The advent of rock and roll changed music forever, especially in the English-speaking world. Rock and roll gave the world of music its voice. It made possible for music to become an agent of change, rebellion and freedom of expression and authenticity of ideas.
The roots of rock music date back to the folk and blues music of the early thirties, but it took thirty years for rock and roll to come into its own. Its connection with the hippie and psychedelic movement in the swinging the sixties made it a potent social and political art form and brought it into the mainstream.
Since then, it has evolved into various forms and styles and given us some of the most iconic songs to hum and bang our heads to over the decades. Here is a list of 10 most iconic rock songs throughout history.
10 Rock songs that will Never get Old
1. Hey Jude (The Beatles)
The song that John Lennon thought was written for him was actually written for his son Julian. Paul McCartney wrote this song after John and Julian’s mother Cynthia had a divorce, and he could think of no better way to comfort young Julian.
Well, we don’t know how much it succeeded in comforting Julian Lennon, but its soul-searching lyrics and melody surely captured the imagination of the general public. ‘Hey Jude’ spent nine weeks as number one on U.S. charts and has sold about 8 million copies. In 2013, it was adjudged 10th greatest song by Billboard magazine. Mr. McCartney sure knew what he was talking when he sang ‘take a sad song, and make it better’.
2. Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)
If any song defines the meaning of cult, it is this unorthodox ballad written by Freddie Mercury. Upon its release in 1975 as a single, it befuddled critics and audiences alike with its nearly cryptic lyrics and its disregard for the conventional song formation. Sample this!
Scaramouch, Scaramouch will you do the fandango
Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening
Galileo Figaro Magnifico
And, that is just one of the stanzas. The whole song reads like a delusional rant, and the jury is still out on the ‘real’ meaning of the song. Apart from that the song has a ballad section, an operatic section, a guitar solo and a hard rock conclusion. I guess Freddy Mercury was in Illuminati!
The song remains one of the greatest and most popular rock ballads ever, a chart favorite as well as a beloved of critics who had a strong stomach.
3. Smoke on the Water (Deep purple)
Every amateur guitarist in the world will agree, that it is an absolute necessity to master the opening riffs of this song. A true classic, this song about a burnt down casino is a staple in any rock playlist worth its salt.
A regular feature of most of ‘greatest guitar songs’ list, this 1972 song from the album Machinehead features one of the most famous guitar solos in rock history. And, somehow it is always cathartic to sing the refrain, “Smoke on the water, fire in the skies’ at the top of your voice.
4. Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan)
Some critics thought this song painted a harsh perspective of women. When asked by a reporter,’ Do you want to change their lives or you wish to point to them the error of their ways’, Dylan famous replied,’ I want to needle them.’
The most popular Dylan Song is considered one of the most revolutionary songs in Rock history. The producers of the song were hesitant to release it on its creation, but the song went on to pioneer the sneering voice that was to become the blueprint for various other songs for future.
The novelty of its heavy electric sound, disdainful lyrics (which was uncommon is those times), and use of different musical elements, propelled this song to the top of the charts and made Dylan a rockstar.
It remains one of the most influential songs till date and has been covered by the likes Of Jimmy Hendrix, Rolling Stones and Green Day.
5. Another Brick in the Wall Part II (Pink Floyd)
The Wall has its place among the Pantheon of rock’s greatest albums, and this song is its timeless witness. An anthem, a protest song, a dissent, this song made its place in people’s hearts with that one monumental line ‘we don’t need no education’. The video of this song inspired by an Irish schoolteacher of Roger Waters, is one of the most popular music videos ever.
The single sold about 4 million copies and was no. 1 in UK, US, West Germany and various other countries. Even today it remains a cult favorite among youth for obvious reasons. It was also banned in South Africa as it was adopted as the anthem of students groups protesting apartheid in 1980.
6. Creep (Radiohead)
This depressing narcissistic rant was adjudged a flop on initial release and was pulled off the radio stations’ playlists. However, a persistent DJ on Israeli Radio kept on and made this song famous. Other countries followed suit, and finally The US woke up to what was now a huge phenomenon. Soon this song became so popular, that it became an issue with the band as it overshadowed the other songs of the album Pablo Honey (1992). So much so, that the band started to refuse to play this song.
It remains one of the most popular songs of 90’s and was one of the forerunners of early 90’s alternative wave.
7. Californication (Red Hot Chilli Peppers)
RHCP’s most popular song will top any chart for highest number of pop culture references in a song. This commentary on Hollywood and the dark side of fame, talks about everything from pornography to star wars to plastic surgery, mentioning Kurt Cobain, David Bowie and many other victims of ‘Californication’ in its stride.
With great lyrics, melodic sound and a great bass line, Californication is one of the enduring worldwide favorites of the new millennium. Since its release in 2000, it has been performed over 500 times and its video is one of the most popular videos on YouTube.
8. Smells like teen Spirit (Nirvana)
In 1991, a nondescript band from Seattle was touring Europe, where they were befuddled by the response they were receiving from crowds. Little did they know that they were months away from becoming the most talked about people in music.
Smells like teen Spirit will always be remembered as the song that changed the rock music forever. It also introduced us to the phenomenon That MTV was going to be. It showed us that the music video is equally important as the song. And, it transformed a skinny, homeless junkie from Aberdeen into Kurt Cobain the Rock God.
The debut of ‘Teen spirit’ video is ranked 18th on Rock and rolls’ greatest moment. It was probably the greatest moment for alternative rock. This anthem of apathetic kids from Generation X ensured that the alternative is here to stay.
And, the song ends with words ‘a denial’. Maybe, Cobain was foretelling what was to come.
9. Highway to Hell (AC/DC)
It is the perfect road song. Written about rock bands’ grueling tour schedule, the song’s refrain about ‘Highway to Hell’ has now become the stuff of legend. One of the most popular hard rock songs ever, it features one of the most memorable guitar riffs of rock music written by the showman Angus Young.
Released in 1979, it has earned the status of a classic since then, appearing in numerous movies, TV shows and almost every road trip from California to Kathmandu.
10. Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)
If the highway to hell is there, then can the stairway to heaven be far away. We always save the best for last. And, whatever be the list, this song that has become a synonym for ‘classic’ is always numero uno.
And if you listen very hard
the tune will come to you at last
when all are one and one is all, yeah
to be a rock and not to roll
And she is buying a stairway to heaven
Though these beautiful lyrics has been dubbed everything from a LSD trip to an ode to the Satan by conspiracy theorists, it is nothing but sheer pleasure to listen to this song again and again. And, the breathtaking guitar solo by Jimmy Page, is considered by some to be the greatest guitar riff ever. Well we don’t need to buy any stairways to anywhere until we have this bottle of ecstasy.
Honorable Mentions: – Hotel California (The Eagles), Enter Sandman and Nothing Else Matters (Metallica), Paranoid (Black Sabbath), Free Bird (Lynyrd Skynyrd), 21 Guns (Green Day) and Sweet Child o’ Mine (Guns N’ Roses).
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