The 50 Best Title Tracks of All Time

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The 50 Best Title Tracks of All Time

Title tracks often distill an album’s essence into one succinct, memorable song. Other times, they might glue a record together or serve as a thematic starting point for the artist. Some title tracks have become the most defining songs of that particular artist’s career and some are under-appreciated deep cuts that have become cult favorites. Not every album has a title track, but the ones that do often warrant deeper listening to see if the artist was trying to relay a message about the body of work they’ve created. In celebration of the mighty title track, Paste’s music staff compiled 50 of our favorite title tracks of all time, limiting ourselves to one song per artist.

Here are the 50 best title tracks of all time:

50. Green Day: “American Idiot”

Green Day  were a defining band for a whole generation of kids in the ’00s, and their seventh studio album American Idiot became the rebellious punk-rock bible for many. The concept album featured a punk-rock adolescent folk hero of sorts and was packed with hit singles like “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” “Holiday” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” but none captured the boisterous energy of Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocals and deep-seated political scorn like the title track. With a Clash-like spirit and contemporary pop-punk framework, Armstrong points to the conservative media’s (Fox News’) normalization of war and fear-mongering that led to the proliferation of American hysteria, idiocy and the empowerment of redneck, right-wing America. —Lizzie Manno

49. Cher: “Believe”

Cher is an icon. Since the 1970s, she’s been flawlessly transforming herself with every decade. In all that storied career, though, “Believe” stands out as her most popular song by far—on Spotify alone it’s been listened to more than 112 million times. Cher diehards know that this was the title track and opener of her 1998 album. We’ve been listening to the song for 20 years now, and I don’t think we’ll ever tire of singing along emphatically. —Annie Black

48. Motorhead: “Ace of Spades”

From the first rumble of Lemmy’s bass, to those final staccato chords, “Ace of Spades” is the closest any band has ever gotten to plowing right over its audience like a freight train. It’s basically a perfect song, the most elegant summation of Motorhead’s version of punk-inspired metal (if you can call anything about this band elegant, that is). I’m not proud of calling it a roller coaster, but that silly comparison really fits here—“Ace of Spades” is a quick burst of simulated fury and danger that never gets old. —Garrett Martin

47. Against Me!: “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”

Florida punk-rockers Against Me!, led by frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, made a powerful statement on their 2014 sixth studio album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. After coming out publicly as a trans woman in 2012, Grace addressed her gender transition and coming out on her band’s new record. The album clocks in at less than 30 minutes and it centers on the fiery title track. With lines like “You’ve got no hips to shake,” “Shoulders too broad for a girl” and “We can’t choose how we’re made,” Grace annihilates gender norms with a brisk punk tune. Grace had every right to make the song a riotous middle finger to anyone hostile to her or other transgender people, but instead of unleashing unrelenting anger on the track, she made a song that also feels celebratory, defiant and joyful. —Lizzie Manno

46. Supergrass: “In It For The Money”

Though Britpop stalwarts Supergrass were unfairly overshadowed by Oasis, Blur and Pulp in the press and became largely associated with their kooky debut album I Should Coco (featuring their 1995 hit “Alright”), the band’s second album, In It For The Money proves they were just as capable and exciting as their peers. The album’s title track is one of their most memorable songs with frontman Gaz Coombes’ hearty, infectious lead vocals, bassist Mick Quinn’s ever-underrated backing vocals and the alt-rock rapture created by triumphant horns and Danny Goffey’s spirited drum assault. After hearing the opening vocals on this track, you won’t find yourself absorbed by Coombes’ distinct sideburns or their wacko “Alright” video—they were a serious band capable of earworm melodies and frequent pop/rock genius. —Lizzie Manno

45. Dixie Chicks: “Wide Open Spaces”

The title track for the Dixie Chicks’ major label debut, and first with new member Natalie Maines, is the feminist anthem we need right now. As far too many men in power seek to stifle the dreams and aspirations of women around the world, these three country/bluegrass legends are here to offer up a melody as vast as the song’s title and lyrics encouraging young girls to get out in the world and make some “big mistakes.” And it offers a small salve to the parents of these ladies to not be afraid to let go and let them fly free. If the music wasn’t so bright and bold, this would have had the world weeping when it was released in 1998. Twenty years later, it’s clear that it needs to be heard and taken to hear by people all over this land. —Robert Ham

