It’s hard to come up with a list of the 100 greatest songs of all time and not leave people out, or be called a “son of a bitch” and other unflattering things by your readers. Nevertheless, inStash goes where not even Rolling Stone magazine has dared to tread.
While the famed music publication needed a top 500 to feel comfortable even undertaking such a task, inStash honors the legends of rockers past, country’s greatest crooners, and the songs of today with 100 must-haves for your iPod or MP3 player.
Don’t think of this as a top 100 greatest songs so much as a 100 essentials. Ratings themselves are always subjective. This is just inStash’s way of saying that if we could take only a century mark of songs with us through our remaining years, these are the ones we’d pick.
100. “Umbrella” (Rihanna and Jay-Z)
What It’s About: Fame, fortune, turmoil, obscurity—the umbrella mentioned in this collaboration from Rihanna and rap artist Jay-Z is a metaphorical one that will protect friends from all of life’s changes. It can be both a love song or one of friendship, broadening its appeal to the masses.
Why It’s Great: Ten weeks atop the U.K. charts and #1 peaks in the United States, Canada, and ten other countries make this Grammy-winning hit of 2007 one of the most beloved songs of the last five years. Rolling Stone magazine also voted it the #3 song of the year in which it was released.
99. “Heart of Glass” (Blondie)
What It’s About: The fragile nature of love takes center stage in this hit from New Wave band Blondie, who states that love has a “heart of glass,” and can be a real “pain in the ass.” It’s all about your perceptions of a love affair against the conflicting reality.
Why It’s Great: Few songs in the history of music were as completely embraced by the world as this signature song of 1979. Written by Debbie Harry and Chris Stein with Harry providing vocals, “Heart of Glass” topped charts in eight countries including in the U.S. and the U.K., and performed well on several more.
98. “Another Brick in the Wall-Part II” (Pink Floyd)
What It’s About: “We don’t need no education!” Can’t tell you how many times I cranked this song up in protest at my parents for something I’d gotten in trouble for at school. And that’s really what “Another Brick in the Wall-Part II” is: a protest against the rigidity of schooling, with an emphasis on those of a boarding nature.
Why It’s Great: Everyone agrees that Pink Floyd is one of the most influential rock bands of all time. This particular release was their only #1 hit in the U.S., the U.K., and a variety of other countries.
97. “Hey Jude” (The Beatles)
What It’s About: This one mostly has Paul McCartney’s fingerprints on it, though some of the composition is credited to John Lennon. McCartney had written a song called “Hey Jules,” as a show of comfort and support to Lennon’s child Julian when the Beatles front man got divorced. It evolved into the massive hit you know today.
Why It’s Great: Most best-of lists that want any credibility are going to include this Beatles hit somewhere in their countdown. It stayed at the top of U.S. charts for nine weeks upon its release in August 1968, the longest run of any Beatles single released to the States.
96. “Candle in the Wind” (Elton John)
What It’s About: A tribute piece to the legend of Marilyn Monroe—“your candle burned out long before your legend ever did.”
Why It’s Great: In 2007, the Guinness Book of Records recognized the 1997 release, which was dedicated to the late Princess Diana, as the biggest selling single “since records began.” The original version is among Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest of all time at #347.
95. “This Afternoon” (Nickelback)
What It’s About: You might call it barroom rock. “This Afternoon” is a happy-go-lucky number from one of the most prolific bands of the modern era. Its country influences are undeniable as it sings about the simple joys of hanging out with friends and partying like rock stars in blue collar bodies.
Why It’s Great: Nickelback got to where they are today by continuing to work and produce new music. They’re by no means one of the best bands of all time. Much of what they produce simply isn’t that good. But “This Afternoon” is just a full-on embrace of their image, and it really speaks to today’s man. Still a relatively young song, it says a lot that it has charted in eight countries including a #4 ranking in the U.S. and a #2 in the U.K. It still has a lot of life left, too.
