56 Best Songs Of All Time (Iconic & Famous Songs)

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Written By Will Fenton

Founder of MidderMusic. From numerous bands to stints working in music shops, read more about me on the 'Here's My Story' page!

The greatest songs in history are ground-breaking, iconic, and chart-topping. But as anyone would expect, some are quite controversial.

Here’s our hand-picked list of the best songs of all time that will have you singing your heart out.

We go back in history to explore some of the best songs ever from the 90s, 80s, 70s, and even 50s before switching to contemporary iconic songs from the industry’s biggest names, like Kendrick Lamar.

So, let’s tune in to these iconic songs!

Table of Contents

1. “Hey Jude” – The Beatles

“Hey Jude” is an inspiring song with a clear message about embracing happiness.

With the simple and kind lyrics, the pop-rock song encourages the addressee, a young boy, to keep going no matter what life throws at him.

The impressive 8-minute track is worth listening to, with comforting lyrics that anyone can relate to.  

2. “Despacito” – Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee

Oh! The iconic hit song by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee.

Everybody jammed to the “Despacito” tune after its release in 2017, and it’s probably the most popular song ever amongst Gen Z.

It’s a romantic song with a Latin pop-reggaeton style and deep, sensual lyrics.

Despacito instantly became a huge hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 16 consecutive weeks. It would go on to become the most watched ever music video on YouTube with 7.9 billion views.

Besides becoming a commercial success, the song also popularized the Spanish language in the mainstream market. It is worth the 4 minutes you will spend on YouTube.

3. “Iron Man” – Black Sabbath

No! It’s not the movie. “Iron Man” is a 1970 heavy metal song released by Black Sabbath as part of the band’s second album, ‘Paranoid.’

The narration is about a man who’s traveled long enough to see the apocalypse. But his journey back to earth is catastrophic as he turns into iron.

Following its release, “Iron Man” became Black Sabbath’s signature track and is one of their most recognizable songs from the mentioned album. Its adaptation to the actual Iron Man movie was only the icing on the cake.

4. “Shake Your Groove Thing” – Peaches And Herb

This Freddie Perren piece is a disco staple that’s perfect for spicing up your fun moments.

It climbed to number #5 on the Billboard R&B chart, becoming one of the most successful tracks produced by the duo.

Also, it stayed at #2 on the Billboard Disco chart for 4 weeks before becoming a Gold record on the US charts.

5. “I Shot The Sheriff” – Bob Marley

“I Shot The Sheriff” remains one of the most iconic tracks ever produced by the legendary Jamaican singer.

In the classic Marley style, he uses a hidden message when talking about justice in this song.

The track describes violence against the law enforcers, as illustrated in the line, ‘I shot the sheriff.” The track illustrates a theme of self-defense, painting the picture of a protagonist pulling the trigger to save his life.

It’s a timeless hit that’s more relevant in recent times as justice and self-defense take center stage.

Marley’s largely influential track occupied the number #1 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and many charts in multiple counties.

6. “Come Together” – The Beatles

Come Together” is the first track in The Beatles’ 1969 album, “Abbey Road.”

It was a unique piece of art supporting Timothy Leary’s bid to become the new governor of California at the expense of Ronal Reagan.

In 1969, “Come Together” faced a lawsuit over a copyright infringement claim. Part of the claim from Morris Levy, credited with publishing the “You Can’t Catch Me” track by Chuck Berry, was that the two tracks sounded similar.

While the lawsuit might have tainted Lennon’s reputation, “Come Together” was still a chart-topping hit, reaching number #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and the US Cash Box Top 100 charts.

7. “Lean On Me” – Bill Withers

Bill Withers’ track is centered on love and some hard-hitting facts about life. Withers implores the listener to swallow their pride because everyone needs help at some point.

But he also emphasizes that help only makes sense if the recipient is willing to take it.

In the typical Withers style, powerful vocals dominate the song, with a philosophical style and a powerful message to go with it. Easily one of the greatest songs of all time.

