If you ask 20 people what’s the greatest song ever then you’re most likely to get 20 different responses. This is the essence of a wonderful song: it can move you on a deeper level that is far more important than anyone else would think. By breaking records as well as reaching new heights, most of these songs have gone down in history books. Here are Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and Ranker’s The Best Songs of All Time, in an effort to create a list of the greatest songs of all time.
‘Gimme Shelter’ — The Rolling Stones
“Gimme Shelter” made quite an impression for a song that Keith Richards wrote in 20 minutes. Jagger said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine regarding the actual inspiration for the lyrics of the song: “Well, it’s a very rough, very violent era. The Vietnam War. Violence on the screens, pillage, and burning… That’s a kind of end-of-the-world song. It’s apocalypse; the whole record’s like that.” Interestingly, the song was not initially inspired by Vietnam or social unrest, but by a sudden rainstorm, and Keith Richards saw people rushing for shelter.
‘One’ — U2
“One” was initially a spin-off of their second single “Mysterious Ways” and was their third track on U2 ‘s 1991 album “Achtung Baby.” Tensions had almost caused the band to split up before they even found success with the improvisation of “One;” the song was written after the band members had been inspired by the progression of the chord that Edge’s guitarist had played in the studio. Although the lyrics generally interpret “disunity,” they were understood differently. “One” is a popular wedding song as well, but it wasn’t what the band had in mind.
‘No Woman, No Cry’ — Bob Marley
The best – known version of “No Woman, No Cry” is not the original version (on the “Natty Dread” studio album of 1974); it is the “Live” version of the following year. “It was recorded as part of the Marley Natty Dread Tour at the Lyceum Theater in London on July 17, 1975. Everyone outside Jamaica often misinterprets the song about having guarded feelings towards women (some say-as a defense mechanism). But what it actually says is that don’t let the woman cry.
‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ — The Righteous Brothers
“You’ve lost the Lovin’ Feeling” was first recorded by The Righteous Brothers in 1964 and managed to reach the top of the charts in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Also in 1965, it was the fifth-best selling song in the US.” The song was picked by RIAA as one of the Songs of the Century and ranked No. 34 in Rolling Stone ‘s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
‘Sympathy For The Devil’ — The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones are aware of the controversy of their songs, and their 1968 release of the album “Beggars Banquet, Sympathy for the Devil” was no exception. The song caused some religious groups to cause outrage, dreading that the Stones were devil-worshippers. The lyrics concentrate on the crimes of human history from Satan’s point of view, including the trial and death of Jesus Christ, the European wars of faith, the brutality of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the shooting of the Romanov family in 1918 during the First and Second World Wars.
‘I Walk The Line’ — Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash began working on “I Walk the Line” while he was stationed with the Air Force in Germany. The music is very simple. Several years later, when he decided to record it in 1956, he discovered that the original tape had been damaged. Fortunately, this ended up being a huge advantage; he embraced the unique sound, adding even more interest by wrapping a piece of wax paper around his guitar strings. And because of that, he was given his first No. 1 on Billboard charts.
‘River Deep – Mountain High’ — Ike and Tina Turner
Producer Phil Spector considers the 1966 release of “River Deep – Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner to be his greatest work. It ranked No. 33 on the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Getting the song together was a memorable experience for Tina Turner.
‘Help!’ — The Beatles
In an interview with Playboy in 1980, John Lennon said, “Help!” was released as a single in July 1965, at the peak of Beatlemania. “Most people think it’s just a fast rock ‘n’ roll song,” he said. “Subconsciously, I was crying out for help. I didn’t realize it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie.”
‘People Get Ready’ — The Impressions
“People Get Ready” is probably the most famous hit of The Impressions. Curtis Mayfield, who had shown a growing awareness of social and political consciousness in his writing, wrote and composed the gospel-influenced song. It reached No. 3 on the billboard and became an unofficial anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. In 1998, the song was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and selected by a panel of 20 songwriters, including Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Hal David, for Britain’s Mojo music magazine in 2000, as one of the ten best songs of all time.
‘In My Life’ — The Beatles
Had it been up to John Lennon, “In My Life,” the 1965 Beatles single from the “Rubber Soul” album, would get a place on all the “best of” lists — at least from the back catalogue of the band. The magazine Rolling Stone ranked “In My Life” number 23 in “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” and was fifth on its list of “100 Greatest Hits” by the Beatles. The song took second place on CBC’s 50 Tracks.
