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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


The Rolling Stones, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’

The inspiration for this hellish detour came from Soviet writer Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita, which depicts Satan having his way in 1930s Moscow. Keith Richards struggled to find the right backing for Mick Jagger’s menacing Dylan-esque lyrics, unsure “whether it should be a samba or a goddamn folk song,” he recalled. The Stones ended up giving the devil one of their best grooves, built on Rocky Dijon’s congas and Bill Wyman’s Bo Diddley-ish maracas. “Before, when we were just innocent kids out for a good time, [the media said], ‘They’re evil, they’re evil,’” Richards said. “So that makes you start thinking about evil.… Everybody’s Lucifer.”


David Bowie, ‘Life on Mars?’

“Inspired by Frankie,” read Bowie’s liner note about this Hunky Dory track when it was released in 1971. The Frankie in question was Sinatra: His “My Way” was based on the 1967 song “Comme d’habitude,” by French artist Claude François, for which Bowie had written (rejected) English lyrics. “That really made me angry for so long  —  about a year,” Bowie later joked. He wrote the similar-sounding “Life on Mars?” as “a revenge trip on ‘My Way.’” Accompanied by Rick Wakeman of Yes on piano, Bowie spins the surrealistic tale about the limits of escapism, complete with references to John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” and the Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop,” a 1960 doo-wop tune about a caveman.


The Jackson 5, ‘I Want You Back’

“I Want You Back” was the song that introduced Motown to the futuristic funk beat of Sly Stone and James Brown. It also introduced the world to an 11-year-old Indiana kid named Michael Jackson. The five dancing Jackson brothers became stars overnight; “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and “I’ll Be There” followed in rapid succession on the charts, but none matched the boyish fervor of “Back.” It remains one of hip-hop’s favorite beats, sampled everywhere from Kris Kross’ “Jump” to Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).”


Alanis Morissette, ‘You Oughta Know’

Long rumored to be about Full House actor Dave Coulier, whom she once dated, Morissette’s scorched-earth breakthrough boasts a one-and-done vocal performance, plus instrumental contributions from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Dave Navarro and Flea, as well as longtime Tom Petty sideman Benmont Tench. “I didn’t write it to get back,” Morissette said. “It’s a devastated song, and in order to pull out of that despondency, being angry is lovely. I think the movement of anger can pull us out of things.” The blockbuster sales of her album Jagged Little Pill showed she wasn’t the only one who felt angry.


Chuck Berry, ‘Maybelline’

The pileup of hillbilly country, urban blues, and hot jazz in Berry’s electric twang is the primal language of pop-music guitar. The groove for “Maybelline” comes from “Ida Red,” a 1938 recording by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (of a song that dates back to the 19th century). By the time of the May 21st, 1955, session, Berry had been playing country tunes for Black audiences for a few years: “After they laughed at me a few times, they began requesting the hillbilly stuff.” Leonard Chess came up with the title, inspired by a Maybelline mascara box lying on the floor at the Chess studio.


Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Maps’

The Lower East Side trio was one of the coolest bands to emerge from the New York indie-rock boom of the early 2000s, fronted by force-of-nature vocalist Karen O. “Maps” is both a soul ballad and an art-punk classic, with torrents of jagged guitar noise and thundering drums backing up Karen O’s lovesick wail. The YYY’s breakthrough hit was inspired by a case of real-life rock & roll romance: Karen O wrote the song about being on tour and missing her then-boyfriend, Angus Andrew, singer for fellow New York band Liars. Years later, “Maps” would get the ultimate endorsement when Beyoncé interpolated it for the Lemonade track “Hold Up.”