44. Spiritualized: “Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space”

Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space was the third studio album by British space rockers Spiritualized and it was the most celebrated and critically acclaimed record of their career. The title track displays the 1997 album’s lush sound and dynamic melding of space rock, shoegaze, neo-psychedelia, noise pop and art rock. The song’s dense mix of ethereal otherworldliness and gripping drone is created by layers of vocals (mostly by frontman Jason Pierce), strange keyboards and distorted guitars. —Lizzie Manno

43. Joni Mitchell: “Blue”

The first side of Joni Mitchell’s fourth studio album Blue ends with its title track, a piano and vocal only lament that floats from the inside of a particularly troubled relationship. Mitchell knows those well having famously struggled to maintain normalcy as she’s dated some equally famous men during the fallout of the idealistic ’60s. Who she is singing about in this heartrending tune is up for debate, but what is never in doubt is her tortured feelings at watching this person fall prey to the allure of “acid, booze and ass, needles, guns and grass.” Mitchell knows such delights are a zero-sum game and that she has to let this person float free lest they drag her down with them. She leaves them with this song, a “foggy lullaby” that’s devastating in its simplicity and poetic charge. —Robert Ham

42. Kevin Morby: “City Music”

Kevin Morby’s fourth solo album is a dusky ode to urban life, and its core is its seven-minute-long title track, which perfectly captures a carefree wander down a city street on a warm summer night. “City Music” travels at a walking pace atop a pulsing bass line, as Morby coolly sings a love song to downtown sounds. But it’s his army of guitars that make this tune truly soar. They’re squirrelly and skyscraping and seductive, like Television plucked out of a New York City punk dive and plunked down in front of some sweeping L.A. vista at sunset. That vibe? That’s the vibe that carried “City Music” to the top of our list of 2017’s best songs. —Ben Salmon

41. Julien Baker: “Turn Out the Lights”

Julien Baker makes some of the darkest, most vulnerably personal music in recent music memory—there’s a reason she was prominently featured in Paste’s list of the saddest songs of the 21st century. But usually buried in the last quarter of many of her songs is a show-stopping, goosebump-inducing, life-affirming scream that makes you forget, if only for an instant, the brutally dismal lyrical content of the song in favor of an epic fist-pumping catharsis. “Turn Out the Lights,” the title track from Baker’s incredible sophomore release from last year, showcases this better than anywhere else in her back catalogue; the slow march to the octave-raised “BUT WHEN I TURN OUT THE LIIIIIIIIGHTS” refrain is a journey that rewards you with one of the most memorable screams in quite awhile, backed by a pitch perfect guitar build behind her that when all put together, makes the most unremarkable commutes and droll daily routines feel like the climax of a movie. —Steven Edelstone

40. Brandi Carlile: “The Story”

Brandi Carlile  doesn’t just tell “The Story,” she releases it. The title track from her striking 2007 sophomore LP is an explosion of feeling, perhaps Carlile’s strongest emotional effort in a catalogue well-stocked with pathos. “And all of my friends who think that I’m blessed,” she sings. “They don’t know my head is a mess.” Carlile’s raspy vocal delivery intensifies as the track does, Carlile declaring that her stories “don’t mean anything when you’ve got no one to tell them to” and promptly yanking at your heartstrings. In the end, there’s just one person with whom Carlile can reveal her stories, a.k.a. her secrets: “They don’t know what I’ve been through like you do / And I was made for you.” —Ellen Johnson

39. Death Cab for Cutie: “Transatlanticism”

Thousands of artists have written about the experience of feeling—literally and figuratively—geographically separated from their love interest; hell, that’s what Ben Gibbard wrote about earlier in the year on “Such Great Heights” after all. But few have ever made the listener sense that distance quite like Gibbard does on “Transatlanticism” with just six words, repeated 12 times over three-plus-minute span: “I need you so much closer.” So simple yet so pointed, Gibbard needs few words to get his point across, each syllable punctuated with such longing that you can feel the distance between him and the person the song is written about. Over building piano and crashing guitars that form one of the best live crescendos of the indie rock era, that modest phrase grows from a vulnerable plea to an all-out beg, ending with the repeated request: “so come on, come on.” —Steven Edelstone

