The Hall of Songs

These are the 36 songs you’ve inducted into the Hall of Songs.

“Rock Around the Clock”
By Bill Haley & His Comets, 1955
Inducted: 1st Class / 1955 / 67.56%

It’s not the first rock ‘n’ roll song; in fact, let’s call it what it is: a country singer leaning into rockabilly and relying on the propulsive, spontaneous percussion patterns of his drummer, Billy Gussak. Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” has been taken apart, studied and investigated, but above all it’s the sound of a white bandleader mixing some of the styles found across America in the early 1950s, cleaning it up and shining it well, and presenting it as a sparkling and breezy piece of teenage fun. It’s still impossible to deny.

“Heartbreak Hotel”
By Elvis Presley, 1956
Inducted: 2nd Class / 1956 / 67.74%

This is the moment a jerky kid from Tupelo becomes a star. Elvis’ voice, singing about a lonely man who’s a double shot of whiskey from doing some terrible, trembles as it hopscotches through bassist Bill Black’s jazzy saunter. Twinkly piano attempts to set Elvis as a crude lounge act, but Scotty Moore’s stinging guitar has other ideas. The vibe is everything. From here, Elvis could yodel and it would be a hit.

“Great Balls of Fire”
By Jerry Lee Lewis, 1957
Inducted: 3rd Class / 1957 / 75.40%

Black musicians effortlessly twisted spirituality into the rhythm and blues that would dominate the South in the 1950s, but white audiences didn’t perk up their ears until a lanky and pasty Louisiana kid started pounding on the ivories. “Great Balls of Fire” is Jerry Lewis’ quintessential song, a one-minute, fifty-one second sermon set to rolling, bounding piano and sashaying cymbals.

“You Send Me”
By Sam Cooke, 1957
Inducted: 3rd Class / 1957 / 66.67%

If there was ever a song that introduced America to what we know of as “soul music,” it’s “You Send Me.” Nothing sounded like this before: A gospel kid singing about pure young love over cooing background vocals and a tight, innocent rhythm. “You Send Me” also illustrates just why Cooke would be one of the biggest stars of the next half-decade – his smooth crooning has more yearning than your Sinatras and Crosbys. It seemed obvious even this early that Cooke clearly had more to say, though that would come a little later.

“Johnny B. Goode”
By Chuck Berry, 1958
Inducted: 4th Class / 1958 / 75.00%

It’s simple blues, but nobody married it with chugging guitar quite like Chuck Berry. His goal was to write and record rhythm and blues songs that could reach white audiences through rockabilly, and “Johnny B. Goode” did that better than any song before or since. Plus, this cocksure tale is about a kid who uses rock ‘n’ roll as a way of life. Name five more influential lyric sheets, we dare you.

“Good Golly Miss Molly”
By Little Richard, 1958
Inducted: 4th Class / 1958 / 70.00%

No performer simultaneously baffled and roused audiences like Little Richard. Born to to record wild songs and light up the stage, Richard’s best tunes – including “Tutti Frutti,” “Lucille” and “Long Tall Sally” – feature pounding piano keys, wailing vocals, and plenty of winks and nudges. “Good Golly Miss Molly” is the pinnacle of this style. Richard never pounds harder, never wails better, and never delivers the salaciousness with more juice. The incredible thing about “Good Golly Miss Molly” is that it’s just two minutes long.

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow”
By The Shirelles, 1960
Inducted: 6th Class / 1960 / 68.00%

Once record executives got their arms around this new fad of youth music, they were able to turn its creation into something like a Detroit automobile factory, but set in sleek and impossibly urbane Manhattan. The Brill Building was rock’s first laboratory, armed with top-notch musicians and fueled by young and hungry writers like the married Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Their stunning “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” effortlessly combines teenage berdroom sighing with adult themes, the lyrics coated with a candy-flavored string section. Topping it all are the pitch-perfect vocals of pioneering girl group The Shirelles. It’s the first great, blissful lab creation in modern music.

“At Last”
By Etta James, 1960
Inducted: 6th Class / 1960 / 68.00%

Thankfully, music has a few stories of vocalists who, after a few years of uncomfortably fitting material, get the song that defines their entire being. Etta James is one of those. “At Last” is hers and hers alone, a shimmering pop song about the moment you’ve discovered you don’t have to look for love anymore. The arrangement is light and unobtrusive, purposeful because it lets James sing the crispest, most confidently gorgeous vocal of rock’s early years.

By The Isley Brothers, 1959
Inducted: 6th Class / 1960 / 68.00%

This isn’t just the song that you sing at wild college parties and weddings. It ain’t just about the “a little bit louder now” part and the “hey, hey, hey, hey” part. “Shout” is the Isley Brothers stretching Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops” into a call to arms. This is the first iconic soul rave, a song that sets the tone for everything from funk to mid-period Motown. Also, those vocals … Ronald Isley slices you up like a chef’s knife.