‘Layla’ — Derek And The Dominos
Eric Clapton was so captivated by the 12th-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi ‘s book “The Story of Layla and Majnun,” which his friend Ian Dallas, who was in the process of converting to Islam, had told him. Nizami’s story, is about a moon princess, married to a man she didn’t love chosen by her father, resulting in Majnun ‘s madness, and somehow it struck a deep chord with Clapton that he wrote “Layla,” which is often praised as one of the best rock songs ever.
‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay’ — Otis Redding
In a dock of the bay or at least on a rented houseboat in Sausalito, California, Otis Redding wrote the lyrics of what might be his most famous song after the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer of 1967. Redding got to finish writing and producing a song with guitarist Steve Cropper. After Redding’s death, Cropper mixed “Dock of the Bay” at Stax Studios. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was the first posthumous single to reach No. 1 in the United States and reached No. 3 in the United Kingdom.
‘Let It Be’ — The Beatles
The Beatles began to fall apart, but in a dream in which his late mother, Mary, had given him some advice, McCartney took some consolation. This influenced the “Let it be” opening lines: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me.” “Let it be” was the title track of the last studio album released by The Beatles in March 1970, and it was the band’s last song until their breakup was revealed to the public.
‘The Times They Are A-Changin” — Bob Dylan
Dylan remembered writing the song as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change. In 1965, it reached No. 9 on a single chart; however, it failed to draw at all in the United States. It remains one of Dylan’s most famous and influential songs, and has been covered by a slew of musicians like Nina Simone, Simon & Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, and Bruce Springsteen. The relationship with Dylan and that particular song seems to be more complex. It was a regular setlist, when he released it, from 1965 until 2009.
‘Baba O’Riley’ — The Who
The Who’s Pete Townshend was influenced by the spiritual master of India, Meher Baba, and the composer, Terry Riley, who was credited with creating the minimalist style of composition. He combined the two at one point in Townshend’s songwriting, and the result was “Baba O’Riley.”
‘Be My Baby’ — The Ronettes
Rolling Stone, NME, Time, and Pitchfork, among many others, include “Be My Baby” in their “best song” lists. Another creation by Phil Spector, it featured a full ensemble and a young Cher on vocal backup. It was placed in 1999 in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2006 the Library of Congress honored the Ronettes version by adding it to the United States National Recording Registry. In 2017, on their list of the “100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time,” Billboard named the song number 1.
‘Born To Run’ — Bruce Springsteen
His most ambitious recording to date was the title song of Springsteen’s 1975 album, “Born to Run” “I wanted to make the greatest rock record I’d ever heard,” he told Rolling Stone. Although it only reached the top 20 charts of the U.S., it was his first release of a global single. It became an underground success; according to The Atlantic, Philadelphia’s demand for the single was so strong that WFIL, the top 40-morning station in the city, played it so many times a day. Born to Run received excellent reviews from critics.
‘Behind Blue Eyes’ — The Who
Behind Blue Eyes, recorded in 1971, is claimed to have been heavily influenced by a groupie that tempted Pete Townshend at the previous year’s The Who concert in Denver. Rather than falling victim to the temptation, Townshend allegedly went back alone to his hotel room and wrote a prayer, beginning with the lines, “When my fist clenches, crack it open.” These words later appeared as lyrics in “Behind Blue Eyes.”
‘La Bamba’ — Ritchie Valens
The most popular version of the song is the Los Lobos cover of Mexican folk song “La Bamba,” which was the title track of the 1987 movie featuring Lou Diamond Phillips as rock ‘n’ roll singer Ritchie Valens. Nevertheless, it is the 1958 version of Valens that features in the Ranker chart, as well as the top 500 of Rolling Stone.
‘Hound Dog’ — Elvis Presley
“Hound Dog” was a success for R&B singer Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton before it was sung by Elvis Presley, but it is Presley’s version that ranks No. 19 on top 500 of the Rolling Stone. The song was written for a woman to sing in which she chastises “her selfish, exploitative man,” and in it, she “expresses the rejection of a man by a woman – the metaphorical dog in the title”Having heard Freddie Bell and the Bellboys.”
