Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: not quite.

Wrong title for this issue

As I was on a ferry several days back, I was looking through their magazine section in the gift shop and stumbled across the Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” recent print.  At the chance that this list would likely be an interesting, if not controversial one, I decided to purchase the magazine for the $11.99 charge.

The forward in the magazine is written by Jay-Z.  Yippee.  Not a good start.

I skipped the forward and moved on to the first page of the list.  Lo and behold, instead of counting down from #500 all the way to numero uno, they started with number one: Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan.  I wasn’t really expecting that, considering I expected Rolling Stone would build up the anticipation of getting to the top 10 songs the further you read into the magazine, eventually discovering the greatest song of all time as selected by their panel of “judges”.  Dun dun dun!! Oh the suspense!

Like A Rolling Stone is an amazing song.  If you have not heard it, you should.  If you don’t like Bob Dylan, listen to one of the covers of the song.  It truly is one of the greatest songs of all time, and has been covered by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, and many other bands.  It is the epitome of a rock-n-roll tune, written during the birth of rock-n-roll in 1965, and capturing all that was youthful and promising with this new style of music.

The only thing fishy about this song being chosen as the number one song of all time was the title, “Like A Rolling Stone”, in relation to the name of the magazine that published this list.  I won’t spell it out for you, but it is too much of a coincidence to ignore.  Perhaps Rolling Stone Magazine was tooting their own horn a little bit, but attempting to do it a little under the radar, like a subliminal message.  Choosing 14 Rolling Stone’s songs to scatter throughout this list, however, was rather obvious.

Anyway, that’s enough with the conspiracy theories.  The rest of the list is iffy at best, there are many flaws, in my opinion.  The first flaw was omitting Stairway To Heaven from the top 10, even the top 20.  One of the most epic rock songs of all time didn’t crack this list until #31.  Prior to reading this list, I would have placed that song, guaranteed, in the top 10.  Clearly, Rolling Stone and their voters had different ideas.  Also, another phenomenally epic tune which everybody has head-banged to once in their life is Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.  Another top 20 contender, or so I was foolish enough to think because it failed to even crack the top 100, charting in at #166.

You all remember the song American Pie?  The 8-minute tribute to the grandfathers of rock-n-roll, by Don McLean?  The song that had so many people wondering and deciphering for decades exactly what all the metaphors and references meant? The song that was covered by the likes of Madonna (very poorly, I might add) and gave Mr. McLean a number one hit on US charts for four weeks straight in 1971?  You know, “Bye, bye Miss American Pie”?  Yeah, that one!  Well, it seems Rolling Stone does not remember this song, for it did not even chart in the top 500.  When R. Kelly makes an appearance on this chart for his song Ignition and American Pie does not, I lose most, if not all respect for this “list” and the voters who contributed to it.

Other omissions I felt worthy of charting are Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits, Thunderstruck by AC/DC, ANYTHING from Pearl Jam’s Ten album or Smashing Pumpkin’s Siamese Dream album, Don’t Stop Believing by Journey and of course, this blog’s namesake, More Than A Feeling by Boston. None of those songs charted and of all those bands named, only AC/DC had any songs in the top 500.

Because of these omissions, I also feel a little ripped off by Rolling Stone.  Again, with Jay-Z having not one, but two songs on this list (Big Pimpin’ and 99 Problems), I have a hard time maintaining much respect for the magazine.  I suppose it has to cater to the masses of music listeners, and there are people out there who think that Rihanna actually deserves to be at #412 with Umbrella and 50 Cent deserves to be at #448 with In Da Club, but I’m not one of those people.  It is the 500 greatest songs of all time, isn’t it?

I also feel slighted due to the fact that the Beatles had 23 songs on this list.  I know they were amazing and music wouldn’t supposedly be where it is today if not for them, yada yada yada, but 23 songs??

C’mon.

