If you ask 20 people what is the best song ever, you will most probably get 20 different answers. It is the essence of great music: it will take you further than anyone else would imagine. Most of these songs have gone down in history books by breaking records and reaching new heights. Here are 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone and The Best Songs of All Time by Ranker to list the best songs of all time.
‘Gimme Shelter’ — The Rolling Stones
“Gimme Shelter” made quite an impact on a song written in 20 minutes by Keith Richards. Jagger told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview about the real inspiration for the song lyrics: “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, Vietnam or social unrest did not initially inspire the album, but a massive rainstorm and Keith Richards saw people running for cover.
‘One’ — U2
“One” was a spin-off from their 2nd single “Mysterious Ways” and their 3rd track on U2’s ‘Achtung Baby’ 1991 album. Tensions had nearly caused the band to split up before the improvisation of “One” succeeded. The song was written after the chord progress had inspired members that Edge’s guitarist played in the studio. Although the lyrics usually read “disunity,” they were differently understood. “One” is also a popular wedding song, but not what the band thought about.
‘No Woman, No Cry’ — Bob Marley
The best-known version is not the original version of “No Woman, No Cry (the “Natty Dread” studio album of 1974). It is the “Live” version of the year after that. “It was recorded on July 17, 1975, as part of the Marley Natty Dread Tour at the London Lyceum Theatre. Everyone outside of Jamaica sometimes misinterprets the song about having been protecting feelings for women (some suggest that they are a defensive mechanism). But what it means is that “don’t let the woman cry.”
‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ — The Righteous Brothers
“You’ve lost the feeling of Lovin” was first recorded in 1964 by The Righteous Brothers and reached the top of the charts both in the United States and the United Kingdom. It was also the fifth-best song in the United States in 1965. “This song was selected by RIAA as one of the Songs of the Century and ranked No. 34 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
‘Sympathy For The Devil’ — The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones are aware of the issues of their songs, and the album that was released in 1968, the “Beggars Banquet, Love for the Devil,” was not an exception. The song sparked uproar in some religious communities, claiming that the Stones were devil-lovers. The lyrics reflect on the sins of human history from Satan, including lawsuits against and the death of Jesus Christ, European Wars of Faith, the brutality of the 1917 Russian Revolution, and the 1918 shootings against the Roma family during the first and second world wars..
‘I Walk The Line’ — Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash started to work on “I Walk the Line” when he worked for the German Air Force. The music is quite simple. Several years later, he found that the original tape had been destroyed when he tried to record it in 1956. Luckily, this became a significant advantage; he embraced the unusual sound and generated more excitement by wrapping up a sheet of wax paper around his guitar strings. And he got his first No. 1 on Billboard charts for that.
‘River Deep – Mountain High’ — Ike and Tina Turner
Producer Phil Spector claims the 1966 publication of Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep – Mountain High” to be his most sufficient work. It ranked no. Thirty-three on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and was inaugurated in 1999 in the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was a fun experience for Tina Turner to bring the song together.
‘Help!’ — The Beatles
In 1980, John Lennon said in an interview with Playboy, “Help!” was published as one single at the height of Beatlemania in July 1965. “Many people believe that it’s a fast rock ‘n’ roll tune,” he said. “I screamed subconsciously for help. At the time, I didn’t know it. I wrote the song because I was told to write it for the film.
‘People Get Ready’ — The Impressions
Perhaps the most famous hit of The Impressions is “People Get Ready.” Curtis Mayfield, who in his writing displayed a rising understanding of social and political consciousness, wrote and composed the song inspired by the Gospel. On the billboard, it hit No. 3 and became an unofficial anthem for the Campaign for Civil Rights. In 1998, the song was also added to the Grammy Hall of Fame and voted as one of the ten greatest songs of all time by 20 songwriters, including Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Hal David, for British Mojo Music Magazine in 2000.
