A rock guitarist since the 1970s, Kelley has been a fan of rock, blues, and jazz since the 1960s.
Rock and roll can be dangerous and fun at the same time, so thanks a lot.
— Billie Joe Armstrong
This list tries to include some of the greatest rock tunes ever, all of which are classics; that is, songs released before the year 2000. Also keep in mind it only includes mainstream rock and roll (and we all know what that is, right?) whether soft or hard rock, but certainly not pop, R&B, soul, funk, blues, hip-hop, disco, jazz, country, bluegrass or classical—just good ol’ rock and roll, period, okay?
Moreover, most of these songs were released as singles, so their exposure has been much greater than songs only available on albums.
So let’s start the countdown!
Rock and Roll is the most brutal, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear.
— Frank Sinatra
90. Stormy (1968)
“Bring back that sunny day!” That’s the hook in “Stormy,” as recorded by Classics IV, a pop rock assemblage from Jacksonville, Florida. Not to be confused with “Spooky,” another hit single by Classics IV, both songs have a similar title and feel and were released about the same time. Both did well in the charts too: “Spooky” reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, while “Stormy” hit #5. So if you want to put “Spooky” in this spot, go head on, as they used to say!
89. Cult of Personality (1988)
The band Living Colour, hailing from NYC, scored big time on their debut album Vivid (1988), which features perhaps their greatest hit single, “Cult of Personality.” The song is a politically charged exposé about the rise of politicians such as Joseph Stalin, JFK and Benito Mussolini. It ascended to #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance. Notably, guitarist Vernon Reid’s opening guitar riff and solo are some of the most memorable licks of the 1980s.
88. Free as a Bird (1995)
It seems people are endlessly trying to resurrect The Beatles. Originally recorded by John Lennon on a cassette tape in 1977, “Free as a Bird” is a latter-day Beatles’ single produced as a promotional addition to The Beatles Anthology. At that time, the three surviving band members wanted to record the song as if Lennon had simply left for a time and then returned to finish the song. It certainly sounds like a Beatles’ song—but for full effect watch the video too. “Free as a Bird” is a poignant reminder of the Beatles' achievements and tragedies, particularly now that George Harrison has passed on and only two are left.
87. It’s Too Late (1971)
Featured on Tapestry, one of the greatest selling albums of all time, “It’s Too Late,” is a song about a woman who leaves her man, which makes it a song of feminism, a social movement gaining traction back in the day. Toni Stern wrote the lyrics, while King wrote the music. Incidentally, King had just broken up with singer James Taylor before she wrote the tune in a single day. The song hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1972.
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86. I Want to Know What Love Is (1984)
One of many power ballads by Foreigner, a British-American rock band that’s become one of the greatest selling musical groups in history, “I Want to Know What Love Is” is Foreigner’s most popular hit single. Guitarist/singer Mick Jones said this about writing the tune: “I consider it a gift that was sent through me. I think there was something bigger than me behind it. I’d say it was probably written entirely by a higher force.” Still very popular, the song has been covered by numerous bands and solo artists such as Mariah Carey.
85. White Bird (1969)
Included on a long list of bands from the San Francisco Bay Area, It’s a Beautiful Day released “White Bird” on its self-titled debut album. Featuring the singing of Pattie Santos and the five-string violin of David LaFlamme, the song includes a violin solo that’s as stirring and melodic as any in rock history; and a line in the chorus sticks with you: “White bird must fly or she will die.” The song became the band’s signature number and was often played on the FM-stereo album rock of that era.
84. Fooled Around and Fell in Love (1976)
A blues legend singing and playing lead guitar with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, as well as a star in his own right, Elvin Bishop formed a rock group that released the hit single, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” which soared to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Included on Bishop’s studio album, Struttin’ My Stuff, Bishop, generally the lead singer of his group, decided this song should be sung by backup singer, Mickey Thomas, who did a smashing job crooning this classic rock ballad.