38. Bobbie Gentry: “Ode to Billie Joe”

When Patti Smith name-checks this song in her book Just Kids as something important she heard on the radio in the late ’60s, that must mean it’s culturally significant. Though seemingly saccharine thanks to Bobbie Gentry’s sweet soprano and the song’s repetitive structure, the lyrics actually detail a violent scene, as “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.” Even still, the song spent four weeks at No.1 in 1967. —Hilary Saunders

37. Belle & Sebastian: “The Boy With The Arab Strap”

As fans of both Belle & Sebastian and 500 Days of Summer will tell you, the Scottish band’s third studio album is one of their best. Not only the favorite of fictional film character Summer, The Boy With The Arab Strap is where Stuart Murdoch hits his stride as a songwriter, and the title track is no exception. At first listen it appears as a clap-happy ditty, but, digging deeper, “The Boy With The Arab Strap” is about the downside of the human experience, how everyone experiences pain: “Everyone suffers in silence a burden.” Belle & Sebastian are at their best when both deeply perceptive and empathetic, and their story of “The Boy With The Arab Strap,” and a cast of other colorful characters, is as widely relatable as music comes. —Ellen Johnson

36. Booker T. and the M.G.’s: “Green Onions”

Condense everything that made the Stax sound so gritty into one three-minute capsule, and you’ll get “Green Onions.” The label’s most recognizable melody—inspired, allegedly, by Ray Charles—came from Booker T. and the MG’s, Stax’s long-time house band and one of the most racially integrated soul groups of all time. Fifty years later, the chemistry between organist Booker T. Jones and guitarist Steve Cropper still feels like it’s happening live. —Lane Billings and Logan Lockner

35. Janet Jackson: “Control”

The lyrics to “Control,” the title track for Janet Jackson’s 1986 album are much more autobiographical than you might realize. At that age, she was known primarily for her work on the sitcom Good Times and had released a middling R&B album, overseen by her domineering father. Throw in a short-lived marriage to James DeBarge and, by the time she was 19 and set to make album #3, Miss Jackson was more determined than ever to be her own artist. With the help of her now frequent collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, she became a pop goddess; “Control” was her coronation. The synth funk steeliness of the music felt like enough of a departure, but Jackson left well behind the cute sentiments of her past work with singing that was part sneer, part growl. —Robert Ham

34. Lucinda Williams: “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road”

Alt-country troubadour Lucinda Williams was already three LPs into her career when she released Car Wheels On A Gravel Road in 1998 after a six-year musical hiatus. But the album, along with its husky, rocking title track, were soon acknowledged as some of Williams’ most catalogue-defining work. Eight years before Carrie Underwood ever begged “Jesus” to “Take The Wheel,” Williams described herself as a child, “about four or five years,” sequestered in the backseat, bumping along a dusty gravel road. Williams brilliantly incorporates memories from both childhood and adulthood on the track, an apt summing-up of the entire album’s raggedy country rock, folksy drawl and stellar storytelling. —Ellen Johnson

33. James Brown: “The Payback”

The title track to James Brown’s 1973 album The Payback is a pure distillation of the Godfather of Soul and his co-writers’ unique genius. There’s at least a half-dozen hooks buried in this nearly eight-minute song to catch your ear: Fred Thomas’s watery bassline, the taut chicken-scratch guitars, the horn stabs, the almost distressingly giddy background vocals and Brown’s own squealing turn at the mic. Supposedly this was intended as part of a soundtrack to the film Hell Up In Harlem but was rejected for being too funky. Blasphemy. —Robert Ham

32. Kendrick Lamar: “good kid, m.A.A.d city”

Yes, these are technically two separate songs. Together they’re more than nine minutes long, but it’s absolutely imperative you listen to them together. While we know Kendrick today as of the most versatile rappers of our time, the calculated progression of these two songs back to back gave us a glimpse of what was to come. “good kid” is more attuned to the rap stylings of 2012 (when the album was released), while “m.A.A.d city” begins relatively simply, it moves into full on traditional West Coast rap thanks to the help of MC Eiht, an homage to Lamar’s Compton upbringing. —Annie Black

31. The Beatles: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

While some might argue in favor of “A Hard Day’s Night” or “Let It Be,” the eponymous track from their 1967 concept album masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was their finest title track. The track serves as a charming theme song and formal introduction to the fictional group the band would personify on the album. Its piercing, opening psych-rock riff, regal brass and McCartney, Lennon and Harrison’s vocal harmonies really take the cake. McCartney’s bluesy lead vocal is one of his best vocal performances as a Beatle. The addition of animated audience cheers and laughs throughout make for some endearing scene setting as well. —Lizzie Manno

