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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

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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


Don Henley, ‘Boys of Summer’

While fooling around with his new LinnDrum machine, Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell whipped up a hypnotic guitar figure over an electronic beat and brought the results to his pal and boss, Tom Petty. The track didn’t quite work for Petty, but former Eagle Don Henley heard something poignant in the looping production and he immediately wrote some lyrics that expressed the ultimate farewell to Sixties idealism, made more poignant by the song’s very Eighties sound. Its stark black-and-white video won Video of the Year at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards.


Hole, ‘Doll Parts’

Courtney Love said she wrote “Doll Parts” in 20 minutes in a bathroom in Boston. “It was about a boy, whose band had just left town, who I’d been sleeping with, who I heard was sleeping with two other girls,” she explained years later. “It was my way of saying, ‘You’re a fucking idiot if you don’t choose me, and here is all the desire and fury and love that I feel for you.’” Guitars stagger forward but never lose their footing; Love’s obsession builds slow, then erupts in erotic threats. Oh, and the upshot of Love’s story: “I married that guy.”


Rage Against the Machine, ‘Killing in the Name’

A killer riff can arise at any time — even during a guitar lesson. That’s when Tom Morello, who was teaching on the side, came up with the start of the song that would become RATM’s breakthrough anthem. “I stopped the lesson, got my little Radio Shack cassette recorder, laid down that little snippet, and then continued with the lesson,” he said. Rage’s bludgeoning rhythm section bolstered that riff, and Zack de la Rocha contributed sharp critiques of the police (“Some of those that work forces/Are the same who burn crosses”) as well as the universally anti-authoritarian mantra “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.”


Glen Campbell, ‘Wichita Lineman’

Inspired by the isolation of a telephone-pole worker he saw on the Kansas-Oklahoma border, Jimmy Webb wrote this in 1968 for Campbell, who had asked if Webb could come up with another “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” “I just tried to take an ordinary guy and open him up and say, ‘Look there’s this great soul, and there’s this great aching and this great loneliness inside this person, and we’re all like that,’” Webb told the BBC. Campbell added a guitar part and kept the organ from Webb’s demo; the chiming sound at the fade, evoking telephone signals, was done on a massive church organ.


Britney Spears, ‘…Baby One More Time’

The song that introduced the world to the most influential female pop artist to come around since Madonna was originally intended for TLC, but the R&B group rejected it. Once Swedish songwriter Max Martin met Spears, a new 15-year-old singer with Jive Records, he thought he had the right person for the track. Spears agreed. “I wanted my voice to be kind of rusty,” she told Rolling Stone years later. “I wanted my voice to just be able to groove with the track. So the night before, I stayed up really, really late, so when I went into the studio, I wasn’t rested.”


David Bowie, ‘Young Americans’

“It’s about a newlywed couple who don’t know if they really like each other,” Bowie said of “Young Americans.” He had ditched the glam look that made him a star and embraced what he called “plastic soul,” embedding in Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, which had been producing ornately orchestrated soul hits from the likes of the O’Jays and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Listen close to this R&B homage and you’ll hear two stars in the making: Luther Vandross on backup vocals, and David Sanborn wailing on sax.


Stevie Wonder, ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’

Wonder experimented with producing on this 1970 R&B chart topper, with its distinctive sitar intro and expansive soul-pop arrangement played by the Funk Brothers. He has credited the song’s iconic refrain to his mother, who received a co-writing credit on the classic. The song ushered in a new era of creative renaissance for the 20-year-old singer, and would go on to be covered by everyone from Elton John to Ariana Grande and become a favorite of Barack Obama’s on the 2008 campaign trail.


Elton John, ‘Your Song’

Bernie Taupin has often claimed that a song should never take more than an hour to write. His first classic took all of 20 minutes. In 1969, Taupin and Elton were sharing a bunk bed at Elton’s mom’s house when Taupin wrote the words to “Your Song” one morning at the breakfast table. Elton assumed that the soaring piano ballad was inspired by an old girlfriend of Taupin’s, but the lyricist maintains that it was aimed at no one in particular. “The early ones were not drawn from experience, but imagination,” Taupin said. “‘Your Song’ could only have been written by a 17-year-old who’d never been laid in his life.”


Johnny Cash, ‘Ring of Fire’

June Carter came up with this song while driving around aimlessly one night, worried about Cash’s wild-man ways — and aware that she couldn’t resist him. “There is no way to be in that kind of hell, no way to extinguish a flame that burns, burns, burns,” she wrote. Not long after hearing June’s sister Anita’s take on the song, Cash had a dream that he was singing it with mariachi horns. Cash’s version became one of his biggest hits (inspiring cover versions by everyone from Frank Zappa to Adam Lambert), and his marriage to June four years later helped save his life.