What makes a tune stand out among so many others, or enables it to stand the test of time and span of generations? Most importantly, how does a song become dubbed as “one of the greatest of all time”, seemingly immortalized? Maybe it’s the duration that it dominates the U.S. Billboard charts. Maybe it’s how the song helps define our culture. Perhaps it’s the millions of memories it’s help shape. Then again, maybe it’s as simple as the length of time it’s withstood without being drowned out by every other artist, or it comes to symbolize–to millions of folks–monumental people, places, and/or events in time. Who knows.
100 different people will come up with 100 different lists. So, while we aim for objectivity as much as possible, much of this list (and virtually any “top” list, for that matter) will inevitably be subjective. Inasmuch, it would prove nearly impossible to definitively rank the very “best songs”; therefore, our team set four realistic standards:
(Denotes that the song is on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock chart),
(denotes the song’s inclusion on Rolling Stones‘s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time chart, proceeded by its rank—i.e. “No. 23”).
An anti-establishment, sexually suggestive song that was released in June of 1965 (August in the U.K.), “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” was an almost-instant, global hit. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote the legendary song, which helped launch the Stone’s unparalleled success in the music industry. And perhaps one of biggest reasons that “Satisfaction” topped the charts and was so phenomenally successful was because it represented a huge departure from societal norms and values and stirred up plenty of controversy among older Americans.
“Satisfaction” was the British group’s first American hit and their forth in their home country. It knocked “I Can’t Help Myself“ and “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch“ off the top of the charts when it released, riding them (including the Billboard Hot 100) for over four weeks (remaining there for 14 weeks) before being surpassed by Herman’s Hermits classic “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am.” “Satisfaction” also has a permanent home in the Rock&Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock compilation and boasts dozens of other major awards and honorable mentions from across the music industry.
“Satisfaction” denoted unbridled rage, about the then-hugely-popular anti-establishment, anti-commercialism scene, as well as sex and sexual innuendo.
RR/HoF; RS/500, No. 2; carried the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 consecutive weeks.
Released in 1957 to coincide with Presley’s movie of the same name, where Elvis performed a highly elaborate dance rendition of the song among a jailhouse backdrop, “Jailhouse Rock” (with “Treat Me Nice” on the B-side) was and always will be one of the most famous, powerful and influential songs (particularly of its genre) of all time. In fact, it became so popular, that even iconic musicians and bands like The Residents, Merle Haggard, ZZ TOP, Motley Crue, John Couger Mellencamp, and Abba (and several other prominent musicians) have covered and even put their own spin on the song.
Although never officially substantiated, “Jailhouse Rock” bore an almost uncanny resemblance to the theme and rendition of “Rock Around the Rockpile”, a song from the previously-released movie The Girl Can’t Help It.
RS/500, No. 67; RR/HoF induction; seven consecutive weeks at the top of Billboard‘s Top 100 Number One Singles; over four million records sold; two double-platinum RIAA certifications.
Although originally conceived of, produced, and sung by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters in 1959, Chubby Checker became the person who turned this “twelve bars”, blues-esque song into a smash hit and dance craze. After debuting on Dick Clark’s Bandstand with the song that Ballard was originally scheduled to perform, it took the coveted No. 1 spot on the 1960 U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard R&B Singles chart. Two years later, still wildly popular across the U.S., it reclaimed the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962 (No. 4 on the R&B Singles chart). Checker since recorded other versions of “The Twist”, including a rap variety in concert with the Fat Boys (1988) and a country version in the ’90s. “The Twist” was featured on Billboard‘s Hot 100 50th Anniversary, All-Time 100 Top Songs list at No. 1 (2008).
According to Hank Ballard’s guitarist, “The Twist” was inspired by The Sensational Nightinggales (a ’50s gospel group) and Ballard’s “Is Your Love for Real” song—of which was inspired by The Drifter’s 1955 “What’cha Gonna Do”. Unfortunately for Ballard, though, The Twist skyrocketed on the charts (and is largely remembered) because of Chubby Checker’s breakthrough performances of it on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.
Features at No. 1 on Billboard’s 2008 “Hot 100 50th Anniversary” All Time Tops Songs; RS/500, No. 451; RR/HoF induction; peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (1960) (1962); made the Billboard Top R&B Singles chart at No. 2 in 1960 and No. 4 in 1962.
“Hey Jude”—a song by Paul McCartney and the first one ever to be released on Apple Records–is a 1968 song by The Beatles, with “Revolution” on its flip-side. The Beatles longest single at 7:11, and the longest-ever single at the time, “Hey Jude” was the also one of the first mainstream long songs to get significant airplay, as radio stations of that time generally preferred shorter ones. Commercially, “Hey Jude” knocked “I Can’t Help Myself” and “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” (The Four Tops) off the top of the charts when it released, topping them (including the Billboard Hot 100) for over four weeks and remaining in the Hot 100 for 14 weeks before being surpassed by Herman’s Hermits “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am“.
In addition to its No.2 spot on Rolling Stone’s (magazine) 500 Greatest Songs of All Time chart, “Satisfaction” secured a permanent spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Although unsubstantiated, it’s rumored that it was a tribute to John Lennon’s son, Julian, and was initially dubbed “Hey Jules”.
RR/HoF induction; RS/500, No. 8 ; 4x platinum cert.; Grammy nomination for Record of the Year (1969); longest single at the top of U.S. charts for nine weeks; Billboard’s Hot 100 No. 1 song of 1968; one of the top-selling singles of all time (over eight-million copies sold worldwide).
Arguably one of the top 10–perhaps even top 3–songs ever put on vinyl, Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone (1965), despite critics initial, lukewarm reviews of it, almost instantly became a global hit and tremendously helped cement Dylan’s status as one the most iconic figures of music ever. Recorded as a single for the then yet-to-be-released Highway 61 Revisited album, “Like a Rolling Stone” is over six minutes long (unprecedented at the time) and its lyrics were described as confrontational, vengeful, and even revolutionary. It was initially shunned by the record company that produced it, Columbia Records, but once a DJ at a swanky disco known as Arthur discovered it, disc jockeys and other musical figures insisted that it be released.
Meaning of the Song: A few key adjectives give listeners the overall gist of the song’s meaning: Anarchism, confrontation, vengeance, and revolution. Indeed, Dylan made it clear that “Like a Rolling Stone” was no mushy love song.
RR/HoF induction; RS/500, No. 1; No. 4 on Pitchfork Media‘s 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s chart; topped several U.S. Billboard charts for 12 consecutive weeks.
Before Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry put forth “Johnny”, he’d previously seen successes with songs like “Beethoven” (1956) and “Rock and Roll Music“ (1957). But Berry was in for one helluva shock after Johnny B. Goode was released. Almost instantly, it became a smash hit, topping Billboard’s Hot R&B Sides (No. 2) and the Hot 100 at No. 8. Chuck Berry once admitted that the song was partially about his early life in St. Louis, and subsequently used the character Johnny B. Goode in “Bye Bye Johnny”, “Go Go Go”, and “Johnny B. Blues”; Berry also created the album Concerto in B. Goode.
‘Goode’ was meant as, at least in part, a sort of ‘musical autobiography’ on Berry’s life, specifically of part of his childhood growing up in St. Louis.
Billboard Hot 100, No. 8; Billboard Hot R&B Singles, No. 2; Q magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks, No. 42; Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time, No. 1.
To deny grunge rock (or Kurt Cobain for that matter) a place on this type of list would show, at best, clear misjudgment. Released September 10, 1991 in the U.S. and subsequently in dozens of other countries, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (from the album Nevermind) is often heralded as the single greatest hit by Nirvana. The platinum hit was later deemed “an anthem for apathetic kids”, referring to Generation X, and was admittedly a tip of the hat (or rip-off of, one) to the band, The Pixies—a band that heavily influenced both Cobain and Nirvana.
Deodorant. Yes, deodorant. See, a friend of Cobain’s allegedly spray painted “smells like teen spirit” on a wall. And ‘Teen Spirit’ was, unknown to Kurt, the name of a deodorant. So, while that may be, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” means so much more to its fans and rock overall: Chiefly, symbolizing rebellion and the then-fledgling grunge movement.
RS/500, No. 9; RR/HoF 500 induction; two Video Music Awards; two Grammy nominations for Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal and Best Rock Song; Billboard Hot 100, No. 6 (1992).
“Wonderall”, released on October 30, 1995 by Creation Records for the album Morning Glory, was undoubtedly one of Oasis’s hugest hits–if not its hugest. Guitarist Noel Gallagher originally told New Musical Express (NME, a British music magazine) that “It’s about my girlfriend, Meg Matthews.” But when the couple split up in 2001, Gallagher walked back the comment and instead went with “the song was about an imaginary friend who’s gonna come and save you from yourself.”
According to Noel Gallagher, the band’s songwriter and lead guitarist, “Wonderwall” describes “an imaginary friend who’s gonna come and save you from yourself.” The title itself was taken from George Harrison’s first solo album, dubbed Wonderwall Music.
Certified platinum (BPI); certified gold (RIAA); on the top ten of 13 influential charts, including topping Billboard‘s Alternative Songs chart for 10 weeks and peaking at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 (1997); two 1997 Grammy nominations; No. 27 on NME (U.K.) magazine’s “50 Greatest Indie Anthems Ever” publication.
Originally ‘Con te partiro’ (‘With You I Will Leave’), Bocelli and Brightman’s duo performance of the song made shock-waves throughout the musical scene in much of Europe. Ironically, while it wasn’t nearly as popular in Italy (where the song was born and originally performed), it became one of the biggest hits in history in the U.K, Germany, Belgium, and France.
“Time to Say Goodbye” was initially performed by Bocelli for his album ‘Bocelli’; later, in 1996, Bocelli teamed up with Brightman perform to perform for International Boxing Federation light-heavyweight champion, Henry Maske,’s final match (against American Virgil Hill). Likely one of the most romantic songs ever produced and or written, it’s about two lovers (a war veteran and a widow) who meet, and after the man returns from war, they depart on a new life together to explore the world outside of their respective homelands. Allegedly, it’s named as such due to the man’s temporary separation from his lover when he went to war.
11× Gold in Germany (2,750,000 records sold); Gold in the U.K. (400k records); one of the best-selling singles ever in Germany, France, and Belgium; spent a record 12-consecutive weeks on Belgian top-singles charts; more than 12-million copies sold globally.
A collaboration by Santana and Rob Thomas, “Smooth” was written by Thomas and produced by Itaal Shur (who also produced Matchbox 20’s album Yourself or Someone Like You), sung by Thomas, who re-wrote the lyrics and melody and re-titled it “Smooth”, then recorded the song as a demo to play for Santana. After hearing the song, Carlos Santana tapped Thomas to record the final version of “Smooth”, which was released from Santana’s album, ‘Supernatural’. One fascinating aspect about the song, in addition to its long list of accolades, is that it’ll be remembered as the final No. 1 hit of the 1990s and 20th-century.
According to Rob Thomas, “Smooth” was written for his wife, Marisol Maldonado. Thomas also claims that the line “My Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa” was inspired by Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” (1972), itself a spinoff of Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem”.
Three Grammys, including Record of the Year, Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, and Song of the Year; 12 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot 100; Carlos Santana’s biggest-ever hit single; Billboard‘s No. 1 rock song of the past 50 years; spent 10 consecutive weeks at the top of VH1‘s “Top 20 Video Countdown”.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
Released in 1971 by Apple Records, “Imagine” claims its place in musical history as one of John Lennon’s most defining hits, as well as one that Rolling Stone Magazine placed at No. 3 on its The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. The song, heavily influenced by part of Yoko Ono’s 1964 book “Grapefruit”, was written and performed by British rock star John Lennon and become part of the 1988 “Imagine: John Lennon” documentary, which featured work from both the artist’s tenure with the Beatles and his subsequent solo career. Additionally, “Imagine” garnered a Hall of Fame Grammy Award and a permanent spot on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll compilation.
Meaning of the Song: Inspired by the three-line poem “Cloud Piece” in Yoko Ono’s book, “Grapefruit”, “Imagine” represents, in the words of Lennon himself “the concept of positive prayer…If you can imaginea world at peace, with no denominations of religion—not without religion but without this-my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing—then it can be true…The World Church called me once and asked, “Can we use the lyrics to Imagine and just change it to ‘Imagine one religion’? That showed [me] they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.”
Accolades: VH1‘s “100 Greatest Rock Songs” (2000), No. 1o; BMI‘s “Top 100 Most-Performed Songs of the 20th Century” (1999); Triple J‘s Hottest 100 of All Time, No. 11 (2009).
Written and initially performed by Otis Redding at the iconic Stax studio, “Respect” never really made it big time until 1967 when soulful, mesmerizing R&B singer, Aretha Franklin, recorded it. And because the lyrics were changed (from Redding’s version) to favor a woman’s perspective, Franklin’s cover became an icon for the feminist movement and is overwhelmingly considered one of the best songs of the R&B genre ever. “Respect” was recorded with Aretha’s sisters, Carolyn and Erma on backup.
And although Aretha churned out several hits before and after it, critics largely consider “Respect” her signature song.
Meaning of the Song: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, as deliberately spelled out in the song, was a declaration from an extremely confident woman who knew that she has everything her man wants–never doing him wrong, but demanding his respect. Franklin’s version adds the “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” chorus and the backup singers’ refrain of “Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me…” with overtones of the civil-rights movement and gender equality. It was, essentially, an appeal for dignity.”
Accolades: Two Grammys for “Best Rhythm & Blues Recording” and “Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Performance, Female” (1968); Grammy Hall of Fame induction (1987); RS/500, No. 5; RIAA’s ‘Song of the Century’.
“Stairway to Heaven” is a 1971 song by the English rock band Led Zeppelin, released in late 1971. Composed by guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant for Zeppelin’s untitled fourth studio album (sometimes known as Led Zeppelin IV), “Stairway” is often referred to as one of the greatest rock songs of all time. And running a whopping eight minutes and two seconds, it’s composed of several sections of which progressively increase in tempo and volume.
Randy California (the songwriter of Spirit’s “Taurus”) is quoted in liner notes (contained within the 1996 re-release of Spirit’s original album) as saying “People always ask me why [Stairway] sounds exactly like “Taurus”–which debuted two years earlier–and “I know Led Zeppelin also played “Fresh Garbage” in their live set. They opened up for us on their first American tour.”
Meaning of the Song: “Stairway to Heaven” isn’t so much about some imaginary ascent to Heaven; rather, it’s a piece that pays homage (speculation exists as to whether this “paying of homage” was intended or not) to the 1967 song “Taurus” by Spirit.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 31; No. 1 on Q104.3’s (NYC) “Top 1,043 Songs of All Time”, as well as on Guitar World‘s “100 Greatest Guitar Solos in Rock and Roll History”.
A late-seventies hit by Don Felder, Don Henley and Glenn Frey on the album Hotel California, the very title “Hotel California” (which was originally dubbed “Mexican Reggae”) rings synonymous with the band The Eagles—even defining them to many. Don Henley (drummer and lead vocalist) described “Hotel” as “our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.” The song itself is allegorical of hedonism, self-destruction, and greed in the late seventies music industry.
Meaning of the Song: Despite the concocted notion years ago by a few evangelists that “Hotel California” somehow incorporated Satanic meanings in its verses or was really about the hotel that Anton LaVey converted into a Satanaic church, the band describes it as interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles” and “it’s basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about.”
Accolades: Peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for one week (May 1977); certified gold (1977); Grammy for Record of the Year; certified platinum again (Digital Sales Award) by the RIAA for 1,000,000 digital downloads; RS/500, No. 49; RR/HoF induction.
Featuring Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman, “California Love” was a post-prison hit (1995) for Shakur and, by most accounts, one of his best-ever singles, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks and being posthumously nominated in 1997 for a Grammy for ‘Best Rap Solo Performance’ and ‘Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group’ (with Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman).
Meaning of the Song: “California Love” was sampled from Joe Cocker’s “Woman To Woman”; his “Street People’s West Coast Poplock”, performed by Roger Troutman, was incorporated as the song’s hook.
Accolades: 2x platinum certified by the RIAA; CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association)-certified gold; Grammy nominated (posthumously) (1997); IFPI-certified gold (Norway); RS/500, No. 346.
“Bohemian Rhapsody”–the darling of Queen, Freddy Mercury, and Rock&Roll itself collectively–forever sealed Queen’s status as one of the most memorable, illustrious “hair bands” of the eighties and of all time.The song “Bohemian Rhapsody”, while lacking any trace of a chorus, instead employs four basic components: A ballad, guitar solo, an operatic piece, and then hard rock. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was the most expensive, most complex single ever produced at the time, according to several sources.
Originally recorded by recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, then Gladys Knight & the Pips (the latter first made it a hit), Gaye eventually put his gold take on the song, causing it to rock the charts in the U.S. for the second time. Soon after, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was cemented as Gaye’s most famous hit and signature song, as well as Motown Records’ most successful ever song on its Tamla label.
Heavily popularized by the 1990 movie Pretty Woman, “Oh, Pretty Woman” (1964) was released after Orbison had already made a hit out of “It’s Over”—itself which only four years prior had topped the charts in both the U.S. and the U.K.. “Pretty Woman” also became one of Roy Orbison’s crowning achievements in the recording industry.
Sonny West, contrary to what most people know about “Oh Boy”, actually first recorded the song; however, that version flopped. But when “Oh Boy” debuted on the Holly album The “Chirping” Crickets, in tandem with a single with “Not Fade Away” on its B-side, the song soared. Holly and his band recorded “Oh Boy” at the famed Petty Studios in Clovis, New Mexico; The Picks added backup vocals in a subsequent recording. Since then, several other musicians have covered it, including the British bandMud in an a cappella-style, which topped the charts in the U.K.
The second single from Jackson’s sixth album, Thriller (1982), “Billie Jean” became world-renowned for its unique bass line, MJ’s vocal hiccups, eccentricity, and distinctive beat. The song was mixed 91 times by audio engineer Bruce Swedien before it was finalized. Christopher Connelly of Rolling Stone magazine quoted as describing “Billie Jean” as a “lean, insistent funk number whose message couldn’t be more blunt: ‘She says I am the one–But the kid is not my son’”. Connelly added that it was “a sad, almost mournful song, but a thumping resolve underlies [Jackson’s] feelings”.
Blender magazine memorably described the song was “one of the most sonically eccentric, psychologically fraught, downright bizarre things ever to land on Top 40 radio”. They added that it was “frighteningly stark, with a pulsing, cat-on-the-prowl bass figure, whip-crack downbeat and eerie multi-tracked vocals ricocheting in the vast spaces between keyboards and strings”. Overall, the magazine described the track as “a five-minute-long nervous breakdown, set to a beat”
There are opposing claims to what the song may refer to. Jackson asserted that “Billie Jean” was based on groupies (Per Wikipedia, a groupie “seeks emotional and sexual intimacy with a musician or other celebrity or public figure”) he had encountered. The line in the song “She says I am the one/But the kid is not my son” seems to point to another, more widely believed notion that Jackson allegedly fathered a child of a mentally ill mother.
Initially written (by King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) for The Drifters to perform in 1960, “Stand by Me” was turned down by the latter and taken up by Ben E. King himself. Inspired by the spiritual “Lord Stand by Me” and based on lines from Psalms 46:2–3, it was released as a single and, in 1962, was placed on King’s album, Don’t Play That Song! As a testament to the song’s indisputable timelessness, it’s been performed over a whopping seven million times by over 400 artists and bands.
Meaning of the Song: Inspired by the spiritual “Lord Stand by Me”, Stand by Me also closely ties to Psalms 46:2–3 in the Bible.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 122; Songwriters Hall of Fame’s 2012 Towering Song Award; BMI’s “Fourth Most Performed Song of the twentieth-century (with a virtually staggering seven million performances of the tune); Billboard Hot R&B Singles, No. 1 and Hot 100, No. 4 (1961).
One of the greatest ever Motown (Gordy) hits, “My Girl” was written by Smokey Robinson and Ronald White (of The Miracles) and most famously sung by David Ruffin at the legendary Stax Studios in Memphis, TN; it was featured on the Temptations’ album, The Temptations Sing Smokey. Significant other covers of the song have been made by artists like Robinson himself, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Al Green, and The Mamas and the Papas. “My Girl” is also famous for its appearance in and to the soundtrack of the 1991 movie of the same name.
Meaning of the Song: “My Girl” was written by Smokey Robinson for his wife Claudette Rogers Robinson, who was also a member of The Miracles band.
Accolades: No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B Singles (1965); the Temptations’ first singles hit and signature song; RS/500, No. 88.
For a song that Billboard claimed as “the most poignant, well written country song to hit the format in a long time”, Jackson may have made have well produced one of his signature career pieces. “Remember When”, one of two singles from Jackson’s Greatest Hits, Volume II album, evokes part sadness, part joyfulness, and all reminiscence of memories past. Additionally, the thing about this one is how the poignant lyrics resonate with millions of people on so many levels.
Meaning of the Song: “Remember When” is based on flashbacks of Jackson’s life; it portrays sort of a retrospection of his life with his wife and children. In the song, Jackson poignantly details their, essentially, love at first sight experience, the birth and raising of their children, and how he and his wife will reminisce (hence, ‘remember when’) about the kids once they’re grown.
Accolades: U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs, No. 1 (2004, two consecutive weeks); Billboard Hot 100, No. 29; Billboard‘s 2004 Year-End roundup of US Country Songs, No. 2; RIAA-certified gold.
Rocking West’s album, Late Registration, Kanye West and Jamie Foxx’s “Gold Digger” seems perhaps more of a blunt (and quite catchy) version of the late Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman”. Kanye West originally developed the lyrics and beat for Shawnna’s in 2004, however, she turned down the offer. So, rewriting the lyrics and beat from a male perspective this time, Kanye took to the mic with it, bringing in Jamie Foxx to render the Ray Charles-based “I Got a Woman” chorus. “Gold Digger” broke record the for the most digital downloads in a one week, netting over 80,000 digital downloads—making it the fastest-selling download ever at the time.
Meaning of the Song: “Gold Digger” was an intended take on Ray Charles’ 1954 hit “I Got a Woman”.
Accolades: Marked second-longest running number one (10 weeks) on the 2005 Billboard Hot 100; Grammy award for Best Rap Solo Performance; Billboard magazine’s All Time Top 100, No. 49; BillboardHot 100 Songs of the Decade, No. 9; Gold Digger marks the ninth-most successful U.S. single of the last twelve years.
John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary”, most famously performed by CCR for their album Bayou Country, debuted in March, 1968 and was the first of five straight singles by CCR to reach No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly, John wrote Proud Mary’s lyrics based on three concept words that were also initially considered as titles: ‘Proud Mary,’ ‘Riverboat,’ and ‘Rolling On A River.’
Meaning of the Song: “Proud Mary”–along with “Born on the Bayou” and “Keep on Chooglin” from the same album–took root when John Fogerty started National Guard service. As he explained it, the lyrics were a conglomeration from other songs , particularly one dubbed “Washerwoman Named Mary”. The ‘rolling’ on the river’ line was inspired by a Will Rogers film, and the line ‘left a good job in the city’ is a reference to Fogerty’s military discharge.
Accolades: Billboard Hot 100, No. 2; RS/500, No. 155; Grammy Hall of Fame (also includes the Ike and Tina Turner version of Proud Mary from the album Workin’ Together) induction; Ö3 Austria Top 40, No. 1; RIAA-certified platinum.
Composed by Carey, Walter Afanasieff, and the members of Boyz II Men, “One Sweet Day” was released as the second and (what would become the) most prominent single from the album Daydream in November of 1995. “One Sweet Day” was most notably performed at Princess Diana’s somber memorial service in 1997.
Meaning of the Song: “One Sweet Day” describes losing a loved one and becoming reunited with them, once again, in Heaven. Being that AIDS was near pandemic levels in the 1990s, both Carey and Boyz II Men composed the song for those around the world suffering from HIV/AIDS, as well as for personal friends of the musicians that were afflicted with it.
Accolades: The longest-running number one song in US chart history; topped charts in New Zealand and Canada, and peaked within the top-ten in countries such as Australia, France, Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom; Rolling Stone‘s reader’s poll for the Best Collaboration of All Time, No. 1 ranking; Number 1’s (1998); RIAA-certified double platinum; the third best-selling single of 1995 (US), with sales of over 1,300,000; No. 1 on Billboard‘s “Decade-End Charts”.
The sex symbol, hippie extraordinaire and iconic rocker, Jimi Hendrix, never even fathomed that his hit single, “Purple Haze”, would one day become one of the most celebrated, treasured songs in the history of Rock & Roll. The song that famously exclaims “excuse me while I kiss the sky!”, ‘purple haze’, taken in another context (but not an entirely mutually exclusive one), describes the disorienting effect of sunspot activity on the residents of a planet dubbed Dante’s Joy.
Meaning of the Song: Many speculate that “Purple Haze” was at least partially about the psychedelic drug LSD. Hendrix himself claimed that the line “Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me” was “the key line to the lyrics”, while he also maintained that the song was partially in reference to a sci-fi story entitled “Night of Light” by Philip José Farmer.
Accolades: Spent 14 weeks on the charts in the U.K, peaking at No. 3; eight weeks on the American charts, peaking at No. 65; No. 1 on Q magazine’s ‘100 Greatest Guitar Tracks’; RS/500, No. 17; No. 2 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the ‘100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time’.
Released as a single on October 10, 1966 (backed with the Pet Sounds instrumental “Let’s Go Away For Awhile”), “Good Vibrations” was The Beach Boys’ third U.S. number-one hit after “I Get Around” and “Help Me, Rhonda”, reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December 1966, as well as being their first British chart-topper. Initiated during the sessions for the Pet Sounds album, it was not taken from or issued as a lead single for an album, but as a stand-alone single, although it would be later considered for the ill-fated SMiLE project. It would ultimately be placed on the album Smiley Smileeleven months after its release.
