3. “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen (1984)
There’s a whole book and documentary devoted to Cohen’s long road to completing this modern spiritual, one that took him three years and saw him write over 70 verses for the lyrics! “I filled two notebooks with the song,” he claimed in 2008. “And I remember being on the floor, on the carpet in my underwear, banging my head on the floor and saying, ‘I can’t finish this song.’” Ooof, we’ve all been there. He finally got the mammoth epic down to four and a half minutes, which he included as an album cut on Various Positions. Although clearly destined to become a classic, it was helped along in the process with a notable cover from John Cale in 1991, Jeff Buckley three years later, and (most famously) Rufus Wainwright in 2001. It went on to become among the most covered songs in music history, with over 360 recordings to date.
2. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones (1965)
Keith Richards wrote the unforgettable guitar hook in his sleep, recording it on a bedside tape recorder and then dozing off! He totally forgot about it until he played the tape back the next day, hearing the famous lick and “then me snoring for the next forty minutes.” He and bandmate Mick Jagger began to flesh to track in the following days, and Keith completely hated the result. He called it “too folksy,” and grew concerned that the riff too closely resembled Martha and the Vandella’s “Dancing In The Streets,” which was the charts at the moment. Even the title wasn’t to his…well, satisfaction. He considered it “…just a working title. It could have been ‘Aunt Millie’s Caught Her Left T– In The Mangle.’ I thought of it as just a little riff, an album filler. I never thought it was commercial enough to be a single.” The band had to force him to record his song in the studio, be he considered the fuzzed out guitar just a rough demo for a potential brass part. “This was just a little sketch, because, to my mind, the fuzz tone was really there to denote what the horns would be doing,” he admitted years later. Eventually he was outvoted by the rest of the band and their manager Andrew Loog Oldham. He song went out, and it was a hit. And only then was Keith satisfied.