‘Rock Around The Clock’ — Bill Haley And The Comets
Bill Haley and The Comets have created the best known (and most successful) version of this classic rock ‘n’ roll song. The song’s original full title was “We’re Gonna Rock Around the Clock Tonight!” This was later shortened to “(We ‘re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock,” although this form is generally used only for the releases of the 1954 Bill Haley Decca Records; most other recordings of this song by Haley and others (including Sonny Dae) shorten this title further to “Rock Around the Clock.”
‘Break On Through (To The Other Side)’ — The Doors
The band’s first single release was the first track on The Door’s eponymous debut album, “Break on Through (To the Other Side).” On its first release, it did not do well, reaching just No. 126 on the U.S. charts, but remains one of their best-known and perhaps most-loved songs. In fact, until the 1990s, the word “high” was omitted from all reissues of the single.
‘Here Comes The Sun’ — The Beatles
“Here Comes the Sun” featured on the 1969 album “Abbey Road” by The Beatles. Paul McCartney and/or John Lennon composed most of the Beatles songs, but this one was all down to George Harrison. Harrison reportedly wrote, “Here Comes the Sun” at his friend Eric Clapton ‘s home, where he had gone to avoid attending an Apple Corps meeting at the band’s organization. It’s a solid pick of Beatles fans and it’s the most streamed of all their songs in the UK as of January 2020.
‘Rebel Rebel’ — David Bowie
The 1974 release “Rebel Rebel,” also viewed as David Bowie’s goodbye to the glam rock revolution he helped spearhead, is about a child who rebels against his parents by wearing makeup and women’s clothes. Its highest chart ranking in the United States was No. 16 (on Billboard Rock Songs). It reached 5th place in the UK. Singles lists and remains a rousing “glam anthem” in today’s day and age. “Rebel Rebel” is one of the most covered tracks by Bowie; everybody from Bryan Adams to the Smashing Pumpkins.
‘You Got Me’ — The Kinks
“You Really Got Me,” written by Ray Davies for The Kinks ‘ third single, rose to No. 1 in the United Kingdom’s 1964 single chart. It had peaked in the U.S. at No. 7. According to Rolling Stone, 17-year – old guitarist Dave Davies from the band used a razor on the speaker cone of his amp to produce the iconic sound on the riff at the heart of the song. “The song came out of a working-class environment,” he said. “People fighting for something.”
‘Purple Haze’ — The Jimi Hendrix Experience
“Purple Haze,” written by Jimi Hendrix and released as the second single of The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1967. It is at No. 17 on Rolling Stone’s list of the best tracks. Another one of the widely loved tracks by Hendrix and by many people the very first taste of his unrivaled psychedelic rock sound, he consistently ranks high on the list of best guitar albums, including No. 2 by Rolling Stone and No. 1 by Q Magazine.
‘London Calling’ — The Clash
“London Calling” was released from the same name album as the only single in the United Kingdom and reached No. 11 in the charts in 1980, becoming the highest-charting single of the band until 10 years later “Should I Stay or Should I Go” hit No. 1.
‘What A Wonderful World’ — Louis Armstrong
No. 15 on the best songs Ranker list is “What a Wonderful World,” composed by Bob Thiele (as “George Douglas”) and George David Weiss, and recorded for the first time by Louis Armstrong. It has overtaken the UK pop-chart. It only reached No. 32 spot in the United States in 1967, although it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ — Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke’s 1964 hit “A Change is Gonna Come” was released only days after his funeral in December 1964 as the B-side to his posthumous hit single “Shake” (he was fatally shot at a motel in Los Angeles). Even though not a major chart success — it peaked at No. 31 on the national pop chart and rose to No. 9 on the R&B chart.
‘The Sound Of Silence’ — Simon & Garfunkel
Ranked 10th in the Ranker community, “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel was released in 1964 for inclusion on the duo’s debut album, “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” In January 1966, the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a top 10 hit in many other countries, including Australia, Austria, West Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands.