‘In My Life’ — The Beatles
If it had happened before John Lennon, “In My Life,” a Beatles single from the Rubber Soul album of 1965, would be placed on the “best” lists — at least from the band’s back catalog. In “My Life,” the magazine Rolling Stone ranked 23rd in “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” and fifth in the Beatles’ list of “100 Greatest Hits.” The song was placed second in the 50 tracks of CBC.
‘Layla’ — Derek And The Dominos
Eric Clapton was fascinated by Nizami Ganjavi, a Persian poet from the 12th century, about “The Story of Majnon and Layla” that his friend Ian Dallas told him, who was then was converting to Islam. The story of Nizami is about a princess from the moon who married to a man whom she did not love, and that was the result of Majnun’s foolishness, but somehow it hit Clapton in a deep chord, which he wrote “Layla,” often praised as one of the most famous rock songs ever.
‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay’ — Otis Redding
Otis Redding wrote his most famous song after the Monterey Pop Festival, in summer 1967, in a dock on the bay or, at least, in a rented houseboat in Sausalito, California. Redding had to finish writing a song with guitarist Steve Cropper and produce it. Cropper mixed “Dock of the Bay” in Stax Studios after Redding’s death. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was the first posthumous single to reach the US No. 1 and earning the UK’s No. 3 spot.
‘Let It Be’ — The Beatles
The Beatles started to fall off from each other, but McCartney took some comfort in a dream in which his late mother, Mary, offered him some advice. It inspired “Let it be” opening lines: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me.” It was the title track of The Beatles’ most recent studio album released in March 1970, the band’s last song before its disintegration became well recognized.
‘The Times They Are A-Changin” — Bob Dylan
Dylan recalled writing the song as a concerted effort to construct a hymn of transformation. In 1965, on a single chart, it reached No. 9; however, it was not drawn in the US at all. It remained one of the most popular and influential songs of Dylan and was performed by many musicians such as Nina Simone, Simon & Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, and Bruce Springsteen. The relationship with Dylan and the song seems to be more complicated. It was a standard setlist from 1965 to 2009 when it was released.
‘Baba O’Riley’ — The Who
The Who’s Pete Townshend was inspired by India’s intellectual master, Meher Baba, and the composer, Terry Riley, who developed the minimalist compositional style. At one point, he mixed the two in Townshend’s songwriting with “Baba O’Riley.”
‘Be My Baby’ — The Ronettes
“Be My Boy” is part of the “Best Album” lists of Rolling Stone, NME, Time, Pitchfork, and many others. A further Phil Spector development featured a complete ensemble and a young Cher on vocal backup. The library was placed in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and was awarded the Ronettes version in 2006 by adding it to the United States National Registry of Records. Billboard ranked the single number 1 in 2017 on its list of “100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time.”
‘Born To Run’ — Bruce Springsteen
His most aggressive album to date was Springsteen 1975’s title song, ‘Born to Run.’ He told Rolling Stone, “I wished to make the biggest rock album I have ever heard. Though it only entered the top 20 charts in the United States, it was his first global hit. Philadelphia’s demand for one was such that WFIL, the top 40-morning station in the area, plays so many times a day, according to The Atlantic. Born to Run received positive critical feedback.
‘Behind Blue Eyes’ — The Who
Recorded in 1971, Behind Blue Eyes claimed to have been heavily inspired by a groupie who at last year’s The Who concert in Denver tented Pete Townshend. Instead of falling prey to the temptation, Townshend reportedly went to his hotel chamber all by himself and wrote a prayer with the lines, “If my fist clings, break it loose.” Later, these words appeared to be the lyrics of “Behind Blue Eyes.”
‘La Bamba’ — Ritchie Valens
The most famous version of the song is the Mexican folk song Los Lobos cover “La Bamba,” which was the title track of the 1987 movie starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens rock ‘n’ roll singer. Nevertheless, the 1958 edition of Valens is included in the list of the Ranker and the Top 500 of Rolling Stone.