Meaning of the Song: Publicist Derek Taylor described “Good Vibrations” as a “pocket symphony”, featuring somewhat strange instruments for a psychedelic rock-pop song.
Accolades: RR/HoF induction; RS/500, No. 6; Billboard Hot 100, No. 1; the group’s first British charts topper; the group’s third No. 1 hit in the U.S; their first million-selling single, topping the charts in 1966; Grammy-nominated for Best Vocal Group performance (1966); Grammy Hall of Fame induction (1994); No. 24 in the RIAA and NEA’s listing of Songs of the Century; ranked the No. 3 song of all time in a collaboration of critics’ lists at Acclaimed Music.
British singer and songwriter Adele recorded “Rolling in the Deep” as the lead single for her second album entitled 21. The largest crossover hit in the United States from the past 25 years, it debuted in November of 2010. Adele expressed her original reservations prior to meeting with co-collaborator Paul Epworth due to a difference in styles, but later described the collaboration as a “match made in heaven”. She also credited Epworth for her increased vocal confidence, claiming that “there’s notes that I hit in that song that I never even knew I could hit.”
Meaning of the Song: Composed by Paul Epworth and Adele in just one afternoon (proceeding her breakup with her boyfriend) and reportedly inspired by a US tour bus driver from Nashville, TN, “Rolling” is described as a “dark, bluesy, gospel disco tune that paints a picture of the emotions of a scorned lover.”
Accolades: Three Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Short Form Music Video; reached No. 1 in 11 countries; Adele’s first number-one song in the United States; BillboardHot 100 No.1 for seven weeks; sold over 7,000,000 copies in the United States (later hit 9.3m), making it the highest selling digital song by a female artist in the US; was Billboard’s 2010 Year-End Hot 100 No. 1 single.
Debuting in 1958 and first made a huge hit by Cochran, Summertime Blues has literally been covered by dozen of artists, including Alan Jackson, who also made a No. 1 out of it. Other noteworthy covers of the song include The Who and Blue Cheer, the Beach Boys (Surfin’ Safari album), The Who, Rush (Feedback, 2004) and others. On a side note, the Blue Cheer rock version (1968) is largely considered one of first heavy metal songs.
Meaning of the Song: Cochran, only 19 when he recorded Summertime Blues, proved to be a hit with his teenage fans, who identified with the lyrics relating to being held back by society, parents, and others. With it, he created an image for himself as something of a guitar-strapped rebel with a guitar; Cochran died just two years later and is often compared to the likes of James Dean (also killed at a young age).
Accolades: No. 77 on Q magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks (March, 2005); peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1958; No. 18 on the UK Singles Chart.
At least five different versions of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (sung by over a dozen famous performers) have made at least one singles chart in the U.S. Fitzgerald and Jordan’s version, though, has endured as one of the most popular renditions of all time. Written in 1949 by Frank Loesser, “Baby” started out as a Christmas song, usually only heard around Christmas in its early years. Later, after Loesser had sold it to MGM, it was picked up by numerous adult contemporary artists–most notably, by the Fitzgerald-Jordan duo. Loesser wrote the duet in 1944 and premiered the song with his wife, Lynn Garland, at their Navarro Hotel housewarming party, performing it toward the end of the evening to signify to guests that it was nearly time to go home. Lynn considered it “their song,” and was allegedly furious when Loesser sold it to MGM.
Meaning of the Song: The lyrics in this duet are intended to represent a dialogue, employing a “mouse” and a “wolf” on the printed score. Every line includes a statement from the mouse (typically sung in a female voice) that’s followed up to by the wolf (typically done in a male voice). And even though no holidays are mentioned in the lyrics, it’s still considering by many a Christmas song thanks to its setting being in a cozy building amidst a wintry backdrop.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 17 on Billboard magazine’s Best Seller chart (1949), remaining there for seven weeks.
Best of You was sung by the American alternative-rock band the Foo Fighters and recorded for their first single released from the their fifth album, In Your Honor. Dave Grohl, the band’s lead singer and songwriter, explains that the song was written after appearances at several of Senator and presidential candidate John Kerry’s 2004 campaign events.
Meaning of the Song: Per Dave Grohl, Best of You symbolizes “breaking away from the things that confine you.”
Accolades: Peaked at No. 18 on US charts, in the UK at No. 4; Grammy-nominated for Best Rock Song; No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart for four weeks and on its Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart for seven weeks.
“I’m a Believer”, written and originally performed by Neil Diamond (for the album Just for You), was recorded by The Monkees in 1966 with Micky Dolenz on lead vocals. The Monkey’s second single after “Last Train To Clarksville” for the album More of the Monkees, it marked the last No. 1 hit of 1966 and became the best-selling record for the entire year of 1967. Further, it went gold within two days of its debut due to some 1.1-million advance orders being placed.
Meaning of the Song: Essentially, Neil Diamond (the songwriter) wrote the song about “only believing that love existed in fairytales”; but when he saw the woman he loved, she made him a believer “without a trace of doubt” in his mind and that he “couldn’t leave her if I tried.“
Accolades: One of less than thirty all-time singles to sell 10-million (or more) copies worldwide; No. 1 spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 for seven consecutive weeks beginning December 31, 1966; No. 1 in the U.K. for four weeks beginning January 1967; No. 48 on Billboard‘s All Time Top 100 chart.
Recorded in October of 1963 and a signature product of the John Lennon-Paul McCartney songwriting machine , “I Want to Hold Your Hand” debuted in 1963 and marked the Beatles’ first record made with four-track equipment. Following the Beatle’s prior million-album hit “She Loves You”, advance orders surpassed the one-million copy mark in the U.K., . When it hit American shores, most experts generally recognize ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ as the phenomenon known as the British invasion of American music.
Meaning of the Song: A guy takes a liking to a girl; translated differently, the song is (possibly) about Lennon proposing to a girl he loves, wanting to hold her hand while doing so.
Accolades: No. 1 for five weeks in the UK top fifty songs, remaining in the top fifty for twenty-one weeks; the Beatles’ first American number one, making the Billboard Hot 100 chart in January 1964 at No. 45; the Beatles’ best-selling single worldwide.
“This Is the New Shit” was heavy-metal rocker Marilyn Manson’s second single from the album The Golden Age of Grotesque. In addition to “mOBSCENE”, it became one of the most successful of both the album and Manson’s career overall. “New Shit” was also featured in an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (“Suckers”), in Bioware’s Dragon Age trailers (2009), and appears on the soundtracks to the The Matrix Reloaded and Hatchet.
Meaning of the Song: It’s been interpreted as mocking the modern mainstream music industry. Manson seemingly implies that music has devolved into a product of the sex-crazed, party-driven society we live in. Put another way, the lyrics “…bitch bitch rebel rebel party party sex sex sex and don’t forget the violence” essentially summarize the feeling of much of today’s music.
Accolades: Peaked on Germany’s singles charts at No. 25, in the U.K at 29.
“What’d I Say” was created one late evening in 1958 after Charles and his band had played their whole set list at a concert and had ample downtime. After previewing it to the crowd, and to Charles’ shock, the response was so wild that Charles announced to his producer that he wanted to record it. Thus, it debuted in 1959 and became nationally-popular almost instantly. Not only did it help usher Ray Charles’ entrance into the mainstream pop scene, it earned him his first gold record and is oft cited as one of the most influential songs in rock & roll and R&B history. For the rest of his career, Charles closed every concert with What’d I Say.
Charles later acknowledged in an interview that “the beat was catchy”, but that it was indeed “the suggestive lyrics that attracted listeners.”
Meaning of the Song: Blending gospel elements with sexual innuendo (very taboo in the late 50s/early 60s), “What’d I Say” prompted one critic to note that “the dialogue between himself and his backing singers started in church and ended up in the bedroom.”
Accolades: National Recording Registry induction in 2002; RS/500, No. 10; number one on Billboard’s R&B singles chart, number six on the Billboard Hot 100; marked Charles’ first gold record; became Atlantic Records’ best-selling song ever.
Originally released in 1974 for Dolly Parton’s thirteenth studio (country) album Jolene, Whitney Houston her own version as a soul ballad for the 1992 film, “The Bodyguard”. Needless to say, its success was nothing short of tremendous–proceeding to become the best selling single of all time by a female artist. “I Will Always Love You” has garnered more awards, honorable mentions, and spots on prestigious lists than practically any other song in music history.
The song was played at Houston’s funeral as her casket exited the church, after which Parton said about Houston “I was brought to tears again last night, as I’m sure many were, when Jennifer Hudson sang ‘I Will Always Love You’ on the Grammys in memory of Whitney.”
Meaning of the Song: Curtis W. Ellison on the Dolly Parton version: “[I Will Always Love You] speaks about the breakup of a relationship between a man and a woman that does not descend into unremitting domestic turmoil, but instead envisions parting with respect — because of the woman’s great initiative.the singer wrote the song for her one-time partner and mentor Porter Wagoner, from whom she was professionally splitting at the time.
Accolades: Broke the then-record 14 weeks at the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100; was the longest-running number one single from a soundtrack album; marked the singer’s 1oth No. 1 hit; 11 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart and No .1 for five weeks on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks; certified 4× platinum–making Whitney the first female singer with a single to reach that level in the history of the RIAA (2009); sold 4,591,000 copies, becoming the second best-selling (only behind Elton John’s 1997 single Candle in the Wind) single in U.S. ever; scored No. 68 on Billboard’s “Greatest Songs of All Time.”
“My Generation”, by the British group The Who, almost immediately became a hit and one of the band’s signature, most recognizable songs. A long-running rumor has it that Townshend reportedly wrote the song on a train and that it was possibly inspired by the Queen Mother (who is alleged to have had Townshend’s 1935 Packard hearse towed off a street in Belgravia because she was offended by the sight of it).
Meaning of the Song: “My Generation” was composed by 20-year old Pete Townshend in 1965; it was written for rebellious British youths dubbed ‘Mods’, who expressed their feelings that older people “just don’t get it”. Townshend later explained to Rolling Stone Magazine (in 1985) that “‘My Generation’ was very much about trying to find a place in society”.
Accolades: Grammy Hall of Fame for “historical, artistic and significant value”; RS/500, No. 11; No. 13 on VH1‘s 100 Greatest Songs of Rock & Roll; RR/HoF induction; peaked at No. 2 in the U.K, No. 74 in the U.S.; 37th Greatest Hard Rock Song per VH1.
“Empire State of Mind” debuted as the third single from Jay-Z’s 11th album called The Blueprint 3(2009). Perceived as being an ‘orchestral rap ballad’ with pop-rap overtones, it alludes to aspects such as drugs, places in New York and famous people there, and the very essence of the Big Apple. “Empire” was created by singer-songwriter and Brooklynite Angela Hunte with her partner Jane’t ‘Jnay’ Sewell-Ulepic. Hunte and Sewell-Ulepic tapped Jay-Z and Alicia Keys to perform the now-iconic song.
Meaning of the Song: “Empire State of Mind” was reportedly inspired during an international trip where Angela Hunte and Sewell-Ulepic went to London in February 2009, whereby both became homesick, saying “We said to ourselves, ‘we complain so much about New York—about the busy streets, about the crowds and the pushing, about the subway system—but I would trade that for anything right now.’ Before we left the hotel that night, we knew we would write a song about our city.’” “Empire” is also widely recognized as a symbolic ode to the Hunte-Sewell-Ulepic singer-songwriter duo.
Accolades: Nominated for three Grammy Awards, won Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration; Jay-Z’s first No. 1 single on charts as a lead artist; the last number one hit of the 20th-century; peaked within the top 10 in countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Italy and Sweden; peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for five consecutive weeks.
An iconic World War II tune and a major hit for The Andrews Sisters, “Boogie Woogie” is often considered an early ‘jump blues’ variety. The song, written by Don Raye and Hughie Prince, was recorded at Decca’s Hollywood studios in January of 1941, almost a year before the U.S. joined World War II as the Allies. Based on an earlier Raye-Prince hit, “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar,” which referred to a ‘boogie-woogie’ piano-player extraordinaire.
Meaning of the Song: This Andrews Sisters classic describes a locally-renowned street musician from Chicago that’s drafted into the U.S. Army during the Roosevelt Administration. A proclaimed “top man at his craft,” this bugler found that the Army did not appreciate his talents, thus being reduced to blowing the morning rendition of Reveille. The Cap (Army Captain—the “Company Commander”) noticed the musician’s blues and went to find more musicians to help him form a band. It’s a success and before long, he becomes so dependent on his comrades that “he can’t blow a note if the bass and guitar isn’t with him.”
Accolades: Academy Award-nominated for Best Song; No. 6 on the Songs of the Century chart by the RIAA and National Endowment For the Arts.
“Love the Way You Lie” hales from Eninem’s (ft. Rihanna) studio album Recovery (2010) . It marks the second single from the album and was influenced by songwriter Skylar Grey’s notion of staying in a relationship with an often abusive+romantic music industry. After British producer Alex da Kid listened to a demo, Eminem went to work on the lyrics and asked Rihanna to provide the voice for the the chorus of this mid-tempo hip-hip ballad. It was received favorably by critics for its lyrics and melody, sold more than five million copies, and garnered five Grammy Awards nominations.
Meaning of the Song: The words refer to two people (one being artists in general, the other, a personified music industry) yearning to end their abusive relationship but love each other anyways. Some have suggested that the song was influenced by Eminem’s ex-wife (Kimberly Scott) and/or Rihanna’s ex, Chris Brown. In interviews, Rihanna has conceded that (while not mutually exclusive things) it’s part metaphor and partly about theme of domestic violence, a topic that she claims most people aren’t overly familiar with–that making the song “effective”.
Accolades: Teen Choice Award; Billboard Music Award; two People’s Choice Awards; reached number one on 25 weekly charts worldwide, including the United States Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks; sold more than five million copies; five Grammy nominations; No. 1 on the US Digital Songs after selling 338,000 digital copies in its first week; became Eminem’s first No. 1 hit on the Rap Songs chart since “The Real Slim Shady”; Eminem’s seventh best-selling U.S. single of 2010; 9.3 million copies worldwide by 2010, thus certified as Eminem’s best-selling single of all time.
In March of 1992, tensions among the U2 group threatened defection of its members; however, surprisingly to almost everyone, the group achieved a breakthrough with “One”–which was written after guitarist ‘The Edge’ inspired the group with a particular chord progression. Written by Bono, “One” was released as a benefit single, with proceeds going towards AIDS research, and has oft been cited as one of the greatest songs of all time. U2 has subsequently performed “One” at every tour concert. And in 2006, U2 re-recorded the song as a duet with R&B singer Mary J. Blige for her album, The Breakthrough.
Meaning of the Song: “One” was inspired by the band members’ then-damaged relationships and their subsequent reunification in Germany. Although the lyrics ostensibly describe “disunity”, they’ve been deciphered in dozens of other ways.
Accolades: No. 1 on the Irish Singles charts in March of 1992; peaked at No. 7 in the UK Singles charts, No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100; topped the US Billboard Album Rock Tracks and Modern Rock Tracks charts.
The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” was a song recorded for Motown Records, and released as the first single from their 1969 album, Third Album. It marked The Jackson 5’s fourth consecutive No. 1 hit (after “I Want You Back”, “ABC”, and “The Love You Save”) and their most successful single ever–making them the first black male group to achieve four consecutive No. 1 pop chart-toppers. Jackson 5 lead singers Michael Jackson and his older brother Jermaine share the lead vocals on this song.
“I’ll Be There” was the song that solidified The Jackson 5’s careers and showed audiences that the group had potential far beyond the bubblegum pop genre. “I’ll Be There” knocked Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” from the top of the charts and held the No. 1 position on the Billboard Pop Singles chart for five weeks from October to November 14.
Meaning of the Song: The singer asks his lover to commit to a special vow (a ‘pact’), one that could bring “salvation back,” summarized in the phrase “where there is love, I’ll be there,”–which also references Matthew 18:20, where Jesus says “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Jesus guarantees that he will always be there to comfort you, regardless of whether she finds a new love.
Accolades: The most successful Motown single in the U.S until the debut of Lionel Richie’s 1981 hit,”Endless Love”, a collaboration with Diana Ross; No. 1 hit on the Billboard Black Singles Chart for six weeks; No. 4 hit in the United Kingdom; Jackson 5’s final No. 1 Hot 100 hit as a group; sold 4.2 million copies in the United States, 6.1 million copies worldwide.
Originally written and performed by Aerosmith (chiefly by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry) for the 1975 album Toys in the Attic–which also made the Billboard Hot 100 top 10—RUN-DMC made “Walk This Way” into the first rap song that ever climbed to the top five in the prestigious Hot 100. In their version, a “rap-rock” remake–with turntable-style dubs added to the original–RUN demonstrated how elements of rap music can be part of rock and pop songs. What’s more, the RUN-DMC version charted higher on the Hot 100 (No. 4) than Aerosmith’s version. It was also one of the first big rap singles in the UK, reaching number eight there.
This signature collaboration by Run–D.M.C. helped propel the then-fledgling band into musical stardom and would influence rap music for years to come.
Meaning of the Song: “Walk This Way” was inspired from an oft-spoken line and gag (‘walk this way’) from the Mel Brooks movie, Young Frankenstein, which the band watched late on night while trying to conceive of a new song for their album. The fast-paced lyrics describe a high school boy who loses his virginity, with heavy emphasis on rhyming words.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 336 (original song), (Run-D.M.C. version at No. 287); VH1 ranked the version by Run–D.M.C. at No. 4 on its 100 Greatest Hip Hop Songs chart; MTV‘s 100 Greatest Videos Ever Made, No. 5 (1999); largely considered the song that helped pioneer the fusion of rap, hip hop, and rock (a.k.a. ‘rap rock’); Soul Train Music Award for Best Rap – Single.
“Unchained Melody”, by Alex North and Hy Zaret, eventually become one of the most re-recorded songs of the 20th-century. Some music aficionados have even pinned down as many as 500 versions of the song in dozens of languages. But it was really the July, 1965 recording by The Righteous Brothers, though–along with a high-profile reemergence in the 1990 blockbuster “Ghost”–that helped seal the song’s timelessness and legacy.
Meaning of the Song: Alex North and lyricist Hy Zaret were contracted in 1955 to produce a theme song for the obscure prison film Unchained; the tune eventually became known as the “Unchained Melody”. Ironically, it doesn’t even include the word “unchained”, supposedly at Zaret’s choosing to instead focus the lyrics on “someone who pines for a lover that he has not seen in a long, lonely time”. The 1955 movie Unchained focuses on a man who contemplates either escaping from prison to live life on the lam or finishing his sentence and returning to his family.
Accolades: The song has been No. 1 on several love song lists featured in the United Kingdom; RS/500, No. 365; No. 1 on the Magic 1278′s 500 greatest songs of all time compilation.
Originally sung by the Bing Crosby-Dixie Lee (husband and wife) duo, “The Way You Look Tonight” was performed by Fred Astaire in the movie Swing Time (1936)–with John ‘Lucky’ Garnett (Astaire) serenading Penelope “Penny” Carroll (Ginger Rogers) with it. “The Way You Look Tonight” was picked up and re-popularized by Frank Sinatra in 1964 .
Meaning of the Song: The song was first used in the 1936 movie Swing Time. Dorothy Fields, one of the music producers, one said that “the first time Jerry played that melody for me I went out and started to cry. The release absolutely killed me; I couldn’t stop, it was so beautiful.”
Accolades: Academy Award for Best Original Song (1936).
Andy Kim, who also made “Sugar, Sugar” (see No. 50) into a smash hit, produced and sung “Rock Me Gently” (whose B-side is an instrumental of the same name), for his own record label, Ice Records. A genre known as “bubblegum” music–fun and bouncy–it marked one of several hits for Kim from 1968 to 1974, but would be his last top 10 (even Hot 100 ranking) hit in either the U.S. or the U.K.
Meaning of the Song: Andy Kim’s “Rock Me Gently“ is a classic, albeit generic, love song that Kim wrote in his later career.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the UK Singles chart.
“Brown Eyed Girl” was written and recorded in 1967 by Van Morrison for the album Blowin’ You Away. It was Morrison’s first single after he defected from the Belfast-originated band ‘Them’, and features the Sweet Inspirations on back-up vocals. Brown would eventually prove to be the impetus for Morrison’s career as a solo artist, to his relocation to the U.S., and for the artist to sign with Warner Bros. Records where, subsequently, he produced his career-defining album, “Astral Weeks”.
Ironically, Morrison stated that “Brown Eyed Girl” wasn’t even among his favorite songs, claiming, “It’s not one of my best. I mean I’ve got about 300 songs that I think are better.”
Meaning of the Song: “Brown Eyed Girl”‘s lyrics, although originally socially taboo, refer to a former love who, according to Eric Hage, “shows early hints of the idealized pastoral landscapes that would flow through his songs through the decades, a tendency that links him to the Romantic poets, whom Morrison has cited as an influence”.
Accolades: Grammy Hall of Fame-inducted in 2007 and in 2003 declared “one of the 365 Top Selling Songs of the 20th Century” by the RIAA; widely considered one of the greatest songs ever written; considered to be Van Morrison’s signature piece; covered by hundreds of prominent labels over several decades; reached No. 8 on the Cashbox charts; peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A song that Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed “Rock & roll guitar starts here” of, “Maybellene” (1955) was adapted from the vintage-era “Ida Red”, a Chess Records original. It marked Berry’s first single release as well as hit. An early example of the complete “rock & roll package”, “Maybellene” ostensibly had it all: A youthful topic, unbridled excitement, guitar riffs and clear, unmistakable direction.
Meaning of the Song: “Maybellene”, most agree, was adapted from the older fiddle tune “Ida Red”, which describes the story of a hot rod race and love affair gone awry.
Accolades: Grammy Hall of Fame induction for its influence as a “rock and roll single” (1988); RR/HoF induction for “Maybellene” (plus “Rock and Roll Music” and “Johnny B. Goode”); one of NPR‘s 100 Most Important American Musical Works of the 20th-Century; ranked 81st-greatest song of all time–No. 2 of 1955–by Acclaimed Music.
Initially released in 1969 for the album Everything’s Archie, “Sugar, Sugar” was a massive bubble gum-pop hit by Ron Dante and Andy Kim. To everyone’s shock, including Dante and Kim, it was one of the group’s biggest number-one hits of the year in America and Great Britain. This was in no small part thanks to its relationship to the hit CBS morning cartoon series.
Meaning of the Song: “Sugar, Sugar” was originally intended as a soundtrack for the Saturday-morning cartoon series “The Archies”. In “band” member Toni Wine’s words:
“We went in, we did the record. It was a fun session, it was a blast, and at the session we just knew that this was something, and something huge was going to happen. We didn’t really know how huge, but it was huge. In fact, a friend of mine had been in town, Ray Stevens, who’s an incredible songwriter, singer, producer, musician, and we were going to just grab a bite to eat, so I told him to meet me at the studio, pick me up, and then we’ll go eat. And he wound up handclapping on ‘Sugar, Sugar.”
Accolades: No. 1 single of 1969; topped RPM 100 national singles chart (Canada) for three weeks; four weeks at the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100; Billboard‘s Greatest Songs of All Time, No. 63; certified-gold (August 1969); inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (2006).[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
“Still D.R.E.” is a rap song co-written and recorded in 1999 by American rap artist, Dr. Dre. Released on October 13,1999 as the lead single from his second multi-platinum studio album, 2001, it features vocals from Snoop Dogg in its intro, chorus and outro. “Still D.R.E.” basically announced Dre’s triumphant return to the forefront of the hip-hop scene. “Still D.R.E.” debuted at No. 93 on the Billboard Hot 100 and fell off the charts soon after. It was more successful, however, in the United Kingdom, where it peaked at No. 6.
Meaning of the Song: “Still D.R.E.” was Dr. Dre’s message that he had returned to prominence in the Rap/Hip-Hop world, with a beat that’s often been credited as being Dre’s best produced, as well as one of his most memorable. It also helped the artist reestablish himself as a top-shelf rapper and world-class producer.
Accolades: U.S. Billboard Hot Rap Singles, No. 11; U.S. Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks, peaking at No. 32; U.S. Billboard Rhythmic Top 40, peaking at No. 29; certified 4x platinum for four-million copies.
“Rehab”, released in October of 2006, was the first single from Winehouse’s second studio album, Back to Black. Written by Winehouse herself, the lyrics are autobiographical and refer to the late singer’s refusal to enter a rehab clinic. The triple-Grammy award-winning Rehab peaked at number 7 in the United Kingdom on the UK Singles Chart and number 9 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and is widely considered her signature song.
Meaning of the Song: “Rehab” is about Winehouse’s own refusal to seek help for her alcohol addiction after her associates encouraged her to go. Winehouse is quoted as saying: “I asked my dad if he thought I needed to go. He said no, but I should give it a try. So I did, for just 15 minutes. I went in said ‘hello’ and explained that I drink because I am in love and have screwed up the relationship. Then I walked out.”
Accolades: Says Rolling Stone, a “must hear song”; “instantly memorable”, proclaimed People magazine; “Shirley Bassey-meets-Ella Fitzgerald”, said Billboard magazine; Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Best Songs of 2007, No. 7; RS/500, No. 194; No. 92 on MTV Asia‘s Top 100 Hits of 2007; TIME magazine named “Rehab” No. 1 of the The 10 Best Songs of 2007; three Grammy Awards–Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Debuting in June of 1998 by American country music artist George Strait (for his album One Step at a Time), Billboard magazine best characterized ‘True” as having an “open, airy feel that underscores the honest emotion in the lyric,” and that it “adds appeal and turns a sweet, ordinary song into something special.” It debuted at No. 69 on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart in 1998 and topped out at No. 2 on the chart by late-1998.
