Music is, to quote Shakespeare (with the risk of sounding extremely pretentious), “the food of love”. It is a unique form of sustenance that almost everybody takes every single day. From the jingles that you hear on television to the melodies belted out by songbirds, your brain is always enveloped by a tune. But what’s truly incredible about good music is how it always manages to resonate with you on a personal level, leaving a permanent imprint of itself on your person, particularly when it becomes associated with a particular memory, emotion or person.
If you’re a 90s kid, you probably remember jamming to Michael Jackson and Nirvana and the like as a kid, and hearing the same songs today must evoke a bittersweet, probing sense of nostalgia within you. This puissant impact of music must be why it functions almost as a universal language; a mode of communication that hollows out a deeper level of connection amongst people. Naturally, it follows that music comes in all sorts of packaging; each tune varies from the next in terms of its genre, its theme, its culture, its inspiration, and its ability to tug on your heartstrings. By the way, one of Nirvana’s songs made our list of the top 25 best, most famous classic songs of all time.
Although music has been around for a long time, practically everything about it has changed, primarily due to the 20th-century technology revolution. Let’s rewind to the last decade of the 1800s, and move forward from there. If you wanted to appreciate and enjoy music as a means of entertainment, you essentially needed to be financially and socially well-off, because the only ways to do so were: a) possess a phonograph (which wasn’t really widespread); b) have money to be able to attend musical theatres and concerts; c) be endowed with innate musical talent and immense privilege so as to learn how to read sheet music and play instruments yourself. But, as we move onwards, we now have mass-produced gramophone records and frequent radio broadcasts. Naturally, with these changes, a melange of musical styles were experimented with, and the number of musical genres multiplied. Thus we began to segue into the present, with music continually evolving along the way.
Let’s start with the list, but before that, I’m sure you must be silently pondering in some crevice of your mind: “Music is art, how do you quantify art?” Well, let me reiterate what I said at the beginning: “We did it anyway.” But to put you at ease, let me assure you that the songs we selected from the Rolling Stone and widely-used internet forums are from different decades and genres and enjoy an unbelievable level of popularity. The songs are ranked by date of release, because, as I’m sure you’d understand, selecting 25 from the incredible myriad of songs out there is hard enough. But we understand that some of you out there would want a different appreciation of music; for instance, you might be looking for the top 100 songs of all time, or the top 100 rock songs of all time, or the best pop songs of the 2000s, or the best songs of all time Bollywood, but if you’re looking for classic songs everyone knows, a category that supersedes all, you’re definitely at the right place, since we took into account every song mentioned on those lists and chose the very best for ours. But before we sing along these evergreen songs, you can read (hear) our list of the 10 most popular songs of all-time that we compiled a few years ago. We’re sure that you are definitely familiar with all of them, and that some are your choice when singing in the bath. In case you want more best songs of all time YouTube is where you should look for them. Speaking of singing, check out these best karaoke songs for people who can’t sing if you are ready to show your talent to the world.
Awesome, we can finally start. So here are the top 25 best most famous classic songs of all time lined up according to their release date:
25. One – U2
Time of Release: February 1992
The first spot on our list of the top 25 best most famous classic songs of all time is taken by the celebrated track from U2’s almost equally acclaimed album Achtung Baby. It’s been interpreted in a variety of ways: as a promotion of the universal ideals of unity and peace and as a harsh reminder of what is imperative for survival.
24. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
Time of Release: September 1991
We are continuing our list of top 25 best most famous classic songs of all time with the song which teenagers all over the world deeply connected to, the release of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a defining moment for both Nirvana and the rock genre. Years after Cobain’s death, it is still prized as an anthem by disillusioned youth.
23. One – Metallica
Time of Release: January 1989
Metallica has released numerous hits till present – Enter Sandman and Master of Puppets spring to mind – but “One” retained a special spot amongst the lot. Perhaps its popularity can be traced to the originality of the song’s context and themes that concern World War I and death.
22. Heroes – David Bowie
Time of Release: September 1977
Although Ziggy Stardust had tremendous successes in his name, Bowie’s most impactful song would have to be “Heroes”. A heartbreakingly beautiful tale about love transcending the then seemingly impenetrable Berlin Wall, this release was momentous in bringing it down.
21. Hotel California – The Eagles
Time of Release: February 1977
This famed release from one of the best-selling albums of all time – also titled “Hotel California” – is multi-layered and complex in meaning, mainly because it’s open to so many different ways of perception; it could be about hedonism, experience or morality, or all of these at once. This aspect of it, as well as the acclaimed guitar solo, render it a timeless piece of music.
20. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
Time of Release: October 1975
Probably one of the songs with the largest cult following on our list of the top 25 best most famous classic songs of all time, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a true testament to Freddie Mercury’s brilliance. There is a world of opinions on what the lyrics mean, but regardless, the melody is enough to grant this song legendary status.
19. Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen
Time of Release: August 1975
When released, this song went on a commercial high, but four decades later, it retains its popularity as an excellent strand of music in the heterogeneous genre of rock and roll. Bruce Springsteen is also one of the best-selling artists of all time.
18. No Woman No Cry – Bob Marley
Time of Release: 1975
One of Bob Marley’s best, “No Woman No Cry” celebrates reggae and establishes it as a well-respected music genre, on par with the rest. It also pays homage to the unparalleled musical talent of Bob Marley.
17. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
Time of Release: November 1971
“Stairway to Heaven” has been classed as one of the greatest rock songs of all time, if not the best, and rightly so: the mellifluous guitar solos coupled with soft soulful lyrics, followed by a more intense section of rock altogether contribute to a sublime musical composition.
16. Imagine – John Lennon
Time of Release: October 1971
Though the number 16 on our list of top 25 best most famous classic songs of all time might first appear hopelessly romantic and out-of-touch with reality, it serves to remind us of the pointlessness of division and conflict, whilst embodying the true spirit of love and unity. Ensconced between heavenly chords, John Lennon’s world continues to live on in people’s hearts.
15. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Time of Release: May 1971
The depth of emotion in Gaye’s words have cemented this song’s spot in history. The genuine concerns raised in this song coupled with the melancholic tone and the incredulity of the lyrics render it both original and thought-provoking.
14. Let It Be – The Beatles
Time of Release: May 1970
Hint: This song is only the first of three Beatles’ masterpieces to appear on our list of the top 25 best most famous classic songs of all time. The hope and emotional resilience that this song encourages in times of hardship are profound and timeless, which is probably why we all turn to it in times of distress.
13. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel
Time of Release: January 1970
Similar to the song on number 14, this song also encourages optimism and hardiness and functions as a support when things seem to be going on a downward spiral. It is also the trademark song of the venerated duo and exhibits all the qualities of perfection in music.
12. Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
Time of Release: December 1969
Another war-themed song on our list of the top 25 best most famous classic songs of all time, “Gimme Shelter” accurately captures the feeling of suffocation and claustrophobia that arises in a world of rising tension and conflict.
11. All Along The Watchtower – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Time of Release: November 1968
Originally released by Bob Dylan, this cover of “All Along The Watchtower” supersedes the original in that it encapsulates a degree of complexity elicited by the musical genius of Jimi Hendrix; there is no doubt therefore that it is far more popular.
10. Hey Jude – The Beatles
Time of Release: August 1968
Once again a ballad that emanates love and concern, this song has a backstory that is even more touching than its lyrics: it was written by McCartney to comfort Lennon’s son after his parents’ divorce.
8. A Day in the Life – The Beatles
Time of Release: May 1967
The Beatles make one last appearance on our list of the top 25 best most famous classic songs of all time, this time via “A Day In The Life”, yet another piece with a touching source of inspiration. The verses are generally attributed to the death of Tara Browne and Lennon’s experiences with her.
8. Respect – Aretha Franklin
Time of Release: May 1967
Although the original song was by Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin’s version revolutionized the meaning and connotations of the song and was thus incredibly impactful, especially in the propagation of the feminist movement.
7. Light My Fire – The Doors
Time of Release: April 1967
The best-selling single by The Doors, the popularity of this epitome of psychedelic rock is evident from the fact that it has been covered over and over by a number of artists.
6. Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys
Time of Release: October 1966
Aptly named, this song is a mixture of cheerful and upbeat sounds, chorus and lyrics, thereby inculcating a genuine sense of joy. Considering its continuing ability to elicit happiness fifty years after its release, there’s no wonder that the song is still immensely popular today.
5. Like A Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan
Time of Release: July 1965
This song is the trademark of Bob Dylan, one of the most influential artists of all time – a man who soared high not only in his genres but who left a lasting impact on music as a whole. “Like A Rolling Stone” is still popular today, and the assortment of interpretations constructed by different audiences after careful scrutiny of the lyrics impart complexity and depth to the song.
4. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones
Time of Release: June 1965
This song that ranks 4th on the list of top 25 best most famous classic songs of all time sparked a fair bit of controversy in its day for its apparent diatribe against commercialism and the obvious sexual undertones to it. But of course, it’s extremely catchy, and something history couldn’t help as it honored the song with fame.
3. What’d I Say – Ray Charles
Time of Release: July 1959
This song, a whopping 58 years old, is not only remembered but is actively listened to today; that in itself is evidence of Ray Charles’ superlative flair for music.
2. Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry
Time of Release: March 1958
This musical narrative that stems from Berry’s own experiences as a person of color navigating life was appreciated by all kinds of audiences and rose to the top in its genre of rock and roll.
1. Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
Time of Release: July 1956
The king of rock had to show up at least once, although not in his musical right, for “Hound Dog” was initially released by Big Mama Thornton. However, clearly, this version outlasted the original. It was released in 1956, making it the oldest of all the songs we have talked about so far, and hence why it takes the number 1 spot on our list of the top 25 best most famous classic songs of all time.