‘A Day In The Life’ — The Beatles
One of Lennon-McCartney ‘s last genuine collaborations and widely viewed as one of The Beatles ‘ crowning achievements, “A Day in the Life” was the dramatic conclusion to the 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Numerous musicians covered the song, such as Jeff Beck, Barry Gibb, The Fall, and Phish, and ever since 2008 Paul McCartney has included it in his live performances. Rolling Stone ranked it first on its list of the best tracks of The Beatles in 2011, and Acclaimed Music says it is the third most celebrated song in popular music history.
‘My Generation’ — The Who
The 11th greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone is The Who’s “My Generation,” one of the band’s easily recognizable tracks. Various accomplishments include 13th place on VH1 ‘s list of Rock & Roll’s 100 Greatest Songs and 37th place on VH1’s Greatest Hard Rock Songs. In their 100 Best Songs of the 1960s, NME writes, “Taking in a timeless sense of youthful disaffection via counter-cultural, Mod Lens, Pete Townshend ‘s age-defying ditty distilled what it feels like to be young, energized and in the prime of life into 3:18 minutes of bristling hedonism.”
‘Light My Fire’ — The Doors
In 1967, The Doors’ “Light My Fire” was set to release on the band’s eponymous album, taking 16th spot on the Ranker community’s list of the best tracks. It lasted three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart as an edited single and was responsible for taking the band’s career to a different level. Among others, they were invited to appear on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” but he included the banned line and it was their first and last appearance on the program.
‘What’d I Say’ — Ray Charles
Rolling Stone ‘s choice for Ray Charles ‘ 10th greatest song of all time, “What’d I say,” was written in 1958, while Charles and his band were on stage in Pittsburgh and had some time to fill in the middle of the night. The reaction of the audience was passionate and Charles managed to become the first top 10 pop single with his hit, “What’d I say.” All through his career, Charles closed every live show with the track, and in 2002 it was added to the National Recording Registry.
‘Paint It Black’ — The Rolling Stones
“Paint it Black,” the 1966 single released by The Rolling Stones and No. 1 of both Billboard Hot 100 and U.K., is ranked fifth in Ranker’s list of the best songs of all time. Singles Chart; it has become the band ‘s third No. 1 hit single in the United States and sixth in the United Kingdom. Between “Gimme Shelter” and “Sympathy for the Devil,” Rolling Stone readers rated “Paint It Black” as the band’s third-biggest hit.
‘Respect’ — Aretha Franklin
It was the soul singer, Aretha Franklin, who turned “Respect” into an anthem for female empowerment, which was written by Otis Redding, two years later. In 1968, “Respect” won her two Grammy Awards for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording and Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Performance, Female, and in 1987 she was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It’s the fifth greatest song of all time as per Rolling Stone.
‘All Along The Watchtower’ — The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Bob Dylan wrote “All Along the Watchtower,” but it is the iteration of The Jimi Hendrix Experience that the Ranker community rates the fourth best song of all time. The song originally appeared on Dylan’s 1967 album “John Wesley Harding,” and Hendrix recorded it for the album “Electric Ladyland” six months later. In 1968, it was a top-20 success for Hendrix and that version is ranked 47th on the list of the greatest songs of all time by Rolling Stone. Neil Young, U2, and Eddie Vedder are just a few of the various artists that covered the song.
‘What’s Going On’ — Marvin Gaye
The politically-charged 1971 release of Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On,” inspired by California police brutality, was actually rejected as uncommercial but eventually managed to reach No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became one of the most successful Motown songs of the stars. Rolling Stone describes it as “an exquisite plea for peace on Earth” and places it fourth among the best songs ever recorded. “Marvin Gaye’s peerless voice sent a message to millions,” wrote The Guardian.
‘Stairway To Heaven’ — Led Zeppelin
The groundbreaking 1971 recording of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is a major hit within the Ranker group, coming in at their seventh-best song indeed. The readers of Planet Rock voted it the greatest rock song of all time. Even though it was never released commercially as a single in the U.S., it was the most sought-after track on FM radio stations in the 1970s, having proved the impact of the band’s growing fan base.
‘Like A Rolling Stone’ — Bob Dylan
Rolling Stone ranked Bob Dylan ‘s 1965 hit, “Like a Rolling Stone” as the greatest song of all eras. Initially, radio stations were unwilling to play it because it is longer than the standard song at six minutes, 13 seconds, but nonetheless, it became a major global hit, reaching No. 2 on Billboard Hot 100. The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Green Day, it has been covered by almost everyone. It is the most recognized song of all time according to the review aggregator, Acclaimed Music.
