39 Most Iconic Songs in History

Let’s face it: music heals. Our favorite songs can bring us up when we’re down, make us think about a time in history through a different light or bridge two generations together. Both lyrics and rhythm have the power to create poignant sound.

From rock ‘n roll to pop to EDM, we’ve rounded up some of the most iconic, influential songs in history. Check out our list to learn more!

“Blue Suede Shoes”-Elvis Presley

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@ElvisPresley / Twitter

Album: Elvis Presley

Year released: 1956

Carl Perkins, a famous American songwriter, wrote “Blue Suede Shoes,” perhaps most famously covered by Elvis. Other popular musicians have sung the song, including Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran.

“I Walk the Line”-Johnny Cash

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@Lady_Rock_11 / Twitter

Album: Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar!

Year released: 1956

Johnny Cash wrote this tune in 1956 as a way to show his wife, June, his true devotion. The song turned into a big hit and would later be adapted in two Hollywood films in 1970 and 2005. Both films were named after the song’s title.

“Like a Rolling Stone”-Bob Dylan

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@Bob41Dylan / Twitter

Album: Highway 61 Revisited

Year released: 1965

Dylan recorded “Like a Rolling Stone” after returning from a grueling tour in England. The song originated from a ten-page long journal entry Dylan wrote. Today, it’s one of his most popular works, particularly for its lyrical directness, begging for the public to understand his place in the world.

“Good Vibrations”-Beach Boys

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@TimeinMusic / Twitter

Album: single release

Year released: 1966

Brian Wilson drew inspiration for “Good Vibrations” from a personal interest in cosmic vibrations and his mother’s story about dogs barking at people they sensed “vibrations” from. In 1994, the tune was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

“The Wind Cries Mary”-Jimi Hendrix

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@ThatEricAlper / Twitter

Album: single release

Year released: 1967

Jimi Hendrix is known to have said “The Wind Cries Mary” is about more than one person, not just his then-girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham. Since its release over fifty years ago, many musicians have covered the song, including John Mayer and Sting.

“Hey Jude”-Beatles

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@thebeatles / Twitter

Album: single release

Year released: 1968

How can you truly only pick one great Beatles song? In terms of success, “Hey Jude” has sold an approximate eight million copies across the world to-date. Paul McCartney, who penned the song, originally titled it “Hey Jules” in honor of Julian, John Lennon’s son, who was having a hard time after his mom and dad split.

“Gimme Shelter”-The Rolling Stones

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Album: Let It Bleed

Year released: 1969

Together, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote “Gimme Shelter,” a song that would later reach Gold certification in Italy and Platinum certification in the U.K. It’s a song that has impacted pop culture among all media, including movies, TV shows and documentaries.

“Whole Lotta Love”-Led Zeppelin

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@ledzeppelin / Twitter

Album: Led Zeppelin II

Year released: 1969

It’s rumored that Jimmy Page created the main guitar riff in “Whole Lotta Love” while spending time on his houseboat in England. The song has Platinum certification in Italy and Gold certification in the U.K. and U.S. It’s been covered by Tina Turner, used in the 2008 Olympic Games and is ranked number 75 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

“Cry Baby”-Janis Joplin

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@crockpics / Twitter

Album: Pearl

Year released: 1970

Just before her death in 1971, Janis Joplin recorded her own version of “Cry Baby,” a 1963 song by Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters. She released it as a single for her album, Pearl. Today, many musicians continue to cover the song.

“Proud Mary”-Tina Turner

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@Variety_Film / Twitter

Album: Workin’ Together

Year released: 1971

Before Tina Turner got her hands on “Proud Mary,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, also known as CCR, wrote and recorded it in 1969 as a single for their album, Bayou Country. Years later, in 1971, Ike & Tina Turner recorded their own spin on the hit. Today, many Tina Turner fans think of “Proud Mary” as one of her most admirable and outspoken accomplishments ever.

“Tiny Dancer”-Elton John

Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock.com

Album: Madman Across the Water

Year released: 1972

“Tiny Dancer,” composed by Elton John and written by Bernie Taupin, is certified Gold and Platinum in the U.S. Taupin credits the song’s inspiration to his wife at the time, Maxine Feibelman. In 2000, “Tiny Dancer” appeared in Almost Famous, starring Kate Hudson, which made the song regain popularity.

“Dream On”-Aerosmith

agwilson / Shutterstock.com

Album: Aerosmith

Year released: 1973

Released on Aerosmith’s first studio album, “Dream On” became one of the band’s most successful songs to-date. Steven Tyler, Aerosmith’s frontman, composed it when he was just 14, stating it was the only song he felt comfortable using his completely raw and real voice.