Meaning of the Song: “True” is an up-tempo tune, where the narrator insists that the love for his significant other is “true”.
Accolades: No. 2 on U.S. Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks (presently Hot Country Songs); peaked at No. 1 on Canada’s RPM Country Tracks chart; marked Strait’s first single to top Canadian charts.
In 2003, David Foster decided to produce the song after being introduced to it by Frank Petrone of Peer Music, the song’s publisher. He chose the up-and-coming Josh Groban to record “You Raise Me Up”, which was accompanied by the famed tenor Craig Von Vennik of the Establishment. Groban also performed the song at Super Bowl XXXVIII and at a special NASA commemoration for the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. When performed as a surprise for Oprah Winfrey’s 50th birthday, “You Raise Me Up” garnered even greater international prominence.
Meaning of the Song: “You Raise Me Up” was originally written by Rolf Løvland and Brendan Graham as an instrumental piece (titled “Silent Story”) for Secret Garden’s album, Once in a Red Mood (2002). Parts of the melody are based on a traditional Irish tune (especially the opening chorus phrase) known as the Londonderry Air, itself best known as the tune to the 1910 song, “Danny Boy”.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 73 on the Billboard Hot 100 (marking Groban’s first single to make the chart), Grammy-nominated (2005); peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks (2004) and remained there for six weeks.
“We Belong Together” is the second single from Carey’s tenth studio album, The Emancipation of Mimi(2005). Following her decline in popularity in the early 2000s, critics claimed that the song was her ticket back into music, when many had given up any hope for her career. “We Belong Together” thereafter became a song that critics considered Carey’s “return to form” and “the return of The Voice”, even after the naysayers dismissed “Charmbracelet” as career-ending. “We Belong Together”, against the odds, proceeded to break several records in the U.S. and became Carey’s sixteenth chart topper on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Meaning of the Song: As it samples lyrics from Bobby Womack’s “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” (1981) and The Deele’s “Two Occasions” (1987), “We Belong Together” narrates a woman’s desperation for her ex lover to come back to her following their separation and her subsequent depression.
Accolades: Peaked (and remained at) No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for fourteen non-consecutive weeks, becoming the second longest running number one song in US chart history, only behind Carey’s “One Sweet Day” (1995); two Grammy Awards; two Radio Music Awards; two Soul Train Music Awards; one Vibe Award; proclaimed “song of the decade” by Billboard and the ninth most popular song of all time.
After their Hotter Than Hell (1974) album had begun to lose steam, Kiss debuted “Rock and Roll All Nite” on their 1975 album Dressed to Kill—practically just in time to remain relevant in the music industry. It was released as the A-side of their fifth single, with the album track “Getaway”. And it wasn’t until Kiss recorded a live version, “Alive!”, in October 1975 that the song really blasted off, peaking at No. 12 in the U.S. and marking the first of six top 20 songs for Kiss in the 1970s. “Rock and Roll All Nite” became Kiss’s most identifiable song and has served as its closer for almost every concert since 1976.
Meaning of the Song: The song itself was inspired by the Slade song “Cum on Feel the Noize”, and is often known as the “Rock And Roll National Anthem” (for instance, Stanley states during Kiss’ performance at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards that “there’s only one nation, that’s Kiss Nation, there’s only one Rock & Roll national anthem: “Rock and Roll All Nite, party everyday!”). Stanley wrote the chorus, and Simmons wrote the verses, borrowing parts of a song he had previously written called “Drive Me Wild.”
Accolades: “The studio version of the song peaked at No. 57 on the Billboard singles chart, besting the band’s previous charting single, “Kissin’ Time” (No. 79); the “Alive!” live version in 1975 peaked at No. 12 in the U.S.; named the 16th greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1.
“Sweet Home Alabama” is a hard song by Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd that debuted on their second album in 1974 entitled Second Helping; it was also their second hit single. Several themes emerged from “Sweet Home” (itself inspired from works of Neil Young); among them include Watergate, racism and north-south tensions. Interesting fact: None of the three writers of the song were originally from Alabama. Ronnie Van Zant and Gary Rossington were both born in Jacksonville, Florida. Ed King was from Glendale, California.
Meaning of the Song: “Sweet Home Alabama” was drafted in response to the songs “Southern Man” and “Alabama”, both by Neil Young, which dealt with overtones of racism (particularly that of then-Alabama governor and segregation-supporter George Wallace) as well as Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. Alternatively, the lyrics pitted the racially-sensitive south and its racists with the north, the latter of which had supported the leadership surrounding the Nixon Administration.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 8 in the U.S. in 1974; made No. 35 on the USA’s Hot 100 pop singles chart (1980), No. 1 on VH1’s Top Ten AC/DC Songs; Guitar World ranked “You Shook Me All Night Long” No. 80 on its 100 Greatest Guitar Solos chart.
“Shook Me” debuted in 1980 with Brian Johnson, who took the deceased Bon Scott’s place, as its lead vocalist. Having sold over 40 million records since its debut, it also marked AC/DC’s first entry into the Top 40 in the U.S. And as one of AC/DC’s signature, most instantly-recognizable songs from their epically successful Back in Black album, “You Shook Me All Night Long” later appeared on the international album Who Made Who. It would eventually become an unmistakable staple of AC/DC concerts, nearly always being on their setlists.
Meaning of the Song: Singer Brian Johnson described the song as ‘the story of a late-night rendezvous with a beautiful woman’.
Accolades: No. 10 on VH1‘s The 100 Greatest Songs of the 80s chart; No. 1 on VH1‘s Top Ten AC/DC Songs; No. 80 on Guitar World magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitar Solos roundup; one of AC/DC’s top 40 singles in the United States.
Written by Stephen Stills, recorded by Buffalo Springfield in 1966 and released in January 1967, “For What It’s Worth” eventually made the bands first album, Buffalo Springfield. The song is particularly well-known as a protest/anti-war song, especially considering the vehement anti-war sentiment surrounding the Vietnam War and other global conflicts of that era. Stills, however, emphasized that it was about the clashing of cops and clubbers during the 1966 ‘Sunset Strip curfew riots.” And contrary to a common misconception, it wasn’t about the Kent State Shootings, which happened in 1970, years after the song debuted.
Meaning of the Song: “For What It’s Worth” was apparently a product of the psychedelic era. In late 1966, Springfield started playing at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. Per the Los Angeles Times, annoyed locals grew wary of the traffic and such from hoards of patrons descending on the club. So, the townspeople attempted to curb the clubgoers’ activities by introducing a law to make a 10p.m. curfew; fans were less than thrilled, feeling that their civil rights were being trampled on. This led to the Sunset Strip riots (a.k.a. ‘the Sunset Strip curfew riots’), subsequently inspiring band member Stephen Stills to write “For What It’s Worth.”
Accolades: RS/500, No. 63; Acclaim Music’s No. 8 song of 1966; peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Originally an instrumental track on Gabler and Kaempfert’s 1964 Blue Midnight album, the American singer and pianist Nat King Cole recorded “L-O-V-E” as a jazz rendition for his 1965 album of the same name; it became his last song before he died, as well as one of his most cherished. Since covered by myriad artists, notable ones include Natalie Cole (Cole’s daughter–for her 1991 album), Michael Buble, and Jools Holland (The Informer, 2008). Little-known fact: Nat Cole also recorded “L-O-V-E” in four other languages–Japanese, French, Italian and German.
Meaning of the Song:
Ostensibly a plain old love tune, “L-O-V-E” is somewhat unique in the way the lyrics are formed, i.e.:
“L” is for the way you look at me
“O” is for the only one I see
“V” is very very extra-ordinary
“E” is even more than anyone that you adore can.
Aerosmith released “Dream On” as the second single from their debut album, Aerosmith (1973) . Written by heartthrob Steven Tyler, the bluesy power ballad became the band’s first smash hit and staple of classic rock radio stations. Although it initially only peaked at number 59 nationally, Dream On took Aerosmith’s hometown of Boston by storm, where it ranked within the top 10 among several local stations. When re-released in album-version in 1976, it debuted at No. 81 in January and progressed into the Top 40 on February 14th, eventually peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 on April 10th, 1976.
The first live performance of “Dream On” occurred at the Shaboo Inn in Willimantic, Connecticut.
Meaning of the Song: In a recent interview with Tyler, he spoke about his Julliard-trained father (also a musician) and said that “Dream On” symbolized “lying beneath his dad’s piano as a three-year-old, listening to him play classical music,” proceeding to claim that “that’s where I got that Dream Onchordage [SIC].”
Accolades: Peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 (1976 re-release); No. 1 single of the year on the top 40 station, WBZ-FM; No. 5 for WRKO-AM’s yearly Top 40; No. 16 on Heritage Top 40, WMEX-AM.
“The Dance”, written by Tony Arata and Henry Drysdale-Wood and recorded by country singer Garth Brooks early in his music career, marked the fourth and last single of his self-titled album. Arata, a relatively obscure songwriter at the time, says that the inspiration for “The Dance” came from a scene in the movie Peggy Sue Got Married, writing “Kathleen Turner discovers she can’t alter one aspect of her past without affecting the rest. No one gets to pick their memories, thankfully.” Regardless, though, it is widely (although arguably) accepted as Brooks’ most defining, signature song.
Meaning of the Song: As Brooks explains at the beginning of the music video for “The Dance”, it has a dual meaning–that describing the ending of a loving, passionate relationship, and of a narrative of someone dying–following an epiphany of sorts–due to something that he believes in.
Accolades: Chart-topping single around the globe, including in the U.S. and Europe; made the British pop Top 40; made the Song of the Year and Video of the Year by the Academy of Country Music (1990); made the No. 14 position on CMT‘s 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music broadcast, as well as the No. 5 position on its The Greatest: 100 Greatest Music Videos show; in 2001, after the death of Death Earnhardt, Brooks was invited to perform “The Dance” at the 2001 NASCAR Awards Ceremony as a memorial to the legendary NASCAR driver.
Written as the second single by the members of the British band Coldplay for their fourth album, “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends” (2008), “Viva La Vida” transitions directly into the next track entitled “Violet Hill”. Atypical of most other Coldplay songs in which the piano and/or guitar tend to be the go-to instruments, “La Vida” entails a string section on the upbeat riff, supported by a steady bass drum beat, timpani and church bell, bass guitar, and Chris Martin’s vocals, with a conservative electric guitar presence in tow. It was first performed live at the 2008 MTV Movie Awards.
Meaning of the Song: “Viva la Vida” (Spanish) means either “long live life” or “live life”. The song’s lyrics exhibit historical and religious references, constructed around a repeating string section married to a digitally-processed piano with a percussion background.
Accolades: Topped the UK Singles and Billboard Hot 100 charts, marking the Coldplay’s first No. 1 single in the U.S. and U.K.; Grammy for Song of the Year (2009); has sold 5.2 million copies in the United States, 6.4-million worldwide as of 2012; sixth song in history to reach 4-million in commercial downloads.
“Piano Man” was Billy Joel’s first major hit and (what would become) his defining song. “Piano Man” was released as a single in November 1, 1973, and has been featured on several albums. Although it initially failed to make the U.S. Top 10 (Billboard, No. 25), after the release of the album The Stranger (1977)–which propelled Billy Joel from relatively little-known artist to A-List celebrity–it soon became one of his most signature (thanks, in no small part, to the title itself), loved songs and a huge radio hit. Subsequently, the Face to Face tour with Elton John and Mr. Piano Man was promoted as “Rocket Man meets Piano Man.”
Meaning of the Song: Joel’s proclaims that “Piano Man” is a ‘fictional experience’ as a piano-lounge singer in L.A., with all of the characters in his song being based on real people.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 421; Joel’s No. 1 song on the iTunes Store (as of July 2011); peaked at No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974.
“Before He Cheats” is the third single (and fifth overall) from Carrie Underwood’s debut album, Some Hearts. It–in addition to being the fourth best-selling country song of all time, only beat by Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now”, Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”, and Swift’s “You Belong with Me”–and her other signature hit, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, in tow, helped solidify Underwood’s bonafide status as a modern country superstar.
Meaning of the Song: “Before He Cheats” illustrates the story of a woman exacting revenge on her possibly unfaithful boyfriend. She speculates he’s been hanging out and socializing with this “bleach blonde” girl, hoping to score with her. In retaliation, she keys her name into the side of his truck, smashing its headlights with a bat and slashing its tires–preempting him to “think before he cheats” again.
Accolades: The fourth longest-charting single in the Hot 100’s history; CMT‘s No. 25 of its 40 Greatest Songs of the Decade chart; Single of the Year by the Country Music Association (2007); Underwood’s most successful single, with sales of over 3.3-million digital downloads; the second best-selling song by a U.S. American Idol contestant–trumped only by Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).”
The first single from Mraz’s seventh studio album, Love Is a Four Letter Word–and following his massively successful “I’m Yours” from the album We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things—“I Won’t Give Up” made its debut in early 2012 via iTunes and was generally heralded by critics and fans alike. Maria Skullova (Chemical Magazine) said of “I Won’t Give Up” that “it’s the kind of song that would make you open up about your feelings or comfort you when you’re in a pretty bad phase in a relationship and it will probably be used a lot in weddings and romance flicks.”
Meaning of the Song: An emotional and inspiring acoustic ‘folk ballad’, it was written during one of singer and activist’s charitable adventures and describes not giving up on loving someone or even yourself, or giving up on your dreams and passions.
Accolades: Debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100; immediate No.1 hit on the Hot Digital Songs chart selling 229,000 downloads the first week; started the Adult Pop Songs chart at No. 36.
Released in 1979 on the group’s album Get the Knack, “My Sharona” took its name from Doug Fieger’s (lead singer) then-girlfriend, Sharona Alperin. Averre was originally averse to using Sharona’s name in the song, but Fieger wanted it to be a direct expression of his feelings; Averre ultimately relented.Fieger has claimed that “My Sharona” was written in 15 minutes. Sharona, who appears on the picture sleeve for the single, became a major booster for the band bringing many girls to their early shows.
Meaning of the Song: The riff of “My Sharona” was written by the band’s guitarist, Berton Averre, years before he joined The Knack. He had played the riff as well as a drum groove for Doug Fieger, the group’s lead singer and rhythm guitarist, who loved it and promised to make it a song.When Fieger, who was 25, met 17-year-old Sharona Alperin, she inspired a two-month-long run of songwriting, as well as becoming Fieger’s girlfriend for the next four years. “It was like getting hit in the head with a baseball bat; I fell in love with her instantly. And when that happened, it sparked something and I started writing a lot of songs feverishly in a short amount of time.” Whenever Fieger thought about Alperin, he would think of Berton Averre’s guitar riff, and the two worked out the structure and melody from thereFieger wanted it to be a direct expression of his feelingsFieger has claimed that “My Sharona” was written in 15 minutes.
Accolades: No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for six weeks; No. 1 on the Billboard Top Pop Singles of 1979; certified gold (one million units sold) by the RIAA; reached gold status faster than any debut single since The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in 1964; “My Sharona” re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1994 (released on the Reality Bites soundtrack), where it peaked at No. 91.
Although the country hit “Always” was originally a production by Johnny Christopher, Mark James and Wayne Carson and sung by Brenda Lee in 1972, it’s without doubt that Willie Nelson turned it into a national sensation in 1982. Nelson also famously performed “Always On My Mind” with Johnny Cash for VH1’s 1998 “Storytellers: Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson” show.
Meaning of the Song: “Always On My Mind” is a story about a man that confesses that while he didn’t always show and do things for the woman he loved, he still wants her to know that he was ‘always on his mind’.
Accolades: Certified platinum by RIAA; Grammy Hall of Fame induction; three Grammys; the Country Music Award‘s 1982 and 1983 Song of the Year; CMA‘s 1982 Album of the Year; reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, continued for 2 weeks; Billboard‘s No. 1 country song for 1982; also made charts in several other countries.
Although the “The Weight”, written by Robbie Robertson and first made popular by The Band in 1968, never charted very in the U.S., it was the song that forever sealed the group’s iconic status in the Rock world. It was soon after placed on the album Music from Big Pink, and became one of the hottest (and most symbolic) acts at the 1969 Woodstock in Bethel, New York.
Meaning of the Song: The Weight” combines harmonies (folk parlour song-esque) in the chorus, where the singers’ voices sort of echo each others–i.e.”and (and, and) you put the load right on me (you put the load right on me)”. Levon Helm explained that the characters in the song were based on real people that he and the group knew. The “Miss Anna Lee” in the lyrics and in the refrain, “Take a load off Annie, …”, refers to Helm’s friend Anna Lee Amsden.
Accolades: RR/HoF induction; RS/500, No. 41; Pitchfork Media‘s thirteenth-best song of the ’60s.
Originally composed by Phil Medley and Bert Russell and titled “Shake It Up, Baby”, “Twist and Shout” was first performed by the greats R&B group The Top Notes, a three years later by The Isley Brothers. It was with the The Beatles version (1963 via the album Please Please Me), though,–with Lennon on the lead vocals–that the song really took off, adding a more British flavor. And one of the most memorable things about the song is, incredibly, coughing, as the cold-prone Lennon had a noticeable cough on the original recording–but still made it a legend.
Meaning of the Song: As if it’s not blatantly obvious, “Twist and Shout” is all about dancing. Its fun, catchy rhythm and lyrics (i.e. “shake it up baby now!”) compel listeners to, accordingly,’twist and shout’.
Accolades: The only million-selling cover record single by the Beatles; No. 1 on the Cashbox singles for one week in 1964; the only cover by the Beatles to reach the Top 10 on a national record chart; longest-running Top 40 hit (23 weeks) from the Beatles in the U.S.; overall, represents the Beatles’ second most successful single in the United States next to their mega-hit, “Hey Jude.”
Like a Prayer, a combination pop-rock and gospel song, was the lead song on Madonna’s fourth album, Like a Prayer (Sire Records, 1989). Then-disparaged almost universally by the Catholic church (specifically, the Vatican) and hardcore conservatives—but heralded as one of the best songs by one of the best artists of all time by almost every major critic and publication since—“Like a Prayer” was Madonna’s seventh No. 1 hit on the prestigious Billboard Hot 100 chart and topped other charts around the world from the United Kingdom, to Japan, to Canada and others.
The accompanying music video for the song–nothing short of revolutionary in the then still-fledgling music video world–included highly controversial elements including burning crosses, stigmata, a backup chorus performed by a full choir, and Madonna’s dream of having sex with a saint. Apparently, sex really does sell.
Meaning of the Song: “Like a Prayer” represented one of Madonna’s most artistic and personal approaches to music. Mixing liturgical lyrics with sexual innuendo, gospel, and pop rock, “Like a Prayer” represents two (often sparring) entities–the spiritual and the physical. Its lyrics describe Madonna as receiving a songwriting/singing “job” from God himself.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 300; Madonna’s seventh No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100; peaked at the top of singles charts in over a dozen countries around the world; went platinum in the U.S. and Australia, gold in the U.K, Switzerland, and Germany (among other countries); No. 6 on Blender magazine’s “The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born” roundup.
Debuting in May of 1966 as the Stones’ first single of their fourth album Aftermath (U.S. version), “Paint It, Black” was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Brian Jones developed and played the song’s signature sitar riff and Jack Nitzsche rocked the piano. Richards took on both the electric and acoustic guitars, as well the background vocals. Fun Fact: Initially titled “Paint It Black”, Decca Records mandated the comma that’s now in it. It also marked the first number-one single in the U.S. or U.K. to feature the musical instrument known as a sitar in the recording.
Meaning of the Song: Jagger, who contributed significantly to the lyrics, has said that they refer to a girl’s funeral (whose funeral is thought to be unknown).
Accolades: No. 1 on the United States and U.K. charts (1966); RS/500, No. 174; No. 1 on Canada’s RPMand the Dutch Top 40 charts.
Likely the epitome of Patsy Cline’s career and legacy, the jazz-pop ballad “Crazy” was composed by Willie Nelson (initially for Billy Walker, although he turned it down) and subsequently given to Cline to perform. absolutely hated it at first because Nelson’s demo “spoke” the lyrics ahead of and behind the beat, about which an annoyed Cline remarked that she ‘couldn’t sing like that’. However, Cline’s producer, Owen Bradley, loved the song and subsequently arranged it in ballad form. Patsy Cline, who was already a country music superstar and working to extend a string of hits, picked it as a follow up to her previous big hit “I Fall to Pieces”.
Meaning of the Song: Nelson wrote the song in early 1961; at the time he was a journeyman singer-songwriter who had written several hits for other artists but had not yet had a significant recording of his own. Nelson originally wrote the song for country singer Billy Walker who turned it down. The song’s eventual success helped launch Nelson as a performer as well as a songwriter. Musically the song is a jazz-pop ballad with country overtones and a complex melody. The lyrics describe the singer’s state of bemusement at the singer’s own helpless love for the object of his affection.
Accolades: A No. 2 country hit of 1962; No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100; No. 2 on Billboard‘s Easy Listening and Hot Country Singles charts; RS/500, No. 85.
First appearing in the soundtrack to the 1953 comedy The Caddy (with Martin and Jerry Lewis), “That’s Amore” became a major hit and signature song for Dean Martin (a.k.a. Dino Crocetti) in the 1950s. According to one account, the song was only initially produced by songwriter Henry Warren at the request of Jerry Lewis because, apparently, Dean needed the motivation. “That’s Amore” bounced back in popularity when it was used in the movie Moonstruck.
Meaning of the Song: A one-off, romantic song, “That’s Amore” details ‘love’ the way southern Italians (Napoli, Italy, in specific) do it. “Amore” itself is Italian for “Love”. The narrator passionately compares the sentiment to his favorite Italian foods–pasta fagiole and pizza. It’s a quirky romantic song poking a bit of fun at Italian stereotypes, something Martin – born Dino Crocetti – had every right to do.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 2 on the primary Billboard chart; nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song (1953); also featured in the films Rear Window (1954), Moonstruck (1987), and Enchanted(2007, sung by James Marsden).
“Crazy in Love” was the debut single–as well as first No. 1 hit–by R&B singer-songwriter Beyoncé Knowles (and first collaboration with Jay-Z), which featured rapper and now-husband Jay-Z, for her solo album entitled Dangerously in Love. “Crazy in Love” was an R&B love song that blended1970s-style funk, dance, pop, and soul, and prominently featured a hook sampled from the 1970s The Chi-Lites’ song “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)”.
Meaning of the Song: “Crazy in Love” describes an obsession with another person that causes the narrator to act unlike herself. In Beyonce’s own words: “It celebrates the evolution of a woman. It talks about a girl who is at the point of a relationship. She realizes that she’s in love, she’s doing stuff she wouldn’t normally do but she doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter, she’s just crazy in love. Rich Harrison actually wrote the song with me and after I finished the song I asked Jay Z to be part of the song and he did. The song turned out great it ended up being my first single.”
Accolades: RS/500, No. 118; VH1‘s No. 1 song on its 100 Greatest Songs of the 2000s chart; topped the Hot 100 for eight consecutive weeks; garnered two Grammys for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best R&B Song; went multi-platinum in several countries (including the U.S.), having sold more than 8-million copies worldwide.
A 1963 single produced Phil Spector and sung by The Ronettes, “Be My Baby” quickly became a smash hit, as well as one of the most well-known, lasting songs of the 1960s. According to critic Jason Ankeny, “No less an authority than Brian Wilson has declared ‘Be My Baby’ the greatest pop record ever made — no arguments here.” And on his hit show ‘American Bandstand’, Dick Clark went even further–proclaiming it the “record of the century.”
Meaning of the Song: The lyrical interpretation of “Be My Baby” is a straightforward one: The narrator has simply long-waited and yearned for the woman of his affection.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Pop Singles chart, No. 4 on the British Record Retailer; peaked at No. 4 on the R&B chart; RS/500, No. 22; Grammy Hall of Fame induction; Library of Congress-inducted to the United States National Recording Registry; Pitchfork Media‘s No. 6 on its “The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s” chart; included in Time magazine’s “All-TIME 100 Songs”.
“Fly Away” is Lenny Kravitz’s fourth single from his 1998 album entitled 5 . It’s also one of his most successful songs ever, becoming a hit in both the United Kingdom and United States as well as in Canada, Australia, and throughout Europe.
Meaning of the Song: Meaning-wise, “Fly Away” is about as clear cut and easy to understand as it gets in the mainstream music industry–which helped it become a favorite among the likes of movie directors, sport montage assemblers, and ad agencies. Kravitz maintains that good songwriting does not always require deep, mysterious lyrics.
Accolades: No. 1 in the U.K.; peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100; topped the Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock Tracks charts; peaked at No. 8 in New Zealand; certified gold; Grammy Award (1999) for “Best Male Rock Performance.”
“Hurts So Good” is a 1982 hit by the singer-songwriter John “Cougar” Mellencamp for the album American Fool. In addition to this song, the Mellancamp’s other hit songs from American Fool included “Jack & Diane” and “Hand to Hold On To.” In a 1982 interview with The L.A. Herald Examiner, the singer claimed that: “My friend George said, why didn’t I write a song with the title ‘Hurt So Good’?” and that “I wrote it in three minutes, scrawled the first line in soap on the glass door in the shower. It was really just a joke. I think all good things probably started as jokes. Wasn’t God having a laugh when he made this whole place?”
