The Greatest Songs In Music History

With all of the various streaming services, new music is available to the general public like never before. But there are only a few songs out there that can be labeled as some of the greatest of all time. From The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” there are some all-time greats on this list that will have readers heading straight to Spotify to download.

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

Seriously, if this song doesn’t get people up and dancing while singing at the top of their lungs, what will? Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell worked flawlessly together, making the melodies of “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough” seem easy.

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell's
GAB Archive/Redferns
GAB Archive/Redferns

There’s a reason the song has been used in more than one big blockbuster film throughout the years, including Remember the Titans. People just can’t get enough of the song and its catchy lyrics.

Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock”

Between his dancing and vocals, people couldn’t get enough of the King, Elvis Presley, in the 1950s. Even today, people are still dancing along to his music, including the ever-popular “Jailhouse Rock.”

Elvis Presley
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Released in 1957, the song became an instant classic, especially when the King was seen dancing alongside inmates in a film of the same name. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016 and is considered one of the songs that helped shape rock and roll.

The Doors’ “Light My Fire”

The Doors are considered to be one of the most influential rock bands to come out of the 1960s. While the band had released many songs prior to “Light My Fire,” the single became their first hit, making it to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Doors
Chris Walter/WireImage
Chris Walter/WireImage

The song blew up virtually overnight, remaining in that number one slot for 17 weeks. It is thought to be one of the greatest rock songs ever created.

Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman”

It’s hard not to get up, dance, and sing along when Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” comes on the radio. Praised for its message of female empowerment and feisty tone, the song quickly became a favorite among both country and pop fans upon its 1997 release.

Shania Twain
Barry King/WireImage
Barry King/WireImage

The song earned Twain her second Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. It’s widely considered one of her top hits.

Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”

The Prince of Motown Marvin Gaye contributed a lot to the music industry during his successful career, but none of his songs hit quite as hard as “What’s Going On.” It was released in 1971 after Gaye went on strike from his record label after they refused to release the song.

Singer Marvin Gaye
Armando Gallo/Getty Images
Armando Gallo/Getty Images

Well, it wound up shooting to the number one spot on the R&B charts within a month of its release. It stayed there for five weeks.

The Beatles’ “Yesterday”

Considered one of the most influential bands of all time, The Beatles have more than one hit song in their catalog. But one of them stands out among the rest. “Yesterday” is haunting, and while the lyrics are a bit simple compared to some of their later songs, it is something the mainstream populace can relate to.

PaulMccartney
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On the track, Paul McCartney is accompanied by a string quartet, a very different approach for a rock and roll band at the time of its release.

The Clash’s “London Calling”

The Clash was a new-wave group that meshed together forms of punk, pop, ska, and even reggae into their music. Their interesting style made its way to the United States by their third studio album, London Calling, which included the single by the same name.

The Clash on First U.S. Visit
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The song is loud, unapologetic, and completely what one would expect a late ’70s early ’80s punk song to sound like. The album wound up selling over five million copies worldwide, with “London Calling” being a top 20 single.

Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”

Ironically, the iconic Bob Dylan song “Like a Rolling Stone” was the bane of the songwriter’s existence for some time. While recording, Dylan was having difficulty with the song, not really understanding why it wasn’t working.

Bob Dylan
Fiona Adams/Redferns
Fiona Adams/Redferns

It took rookie session musician Al Kooper’s organ playing and a rock format to make Dylan realize the song’s true potential. It is considered one of the greatest rock songs of all time, crafted by a true poet.

Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”

Released in 1980, “Crazy Train” was Ozzy Osbourne’s debut solo single and his first hit after being fired from the band Black Sabbath in ’79. Ozzy proved that he could continue on with his music career without the band’s backing.

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Paul Natkin/Getty Images
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Ultimate Classic Rock ranked “Crazy Train” No. 17 on its list of Top 100 Classic Rock Songs. Part of what made the song stand out was the instrumentals being created around Ozzy’s vocal melody, rather than the other way around.

Aretha Franklin’s “RESPECT”

The Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin proves she’s worthy of the nickname with her 1967 song “RESPECT.” Even people who don’t listen to the artist most likely know this song or, at the very least, know the iconic chorus.

