Breaking Down Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time

Earlier this week Rolling Stone magazine released their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time. Lists of the Greatest ‘anything’ are controversial to begin with and that’s exactly the point. They inspire intense debate and it’s impossible to create a list that everyone, especially music fans are going to agree on. This list is no different, and fans have been pointing out the absence or low ranking of their favorite artists and songs (What? No songs by Pearl Jam or Bon Jovi??).

The only thing that seems to piss more people off (and me) is being forced to click through 500 pages to see all the songs on the list. Looks like they chose page views over user experience.

Which decade had the most songs on the list?

The first thing that jumped out at me was the small number of songs from the 1990s and 2000s. In fact, the writers were only able to come up with 47 worthy songs for the two most recent decades. The most popular decade was the 1960’s with 196 songs or 39.2% of the list. Second most popular decade on the list were the 1970s with 130 songs or 26%. Rolling Stone was first published in 1967 and the artists from that period have always been featured prominently in the magazine over the years. The 10 years from 1964-1973 make up over 45% of the songs on the list.

Was 1964-1973 the greatest 10 years in music?

Are these 10 years truly the greatest period in rock and roll music? The Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, The Who and Jimi Hendrix along with dozens of other artists released classic songs during that period. I was ready to criticize the writers for focusing so much on that period, but when I comparing songs from the 1980s, 90s and 00s, I started thinking maybe they were right. There simply seems to be a lack of songs now that are worthy of being called classics. Maybe in 20 years we’ll look back and we’ll be able to separate the classics from the noise.

Which year contributed the most songs?

1965 proved to be the year with the most songs on the list at 34. That’s more songs on the list from that one year than the entire decade of each of the 1990s or 2000s. 1965 featured such great songs as Ticket to Ride by The Beatles, My Girl by the Temptations, Gloria by Them and In the Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett.

No songs from the year’s 1998 and 2005 made the list and only one song from 1985, 1990 and 1996 were featured.

Top Years

Which artist has the most songs on the list?

It’s no surprise that The Beatles have the most songs on the list with 23, second is the Rolling Stones with 14, third is Bob Dylan with 13 songs. Other artists with a significant number of songs on the list are The Who, U2, James Brown, Little Richard, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix.

Top Artists

What words are mentioned most in the titles?

As a fun exercise I wanted to see which words were used the most in the 500 songs. It was not a huge surprise to see that Love was the most often mentioned word in song titles, from I Can’t Help Falling in Love to I Want to Know What Love Is. The Beatles contributed three songs above love; She Loves You, Can’t Buy Me Love and All You Need is Love. Man was the second most used word, examples are Street Fighting Man, Waiting for the Man, Mr Tambourine Man and When a Man Loves a Woman.

Top Words

Music as a Shared Experience

One reason is that I grew up during the time and most of these songs I remember from hearing them on the radio as a kid. The music I remember listening to was Top 40 radio. You would think nothing of hearing songs by Led Zeppelin, Al Green, the Eagles and Stevie Wonder one right after another.

Whether it was the splintering of radio formats, listeners retreating behind the headphones of their Walkmen’s, Discmen’s and now iPhones, or the near-infinite choice of music available via the internet, finding music that everyone has heard of seems to be getting more difficult.

What are some of your favorite songs of all-time?

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