Meaning of the Song: In the aforementioned interview, Mellencamp asserted that the first few lines of “Hurts So Good” were conceived of, of all places, in his shower and as a joke. Supposedly, the song refers to certain, explicit sexual acts between Mellencamp and his partner.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 1 on the Hot (mainstream rock) Tracks chart; marked Mellencamp’s first of three major hits from the 1982 album American Fool; No. 83 on Billboard’s Greatest Songs of All Time compilation; spent a total of 16 whopping weeks in the top ten of the Hot 100 chart.
Written and produced by Keys, the Kerry Brothers, Jr., and George M. Harry for Keys’ third studio album, As I Am, “No One” was the album’s lead single. It marked Keys’ biggest overall hit, having topped many singles charts for up to 10 consecutive weeks. “No One” was also her second solo number-one single in the United States after 2001’s Fallin. Billboard (on its Hot 100) placed Key’s song at No. 6 on its decade-end chart for best songs.
Meaning of the Song: In an interview with MTV News Canada, Alicia explained that “No One” “is really talking about the way that in relationships, the way that so many things are around you all the time to try to distract you [sic]” and continued “even though people may talk and say whatever they may want to say, but then no one can get in the way of this.”
Accolades: No. 42 on The Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs; No. 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Top R&B/Hip-Hop Songs; peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 for five (consecutive) weeks; two 2008 Grammys for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song; over 3-million paid downloads U.S., 5.7 million globally.
“SexyBack” debuted as the lead single from Timberlake’s second studio album, FutureSex/LoveSounds(2006). The instrumentation used in the song includes a pounding bass beat, electronic chords, and beat box sounds. Timbaland—who also worked on Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River” and produced Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous”—produced “SexyBack” and also sings on the track.
Meaning of the Song: Timberlake revealed that he went “left”, singing the song in a rock style, not an R&B style.He described the song as musicians David Bowie and David Byrne “covering” James Brown’s 1970 song “Sex Machine”Timberlake said that the chorus was “very James Brown-ish, call out and repeat, like ‘Sex Machine’.”
Accolades: 2007 Grammy for Best Dance Recording; Timberlake’s first No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, spending seven weeks there; topped most of Billboard magazine’s other charts (Billboard Pop 100, Hot Dance Airplay, and Hot Digital Songs chart and others); first Timberlake single to peak at No. 1 in the U.K.; 3x platinum by the RIAA; 6x platinum by Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA); won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite R&B song; voted ‘Male Artist of the Year’ at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
Written by Irvin Berlin, “White Christmas” marked Bing Crosby’s best-selling single of all time (according to the Guinness world records book), selling some 50+ million copies worldwide. The song, used in the movies Holiday Inn (which also starred Crosby) and White Christmas, was then the biggest selling Christmas song of all time–although its sales figures competing practically neck-in-neck with “Rock Around The Clock.”
Meaning of the Song: “White Christmas” was originally about a New Yorker who found himself stranded in California during Christmas, hence “dreaming of a white Christmas.” However, that first verse, somewhat ironically, was cut from the song in both of the movies White Christmas and Holiday Inn.
Accolades: 11 weeks on top of the Billboard charts (second recording, this one with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and Ken Darby Singers); No. 1 on the Harlem Hit Parade for three weeks; Crosby’s first debut ever on a mostly African-American chart (Harlem Hit Parade); when re-released by Decca, it returned to the No. 1 spot during the holiday seasons of 1945 and 1946; won an Academy Award (1942) for Best Original Song.
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is a hit 1979 by The Charlie Daniels Band for the album Million Mile Reflections. The song–whose lyrics sound closer to being spoken than actually sung (i.e. chant, Sprechstimme)–is widely regarded as the impetus that The Charlie Daniels Band needed to break out of its traditional Southern Rock style and into the world of Pop. In fact, in the years proceeding its debut, The Charlie Daniels Band experienced more success on the rock-crossover charts then on the Country charts where it all began. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is also notable for its appearance in the 1980 movie Urban Cowboy.
Meaning of the Song: This song tells the story of a boy named Johnny, who makes a deal with the Devil. With instrumental bridges facilitating the Devil and Johnny’s actions, Lucifer comes down to Georgia to acquire souls. Not being as successful as he’s accustomed to, he strikes a deal with the young fiddle player Johnny, challenging him to a “fiddle-off”. Satan establishes the terms: If Johnny wins, he gets a solid gold fiddle. If the Devil wins, he gets little Johnny’s soul. Despite a “riveting” performance by the Devil (and his demon crew), Johnny defeats him–proudly boasting “I done told you once, you son of a bitch, I’m the best that’s ever been.”
Accolades: The Charlie Daniels Band’s biggest hit; spent two weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 3; spent fourteen weeks on the Hot Country Singles chart, where it peaked at No. 1; RIAA-certified as the “top selling song of all time with a US state in the title of the song”; June 1998 re-release: re-entered the country charts at No. 62–remaining on the charts for seven weeks, topping out at No. 60.
“Safe & Sound” is a song by Taylor Swift and country/folk duo The Civil Wars, the latter who served as backup singers, for the soundtrack to the 2012 film, “The Hunger Games”. “Safe & Sound” is a melancholy, acoustic ballad that premiered via Twitter. Swift tweeted about the song “Something I’ve been VERY excited about for a VERY long time is going to be happening VERY soon (and I’m not referring to Christmas),” and subsequently urged “this is it, the big surprise… Go get it!”. Originally, the song was only available on iTunes.
Meaning of the Song: Another song whose core meaning is pretty open to debate, one theory stipulates that it tells the untold stories of the rebels who died long before the movie’s events transpired, whose back-stories were missing in the movie itself. Intriguingly, “Safe & Sound” seems in chronological order, from the first shots of ‘the rebellion’ to its last dying breaths. Another possibility is that it’s about the on-screen death of Hunger Games’ character “Rue” (Amandla [sic] Stenberg).
Accolades: Debuted on the Billboard Hot Digital Songs register at No. 19 (136,000 paid iTunes downloads in two days); debuted at No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100; after its music video released, “Safe & Sound” re-entered the Hot 100 at No. 56; has sold more than a million copies in the U.S. (as of April 2012); peaked in Canada at No. 31, No. 38 in Australia; first multi-artist film soundtrack to reach the peak position since “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.”
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, also known as “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, is a song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and originally recorded by The Shirelles. The song was, in a respect, is an “answer” by Carole to her ex-boyfriend’s (Neil Sedaka) recording of “Oh, Carol”. “Tomorrow”, released in 1960 with “Boys” on the flip-side, is also significant in that it was the first song by an all-girl group to reach the top spot in the U.S. And in 1961, singer Tony Orlando recorded an “answer song” entitled “Not just Tomorrow, But Always”; the Motown group The Satintones also released an answer song to “Tomorrow entitled “Tomorrow and Always.”
Goffin and King—a husband and wife songwriting team who worked were signed to Don Kirshner’s Aldon music—was the center of the songwriting universe in the early ’60s. Kirshner assigned them to write a song for the Shirelles as a follow-up song to “Tonight’s The Night.”
Meaning of the Song: “Love Me Tomorrow” is a subtly sexual song that features its narrator wondering what will happen the day after an encounter with her man. Although radio stations initially hesitated to play it, it nonetheless became an enormous hit for Robinson and The Miracles, selling well over a million copies.
Accolades: No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.ranked as the 110th greatest song of all time, as well as the best song of 1960, by Acclaimed Music; RS/500, No.126.
One Republic’s third single of its 2009 album Waking Up, “Good Life”‘s upbeat lyrics, whistles, and fast drumming help describe the storyteller’s long travels. It’s appeared in numerous television series–including Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, Cougar Town, and 90210–and has been performed at such venues as the 2011 Billboard Music Awards and 2011 American Music Awards.
Meaning of the Song: Frontman and songwriter Ryan Tedder sings about leading a ‘good life’ no matter what obstacles he/we might face along the journey. Says band member Brent Kutzle: “The whole song is a memory of touring our first album. It seems like one big whirlwind looking back on that now.”
Accolades: Peaked at No. 8 on the US Billboard Hot 100; reached the top 20 of several music charts in Europe, New Zealand, and Australia; Rolling Stone also placed “Good Life” on its “15 Best Whistling Songs of All Time” list.
“Over the Rainbow” (a.k.a. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”) is an Oscar-winning ballad song that was written by E.Y. Harburg and sung by singer/actor Judy Garland.Written for the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, for Garland’s character (Dorothy Gale), it would become her signature, most enduring song of all time. In fact, in part of a letter to Harold Arlen (the instrumental composer), Garland claimed: “‘Over the Rainbow’ has become part of my life. It’s so symbolic of everybody’s dreams and wishes that I’m sure that’s why some people get tears in their eyes when they hear it. I’ve sung it thousands of times and it’s still the song that’s closest to my heart.”
Meaning of the Song: The underlying meaning of “Over the Rainbow” has always seemed subjective, but at face value, it waxes general feelings about our lives not being so great, leaving us to wonder if there’s somewhere or something better out there–that is, if the grass is truly greener on the other side.
Accolades: No. of the “Songs of the Century” lists by both the RIAA and National Endowment for the Arts; No. 1 on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) “100 Years, 100 Songs” list; Academy Award for best ballad song; USPS issued a commemorative stamp honoring OTR’s lyric writer, Yip Harburg.
A 1962 soul song by R&B singer-songwriter Sam Cooke, “Bring It On Home To Me” proved a smash hit for Cooke and eventually became a sort of ‘staple’ for musicians from several different genres–being covered from artists like Van Morrison and John Lennon to R. Kelly and Michael Bolton. And a little-known fact about the song: Lou Rawls was an uncredited background vocalist in both “Bring It On Home to Me” and its B-side entitled “Having a Party”.
Meaning of the Song: While part of “Bring It On Home To Me” is about infidelity, the bulk of it describes a guy who loses his woman. He doesn’t initially make much of losing her, but starts to ardently miss her and will do practically anything to win her back.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 13 on Billboard‘s Pop Singles chart, No. 2 on the top Black Singles; RR/HoF induction.
“I Won’t Back Down” debuted in 1989 as the first single from Tom Petty’s first solo album, Full Moon Fever. In an interview with Mojo magazine, Petty explained: “At the session George Harrison sang and played the guitar. I had a terrible cold that day, and George went to the store and bought a ginger root, boiled it and had me stick my head in the pot to get the ginger steam to open up my sinuses, and then I ran in and did the take.” And due to the nature of the lyrics and overall upbeat feeling of the song, the song was played heavily on American radio after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, as well as after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Meaning of the Song:The overall theme–set to a mid-tempo beat–seems to point promote defiance against forces of general difficulty and oppression, hence:
Accolades: Peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 12, on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks at No. 1 for five weeks; Canada’s RPM Top Singles, No. 5.
Of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Oscar–winning 2006 double album, Stadium Arcadium, “Snow (Hey Oh)” released as the follow-up single to “Tell Me Baby”. Per lead vocalist Anthony Kiedis: “It’s about the repeated failure to start your life anew and how difficult it can be to get rid off old ways of thinking, and destructive ideas we become so attached to.”
Meaning of the Song: In vocalist Anthony Kiedis’ words, ‘Snow’ is about “surviving, starting fresh. I’ve made a mess of everything, but I have a blank slate—a canvas of snow—and I get to start over.” However, its long been rumored that “Snow” is really about cocaine and heroin (both white, powdery substances that resemble snow), which lead singer Anthony Kiedis was known to use.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart, remaining there for five straight weeks; peaked at No. 16 on the UK Singles Chart; became the band’s record breaking 11th No. 1 Modern Rock single in the U.S.; the band’s third consecutive chart-topping Modern Rock single from Stadium Arcadium.
“Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)” debuted in February of 2001 as the lead single to the album Drops of Jupiter. And it came not a second too soon, as musical authorities generally agree that Train was on the verge of becoming a one-hit-wonder (with “Meet Virginia” in 1999) before “Drops” released. Train also performed the song at the 2002 Grammys, which included a cello prelude and full orchestra integration. When the group won the award for Best Rock Song, lead vocalist Patrick Monahan thanked his deceased mother.
Meaning of the Song: Monahan stipulated that “Drops of Jupiter” was inspired by his mother’s battle with lung cancer and her passing (who died of lung cancer), and that the first lines “came to him in a dream.” The song itself is about a man pondering whether a woman’s journey to find herself still leaves room for him, whom she had left behind. Monahan also maintained about ‘Drops’ that “it was an obvious connection between me and my mother. ‘Drops of Jupiter’ was as much about me being on a voyage and trying to find out who I am. The best thing we can do about loss of love is find ourselves through it.”
Accolades: Peaked within the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart; charted in the Top 40 for 29 weeks, after it finally made the Adult Contemporary chart in its 49th week; has spent over 100 weeks on the Adult Contemporary charts, and is still charting on the Recurrents chart; has sold over 1,000,000 downloads; certified Gold by the RIAA; hit the top 50 of the Digital Downloads charts five years after its release due to Ace Young singing it on the fifth season of American Idol; nominated for five Grammys, won two for “Best Rock Song” and “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)”.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
Recorded by The Supremes for Motown’s Holland–Dozier–Holland label, “Where Did Our Love Go” was, from August 16 to August 29, 1964, a number-one hit, and also the first of five consecutive Supremes songs to attain that spot. The remaining four were “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and “Back in My Arms Again”.
Meaning of the Song: Presumably, ‘Our Love’ is about a woman explaining a man that desires what he can’t have. No longer than after she falls for him, he wants out, hence the lyrics “But now that I surrender, So helplessly, You now wanna leave”.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 472; peaked at No. 1 on the Cash Box R&B chart; the group’s first single to go No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart in the United States, where it remained for two weeks.
A tune originally recorded by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in 1952, it was the 1956 remake by Elvis Presley that sent the famous song “Hound Dog” skyrocketing in popularity; it is also Presley’s version (of many, many other artists’ iterations) that’s the best known. In fact, Elvis performed the song twice on The Ed Sullivan Show, both times garnering a whopping 60 million viewers. “Hound Dog” stayed at the top spot on the charts until it was overtaken by “Love Me Tender,” also by the ‘King of Rock & Roll’.
Meaning of the Song: Different theories have been floated: One stipulates that the ‘other man’ in the story can’t get his own girlfriend, so he steals other guys’ girlfriends–and no ‘friend’ does that.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 19; No. 55 on Q Magazine’s ‘100 Greatest Guitar Tracks; topped several Billboardcharts, including the country & westerns, pop, and rhythm & blues ones, and stayed in the Top 10 for a record-setting 11 weeks; initially sold over four million copies.
“Stronger” marks the second single from West’s third studio album, Graduation. It entails a vocal snippet of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by the neu-disco group Daft Punk (who received the songwriting credit, as well as had their costumes appear in the song’s music video). The song also became Kanye West’s third number-one single, preceded by “Slow Jamz” and “Gold Digger.”
Meaning of the Song: Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous dictum, “what does not kill him, makes him stronger”, seems to best sum up the meaning of “Stronger” and its moderate “Cola Bottle Baby”-esque (Edwin Birdsong) flavor.
Accolades: Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance; has sold over 4,848,000 digital copies in the U.S. (as of 09/2011); debuted at No. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100, peaked at No. 1.
Debuting in 1982 on Alabama’s third album of the same name, “Mountain Music” was sung by the band’s lead singer Randy Owen. A sort of melding of Southern rock and bluegrass themes, it’s one of the group’s only songs where solo vocals can prominently be heard from members Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook. “Mountain Music” is largely considered one of Alabama’s signature songs, and also the most popular.
Meaning of the Song: “Mountain Music”–which begins with a narration from an old mountain philosopher that dreams of one day ‘climbing a mountain’–has been described as a “contemporary country classic”, a style country music groups had struggled to accomplish. It references ‘chert’ rocks which, according to the band, is a lyric that’s often misunderstood and misinterpreted. In .
Accolades: Alabama’s sixth No. 1 song on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart; named the Top Vocal Group and Entertainer of the Year by the Academy of Country Music.
Lee Greenwood’s ultra-patriotric “God Bless the U.S.A.” first appeared on his group’s 1984 album You’ve Got a Good Love Comin. Since then, it’s been a staple of America-centric music, from being played at the Republican National Convention in 1984, to reemerging in popularity during the Gulf War years of 1990 and 1991, to regaining mass popularity yet again after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and the subsequent 2003 Iraq invasion.
Meaning of the Song: In singer Greenwood’s own words: “I wanted to write it my whole life”. He and his producer chose Detroit and Houston (along with New York City and L.A.) to be a part of the song “because they both were economically part of the basis of our economy—Motown and the oil industry, so I just poetically wrote that in the bridge.”
Accolades: Peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot Country singles chart; re-entered the chart at No. 16 after the 2001 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Released in early 1982 by Hank Williams, Jr., “A Country Boy Can Surive” (from the album The Pressure Is On) became the country artist’s most enduring, signature song. In the wake of the 2001 9/11 attacks, Williams re-wrote and recorded an updated, patriotic version of the song entitled “America Will Survive” as a tribute to America. He also re-recorded the hit in 2007 for the 25th-anniversary of the 1982 debut.
Meaning of the Song: “A Country Boy” tries to capture, in detail, the everyday life of country people. In the memorable second verse, though, it describes the narrator’s unlikely relationship with a businessman from New York. Regardless of the their starkly different roots, they become friends and exchange gifts–hence “he’d send me pictures of the Broadway nights, And I’d send him some homemade wine”–and the untimely murder of his business friend for a mere $43.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country singles chart (original 1982 release); peaked at No. 45 with the 2007 re-release to commemorate its 25-anniversary.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
“Suspicious Minds” was written by American songwriter Mark James, who also wrote “Always on My Mind”. But after flopping commercially, Elvis Presley picked “Suspicious Minds” up, turning it into a number one song in 1969 as well as one of his most career-defining hits. “Suspicious Minds” was widely regarded as the single that returned Presley’s career success, following ’68 Comeback Special. Elvis first performed the song live at the Las Vegas International Hotel (later rebranded Hilton) on July 31, 1969. It was his seventeenth and last number-one single in the United States.
Meaning of the Song: The song is about a mistrusting and dysfunctional relationship, and the need of the characters to overcome their issues in order to maintain it.
Accolades: Presley’s 17th and final No. 1 single.; RS/500, No. 91; peaked at No. 1 in the United States, remaining there for the week of November 1, 1969.
“Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” is a 1970 creation of John Fogerty for the CCR album Pendulum. Billboard co-listed the B-side of the song as “Hey Tonight”.
Meaning of the Song: Some have speculated that the song’s lyrics are referencing the Vietnam War, with the “rain” being a metaphor for the sky raining bombs. According to Mark Deming of AllMusic, it promotes the theory that idealism of the 1960s faded after tragedies like the Altamont Free Concert and the Kent State shootings, and that, according to Fogerty, the same problems of the 1960s carried over to the 1970s, but by then, no one cared about fighting for them. In contrast, Fogerty himself has said in interviews and prior to concerts that the song is about rising tension within CCR and of Tom, his brother, leaving the band.
Accolades: No. 1 on the RPM 100 (Canada) national album chart; peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 3 on the Cash Box pop chart; marked CCR’s eighth gold single.
“Rock Around the Clock” is a 12-bar-blues song that was penned by Max C. Freedman and James E. Myers (the latter also known as “Jimmy De Knight”) in 1952. Although it was first recorded by Italian-American band Sonny Dae and His Knights on March 20, 1954, Myers claimed that it was written specifically for Haley. Thus, Haley and His Comets recorded “Rock Around the Clock” on April 12, 1954–making it the most well-known and most successful version ever. Bill Haley is also known for his American chart successes with “Crazy Man, Crazy” (1953) and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” (1954). “Rock Around the Clock” is widely considered the one song (among a only a handful of others) that ushered in rock & roll into to the mainstream all around the world.
Meaning of the Song: Not only is “Rock Around the Clock” widely regarded as the very first rock & roll song to garner widespread popularity, it has also been theorized that (while it’s a big stretch) it’s reallyabout a 24-hour sex marathon, or 24 hours of sex-related activity.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 158; became the first rock and roll recording to hit the top of Billboard‘s Pop charts, stayed there for eight weeks; No.1 for seven weeks on the Cashbox pop singles chart (1955); No. 3 on the R&B charts; often cited as the biggest-selling vinyl rock and roll singa figure of at least 25 million; cited by the Guinness Book of World Records in the category “Phonograph records: Biggest Sellers” from the early 1970s until the 1990s.
Composed by Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison for the 1989 album Avalon Sunset, “Have I Told You Lately” is a romantic ballad commonly heard at weddings. Built on the framework of “Someone Like You”, “Have I Told You Lately” came after the song, “I’d Love to Write Another Song,” which proclaimed “In poetry I’d carve it well, I’d even make it rhyme.” It later became popularized by the British singer-songwriter Rod Stewart. According to Brian Hinton (English poet and musicologist), the song is:
“…one of the finest love songs of the century, which I remember devastated me when I first heard it, as it seemed both something never quite said before, and yet a song I felt I had known forever. Earthly love transmutes into that for God, just like in Dante, “there’s a love that’s divine and it’s yours and it’s mine”. The morning sun has set by the end of the song, suggesting love shading into death, but subtly”
Meaning of the Song: Morrison never explicitly admitted that it was about God (as many believe), but he did once acknowledge that there was indeed an underlying spiritual meaning (2009 interview with Timemagazine), saying “religion is a kind of word game. It’s whatever it means to those individuals who are following that belief system. If you say something has got spirit or “I feel the spirit,” to me, that would be more appropriate – spirit in the Aristotelian sense, that the mind and body and spirit are one thing. Which is different from religion.”
Accolades: Peaked at No. 5 on prominent charts in the US and UK;Van Morrison’s original recording was voted No. 6 on the “Top 10 First Dance Wedding Songs”, based on a poll of 1,300 UK DJs; Van Morrison received a Million-Air certificate for over four million air plays (Oct., 2007).
Miller’s fifth single (later from the album The Return of Roger Miller) for Smash Records, “King of the Road” tells about the “happy” hobo lifestyle in which hobos enjoy very few creature comforts, but have plenty of freedom. On Miller’s website, it Miller says that he wrote “King” over a six-week span while on a 1964 Midwest TV tour–that he wrote the opening upon seeing a “Trailers for Sale or Rent” roadside. Days later, Miller allegedly bought a toy figure of a hobo in an airport gift shop and stared at it until the song was finished.
Miller: “I was doing a show in a place you have probably never heard of called Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, and I saw a statue of a hobo in a shop were I was staying. I purchased it and took it to my room and wrote the song.”
Meaning of the Song: The lyrics tell of a hobo who despite being poor (a “man of means by no means”) revels in his freedom, describing himself humorously as the “king of the road”. The title itself is an allusion to hobos and tramps–known as “knights of the road”–that Miller allegedly encountered in his travels.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and No. 1 on both its Hot Country Singles and Easy Listening surveys; No. 1 in the UK and Norway.
“It’s Your Love” was recorded by husband and wife duo, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill for the Tim McGraw album Everywhere. It’s music video counterpart, directed by Sherman Halsey, is significant to the song because it shows an obviously-pregnant Hill, who gave birth to hers and McGraw’s first child, Gracie. That music video also took the award for Video of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 1997.
Meaning of the Song: The meaning of “It’s Your Love” is pretty straightforward, in that it describes a couple’s endless love for one another.
Accolades: No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart, where it remained for six weeks; became McGraw’s and Hill’s first top-ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100; won Single of the Year and Song of the Year at the 1997 Academy of Country Music Awards; nominated for two Grammys.
“Lump” is a song by alternative rock band The Presidents of the United States of America. It was released in 1995 and featured on their self-titled debut album. Later in the same year, it debuted on the The song is a playable track on Rock Band 2, the Nintendo DS version of Band Hero and in the Wii video game Just Dance .”Lump” is punk in instrumental style, but it is as insanely catchy as bubblegum pop.
Meaning of the Song: This song follows the story of a girl named (or nicknamed) Lump. Her life seems to be a waste, and she comes off as someone who is easily taken advantage of.
Accolades: PUSA’s first hit song, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Modern Rock charts; No. 7 on the Album Rock Tracks chart.
“Rockstar” was the Canadian band Nickelback’s fifth U.S. single (although later re-released) for the 2005 album, All the Right Reasons. Initially only released in the U.S. and Canada, later globally, “Rockstar” featured Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top on spoken-word vocals between each verse are provided by. Because the song debuted so close to the band’s other 2005 hit,”Far Away”, it initially only performed modestly on the U.S./Canadian charts; but when it was re-recorded and re-shipped 2007 along with a music video counterpart, it hit all-time high peaks on several charts, notably the Hot 100 and Adult Top 40, and to-date is Nickelback’s best-selling U.S. digital single, raking in over 3 million downloads. On its second go-around, the song even bested “Far Away” on the Singles charts and concluded the band’s fifth Hot 100 Top Ten song overall.
Meaning of the Song: This song pokes fun at the stereotypical lifestyle of a famous musician, complete with references to extravagant homes, groupies, drugs and famous friends. Chad Kroeger: “It’s what you would also do if you won the lottery. I hope it comes across as us having a lot of fun and even to some degree, making fun of ourselves.”
Accolades: Peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100; marked Nickelback’s third Top Ten single from All the Right Reasons; was the fifth biggest selling single of 2008 in the U.K.; named No. 100 on Rolling Stone‘s 100 Best Songs of 2007 compilation.
A song and smash hit by indie pop band Foster the People, “Pumped Up Kicks” debuted as the group’s first single in 2010; the following year it was included on their EP Foster the People and their first album, Torches. The upbeat “Pumped Up Kicks” unexpectedly raced to the top of the charts after being released as a free download, would become one of 2011’s most popular songs altogether. “Pumped Up Kicks” was written and recorded by Foster the People’s vocalist Mark Foster.