83. Born to be Wild (1968)
Included on the soundtrack for Easy Rider (1969), perhaps the greatest biker movie of all time, “Born to be Wild” evokes the dawn of heavy metal, but not the music; it expresses the desire of driving a motorcycle. The song goes, “I like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder, racing with the wind and the feeling that I’m under.” The song hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has achieved anthemic status as it relates to the heedlessness, daring and dash of biker anti-heroes—or any bold, carefree folks who like to hop on motorcycles and tear down the highway.
82. Dreams (1977)
Originally a blues band fronted by guitarists such as Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac developed a new pop rock sound when Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the group in 1974. Then the band released the album Rumours (1977), which skyrocketed to popularity and critical acclaim, eventually becoming one of the most successful rock albums of all time. The album spawned four hit singles, one of which was “Dreams,” which ascended to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. At this time, band members were undergoing romantic turmoil, which seems conducive to creating stellar rock—for some crazy reason!
81. I'd Do Anything for Love But I Won't Do That (1993)
Meatloaf has had a brilliant career as a singer and perhaps his greatest song ever is “I'd Do Anything for Love, But I Won't Do That,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100, the only time he’s achieved that feat; it was also #1 in 28 countries and won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Solo. In the video for this operatic tune, Meatloaf portrays the Beast, who says he’ll do anything for the love of the Beauty. But the Beauty insists, “Sooner or later you’ll be screwing around.” “No,” he declares, “I won’t do that!”
80. Every Time You Go Away (1984)
Paul Young, an integral personage of the Second British Invasion of the early to middle 1980s, sang a version of this ballad that draws the tears right out of you. Written and composed by Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates—who recorded it but didn’t release it as a single—hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the video won an award for Best British video. Notably, Young, along with his backing band, The Royal Family, which included three black harmony singers, performed the song in Wembley Stadium during Live Aid in 1985.
79. Kid Charlemagne (1976)
Steely Dan, founded by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, were called the “perfect music antiheroes of the Seventies” and "the Manson and Starkweather of rock 'n' roll," play a style of rock that’s funky, yet sophisticated and includes quirky, esoteric lyrics, jazz inspired rhythms and mind-bending guitar solos. Found on The Royal Scam, the band’s fifth studio album, “Kid Charlemagne” is somewhat based on the exploits of Augustus Owsley Stanley, the notorious LSD impresario of the 1960s. And, highlighted at the song's coda, is a guitar solo by Larry Carlton that’s considered one of the most memorable of all time.
78. Gloria (1965)
This three-chord garage band classic was written by Van Morrison and released on Them’s first studio album, The Angry Young Them (1965). The song is an anthem to male teenage lust; Gloria is a girl who’s so forward she comes to this young man’s house, knocks on his door, enters his room—and then makes him feel—all right! Virtually every rock guitarist in the 1960s learned this song the first week or two they began playing. Compiled in 2004, “Gloria” placed #208 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
77. Woodstock (1970)
Written by Canadian Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock” is side B of a single with “Big Yellow Taxi,” another hit for Mitchell. The words to “Woodstock” include a third person account of the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, which Mitchell couldn’t attend because of a scheduling conflict. She compares the festival to the mythical Garden of Eden. The supergroup, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young released a hard rock cover of the song that reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. Either version of this iconic tune could appear on this list, so pick your favorite!
76. Black Hole Sun (1994)
Soundgarden is a grunge band from Seattle, Washington. Included on Superunknown, the band’s most popular and commercially successful album, “Black Hole Sun” is an alternative rock tune written by frontman Chris Cornell, who said, “It's just sort of a surreal dreamscape, a weird, play-with-the-title kind of song." Often considered a positive song, he said, “No, ‘Black Hole Sun’ is sad.” Some critics have called it a Beatles’ tune with a Lennonesque melody. The song reached #1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks, and it won a Grammy Award in 1995 for Best Hard Rock Performance.
