their top 50 songs, and we tabulated the results.

How We Made the List and Who Voted

Nearly 4,000 songs received votes. Where the 2004 version of the list was dominated by early rock and soul, the new edition contains more hip-hop, modern country, indie rock, Latin pop, reggae, and R&B. More than half the songs here — 254 in all — weren’t present on the old list, including a third of the Top 100. The result is a more expansive, inclusive vision of pop, music that keeps rewriting its history with every beat.

From Rolling Stone US


Selena, ‘Amor Prohibido’

By 1994, Mexican American star Selena Quintanilla had proven she could hype a crowd with the party-starting glee of “Baila Esta Cumbia,” and just as easily crush a listener with the tenderness of “Como la Flor.” However, as her husband and bandmate, Chris Pérez, once noted, her voice took on a stunning new resonance when she sang about a deep, forbidden love on “Amor Prohibido,” an upbeat cumbia co-written with her brother that mixed modern pop with Tejano sounds. Selena famously ad-libbed “Oh baby” after the refrain, making a song inspired by her grandparents, as well as her own relationship with Perez, even more personal. It became her first Number One solo single.


Kiss, ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’

After the band’s 1974 album Hotter Than Hell sold poorly, Casablanca Records head Neil Bogart demanded that Kiss write a bigger, more anthemic hit. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley obliged with what Stanley called ”a song that could be the rallying cry for all of our fans.” The result was the ultimate Kiss rocker, closing every one of their concerts since 1976. “When I was writing it, naive or not, it was really about celebrating,” Stanley later said. “It wasn’t about getting high or getting stoned or anything like that.”


Rufus and Chaka Khan, ‘Ain’t Nobody’

When keyboard player David “Hawk” Wolinski showed the “Ain’t Nobody” instrumental to his pal Glenn Frey, the Eagle instantly thought it would be a Number One hit. But Rufus and Chaka Khan’s label, Warner Bros., wasn’t as enthusiastic about “Ain’t Nobody,” according to Wolinski. “I said, ‘If you don’t release the song … I will give that thing to Quincy [Jones] for Michael [Jackson] and retire,’” he remembered. The label relented, and Frey’s prediction proved accurate — “Ain’t Nobody,” with its gnarled guitars and slippery programmed groove, became a Number One R&B hit.


Bill Withers, ‘Lovely Day’

Withers’ vocal style was so laid-back and conversational that it’s easy to overlook that this breezy ballad hinges on an impressive technical feat: For 10 to 20 seconds at a stretch, Withers holds the note containing the second word of the song’s title, and moreover, he holds it absolutely level, with no vibrato and no audible strain. That’s fitting — it’s Withers’ most winsome tune, moving at an unhurried gait, with sepia-toned horns. “I used to get criticized for making simple records — the term was ‘underproduced,’” Withers recalled, adding, “Those few simple songs that I did, fortunately, found their own way.”


Fleetwood Mac, ‘Go Your Own Way’

“Go Your Own Way” was the sound of a relationship shattering in real time. Lindsey Buckingham, who wrote it while breaking up with Stevie Nicks, said that the razored lyrics came to him “almost as a stream of consciousness,” while Nicks has admitted that they angered her so much that she “wanted to go over and kill [Buckingham]” each time she sang it onstage. For the beat, Buckingham wanted something similar to the way Charlie Watts played on the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” which drummer Mick Fleetwood interpreted into the song’s tension-filled snare-tom thump.