30. Grace Jones: “Slave To The Rhythm”

The version of the title track to Grace Jones’s seventh studio album Slave To The Rhythm that most people know is actually titled “Ladies and Gentlemen: Miss Grace Jones,” but that seems more like a clerical error. The record, produced by ZTT Records head Trevor Horn, actually feels like eight variations on that same theme, threaded through with biographical details from the singer’s life. Whichever version of “Slave” you choose is entirely satisfying thanks to their disco-reggae leanings and Jones’s steady vocal performance that reveals nothing on the surface but is touched with a fierce spirit. —Robert Ham

29. Arcade Fire: “The Suburbs”

Arcade Fire’s masterful musing on the mundanity of American suburbia can come off as grandiose, but it’s just so spot on in its consideration of what it means to be young and restless. The Suburbs sees the band at their most urgent and sonically interesting. “The Suburbs” is not only the title track, but it’s also the first song on the album, the listener’s first taste of Arcade Fire’s suburban stretch. It serves both positions well, equal parts gentle introduction and compelling thesis. At first it feels like you could snap along to the song’s jolly keys and happy-go-lucky rhythm section, but when Win Butler sings “Grab your mother’s keys, we’re leaving,” you know you’re in for a more serious ride. —Ellen Johnson

28. Simon & Garfunkel: “The Sound of Silence”

“Hello, darkness, my old friend/ I’ve come to talk with you again.” Arrested Development jokes aside, this lyric from “The Sound of Silence” is one of the most iconic song openers in music. Though Simon admitted later to being inspired to write that lyric after turning off the bathroom light during a songwriting session (for the bathroom often has the best acoustics), the song is a perceptive commentary on people’s inability to communicate. Other timeless lyrics like, “And the people bowed and prayed/ To the neon god they made” make “The Sound of Silence” forever an important song in music’s history. —Laura Stanley

27. Loretta Lynn: “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”

“Liquor and love that just don’t mix,” Lynn avows in the honky-tonk number, from 1967’s Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’. She gives her unruly, cavalier husband an ultimatum to either “leave a bottle or me behind.” It’s her high-strung brashness that pulls the story along in a boozy haze, and the sharpness of her pen is both destructively real and empowering. As she attempts to save the marriage, her free-wheeling beau is “always gone,” out slinging drinks with the guys until the wee hours of the morning. Meanwhile, she soaks her pillow in tears; there’s an edge of sorrow glistening across the unshakable resolve of her signature vocal. Lynn remains steadfast, though, and while the story never fully plays out, we’d like to think she dumped all his belongings on the front lawn, as she sings, “Just stay out there on the town, and see what you can find.” —Jason Scott

26. The Strokes: “Is This It”

“Is This It,” the opening track to the debut album of the same name, opens simply, the calm before the storm. Nikolai Fraiture’s bass line influenced a generation of musicians, like Jared Followill of Kings of Leon, who says that when he was 15, this was one of the first bass lines he ever learned, and that this album was one of the main reasons he wanted to be in a band. —Ross Bonaime

25. Otis Redding: “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”

The song that Redding is still the most well-known for, “Sitting On A Dock Of The Bay” was co-written by legendary soul man Steve Cropper and recorded mere days before Redding’s death, released posthumously. It became his only No. 1 single. A simple tune, not full of the vocal theatrics that he so often performed, it could easily start conversations about the Otis Redding that could have come. It stands alone as a nostalgic ode to home, one of his truly universal themes. —Katie King

24. Neutral Milk Hotel: “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”

Propelled by an extremely basic acoustic guitar chord progression, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” Neutral Milk Hotel’s signature song, rumbles and barrels along with a curious sense of unease, complete with bizarre horn sections and haunting howls following each of Jeff Mangum’s poetic lines. It’s no wonder this is considered indie canon; each lyric—simultaneously vague and vivid—is beautiful, the kind of verse that has since inspired a new generation of songwriters and launched a thousand tattoos. Weaving in and out of references to Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, Mangum imagines himself finally meeting the murdered Jewish girl on a cloud in heaven, pausing for a second to acknowledge how curious life is itself with an all time great closing line—“Can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all.” —Steven Edelstone