“What’d I Say”
By Ray Charles, 1959
Inducted: 6th Class / 1960 / 68.00%

If “Shout” is the sound of a soul rave, “What’d I Say” is the sound of soul finding its groove. Ray Charles spent the first years of his career teetering between Christian ballads and upbeat love songs, but this is the first time he finds the sweet spot in the middle. There’s plenty of gospel in “What’d I Say,” plenty of late-night moonshine blues in it, too. Then there’s sex. Lots of sex. Nearly a decade after Billy Ward and His Dominoes were signing about back door men, Ray decided to take the front door, and American music hasn’t since looked back.

By Patsy Cline, 1961
Inducted: 7th Class / 1961 / 86.27%

It’s a singer with fine tone and a distinct voice. It’s a legendary songwriter. It’s Nashville’s top musicians. And it’s the bluest and best background singers of the rockabilly era. “Crazy” by Patsy Cline, written by Willie Nelson, played by the A-Team, and backed by the Jordanaires, is one of the definitive country songs. It’s an everyday tale of a lovestruck woman worried and wondering, and it couldn’t be more perfect.

“Can’t Help Falling in Love”
By Elvis Presley, 1961
Inducted: 7th Class / 1961 / 82.35%

In the 1960s, Elvis Presley starred in a lot of movies. Most of them weren’t very good. But at least “Blue Hawaii” gave us the definitive Elvis ballad, a simmering and epic love song where our hero hands in a textbook vocal. It should be studied for ages.

“Stand By Me”
By Ben E. King, 1961
Inducted: 7th Class / 1961 / 66.67%

After leaving The Drifters and hooking up with old writing pals Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Ben E. King came up with this richly rewarding piece of music. Inspired by a psalm, “Stand By Me” uses beautiful natural imagery to wrap us into a lyric sheet about the potential of love. With memorable percussion choices, a regal string arrangement, and an optimistically gravelly vocal by King, it’s the kind of song that’s sure to live on through the ages.

By Roy Orbison, 1961
Inducted: 7th Class / 1961 / 66.67%

Roy Orbison’s whole thing is drama. Every song is a damn heartbreak just as every string section bleeds, every background vocal portends pain, and every lead vocal trembles through the slow march of impending death before wailing one last scream. “Crying” perfects all of Orbison’s ideas in one three-act burst that clocks in at two and three quarters. It’s the best drama music had to offer before the British Invasion.

“Do You Love Me”
By The Contours, 1962
Inducted: 8th Class / 1962 / 70.58%

In its heyday, Motown Records was America’s most streamlined hit factory. But this record, which came out of the same Hitsville U.S.A. offices as everything Smokey Robinson was writing, does in no way reflect the Motown aesthetic. This is the next step after “Shout,” a three-minute party showcasing a freewheeling Funk Brothers sound, an elastic vocal performance by Joe Billingslea, and some tricks that Motown founder and songwriter Berry Gordy had learned in the studio. Gordy would say this song synthesized rhythm and blues, pop, and rock ‘n’ roll. He might be right – before the music world would slowly split Black from white, this Detroit smoker remains a unique, singular triumph.

“Blowin’ in the Wind”
By Bob Dylan, 1963
Inducted: 9th Class / 1963 / 71.42%

Before Bob Dylan, folk was the sound of quiet Appalachian and Dust Bowl rebellion, of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. But Dylan, who didn’t sell many records right away, was the right poet with the right voice at the right time. “Blowin’ in the Wind” captured America just as its youth were wising up to the injustice around them. It’s not even that political, but with a lyric like “how many deaths will it take ’til he knows that too many people have died,” it’s not hard to see how this song made such an immediate impact.

“Be My Baby”
By The Ronettes, 1963
Inducted: 9th Class / 1963 / 67.85%

Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine hits those drums like they’re the heartbeat of Ronnie Spector, lead singer of the Ronettes and the real reason that this classic still endures. Her vocal is innocent and longing simultaneously, captured and stored in 1963 and not tainted by the producer lurking in the shadows. No, “Be My Baby” is about a woman pining for everything she hasn’t got, and nobody could ever take that away.

“Dancing in the Street”
By Martha and the Vandellas, 1964
Inducted: 10th Class / 1964 / 76.92%

The first powerhouse Motown record is a call for action. But while Martha Reeves, the Vandellas, and the Funk Brothers make it sound like the best block party Detroit ever hosted, this is really about rising up and fighting evil across America. Listen to those haunting background vocals, the incessant chunky guitar, the brooding brass, and the bulky bass riff that James Jamerson lays down. “Dancing in the Street” is insanely fun, but peel away the layers and it’s one of the most complex songs of the 1960s.