Meaning of the Song: The lyrics to “Pumped Up Kicks”, although upbeat and ostensibly cheery, describe the murderous thoughts of a troubled boy–a boy who can’t run as quickly as the other kids in gym class. Fuming with jealousy, he brings a gun to school so that he can shoot the faster kids in the legs and finally beat them.
Accolades: Spent eight consecutive weeks at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the first Billboard Alternative Songs No. 1 single to break into the the U.S. Top 5 since Kings of Leon’s 2009 “Use Somebody”; Grammy-nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
From the 1989 debut album Hooked, “Ice Ice Baby” is an early-nineties hip hop song by rapper Robert “Vanilla Ice” Van Winkle and DJ Earthquake. Later released on the 1990 album To the Extreme, it’s one of Ice’s most famous (and only) hits. Since the early nineties, it’s appeared in remix form as Platinum Underground and Vanilla Ice Is Back!, with a live version appearing on the album Extremely Live. A rap rock version can be seen on the album Hard to Swallow under the title “Too Cold”. “Ice Ice Baby” was initially released as the B-side to Vanilla Ice’s cover of “Play That Funky Music”, but the single was not initially successful. When a disc jockey played “Ice Ice Baby” instead, it practically exploded. It’s also considered to have helped diversify the then-fledgling hip hop genre with a more mainstream flavor.
Meaning of the Song: Describing a shooting and Vanilla Ice’s rhyming skills, the chorus traces back to the national African American fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha‘s signature song. More recently, Van Winkle claimed that “If you released ‘Ice Ice Baby’ today, it would fit in today’s lyrical respect among….My lyrics aren’t, ‘Pump it up, go! Go!’ At least I am saying something.”
Accolades: No. 5 on Blender magazine’s “50 Worst Songs Ever” (We speculate that that could be considered an ‘accolade’ in the broadest sense of the word); ranked No. 29 on VH1‘s 100 Greatest Songs of the 90’s (2007); first hip hop single to ever top the Billboard charts in the U.S.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
Following in the wake of the similar-sounding “Ice Ice Baby” (Vanilla Ice, 1989), “U Can’t Touch This” was a 1990 smash hit single from the album Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em. After the song’s release, Rick James sued Hammer for copyright infringement, as “U Can’t Touch This” prominently samples the opening riff of “Super Freak”, for which James was–in a settlement outside of court–credited as the song’s co-composer and, by default, granted a big cut of its earnings. Fun Fact: Matthew Wilkening (of AOL Radio) remarked to the late Rick James: “If someone did this to your wonderful work of music (referencing MC Hammer’s copyright infringement of “Super Freak” to make “Can’t Touch”), you might choose crack, too.
Meaning of the Song: The lyrics describe Hammer as “touring the world, from London to the Bay” and as being “magic on the mic”, which Hammer says mixes with Rick James’ well-known “beat that you can’t touch”.
Accolades: Grammy for Best R&B Song and Best Rap Solo Performance; peaked at No. 1 on the BillboardHot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks, and at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100; became No. 1 in Australia, the Netherlands and Sweden and a No. 3 single in the UK; No. 26 on VH1‘s 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop list and No. 16 on its list of the 100 Greatest Songs of the ’90s; No. 6 on AOL Radio’s list of the “100 Worst Songs Ever”.
Oregonian, singer, and guitarist Meredith Brooks recorded and released “Bitch” (a.k.a. “Nothing In Between”) 1997 as the lead single to her debut album entitled Blurring the Edges. Despite the fact that Brooks had been in the music industry since she was 15 years old, she was–surprisingly to many–it wasn’t until she was 39 when she released “Bitch”. In it, the complexities of being a female are ‘examined’ and Brooks implies that no single label can define her.
Meaning of the Song: “Bitch” examines both the complexities of being female and how one label cannot define her. In another popular, albeit similar, interpretation, it implies that for all that is positive about me (the artist), the negative(s) tend to weigh-in equally and that that’s ‘just the way it is’.
Accolades: Grammy-nominated; peaked at No. 2 in the U.S.; debuted and peaked at No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart and clung to the top ten there for four weeks; reached No. 2 in Australia, No.4 in New Zealand; ranked No. 79 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the 1990s; No. 15 on Billboard‘s 1997 Hot 100 year-end chart.
“Torn” was originally an alternative rock song by the band Ednaswap for their debut album (1995) of the same name. However, the cover of the song that was performed by Australian sensation Natalie Imbruglia (for her debut album Left of the Middle) in 1997 tends to be the most well-known. It’s also the song that effectively launched Imbrulia’s singing career.
Meaning of the Song: “Torn” is one of those songs whose meaning is largely up for interpretation. Whatever the case, it’s obviously about a relationship that goes sour and was only based on an ‘illusion’. The man, whether an actual or ‘imaginary’ character, is exposed, as the narrator finds herself torn without this entity she so built her world around.
Accolades: Grammy-nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance; peaked at No. 2 on the ARIASingles (Australia) chart, as well as Italy and the U.K.; No. 1 on the Hot 100 Airplay for 11 weeks; topped Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 and Adult Top 40 charts; peaked at No. 1 in Canada, Spain, and Belgium; has sold over four-million copies globally.
“Sweet Dreams” is originally the brainchild of the two-person British band Eurythmics and debuted in 1983 as the title track to the album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). It became one of their biggest hits and led the group to more commercial success. Marilyn Manson covered “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” for his first single from the studio album, Smells Like Children. In addition to becoming something of a staple on MTV, the song helped Manson bring his often-bizarre and esoteric (“Sweet Dreams” very much included) music and style into the mainstream. The song also appears on Manson’s greatest hits album entitled Lest We Forget.
Meaning of the Song: While open for interpretation,”Sweet Dreams” is presumptively about the nature of lusting and craving. Its lyrics seem to imply that people don’t really love one another, they only use each other in hedonistic ways.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 356 (original Eurythmics version); Eurythmics’ signature, most successful song; the Manson version rated “scariest (accompanying) music video ever made” by Billboard.
Debuting in 1992 as the second single from RHCP’s fifth studio album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, “Under the Bridge”‘s success was bolstered practically tenfold when its accompanying video (a cable/satellite music channel-favorite) debuted. Many also consider the song as the ticket that the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ needed to go mainstream. As David Fricke of Rolling Stone put it, the song “unexpectedly drop-kicked the band into the Top 10”
Meaning of the Song: Lead singer Anthony Kiedis wrote the lyrics to “Under the Bridge” to express his feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, as well as to reflect upon how his drug addiction affected him. Based one of his alleged experiences, “Under the Bridge” references his efforts to infiltrate a gang under a bridge in order to get drugs. Kiedis, under duress, had to pretend that one of his family members belonged to the gang to get inside. Although successful in netting the drugs, he considers that moment as one of the worst of his life, as it shows how far he was willing to sink to feed his addiction.
Accolades: Spent 26 non-consecutive weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 2; RIAA-certified platinum; Kerrang! magazine’s (Bauer Media Group, 2002) No. 6 six on its “100 Greatest Singles of All Time”; No. 15 on VH1‘s 100 Greatest Songs of the 90s chart; No. 54 on Rolling Stone and MTV‘s compilation of the “100 Greatest Pop Songs Since The Beatles” (2000); No. 98 on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time” compilation.
In an attempt by Columbia Records to expand Carey’s popularity with a wider audience, the American singer-songwriter Mariah Carey recorded and released “All I Want For Christmas Is You” in 1994 for her fourth studio album, Merry Christmas.
In 2010, Carey re-recorded the song for her second holiday album, Merry Christmas II You, titled “All I Want for Christmas Is You (Extra Festive)”…The Daily Telegraph hailed “All I Want for Christmas Is You” as the most popular and most played Christmas song of the decade in the United Kingdom
Meaning of the Song: An uptempo love song, the instrumentation includes bell chimes and heavy back-up vocals, as well as use of synthesizers. The song’s lyrics declare that the protagonist does not care about Christmas presents or lights; all she wants for Christmas is to be united with her lover for the holidays.
Accolades: Was the nineteenth best-selling digital single of the 20th century; the highest-charting entry by a female or holiday song on the list; No. 4 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Rock and Roll Christmas Songs list; peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary; marks the first holiday-based ringtone to be certified double-platinum by the RIAA; of songs recorded before 2000, it is the 19th best-selling digital single and the best-selling digital single by a woman; sold an estimated 2,120,000 digital downloads (according to Nielsen SoundScan); has garnered global sales of over 10 million copies.
“Always Be My Baby” is a 1996, mid-tempo ballad, which incorporates pop and contemporary R&B genres, by American singer-songwriter Mariah Carey and made for her fifth studio album, Daydream. Released as the third US single to the album, it was written by Carey, Jermaine Dupri and Manuel Seal and became Carey’s 11th chart-topper on the Billboard Hot 100, tying her with Madonna and Whitney Houston for most number one hit singles for a female artist. “Always Be My Baby” also appears in Carey’s compilation albums, Number 1’s (1998), Greatest Hits (2001) and The Ballads (2008).
Meaning of the Song: “Always” describes the emotion of attachment and unity the narrator feels for her estranged lover, even though they’re no longer ‘one’. She explains that, regardless of their relationship status, she’ll always be here for him and will “always be her baby”.
Accolades: Carey’s 11th song to top the Billboard Hot 100; spent two weeks at No. 1, nine weeks at No. 2; became Carey’s eight chart topper on the Canadian Singles Chart, where it ascended to the No. 1 position on the Canadian RPM Singles chart in 1996; certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA); debuted and peaked at No. 5 in New Zealand, spending three consecutive weeks at that spot; debuted and peaked on the UK Singles chart at No. 3; UK sales were estimated at over 220,000.
“99 Problems”, the third single on rapper Jay-Z’s 2004 album The Black Album, was originally penned by rapper Ice T in 1993 for his “99 Problems” from the album Home Invasion. The song featured Brother Marquis of 2 Live Crew. The original tended on the more profane side and describes a wide range of sexual conquests. Parts of Ice-T’s original lyrics were similarly quoted in a song by the rapper Trick Daddy on a track also titled “99 Problems” (Thugs Are Us, 2001). Jay-Z initiated the song’s third verse singing lyrics directly from Bun B’s opening line from the song “Touched” from the UGK album Ridin’ Dirty.
Meaning of the Song: Throughout the song Jay-Z tells a story about dealing with a racist cop who wants to illegally search his car, dealing with rap critics, and dealing with an aggressor. While the song’s meaning is widely debated, the chorus “If you’re having girl problems, I feel bad for you son/I’ve got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one” was defined in Jay-Z’s book, Decoded Jay-Z wrote that in 1994 he was pulled over by police while carrying cocaine in a secret compartment in his sunroof–Jay-Z refused to let the police search the car and the police called for the drug sniffing dogs. However, canines never showed up and the police had to let Jay-Z go. Moments after he drove away, he wrote that he saw a police car with the dogs drive by.
Accolades: Jay-Z performed the song with the band Pearl Jam at the Made in America festival in Philadelphia; No. 14 on Pitchfork Media’s top 500 songs of the 2000s; No. 2 on Rolling Stone’s top 100 songs of the 2000s; on the updated list of the Stones’ 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the song was added at No. 172; won Best Rap Solo Performance at the 47th Grammy Awards; NME placed it at No. 24 on its “150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years” list; peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A 1971 Tamla (Motown) hit that was initially inspired by police brutality, the first “official” was composed by Benson, Al Cleveland and Gaye, as well as produced by Gaye. “What’s Going On” abounded in sounds comprised of jazz, gospel and even classical music orchestration and has largely been received as a reflection on the world’s problems. It also marked Gaye’s departure from the ‘Motown Sound’ towards more personal sounding. The song has since sold over two million copies, becoming Gaye’s second most successful song to date.
Meaning of the Song: Titled the song.
The inspiration for “What’s Going On” came from Renaldo “Obie” Benson (of the Motown group the Four Tops) after he and his tour members arrived at Berkeley in May 15 of 1969. While there, Benson witnessed police brutality and violence in the city’s People’s Park during a protest held by anti-war activists in what was hailed later as “Bloody Thursday”. Upset by the situation, Benson said to author Ben Edmonds, “I saw this and started wondering ‘what the fuck was going on, what is happening here? One question led to another. Why are they sending kids so far away from their families overseas? Why are they attacking their own children in the streets?” In 1970, Benson presented the then-untitled song to Marvin Gaye, who worked up a new melody and revised the song with his own lyrics. According to Benson, Gaye “added some things that were more ghetto, more natural, which made it seem like a story than a song… we measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it.”
Accolades: RS/500, No. 4; RR/HoF induction; No. 14 on VH1‘s “100 Greatest Rock Songs”; topped Billboard‘s Hot Soul Singles chart for five weeks; peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Recorded by Holly’s The Crickets in Clovis, New Mexico, in 1957, “Not Fade Away” is undeniably, irrevocably a Buddy Holly staple song. Its rhythm pattern is a variant of Bo Diddley’s then-unique beat, itself then an update of the ‘hambone’ rhythm (a.k.a. the Africa-originated “shave and a haircut, 2 bits” beat). It was initially released as the B-side to the hit “Oh, Boy!” and also appeared on the album The “Chirping” Crickets (Brunswick). And despite a popular misunderstanding, this wasn’t the last song that Buddy Holly performed the night before he was killed: Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”, it’s been since determined, would get that distinction.
Significant covers of Not Fade include that by The Rolling Stones’ (1964), Black Sabbath, The Grateful Dead, and Rush, the latter as their 1973 debut single.
Meaning of the Song: While open for interpretation (and boy has it ever been interpreted), “Not Fade Away” is famous among many fans partly for two lines in the Stones’ version that sound virtually identical to those in Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” (I.E. Rolling Stones: “Your love for me has got to be real
Before you’d have noticed how I feel”
Black Sabbath: “Your Love for has got to be real
Before you know the way I’m going to feel”).
Accolades: RS/500, No. 107; marked Holly’s last hit and the second-to-last song he ever performed.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
Written and performed by Glen Hansard, his band The Frames, and Markéta Irglová, “Falling Slowly” was recorded during the production of (and for) the 2007 film, Once. John Carney developed the script around songs provided by Hansard and IrglováIn the movie, the duo play the song in Walton’s music shop in Dublin, with Hansard on guitar and Irglová on piano. The couple performed it at gigs in various European venues over the next two yearsVersions appeared in 2006 on two albums: The Cost by Hansard’s band The Frames, and The Swell Season, an album by Hansard and Irglová..
Meaning of the Song: Among several competing theories, one alleges that “Falling Slowly”is about love at first sight–about meeting someone who seems to know you better than even you. And even though one wants to be with this other person, both have different backgrounds that’ll ultimately test their commitment to one another.
Accolades: Won the Academy Award for Best Original Song (80th Academy Awards); nominated for Best Song Written For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media; No. 16 on the Irish Singles Chart when initially released by The Frames; the Hansard and Irglová version peaked at No. 2 in March of 2008.
Recorded for 2Pac’s third solo album, Me Against the World (1995), “Dear Mama” was, by far, the most successful track on the album, and is commonly believed to be one of the greatest hip hop songs ever (as well as 2Pac’s signature song). In an interview, Snoop Dog has bargained that “Dear Mama” is an introspective look at 2Pac’s life, saying that “he went inside”, something other rappers had generally refused to do. “Dear Mama” samples the songs “Sadie” (1974) by The Spinners and Joe Sample’s 1978 “In All My Wildest Dreams”.
Meaning of the Song: The song was written by 2Pac as an ode to his mother, Afeni Shakur. Record producer Tony Pizarro, explained that “Pac used to make references to ‘Dear Mama’ in a lot of different songs and I’d always be like ‘You know thats a songs in itself.’ And one day he was like ‘I got somethin’ for that.’ And he was like ‘Man, you have In My Wildest Dreams by the Crusaders and I was like ‘Yeah.’ He was like ‘Yeah, I got something for that.’ So I got the track ready. Pac just came through and just dropped it and blessed it with them vocals”
Accolades: Library of Congress-inducted to the National Recording Registry for its ‘cultural significance’ (2010); topped the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart for five weeks, the R&B/Hip-Hop Singles for one week, and peaked at N0. 9 on the Hot 100; RIAA-certified Platinum; considered by many to be 2Pac’s most respected song; listed in the musical reference guide, 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: And 10,001 You Must Download.
Written by Buddy Holly and Jerry Allison, “That’ll Be the Day” has been recorded by myriad high-profile artists, even The Beatles when they were still relatively unknown and called ‘The Quarrymen’. Holly and his Crickets (including Allison, Don Guess, and Sonny Curtis) first recorded the song in 1956. However, it wasn’t until 1957, when the band recorded a better version at the Norman Petty studios in Clovis, New Mexico, that musical magic really happened; the song premiered on the Brunswick (Decca) label weeks afterward.
Meaning of the Song: According to historians, the song was inspired by John Wayne’s memorable line “that’ll be the day” in the movie “The Searchers”.
Accolades: Became a No. 1 hit “(1957 Brunswick single version) on the “Best Sellers in Stores” chart in Billboard magazine; peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart, and at No. 85 on in UK Single Charts at #85; in 1969, the RIAA awarded the re-issue of the single by Coral Records a gold single.
Grunge-rock band Nirvana, led by the late frontman Kurt Cobain, recorded and released “Heart Shaped Box” in 1993 for its third (and last) album, Utero. Cobain had initially, allegedly, titled the song “Heart-Shaped Coffin”. Additionally, the lyrics “throw down your umbilical noose so i can climb right back” is widely believed to be Kurt’s implied desire to climb back into his mother’s womb, starting life anew–and that ‘umbilical noose’ referenced the singer’s suicidal tendencies.
Meaning of the Song: Cobain, probably disingenuously, claimed that “Heart-Shaped Box” was inspired by kids dealing with cancer. However, in his biographer’s book, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, it’s–despite Cobain’s explanation–more likely about Courtney Love. And Charles Cross, in his book “Heavier Than Heaven“, asserts that the line “I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black” was “…what has to be the most convoluted route any songwriter undertook in pop history to say ‘I love you’”. In 2012, Courtney Love posted on Twitter that “Box” was actually her vagina. The actual post was soon after taken down.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart; reached No. 4 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart; peaked at No. 5 on the UK Singles Chart; the music video won two MTV Video Music Awards for Best Alternative Video and Best Art Direction; topped the music video category on Village Voice Pazz & Jop chart (1993).
‘Hey Good Looking’ is a 1951 song written and recorded by Hank Williams, the one in which “Say hey, good lookin’. What ya got cookin’?/How’s about cookin’ something up with me?” is an accurate embodiment of the whole song. Critics usually acknowledge the epic appeal of ‘Good Lookin’, both then and now, yet simultaneously questioned its artistic merit–often mocking the lyrics as ‘trite’–as being somewhat sub-par of Williams’ capability. And since Williams’ debuted the song in 1951, literally dozens of high-profile artists have recorded (and even put their own spin on) it.
Meaning of the Song: A romantic country song, the narrator employs flattery to “cook up” some homemade love. Alternatively, the song’s character wants the woman mentioned and that he’s going to make all of the time in the world for her.
Accolades: Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001; ranked No. 19 on CMT’s 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music list in 2003; peaked at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Country singles.
Recorded by American country singer George Strait in 1995 as the lead single from the box set Strait Out of the Box, …….Deborah Evans Price (Billboard magazine) fawned over the song, saying that “Check Yes or No” “is another winner from country music’s most consistent hit maker,” and that it oozes “warmth and charm, as well as with an upbeat melody tailor-made for country radio.”
Meaning of the Song: “Check Yes or No” is a tribute to a lover in which the narrator reminisces about their relationship, explaining how their romance blossomed when they were only schoolchildren.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 on both the U.S. Billboard Country chart and the Canadian RPM counterpart.
“Friends in Low Places” is a 1990 hit country song by Garth Brooks as the lead single on his second album, No Fences. The song made the Top 40 on the British music charts in 1995 as a double-sided reissue hit with “The Dance”. “Friends” also appears on Brooks’ 1994 compilation, The Hits, and earned the No. 6 position on the CMT 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music broadcast; it also topped CMT‘s 40 Greatest Drinking Songs: Morning After ranking.
Meaning of the Song: As one of the song’s co-writers (Earl Bud Lee) explained, the idea for “Friends” came at the Tavern on the Row restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee, when he–with several songwriting friends in attendance–realized that he had forgotten his money. Asked how he was going to pay, Lee replied “Don’t worry. I have friends in low places. I know the cook.” And while Lee and DeWayne Blackwell (the other co-writer of “Friends”) didn’t immediately jump to record it, they realized that the line “friends in low places” could be big. Real big.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 on the U.S. country singles charts, remaining there for four weeks; won the Academy of Country Music and CMA awards for 1990 Single of the Year.
Written and recorded by American country singer Alan Jackson, “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” debuted in January of 2002 as the second single from the album Drive.
Meaning of the Song: The song is dedicated to Alan’s father, Eugene Jackson, who had died on January 31, 2000. In the song, Alan recalls as a child he and his father driving around the countryside in an old beat up truck that they fixed up together as well as a boat they would drive around the lake. In the final verse, Alan talks about sharing his childhood experiences with his daughters and letting them drive his Jeep.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks (May, 2002); peaked at No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100; made No. 2 on Billboard‘s 2002 U.S. Country Songs Year-End chart.
Recorded by country artist Tim McGraw and written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, “Live Like You Were Dying” appeared on the 2004 album of the same name.
Meaning of the Song: “Live Like You Were Dying” tells the story of a man in his early forties who gets the news that his father has an unspecified, life threatening illness. His father’s message is to live life to the fullest and do things that he had always wanted to do, such as skydiving, mountain climbing, fishing, and bull riding. He also says that he became a better husband and friend. McGraw then switches perspective to himself, talking about how going fishing with his dad stopped being an imposition and how he finally, after reading the Bible, took a long hard look back over his life and took his father’s advice by going skydiving, mountain climbing, and bull riding.This song is associated with McGraw’s father, Tug McGraw, who was hospitalized with a brain tumor on March 12, 2003. It was revealed that he had cancer. He was given three weeks to live by the doctors, but survived nine months. He died on January 5, 2004
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard country music chart, remaining there for seven weeks; named the Number One country song of 2004 (Billboard); its music video counterpart was a nominee for Video of the Year at the 2006 Academy of Country Music Awards.
A 1999 as single from the album A Place in the Sun, country singer Tim McGraw’s “Somethin’ Like That” was written by Rick Ferrell and Keith Follesé. Even though considered a “minor crossover hit” by some, Kevin John Coyne (Country Universe, 2001) proclaimed of the song that “through its vivid, detail-laden approach, the lyric effectively hones in on the fact that the experience of one’s first love is, in itself, unforgettable,” continuing by stating that the song’s core “is driven home by a sprightly piano hook, toe-tapping rhythm, and wildly catchy singalong-friendly chorus – a one-two punch that helps the record make an impression both as a great lyric and as a fun, catchy listen.”
Meaning of the Song: “Somethin’ Like That” recalls the 17 year-old narrator’s youthful experience of falling in love for the first time. He describes how he spotted a special lady at a Labor Day county fair and–five years later on his way to Mardis Gras–sees her again on a plane. The bridge articulates how true love never dissipates, regardless of how long two lovers are separated.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks (now Hot Country Songs) chart; attained No. 1 on Canada’s RPM Country Singles; peaked at No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100; per Nielsen BDS, it was the top-played radio single in any musical genre in the 2000s with 487,343 spins from January of 2000 to December of 2009.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
A 1969 debut single by The Jackson 5 under the Motown label, “I Want You Back” (from the album Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5) became a smash hit for the Jacksons and helped launch them into worldwide stardom. The song, vocally led by the fledgling, preteen Michael Jackson, was initially intended for Gladys Knight & the Pips and later for Diana Ross (as “I Wanna Be Free”), but ended up being handed to the group who would go on to make it one of the biggest hits of the entire 20th-century, and what Pitchfork Media claimed as having “possibly the best chord progression in pop music history.”
Meaning of the Song: “I Want You Back” explores the theme of a lover who decides that he was too hasty in dropping his partner.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 121; No. 9 on Rolling Stones‘ ‘100 Greatest Pop Singles’ (since 1963) chart; Grammy Hall of Fame induction; peaked at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Soul Singles charts; Pitchfork Media‘s “second-best song of the 1960s”; has sold over six-million records (as of 1999).
“Livin’ la Vida Loca” (“Livin’ the Crazy Life”) was a chart-topping, career-defining song (for the album Ricky Martin) by Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin in 1999, one that helped the Latino singer’s career blast off in the U.S. and helped pave the way for other singers’ fame–like that of Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias. Before “la Vida Loca”, most non-Latino Americans did not know Martin; it wasn’t until CNN reported on his “show shopping” performance of “La Copa de la Vida” at the 1999 Grammy Awards show that–in addition to “Livin’ la Vida Loca”–he and other Latin sensations began to emerge as superstars.
Meaning of the Song: The lyrics to “la Vida Loca” are up for interpretation. One theory, floated around the blogosphere for some time, stipulates that ‘la Vida Loca’ is about drugs–in specific, heroin. Lyrics that’ve only stoked this theory include “She’ll take away your pain, like a bullet to your brain”, and “Her lips are devil red and her skin’s the color of mocha”. That, and apparently the original songwriter had a drug problem.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining there for five consecutive weeks; RIAA-certified platinum; topped the Hot Latin Songs chart for nine consecutive weeks; No. 28 on the list of 100 Greatest Songs of the 90’s by VH1; sold over eight-million copies, making it one of the best selling singles of all time; various Grammy Awards nominations; won the Lo Nuestro Award for “Pop Song of the Year”.