‘Hound Dog’ — Elvis Presley
“Hound Dog” was a hit for R&B singer Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton before Elvis Presley recorded it, but it is the version of Presley that ranks No. 19 on top 500 of the Rolling Stone. The song was written for a woman to sing, chastising “her greedy, exploitative man,” and in it, she “expresses a woman’s rejection of a man-the metaphorical dog in the title “Having heard Freddie Bell and the Bellboys.”
‘Rock Around The Clock’ — Bill Haley And The Comets
The best known (and most successful) version of this classic rock’ n’ roll song was produced by Bill Haley and The Comets. The original full title of the song was “We’re Gonna Rock Around the Clock Tonight!” This was later shortened to “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock,” but this form is usually only used 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 first single release of the band was the first track on The Door’s eponymous debut album, “Break on Through (To the Other Side).” It didn’t do well on its first release, reaching only No. 126 on the U.S. charts, but remains one of the best-known and perhaps most-loved tracks. In fact, the word “big” was excluded from all of the single’s reissues until the 1990s.
‘Here Comes The Sun’ — The Beatles
“Here Comes the Sun” was featured on The Beatles’ 1969 album “Abbey Road.” Most of the Beatles songs were written by Paul McCartney and/or John Lennon but this one was all down to George Harrison. In his friend Eric Clapton’s house, where he had gone to avoid attending an Apple Corps meeting at the band’s organization, Harrison reportedly wrote, “Here comes the Sun” It is a good choice from Beatles fans and as of January 2020 it is the most-watched of all their songs in the UK.
‘Rebel Rebel’ — David Bowie
Often regarded as David Bowie’s farewell to the glam rock movement that he helped spearhead, the 1974 release “Rebel Rebel” is about a boy who protests against his parents by wearing makeup and women’s clothing. His highest American chart ranking was No. 16 (on Billboard Rock Songs). It came in 5th in the UK. In the day and age of today, Singles lists and remains a rousing “glam anthem” “Rebel Rebel” is one of Bowie’s most hidden tracks; everything from Bryan Adams to the Smashing Pumpkins.
‘You Got Me’ — The Kinks
“You Really Got Me,” was written for the third single of Ray Davies for The Kinks, rose to No. 1 in the single chart of 1964 in the UK. It had peaked at No. 7 in the US. 17-year-old guitarist Dave Davies from the band used a razor on his amp’s speaker cone to create the iconic sound on the riff at the center of the album, according to Rolling Stone. “The song emerged from a set of the working class,” he said. “What people are fighting for.”
‘Purple Haze’ — The Jimi Hendrix Experience
“Purple Haze,” composed by Jimi Hendrix, and released in 1967 as The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s second solo. It is on the list of best tracks by Rolling Stone at No. 17. Another one of Hendrix’s highly loved tracks and the very first glimpse of his unrivaled progressive rock sound by many people, he’s consistently ranked high up on the list of best guitar albums, featuring No. 2 by Rolling Stone and No. 1 by Q Magazine.
‘London Calling’ — The Clash
“London Calling” came out with the album of the same name as the only single in the UK and in 1980, it reached No. 11 on the charts, becoming the band’s highest charts single. Ten years later, “Should I Stay or Should I Go” hit No. 1 in the chart.
‘What A Wonderful World’ — Louis Armstrong
“What a Wonderful World” composed by Bob Thiele (aka “George Douglas”) became Ranker’s top 15 and was recorded for the first time by Louis Armstrong. It surpassed the British pop chart. It reached the 32nd spot in the US in 1967 but was inaugurated in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ — Sam Cooke
The 1964 hit of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come was released just days after his December 1964 funeral when the B-side of the posthumous single hit “Shake” (he was shot dead at a motel in Los Angeles). While not the biggest success on the chart, it peaked at No. 31 in the national pop chart and reached No. 9 in the R&B chart.
‘The Sound Of Silence’ — Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel was placed tenth in the Ranker group and released “The Sound of Silence” in 1964 with its first recording “Wet day Morning, 3 A.M.” The song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1966 and was one of the top ten hits in many other countries including Australia, Austria, West Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands.