If Rolling Stone axed even half of those songs, they could have made room for other artists and/or songs that greatly deserved recognition on this list.  I could then tolerate having 12 Beatles songs, but not 23.  On a side note, the 23 songs do not include John Lennon or Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles compositions; each had a song on this list with Imagine at #3 and Maybe I’m Amazed at #347.

All in all, this list is disappointing; however, there are a number of songs that deserve to be on this list and in the spots they’re in.  There’re even a few that I was pleasantly surprised to be included such as M.I.A, Weezer, MGMT, Beck and OutKast. As it is pretty clear, this list is a list of “pop”-ular music without much recognition to anything that strays from the mainstream.  It’s sad to see, but I suppose that’s the way it is.  Rolling Stone isn’t exactly an indie magazine anyway, as much they may pretend to be.  If they were, this list would obviously be quite different.  Mind you, who hasn’t heard the song Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force? ‘Cause it placed at #240.  It ranked “greater” than 260 other songs.  ‘Nuff said.

As 500 songs are a few too many to list on this post, I will simply list Rolling Stone’s top 20 of their “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” and add this link if you wish to view the entire list and possibly disagree with me.

  1. Like A Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan
  2. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones
  3. Imagine – John Lennon
  4. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
  5. Respect – Aretha Franklin
  6. Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys
  7. Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry
  8. Hey Jude – The Beatles
  9. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  10. What’d I Say – Ray Charles
  11. My Generation – The Who
  12. A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke
  13. Yesterday – The Beatles
  14. Blowin’ in the Wind – Bob Dylan
  15. London Calling – The Clash
  16. I Want To Hold Your Hand – The Beatles
  17. Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix
  18. Maybellene – Chuck Berry
  19. Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
  20. Let It Be – The Beatles

N.B. – Apparently there weren’t many great songs written after 1971…

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~ by whet_hopped on July 15, 2010.

23 Responses to “Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: not quite.”

  1. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=music%20snob
    I lubs you!

  2. Jayme makes a very good point.
    Agreed that Stairway to heaven, apparently the most played rock song in history, not making the top 10 is just plain wrong.
    Good Vibrations at 6, pleeeeeeeeeeease.

    • Yeah, I’ve never been a huge fan of the Beach Boys. I can respect what they’ve done for music and inspiring the musicians I DO enjoy listening to, but don’t listen to them very often. Although, Sloop John B. is a pretty cool Beach Boys song (Forrest Gump Soundtrack). Stairway To Heaven, although it charted, is probably the most surprising omission from the Top 10, or even Top 20, and the most deserving to be included.
      And it’s funny you comment that Jayme makes a good point, because she is actually calling me a music snob, for some reason. I think it’s because I commented on how I didn’t agree with Jay-Z, Rihanna or R. Kelly being on this list. So I’m not sure if you are agreeing with her in saying I’m a music snob, or that the Rolling Stone magazine is “snobby” in how they’ve put together this list. I don’t feel like a music snob, but who am I to say.

  3. This is the biggest bullshit I have ever read.

  4. I’d have to agree with you. This list is sketchy, at best, and needs serious revision (and by that, I don’t mean adding Rhianna and Amy Winehouse to the list earlier this year, along with many other pieces of crap released in the six year time span since the original release). Although “Like a Rolling Stone” was a revolutionary song, I don’t think it quite deserves to be #1, maybe more like #14. I don’t know, I just guess I’m not really too fanatical about the song itself. Also, what the hell was “Imagine” doing at #3? I don’t think that song comes anywhere near to the songs that were written while Lennon was with the Beatles. Speaking of which, Rolling Stone seems to really love the song “A Day in the Life,” which although not in the top 20, was one of the higher ranked Beatles songs, and was also placed #1 on Rolling Stones top 100 Beatles songs of all time list, but that’s a rant for another time. Other than that, screw Nirvana. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” although an o.k. song, was put at #9 just out of Kurt Cobain pity.

  5. If this is the top 500 of ALL TIME, were are all the great jazz and classical songs??

  6. Seriously, the only reason Bob Dylan got #1 is because his song has the word “Rolling Stone” in it.

  7. no dire straits on list… are they serious?