8. “Billie Jean” – Michael Jackson

“Billie Jean” by the legendary Michael Jackson blends it all; rhythm, blues, dance-pop, and funk, but the storyline makes it even more entertaining.

From an iconic superstar known to have it all, it’s no surprise that this epic track attracted so much attention from pop lovers around the world.

The storyline was inspired by true life events, with a woman stalker, Billie Jean, claiming that MJ was the father of her two children.

9. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana

Nirvana’s legendary hit is undoubtedly one of the most famous rock songs ever.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” is one of those tracks that don’t come around quite often, and shortly after its release, it became an instant sensation.

The contradictory ideas in the song have made it just as popular, garnering a whopping 1 billion views on YouTube.

10. “Sweet Child O’Mine” – Guns N’ Roses

Do you remember these lyrics, “She’s got a smile that it seems to me/ reminds me of childhood memories?” It is a line from “Sweet Child O’Mine,” one of Guns N’ Roses’ most famous songs ever produced.

Released in 1988, this track was on everyone’s lips, thanks to the impressive lyrics and priceless vocals from one of the greatest rock bands.

11. “Alright” – Kendrick Lamar

This Kendrick Lamar song sends a message of hope and optimism in the midst of adversity.

It speaks about the systemic mess, highlighting issues like police brutality and racism but assures that things will be alright.

Pharrell Williams and Mark Spears are credited for writing this masterpiece that became one of the most common songs in the US. 

The climax of the track’s success came in 2016 when it was nominated for 4 categories in that year’s Grammy Awards. (The Best Rap Song, Song of the Year, Best Rap Performance, and Best Music Video).

12. “Blurred Lines” – Robin Thicke & Pharrell Williams

“Blurred Lines” is a 2013 dance pop that attracted plenty of attention from fans and critics alike.

Some argued that it promoted misogynistic concepts, attracting moral outrage and subsequent censorship in some regions.

But commercially, this track was a definite smash, topping the charts in more than 25 countries around the world. Besides, it stayed atop the US Billboard Hot 100 chart for 12 straight weeks.

At the same time, “Blurred Lines” sold about 14.8 million copies, rated among the best-selling singles in history. Not to mention the record-breaking radio audience it had during the same period.

13. “Come As You Are” – Nirvana

“Come As You Are” is the second single from Nirvana’s second album, ‘Nevermind.’

It was the band’s last single to hit the top 40 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, and as the name suggests, the narrator is open to the addressee’s friendship, no matter his situation.

The track was released after their chart-topping “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” propelling them to massive success in the 1990s.

You should listen to this track to see the kind of effort put in by the talented songwriter, the late Kurt Cobain.

14. “Let’s Groove” – Earth, Wind, & Fire

Another one from the American band, only this time the narration is about grooving to the tune.

“Let’s Groove” is the ultimate party song that the band released before their 8-year break from the music scene. 

According to the artists, music is the ultimate solution to any worries and can take you to places full of optimism and positive energy even at your lowest moment.

The 80s and 90s music lovers will probably have the most to say about this track because that was its peak moment in history.

15. “Mirrors” – Justin Timberlake

Known for his lyrical tenor, Timberlake exceeded the expectations in this classic song.

This track displays an unbreakable bond between two lovebirds, and even though the mirror here is symbolic, the message is crystal clear.

For the romantic guy he is, Timberlake’s explanation of this track is even more beautiful. He has revealed that the track is a dedication to his beloved wife, Jessica Biel. 

While we could go on and on about this Justin piece of art, you should spend a few minutes listening to the American songwriter oozing romantic lyrics in yet another excellent composition. 

16. “Jailhouse Rock” – Elvis Presley

Even before its release, “Jailhouse Rock” was destined to become one of the best songs ever.

It was first recorded for a 1957 movie with a similar name and topped many charts in the US and 10 other countries across the globe.

As part of its continued success, “Jailhouse Rock” was inducted into the “Grammy Hall Of Fame,” becoming yet another exceptional piece from the unforgettable Elvis Presley.

