Top 10 Ultimate Decade Defining Songs

Script written by Sean Harris. Whether it’s pop, disco, grunge, rap, rock and roll, heavy metal or another genre, these tracks changed music history for good. For this list, we’ve looked at a combination of the most commercially successful songs, the most influential records, the tracks that stood the test of time and which best reflect the decades in which they were released. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 decade defining songs of all time. Special thanks to our users Dylan Cotton, Paola Garcia, Vince Travolta and Opst3r for submitting the idea on our Suggest Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Whether it’s pop, disco, grunge, rap, rock and roll, heavy metal or another genre, these tracks changed music history for good. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 decade defining songs of all time.

For this list, we’ve looked at a combination of the most commercially successful songs, the most influential records, the tracks that stood the test of time and which best reflect the decades in which they were released.

#10: “Lose Yourself” (2002)
Eminem

As our ultimate decade-definer of the 2000s, it’s appropriate that “Lose Yourself” opens this list. Written during filming breaks on the set of “8 Mile,” this is Eminem at the peak of his powers. The record draws on past experience, and speaks to the listener like little has before it. A huge production, when music is this powerful, it has you believing that you really can do anything! With Grammy Awards and an Oscar, it’s clearly Eminem’s crowning achievement and one of the noughties’ best!

#9: “Like a Virgin” (1984)
Madonna

As the first single off her sophomore effort, “Like a Virgin” was the record that really propelled Madonna into the public eye. Lyrically, it was especially racy, but musically it stood out as well – as Madonna favored actual musicians to the synthesizer sound of her first album. Based on her performance of the tune at the first MTV Music Video Awards in 1984, the soon-to-be Queen of Pop was clearly as excited by the song as the rest of us were – and decades later, still are!

#8: “Jailhouse Rock” (1957)
Elvis Presley

A track from his movie of the same name, “Jailhouse Rock” enjoyed worldwide success and quickly became a flag-bearer for the rock revolution. Elvis Presley was a performer perhaps unrivalled in history; he had a raw voice, a cheeky charm, and dance moves that made you blush. Affectionately dubbed “The King,” Elvis and his “Jailhouse Rock” marked the beginnings of his rise to the throne. For many, he was the face of the fifties, yet this bluesy, blistering number lives on!

#7: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)
Nirvana

If the nineties are responsible for popularizing one music genre in particular, it’s grunge! And “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was certainly a trailblazer in that regard. Nirvana smashed into the mainstream with awesome apathy, and a record that rings in your ears for days! Inspired by graffiti left by a girlfriend on Kurt Cobain’s bedroom wall, it’s a typically Nirvana combination of loud and quiet, subdued and severe. It didn’t hold back and continues to stand the test of time, which is why it’s on this list!

#6: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965)
The Rolling Stones

Written in America during their first state-side tour, legend has it that following a less-than-successful gig, Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards awoke in the middle of the night with this riff fully-formed in his head. The band would record and release it within 3 weeks, scoring themselves a number 1 in America and Britain! It’s social frustration, sexual frustration, and musical pleasure. It’s a double negative, but do we really care? It may’ve come out in the ‘60s, but “Satisfaction” still rings oh-so-true today!

#5: “Stayin’ Alive” (1977)
Bee Gees

It’s the epitome of what’s known as the seventies’ signature disco sound. After the Bee Gees wrote a few tracks for a movie, including “Stayin’ Alive,” they became the faces of dance-floor fashion. “Saturday Night Fever” proved a huge success, thanks in no small part to this high-falsetto phenomenon. The song put the Gibb brothers atop worldwide charts, and got them a Grammy! It’s shown no sign of dying out and is still go-to disco – it just demands to be danced to!

#4: “Bohemian Rhapsody” (1975)
Queen

OK… hands up if you’ve ever tried to sing this? And hands up if you’ve failed? Yep, that’s pretty much everyone! “Bohemian Rhapsody” is just one of those songs that redefines what we previously thought about music. In an era before MTV, its video accompaniment was part of the success, but the sheer ambition of the track is what scored Queen their first American top ten and nine weeks atop the British charts. It’s rock, it’s opera, it’s life and it’s brilliant – even now!

#3: “Stairway to Heaven” (1971)
Led Zeppelin

At over 8 minutes long, “Stairway to Heaven” is an all out epic record! Lyrically, it’s luxurious – it’s said that Robert Plant was reading “The Lord of the Rings” while writing its parent album, and the influence is clear. It harbors a spookiness that’s only heightened by suggestions of Satanic messages within its makeup, and a beauty that no amount of devilry could ever steal from it. Not to mention the fact that the ambition is quite amazing, and atmospherically it’ll be forever hard to beat!

#2: “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (1963)
The Beatles

Their first U.S. number one, this record provoked a British invasion of America, and turned Beatlemania into a multi-national frenzy. John Lennon and Paul McCartney co-wrote the song, and collaborated on the vocals to produce a sound that became so Beatles, and so sixties! The hysteria surrounding the Liverpool 4-piece was so loud that Lennon later admitted to playfully changing the lyric ‘hand’ to ‘gland’ during live shows! In truth, whatever they sang was successful – by setting the sixties trend, they shaped modern music for decades to come!

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Enter Sandman” (1991) Metallica
- “Imagine” (1971) John Lennon
- “Good Vibrations” (1966) The Beach Boys
- “All Along the Watchtower” (1968) The Jimi Hendrix Experience
- “Johnny B. Goode” (1958) Chuck Berry
- “I Walk the Line” (1956) Johnny Cash

#1: “Beat It” (1982)
Michael Jackson

After topping our ‘80s list, “Beat It” has appropriately beaten everything else to the top of this list too. Why? Michael Jackson was the first black artist to get regular airplay on MTV, and this song’s choreography-filled video was one of the most played. But that’s not all: with an unpaid Eddie Van Halen on guitar, and MJ’s signature vocal style, “Beat It” also carried unrivalled charisma and attitude. It danced its way to the top of music charts worldwide and collected 2 Grammys. He’s the King of Pop after all; where else would you expect he’d be?

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite decade defining song? For more chart-topping Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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