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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


Them, ‘Gloria’

When Van Morrison wrote his first hit, “Gloria,” with the Belfast garage band Them, he was just another hungry young rocker, but his gravelly voice sounds years older than he was, and you can already notice the roots of the Celtic R&B mysticism he’d pursue for decades to come. “I was just being me, a street cat from Belfast,” Morrison said. “Probably like thousands of kids from Belfast who were in bands.” A Chicago group called Shadows of Knight hit with a more cautious version in 1966; Morrison later complained that “Gloria” was “capitalized on, a lot.“


Neneh Cherry, ‘Buffalo Stance’

“I always try and put an element of rawness — which probably is sex — into what I do,” Neneh Cherry said of her solo smash “Buffalo Stance.” “It’s that something that sends tingles up your spine, that’s the sex in my voice.” A searing dance track featuring the first rapping by a British woman most Americans had heard, the song was inspired by the London designer Ray Petri, who called his streetwear-inspired fashion Buffalo. “To me, a buffalo stance is an attitude you have to have in order to get by,” she told The New York Times. “It’s not about fashion but about survival.”


Wilco, ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’

Jeff Tweedy yoked the sweetest melody of Wilco’s career to this openhearted song about making peace with the hair-metal dudes he used to mock in his punk-rock youth. It’s the centerpiece of Wilco’s post-alt-country artistic breakthrough Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: a kicky drum groove, some breezy strumming, randomly accented electronic blips, and Tweedy singing himself a midlife lesson about never giving into easy irony. As he said in 2004, “That song is really just another reminder about not being judgmental and reductive.”


Allman Brothers Band, ‘Whipping Post’

The studio version (recorded when author and singer Gregg Allman was 21 years old, and written a year earlier, on the cover of an ironing board as it came to him) clocks in at a comparatively svelte 5:17 on the Allman Brothers’ 1969 debut. Built around Berry Oakley’s bass riff and opening in an unusual 11/4 time signature, it became the stuff of jam-band legend in its sprawling 22:40 live version on 1971’s At the Fillmore East, where it showcased guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts’ bluesy fire and the rhythm section’s jazzy ramble.


Foo Fighters, ‘Everlong’

A fittingly intimate monument to the alternative era, “Everlong” has become a quasi-official pop-culture envoi, whether it’s been arranged for strings for Monica and Chandler’s wedding on Friends or performed by the Foo Fighters on David Letterman’s final Late Show. No surprise: Dave Grohl came up in the Washington, D.C., hardcore scene, and the signature Foos song was the rare Nineties hit to supersize original Eighties D.C. emocore. Grohl wrote it following his breakup with Louise Post of Veruca Salt; when asked, he would only confirm that it was “about a girl.”


Cat Stevens/Yusuf, ‘Father and Son’

This wisdom-sharing ballad about the strained generation gap between families during the Vietnam War has its origins in a musical Stevens wrote about the Russian Revolution. The project was ultimately shelved, and “Father and Son” became a hit from Tea for the Tillerman, one of the biggest albums of the early-Seventies singer-songwriter boom. “That’s a beautiful thing about the gift of music and what it can do to you,” Stevens, who later changed his name to Yusuf Islam, told Rolling Stone. “It’s really become integral to so many people’s lives.”


Lynyrd Skynyrd, ‘Free Bird’

This definitive Southern-rock guitar epic had a humble birth, with late Skynyrd frontman Ronnie Van Zant scribbling lyrics about keeping love alive on tour, while Allen Collins jammed on guitar — although initially, the singer complained Collins used too many chords. “But after a few months,” said guitarist Gary Rossington, “we were sitting around and he asked Allen to play those chords again. After about 20 minutes, Ronnie started singing ‘If I leave here tomorrow,’ and it fit great.” The nine-minute album cut got heavy rock-radio airplay, an edited single reached the pop Top 20, and Skynyrd always encores with it.


Run-DMC, ‘Sucker MC’s’

Rap’s boom-bap Big Bang: On this B side to their first 12-inch (“It’s Like That” was the A), Run-DMC rhymed over a stark break stripped out of an Orange Krush song by their guitarist Davy DMX, inspiring Run’s line, “Davy cut the record down to the bone.” “Sucker MC’s” established the crew as rap’s new kings, turned Queens into the rugged successor to rap’s birthplace, the Bronx, and proved that in hip-hop, melody and other pop niceties were fully optional. “We figured we had very, very good rappers,” co-producer Russell Simmons said, “and we wanted people to appreciate what they did.”


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.