75. Touch of Grey (1987)
After a six-year hiatus, the Grateful Dead released In the Dark (1987), an album that charted at #6 on the Billboard 200, the Grateful Dead’s only album to crack the top ten for albums. The greatest single from the album was “Touch of Grey,” which climbed to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100, the Dead’s highest charting single. The video for the tune was very popular too; it features life-size marionettes of the band members—operated by a pair of skeletal hands. The song highlights their signature lyrics: “We will get by, we will survive.” This video was a major treat for the so-called Deadheads, the band’s traveling audience/entourage.
74. Even Flow (1992)
“Even Flow,” written by singer Eddie Vedder and guitarist Stone Gossard, is about the life of an illiterate, crazy man “who chases away butterflies,” as the song goes, while living on the streets of Seattle, Washington, a city beset by homeless folks. The song is included on Ten (1991), one of the greatest rock albums, which stayed on the Billboard 200 for five years! Notably, in their live performances, Pearl Jam has played “Even Flow” more than any of their songs. A complex composition, they practiced it countless times—until band members hated each other!
73. Brown Eyed Girl (1967)
An Irish multi-instrumentalist and lead singer, Van Morrison joined the rock group Them in 1964, and then he turned solo in 1967, soon releasing the hit single “Brown Eyed Girl,” which soared to #10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by Morrison, he didn’t think the song was all that great: “It's not one of my best,” he said. “I mean I've got about 300 songs I think are better.” Nevertheless, redolent of counterculture free love and joie de vivre, it became Morrison’s signature hit and, since 2015, is the most played and downloaded song of the 1960s.
72. Sarah Smile (1975)
Featured on Daryl Hall & John Oates, the fourth studio album by Hall & Oates, one of the most successful duos in the history of pop music, “Sara Smile” is about Daryl Hall’s 30-year relationship with girlfriend, Sara Allen, with whom he broke up in 2001. This soft ballad with an R&B flavor is an integral aspect of what has been called blue-eyed soul, and has become one of those songs many people never get tired of hearing. “Sara Smile” ascended to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It has been covered by numerous artists, including After 7, Rumer, B-Legit and Jimmy Wayne.
71. The Fly (1991)
In the Naughty Nineties, U2 produced Achtung, a comeback album of sorts and Grammy Award winner, which features a plethora of hit singles including, “The Fly,” sang by Bono, perhaps rock’s greatest frontman, who said the song “sounds like four men chopping down the Joshua Tree,” a reference to U2’s fifth studio album, because the song departs from the band’s spiritual sound of the 1980s. The guitarist, The Edge, charges-up the verse with an industrial sound not previously heard by the band. This seems appropriate since the song is about a crank caller from hell who tells the listener he likes it there. Bono sings, "Every artist is a cannibal . . . every poet is a thief."
70. Eyes Without a Face (1983)
A power ballad of note in the 1980s, a decade marked by new wave pretensions, MTV videos, hair metal and electronic drums, “Eyes Without a Face” is offered on Rebel Yell, the second studio album by Billy Idol. A schoolteacher of Idol’s labeled him as “idle” and the name stuck to this spiky-haired Brit with the signature crooked sneer and pumped fist. “Eyes Without a Face” is driven by the guitar mastery of Steve Stevens, starting with poignant acoustic guitar, followed by rakish power chords on the electric guitar for the tune’s ending choruses. The song reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
69. Wipe Out (1963)
At least one instrumental should be on this list, and “Wipe Out” by the Surfaris could be a good choice. Eventually becoming an international hit, countless bands have covered this catchy, surf-rock tune with its rousing, classic drum solo; but the best version may be that of The Ventures, particularly when they use two drummers while performing it! In 1963, “Wipe Out” hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Then it was re-released in 1966, when it reached #16 on the Hot 100; and in 1970 it climbed to #110 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart. Hey, when you wipe out on the surf board, just dive into the waves and try again!