‘A Day In The Life’ — The Beatles
One of the most authentic collaborations of Lennon-McCartney and generally considered one of the crowning achievements of The Beatles, “A Day in the Life” was a dramatic product of Sget’s album of 1967. Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pepper. The song was covered by numerous musicians such as Jeff Beck, Barry Gibb, The Fall, and Phish and Paul McCartney has included it in his live performances since 2008. Rolling Stone ranked first among The Beatles’ best songs of 2011, and Applauded Music claims it’s the third most popular album in the history of popular music.
‘My Generation’ — The Who
Rolling Stone’s 11th biggest song ever is The Who’s “My Generation,” one clearly identifiable track of the band. Related distinctions include 13th on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs list of rock & roll and 37th in Greatest Hard Rock Songs of VH1. NME writes in its 100 Best Songs of the 1960s “Taking in a timeless sense of youthful disaffection through countercultural, Mod Lens distills the aging district of Pete Townshend into a dazzling 3:18 minute hedonism that it feels like to be youthful, vibrant and in the prime of life.”
‘Light My Fire’ — The Doors
The “Light My Fire” of The Doors was released in 1967 on the band’s debut album, taking 16th position on a list of the best stories for the Ranker group. At No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, it lasted three weeks as an edited individual and was responsible for bringing the group’s career to a new level. They were invited to appear, among others, on the show “The Ed Sullivan,” but the banned line was included in the program and it was their first and last appearance.
‘What’d I Say’ — Ray Charles
Rolling Stone picked Ray Charles’ 10th best of all songs, ‘What’d I mean,’ recorded in 1958, and Charles and his band had fun to perform in Pittsburgh in the middle of the night. The audience’s reaction was enthusiastic and Charles managed to become the first top ten pop single with his hit, “What’d I say.” During his career, Charles closed with the track every live show, and in 2002 it was added to the National Recording Registry.
‘Paint It Black’ — The Rolling Stones
“Paint it Black” is Ranker’s fifth-place in 1966 single released by The Rolling Stones and No.1 of both Billboard Hot 100 and U.K. Singles List, the third hit single of the album, No 1 in the US and sixth in the UK. Rolling Stone readers ranked “Paint It Black” as the band’s third-largest success behind “Gimme Shelter” and “Sympathy for the Demon.”
‘Respect’ — Aretha Franklin
Two years later, it was the Soul Sänger, Aretha Franklin, who turned “Respect” into an anthem for the empowerment of women. In 1968, “Respect” was awarded her two Grammy Awards for Best Rhythm & Blues and Best Rhythm & Blues Solo for her female vocal performance, and in 1987, she was awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame. It’s the fifth biggest Rolling Stone song ever.
‘All Along The Watchtower’ — The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Bob Dylan wrote “All Along the Watchtower,” but it was the Jimi Hendrix Experience that rated the Ranker Community the fourth-best song ever. The song was originally on Dylan’s album “John Wesley Harding” in 1967 and Hendrix recorded it six months later for “Electric Ladyland.” In 1968 Hendrix was a Top 20 success and the release is ranked 47th in Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest songs of all times. Neil Young, U2, and Eddie Vedder are only a few of the different artists who covered the song.
‘What’s Going On’ — Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” release, politically motivated in 1971, was actually rejected as non-commercial, but was finally able to achieve No. 2 on the Hot 100 board and became one of the stars’ most successful Motown tracks. “An exquisite plea for peace on Earth” is described by Rolling Stone and placed fourth among the best songs ever. “The peerless voice of Marvin Gaye sent a message to millions,” the Guardian wrote.
‘Stairway To Heaven’ — Led Zeppelin
In 1971 the groundbreaking recording of “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin is a big hit within the Ranker group, indeed coming in with their seventh-best song. Planet Rock readers voted the biggest rock song ever. Although never commercially available as a single in the US, it was the most sought after track on FM radio stations in the 1970s with the impact of the band’s growing fan base proving.