23. Elton John: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”

Elton John’s 1973 track became one of the biggest hits of his career and his album of the same name also produced huge hits like “Candle in the Wind” and “Bennie and the Jets,” resulting in the best-selling album of his career. The title track is a piano ballad featuring John’s stunning falsetto and Bernie Taupin’s powerful Wizard of Oz metaphor that paints the yellow brick road as a route to a shiny, seemingly perfect life with no substance. In ’70s soft-rock fashion, the song vouches for a simpler approach to life by remembering where you came from. John ridicules partners in relationships that treat you like a toy for them to pick up and drop whenever it suits them. To prove just how much the song meant to John’s career, he named his recent farewell tour, Farewell Yellow Brick Road.—Lizzie Manno

22. Funkadelic: “Maggot Brain”

Though he worked with the group off-and-on throughout the ’70s, Eddie Hazel officially tendered his resignation from Funkadelic in 1971 following the release of the group’s third album Maggot Brain. The official line is that he wasn’t getting paid enough for his work. But Hazel could just as easily have declared that he had said all he needed to with his guitar on that record, particularly its 10-minute title track, so why not go out on top? His extended solo is the agonized, bruised heart of this song; a psychedelic scream from the margins of society, watching as the planet gets neglected and his fellow African-Americans bear the brunt of that indifference. —Robert Ham

21. Iggy Pop: “Lust for Life”

Whether it’s advertising Trainspotting or the second largest cruise ship line in the world, Iggy Pop’s pre-YOLO ode to liquor, drugs and ear sex remains the jangly punk rock equivalent of an endorphin flood. Most credit here belongs to Hunt Sales, the percussionist who created possibly one of the most recognized beats in rock’s lexicon. (Fun fact: Pop and co-writer David Bowie based the beat on an Armed Forces Network call signal.) Either way, this is the anthem for pre-marathon courage and questionable strip teasing. —Sean Edgar

20. Tom Petty: “Wildflowers”

Petty has said that while some of his songs have a Southern landscape to them, this one—the title track to his 1994 album—is pure California. And just listening to this song can elicit visuals of rocky bluffs and fields of wildflowers breaking down into cliff and rock, rolling down to the ocean. From the fluttering opening chords to the the opening stanza, Petty takes you right to that California beach, singing, “You belong among the wildflowers / You belong in a boat out at sea / Sail away, kill off the hours/ You belong somewhere you feel free.” —Lauren Daley

19. Al Green: “Let’s Stay Together”

“Let’s Stay Together,” from Al Green’s 1972 album of the same name, might be the ultimate make-up sex song. On top of a steady, rolling drum line, Green sings about how and why he and his lover should stay together and keep on loving each other forever with a vulnerability that would make any woman tremble. Adding to the song’s romanticism is how it has endured through popular culture. It’s been covered countless times, appeared in several films, perhaps most famously during Bruce Willis’ recruitment in Pulp Fiction, and Barack Obama even sang a line from it during an appearance at the Apollo Theater in 2012. —Ryan Bort

18. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings: “100 Days, 100 Nights”

Taken from her 2007 third studio album, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings released a retro soul track for the ages. Jones sang on soul records back in the ’70s, so she isn’t trying to conjure up the magic of classic Motown or Stax—she lived it and she was still carrying the torch. You can feel her years of wisdom, love and heartache in her powerful croon, singing of the long, sometimes painful journey into a man’s heart. The track’s saucy, funky brass and woozy, tempo-shifting groove give it a slick, sophisticated sound, but no doubt, Jones’ impassioned vocals carry the track with her voice bearing the weight of a life’s worth of experiences. —Lizzie Manno

17. AC/DC: “Back in Black”

The chunky guitar line in AC/DC’s miraculous comeback song make for a perfectly rhythmic workout. Stair stepping or lunging to those giant riffs will make you feel like the Hulk. —Hilary Saunders

16. Madonna: “Like a Virgin”

Madonna  was already a sensation by 1984 but it was the release of her second album Like A Virgin that turned the pop star into a phenomenon. And key to that success was that record’s first single: the indelible and sultry title track. Written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly and produced with a hip-swinging zeal by Chic leader Nile Rodgers, the song is given the breath of life through Madonna’s cooing, coy vocal turn that could be read as either romantic giddiness or animal longing. That is until you see her writhing around the stage at the first Video Music Awards in a wedding dress. All doubt is removed and the temperature in the room feels like it’s been raised 10 degrees. —Robert Ham