68. My Sweet Lord (1970)
Borne from the demise of the Fab Four, the solo career of George Harrison blossomed quickly; Harrison produced the triple album, All Things Must Pass (1970), which features the number one hit single “My Sweet Lord,” a paean to Eastern religion and the Hindu god Krishna, of which Harrison was so fascinated he practiced transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and took sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar. Harrison said he used the Christian hymn “Oh Happy Day” for inspiration in writing the tune. Notably, Harrison played the song at his Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, rock’s first benefit concert. The quiet, thoughtful ex-Beatle was certainly on a roll in those days, wasn’t he?
67. Fame (1975)
A master of showmanship and spectacle in many of his live performances in the 1970s and ‘80s, David Bowie seemed able to produce whatever style of music was popular at the time. Written by Bowie, Carlos Alomar and John Lennon, “Fame” is about the darker side of being famous. About fame, Bowie wrote: “I think fame itself is not a rewarding thing. The most you can say is that it gets you a seat in restaurants." Notably, Bowie died two days after the release of his last studio album, Blackstar (2016), which became one of his most successful, winning five Grammy Awards and topping the Billboard 200. So, was Bowie’s demise a famous one?
66. Sunshine of Your Love (1968)
Appropriately recorded during the memorable Summer of Love in 1967, “Sunshine of Your Love” is your quintessential psychedelic rock tune. Inspired by a Jimi Hendrix concert Cream bassist Jack Bruce had attended, he developed the song’s iconic riff. Covered by numerous rockers at the time, including Jimi Hendrix, of course, “Sunshine of Your Love” was played—and still is—by countless rock guitarists using the minor pentatonic blues scale. The single hit #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1968, not long before Cream—perhaps rock’s first supergroup—broke up at the end of the year.
65. Listen to the Music (1972)
Included on the Doobie Brother’s second studio album, Toulouse Street, “Listen to the Music” is the band’s first hit single. Written and sung by Tom Johnston, one of the founding members of the group, the song, which reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100, suggests that world peace could be attained if people just partied and listened to the music. About writing the tune, Johnston said, “It was very utopian and very unrealistic (laughs). It seemed like a good idea at the time." “Listen to the Music” is often played at the encore of the band’s performances.
64. Good Lovin’ (1966)
The Young Rascals or simply The Rascals, had many hit singles in the middle to late 1960s, including “Good Lovin’,” which soared to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. But, as many people may not know, the song is a remake of a tune by the R&B band, The Olympics. Becoming very popular at that time, many bands covered it, including The Grateful Dead (often playing it in their performances), The Tremeloes and Tommy James and the Shondells. The song ranks #333 on Rollingstone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
63. Do You Feel like We Do (1976)
Featured on the album, Frampton Comes Alive!, one of the greatest-selling live rock albums of the all time, this is live version of “Do You Feel like We Do,” originally released on Frampton’s studio album, Frampton’s Camel (1973), is one of three hit singles on the live album. Notably, this 14-minute version of the song—often shortened in length on radio stations—features one of Frampton’s famous talk box guitar solos. The single reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it may be Peter Frampton’s signature hit tune.
62. Heart-Shaped Box (1993)
In Utero, the third studio album by Nirvana includes the song “Heart-Shaped Box,” written by Kurt Cobain, who said the song was inspired by documentaries about children with cancer, the subject matter of which made him very sad. But some think the song is about his relationship with his wife Courtney Love, particularly as it relates to the song’s most memorable line: “I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black.” Is this another way of saying, I love you? The song reached #1 on Billboard’s US Alternative Songs list.
61. Too Much (1996)
Featured on Crash, the second studio album by the Dave Matthews Band, “Too Much” is one of the album’s five hit singles. The song is about the conspicuous consumption of at least one person, perhaps Dave Matthews who co-wrote the song. Here are some words from the chorus: “I eat too much, I drink too much, I want too much. Too much! Suck it up!” Pondering this content, you may wonder: Is he speaking for all Americans? Do we all eat and drink too much? Anyway, the song reached #5 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart.