Aretha Franklin
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Considered one of the best R&B songs of the era, Franklin wound up winning two Grammy Awards for the song: one for Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Performance, Female, and the other for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording.

The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”

The Beach Boys were one of the most influential rock bands of the ’60s, bringing a new sound into the mix with their funky, laidback style. That’s why no one was really ready for the release of “Good Vibrations.” The song was legendary.

The Beach Boys
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Often referred to as Brian Wilson’s masterpiece, the song “‘was a revelation upon its release, wowing musicians, critics, and music fans and rocketing to the top of singles charts around the world. [It was a] crown jewel of popular music,” according to Capitol Records.

The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”

Written to comfort John Lennon’s son, Julian, the song “Hey Jude” is one of The Beatles’ finest. Over seven minutes long, the 1968 track was the longest-standing single to top the British charts at the time.

paul-john
Imgur
Imgur

The heart-warming arrangement is pretty much impossible not to sing along to, especially when the “Na na na na” refrain part comes into play, lasting over a solid four minutes. It’s one of the band’s most successful songs.

Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication”

While it is very difficult to pick a best song out of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ catalog, “Californication” holds a special place on the list, as it’s remained not only the band’s most popular song since its 1999 release, but the one they perform live the most.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Michel Linssen/Redferns
Michel Linssen/Redferns

Interestingly, the band had a bit of trouble putting everything together. While Anthony Kiedis had the lyrics down, the instrumentals didn’t come together for some time.

Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”

With everything that goes on in Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” it’s really no surprise that it was initially met with mixed reviews. It literally goes from a ballad to an opera and then to a hard rock number, after all!

Queen Rock
Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Years after its release in 1975, the six-minute song is one of the group’s most famous and popular numbers. In 2004, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

John Lennon’s “Imagine”

John Lennon was one of a kind, a lyrical genius who came up with wonderous tracks such as “Imagine.” The song encourages listeners to think of a world filled with peace and without any sort of division, something that is pretty much unheard of.

John Lennon
Helmut Reiss/United Archives via Getty Images
Helmut Reiss/United Archives via Getty Images

Even though it only peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100, it is still the most successful single that came out of Lennon’s solo career.

Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run”

Bruce Springsteen, aka “The Boss,” was very close to losing his record deal unless something changed. Well, that change came with his third album, Born to Run. The album reached worldwide popularity, including the single of the same name.

The Boss
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Despite the song’s popularity, it only reached No. 23 on the Billboard charts. Either way, it is still considered the unofficial-official state song of New Jersey and still manages to get his sold-out crowds into a frenzy!

Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog”

People can’t talk about 1950s music without bringing up the King, Elvis Presley. He ruled not only the charts but the stage and fans’ radios at home, too. Between his unique vocals, range, and his new form of hip-swinging dancing, people couldn’t get enough of him.

Elvis Presley
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

One of his more popular dance songs was “Hound Dog,” a track that ruled the top of the charts for a solid 11 weeks. According to guitar player Scotty Moore, crowds would riot every time he began the song.

Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”

In 1988, Tracy Chapman released the beautiful song “Fast Car,” the lead single on her first studio album. The song was nominated for two Grammy Awards — Song of the Year and Record of the Year.

Tracy Chapman Performs At The Hammersmith Apollo
Samir Hussein/Getty Images
Samir Hussein/Getty Images

Since the track’s initial release, more than one artist has had the privilege of making a cover. Some of the high-profile artists who have covered “Fast Car” include Justin Bieber, Khalid, Elizabeth Gillies, and Vertical Horizon.

The Who’s “My Generation”

One of the most influential rock bands of the 20th century, The Who established themselves as an international group with the release of their studio album My Generation, which included the single “My Generation.” Interestingly, Pete Townshend originally wrote the song as a ballad. Clearly, it didn’t stay as one.

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RB/Redferns
RB/Redferns

The song peaked at No. 2 on the charts and is the highest-ranked single for the band in the UK.

Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven”

What would a “Best Songs Ever” list be without Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”? Considered one of the greatest rock songs in existence, “Stairway” runs for a solid 7.5 minutes of epic vocals, guitar solos, and increasing tempos.