“A Change is Gonna Come”
By Sam Cooke, 1964
Inducted: 10th Class / 1964 / 73.07%

Sam Cooke died soon after recording “A Change is Gonna Come,” the song that will forever define the first star of soul music. After building a fleet of hits in the late 1950s and early ’60s, Cooke wrote his truth as a Black man in song form – the struggle of the past and present, the hope of the future, the doubt that casts over everything. Backed with a gorgeous string and horn arrangement, “A Change is Gonna Come” is testament to Cooke’s genius. He had so much more to say, but at least we got this.

“The House of the Rising Sun”
By The Animals, 1964
Inducted: 10th Class / 1964 / 69.23%

Eric Burdon didn’t write “House of the Rising Sun.” He didn’t even invent the vocal that vaults this song about Gulf Coast debauchery to demonic levels. But Burdon, backed by his stout British band The Animals, is simply the perfect fit for all of this. He’s a young and uneducated kid from working-class Newcastle translating Southern gothic with reckless abandon. He has no soul, he has no history, and he has no context, but all of that frees him to drunkenly wail about trying to get the hell out of New Orleans. This is a masterclass in drama and proof that broken clocks get them right twice a day.

“I Want to Hold Your Hand”
By The Beatles, 1963
Inducted: 10th Class / 1964 / 69.23%

The Beatles exploded through television sets in 1963 and ’64, defining the second wave of rock with the kind of loose abandon folks like Fats Domino could only dream of displaying. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” punches you, slaps you, turns you around and inside out. John Lennon and Paul McCartney don’t sing the song as much as shout harmonies into the air. George Harrison’s guitar broods and rings at the same time. Ringo Starr’s drums keep everything in place. This is the sound of rock hitting an entirely new gear.

“You’ve Really Got Me”
By The Kinks, 1964
Inducted: 10th Class / 1964 / 69.23%

Dave Davies probably had some Bo Diddley here and some Dick Dale there. Combine the two and you get the charging, jailed-up guitar riff that pulses “You’ve Really Got Me” and sets the tone for the next 25 years of rock ‘n’ roll. His manic solo in the bridge is absolutely unique and fresh, while brother Ray’s vocals wink and twirl in a way that Lennon and/or McCartney couldn’t imagine at the time. The first great second-wave rock ‘n’ roll track? A stunner.

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
By The Rolling Stones, 1965
Inducted: 11th Class / 1965 / 85.71%

From the second Keith Richards’ stinging guitar intrudes, the Rolling Stones’ signature song takes command and never lets go. “Satisfaction” deftly sums up the frustration felt by young people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in the mid 1960s, doing so by pounding its presence into your cortex.

“Like a Rolling Stone”
By Bob Dylan, 1965
Inducted: 11th Class / 1965 / 82.14%

While the Rolling Stones spat in your face with their forceful “Satisfaction,” Bob Dylan quietly threw shade in “Like a Rolling Stone,” the perfect summation of the bubbling chaos brewing in the mid 1960s. “Like a Rolling Stone” has been praised for its pompous run time, its wordy lyric sheet, and its seething tone. All of it is great. But more, Dylan practically invents a ramshackle style of folk rock that’ll make billions for a whole gaggle of baby boomers.

“California Dreamin'”
By The Mamas and the Papas, 1965
Inducted: 11th Class / 1965 / 67.85%

Denny Doherty’s lead vocal never gets enough credit. The trembling, bumbling, overly dramatic protagonist he plays wails over the crunchy folk rhythm, providing Western music with its first fool. Behind him the women of The Mamas and the Papas offer doom and gloom. While many have connected this song to sunshine pop, “California Dreamin'” is far closer to emo and goth, setting the template for countless artists of the 1980s and ’90s.

“Good Vibrations”
By The Beach Boys, 1966
Inducted: 12th Class / 1966 / 78.61%

Brian Wilson spent more than half of a year concocting the formula for his pocket symphony, the single song that would break down the walls of rock ‘n’ roll. “Good Vibrations” is a weird song. While it has traditional verses and choruses, it clearly switches from one part to the next in an angular, dizzying way. Still, everything is recorded so well, from the Beach Boys’ signature harmonies to the early synthesizer sound of the electro-theremin, that it’s hard to do anything but sit back and marvel.