‘Like A Rolling Stone’ — Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s 1965 hit “Like a Rolling Stone” was ranked by Rolling Stone as the greatest song of all eras. Radios were initially not willing to play it as it was six minutes, 13 seconds longer that the standard song, but it was nevertheless a major global hit, reaching No. 2 on Billboard Hot 100. The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Green Day were all covered. Acclaimed Music is the most well-known song of all time according to the review aggregator.
‘God Only Knows’ — The Beach Boys
“God Only Knows” was not the greatest hit of the beach boys, but this is still a personal favorite of the fans, Rolling Stone, 19th in a Ranker category, one of 500 tracks that influenced greatly Rock and Roll for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone readers chose the best Beach Boys to track in response, and even fellow artistic genius Paul McCartney of the 1960s said this was the greatest track he had ever heard.
‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ — Bob Dylan
“Blowin’ in the wind,” which is the most popular patriotic song in the world, has been interpreted in several different ways as “Dylan’s first big hit,” the anthem for the rights of people, and so it’s remarkable that Bob Dylan’s music has not been on the charts. In the summer of 1963, it was also a major hit for the folk band Peter, Paul, and Mary and was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994. Rolling Stone ranks No. 14 on the list of the 500 biggest songs of all time and Ranker Voters ranks No. 17.
‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ — The Beatles
Sixth on Ranker and 16th on Rolling Stone show that the Beatles do indeed have another “best song,” that is “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Released in 1963, it was the first hit in the United States to remain in the top 50 in a total of 21 weeks in the United Kingdom.
‘Johnny B. Goode’ — Chuck Berry
In 1958, Chuck Berry’s hit Rolling Stone celebrated “Johnny’s B. Goode’s as” the first rock & roll hit rock and roll begin “and” the best rock & roll song about democracy in pop music. As a rock-and-roll hit, it was inaugurated into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and is no. 1 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. It is a roaring success among the supporters of Ranker who also placed it on 11.
‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ — Nirvana
The only ’90s hit on the charts that has become a slogan for an apathetic era was Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ After a deodorant brand for women, the song was the band’s greatest success for the rest of the world, the Music Industry Association of America certificated platinum and in early 1992 the “Nevermind” album placed high on the charts. But the song puts negative pressure on the band. Rolling Stone places on No. 9 the word “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” while No. 13 was put by Ranker voters.
‘Good Vibrations’ — The Beach Boys
“Good Vibrations” was a big hit in 1966 for the Beach Boys, which won the No. 1 spot in both the United States and the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Brian Wilson wrote and created the music influenced by his love of celestial vibrations. Some of his ambitions for the album was to create a song better than “You’ve Lost The Lovin’ Feelin” and both Rolling Stone and Ranker agree that he has done what he wants and that ranks for “Good Feelings” are both 6 and 8.
‘Yesterday’ — The Beatles
The group of Rankers voted Yesterday as the third most popular ballad of the Beatles while in Rolling Stone, it was voted 13th. It was also ranked third on BMI’s Top 100 Songs of the Century list, and was named the best song of the 20th century in a 1999 BBC Radio 2 poll of the critics and listeners of music. In reality, the band was “a little embarrassed” to record a song so far away from their rock and roll past.
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ — The Rolling Stones
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was Rolling Stone’s second-best single, giving The Rolling Stones their first album in the USA. No. 1, but originally limited to UK pirate radio stations. It was also later leading the charts (because of its sexually explicit content). In a dream one day in May 1965, Keith Richards was on his third US tour of Rolling Stones in his motel room in Clearwater, Florida, the song’s unmistakable riff.
‘Hey Jude’ — The Beatles
“Hey Jude,” the first single release of The Beatles’ Apple label, has become the world’s No. 1 hit and the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and Canada, the top-selling single in 1968. This is the greatest song ever, according to thousands of Ranker Members, and is in the Rolling Stone list of No. 8.