15. N.W.A: “Straight Outta Compton”

When Dr. Dre says “You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge” at the beginning of “Straight Outta Compton,” he’s not messing around. This track, the first off of N.W.A’s seminal debut record, acts as an introduction for what is arguably the most influential rap group in history. We meet the group right off the bat with in-your-face lyrics and hypnotic, classic West Coast beats, and thanks to the song, the album, and now the film, we’ll be rapping along to “Straight Outta Compton” for the rest of eternity. —Annie Black

14. The Who: “My Generation”

“I hope I die before I get old.” In a generation full of spokespeople, Townshend may not have been quite as outspoken as his peers, but this simple phrase from “My Generation” continues to capture the essence of its time. Furthermore, the track introduces the arrival of John Entwistle as the undisputed king of his instrument and perhaps the most memorable stutter in all of rock history. —Brian Tremml

13. Ike & Tina Turner: “River Deep – Mountain High”

“Wall of sound” rock producer and convicted murderer Phil Spector’s catalogue is impressive and extensive as he recorded with big-name artists like The Beatles, The Ronettes, Ramones, Leonard Cohen and more, but Spector considered this Ike and Tina Turner track to be his greatest work. The song required dozens of musicians and vocalists to capture the echoing grandeur for Spector’s wall of sound. Interestingly, the song was credited to Ike and Tina Turner even though only Tina’s vocals appear on the record. Tina’s voice is soulful and smooth one minute and immensely raw and gripping the next as she digs for the most robust, moving vocal take she can possibly muster. The song was recorded repeatedly in order to achieve the level of perfection that Spector always sought. Consequently, the song features one of the most breathtaking vocal performances in the history of modern popular music. —Lizzie Manno

12. Marvin Gaye: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

Gladys Knight & The Pips and countless others recorded their own admirable versions of this song, but the pain audible in Marvin Gaye’s rendition lends the lyrics some added pathos. —Bonnie Stiernberg

11. The Clash: “London Calling”

Now get this! Imagine placing the needle on the opening vinyl grooves of London Calling in 1979 and listening to it for the first time, expecting The Clash’s then-signature loud, fast, and brash punk sound a la “White Riot” or “Clash City Rockers” and hearing “London Calling” instead. Sonic switch-ups aren’t supposed to work this well, especially for bands of this genre, but The Clash weren’t just any band, somehow finding a way to becoming the UK’s preeminent punk act and one of the first post-punk outfits. “London Calling,” with its minor key and apocalyptic lyrics about flooding in London, is a long ways away from the previous year’s “English Civil War” or “Tommy Gun,” but it ushered in a new era for “The Only Band That Matters” with one of the best track ones in music history. —Steven Edelstone

10. Prince: “Purple Rain”

Prince as showstopper. This is the greatest album closer of all time. It’s the perfect song to bring the house down and send the audience out into the street glowing with joy and a sense of togetherness. Even if you pay not one lick of attention to the downcast lyrics cataloging the end of a fraught relationship, this song will connect and resonate with you on an almost molecular level. Let’s replace “God Bless America” with this. —Robert Ham

9. Aretha Franklin: “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)”

Without “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)”, the Aretha Franklin we know and love may have never existed. Its origin is the stuff of legend—a session in Muscle Shoals was going nowhere until that iconic Wurlitzer riff got things headed in the right direction, and Franklin (who, up until that point, had sung mostly pop for Columbia) delivered one of her best, most soulful performances. It gave Franklin her first big hit and a new sound, and the rest, as they say, is history. —Bonnie Stiernberg

8. Bruce Springsteen: “Born in the U.S.A.”

To probably no one’s surprise, there were two Springsteen songs nominated for this list. Though “Born to Run” is a classic, “Born in the USA” is the clear winner. From the opening note of both the song and the album, it’s dynamic and utterly explosive. The snare drum, both rhythmic and powerful, pounds forward, carrying the repetitive melody right along with Springsteen’s signature growl. It’s a crucial start to a record, while also holding up as an iconic standalone. —Annie Black

7. Dolly Parton: “Jolene”

One of country music’s all-time best and most popular songs, “Jolene” still hits the mark to this day. In fact, we’ve already listed 10 epic covers of the song. But unlike many of Dolly’s best narratives, this song takes place in one scene, one setting, woman to woman. The image of a wife begging her rival not to steal her husband—“even though she can”—transmits a terrible vulnerability. Dolly’s knockout vocal characterization brings the story to life, especially on a chilling harmonized lick after the final entreaty, while she waits for Jolene to decide her fate. This is the master’s signature song, as intriguing to the imagination and the ear today as ever. —Nate Logsdon