“God Only Knows”
By The Beach Boys, 1966
Inducted: 12th Class / 1966 / 74.21%

When Brian Wilson went into the studio to write, arrange, and produce his Beach Boys’ 1966 album “Pet Sounds,” he was constantly seeking moments that could overwhelm a young listener. “God Only Knows” is a full 2:53 of overwhelming moments. Fragile, defiant, blustery, beautiful: “God Only Knows” shows a young man losing grip of life and knowing the only thing that can save him is the love of a woman. Around that swirls with every emotion a kid could cobble together. Simply stunning,

By The Beatles, 1965
Inducted: 12th Class / 1966 / 70.44%

The Beatles did it all, and they did it all extremely well. But it’s interesting that arguably their most famous song is Paul McCartney playing acoustic guitar and singing while backed by a string arrangement. Here it’s about words and mood. “I believe in yesterday” is a powerful sentiment about unrequited love, and it’s possible nothing has approached that in the nearly 60 years since it was written.

“For What It’s Worth”
By Buffalo Springfield, 1966
Inducted: 12th Class / 1966 / 67.92%

Neil Young’s guitar trembles. Stephen Stills’ vocal observes with hesitation. Richie Furay and Dewey Martin keep their emotions in check. “For What It’s Worth” is proof that a song can feel like a play where all the actors know their parts and hit them perfectly. Written about some authoritative police officers on the Sunset Strip, Buffalo Springfield’s quintessential song captured the tone and tenor of America at the height of both the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement.

“Purple Haze”
By The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1967
Inducted: 13th Class / 1967 / 70.83%

The first few seconds of “Purple Haze” sound like Jimi Hendrix is sounding the alarm to everyone in rock music. The game has changed for good. Guitar will never again sound the same. Unbelievably, this is the band’s second single, one of their first recordings together as a unit. It still hits hard.

“Brown Eyed Girl”
By Van Morrison, 1967
Inducted: 13th Class / 1967 / 66.67%

Sometimes people just want the hits. “Brown Eyed Girl” isn’t the song that rock critics would’ve used to define Van Morrison – it’s a jaunty pop song that describes the very American habit of necking outside the stadium – but maybe it’s ultimately the one he deserves. Put it this way: If Van the Man has all these problems, maybe he needs a cool glass of water splashed right in his face. That’s what this is – the coolest glass of water in the Hall of Songs.

By Aretha Franklin, 1967
Inducted: 13th Class / 1967 / 66.67%

Many in the rock mind hive consider Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect” the greatest single recording of all-time. Hard to argue it. This sounds like we’re getting a private, fly-on-the-wall look at Franklin, her sisters, and a bunch of Muscle Shoals musicians hammer this song out in a New York studio. Few songs cook like this, and few are as vital even today.

“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
By Marvin Gaye, 1968
Inducted: 14th Class / 1968 / 69.56%

During the mid-19th century, slaves adopted the idea of passing along messages “through the grapevine,” or from person to person. Knowing this adds hefty context to the Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield composition about a man learning his love is more lie than truth. The song was shopped around Motown and recorded by numerous artists, each giving lending their own quintessential touch. Marvin Gaye turned it into a slow burn with rapturous, pleading vocals. Behind him is the Funk Brothers at their peak, ensuring this would be an unassailable smash hit. All the elements add up into a gothic, eerie tale of woe that somehow threads in 100 years of context if you listen hard enough. It’s as American as they get.

“Light My Fire”
By The Doors, 1967
Inducted: 14th Class / 1968 / 69.56%

Did the Doors invent the kind of spacy experimentation that would evolve into rock jamming? No. Credit jazz much more for that. Did the Doors invent the sensual stage persona with the Jesus complex? No. Hell, Jerry Lee Lewis was polishing his sex-crazed preacher character a decade earlier. Did the Doors invent an organ leading a rock band? Good question … doesn’t really matter. The point is “Light My Fire” expands the capabilities of a white, college-bred rock ‘n’ roll band without losing both drama and pop sensibility.

“Gimme Shelter”
By The Rolling Stones, 1969
Inducted: 15th Class / 1969 / 75.00%

This is the Rolling Stones at their peak. It’s raw and ready yet shiny from studio spit-polish. It’s Mick Jagger wailing about violence in the streets, war in every direction, and children at risk. It’s a big dirty harmonica and Keith Richards’ glass-sharp lines. And it’s Merry Clayton waking up in the middle of the night to deliver a tornado of a background vocal. Gimme shelter? Take shelter.

“The Weight”
By The Band, 1968
Inducted: 15th Class / 1969 / 66.67%

“The Weight” tells stories of hastily-drawn characters borne out of Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, home to Band drummer and vocalist Levon Helm. They ultimately are American stories: fighting with the devil, traveling without a destination, and the need for community – things we take with us daily. Paired with a warm blanket of piano, bass, stumbling drums, “The Weight” turns these stories around and lets the listener approach them in their own way. “The Weight” becomes whatever the listener wants it to be.