60. Hit Me with Your Best Shot (1980)
Possibly Pat Benatar’s signature hit single, “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Included on Benatar’s second studio album, Crimes of Passion, the words to the song exemplify Benatar’s hard chick persona with which she sang such tunes. Heard at many ballgames, the song is meant to be figurative in a romantic context—without anybody getting hit, of course, and it’s usage in pop culture has been great: numerous video games, TV commercials, movies and TV shows have used it to hock products, ideas and companies.
59. Holding On (1988)
Playing keyboards, guitar and singing at the young age of 14, Steve Winwood began his musical career by joining the Spencer Davis Group in 1963. But Winwood, when working as a solo act, may have reached the peak of his stardom in 1988 when he produced the album Roll with It, on which “Holding On,” is offered; the single reached #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. A very talented artist, Winwood also writes songs and music and at times plays all the instruments on some songs.
58. She Loves You (1963)
Another song written by the illustrious song-writing duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “She Loves You” was The Beatles’ biggest hit in the UK and the top-selling single by any artist in the 1960s. “She Loves You” includes the refrain, “yeah, yeah, yeah,” which became the band’s greatest musical hook. But when the band read it on paper, it seemed corny; however, when the Beatles sang it—it sounded great. It became a catchphrase that followed the group for months and years afterward. Notably, in America, the song is included on The Beatles’ Second Album.
57. If This Is It (1984)
This is one of many hit singles on the album, Sports (1983), which eventually sold more than 10 million copies and propelled Huey Lewis and the News to worldwide acclaim. The song reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. As seen in the very popular video filmed at the beach in Santa Cruz, California, Huey Lewis, while walking the boardwalk, tries to reconcile with his ex-girlfriend (Janet Cross), who has a hard time keeping the guys away. Huey doesn’t regain the affection of his ex-girlfriend, though he does end up with her best friend (Sandra Wilder). At the coda, the happy couple is seen strolling along the beach toward the distant pier.
56. Long Tall Sally (1956)
Little Richard, the self-proclaimed King of Rock and Roll (Elvis Presley called him “the greatest”), released scores of singles from the early 1950s to the late ‘80s. An instant hit, “Long Tall Sally” reach #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and stayed there for 19 weeks. Extremely influential to other artists, who covered countless songs of his, Richard taught the Beatles how to play his songs and Paul McCartney, in particular, how to sing them, including that falsetto cry of “hoo,” which became an integral aspect of the Beatles’ sound. “Long Tall Sally” has an infectious, up-tempo rhythm that Little Richard learned to play as fast as he could, so people could dance to it likewise.
55. That’ll Be the Day (1957)
Most people know that bespectacled rocker Buddy Holly died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959, “The Day the Music Died,” per the iconic song by Don McLean; but they may not know that “That’ll Be the Day,” which sprang to #1 on the US and UK singles charts, was the first song recorded by the Quarrymen, John Lennon’s band, which evolved into The Beatles. They also may not know that the phrase “that’ll be the day,” was muttered several times by John Wayne in the movie, The Searchers (1956), inspiring Holly to use it in his lyrics. Notably, the song was ranked #39 on Rolling Stone’s compilation of the 500 Greatest Songs of All time, published in 2004.
54. Born in the USA (1984)
Coming from Bruce Springsteen’s most popular album of the same name, “Born in the USA” is about the Vietnam War and its negative effects on the USA, particularly the war’s aftermath, when many Vietnam veterans were treated with indifference, scorn and even hatred, which irked Springsteen because some of his friends are veterans of the war. Max Weinberg, drummer for Springsteen’s E Street Band, said the song is Springsteen’s favorite recorded by the band. The song has also been called a lament for America’s working class, often forgotten by rich and powerful elements of the USA.
53. Louie Louie (1957)
First played by Richard Berry and the Pharaohs, “Louie Louie” is one of the most played rock tunes of all time. In the old days, this was usually the first tune learned by rock guitarists (the chords A, D, Em,D). Often considered a dirty song, though it isn’t - but you know how inventive kids can be - a seemingly endless number of bands have covered this song, often adding a guitar or saxophone solo, but The Kingsmen in 1963 may have produced the most popular version, though the lyrics are barely intelligible, as they often are in rock songs.