‘God Only Knows’ — The Beach Boys
Rolling Stone, 19th by the Ranker group, one of the 500 tracks that greatly affected rock and roll for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the best song by the Pitchfork media in the 1960s, “God Only Knows” wasn’t the biggest hit for beach boys, but this is still a personal favorite of fans. In response to this assertion, Rolling Stone readers voted the best Beach Boys track, and even fellow 60s creative genius Paul McCartney said it was his favorite song of all time.
‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ — Bob Dylan
“Blowin ‘ in the Wind” has been interpreted in many different ways as “Dylan’s first major song,” the most famous patriotic song ever, the anthem of the civil rights movement, so it’s surprising that Bob Dylan’s song hasn’t been on the charts. It was, however, a huge success in the summer of 1963 for the folk band Peter, Paul, and Mary, and was inducted into Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994. It ranks No. 14 on the list of the 500 greatest songs of all time by Rolling Stone and is placed at No. 17 by Ranker Voters.
‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ — The Beatles
Sixth on Ranker and 16th on Rolling Stone proves that there is indeed another “best song” for The Beatles, and that is, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Released in 1963, it was the first No. 1 hit the group had in the United States and remained in the United Kingdom on top 50 in 21 weeks overall.
‘Johnny B. Goode’ — Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry’s 1958 hit Rolling Stone praises “Johnny B. Goode’s as” the first rock & roll hit rock & roll stardom “and” the greatest rock & roll song about the democracy of fame in pop music.” It even reached its peak at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. For its impact as a rock-and-roll hit, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and is No. 1 on the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time list by Rolling Stone. It’s a roaring success among Ranker supporters, who placed it on No. 11 as well.
‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ — Nirvana
Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the only ‘ 90s song on the chart to become an anthem for an apathetic generation. Called after a deodorant brand for ladies, the single was the biggest hit by the band in most parts of the world, was also certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America and sent the “Nevermind” album to the top of the charts in early 1992. However, the song does place negative pressure on the group. Rolling Stone puts “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at No. 9, while Ranker voters put it at No. 13
‘Good Vibrations’ — The Beach Boys
In 1966, “Good Vibrations” was a tremendous success for the Beach Boys, earning them No. 1 in both the US and the UK and other countries too. Brian Wilson wrote and produced the music that had been inspired by his fondness for cosmic vibrations. Another of his aims with the song was to produce a better song than “You’ve Lost The Lovin’ Feelin” and both Rolling Stone and Ranker agree that he did what he wanted and that the “Good Feelings” ranking is No. 6 and No. 8 respectively.
‘Yesterday’ — The Beatles
The Ranker community voted third-best of the Beatles ‘ most popular ballad, and Rolling Stone voted 13th. It has also been placed third on BMI’s Top 100 Songs of the Century list, and in a 1999 BBC Radio 2 survey of music critics and listeners, it was voted the best track of the 20th century. The band was actually “a little embarrassed” to record a song that was so far away from their rock-and-roll history.
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ — The Rolling Stones
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” considered the second-best song of all time by Rolling Stone, gave The Rolling Stones their first US song. No. 1, and though initially limited to pirate radio stations in the UK. (Because of its sexually suggestive content), it was also later topping the charts there. The unmistakable riff of the song came to Keith Richards on the third US tour of the Rolling Stones in a dream one night in May 1965, in his motel room at Clearwater, Florida.
‘Hey Jude’ — The Beatles
According to thousands of Ranker Voters, it’s the best song ever, and it’s on the Rolling Stone chart at No. 8. “Hey Jude,” the first single release on The Beatles ‘ Apple label, was a No. 1 hit in many countries all over the world and the 1968 top-selling single in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and Canada.
‘Imagine’ — John Lennon
Released first in the U.S. in October 1971, and in the U.K. Lennon’s best-selling solo single came in October 1975. BMI labeled “Imagine” one of the 100 most-performed songs of the 20th century, and ranked No. 30 on America’s Recording Industry Association list of the 365 Songs of the Century. Just before he died, Lennon said that much of the song’s content and lyrics had come from her wife, Yoko Ono, at the time, so she received a co-writing credit in 2017.