Bombs Over Baghdad, “B.O.B” is an alternative hip hop/funk song by the American rap duo OutKast. Produced as the lead single for their fourth studio album Stankonia (2000), it features a high-speed tempo beat consisting of “drum’n’bass” rythms, gospel vocals, organs and guitars. And although it wasn’t hugely successful commercially, musical publications such as Rolling Stone, Blender, and Pitchfork Media have oft-cited “B.O.B.” as one of the greatest songs of the 21st-century.
Meaning of the Song: Despite the title, Outkast has always maintained that there are no political statements made through “B.O.B.” Rather, it’s an affirmation of what the band is (or was) going to look like in the 21st Century. In an interview with Blender magazine, Andre 3000 explained that he got the title while on tour in London and switched on the news: “This news reporter, she said ‘Something something and bombs over Baghdad.’ It sounded good. I knew I could use it somewhere.”
Accolades: Peaked at No. 69 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, 58 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart; made No. 61 in the U.K.; ranked 21st on Rolling Stone‘s “100 Best Songs of the 2000s” list and No. 50 on its “The 50 Greatest Hip Hop Songs of All Time” chart; Pitchfork Media ranked it No. 1 on their “The Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s” compilation (beat out only by Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean); ranked No. 2 on Blender‘s “The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born” compilation.
“Walking In Memphis” was the signature song and biggest hit of American singer-songwriter Marc Cohn and is found on his self-titled 1991 album; it also helped Cohn garner the 1992 Grammy for Best New Artist ….The reference to “Blue Suede Shoes” is not about Elvis Presley, but about Carl Perkins who recorded the song in Memphis for Sam Phillips at Sun Records. Perkins’ ill luck in a car wreck stopped him touring to promote the record, allowing Elvis’ cover version to become a massive hit. Presley’s copy was done at RCA studios in Nashville. It also helped Elvis’ version that he substituted for Carl Perkins on Ed Sullivan and sang the song. The narrator tells of seeing “The ghost of Elvis on Union Avenue” and following him up to the gates of Graceland. Sam Phillips’ studios were called Memphis Recording Service and were at 706 Union Avenue.
Meaning of the Song: “Walking In Memphis”, according to Marc Cohn, is about a spiritual awakening. Cohn has explained that this song is a journey to be baptized in the world of Blues music.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100; on its 1991 re-release, it reached No. 22 in the UK; won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1992.
“Straight Up” is is a mid-tempo dance song a 1988 hit single by American singer Paula Abdul, which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and brought her widespread public attention. It was the best-selling song of 1989…It was written and produced by Elliot Wolff. “Straight Up” was the third single released from her debut album Forever Your Girl, after “Knocked Out” and “(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me”. The black and white video, directed by David Fincher and choreographed by Paula herself in mid-January 1989, won four 1989 MTV Video Music Awards for Best Female Video, Best Editing, Best Choreography, and the first Best Dance Video. The video features a special appearance by Paula’s friend, comedian Arsenio Hall, whose popular talk show had premiered a few weeks prior to the video shoot. Fun fact: In 2005, Paula Abdul was caught in an actual hit-and-run on the Los Angeles freeway. Were the lyrics in “Straight Up”–“Do you really wanna love me forever, Oh, oh, or am I caught in hit and run?”–a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy?
Meaning of the Song: “Straight Up” was a popular phrase at the time that could be dropped into just about any conversation – “I’ll meet you at 6pm, straight up” or “That was straight up the worst Rocky movie ever.”
Accolades: Climbed to No. 1 (for three weeks) on the Billboard Hot 100; peaked at No. 3 in the UK (Official Charts Company) and Germany (Media Control AG); ranked No. 4 of the Top 100 hits of 1989; RIAA-certified platinum with sales of more than one million; its 1989 music video won four MTV Video Music Awards for Best Female Video, Best Editing, Best Choreography, and the first Best Dance Video.
American rapper/hip hop artist 50 Cent–a rap icon discovered by Eminem not long before Get Rich or Die Tryin’–recorded “In Da Club” for his debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’; it was first performed live in 2003. A collaboration between Dr. Dre and co-producer Mike Elizondo, it was the first of seven tracks 50 cent recorded in the 5-day sessions with Dr. Dre. Became 50 Cent’s first number one single, and has since sold a staggering 7-million records. At the 46th Grammy Awards, “In Da Club” was nominated for Best Male Rap Solo Performance and Best Rap Song. In 2009, the single was listed at number 24 in Billboard’s Hot 100 Songs of the Decade listed at number 13 in Rolling Stone‘s “Best Songs of the Decade.
Meaning of the Song: Because the lion’s share of the content on Get Rich or Die Tryin‘ seemed negative, 50 Cent wanted a song on it that conveyed, in his words, “the exact opposite”. He dubbed the song a “celebration of life” and that it’s relevant “cause every day is someone’s birthday.”
Accolades: No. 10 on Blender magazine’s “The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born” chart; RS/500, No. 448; ranked at No. 18 on VH1‘s “100 Greatest Hip Hop Songs” (2008); peaked at No. 1 for 8 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained on the chart for 100 weeks; broke Billboard’s record as the “most listened-to” song in radio history within one week (March, 2003); RIAA-certified gold; certified Gold in Australia, where the single also peaked at No. 1 and was certified 2x Platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association; its music video companion won the Best Rap Video and Best New Artist awards at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.
Recorded in Studio A of the famed Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” is a 1964, number-one hit song (U.S. and U.K.) by Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield duo, best known as The Righteous Brothers. In 1999, the performing-rights organization Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) ranked it as having had more radio and television appearances in the United States than any other song of the 20th century. In addition, it’s also one of the most cited examples of Phil Spector’s infamous “Wall of Sound” method. “Lovin’ Feelin” enjoyed two successful re-releases in 1969 (at No. 10) and 1990 (No. 3), the latter due to the re-release of “Unchained Melody” (itself hitting No. 1 again due hugely to being featured in the film Ghost).
Meaning of the Song: In “That Lovin’ Feelin”, the narrator realizes that his girl no longer loves him like she did before. And despite how hard he tries to make the relationship work, his lady has still “lost that loving feeling”; because of this, he feels dead inside.
Accolades: Hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February of 1965 and remained in that position for one week; crossed over to the R&B charts, where it peaked at No. 2; chosen as one of the Songs of the Century by RIAA; RS/500, No. 34; the only single to ever enter the UK Top 10 three times.
Released in 1987 as the first of three singles from the album Permanent Vacation, “Dude”has since been a staple of both the rock airwaves and of Aerosmith’s concerts. written by lead singer Steven Tyler, lead guitarist Joe Perry and professional songwriter Desmond Child.
Meaning of the Song: Initially dubbed “Cruisin’ for a Lady”, “Dude” describes an effeminate-looking male (or drag queen) who’s mistaken for a lady. Per Steven Tyler in the book Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith: “One day we met Mötley Crüe, and they’re all going, ‘Dude!’ Dude this and Dude that, everything was Dude. ‘Dude (Looks Like a Lady)’ came out of that session.”. And in the book The Heroin Diaries, Nikki Sixx asserts that “Dude” was specifically inspired by Mötley Crüe’s own singer, Vince Neil.
Accolades: Attained No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 4 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart; peaked at No. 20 (upon its 1990 re-release) on the UK Singles chart; nominated for two MTV Video Music Awards (for Best Group Video and Best Stage Performance); won 4 Grammys in the 1990s.
“Lucky”, a collaboration between Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat, is the third single from Jason Mraz’s third studio album, We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. Mraz also recorded a Spanish version of the song, dubbed “Suerte”, with Latin singer Ximena Sariñana for the Latin American and Spanish version of the album–as well as with Lil Wayne, the latter released on Z100. Mraz became a fan of Caillat after hearing her music on MySpace. He then called her to see if she’d want to write and sing together. In an interview with VH1, Mraz stated that he “played a songwriting game” with friends to see how the lyrics would go.Mraz and Caillat performed the song on Saturday Night Live.
Meaning of the Song: “Lucky”, loosely translated, tells the story of two separated lovers; the narrator remarks that “she is like his best friend” as the two sing about feeling one another from across the deep, blue ocean.
Accolades: Won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals; debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 96 for the issue dated January 31, 2009 and on the Pop 100 chart at No. 84, where it peaked at No. 48; peaked at No. 9 on the Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks; made the Dutch Top 40 at No. 27 and moved up to 8; peaked at No. 56 on the Canadian Hot 100 chart.
Written and recorded by rap/hip hop artist artist Sir Mix-a-Lot (for the album Mack Daddy), “Baby Got Back” debuted in 1992 and took the rap and mainstream radio world by storm. Initially, the song prompted waves of controversy with its taboo and obviously sexual lyrics about women, as well as references to parts (i.e. buttocks) of their anatomy. MTV even blocked it from its channel briefly. Sir Mix-a-Lot later stated that most women, especially black ones, have generally responded positively to “Baby”, saying “They all say, ‘About time.’”because it challenges white peoples’ general conception of what a beautiful body looks like—that is a skinny body with no voluptuous curves. And much like Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby”, the general consensus is that “Baby” was a one hit wonder for Sir Mix-a-Lot.
Meaning of the Song: “Baby Got Back” challenged then-mainstream concepts of what a beautiful woman should look like. In 1992, the rapper summed it up pretty accurately in an interview in saying “The song doesn’t just say I like large butts, you know? The song is talking about women who damn near kill themselves to try to look like these beanpole models that you see in Vogue magazine.”
Accolades: No. 17 on VH1‘s 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop, No. 6 on its Greatest Songs of the ’90s, and No. 1 on its Greatest One Hit Wonders of the ’90s compilation; hit No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, staying there for five weeks during the summer of 1992; won a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
Released in November 1999 and Toby Keith’s first major crossover hit that , “How Do You Like Me Now?!” is the second single released from the album of the same name. It was written by Keith and Chuck Cannon, Toby explained that one of his catch-phrases (as well as the song’s initial title) was “Initially, I said, ‘Here’s my title, “You Never Loved Me Before, So How Do You Like Me Now?’” and that “a lot of people become successful after they’ve been told they won’t ever be, so people can relate to this. It can be about an old flame or a boss or a teacher: Whatever it means to each individual.”
Meaning of the Song: “How Do You Like Me Now?!” illustrates the singer’s attraction to a popular, beautiful female in high school who ignored him at the time. Keith can’t help but wonder in the song whether or not that girl still remembers him now that he’s rich and famous.
Accolades: Spent five weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard U.S. Hot Country Songs chart in 2000; peaked at No. 31 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100; the first number-one single for the DreamWorks Nashville label (now defunct); nominated for Single of the Year and Song of the Year at the 2001 Country Music Awards; peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks, as well as No. 1 on the Canadian RPM Country Tracks chart.
A country song written by Don Von Tress and originally dubbed “Don’t Tell My Heart”, “Achy Breaky Heart” was first recorded by The Oak Ridge Boys as well as The Marcy Brothers in 1991. Less than a year later, Billy Ray Cyrus picked it up and changed it to “Achy Breaky Heart”; it appeared on the album Some Gave All. His debut single and signature song, “Achy” became Australia’s first single ever to reach triple Platinum status and became 1992’s best selling single there, too. It also became a crossover sensation on pop and country radio stations in the U.S., where it peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, topped-out the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, and –thanks largely to its music video counterpart–helped bring line dancing into the mainstream.
Meaning of the Song: In “Achy Breaky Heart”, the narrator knows that he’s about to be canned by his girl and is afraid that when she tells him, his heart will be crushed and “won’t understand.”
Accolades: About.com (Shelly Fabian, 2002) ranked the song No. 249 on its Top 500 Country Music Songs list; No. 87 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the ’90s (2007); became the first country single to be certified Platinum since Dolly Parton’s 1983 “Islands in the Stream”; peaked at No. 3 on the UK Singles Chart; remains Cyrus’s biggest hit single, as well as his only song to break the Hot 100 Top Ten, in the US; No. 2 on both VH1’s 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs and Blender magazine’s 50 Worst Songs Ever.
“Stayin’ Alive” was is a smash, 1977 disco song by the Bee Gees for the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever; it was written by the Bee Gees (Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb) themselves and released in late 1977 as the second single from the soundtrack. And during its climb in the charts, due largely to its prominence in the film Saturday Night Fever, it became not only one of the group’s most instantly recognizable, signature, most enduring songs, but as one eternally of the disco scene.
Meaning of the Song: According to the late Robin Gibb, who garnered massive popularity within the group as the one with the “impossibly high”, unmistakable voice, “‘Stayin’ Alive’ is about surviving in the big city, any big city, but especially New York.”
Accolades: RS/500, No. 191; peaked at No. 1on the Billboard Hot 100 upon release, staying there for four weeks; topped British national charts at No. 4; became a permanent staple of disco music.
“Sitten’ On The Dock of the Bay” is a 1967 R&B/soul song that was by soul artist Otis Redding and guitarist Steve Cropper at the famed Stax Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Recorded just days before Redding’s untimely death, “Sittin’ On” was posthumously released on Stax Records’ Volt label in 1968 and became the first posthumous single to ever top the U.S. charts. “Dock” is one of Redding’s finest and most celebrated works, enjoying immense success after selling more than four-million records and being played on the air over eight-million times. It also did extremely well in the U.K, eventually peaking at No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart.
Meaning of the Song: Otis was one of those kind of guys who had 100 ideas. Anytime he came in to record he always had 10 or 15 different intros or titles, or whatever. He had been at San Francisco playing The Fillmore, and he was staying at a boathouse, which is where he got the idea of the ship coming in. That’s about all he had: “I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again.” I took that and finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I wrote with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him. He didn’t usually write about himself, but I did. “Mr. Pitiful,” “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)”; they were about Otis’ life. “Dock Of The Bay” was exactly that: “I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay” was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform
Accolades: Peaked at No. 3 in the U.K.; topped U.S. charts (No. 1 on both the Hot 100 and Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles charts); named the song as the sixth-most performed song of the 20th century, with about six million performances; RS/500, No. 28; has sold more than four-million records; won two Grammys for Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
Co-written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, “Layla” was originally released by Clapton’s blues-rock band Derek and the Dominos as the thirteenth track from the 1970 album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. A definitive Rock N’ Roll’s love song of the 1970s, the contrasting-movements song features legendary guitarists Eric Clapton and Duane Allman and relies on a unique piano coda that makes up its second half. “Layla” was inspired by Clapton’s then-unrequited love for Pattie Boyd; it’s since been heralded by the lion’s share of music critics as one of the greatest rock songs of all time. In 1993, Clapton also released a live, acoustic “Unplugged” version which, again, enjoyed near global success.
Meaning of the Song: The title, “Layla,” was inspired by The Story of Layla (Layla and Majnun) by the 12th-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi of the Ganja (present day Azerbaijan) Seljuq empire. It is based on the true story of a young man called Qays ibn al-Mulawwah from the northern Arabian Peninsula, in the Umayyad Caliphate during the 7th century. When he wrote “Layla,” Clapton had been told the story by his friend Ian Dallaswho was in the process of converting to Islam. Nizami’s tale, about a moon princess who was married off by her father to someone other than the one who was desperately in love with her, resulting in Majnun’s madness, struck a deep chord with Clapton.
Accolades: One of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”; RS/500, No. 27; No. 16 on VH1‘s 100 Greatest Songs of Rock and Roll compilation; Clapton’s and Allman’s guitar solos also earned “Layla” a spot (No. 14) on Guitar World‘s list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos; won a Grammy for Best Rock Song (1993 acoustic version).
“The Tracks of My Tears” is a definitive 1960s love song by The Miracles (via Motown’s Tamla label) that’s usually cited as the band’s very finest, signature songs. “The Tracks of My Tears” was written by lead vocalist Smokey Robinson, bass vocalist Pete Moore and guitarist Marv Tarplin–the latter member whose intro guitar licks are some of the most recognizable in pop history. And selling sold over a million records in two years, it became The Miracles’ fourth million-selling record in less than a decade and has since been drafted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Meaning of the Song: In the five-LP publication The Motown Story, by Motown Records, Robinson explained the origin of this song in these words: “‘Tracks of My Tears’ was actually started by Marv Tarplin, who is a young cat who plays guitar for our act. So he had this musical thing [sings melody], you know, and we worked around with it, and worked around, and it became ‘Tracks of My Tears’.”
Accolades: RS/500, No. 50; Grammy Hall of Fame induction; peaked at No. 2 on Billboard‘s R & B chart, No. 16 on the Hot 100; peaked at No. 9 in the U.K.
By American punk rock band Green Day. It was released as the fourth single from their third album, Dookie. “When I Come Around” was Green Day’s most popular radio single in their early career, peaking at number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay. This was their highest charting radio single until 2004’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” peaked at number 2. It was one of the most successful alternative rock songs of 1995. It topped the Modern Rock Tracks for seven weeks, and also hit number two on the Mainstream Rock Tracks…..the band’s second best-selling single of the 1990s, only behind the 1997 hit “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”…also heavily remembered for its pre-mud-fight at the 1994 Woodstock Festival.
Meaning of the Song: Billie Joe Armstrong wrote the song after breaking up with his girlfriend, Adrienne Nesser (whom he later married).
Accolades: has sold 639,000 copies as of August, 2010,which makes it the band’s second best-selling single of the 1990s; peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart; Green Day’s highest charting single until “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” (peaked at No.2) released in 2004; No. 2 on U.S. BillboardTop 40 Mainstream; No. 1 U.S. Billboard Modern Rock Tracks.
The alternative rock White Stripes’ first track on its album Elephant, “Seven Nation Army” was released in 2003 to relatively epic success. The song is known for its underlying riff, which plays throughout most of the song. Although it sounds like a bass guitar (an instrument the group had never previously used), the sound is actually created by running Jack White’s semi-acoustic guitar (a 1950s style Kay Hollowbody) through a DigiTech Whammy pedal set down an octave. According to White, “Seven Nation Army” is what he used to call the Salvation Army as a child.
Meaning of the Song: The title allegedly refers to what Jack White thought the Salvation Army was called when he was a child, and the song deals with The White Stripes’ rise to stardom and the cons that often proceed it. White developed a storyline around a character that comes into town, but with all of his friends gossiping about him, hence “He feels so bad he has to leave town, but you get so lonely you come back.” “The song’s about gossip. It’s about me, Meg and the people we’re dating”, White stated.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart for three weeks; won a Grammy for Best Rock Song; No. 6 on Rolling Stone‘s 2009 The 50 Best Songs of the Decade compilation; NME placed “Seven Nation Army” at No. 5 on its 2005 50 Greatest Tracks Of The Decade list; placed No. 21 on Rolling Stone‘s The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time chart; RS/500, No. 286.
By American pop punk band Blink-182. It was the first single released from the band’s third album Enema of the State. Released in November 1999, “What’s My Age Again?” became Blink-182’s second hit single, setting a precedent for most of the band’s further career. The album version continues the guitar outro from the previous track, “Going Away to College”, whereas the single version cuts the fadeout and simply opens with the song’s trademark opening notes. The single version appears on the band’s Greatest Hits
Meaning of the Song: The song, written by bassist Mark Hoppus, carries a theme about a protagonist who, despite being an adult, still behaves like a prepubescent child.
Accolades: Reached No. 2 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, No. 19 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks;No. 117 on NME‘s 150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years.
“The House of the Rising Sun” (a.k.a. “Rising Sun Blues”) is a 1964 traditional folk song that was recorded by the British band The Animals. Like many songs of this genre, the person(s) who wrote the original remains a mystery, but experts generally concur that “House” was inspired by British “broadside ballads” (e.g. Unfortunate Rake of the 1700s), and was subsequently brought to America and changed to fit the New Orleans’ setting. The BBC’s Ralph McLean even claimed that “it was arguably the first folk rock tune”, dubbing it “a revolutionary single after which the face of modern music was changed forever.” The Animal’s version is also widely cited as one of the classics of the British Invasion era.
Meaning of the Song: Although most musical authorities agree that “House” is about the lives of both a woman and man gone awry in New Orleans, there have been many prominent interpretations about its origin and/or meaning. Many people say that the title refers to drugs. Alan Price himself (of The Animals) once even referred to it as a 1500s English folk song about a Soho brothel.
Accolades: Hit No. 1 in the U.S., U.K., and Canada in 1964; RS/500, No. 122; one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll; the RIAA’s No. 240th Songs of the Century list; recipient of a 1999 Grammy Hall of Fame Award; Britons’ fourth-favorite No. 1 song of all time (via a 2005 poll).[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
“Suspicious Minds” was written by American songwriter Mark James, who also wrote “Always on My Mind”. But after flopping commercially, Elvis Presley picked “Suspicious Minds” up, turning it into a number one song in 1969 as well as one of his most career-defining hits. “Suspicious Minds” was widely regarded as the single that returned Presley’s career success, following ’68 Comeback Special. Elvis first performed the song live at the Las Vegas International Hotel (later rebranded Hilton) on July 31, 1969. It was his seventeenth and last number-one single in the United States.
Meaning of the Song: The song is about a mistrusting and dysfunctional relationship, and the need of the characters to overcome their issues in order to maintain it.
Accolades: Presley’s 17th and final No. 1 single.; RS/500, No. 91; peaked at No. 1 in the United States, remaining there for the week of November 1, 1969.
American folk rock singer-songwriter Don McLean recorded “American Pie” for the the 1973 album of the same name. The song famously recounts “The Day the Music Died”, referencing the 1959 plane crash that killed Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and the Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.) and its sad aftermath. And although McLean dedicated the American Pie album to Buddy Holly, none of the musicians, not even Holly, in the crash are identified by name in the song. Says McLean, “You will find many interpretations of my lyrics, but none of them by me. Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.”
Meaning of the Song: Its cryptic lyrics, the exact meaning(s) having long been intensely speculated about, are an ode to the memory of Buddy Holly and, presumptively, the other legendary singers Valen and Big Bopper after their plane crashed in 1959, killing all aboard. McLean has acknowledged, however, that the first verse is indeed about his prolonged grief over Holly’s death.
Accolades: The No. 5 song on the RIAA project Songs of the Century; “American Pie” is considered Don McLean’s signature song and magnum opus; a No. 1 hit in the U.S. for four weeks (1972), No. 2 in the UK; its 1991 re-release reached No.12 on the U.S. chart.
Composed by Adele and Dan Wilson as the second single from Adele’s second studio album, 21, “Something Like You” is a 2010 pop ballad that was inspired by Adele’s breakup with her boyfriend; it henceforth describes her final acceptance of the breakup. And with virtually no instrumentals in tow (only Wilson on the piano), Adele took “Someone Like You” to the top of charts worldwide–becoming her first number one single in the United Kingdom (staying there for five consecutive weeks) and killing the charts in the U.S., Australia, Ireland, France and Switzerland. Additionally, with “Someone”, Adele became the first female British soloist in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 to have two number-one hits in a single album.
Meaning of the Song: “Someone Like You” basically embodies the entire 21 album lyrically. Adele once offered: “Well, I wrote that song because I was exhausted from being such a bitch, with ‘Rolling in the Deep’ or ‘Rumour Has It’…I was really emotionally drained from the way I was portraying him, because even though I’m very bitter and regret some parts of it, he’s still the most important person that’s ever been in my life, and ‘Someone Like You,’ I had to write it to feel OK with myself and OK with the two years I spent with him. And when I did it, I felt so freed.”
Accolades: Became the first single of the 21st-century to sell a million units in the U.K.; certified Platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI); RIAA-certified 5× platinum; voted third most favorite single of the last 60 years in the UK (with Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” as No. 2 & Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as No. 1); the 42nd best-selling single ever on the UK Singles Chart; won the 2012 Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance at the 54th Grammy Awards.
Written and performed by musician Billy Joel, first released in 1983 on his album An Innocent Man. Although “Uptown Girl” was not as successful in the U.S. as “Tell Her About It,” the first single released from An Innocent Man, the single was still a big hit for Joel. According to interviews with Joel, the song was initially written about his relationship with his then-girlfriend Elle Macpherson, but it ended up also becoming about his soon-to-be wife Christie Brinkley (both women being two of the most famous supermodels of the 1980s) Joel also has said that the song was inspired by the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
Meaning of the Song: The lyrics describe a working-class “downtown man” attempting to woo a wealthy “uptown girl.”
Accolades: Peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100; charted at No. 1 in the United Kingdom, staying at that position for five weeks; No. 2 on Billboard‘s Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks; peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100; the second biggest selling single of 1983 in the United Kingdom behind only Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon”; the 19th-biggest selling single of the 1980s in the United Kingdom; No. 99 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 most important singles of the period 1963-1988.
“Make You Feel My Love” is a 2008 cover by singer Adele of a Bob Dylan song from the 1997 album Time Out Of Mind. It was recorded by British singer Adele as the fifth and final single for her No. 1 debut album, 19.
Meaning of the Song: Via the Manchester Evening News in January of 2008, Adele explained “Make You Feel My Love” and why she decided to make it: “I wrote 9 songs in a short space of time, all about this awful relationship I was in. I never quite got down what I was really feeling in those songs, though. Although I was trying to. It wasn’t that I was holding back or anything, but I just couldn’t get it down. I was bitterly upset and then my manager played me this Bob Dylan song ‘Make You Feel My Love.’ The lyrics are just amazing, and summed up exactly what I’d been trying to say in my songs. It’s about regretting not being with someone, and it’s beautiful. It’s weird that my favorite song on my album is a cover, but I couldn’t not put it on there.”
Accolades: Initially peaked at No. 26 on the official UK Top 75 Singles chart after a series of performances; spent a total of 55 weeks on the U.K. Top 75 (16th-longest runner of all time there) and three non-consecutive weeks within its top 10; No. 1 on the British Heart Radio‘s Hall of Fame Top 500 compilation.