52. Rock Around the Clock (1954)
Recorded by Bill Haley & His Comets in 1954, “Rock Around the Clock” wasn’t the first rock tune—that was “Rocket 88” (1951)—but this sped-up, 12-bar blues song propelled rock and roll into the worldwide sensation it still is. At first, the song was a flop, but once it was used during the opening credits for the teen movie Blackboard Jungle, the single went orbital in the US and UK; in fact, it stayed atop Billboard’s pop charts for eight weeks. Although nobody knows for certain how many copies of the single were sold, it’s been estimated that at least 25 million were bought around the world, making it the biggest selling rock and roll single of all time.
51. The Weight (1968)
Originally The Band was a back-up group for Ronnie Hawkins and then Bob Dylan in the middle 1960s. But The Band became their own assemblage in 1968, after which they released their debut album Music from Big Pink, often considered one of the greatest rock albums of all time; and perhaps the best single from this album is “The Weight,” an American, Southern rock ballad comprised of biblical allusions, colorful characters and poignant harmonies. Perhaps The Band’s signature tune, it’s been covered by other artists such as Aretha Franklin, Jackie DeShannon, The Supremes, The Temptations and many others. The song was also included in The Band’s set at the Woodstock Festival in 1969.
50. You’re My Favorite Mistake (1998)
Found on Cheryl Crow’s album, The Globe Sessions (1998), “My Favorite Mistake” is a song about a man who shows he can’t be trusted in matters of love. The words of the tune may refer to Crow’s romance with Eric Clapton, but Crow, who’s very private about such matters, insists the song isn’t about Clapton, and that her relationship with him wasn’t a mistake. In 2005, in an interview with the BBC, she said, "My favorite single is 'My Favorite Mistake'; it was a lot of fun to record and it's still a lot of fun to play." The single hit #20 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and Crow sang it at the Woodstock 99 Festival.
49. One Way or Another (1978)
Blondie is a new wave band that shot to stardom in the late 1970s. “One Way or Another” is an edgy tune included on their album Parallel Lines (1978). Written by lead singer Debbie Harry and bassist Nigel Harrison, the song is about a woman who insists she will do whatever it takes to get this man. Ironically, the words refer to a real event in which Harry was stalked by a “nutjob” as she called him. But Harry decided to inject humor into this song. In an interview for Entertainment Weekly, she said, “I think in a way that's a normal kind of survival mechanism. You know, just shake it off, say one way or another, and get on with your life.” The song reached #24 on the Billboard Hot 100.
48. Beat It (1983)
Included on Thriller (1982), the greatest selling album of all time, “Beat It” is the mainstream rock tune Michael Jackson wanted included on this pop/R&B album. "I wanted to write a song, the type of song that I would buy if I were to buy a rock song,” Jackson said. Rolling Stone placed it #81 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time; it also won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1984. And, interestingly, before Jackson’s death in 2009, he chose Orianthi Panagaris as his lead guitarist for his This Is It concert series because he loved her licks on “Beat It.”
47. Spinning Wheel (1969)
Founded by blues keyboardist/singer Al Kooper in 1967, Blood, Sweat & Tears has a jazz-rock style sometimes called brass rock, which emphasizes the contributions of multiple horn players utilizing advanced jazz and classical compositions. Showing one of the band’s most innovative arrangements and written and sang by David Clayton-Thomas, perhaps their greatest singer ever, “Spinning Wheel” reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Filled with metaphorical descriptions, Thomas said the song was "written in an age when psychedelic imagery was all over lyrics.” The song has been covered by numerous prominent artists over the years and decades.