94. “Don’t Change” (INXS)
What It’s About: “I’m standing here on the ground / The sky above won’t fall down / See no evil in all direction / Resolution of happiness / Things have been dark for too long / Don’t change for you / Don’t change a thing for me.” A song about breaking the restraints of misery and “coming out of the dark,” as Gloria Estefan might sing, “Don’t Change” is one of the rock band INXS’s most optimistic numbers about being true to yourself and coming of age.
Why It’s Great: While “Don’t Change” would never enjoy the commercial success that some of INXS’s other work did, it announced their arrival and helped turn them from an Australian rock band to an international sensation, who would dominate much of the late 80’s and 90’s.
93. “Breakaway” (Kelly Clarkson)
What It’s About: Learning to stand on your own two feet is something Clarkson knows a lot about following her American Idol Season 1 victory. It is also the subject of this hit single.
Why It’s Great: Set aside the fact that it has sold to date over 1.4 million copies and achieved RIAA Gold status. This original recording, co-written by Avril Lavigne, Bridget Benenate, and Matthew Gerrard, propelled Clarkson to the status of “pop princess,” according to MTV. It first appeared on the soundtrack for Princess Diaries 2, and would later be the title track on Clarkson’s 2004 album. It is the current record holder for most time on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart with an astounding twenty weeks.
92. “You Shook Me All Night Long” (AC/DC)
What It’s About: One long glorious night with a woman who knows how to work it!
Why It’s Great: It’s important to remember when considering AC/DC that their songs almost never charted high at the time of release. They had the misfortune of being considered “the Devil’s music,” throughout the 80’s. However, their rabid following of fans have continued to elevate sales. Originally released on the Back in Black album, the song reappeared on Who Made Who. Along with “Highway to Hell” and “Back in Black,” this song is one of their most well loved and respected numbers, earning the #5 honor from Triple M’s Ultimate 500 Rock Countdown as well as a nod from VH1 as the #10 song of the 80’s.
91. “Back in Black” (AC/DC)
What It’s About: The members of AC/DC warned new lead singer and lyricist Brian Johnson when writing this song about the late Bon Scott, their former lead singer, that the song could not be morbid. It had to be a celebration. And that’s what it is in bad boy fashion, the way Scott would have wanted it.
Why It’s Great: Though the song did not chart well compared to other AC/DC fare, it has gone on to accolades such as #187 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest. It has now reached double platinum status in sales, and it assisted the album Back in Black in reaching 22x Multi-Platinum status with overall sales of 49 million copies.
90. “Changes” (David Bowie)
What It’s About: Artist David Bowie earned his reputation as an icon of 70’s music through both personality and musical diversity. Many feel this song is reflective of how one must roll with the changes, good and bad, in a lifetime. The song is a statement for how Bowie did just that.
Why It’s Great: Released as a single in early 1972, “Changes” became one of Bowie’s most well-known and beloved songs, but it didn’t happen overnight. The chart performance was fairly abysmal for a song that would later be recognized as the #127 song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
89. “Me and Bobby McGee” (Janis Joplin)
What It’s About: Songwriter Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” was originally a road song about a brief love affair between the narrator and a girl named Bobby McGee. The gender of Bobby changed for Janis Joplin’s cover, which Kristofferson didn’t know existed until after her death. Kristofferson and Joplin were friends and lovers from the beginning of her career to her untimely demise in 1970.
Why It’s Great: What a difference a few days make. Joplin recorded this song that soon before her death. It would become only the second posthumous release ever to top the charts. Rolling Stone magazine votes the Joplin cover of “Me and Bobby McGee” as the #148 song of all time.
88. “Honky Tonk Women” (Rolling Stones)
What It’s About: A “honky tonk woman” is a dancing bar girl, who may or may not turn tricks for money. It pretty much depends on what you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to pay. A girl’s got to have standards.
Why It’s Great: Rolling Stone magazine picked “Honky Tonk Women” as the #116 song of all time circa 2004. At the time of its release, it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. A fantastic song with country and rock crossover appeal, it is one of the signature releases from perhaps the greatest band of all time.
87. “Go Your Own Way” (Fleetwood Mac)
What It’s About: Songwriter Lindsey Buckingham wrote this song in dealing with his and band mate Stevie Nicks’ break-up. The song caused some discomfort for Nicks, but always the professional, she powered through and helped Fleetwood Mac produce one of its biggest hits.