“Turn the Page” is a country-rock song by Bob Seger that was produced for his 1973 Back in ’72 album. Though it never released as a single, Seger’s live version of the song (with The Silver Bullet Band) on his 1976 Live Bullet album became a real staple of album-oriented rock radio stations and still gets significant airplay on classic rock stations ’til this day.”Turn the Page” is about the emotional and social ups and downs of a rock musician’s life on the road. Seger wrote it in 1972 while touring with Teegarden & Van Winkle.
Meaning of the Song: Seger manager Tom Weschler basically affirms the meaning behind the song by saying: “Turn the Page,” Bob’s great road song, came along in ’72, while we were driving home from a gig. I think we were in Dubuque, Iowa, in winter and stopped at a restaurant. We stood out when we entered a store or a gas station or a restaurant en masse. At this restaurant it was particularly bright inside, so there weren’t any dark corners to hide in. All these local guys were looking at us like, “What are these guys? Is that a woman or a man?”…just like in the song…that was one incident, but there were so many others on the road that led Seger to write that song.”
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock chart.
Contemporary Christian artist Aaron Shust released “My Savoir My God” in 2006 as a radio single for and for his album, Anything Worth Saying. The song was released around early 2006 and became a number 1 hit on Christian radio by April 2006 Although usually credited as author and composer, Shust used the verses from Dora Greenwell’s 1873 poem “I Am Not Skilled to Understand” and added a new bridge. The song was also appears the compilation album WOW Hits 2007.
Meaning of the Song: “My Savior My God” is about a guy who knows that God is always there for him, regardless of how astray from the holy word he may go: that always and in the end, God will be there for him when he needs a helping hand.
Accolades: Became a No. 1 hit on Christian radio by April of 2006 and the most played song of that year on Christian adult contemporary radio; was the second most played song on the Christian CHR format; won a “Dove Award” for the Song of the Year at the 2007 GMA Dove Awards; nominated for Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year and Worship Song of the Year at the GMA Dove Awards.
The 2009 debut single from Owl City’s album Ocean Eyes, featuring Matt Thiessen (Relient K) as guest singer, “Fireflies” enjoyed tremendous, global success from 2009 through early 2010, topping charts from the U.S. and Australia and throughout Europe. “Fireflies” was the group’s first and only US Top 40 until it released “Good Time”, which featured Canadian artist Carly Rae Jepsen on lead vocals. And in 2011, “Fireflies” became the twentieth most-downloaded song of all time in the U.K.
Meaning of the Song: As Adam Young put it, “Fireflies” is “a little song about bugs and not being able to fall asleep at night.The song is built around a “bleepy” 80s-influenced synthline and includes lyrics about insomnia, fireflies and summer.”
Accolades: Reached No. 1 in its tenth week on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Owl City’s first No. 1 single that stayed at No. 1 for two non-consecutive weeks; ranked No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 2009 year-end chart, 30th on the Billboard Hot 100 2010 year-end chart; RIAA-certified triple-platinum (June, 2010); as of November, 2012, it reached 4,648,000 U.S. downloads in the United States; rose to No. 1 in the United Kingdom, remaining there for three consecutive weeks and where it’s also sold 639,587 copies to-date; topped charts Australian charts and sold more than 37,354 copies there.
“Firework” is a combination dance, rock, europop, and electro house song by Katy Perry that was produced for her third studio (2010) album, Teenage Dream. A proclaimed motivational, self-empowerment anthem of sorts, Perry considers it as the most important song on her album Teenage Dream. On the week ending of January 8, 2011, “Firework” sold 509,000 digital downloads in the US, which is the fourth highest amount ever sold by a female artist , and on January 5, 2012, “Firework” was proclaimed the fifth most-played single on U.S. radio during 2011 by Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems–with 509,000 plays.
Meaning of the Song: In Perry’s own words to Billboard magazine: “Basically I have this very morbid idea…when I pass, I want to be put into a firework and shot across the sky over the Santa Barbara Ocean as my last hurrah.” “I want to be a firework, both living and dead. My boyfriend showed me a paragraph out of Jack Kerouac’s book On The Road, about people that are buzzing and fizzing and full of life and never say a commonplace thing. They shoot across the sky like a firework and make people go, ‘Ahhh’. I guess that making people go ‘ahhh’ is kind of like my motto.”
Accolades: No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Perry’s fourth U.S. No. 1 single in the US and third number-one single from the same album; RIAA-certified 2x platinum; Grammy-nominated for Record of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance; Perry’s fifth single to sell 3 million copies or more; one of three of Perry’s songs to top 5 million paid downloads, making her the first artist in digital-download history to sell more than 5 million copies of three different hits.
A rock hit by LeRoy Marinell, Waddy Wachtel, and Warren Zevon and performed by artist Warren Zevon for the 1978 album Excitable Boy, “Werewolves of London” featured bassist John McVie and Fleetwood Mac’s drummer Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac; it was released by Asylum Records as catalog number 45472 and uses a melody based in the key of G major and chord progression of V-IV-I (per BBC Radio 2). This Zevon’s only Top 40 hit for Zevon as a singer, but his popular “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” for singer Linda Ronstadt also made it at No. 31 in 1978.”Werewolves” was featured in the 1986 movie The Color Of Money (Paul Newman, Tom Cruise).
Meaning of the Song: Zevon and guitarist/co-writer Robert “Waddy” Wachtel wrote the lyrics to “Werewolves of London”, which illustrate the tale of “a hairy-handed gent who ran amok in Kent.” The werevolve’s well-dressed (i.e. “I’d like to meet his tailor”), well-groomed (i.e. “His hair was perfect”), and “preying on little old ladies.”
Accolades: Peaked at No. 21 on the U.S. Top 40 charts in 1978, staying there six weeks.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page ” ]
161. Free Falling (Tom Petty)
“Free Fallin’” was the first-completed and opening track from Tom Petty’s 1989 solo album, Full Moon Fever. Written in only two days by Tom Petty and his writing partner, it’s easily one of Petty’s most famous, most defining—as well as longest-charting—songs of all time. Petty famously performed “Free Falling” at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards with Axl Rose and again at the 2008 Super Bowl XLII (New England Patriots vs. New York Giants) Halftime Show with The Heartbreakers; “Free Falling” was also prominently featured in the movie Jerry Maguire (1996).
Meaning of the Song: The lyrics to “Free Fallin’”describe the culture of Los Angeles, mentioning actual places there such as Mulholland, Reseda and Ventura Boulevard and implying that many of L.A.’s people tend to callously use others for personal gain—i.e. the narrator himself has just left a girl and doesn’t even miss her.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in January of 1990 and became Petty’s longest-charting single ever; RS/500, No. 177.
“I Loved Her First”, a mid-tempo ballad written by Walt Aldridge and Elliott Park and recorded by country band Heartland, debuted in June 2006 as the band’s debut single and attained the coveted No. 1 spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in late 2006. Deborah Evans Price (Billboardmagazine) claimed that “I Loved Her First” was a “beautifully written tearjerker that will hit home with dads everywhere who can’t believe their little girls have grown up so soon.”, calling vocalist Jason Albert’s performance “wonderful” and asserting that it “wrings every drop of emotion from the tender lyric.” The song was also accompanied by a popular music video, which displayed the group singing among people mingling at a wedding reception.
Meaning of the Song: “I Loved Her First” features a male father as narrator who’s talking to the man who’s about to take his daughter’s hand in marriage, explaining his trouble of giving her away because he, naturally, “loved her first.”
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 on Billboard‘s U.S. Country Singles, No. 34 on the Hot 100 chart; No. 30 on Billboard‘s 2006 Year-End chart.
A 1995 single by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain and recorded by Canadian country artist Shania Twain for the album The Woman in Me (later on Twain’s Greatest Hits CD), “Any Man of Mine” became her first number one hit on both country radio and pop radio (the latter a crossover hit) after making the U.S. top 40 charts; it also marked the Canadian singer’s first number one–as well as top ten–single.
Per Larry Flick of Billboard magazine: “Twain aims right for the dance clubs with this hi-tech hoedown. The lyrics are dancefloor dumb, but the song is undeniably catchy. Besides, any song that borrows a vocal hook from the Three Stooges can’t be all bad.”
Meaning of the Song: Its country woman/country lifestyle theme well-established lyrically and instrumentally, “Any Man of Mine”‘s narrator simply describes what characteristics “any man of mine [hers] better” have.
Accolades: Won Single of the Year at both the Canadian Country Music Awards and CMA Awards (1995); Grammy-nominated (1996) for Best Country Song and Best Female Country Vocal Performance; won Country Single of the Year at the 1996 Jukebox Awards; spent 20 weeks atop the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, peaking at No. 1 number one for two weeks; was the first No. 1 song on theBillboard country chart performed by a non-American since 1986; its music video counterpart acquired the Canadian Country Music Award for Video of the Year and AOL’s Online Music Award for Hottest Country Video.
“Hurt“ is a Grammy-nominated (1996) song written by Trent Reznor and first released by his Nine Inch Nails’ band for their 1994 album, The Downward Spiral. In 2002, though, “Hurt” was covered by Johnny Cash to near universal, critical acclaim and was one of Cash’s final hit releases before his death; it was recorded for his album, American IV: The Man Comes Around. The major difference in the Nine Inch Nails and Cash version was in the lyrics: “Crown of shit”—due to both Cash’s devout Christian beliefs and there being a need for a censored-for-radio version—was changed to “crown of thorns” and its lyrics overall referenced Christ and Cash’s devout following of, therein. Cash, appearing frail and fragile, also did the introspective music video “Hurt” from his home in Hendersonville, TN.
Meaning of the Song: “Hurt” is, appropriately, a song about realizing consequence and regret–one that urges listeners to go through life wisely, because nothing is worse than being stuck with some kind of realized-beforehand pain (e.g. sickness, emotional loss, death) that will only leave one wishing things had been different and that different choices had been made.
Accolades: Won the 2003 CMA Single of the Year award in 2003; marked Cash’s only chart entry on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, peaking at 33 in 2003; was voted No. 1 in UpVenue’s 2009 Top 10 Best Music Covers; was voted No. 60 on Triple J’s (Australia’s most prominent music poll) Hottest 100 (of all time); ranked No. 15 of the 50 best songs of the decade by Rolling Stone; No. 35 on NME‘s list of the 150 best tracks of the past 15 years list; the music video was named the best video of the year at the Grammy Awards (Best Short Form Music Video) and CMA Awards, and the best video of all time by NMEin July of 2011.
Writen and recorded in 1956 by Johnny Cash, “I Walk the Line” finally became Cash’s first Billboard hit after three prior attempts, as well as one of his most defining, most well-known songs. In Cash’s own words (via a telephone interview), “I wrote the song backstage one night in 1956 in Gladewater, Texas. I was newly married at the time, and I suppose I was laying out my pledge of devotion.”It is based upon the “boom-chicka-boom” or “freight train” rhythm common in many of Cash’s songs. In the original recording of the song, there is a key change between each of the five verses, and Cash hums the new root note before singing each verse.
Meaning of the Song: The song–whose unique chord progression for the song was inspired by backwards playback of guitar runs on Cash’s tape recorder while he was in the Air Force stationed in Germany–is very simple and like most Cash songs, the lyrics tell more of a story than the music conveys.
Accolades: No. 1 on U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles, No. 17 Billboard Hot 100; remained on the record charts for over 43 weeks; initially sold over 2 million copies; RS/500, No. 30.
“Crash Into Me” was a song by the Dave Matthews Band for the 1997 album, Crash. Often mistaken for a traditional love song, but actually about a voyeuristic man, “Crash Into Me” is also featured on the Dave Matthews Band’s first compilation album, The Best of What’s Around, Vol. 1.
Meaning of the Song: On the TV show VH1 Storytellers, Dave Matthews described this song as being about “the worship of women,” but from a voyeuristic perspective; Matthews also did a humorous impression of the woman that he allegedly voyeured as she complained to the police, later claiming that he wrote a song about it instead of getting himself arrested. However, in the documentary “The Road To Big Whiskey”, he alternately explained that much of the song was inspired by the love of his life, wife Ashley Harper.
Accolades: Grammy-nominated for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals (1998); peaked at No. 7 on Billboard‘s Modern Rock Tracks chart.
A staple of classic rock, “More Than a Feeling” was written by Tom Scholz and debuted by the rock band Boston as the lead single (“Smokin’” being its flipside) from the group’s album, Boston (Epic Records, 1976). “More Than a Feeling”, Boston’s first-ever single, took writer Tom Scholz five years to complete, and according to him, was influenced heavily by The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee.” Critics have also noted that “More Than a Feeling”‘s main riff is alluded to in the Nirvana single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Meaning of the Song: Boston’s website claims that the song is about “the power an old song can have in your life.” Its lyrics express the writer’s discontent with the present and his wanting for a past love. Per Tom Scholz, it’s about “The thrill one gets while driving fast cars.”
Accolades: RS/500, No. 500; peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 4 on Canada’s RPM Top Singles chart; named the 39th-best hard rock song of all time by VH1; the Boston album itself has sold over 17 million copies.
“Wish You Were Here”, a progressive rock song, is the title track on Pink Floyd’s 1975 album of the same name. David Gilmour and Waters collaborated to write the music, and “Wish” later appeared as the fifth track on A Collection of Great Dance Songs and as the 23rd track on the Echoes compilation. Pink Floyd lyricist and bassist Roger Waters once claimed that the song was based on a poem he’d written about Syd Barrett’s “break from reality”–a poem alleged that Syd’s friends regularly laced his coffee with LSD, gradually leading to his break from reality.
Meaning of the Song: The lyrics describeRoger Waters’ feelings of alienation from others. Like much of the album, “Wish” alludes to former lead vocalist and songwriter Syd Barrett and his trials and tribulations with schizophrenia. More generally, it describes the detached feeling most people wonder through life with—a commentary about how people deal with the world by physically or emotionally withdrawing from it.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 316; No. 1 in the U.S.; FMI-certified gold.
“Master of Puppets” is a 1985 thrash metal song by the heavy metal band Metallica and the only single from the album of the same name. Preceded by “Battery” on the album, “Master of Puppets” is Metallica’s most-played song of all time. As lead vocalist James Hetfield was recounted as saying: “[Master of Puppets] deals pretty much with drugs. How things get switched around, instead of you controlling what you’re taking and doing, it’s drugs controlling you.” And as of 2012, the song has been performed over 1,400 times (the most recent being October 27, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana at the Voodoo Music Festival. Fun fact: In the 1990s, Metallica would often mix the song with “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” in concert and call it “Mastertarium.”
Meaning of the Song: The “Master” of puppets is an allusion to drugs. Throughout the song, the “master” is who/what controls your life–hence, “chop your breakfast on a mirror” and “the Master Of Puppets is pulling your strings, twisting your mind and smashing your dreams.” Therefore, the drug is the ‘Master’ and the user is the puppet.
Accolades: VH1 ranked the song as the third greatest heavy metal song ever; Q magazine placed it at No. 22 on its 2005 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks list; Martin Popoff, in his The Top 500 Heavy Metal Songs of All Time book, ranked “Wish” at No. 2; No. 1 on the 100 Greatest Riffs poll conducted by Total Guitarmagazine.
“Go Rest High On That Mountain” is a 1995 country single from Vince Gill’s 1994 album, When Love Finds You. A eulogistic ballad, backing vocals were provided by Patty Loveless and Ricky Skaggs. Gill wrote the song following the untimely death of country singer Keith Whitley (who died in 1989), not even finishing it until years afterwards when his older brother Bob died of a heart attack. Deborah Evans Price (Billboard magazine) boasted about “Go Rest High” for it being “beautiful, majestic, and easily one of the best singles of Gill’s already distinguished career.” A music video to the song premiered in mid-1995.
Meaning of the Song: He explained he penned it after his older brother Bob’s death from a heart attack in 1993. “I wrote this song, and I didn’t have any idea if anybody would want to hear it, or like it. All I wanted to do was grieve for him and celebrate his life. That’s how I always process grief—sit down with a guitar and make something up. Turns out that if anybody remembers any of my songs, it’ll be this one.”
Accolades: Won the CMA‘s 1996 Song of the Year award; Country Music Hall of Fame-induction (2009); received a BMI Most-Performed Song award in 1997; garnered two Grammys for Best Male Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song; debuted at No. 70 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks and peaked at No. 14; peaked at No. 7 on the equivalent Canadian chart.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
“Tears in Heaven” is a 1992 hit song by Eric Clapton and Will Jennings for the soundtrack to the movie Rush. In addition to being one of Clapton’s most successful songs, it’s also his (and one of the most in music overall) saddest song ever recorded. In August of 1990, Clapton’s manager, fellow musician Stevie Ray Vaughan, and two other friends died in a helicopter accident. In 1993, Clapton’s son, Conor (4-years old) died after falling from the 53rd-floor window of an apartment in New York City. “Tears in Heaven” was nominated for nine Grammys the same year it debuted.
Meaning of the Song: The song was written about the pain and loss Clapton felt following the death of his four-year-old son Conor, on March 20, 1991 (as well as the death several friends in a helicopter accident). Conor fell from a window of the 53rd-floor New York apartment, landing on a four-story building.
Accolades: Reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart; peaked at No. 1 on the American adult contemporary chart, remaining there for three weeks, in 1992; won three Grammys—Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Male Pop Vocal Performance; won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video in 1992; RS/500, No. 362.
“Sweet Child O’Mine” is a 1988 ‘power ballad’ by hard rock band Guns N’ Roses and the third single from their debut 1987 debut album, Appetite for Destruction. Along with Axl’s vocals, its harmony is perfectly married with Steven’s drum part, Izzy’s chords, and Duff McKagan’s bass-line; additionally, bassist Duff McKagan once claimed that the thing about “Sweet Child o’ Mine” was that is was “one of those songs, only three chords. You know that guitar lick Slash does at the beginning? It was kinda like a joke because we thought, ‘What is this song? It’s gonna be nothing, it’ll be filler on the record.” (2002, Hit Parader magazine).
Meaning of the Song: Lead Singer Axl Rose has stated that “Sweet Child” was based on his then-girlfriend, Erin Everly.
Accolades: Topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming Guns N’ Roses’ first and only No. 1 U.S. single; peaked at No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart; made No. 37 on Guitar World‘s list of the “100 Greatest Guitar Solos.”; No. 3 on Blender‘s 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born list; RS/500, No. 198; Q magazine made it No. 6 on its 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks list; one of Rolling Stone’s 40 Greatest Songs that Changed the World; No. 17 on VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s” chart; placed No. 210 on the RIAA Songs of the Century list; has sold over 2,609,000 digital copies in the US as of 2012.
A 1971 song by David Bowie, originally released on the album Hunky Dory in December 1971 and as a single in January 1972. Despite missing the Top 40, “Changes” became one of Bowie’s best-known songs. Bowie had just started using a keyboard to write songs, which opened up new possibilities for him in terms of melody and structure. This fresh approach resulted in “Changes.”This single is cited as David Bowie’s official North American debut, despite the fact that the song “The Man Who Sold the World” was released in North America two years prior.This is the last song Bowie performed live on stage before his retirement from live performances at the end of 2006.
Meaning of the Song: A reflective song about defying one’s detractors and doing his or her own thing, “Changes” also hints at both Bowie’s affinity for artistic reinvention throughout the 1970s and his chameleonic personality, as well as the constant changing of the modern world.
Accolades: Reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart for four weeks; topped the Mainstream and Modern Rock charts for 13 weeks; No. 4 on the UK Singles chart, and No. 1 in Ireland; ranked as the top single of 2002 by Billboard magazine; certified gold by the RIAA in 2005, for sales of over 500,000 copies; racked up four Billboard Awards and four Juno awards; was 2003 Grammy-nominated for Record of the Year; was the No. 1 song on the Billboard’s 2002 Year-End Hot 100 Singles Chart; No. 36 on Billboard’s All Time Top 100.
“Genesis”, the second track (“Mama” being the first) from the 1983 album of the same name, was a group composition by Genesis and lead singer/drummer Phil Collins. With “Second Home by the Sea” on its flip-side, Genesis climbed to number six in early 1984, making it the group’s first U.S. top 10 hit. “Genesis” was an attempt at a simple pop song with a Beatles-esque melody as well as–according to Collins himself–an attempt at a Ringo Starr-ish drum part. Its music video companion portrays the band as homeless men staying warm over a fire while playing cards.
Meaning of the Song: The lyrics to “That’s All” describe a failing relationship, one where the narrator feels that regardless of how hard he tries, his relationship keeps returning to square one, hence “It’s always the same, it’s just a shame, and that’s all.”
Accolades: No. 6 in early 1984; its UK single (which featured “Taking It All Too Hard” on the flipside) peaked at No. 16; went to No. 6 on the Irish Singles chart.
“Billionaire” is the debut single by Gym Class Heroes frontman Travis “Travie” McCoy, featuring guest vocals from Bruno Mars. It’s the lead single from McCoy’s debut studio album Lazarus and was produced by The Smeezingtons (itself consisting of Mars, Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine). Popularly known for the narrator’s wanting to be on the cover of Forbes magazine and “smiling next to Oprah and The Queen”, it was Bruno Mars that conceived “Billionaire” during a trip to London, where he was given £240 ($350) by his record label to spend for 11 days. Mars found that amount insufficient and stated “we were like, ‘Is this the biggest mistake we’ve ever made? We thought we were broke in California; what are we going to do here?’ So we’ve got no money, and I’m walking the streets and came up with, ‘I wanna be a billionaire, so freakin’ bad.’” “Billionaire” employs an almost exact copy of the music from “Santeria” by the band Sublime.
Meaning of the Song: McCoy told MTV News about the song’s meaning: “It’s me talking about what would happen if I would somehow manage to become a billionaire. What would I do with the money?” he explained. “Don’t get it wrong, I’m far from a billionaire. I think I just made it out the ‘thousandaire’ category. So it’s about what I would do with the money and, the same time, it opens up the question, if you were in a position to do something with a decent chunk of money, what would you do?”
Accolades: Has sold 3 million digital downloads as of July 2011, making it Mars’ third three-million seller; RIAA-certified 2x platinum; RIANZ (Recording Industry Association of New Zealand)-certified Platinum.
Perhaps one of the most controversial songs of the 1960s and even 1970s, and even the the subject of an FBI investigation about the supposed but non-existent obscenity of the lyrics, an investigation that ended without prosecution–“Louie Louie” is an American rock ‘n’ roll song written by Richard Berry in 1955 and best known for the 1963 hit version by The Kingsmen. It has become a standard in pop and rock, with hundreds of versions recorded by different artists. The song was originally written and performed in the style of a Jamaican ballad. It is unknown exactly how many versions of “Louie Louie” have been recorded, but it is believed to be over 1,500 (according to LouieLouie.net) surpassing “Yesterday” by The Beatles as most recorded rock song ever.
Meaning of the Song: The original Jamaican ballad tells, in simple verse–chorus form, the first-person story of a Jamaican sailor returning to the island to see his lady love. Kingsmen verion, subject of a failed FBI investigation–the lines Chorus: “Louie, Louie, oh no. Me gotta go. Aye-yi-yi, I said. Louie Louie, oh baby. Me gotta go.” “Fine little girl waits for me. Catch a ship across the sea. Sail that ship about, all alone. Never know if I make it home.were the main lyrics thought to be obscene.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 54; entered the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for December 7, and peaked at number two the following week; it would remain in the top 10 through December and January the Kingsmen’s version spent 16 weeks on the Hot 100did reach number one on the Cashbox pop chart, as well as number one on the Cashbox R&B chart.
“When a Man Loves a Woman” is an R & B/soul song that Percy Sledge recorded in 1966 at Norala Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. The song is credited to Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright, who played bass and keyboards with Sledge. However, the song was in fact written by Percy Sledge himself, but he gave it to Lewis and Wright. Before the recording session, the song had no title or lyrics. When it came time to record the vocals, Sledge improvised the lyrics with minimal pre-planning, using the melody as a guide for rhythm and phrasing. The performance was so convincing that others working on the session assumed Sledge had the lyrics written down.
“When a Man” was later covered by Michael Bolton in 1991, whose version also reached number one on the U.S. pop and adult contemporary singles charts (Bolton also received a Grammy Award for this song), as well as by Barbara Mandrell as a country song. It’s also been covered by greats such as Marvin Gaye, Jerry Butler, Art Garfunkel, Luba and Karen Dalton.
Meaning of the Song: A legendary and timeless love song and a huge hit, the story behind “When a Man”‘s original writing and recording remains a relative mystery.
Accolades: Was No. 54 on Billboard‘s 1992 Year-End chart (Michael Bolton version), as well as a No. 1 U.S. hit for Bolton in 1991; RS/500, No. 54; Sledge’s version was also a top ten hit in the UK, peaking at No. 4 initially and peaking at No. 2 after being featured in a 1987 Levi’s Jeans commercial.
“Faith” was a No. 1 single from 1987 that was written and performed by George Michael (previously of the band Wham!) for his first solo album, Faith; it was also Michael’s second single as a solo artist after “I Want Your Sex.” He’d previously had huge successes with “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “I’m Your Man” while in the pop duo band known as Wham! However, in 1990, Michael debuted the song “Freedom ’90,” where he denounced the image—where he famously sported facial stubble, a biker jacket and torn Levi’s jeans—that he’d created in the music video for “Faith.” In “Freedom ’90,” he’s shown blowing up the jukebox and setting the black leather jacket from the “Faith” video and singing “When you shake your ass, they notice fast, and some mistakes were built to last.”