“Bohemian Rhapsody”-Queen

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Album: A Night at the Opera

Year released: 1975

Queen’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury, wrote “Bohemian Rhapsody” in parts over the span of fifteen years. The song is best known for its progression into starkly different-sounding parts and topped the UK Singles Chart for nine whole weeks. “Bohemian Rhapsody” has substantially impacted pop culture, including its inclusion in 1992’s Wayne’s World.

“Dreams”-Fleetwood Mac

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@fleetwoodmac / Twitter

Album: Rumours

Year released: 1977

“Dreams” came along later in Fleetwood Mac’s musical career. By 1977 when the song was released, the band had already produced ten studio albums. It has reached number one on the U.S.’s Billboard Hot 100 and Canada’s RPM Top 100 Singles.

“Call Me”-Blondie

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@chrissteinplays / Twitter

Album: American Gigolo

Year released: 1980

“Call Me” served as the theme song for American Giglio, a 1980 Italian film. After its release, “Call Me” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and stayed there for six weeks. It also reached number one on the U.K. and Canada charts.

“In the Air Tonight”-Phil Collins

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Album: Face Value

Year released: 1981

After divorcing his wife Andrea Bertorellin, Phil Collins drew inspiration for “In the Air Tonight,” a song that would later reach number two on the UK Singles chart. Its smooth, yet loud drum transition makes the song one of Collins’ song characteristic of his musical style and career.

“I Love Rock ‘n Roll”-Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock.com

Album: I Love Rock ‘n Roll

Year released: 1981

Adapted from the Arrows’ 1975 version, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” took on an entirely new spin with Joan Jett’s new recording. For seven weeks, the band’s newly recorded song hit number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.

“Born in the U.S.A.”-Bruce Springstein

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@StampieRuns / Twitter

Album: Born in the U.S.A.

Year released: 1982

A true American anthem, Bruce Springstein’s “Born in the U.S.A.” is also a call to arms with the hardships surrounding the Vietnam War and the government’s approach to war veterans. Many Americans play it around the Fourth of July, marking it an American classic, as its title suggests.

“Let’s Dance”-David Bowie

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@TEXASROCKFEED / Twitter

Album: Let’s Dance

Year released: 1983

Released as a single, “Let’s Dance” rose to be one of David Bowie’s most memorable and popular songs ever. During its first week on the charts, it hit number five on the UK Singles Chart. It also appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the Australian charts.

“Photograph”-Def Leppard

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@DefLeppard / Twitter

Album: Pyromania

Year released: 1983

Def Leppard is one of those 80s rock bands that has stood the test of time, especially for their upbeat, wild songs, like “Photograph.” As a single, “Photograph” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart after it was released and stayed there for six straight weeks.

“Jump”-Van Halen

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@Big80sStation / Twitter

Album: 1984

Year released: 1983

After its release, “Jump” reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It is known as one of Van Halen’s most successful and popular songs and has historically been used in sports arenas across the world, specifically by A.C. Milan and the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL. In 1984, it lost a Grammy nomination for “Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal” to “Purple Rain” by Prince & The Revolution.

“Thriller”-Michael Jackson

Vicki L. Miller / Shutterstock.com

Album: Thriller

Year released: 1984

“Thriller” was one of seven singles released on Michael Jackson’s album, Thriller. Almost an instant success, the song reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100, only to later become one of the most influential songs in pop culture, especially Halloween, as it has a dance to go along with it.

“Purple Rain”-Prince and the Revolution

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@KathieLoveSolar / Twitter

Album: Purple Rain

Year released: 1984

Anyone who’s ever heard of Prince knows his power ballad, “Purple Rain.” The song is Certified Gold in Denmark, New Zealand and the United States and Certified Platinum in the United Kingdom. After its release, it reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Today, Prince fans remember “Purple Rain” as a pivotal part of his legacy.

“Just Like Heaven”-the Cure

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@capestop / Twitter

Album: Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

Year released: 1987

In 1988, “Just Like Heaven” topped the Billboard charts at number 40, making it one of the Cure’s most notable hits ever. The song has appeared in movies and even inspired the 2005 rom-com starring Reese Witherspoon, Just Like Heaven.

“In God’s Country”-U2

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Album: The Joshua Tree

Year released: 1987

Perhaps “In God’s Country” isn’t U2’s most famous song, but that doesn’t make it any less important or impactful. The song was Bono’s attempt to get the Edge to contribute to a more upbeat tune for their otherwise rather melancholy album, The Joshua Tree. It hit number 44 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart after its release and number 25 in Canada.

“Free Fallin’”-Tom Petty

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Album: Full Moon Fever

Year released: 1989

Alongside writer friend Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty wrote “Free Fallin’” in just two days for his first solo album apart from his band, the Heartbreakers. It reached number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1990. The day Petty died, the song streamed 530,000 times.

“Vogue”-Madonna

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Album: I’m Breathless

Year released: 1990

Madonna created a confidence-building masterpiece with her hit, “Vogue,” which is known for its disco and techno hues. The song’s music video features a black-and-white escape to the 1920s fashion era.