17. “American Pie” – Don McLean

“American Pie” is a 1971 folk rock track that elicits all manner of emotions from the audience.

A classic tune in all elements, this track describes the nostalgic feeling that accompanies the end of a chapter.

For McLean, the nostalgic feeling takes him back to the painful moments when he realized that three of his favorite artists (Ritchie Valens, J.P Richardson, and Buddy Holly) had died.

Like the somber tune it is, the track reflects on the incidents that happened in America in the 1960s, with a series of assassinations (Martin Luther King Jnr. and the Kennedys’) at the time.

For a hugely influential track that reached #1 on the US Billboard chart, this epic, 8.5-minute track is worth listening to.

18. “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen

Freddie Mercury demonstrated his vocal range and musical styles when writing what has been described as one of the greatest songs ever.

Of all the things about this track, one thing becomes crystal clear; Freddie’s personal life and personality.

Listening to the lyrics, the song truly cemented the band’s name in history, inspiring many generations of musicians with their outstanding composition and simple life as one big family.

19. “Dream On” – Aerosmith

The meaning of this song is right there in its title, where Aerosmith encourages everyone to dream until they achieve their goals.

It is all about the beauty of life, how time flies, and taking your chances to live a memorable life.

Despite peaking at #59 on the US Billboard Hot 100, this song received massive airplay in Boston, Aerosmith’s native home, becoming the single of the year on many radio stations.

20. “Stayin’ Alive” – Bee Gees

“Stayin’ Alive” has hard-hitting lyrics about living in New York. Anyone struggling to survive can easily relate to the lyrics, with Bees Gees stating that “he’s been kicked around since he was born.”

“Stayin’ Alive” personified the disco era of the 1970s, becoming even more popular because of its party-like mood. 

21. “Scream And Shout” – Will.I.Am & Brittney Spears

Coming in at number #21 is a 2012 dance-pop song that’s become synonymous with clubs and parties.

Despite receiving mixed reactions from music critics around the world, “Scream And Shout” was a commercial success, topping the US Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic Songs, besides peaking at #1 in 21 countries worldwide.

Some have called it an egotistic piece, a cliché, and ultra-infectious. But one thing is certain. This Britney Spears’ collaboration with Will.I.Am was a masterpiece in its own way. 

22. “Running Up That Hill” – Kate Bush

You may have discovered it from the “Stranger Things” Netflix series, but Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” goes back to the 1980s.

It was written by Kate and released in 1985, peaking at #3 on the UK Singles Chart and #30 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. It has now become one of the most recognizable songs.

23. “War Pigs” – Black Sabbath

“War Pigs” is a heavy metal track that relays an anti-war message. The title describes the personnel responsible for causing war but are quick to maintain their distance to appear innocent.

For a song that highlighted a major problem in society, “War Pigs” truly cements Black Sabbath’s legacy, with their ‘Paranoid’ album only completing the puzzle in what was already an amazing music career.

24. “Hurricane” – Kanye West

“Hurricane” is one of the best songs by Kanye West and The Weekend.

It describes the personal issues in Kanye’s life and earned deserved recognition from music lovers around the world.

Upon its release, the track was nominated (and won) for the 64th Annual Grammy Awards in the Best Melodic Rap Performance category.

You have to admire Lil Baby’s performance in the track, adding to what was already an excellent piece of art.

25. “Smooth Criminal” – Michael Jackson

The King Of Pop wasn’t just known for his popping dance moves, but for also creating a plethora of good songs to listen to. And in this 1988 track, Jackson looks at the darker side of life.

He narrates a crime scene with a woman getting attacked by a mysterious, smooth criminal.

“Smooth Criminal” was Jackson’s 7th single from his ‘Bad’ album, peaking at #2 and #7 on the US Billboard Hot Black singles and Billboard Hot 100 charts, respectively.

26. “Paint It, Black” – The Rolling Stones

They say old is gold and here is one of the best old songs. And this 1966 raga rock might be one of the greatest tracks you will hear today.