GettyImages-85367017
GAB Archive/Redferns
GAB Archive/Redferns

Composed by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, the duo had no clue the heights the song would reach. According to Plant, “I knew it was good, but I didn’t know it was going to be almost like an anthem … But I knew it was the gem of the album, sure.”

Outkast’s “Hey Ya!”

One of the best songs to come out of the 2000s was Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” Critically acclaimed, the track reached number one in not only the United States but also Canada, Norway, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Australia.

Super Bowl XXXVI - Leigh Steinberg and Jeffrey Moorad's Assante Super Bowl Party XVI
KMazur/WireImage
KMazur/WireImage

The song’s unique mix of funk, soul, power pop, hip-hop, and electronic sounds was something even people who hadn’t heard of the band before could get behind. It was quite a product of the times.

Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”

Bob Marley is known as a Rastafari icon, bringing soothing and fun tunes into the world that people listen to even decades after the release of his first album. “No Woman, No Cry” just so happens to be one of those songs.

Bob Marley
Pete Still/Redferns
Pete Still/Redferns

The peaceful nature of both the lyrics and instrumentals is unlike anything else Marley does, making it a standout song in his very successful catalog of music. It just makes people want to get up and walk to the nearest beach!

ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”

In 1974, ABBA made history, winning the first-ever Eurovision Song Contest. Good news for the public, too, because if the band never won, the catchy tune of “Dancing Queen” might never have made it to the mainstream stage.

ABBA
Gus Stewart/Redferns
Gus Stewart/Redferns

The song topped the charts in ABBA’s home country of Sweden and made it to the number one spot in the United States, Japan, Canada, and even the Soviet Union. In 2015, the song was inducted into the Recording Academy’s Grammy Hall of Fame

The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”

The American girl group, The Ronettes, were a force in the ’60s, with one of their more popular songs being “Be My Baby.” The song was released as a single in ’63 before making its way to the group’s only studio album, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica the following year.

The Ronettes
Paul Naylor/Redferns
Paul Naylor/Redferns

The song is considered one of the best to come out of the era, making its way into the Grammy Hall of Fame by the time 1999 rolled around.

The Beatles’ “Let It Be”

The partnership between John Lennon and Paul McCartney was one of a kind, something that is difficult to repeat in terms of lyrical geniuses working in the same band. One product of their partnership was the 1970 single “Let It Be.”

The Beatles
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

The track was the final single the group released before McCartney went solo, and, boy, it was quite a way to go out! The song is considered to be The Beatles’ finest ballad.

The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

The Rolling Stones became one of the quintessential bands of the 1960s, bringing a new sound of hard rock to the stage. With their solid line-up and Mick Jagger as the frontman, there was nothing this bad couldn’t do.

The Rolling Stones
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

So, when “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was released in 1965, it was pretty much an instant hit. Going against the status quo, the song became The Rolling Stones’ first number one hit in the United States.

Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”

“The Father of Rock and Roll” Chuck Berry composed what is considered the most recognizable song in popular music, “Johnny B. Goode.” Released in 1958, the song is widely considered the first song to tell “the first rock star origin story.”

Chuck Berry
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Ranked seventh on Rolling Stones’ list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” the song is a classic with Berry’s powerful vocals, intense instrumental, and a flare that only he could produce on stage.

Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”

Johnny Cash’s somber, deep, and haunting voice is pretty much as American as it gets. The country singer’s first number one hit on the Billboard charts was “I Walk The Line,” a track he recorded in 1956.

Johnny Cash
Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

It ended up staying on the charts for over 43 weeks! Not too bad for a song that was quickly written backstage. According to Cash, it only took him 50 minutes to complete the entire song.

The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy”

The Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album Ready to Die was critically acclaimed and had more than one hit on it, including the popular song “Juicy.” The album pretty much threw Biggie into the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop feud of the ’90s, making him a central figurehead.

The Notorious B.I.G.
Mitchell Gerber/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Mitchell Gerber/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

He is considered one of the greatest rappers and hip-hop artists of all time, with a very distinct lyricism that is laid-back while telling stories of hardship, criminal activity, and, sometimes, his life.

Chubby Checker’s “The Twist”

Chubby Checker might not have been the first person to record the song “The Twist” (that title and honor goes to Hank Ballard and the Midnighters), but he is the one who made it popular.