  8. […] Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: not quite. July 2010 11 comments 3 […]

  9. I completley agree Don Mcleans American Pie should deffinatly be on this list and yea Like A Rolling Stone was a great song but personally I think The Times They are a Changin was a much better written song…..and dont you think Lynyrd Skynyrds Freebird should be at least somewhere before the 100s…….com’on now who the hell writes these things

  10. I was so pissed off to find american pie wasnt in this list. I expected it to be in the top 10. Bob dylan dud a car ad a few years ago mtv no longer
    plays music videos anymore and now rolling stones put 2 jay z songs in the top 500 OF ALL TIME. It just proves everybody sells out. Ive lost all respect for rolling stones mag.

  11. Not putting American Pie in the top 100, let alone the top 500, is so utterly ridiculous that it makes a complete joke of Rolling Stone Magazine.

  12. I would totally agree with some of the odder inclusions, and more to the point, as you remark, the seemingly glaring omissions from this supposed holy almanac of rock history. Of late, and after my own recent trolling through this listing, have arrived at the conclusion that this is just another collection of some folks’ notion of what might have been intended as Rock Gospel, and like all opinions, should be taken, with a pinch of salt.

    • Don’t stop believing is a classic everybody loves it and it’s not even journeys best so the fact that NONE of their songs mde the list is ridiculous. And American pie? Hello that’s at least the top 50 if not the top 25. And Boston? One of the greatest bands of all time? With more than a feeling and peace of mind? This list is a joke. Born to run was in the right spot though and hotel California should’ve been higher. What about brown eyed girl? That definitely should have been higher. Michael Jackson didn’t chart until the 300s are you insane! He revolutionized music AND dance. Have we forgotten who Jimmy buffet is? Do we not know where margaritaville should be on the charts? Top 100 minimum and where is Styx? You know the people who wrote come sail away and multiple other hits? Come sail away is at least top 150 minimum. Once again this list is a joke. I don’t have a problem if there are a couple songs out of order but if I can go on and on and on really?

  13. The foreword is great, you should have read it.
    In my opinion Jay-Z deserves a spot in this list although I would prefer “D’evils”, but I would include even more rap songs…

  14. He ain’t heavy (he’s my brother) is an example of the gross oversights contained in the list.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Eddie Cochran – Summer Times Blues but it pails into insignificance next to a huge amount of songs.

    One feels this list is very pop orientated, especially in respect of nostalgic pop. Bob Dylan was a great writer of song so we must place him high on the list. The Beatles were very popular with many songs, thus plentiful on the list.

    It is an almost impossible undertaking that Rolling Stone have made here, base too highly on subjectivity and imo they should have proceeded more cautiously.

    There is not a single Red Hot Chili Peppers song on the list. They have been performing nearly 3 decades and they can’t even pip The Pixies – Monkey Gone to Heaven. I would have thought that the opening riff from Under the Bridge would have given them a shot at least.

    To preserve this list I think that it should be relegated to that of “serving suggestion” rather than “definitive rock recipe” or just a rough guideline.

  15. A lot of the tracks are well placed on the list, but for the most part it is more about how well the songs sold and I guess the cultural significance when they were released.

    I have to disagree hugely…the list should be based on songs that are diverse to the usual sound of their respective genre, lyrics that make you think twice and instrumental ability that must be appreciated. Like the old saying…great music never dies.

    Also the list contains too many tracks from the same artists, there should be more of a range of artists on the list including the best from a wider range of countries.

    On a personal note, I found it very surprising that artists such as Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Harry Chapin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jim Croce, Little Walter, Etta James, Louis Armstrong, Neil Diamond, Robert Johnson, Seals & Crofts to name a few did not make the list. Their music shaped their respective genres and had many great songs between them.

  16. Come to think of it, Leonard Cohen couldn’t even make the cut in top 500. Now that left me more than a little rattled.

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