The general belief is that this piece is a narration about a grieving partner who’s just lost his loved one. Or at least that’s according to many people’s interpretation.

But according to the singer and co-writer, Keith Richards, this track is centered on depression, black in this case describing the overall mood.

It’s almost impossible to listen to any song released in the 60s era without associating it with the Vietnam War.

And “Paint It, Black” became a victim of its success, with many individuals linking it to the War, despite the music group never writing it with any political motives. 

27. “I Will Survive” – Gloria Gaynor

This Gloria Gaynor’s song was a girl empowerment track, describing how to get over a tough breakup.

In recent times, the lyrics have been more relatable to anyone trying to overcome the life struggles.

28. “Thrift Shop” – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis took a unique approach in this song, describing a modest life instead of flaunting their wealth like most rappers during this time.

Macklemore describes “Thrift Shop” as a ‘way of life,’ becoming the duo’s first hit song on the Hot 100 chart. 

For a track with pretty much everything you need from a great rap song, “Thrift Shop” was a definite hit, peaking at #1 on 4 billboards and propelling Macklemore to success by winning the Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance awards in the 2014 Grammy awards.

29. “Chop Suey” – System Of A Down

“Chop Suey” is probably the most famous pop metal song of the 21st century. It also became System Of A Down’s most popular song, pushing them to great success in the years after its release.

However, the iconic song by the Armenian-American band wasn’t short of controversies, with one line, “I don’t think you trust in my self-righteous suicide” attracting plenty of negative attention.

Despite Clear Channel Radio categorizing the track under inappropriate titles, it was never fully banned from the airwaves. And not even the negative energy from a section of the music critics could stop the track from enjoying moderate commercial success on the global charts.

“Chop Suey” was number #3 on the Triple J Hottest 100 in Australia and #76 in the US Hot 100 chart, with a massive 1.1 billion views on YouTube.

30. “Latch” – Disclosure & Sam Smith

“Latch” is a romantic song about endless love.

It is a dance-pop hit that peaked at #7 on the US Billboard Hot 100, almost becoming a generational anthem.

31. “Hotel California” – The Eagles

The Eagles gave us a sensational hit in “Hotel California,” instantly becoming their signature track.

While the song has been associated with different contexts, “Hotel California” seems to highlight the acts of hedonism in America.

Besides selling over 16 million copies in the USA, this track stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 19 straight weeks.

This is in addition to winning a 1978 Grammy Award for the Record of the Year.

32. “Fortunate Son” – Creedence Clearwater Revival

“Fortunate Son” is another one on the long list of anti-war songs inspired by the Vietnam War. It is a metaphoric track about America’s involvement in the infamous war, fitting in the same category as the “War Pigs.”

But as it turns out, “Fortunate Son” was more than just an anti-war song. It was also a classic tune for the working class in the 1960s and beyond, becoming one of those tracks that just makes you want to dance.

33. “Somebody That I Used To Know” – Gotye

“Somebody That I Used To Know” is a one-time hit that received massive airplay in the US, and rightly so.

In his words, Gotye mentions that this song is about the confusion around a messy breakup. The track also featured a New Zealand artist, Kimbra, and topped the charts on 10 billboards.

34. “Whole Lotta Love” – Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin gave us an iconic hit in 1969 called “Whole Lotta Love.” It is an outrageous love song with some explicit sexual lines.

From the lyrics, it’s clear the singer can’t hide his romantic feelings for the addressee.

This track was a huge success for the rock band, peaking at #4 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and #21 in the UK. Not to mention its induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007. 

35. “Stairway To Heaven” – Led Zeppelin

This is another hit from the famous rock band.

You know the beauty of art when an iconic track has multiple meanings from the same lyrics. And that’s exactly what “Stairway To Heaven” is all about.

A splendid message hidden in metaphor,” Stairway To Heaven” is one of Led Zeppelin’s tracks that became bigger than the band itself, leaving a lasting impression within a relatively short period.

It’s a shame this track never topped any charts despite being one of the most popular songs in the 70s.