Chubby Checker
William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The song and Checker’s version of the track gave way to the dance craze of the early ’60s. The single reached the No. 1 slot on the Billboard hot 100, staying there for a week.

Prince’s “When Doves Cry”

In 1984, Prince released his sixth studio album, Purple Rain. In that album was his first No 1 Billboard Hot 100 single, “When Doves Cry,” a song about his relationship with Vanity 6 member Susan Moonsie.

Prince
Ross Marino/Getty Images
Ross Marino/Getty Images

The track became the last to receive Platinum certification for a solo artist before the requirements were switched up in ’89. Even so, it is now one of the most celebrated songs in pop music history.

Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

The single of Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the epitome of the grunge band. Released in 1991, the song is still played on radio stations into 2022.

MTV Unplugged: Nirvana
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Dubbed an “anthem for apathetic kids” of Generation X, the song is on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black”

Released in 2007, Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” was a sultry sound that wound up being her most famous hit.

Photo of Amy WINEHOUSE
Chris Christoforou/Redferns
Chris Christoforou/Redferns

Receiving critical acclaim, “Back to Black was praised for its throwback “girl group sound.” In recent years, the song has been covered by many artists, including Andre 3000 and BeyoncĂ©.

Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”

Written by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele, “What a Wonderful World” was originally recorded and sung by the iconic Louis Armstrong. Released in 1967, the song actually underperformed in the United States while topping charts in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Louis ARMSTRONG
William Gottlieb/Redferns
William Gottlieb/Redferns

It has since been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Ike And Tina Turner’s “River Deep – Mountain High”

One of the greatest songs of all time is “River Deep – Mountain High,” sung by Ike and Tina Turner. Released in 1966, the song was produced by Phil Spector and is wildly considered to be his greatest accomplishment.

Photo of Ike & Tina TURNER
GAB Archive/Redferns
GAB Archive/Redferns

In 1999, “River Deep – Mountain High” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The Eagles’s “Hotel California”

The song “Hotel California” was released in 1977 as the single on The Eagles album of the same name. It is widely considered the best-known track recorded by the band. And for a good reason!

Brad Elterman Archive
Brad Elterman/FilmMagic
Brad Elterman/FilmMagic

While “Hotel California” won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1978, the long guitar solo was voted the greatest of all time by Guitarist magazine.

Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound Of Silence”

Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound Of Silence” was released in 1965 after Paul Simon worked on the lyrics for several months. The track would wind up being one of the duo’s most popular songs.

Simon And Garfunkel In St. Louis
Jeff Hochberg/Getty Images
Jeff Hochberg/Getty Images

The folk-rock song made its way into the score of The Graduate, becoming the film pseudo theme song alongside their other song, “Mrs. Robinson.”

Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”

Including one of the greatest guitar riffs of all time, Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” was released as their single for Zeppelin II. It was their first song that was certified gold in the United States.

Led Zeppelin in Concert at Market Square Arena - 1-25-1975
Laurance Ratner/WireImage
Laurance Ratner/WireImage

In 2007, the track was honored with a prestigious award and inducted into the Grammy Award Hall of Fame.

Martha And The Vandellas’s “Dancing In The Street”

Written by Marvin Gaye, “Dancing in the Street” was originally recorded by the girl group Martha and the Vandellas. Released in 1964, the song was an instant hit, reaching number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Photo of Martha and Vandellas
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Since the song’s initial release, it has been covered by famous artists, including David Bowie and Mick Jagger.

Guns N’ Roses’s “Welcome To The Jungle”

There is nothing quite like listening to Axl Rose belt out chords to “Welcome to the Jungle.” The Guns N’ Roses song was released back in 1987 and has since become an iconic song associated with the hair band.

Axl Rose - File Photo's
KMazur/WireImage
KMazur/WireImage

In 2009, VH1 named the song “The Greatest Hard Rock Song of All Time.”

Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”

Amazingly, Cyndi Lauper was hesitant to release “Time After Time” on her debut album, She’s So Unusual. It was a ballad, and she wanted to be known as a pop-rocker. Of course, the song wound up on the album as a single and is now iconic.

Cindi Lauper
Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Image
Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Image

It is now considered to be one of the greatest love songs of all time.