50. ‘Gimme Shelter’ — The Rolling Stones
For a song that Keith Richards wrote in 20 minutes, “Gimme Shelter” made a big impression. The opening track to the 1969 Rolling Stones album “Let It Bleed,” it was never released as a single but has been included in many compilation records and has been a staple of the band’s live gigs. During their 50th anniversary tour in 2012, the Rolling Stones sang this song with Lady Gaga, Mary J. Blige and Florence Welch.
49. ‘One’ — U2
The third track on U2’s 1991 album “Achtung Baby,” “One” was actually a spin-off from their second single “Mysterious Ways.” According to Rolling Stone, the Edge suggested two ideas for the bridge and Bono liked one of them so much, he wrote a whole new set of lyrics. “One” may be a wedding favorite, but that wasn’t what the band had in mind.
“People have told me they play it at their wedding,” the Edge said. “And I think, ‘Have you listened to the lyrics? It’s not that kind of a song.'”
48. ‘No Woman, No Cry’ — Bob Marley
The best-known version of “No Woman, No Cry” isn’t the original version (on the 1974 studio album “Natty Dread”); it’s the version on the following year’s “Live!” — recorded at the Lyceum Theatre in London on July 17, 1975, as part of Marley’s Natty Dread Tour.
47. ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ — The Righteous Brothers
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was first recorded by The Righteous Brothers in 1964 and reached the top of the charts in both the U.S. and the U.K. It was also the fifth-bestselling song in the U.S. in 1965. The song has been covered by a number of other artists, including Dionne Warwick and Hall and Oates, but no version has the impact of Bill Medley’s deep vocal, without instruments, in the intro: “You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips.”
46. ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ — The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones are no strangers to controversy when it comes to their music, and their 1968 release “Sympathy for the Devil,” from the album “Beggars Banquet,” was no different. The song caused a stir among some religious groups, who feared that the Stones were devil-worshippers. However, in a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, Mick Jagger said the song was an idea he got from French writing.
“I just took a couple of lines and expanded on it,” he said. “I wrote it as sort of like a Bob Dylan song.”
45. ‘I Walk The Line’ — Johnny Cash
While he was stationed in Germany with the Air Force, Johnny Cash started working on “I Walk the Line.” It was many years later, in 1956, when he decided to record it, but realized that the original tape was damaged. However, this ended up being a bonus; he embraced the unique sound and added even more interest by wrapping a piece of wax paper around the strings of his guitar. And it gave him his first No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
“It was different than anything else you had ever heard,” Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone. “A voice from the middle of the Earth.”
44. ‘River Deep – Mountain High’ — Ike and Tina Turner
Producer Phil Spector considers Ike and Tina Turner’s 1966 release of “River Deep – Mountain High” to be his best work, and plenty of people agree. It ranks at No. 33 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. For Tina Turner, putting the song together was a memorable experience — Spector made her sing it over and over for several hours until he got the “perfect” vocal.
“I must have sung that 500,000 times,” Turner told Rolling Stone. “I was drenched with sweat. I had to take my shirt off and stand there in my bra to sing.”
43. ‘Help!’ — The Beatles
In a 1980 interview with Playboy, John Lennon said the song “Help!” — released as a single in July 1965, at the height of Beatlemania — had hidden depths that even he wasn’t aware of when he wrote it.
“Most people think it’s just a fast rock ‘n’ roll song,” he said. “Subconsciously, I was crying out for help. I didn’t realize it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie.” He later told Rolling Stone he didn’t like the recording: “We did it too fast, to try and be commercial.”
42. ‘People Get Ready’ — The Impressions
“People Get Ready” is The Impressions’ best-known hit. Written by Curtis Mayfield, it reached No. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart, became an unofficial anthem for the Civil Rights Movement and was named as one of the top 10 best songs of all time by Mojo Magazine.
Mayfield himself said of the song, “That was taken from my church or from the upbringing of messages from the church. Like there’s no hiding place and get on board, and images of that sort. I must have been in a very deep mood of that type of religious inspiration when I wrote that song.”
41. ‘In My Life’ — The Beatles
If it had been up to John Lennon, “In My Life,” the Beatles’ 1965 single from the album “Rubber Soul,” would get a place on all the “best of” lists — at least from the band’s back catalog. Lennon described it as “my first real, major piece of work,” adding that “up until then it had all been glib and throwaway.”
According to Lennon’s friend and biographer Peter Shotton, the lines “Some [friends] are dead and some are living/In my life I’ve loved them all” referred to Stuart Sutcliffe (who died in 1962) and to Shotton himself.
40. ‘Layla’ — Derek And The Dominos
Eric Clapton was so moved by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi’s 12th-century book, “The Story of Layla and Majnun” that he wrote “Layla,” which is often hailed as one of the best rock songs of all time. Clapton drew additional inspiration from his own life and his then-unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend and fellow musician George Harrison. Ultimately, it all worked out — Clapton and Boyd eventually got together and were married for almost 10 years.
“It was the heaviest thing going on at the time,” Clapton told Rolling Stone in 1974. “That’s what I wanted to write about most of all.”
39. ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay’ — Otis Redding
Otis Redding wrote the lyrics to what’s possibly his best-known song while he was literally sitting on the dock of the bay — or at least, sitting on a rented houseboat in Sausalito, California, after the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer of 1967. (The sound of crashing waves on the backing track are all real.) Redding finished writing and recording the song with guitarist Steve Cropper a few months later in Memphis, only days before Redding was killed when his private plane crashed into Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin.
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was the first posthumous single to reach No. 1 in the U.S., and it reached No. 3 in the U.K.
38. ‘Let It Be’ — The Beatles
Often, the most tumultuous times spawn great creativity, and this was certainly true for Paul McCartney in 1968. The Beatles were falling apart, but McCartney found some comfort in a dream in which his late mother, Mary, gave him some words of advice. This inspired the opening lines of “Let it Be”: “When I find myself in times of trouble/Mother Mary comes to me.”
“Let it Be” was the title track of what would be The Beatles’ last studio album, released in March 1970, and it was the last single released by the band before their split was announced to the press.
37. ‘The Times They Are A-Changin” — Bob Dylan
Written by Bob Dylan as the title track of his 1964 album, “The Times They Are a-Changin” became an anthem for change. When it was released in the U.K. in 1965, it reached No. 9 on the singles chart; in the U.S., it failed to chart at all. Nonetheless, it remains one of Dylan’s most well-known and influential songs, and has been covered by a slew of artists, including Nina Simone, Simon & Garfunkel, the Beach Boys and Bruce Springsteen.
Dylan’s relationship with this particular song appears to be more complicated. It was a setlist regular from 1965 through 2009, when he dropped it.