36. “Ring Of Fire” – Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash’s hit song is a 1963 track inspired by the poem, ‘Love’s Ring Of Fire.’

It was written by Merle Kilgore and June Carter Cash with sentiments of falling in love.

This classic track was one of Johnny Cash’s breakthrough songs, peaking at #1 on the US Billboard Hot Country Singles.

37. “Let Her Go” – Passenger

Passenger mentioned several times that he wrote this song after a breakup, and the title confirms just as much.

“Let Her Go” is a 2012 track that expresses a feeling of remorse, with the narrator describing his regrets after losing his lover. But it’s only after the breakup that he begins to see her value.

Passenger’s cautionary track outlines the people’s tendency to take valuable things in life for granted, only to regret it when it’s too late.

38. “What A Wonderful World” – Louis Armstrong

The lyrics of this song allude to all the beautiful things on earth, like the rainbow, the people, and the blue skies.

The narrator oozes optimism, showing us that despite all the bad, terrible, and ugly things of the world, there’s plenty to appreciate.

Spare 2 minutes of your time to listen to this Armstrong masterpiece to get a completely refreshing feeling from one of the best songs of all time.

39. “Thunder” – Imagine Dragons

“Thunder” is a song attributed to Imagine Dragons’ lead vocalist, Day Reynolds.

It is about Reynolds’ challenging life from childhood until he realized his long-cherished dream of becoming an iconic music star.

Reynolds recalls attending a “crappy” school and getting mocked by his mates, but never giving up on his dream to become a star.

40. “Beat It” – Michael Jackson

The legendary pop artist seemed to have a powerful message in almost every song. And in this 1982 track, MJ gives us yet another masterpiece that has been interpreted in many ways.

While the lyrics allude to the whole idea of avoiding violence, some versions claim that the song is about aggression when fighting for what you believe in.

No matter where you belong, this track was yet another MJ piece of art, ranked on the same level as his other hit tracks like “Thriller” and “Billie Jean.”

41. “Careless Whisper” – George Michael

Another 1980s song about lost love. In this track, George Michael sings about his broken relationship. He expresses his regrets, loneliness, and remorse and can’t get over his guilt.

It might be a track from 1984, but “Careless Whisper” never loses its meaning in the modern dating world.

42. “Santeria” – Sublime

“Santeria” is a ballad song by Sublime about a fellow who lost his lover (Heina) to another man (Sancho).

In desperate attempts to get her girl back, the distressed man is willing to exhaust all means available, including voodoo.

“Santeria” was one of the greatest songs ever released by the American band before their breakup in 1996. 

43. “New York, New York” – Frank Sinatra

This song is rightfully named because it’s centered on NYC and its amazing cultural life. It’s about the greatness of New York City and everything about living in this place.

The track is filled with optimism, with a standard refrain of, “New York”- “It’s up to you. New York.”

44. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” – John Denver

An iconic track that’s a staple as a graduation song during ceremonies, John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” illustrates homesickness.

It is one of Denver’s greatest hits that has brought joy to many people for over 3 decades.

You will be impressed by Denver’s narrations in his West Virginian anthem, with the track enjoying lots of success on the charts.

45. “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” – Elvis Presley

You just can’t fail to hear it in weddings and marriage proposals. Indeed, “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” will always be among the greatest love songs in history.

Elvis Presley takes a new style when compiling this soothing tune, with the narration built around the singer’s deep feelings towards a girl he’s slowly getting attracted to.

The song is known from Elvis’ 1961 movie, ‘Blue Hawaii,’ and remains one of his biggest tunes in history. 

46. “No Woman No Cry” – Bob Marley

Another one from the legendary reggae icon. “No Woman No Cry” not only became an influential track but also transformed Marley’s life.

And it’s impressive to see that in the midst of all the plaudits and attention, the reggae star still gave credit to Vincent Ford, his long-time friend, for his selfless contribution to the track.

47. “Africa” – Toto

Toto’s 1982 record smasher is doubtless one of the greatest songs of all time.

