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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


Fugees, ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’

For all the musical creativity New Jersey trio Fugees unveiled on their classic album The Score, it was a cover of a 1972 Roberta Flack ballad that remains their most iconic moment. Pras came up with the idea to do it, and producer Salaam Remi suggested using A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum” instrumental. Meanwhile, producer Jerry Wonder decided to use a “reggae one drop” bass line. But this song truly belongs to Lauryn Hill: It’s the moment when she evolved from everyone’s favorite femcee to a generational icon.


Patti Smith, ‘Because the Night’

While recording Darkness on the Edge of Town in 1977, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had come up with a rough sketch of a song that they weren’t sure what to do with. That is, until engineer Jimmy Iovine stepped in and decided it belonged to another artist he was working with at the time: “One night, whilst we were lounging around the Hotel Navarro in New York, I told Bruce I desperately wanted a hit with Patti, that she deserved one. He agreed.” The rest is history: With its twin verses written by Springsteen and Smith, respectively, “Because the Night” perfectly captured both artists’ hungry-hearted rock & roll spirit, and became Smith’s lone Top 20 hit.


Taylor Swift, ‘Blank Space’

After nearly a decade of having her lyrics, public image, and dating life scrutinized beyond her control, Swift chose to take back the narrative with “Blank Space,” a song that satirizes her “serial dater” persona by doubling down on it — it became an intense-even-for-Taylor highlight of her synth-pop blowout 1989. “That was the character I felt the media had written for me, and for a long time I felt hurt by it,” she said. “I took it personally. But as time went by, I realized it was kind of hilarious.”


Cheap Trick, ‘Surrender’

Cheap Trick came out of Rockford, Illinois, in 1974, a Midwestern rock & roll corrective to the self-seriousness of music at the time. ​​“People go to bars to pick up girls and dance,” bassist Tom Petersson recalled. “They didn’t want to hear Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.” Trick provided the ultimate Seventies teen anthem in “Surrender,” with a verse about a kid who catches his mom and dad getting stoned and making out to his Kiss records. Guitarist-songwriter Rick Nielsen’s secret? “I [had] to go back and put myself in the head of a 14-year-old.”


Thelma Houston, ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’

This emotive disco ballad, previously by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, became a barnburner for Motown star Houston. When she was nominated for a Best Female R&B Vocal Performance Grammy for it, she stayed home, having lost a previous time to Aretha Franklin. This time, Houston won. She later recalled: “You don’t want to feel like a fool when you win and people ask you years later, ‘Where were you?’ — ‘Oh, I was at home, scrubbing my kitchen floor.’”


Michael Jackson, ‘Rock With You’

“Rock With You” is at once a beginning and an end. Released in 1979, it’s the perfect swan song for the disco era — a seductive, love-filled romp with rich horns, staccato strings, slick guitar, and subtle synth work. It’s also the first collaborative effort between Jackson, songwriter Rod Temperton, and producer Quincy Jones, and with “Rock With You” as their foundation, this trio would soon redefine pop and make Jackson its king. Usher later said, “Songs like ‘Rock With You’ made me want to become a performer.”


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

“Sweet Dreams” was a deceptively catchy and seductive single from two former lovers. “The day Dave and I ended our romance, Eurythmics began,” Lennox told Rolling Stone. Their relationship had crumbled along with their previous band, the Tourists, and the creation of Eurythmics steered the two away from guitar-based New Wave and into the burgeoning synth-pop scene. 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.”


Ice Cube, ‘It Was a Good Day’

Ice Cube’s 1992 album, The Predator, was steeped in the turmoil of the L.A. riots. But for “It Was a Good Day,” he wanted to show a little optimism: “I remember thinking, ‘OK, there’s been the riots, people know I will deal with that. That’s a given. But I rap all this gangsta stuff; what about all the good days I had?’” Yet his day-in-the-life chronicle, which cruises along on a smooth Isley Brothers groove, is hardly carefree; even if Cube didn’t have to use his AK, the specter of violence and racism is always close at hand.


Jorge Ben, ‘Ponta de Lança Africano (Umbabarauma)’

When David Byrne put together an introductory compilation of Brazilian pop for American listeners in the late Eighties, he opened it with this track, and for good reason. Ben was a versatile artist with a hornlike vocal wail and slippery sense of rhythm who effortlessly fused bossa nova and samba with rock and funk. “Ponta de Lança Africano,” dedicated to an African soccer player, opens his fantastic 1976 album Africa Brazil; Ben works closely with his backup singers, who alternate between echoing the lead and providing sweet chirping accents, to pour fuel on the rhythm section’s fire. The result is a funky tour de force.