“Come as You Are”-Nirvana

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@kexp / Twitter

Album: Nevermind

Year released: 1991

While most people reference “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as Nirvana’s most popular song, other songs are just as popular, including “Come as You Are.” This song’s title is rumored to come from the motto of the Morck Hotel in Kurt Cobain’s hometown, Aberdeen, Washington, where he frequently stayed the night.

“I Will Always Love You”-Whitney Houston

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Album: single release

Year released: 1992

In 1973, Dolly Parton wrote and recorded “I Will Always Love You” as a country track, and it reached number one on the country charts the year after. Elvis Presley pushed to record his own version, but Dolly declined.

Years later, in 1992, Whitney Houston recorded her own version, with Dolly’s approval, for the movie, The Bodyguard. Houston’s version hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and stayed there for 14 weeks.

“Iris”-Goo Goo Dolls

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@thedonnabruner / Twitter

Album: Dizzy Up the Girl

Year released: 1998

In 1997, Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik wrote and recorded “Iris” for the movie City of Angels. The song, which is still to this day one of the band’s most popular songs, was later released on their sixth album, Dizzy Up the Girl.

20 years after its release, in 2018, the Recording Industry Association of America granted “Iris” quadruple platinum status. “Iris” has topped music charts in countries across the world, including Australia, Italy, Iceland and Scotland.

“…Baby One More Time”-Britney Spears

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Album: …Baby One More Time

Year released: 1998

Britney Spears’ first single, “…Baby One More Time” remains one of her most-played songs to-date. In 1998 right after its release, it reached number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, which was only the beginning of the song’s continued success.

The music video, another part of the song that forever altered pop culture, features Spears dressed as a schoolgirl walking through the halls of a school. Spears has sung the song since its release, including on her most recent show residency in Las Vegas, Britney: Piece of Me.

“Learn to Fly”-Foo Fighters

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Album: There Is Nothing Left to Lose

Year released: 1999

Known for its Grammy-winning music video and its late-90s sound, “Learn to Fly” became the Foo Fighters’ first song to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song has certifications in Platinum and Gold in countries across the world, including the United States.

“Smooth”-Santana featuring Rob Thomas

Sterline Munksgard / Shutterstock

Album: Supernatural

Year released: 1999

“Smooth” hit number two on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, number one on the U.S. Billboard Adult Top 40 chart and number two on the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Top 40 chart. It has also ranked highly on music charts across the globe and is known for its raw vocals from Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas, combined with Santana’s musical genius.

“Speed of Sound”-Coldplay

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Album: X&Y

Year released: 2005

Inspired by Chris Martin’s daughter, Apple, “Speed of Sound” has been Gold-certified in Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. It was nominated for two Grammys and was considered to be Coldplay’s most successful song until 2008, when the band released “Viva la Vida.” “Speed of Sound” was composed of synthesizers and electric guitars to create a timeless, airy sound.

“Umbrella”-Rihanna

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Album: Good Girl Gone Bad

Year released: 2007

Fun fact: “Umbrella” was originally created for Britney Spears, but her label did not want to go through with the tune.

“Umbrella” stayed at number one on the U.K. Singles Chart for 10 weeks and on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart for seven weeks after its release. It remains one of Rihanna’s most popular and successful singles to-date and is certified Platinum and Gold multiple times in countries across the world.

“Rolling in the Deep”-Adele

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Album: 21

Year released: 2010

Since its release in 2010, “Rolling in the Deep” has hit number one in 12 countries. Adele has stated the song is about a breakup. Notably, Adele and fellow composer, Paul Epworth, recorded the song in just a day.

“Born This Way”-Lady Gaga

Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock

Album: Born This Way

Year released: 2011

Lady Gaga has dubbed “Born This Way” as her “freedom song,” particularly due to its nod to and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. The song has sold over 10 million copies across the world since Lady Gaga released it, and it is certified Platinum and Gold across the world.

“Levels”-Avicii

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@tim_berg05 / Twitter

Album: single release

Year released: 2011

In 2011, the late Swedish DJ, Tim Bergling, or, Avicii, released “Levels,” a song that would forever change his career for the better. On the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, “Levels” held a place for a whopping 20 weeks. It has Platinum and Gold certifications across various global charts, including an eight-time Platinum certification in Sweden. Today, it remains one of Avicii’s most-played songs ever.

“Castle on the Hill”-Ed Sheeran

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Album: ÷

Year released: 2017

When Ed Sheeran released “Castle on the Hill,” it reached number two in multiple countries, including the U.K. and Germany, just behind its simultaneous release, “Shape of Me,” which reached number one.

“Castle on the Hill” is an autobiographical song of Sheeran’s youth growing up in Framlingham, England. The title refers to the Framlingham Castle. The music video captures the song’s lyrical themes of enjoying friends’ company and nature.

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