David Paich, one of the band members, is credited with compiling this track and was inspired by the African continent.

In a 2015 interview, Paich said the narration is about a man’s undying love for the African continent. While the narrator had never set foot on the continent, he could only base his lyrics on fantasy, leaving a lasting impression on music critics around the world.

For a song that reached the #1 spot shortly after release, it’s little surprise that Toto also sold a whopping 6 million albums in the USA and many more in other parts of the world.

48. “Piano Man” – Billy Joel

Billy Joel reminisces about his personal experiences as the piano guy at a bar. He creates a nostalgic feeling, bringing the real bar experience in a way that makes the lyrics more relatable.

Seeing most of the bartenders as broken individuals with unfulfilled dreams, Joel’s only role is to bring a new meaning to their life, even if it means making them forget their problems for a second.

Following its release, “Piano Man” reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

49. “Welcome To The Jungle” – Guns N’Roses

Guns N’Roses’ “Welcome To The Jungle” is about adapting to the busy city life and the bubbly new environment.

Some have alluded that the song was based on the city of Los Angeles, exposing the struggles many people go through in the journey towards fame.

50. “Buffalo Soldier” – Bob Marley

Any reggae lower will probably know this track, written by the legendary Bob Marley and the Wailers. It describes an epic fight by the black US cavalry troops called the “Buffalo Soldiers.”

Among the many duties performed by the Buffalo Soldiers such as protecting the white men occupying the Native American lands. 

Marley compiled this track to acknowledge the Buffalo Soldiers’ sheer valor and highlight the oppressions they faced while protecting their country.

51. “Bad And Boujee” – Migos & Lil Uzi Vert

Another one for rap music lovers. If you are a Migos fan, you will have probably already listened to this one-of-a-kind collaboration with Lil Uzi Vert.

Like the extravagant group they are, “Bad And Boujee” is about a lavish lifestyle, with some explicit lyrics thrown in to complement the narration.

52. “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

This is a simple song with a powerful message about hope.

The narration is about a little girl yearning to go to a new place where life makes sense and dreams are fulfilled.

It is a modest track, performed with only a ukulele, but with a powerful message and a vision for tomorrow.

53. “Sympathy For The Devil” – The Rolling Stones

Not one to shy away from controversy, The Rolling Stones came back with another unique piece in 1968, eliciting mixed reactions from the religious faithful.

From this title, some alluded that the band consisted of devil worshippers.

While the controversy around this song was probably deserved, it didn’t take anything away from the beauty of the lyrics, becoming one of the most popular tracks from the 70s era.

54. “Rock With You” – Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson certainly couldn’t stop releasing one hit song after another, and in this track, he shows again why he truly is the undisputed “King Of Pop.”

This 1979 disco track deserves recognition as an all-time showstopper, rocking the airwaves in clubs, weddings, and many events.

It reached #1 on both the R&B and US pop charts as one of the last songs of the disco era.

55. “Hound Dog” – Elvis Presley

Rock n’ roll became more popular in the 1950s. And one name that was only getting bigger and more well-known was Elvis Presley.

He certainly had a massive impact on the music industry, with “Hound Dog” depicting everything you would find in many songs released during this period.

The awesome lyrics are just the first part of it. But the rhythm and pace make this track even more entertaining and worth listening to.

Elvis’s natural ability to write and perform great songs made him an underrated star in many people’s eyes.

56. “In My Life” – The Beatles

And now, to complete our list, we take you back to 1965, with yet another tremendous track from The Beatles.

There’s nothing much to say about this track except the change in style from the famous pop culture to a more personal feeling.

Quite spectacularly, this track follows Lennon’s life in Liverpool until he joined the band.

Best Songs of All Time – Final Thoughts

The allure of good music is unmatched. But everybody perceives different lyrics differently.

Above is our list of the best songs of all time.

It probably doesn’t include every track you may have in mind, but it’s good enough to help you build a killer playlist.

Ready to groove to your favorite tune? Let us know your favorite song from the list or what you think are the greatest songs of all time.