Meaning of the Song: “Faith” refers to a guy who’s looking for true love and wants to leave his current girlfriend, though she doesn’t want him to leave.
Accolades: Certified-gold in the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands; No. 1 on Canada’s RPM Singles chart, No. 5 on the German equivalent; reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, remaining there for four consecutive weeks, and No. 2 on the UK Singles chart; its album won the Grammy for Album Of The Year.
“Your Song” was written (in association with Bernie Taupin) and performed by Englishman Elton John in 1970 and was John’s first pop ballad hit. Released in the U.K. in 1970 for his self-titled second album, “Your Song” debuted in the U.S. the same year as the B-side to “Take Me to the Pilot”. Although both songs were given air time, disc jockeys overwhelmingly preferred “Your Song”, replacing “Take Me to the Pilot” as the A-side. A demo version was also included on John’s 1990 album, To Be Continued. John Mendelsohn (Rolling Stone) called the song a “pretty McCartney-esque ballad”, and in 2002 John re-recorded the song (which also charted in the U.K.) as a duet with opera singer Alessandro Safina at the Sport Relief charity telethon.
Meaning of the Song: Hinting at romantic thoughts of an innocent, Taupin kicks off with a straightforward love-song lyric: “It’s a little bit funny this feeling inside / I’m not one of those who can easily hide / I don’t have much money but boy if I did / I’d buy a big house where we both could live”, basically setting the tone for the length of the tune.
Accolades: Grammy Hall of Fame-induction (1998); RS/500, No. 136; certified gold and platinum in late 2012 by the RIAA; rose to No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100; peaked at No. 7 on the UK Singles chart.
“Tiny Dancer” is a 1971 song by Elton John, with lyrics by his long-time songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin. The song appears on John’s fourth album, Madman Across the Water. “Tiny Dancer” as a single was initially a non-starter in the US and was never even released as a single in the UK. Eventually, though, it slowly became one of John’s most popular tunes even in the regions that initially failed to embrace it, and the full-length version is now a fixture on North American, UK and Australian adult contemporary and rock radio stations.
Meaning of the Song: “Tiny Dancer”, one of the most enduring products of Bernie Taupin, was inspired by the spirit of the early 1970s in California and the many beautiful ladies he encountered there. And although it’s commonly mistaken as being written for Maxine Feibelman (Taupin’s first wife), it was simply meant as a dedication to her on John’s Madman Across the Wateralbum.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 397; RIAA-certified gold in 2005 and platinum in 2011; reached No. 41 on the U.S. Billboard pop chart; fared better in Canada, peaking at No. 19; also climbed to No. 13 in Australia.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
181. Cryin’ (Aerosmith)
“Cryin’”– written by Aerosmith lead Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and Taylor Rhodes–is a 1993 power ballad by American rock band Aerosmith; it debuted as a single for the album Get a Grip. The song begins with a bluesy guitar-oriented intro. It then becomes stripped down during the first verse, before going into a heavier arrangement for the first chorus. The song picks up in even more steam during the second verse before mellowing out during the third verse. A sampling of the famous chord progression from Pachelbel’s Canon, its chorus repeats several times throughout the song.
The song also features a music video with Alicia Silverstone, Stephen Dorff and Josh Holloway. It features the first appearance of Alicia Silverstone in Aerosmith’s videos, plus the band’s debut performance at the Central Congregational Church in Fall River, Massachusetts.
Meaning of the Song: This song is about a a roller coaster relationship that seemed great at first but then turned a lot worse. It can also be seen as a metaphor for Steven Tyler’s drug use.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 12 on Billboard‘s Hot 100, No. 1 on its Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart; No. 60 on Billboard‘s 1993 Year-End chart; reached No. 17 in the U.K.; RIAA-certified gold.
The first U.S. single (and only Top 10 hit in the U.S.) by rock band Led Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love” is featured as the opening track on Zeppelin’s second album, Led Zeppelin II, and was initially released in the U.S. and Japan as a single. The U.S. debut of “Whole Lotta Love” became the band’s first (and only) hit single there and was certified gold in April of 1970 due to selling over a million records.
Like other Led Zeppelin songs, no single was released in the U.K., but they were released in Germany (where it reached No.1), the Netherlands (No. 4), Belgium and France. A famous show closer at Led Zeppelin concerts, since mid-1970 “Whole Lotta Love” has been performed as a medley of blues and R&B interpolations, notably from classics by the likes of Eddie Cochran and Elvis Presley.
Meaning of the Song: While the band/vocalist Robert Plant was accused of ripping off blues-singer Willie Dixon’s lyrics from “You Need Love” (they eventually settled), the original meaning “Whole Lotta Love” remains dubious.
Accolades: RR/HoF-induction; 2007 Grammy Hall of Fame-induction; entered the U.S. Hot 100 chart in November of 1969, remaining there for 15 weeks and peaking at No. 4; RS/500, No. 75; No. 3 on Qmagazine’s 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks list; named third-greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1.
Debuting in 1997 by British rock band The Verve as the lead track from the album Urban Hymns, Richard Ashcroft (writer) based “Bitter Sweet Symphony” on music from Andrew Loog Oldham’s interpretation of the Rolling Stones song entitled “The Last Time”. “Bitter sweet” is generally regarded as The Verve’s signature song and one of the defining tracks of the ‘Britpop era’. While its popularity gained steam gradually in the U.S. throughout late 1997 and early 1998, it finally peaked No. 12 on Billboard‘s coveted Hot 100 chart, and made it all of the way to No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart.
Meaning of the Song: Considered a lyrical masterpiece by many authorities, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” arguably means that life resembles a symphony, but a bittersweet one where people have rules, laws, societal norms, etc. imposed on it and that they’re, bitter sweetly, generally only as successful as the amount of money they make. In contrast, it may also simply convey ‘carpe diem’, not allowing material things–sex, money, etc.–to define one’s life ambitions.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100; nominated for Best British Single at the 1998 Brit Awards, and for Video of the Year, Best Group Video, and Best Alternative Video at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards; Grammy-nominated for Best Rock Song (1999); RS/500, No. 392; No. 18 on NMEmagazine’s list of the “50 Greatest Indie Anthems Ever”; placed in the the Australian Triple J Hottest 100 of All Time compilation.
“Hey Ya!” is a 2003 rock-hip hop song written and produced by André 3000 for his album The Love Below, itself a component of OutKast’s double album, Speakerboxxx (Big Boi)/The Love Below (Andre 3000). Along with “The Way You Move” (recorded by OutKast’s Big Boi), the very upbeat “Hey Ya!” became a massive commercial success, topping several U.S. charts and others from around the world and garnering nearly universal praise by music critics. Further, Stylus magazine identified it as one of the best songs in OutKast’s history, beat only by OutKast’s own “B.O.B.” An equally popular, Beatles-inspired music video to “Hey Ya!” was also produced, which featured André 3000 portraying eight different people in a variety show-type sequence. Fun fact: The s breakdown to “Hey Ya!” coined and popularized the phrase “shake it like a Polaroid picture”, an erroneous “technique” that Polaroid camera users formerly used to speed up film development.
Meaning of the Song: “Hey Ya!”, roughly interpreted, is about a couple that stays in a relationship, even though they realize they’ll probably, inevitably break up.
Accolades: Won the Grammy for Best Urban/Alternative Performance; reached the top five of most charts it entered, topping the Billboard Hot 100 and the ARIA Singles chart, among others; named the 20th-most successful song of the 2000s decade on Billboard’s Hot 100 Songs of the Decade; No. 15 on Blender‘s 2005 “The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born” list; No. 2 on Pitchfork Media‘s The Top 100 Singles of 2000-2004 feature (2005); NME placed it at No. 3 on its list “150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years”; topped the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks, its digital sales topping the Billboard Hot Digital Tracks for 19 weeks; topped the Top 40 Mainstream and Top 40 Tracks.
Country singer/songwriter Hank Williams is usually best known for his 1952 song, “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” Although it wasn’t even released until 1953, just after Williams’ death, it’s often considered not only one of his greatest songs, but one of the all-time greats in country music history. It was released the following year, shortly after he died, by MGM Records. Several performers have recorded the song since Williams released it, notably: Patsy Cline, Nat King Cole, Gene Vincent, Ray Charles, D Shannon, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Van Morrison.
Meaning of the Song: A “slow blues” ballad, the lyrics to “Your Cheatin’ Heart” try to persuade an unfaithful lover of the guilt that she’ll feel for being unfaithful to the singer. Williams allegedly wrote the song when he thought about his first wife, Audrey Williams, while driving around with his second, Billie Jean Jones.
Accolades: RS/500, No. 213; occupied the No. 1 slot on the US country music chart for six weeks; the biggest hit version of “Cheatin” was by Joni James, which rose to No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart in 1953.
Is a 2010 hip hop song–written and produced by DJ Clue, Ryan Leslie, and Fabulous–by American rapper Fabolous, released as the first and only single from his 2010 extended play There Is No Competition 2: The Grieving Music EP album. Recorded at the Tainted Blue Studio in New York City, “You Be Killin ‘Em” was also remixed as “Look at Her (Killin ‘Em Pt. 2)” (Rico Beats Records) and features Fabolous, Leslie and new lyrics from singer Ne-Yo.The latter is the fourteenth and last track of Fabolous’s 2011 album The S.O.U.L. Tape. The song also features an Aristotle (By Any Means LLC)-directed music video companion, which features appearances by Amber Rose and Ryan Leslie himself.
Meaning of the Song: Although open to interpretation, “You Be Killin ‘Em” seems to imply a sexy woman that all the guys want her, but can’t have her; that, or she breaks guys’ hearts.
Accolades: No. 8 on US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard); No. 6 on Billboard‘s Rap Songs chart, and No. 63 on the Hot 100.
“Are You That Somebody?” is a Grammy-nominated single performed by the late American singer Aaliyah at only 19 years old, and was recorded for the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack. The song was written and composed by Static Major, who also sang backing vocals, and Timbaland, who, in addition to writing the song, produced and performed a guest rap for it. The song was sent to U.S. Pop radio stations on September 29, 1998 (see 1998 in music). The song samples the sound of a baby cooing from Perrey and Kingsley’s 1966 hit “Countdown at 6” and D. Train’s 1982 dance classic “You’re the One for Me”.
In its album guide, Rolling Stone commented that the song “remains one of ’90s’ R&B’s most astounding moments.”
Meaning of the Song: The lyrics alone to “Somebody” are pretty standard ‘love song’ fare.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart, at No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart; No. 5 on The Village Voice‘s 1998 Pazz & Jop critics’ poll; ranked No. 18 on Spin magazine’s Top 20 Singles of the 90’s; No. 387 on Blender magazine’s The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born compilation; Grammy-nominated for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance; No. 8 on Pitchfork Media‘s Top 200 Tracks of the 90s chart.
“Pony” is the debut single of American R&B singer Ginuwine (Elgin Baylor Lumpkin), released as a single from his first LP, Ginuwine…The Bachelor, in 1996. The song was written by Ginuwine with Swing Mob associates Static Major and Timbaland, who produced the recording. Timbaland’s production was unique among R&B releases of the day: “Pony”‘s instrumentation features a start-stop rhythm pattern similar to drum and bass music, a bassline and melody formed by vocoded vocal samples, and a cartoon slide whistle. Along with his concurrent work for Aaliyah’s One in a Million LP, “Pony” and Ginuwine…the Bachelor marked the emergence of Timbaland as a successful R&B producer. The beat was also used for a remix of Jodeci’s song “Freek ‘N You”.
Meaning of the Song: The song’s lyrics describe a blatantly sexual come-on, hence “If you’re horny, let’s do it / Ride it; my pony.”
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks for two weeks, starting November 16 of 1996 and ending November 30, 1996; reached No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100 on November 23, 1996.
“Losing My Religion” is a hit 1991 song by the American alternative rock band, R.E.M. Released as the first single from the album Out of Time, it was an unlikely hit for the group, receiving heavy radio airplay as well as on MTV due to its popular music video counterpart. “Losing” subsequently became R.E.M.’s highest-charting hit in the United States, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for several Grammy Awards. It (and its music video) won the two Grammys for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Short Form Music Video.
Meaning of the Song: “Losing my religion” is a southern U.S. expression that means losing one’s temper or being “at the end of one’s rope.” According to lead singer Michael Stipe (via the The New York Times), “Losing” was about romantic expression, later telling Q magazine that “Losing My Religion” describes “someone who pines for someone else. It’s unrequited love, what have you.” Stipe also compared the song’s theme to The Police’s 1983 song, “Every Breath You Take”.
Accolades: Became R.E.M.’s highest-charting hit in the United States, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100; nominated for several Grammys, winning two for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Short Form Music Video.
Written and produced by Justin Timberlake, Nate “Danja” Hills, and Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley for Timberlake’s second studio album, FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006), “What Goes Around” has been thought by many to be a “sequel” to his 2002 song, “Cry Me a River”. Nonetheless, it marked the singer’s third consecutive No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and made the top ten in countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, and Australia. The song was later certified two-times platinum in Australia, platinum in the United States and gold in New Zealand. A 2007 music video counterpart—directed by Samuel Bayer and featuring actress Scarlett Johansson playing Timberlake’s love interest—was also released to huge acclaim.
Meaning of the Song: What Goes Around…/…Comes Around” is about betrayal and forgiveness. Although Justin claimed that the song was written based on an emotional experience his friend went through, the public and many musical authorities interpreted its lyrics, also claimed to be a sequel to “Cry Me A River”, as pertaining to Timberlake’s relationship with his former girlfriend, pop star Britney Spears.
Accolades: Became Timberlake’s third No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100; No. 24 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Best Songs of 2007; twice Grammy-nominated, winning Best Male Pop Vocal Performance; charted on Hot 100 for 25 weeks; certified platinum by the RIAA; became the first male artist since Usher in 2004 to have three or more consecutive number-one hits from one album; its music video received the Best Direction award at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards and was also nominated for Video of the Year.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
191. The Wanderer (Dion)
“The Wanderer” is a 12-bar blues-base verse/eight-bar bridge song by Ernie Maresca (who previously collaborated on Dion’s former hit song, “Runaround Sue”) that was debuted by Dion. Initially intended for another group to record (Nino and the Ebbtides), “Wanderer” was passed on to Dion as the flip-side to his single, “The Majestic.” DJs, however, overwhelmingly preferred “Wanderer”, which was accordingly pressed into the single’s A-side; it entered the US charts in late 1961 and peaked at No. 2 in early 1962.
Meaning of the Song: tells the story of a travelling man and his many loves. Dion said of “The Wanderer”: At its roots, it’s more than meets the eye. “The Wanderer” is black music filtered through an Italian neighborhood that comes out with an attitude. It’s my perception of a lot of songs like “I’m A Man” by Bo Diddley or “Hoochie Coochie Man” by Muddy Waters. But you know, “The Wanderer” is really a sad song. A lot of guys don’t understand that. Bruce Springsteen was the only guy who accurately expressed what that song was about. It’s “I roam from town to town and go through life without a care, I’m as happy as a clown with my two fists of iron, but I’m going nowhere.” In the fifties, you didn’t get that dark. It sounds like a lot of fun but it’s about going nowhere.
Accolades: Entered the US charts in late 1961 and rose to No. 2 in early 1962; peaked at No. 10 in the UK and at No. 1 in Australia; RS/500, No. 239.
“How You Remind Me” is a 2001 song released by Canadian rock band Nickelback as the lead single from the album Silver Side Up. Considered by many as Nickelback’s signature song, a “Gold Mix” was made for latter editions of “How You Remind Me”, but featured less guitar in the chorus. This single would be the last rock single to be No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 until 2008, when alternative rock group Coldplay released “Viva la Vida”.
Meaning of the Song: Lead vocalist and guitarist Chad Kroeger wrote the song about his old girlfriend Jodi, with whom he had a dysfunctional relationship. He refers to this song as the song that put Nickelback on the map as referred to their concert in Sturgis.
Accolades: No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100; named the most-played song on U.S. radio of the 2000’s decade by Nielsen Soundscan, with over 1.2 million plays on U.S. airwaves from 2001 to the end of 2009; named No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Songs of the Decade, 75th on the equivalent UK chart; nominated for the Kerrang! Award for Best Single.
Initially a song written by Smokey Robinson for The Miracles as the B side to “Happy Landing”, “Hold on Me” beat out its A-side by a huge margin–causing “Dee-Jays” to flip it—and became a Top 10 hit in America. Considered one of Robinson’s most covered and most defining tunes, Robinson wrote “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” in New York in 1962 on a business trip for Motown; allegedly, he had heard Sam Cooke’s then-charting “Bring It On Home to Me” and, inspired by it, wrote his own song. Thus, “Hold on Me” was recorded at Motown’s famed Studio A with Robinson on lead vocals and the Miracles’ Bobby Rogers on co-lead. “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” was later covered by the Beatles and placed on their second album, With The Beatles.
Meaning of the Song: Miracles vocalist Smokey Robinson wrote this song for his wife Claudette after hearing Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” on the radio. Claudette was a singer for The Miracles.
Accolades: Selected as one of the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll; made Grammy Hall of Fame-induction in 1998; reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 Pop chart, peaking at No. 8; was a No. 1 hit on the Billboard R&B singles chart during the winter of 1962-63; marked The Miracles’ second single after “Shop Around” to gross over one million copies sold.
“(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!” (frequently shortened to “Fight for Your Right”) is a song by the American rap group the Beastie Boys and is one of their best-known songs. Written by vocalist/bassist Adam Yauch and friend Tom “Tommy Triphammer” Cushman (who appears in the video) and released as the fourth single released from their 1986 debut album, Licensed to Ill, the song was also included on the hits album, The Sounds of Science, in 1999 and Solid Gold Hits in 2005.
Meaning of the Song: “Fight For Your Right” was intended as a parody of party and “attitude” songs, like “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” (Brownsville Station, 1973). However, the irony was lost on most listeners.In the liner notes to the Beastie Boys anthology, Adam “MCA” Yauch explains that the song began as a “goof” on dumb rock songs. They cut the vocals as a joke, then went on tour. Producer Rick Rubin added the loud drums and guitar track. Continuing with the joke, the Beasties made a video where they played along with the drunken party boy image that this song had created. Soon the Beasties were superstars, thanks to their new fanbase of frat boys. According to MCA, they played into their new roles until they realized that they had become their own joke.
Accolades: Peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the week of 7 March 1986; No. 7 on the RPMSingles chart; RR/HoF-induction.
Los Del Rio (Antonio Romeo Monge and Rafael Ruiz), a Spanish flamenco-pop duo, first produced and recorded “Macarena” in Spain in 1993. In mid-1996, the song became a worldwide hit when the Bayside Boys recorded an English-lyrics remix of the song thanks to Johnny “Jammin” Caride. Caride, of Power 96 in Miami, initially learned about the “Macarena” when clubgoers at a club where he was deejaying requested the song. He subsequently brought the “Macarena” to his bosses at Power 96 who, in turn, asked him to make an English version of the song. During the height of its popularity, the song was frequently played at professional athletic games, conventions, rallies and other venues. Fun fact: The chorus to “Macarena” translates as “Give your body joy, Macarena, that your body is to give joy and good things.”
Meaning of the Song: “La Macarena” is one of 8 sections (AKA “quarters”) of Seville, Spain; hence is the origin of the name. Los Del Rio was inspired to record the song while in Venezuela when they spotted a beautiful flamenco dancer named Diana Patricia. And when the song became a hit, that dancer became known as “Macarena” in Venezuela. Further, its meaning changes depending on the version: The original Macarena becomes angry her boyfriend, Vitorino, because he has joined the army. She avenges him by leaving town and flirting with other men. The meaning behind the Bayside Boys’ version is quite similar, except with Macarena being given a first person voice in the lyrics.
Accolades: Ranked No. 5 on Billboard’s All Time Top 100 and No. 1 on its All Time Latin Songs; VH1‘s No. 1 Greatest One-Hit Wonder of all Time (2002); spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (Bayside Boys Remix); remained in the Hot 100 chart for 60 weeks – the longest reign among No. 1 songs (Bayside Boys Remix) until Adele’s 2010 No. 1 single “Rolling in the Deep”; VH1‘s No. 1 on its 40 Awesomely Bad No. 1 Songs list.
“Every Breath You Take”, written by The Police’s lead singer Sting and guitarist Andy Summers, is a smash 1983 song by The Police for the album Synchronicity. The single was one of the biggest hits of 1983, topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for eight weeks, garnering Sting a Grammy for “Song of the Year” and The Police one for “Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal” in 1984 This song is considered to be The Police’s signature song, and in 2010 was estimated to generate between a quarter and a third of Sting’s music publishing income. Sting later said he was disconcerted by how many people think the song is more positive than it is. He insists it’s about the obsession with a lost lover, the jealousy and surveillance that follows.
Meaning of the Song: Although “Every Breath” is commonly (mistakenly) thought a positive-sounding song, Sting once told BBC Radio 2 that “I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle, little love song.”
Accolades: RS/500, No. 84; topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for eight weeks and the UK Singles Chart for four weeks. It also topped the Billboard Top Tracks chart for nine weeks. Sting won “Song of the Year” and The Police won “Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal” at the Grammy Awards of 1984 for “Every Breath You Take”
“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” is a rock song written and recorded in 1975 by Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker of Arrows under RAK Records, with lead vocals by Merrill and produced by Mickie Most. And even though it was first released as a B-side, but was soon re-recorded and flipped to A-side status on a subsequent pressing of the record. Although not a chart hit in its original version as a result of nonexistent promotion by the band’s label, the song became massively successful with Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ 1981 cover. She first recorded the song in 1979 with two of the Sex Pistols: Steve Jones and Paul Cook. This first version was not released until 1993 in Flashback. In 1981, Jett re-recorded the song, this time with her band, The Blackhearts. This recording became a U.S. Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single for seven weeks, effectively launching Jett’s solo career.
Meaning of the Song: In an interview with the website Songfacts, leader singer Alan Merrill said he wrote the song as “a knee-jerk response to The Rolling Stones’ ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)’.”
Accolades: Became a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single for seven weeks; certified platinum by the RIAA for over one-million units sold; helped propel Jett’s I Love Rock ‘n Roll album to No. 2 on the Billboard 200; ranked at No. 89 On Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs list.
“Call Me” is a 1980 song by the American New Wave band Blondie. Composed by European Disco producer Giorgio Moroder and lead Blondie singer Debbie Harry, it was initially offered to Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks; she declined, giving Harry the now-legendary hit. The song, featured as the theme song to the film American Gigolo, topped the singles charts in both the US (where it became the band’s biggest selling single and second No. 1 hit) and the U.K., the latter marking Blondie’s fourth No. 1 there. In the U.S., it was released by three labels: The 7″ and 12″ on Blondie’s label Chrysalis, the longest version (8:06) on the soundtrack album (Polydor Records), and a Spanish language 12″ version under Salsoul.
Meaning of the Song: “Call Me” tells the story of the prostitute in the film American Gigolo in the scene where the lead character is “working.”
Accolades: Peaked at No. 1 for six consecutive weeks in the U.S.; certified gold for one-million copies sold; spent four weeks at No. 2 on the U.S. dance chart; No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s 1980 Year-End chart; RS/500, No. 283; Grammy-nominated for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals; No. 44 on Billboard‘s All Time Top 100 compilation.
“London Calling” is a 1979 song by the British punk rock band The Clash. Released as the only single from the double album London Calling and regarded by many as the band’s finest-ever, most defining song, its apocalyptic, rebellious rant features the band’s usual combo of vocals, reggae basslines, and punk electric guitar. The song became The Clash’s highest-charting single until “Should I Stay or Should I Go” rose to No. 1 some 10 years later. And despite not breaking the charts in the U.S.–likely due to the group’s “Train in Vain” single (No. 23 on the U.S. pop charts)–it marked the band’s first major appearance on the world stage, charting within the top 40 in Australia and elsewhere.
Meaning of the Song: “London Clash” refers to the old BBC World Service’s “station identification”, which began with “This is London calling”, and was used frequently during World War II in broadcasts to occupied countries. Its lyrics describe lead singer and co-writer Joe Strummer’s worries about world events, with particular references to the Three Mile Island “nuclear error” incident that transpired earlier that year and police brutality. According to Strummer, “We felt that we were struggling about to slip down a slope or something, grasping with our fingernails. And there was no one there to help us.”
Accolades: RS/500, No. 15 (the highest position of the band and of any punk rock song); peaked at No. 11 in the U.K. and spent a total of fifteen non-consecutive weeks on its primary Singles chart; ranked No. 42 on VH1‘s “100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s”; RR/HoF-induction; generally regarded as The Clash’s finest- and most defining-song.
A top-selling disco anthem that was first performed by Gloria Gaynor in 1978 and garnered massive popularity, “I Will Surive” has–for over three decades–served as an anthem and symbol of pride for both the female and LGBT populations. It debuted as the B-side to a cover version of the Righteous Brothers song “Substitute”, but pounded the latter song into the ground in terms of popularity when disc jockeys played it virtually nonstop. Eventually it was pressed onto the record’s A-side and easily became one of the most enduring, most famous disco songs of all time.
Meaning of the Song: The song’s lyrics describe the narrator’s discovery of personal strength following an initially devastating breakup, delivered with increasing confidence and backed by a stirring instrumental accompaniment.
Accolades: Marked Gaynor’s biggest-ever hit; No. 1on the Billboard Hot 100 and on the UK Singles Chart; won a 1980 Grammy Award for Best Disco Recording (the only year that Grammy category existed); RS/500, No. 492; No. 97 on Billboard magazine’s “All-Time Hot 100”; ranked No. 2 in VH1’s 2000 list of the 100 greatest dance songs; RIAA-certified double platinum.