6. Television: “Marquee Moon”

Led by Tom Verlaine, Television may not have been the biggest band to come out of CBGBs, but it may have been its best, utilizing both elements of punk and jazz to create some of the most interesting and flat out impressive guitar jams in rock history. At over 10 minutes, “Marque Moon,” the band’s most well known track, may not have hit the charts at all, but its influence was wide-reaching with massive fans in later acts like R.E.M., U2, Sonic Youth, and Pixies—it’s no surprise that critics initially viewed The Strokes as a Television rip-off. With some of the most face-melting guitar solos ever to be played in the grimy Lower Manhattan music venues, “Marque Moon” is a testament to the power of experimentation in guitar music and being unafraid to buck mainstream conception of what’s commercially viable (like having a 5+ minute solo in a 10-minute-long single). —Steven Edelstone

5. John Lennon: “Imagine”

Today’s news cycle makes it almost impossible to even imagine a world where “all the people” are “living life in peace.” But the staying power of John Lennon’s “Imagine” is such that after just one listen, some hope is restored. You can’t help but feel something when Lennon sings “Imagine all the people living for today”—children hold hands, dogs stop barking and the stripes of the world’s flags make a rainbow. Lennon crafted for us in 1971 a song for generations of hopeful “dreamers,” and almost 50 years later it still holds the power to move and inspire. —Ellen Johnson

4. Michael Jackson: “Thriller”

Coming off a series of solo hits that included the disco favorites “Off The Wall” and “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” as well as the pop “Billie Jean” and the Eddie Van Halen guitar-powered “Beat It,” The King of Pop was seeking to bring it all together and supersede everything he’d previously done. Beyond its John Landis-directed horror movie video, “Thriller” took a bass line that picked up speed, horn splashes, a chop-stroked guitar part and a sense of drama that built into a blast of sound. Even if you didn’t learn the zombie dance from the video’s culmination, “Thriller” still lent itself to mad freestyling, with its rhythmic structure that people could samba, hustle, jitterbug or strip to. That kind of versatility has brought the dance floor (and any Halloween gathering) to a climax from the mid-’80s to today. —Holly Gleason

3. Bob Dylan: “The Times They Are A-Changin”

Among Dylan’s protest songs, this one stands out for being unusually dewy-eyed. We often think of young Dylan as a boy with an old soul, but these lyrics aren’t wizened. They’re undeniably naïve, and that sort of sentiment within his body of work is refreshing. He pulls it off, capturing the optimism of both his budding generation and all youth movements since. Although the song came out in 1964, it doesn’t overtly mention the Civil Rights Movement; the nonspecific lyrics have allowed myriad listeners to project their causes onto his words. The times have always been a-changin’, but this song’s appeal never does. —Monica Hunter-Hart

2. Amy Winehouse: “Back to Black”

Despite a short career that was tragically cut short, English singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse made such a wide-ranging impact and one of her most beloved songs was the title track from her final studio album, 2006’s Back to Black. “Back to Black” harkens back to the sound of ’50s girl groups and classic soul while maintaining Winehouse’s fierce charisma and her once in a lifetime, contemporary jazz vocals. Recorded with Mark Ronson, the song addressed her recurring relationship struggles with Blake Fielder-Civil and her heroin addiction. With it’s simple backdrop of piano, strings, drums, guitar and Winehouse’s soulful, awe-inspiring vocals, the song paints a portrait of two contrasting forces: Winehouse’s tortured soul and her undeniable, natural talent. —Lizzie Manno

1. David Bowie: “Heroes”

Like all the best Bowie tracks, this one is a build. It begins with whispered, cooing, with the narrator imploring his companion to be his queen. Approximately three minutes in, the tone of Bowie’s voice dramatically shifts into an emotional wail. By the time he gets to the line “We’re nothing/ And nothing can help us,” his voice is cracked with emotion. Despite its progressive sound, “Heroes” betrays some very old-fashioned sentiments. It’s the emotionally gripping tale about a man desperately seeking the comforts of love and the always effervescent warmth of happiness—if just for one day. Bowie had written sad songs before but never has he sounded so, well, achingly human. —Mark Rozeman

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