Rolling Stone is being problematic again.
The magazine released an updated list of their 500 greatest songs of all time. They last issued this list in 2004, so they were aiming to make it more updated and inclusive.
“For the first time in 17 years, we’ve completely remade our list of the best songs ever,” the article reads. “More than 250 artists, writers and industry figures helped us choose a brand-new list full of historic favorites, world-changing anthems and new classics.”
It wasn’t that special. In fact, it was pretty boring. There was very little that made me say, “Oh, that’s really cool. Nice choice.”
I think I’ve reached that stage where I feel a little jaded about everything. Maybe one day I’ll once more find that ardent need I previously had to rank the 500 best songs of all time — today is not that day. But, since I always do, I read the list. It’s hard to break bad habits.
There were definitely some nice inclusions. For me, at least. Taylor Swift now has two songs on there, the self-mocking, electropop ”Blank Space” at 357 and rock ballad “All Too Well” at 69.
Swift needed to be there. You can’t explain current music history without her. She has seven number one hits on the Billboard charts and she’s one of four artists alongside Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and Frank Sinatra to win three Grammy Album of the Years. Good on them for including songs that portray her musical versatility.
The usual suspects made the list. The Beatles had the most songs on the list with 12. “Strawberry Fields Forever” cracked the top ten.
While I was writing this in the newsroom, we joked that when you ask a room what the best Beatles song is, everyone –– in unison –– will say “Strawberry Fields Forever.” We recognize it’s a great song, but with a repertoire like The Beatles have, it’s hard to pick a single best song. There probably isn’t one, and I do love “Strawberry Fields Forever,” but something doesn’t feel right with that being the representative for The Beatles.
A lot of us later agreed that we loved “Hey Jude” the most, but popular doesn’t necessarily mean better.
There were some real surprises on the list. Songs like “Royals” by Lorde and “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads were not only on the list, but in the top 30. Both feel a little emo kid-esque, which can often be pretentious and depressing music, but both acts nail their lyrical goals and appeal to a wide audience. That’s why they’re on the list –– high up, too –– and I’m glad that was recognized by a breadth of people.
Then there was the “meh” top 20.
“Crazy in Love” is really catchy and, yeah, good, but it just sounds like another well-written pop song. Not bad by any means, but not special and definitely not the sixteenth best song of all time. Not only that, but both Beyoncé and Jay-Z have better songs.
“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac is a lovely song, but just like Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Fleetwood Mac has more interesting songs. It’s a trendy choice, too. This past year, it returned to the Billboard charts because of a TikTok video trend. I can’t help but think that’s partially why it’s on here. However, trendy doesn’t translate to one of the greatest songs of all time.
While I was writing this, I came to the very sudden conclusion that “Heroes” by David Bowie was the greatest song ever. I saw it on the list –– at 23 –– and my gut instinct was, “Wait, no, I think that’s the best song of all time. It’s not even my personal favorite song, but I love it, and I think a lot of people love it, and isn’t that what this is about?”
I wonder if the people making this list had that instinct at all. That feeling when you don’t even have to think about it. I felt like they put too much thought into being relevant and trendy, and those aren’t the songs that mean the most to us at the end of the day.