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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


The Eagles, ‘Hotel California’

“Hotel California” was rumored to be about heroin addiction or Satan worship, but Don Henley had more prosaic things on his mind: “We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest,” he said. “‘Hotel California’ was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.” Working in Miami, the Eagles were initially unable to re-create guitarist and co-writer Don Felder’s 12-string intro and elaborate twin-guitar coda. Panicked, Felder called his housekeeper in L.A. and sent her digging through a pile of tapes in his home studio so she could play his demo back over the phone.


The Doors, ‘Light My Fire’

It was the first song Robby Krieger ever wrote — with additional lyrics from Jim Morrison and arrangements from the rest of the band. “It’s like I’d saved up all [these ideas] in my mind and got them out all at once,” Krieger said. The song catapulted the Doors to overnight fame, which Krieger said was part of Morrison’s plan: “Jim had this idea of the band being a shooting star,” Krieger said. “Fire” ran for seven minutes on the LP but was cut down to three, with Krieger’s and keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s solos excised, on the single.


Bill Withers, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’

Withers was working at an aircraft-parts factory when he wrote “Ain’t No Sunshine,” a bracingly lonely track inspired in part by the film Days of Wine and Roses, about a couple’s struggle with alcoholism. He recorded the song with pros from Stax Records but still couldn’t quite believe the new situation he found himself in. “Bill came right from the factory and showed up in his old brogans and his old clunk of a car, with a notebook full of songs,” producer Booker T. Jones recalled. “When he saw everyone in the studio, he asked to speak to me privately and said, ‘Booker, who is going to sing these songs?’ I said, ‘You are, Bill.’”


Liz Phair, ‘Divorce Song’

“I wanted to write about all the little in-between moments that people have with their relationship,” Phair said, “just the ordinary things that happen.” In “Divorce Song,” a highlight of her era-defining concept album Exile in Guyville, Phair artfully transforms a meandering late-night drive she once took with a college hookup into a story about miscommunication, regret, and articulation. “It’s an ordinary person doing ordinary things,” she told Rolling Stone years later, “and the action in the song is really just about relating to another person.”


Gnarls Barkley, ‘Crazy’

“Crazy” was a rarity in the 2000s: a universal pop smash that was played on virtually every radio format — it went Top 10 on both the pop and the modern-rock charts. The lyrics came out of a conversation Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse had in the studio: The pair decided that their genre-smashing collaborations were indeed “crazy.” With a haunting melody inspired by spaghetti-Western-soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone, “Crazy” didn’t feel like a hit. “It seemed too out there for urban radio and too urban for rock radio,” Danger Mouse told Rolling Stone.


Aretha Franklin, ‘Chain of Fools’

One of five indelible Top 10 smashes Franklin cranked out in 1967, “Chain of Fools” was written by Don Covay, who was inspired by his memories of seeing field hands at work while growing up in South Carolina. He showed it to producer Jerry Wexler, who thought it would be good for Franklin. When something didn’t feel quite finished about the recording, Wexler played it for Brill Building songwriter Ellie Greenwich, who came up with a second background vocal, and sang it herself. As engineer Tom Dowd later recalled, “It came to life.”


The Police, ‘Every Breath You Take’

For their biggest hit, the Police went back to basics, junking an elaborate synth part that distracted from the song’s hypnotic bass line in favor of a lick that guitarist Andy Summers recorded in one live take. Sting admitted that the lyrics — which sounded tender but were actually bitter — were pulled from the rock & roll cliché handbook. “‘Every Breath You Take’ is an archetypal song,” he told Rolling Stone. “If you have a major chord followed by a relative minor, you’re not original.”


Kraftwerk, ‘Trans-Europe Express’

The German group’s hymn to the electronic future reveled in repetition, exerting a huge influence on early hip-hop (see Afrika Bambaata’s “Planet Rock”) and dance music; David Bowie was an avowed fan of the group’s “singular determination to stand apart from stereotypical American chord sequences.” But even while changing the pop landscape, Kraftwerk kept dreaming of the future. “Trans-Europe Express was done with huge machinery,” Ralf Hütter said in 1991. “We’re still carrying a lot of weight from city to city. We’re dreaming of carrying a briefcase from place to place with a laptop.”


TLC, ‘No Scrubs’

TLC’s impassioned assertion of their material and romantic must-haves pissed off sensitive men so much that one group of them wrote, recorded, and distributed a response track called “No Pigeons.” TLC released two versions of the song to capture as many radio formats as they could, one without Left Eye’s rap verse and one with, and in turn, the song, all confidence and attitude, became ubiquitous. “Guys started checking themselves, like, ‘Am I a scrub?’” DMV-area DJ Face recalled. “You had to really think.”


Pink Floyd, ‘Wish You Were Here’

Despite sky-high band tensions during the recording of the Floyd’s 1975 album, Wish You Were Here, Roger Waters and David Gilmour were able to come together for its title track, an elegy for burned-out ex-frontman Syd Barrett. During the recording, Barrett mysteriously appeared in the studio in such bad shape that, at first, nobody in the band recognized him. “He stood up and said, ‘Right, when do I put my guitar on?’” keyboardist Rick Wright recalled. “And, of course, he didn’t have a guitar with him. And we said, ‘Sorry, Syd, the guitar’s all done.’”


Bob Seger, ‘Night Moves’

Seger spent the first decade of his career building up a loyal base of rock aficionados thanks to his high-energy live show, but it wasn’t until “Night Moves” that mainstream audiences followed. That’s because the nostalgic tale of fumbling, innocent teenage love was relatable to most everyone who caught it on the radio, bringing Seger his first of many Top 10 hits that would arrive over the next decade. “It still has the exact meaning it’s always had for me,” Seger said in 1994. “The freedom and looseness I had during high school.”