Why It’s Great: This 1976 release was the first single from the Fleetwood Mac Rumours album. Though it barely cracked the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 at the time, it has since been recognized as the #119 greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and one of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
86. “Not Fade Away” (Buddy Holly and the Crickets)
What It’s About: Charles “Buddy” Holley (or “Holly,” as he is commonly known) wrote and performed this love song about a man trying to communicate the way he feels to his beloved, who may or may not feel the same. The song is best known for its “Bo Diddley” beat.
Why It’s Great: Honestly, what do charts truly know? This song has influenced the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, the Supremes, Black Sabbath, the Beatles, Sheryl Crow, and dozens of other bands. Rolling Stone magazine calls it the #107 song of all time. But at the time of its release, it never was a blip on the pop charts. Go figure.
85. “Son of a Preacher Man” (Dusty Springfield)
What It’s About: Billy Ray is the son of a preacher man, but he apparently doesn’t share Daddy’s convictions. He and the song’s narrator sneak away every chance they get to do things that we’re left to wonder about. What we do know is that it involves kissing—lots and lots of kissing.
Why It’s Great: Dusty Springfield took this number written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins and turned it into an international hit with her soulful voice. Few who heard it at the time could tell that the young diva was from the U.K. because of the song’s southern-to-middle America roots. Rolling Stone magazine has since recognized it as one of the 500 best songs of all time. New Musical Express agrees, placing it at #43 on their list of the greatest singles.
84. “Faith” (George Michael)
What It’s About: Written and performed by George Michael following the disbanding of his band Wham!, “Faith” is a simple song about relationship empowerment. It’s about walking away when your heart says no, because your head knows what’s best for you. Too bad more people don’t heed its advice!
Why It’s Great: “Faith” ruled 1988, earning its slot as the highest selling single of that year. The Australian, Dutch, Italian, New Zealand, and U.S. charts all had “Faith” as their #1, and it reached #2 in the U.K.
83. “London Calling” (The Clash)
What It’s About: One big social rant set to music, the song talks about everything that troubled the band, from financial woes to nuclear disaster. As such, it is one of the most successful complaints of all time.
Why It’s Great: VH1 voted it the #42 song of the 80’s. Rolling Stone magazine picks it as the #15 song of all time. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame considers it one of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll—not bad considering it is not even of that genre.
82. “Love Hurts” (Nazareth)
What It’s About: “Love hurts, love scars / Love wounds, and marks…” Songwriter Boudleaux Bryant penned the lyrics to this song about the damaging effects of love, and enjoyed a variety of success with it over the course of the 60’s and 70’s. But it was one particular version from an unlikely rock band named Nazareth (borrowing a line from The Band’s “The Weight”) that would bring the most commercial and critical success.
Why It’s Great: This particular version of the song, originally recorded in 1960 by the Everly Brothers, was also popular with music legends such as Roy Orbison and Emmylou Harris, who both recorded covers throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Cher was another music giant, who latched onto the tune in 1975. But that same year, Nazareth, considered by some a one-hit wonder, charted in eight countries, taking the song to #1 in three locations and marching into the top ten in another two.
81. “The Weight” (The Band)
What It’s About: Though “The Weight” contains a boatload of religious imagery, what with “I pulled into Nazareth,” the actual meaning is far from an endorsement of any particular faith. To hear songwriter Robbie Robertson’s take, the inspiration is derived mostly from the trip-y films of Luis Bunuel in which one character’s simple task snowballs into an unwanted predicament. In the case of “The Weight,” it starts with a simple task: give regards to everyone from Anny. In the end, the traveler has been pulled into events well beyond his control.
Why It’s Great: It’s a testament to the stupidity of people that the bellowing Aretha Franklin’s version ranked higher in the charts than The Band’s, but time appears to have healed all wounds. While few will remember the self-proclaimed Queen of Soul’s version today, The Band’s has been honored by Rolling Stone magazine (as the #41 greatest song of all time) and Pitchfork Media (as the #13 song of the 60’s).