46. Old Time Rock and Roll (1978)
A so-called heartland rock artist, Bob Seger has produced countless hits since the 1960s. Seger used his distinctive, gravelly voice to sing “Old Time Rock and Roll,” a tune that laments the demise of the old timey rock of the 1950s and ‘60s. Found on the album Stranger in Town (1978), the song was released as a single in 1979 and reached #28 on the Billboard Hot 100. Then in 1983 Tom Cruise famously dances in his shorts and lip-syncs to it in the hit flick, Risky Business, giving the song a monumental kick in the pants. Surprisingly, Seger’s Silver Bullet Band thought the song wasn’t good enough for the album but eventually grew to like it.
45. Let’s Go Crazy (1984)
Prince Rogers Nelson hit the peak of his popularity in 1984 when he released the album Purple Rain and starred in the movie of the same title. The album sold 13 million copies and was #1 on the Billboard 200 for 24 weeks. “Let’s Go Crazy,” perhaps Prince’s most notable hit single, rocketed to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Often played in Prince’s live performances, “Let’s Go Crazy” is a fast-paced, synthesizer-laced rush, highlighted by two of Prince’s guitar solos, the second of which a screaming, Hendrix-like coda that could blow the doors off an M-1 Abrams Battle Tank.
44. You Really Got Me (1964)
Prime culprits in the so-called British Invasion of the middle 1960s, the Kink’s third single was “You Really Got Me,” a hard rock/heavy metal international hit that makes you want to stomp and shout while playing air guitar – no matter where you are! Written by singer/guitarist Ray Davies, “You Really Got Me” uses three-note power chords with plenty of fuzz and distortion – until your ear drums ache. Ray Davies said this about the song: "I was floundering around trying to find an identity. It was in 1964 that I managed to do that, to be able to justify myself and say, 'I exist, I'm here.' I was literally born when that song hit."
43. Somebody to Love (1967)
The words “somebody to love” make a popular song title, and this list includes the song recorded by the Jefferson Airplane. If there’s a song that’s redolent of the Haight/Ashbury subculture of the San Francisco Bay Area in 1967, it must be the Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” The lead sang by Grace Slick, former sister-in-law of Darby Slick who wrote the lyrics, the tune has a driving, acid-rock tinged favor with a screaming guitar solo at the end. If there’s an anthem for the free-love movement, this may be it.
42. Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1968)
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is another quintessential hard rock tune many guitarists learn to play early on, so it’s understandable why the Rolling Stones have played it on every world tour since its release. Also covered by countless rock bands over the decades, its infectious guitar riff is as memorable as just about any in rock history. In 1995, Mick Jagger, who co-wrote the song with Keith Richards, said in an interview for Rolling Stone magazine, the song arose "out of all the acid of Satanic Majesties (the Stones psychedelic album). It's about having a hard time and getting out. Just a metaphor for getting out of all the acid things." And Keith Richards may have written its catchiest line: “I was born in a crossfire hurricane,” a reference to the bombing of England during WW II.
41. Maybe I’m Amazed (1970)
Depressed by the breakup of the Beatles in 1970, Paul McCartney realized that his greatest friend in the world was his wife Linda, so he dedicated this song to her. Found on McCartney’s debut solo album, McCartney, “Maybe I’m Amazed” wasn’t released as a single, though it soon became a very popular tune on radio worldwide. Also, notably, McCartney played all the instruments on McCartney, something that’s been done by many other rockers since, though at the time it was extraordinary. In 2009, McCartney said in an interview that “Maybe I’m Amazed” is the song he would like to be remembered for in the future.
40. Ohio (1970)
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, one of rock and roll’s first supergroups, formed in 1969 and soon became a musical and counterculture sensation. Their second performance was an iconic one at the Woodstock Festival. Perhaps their greatest album was 4 Way Street (1971), a live recording featuring numerous hits, including Ohio, a protest song written by Neil Young; it’s about the so-called Kent State Massacre in May 1970, when four college students were shot to death by the Ohio National Guard. A controversial song, it contained the lyrics “tin soldiers and Nixon coming,” a denunciation of Richard Nixon’s presidency when the tragedy happened. Consequently, the single was banned on some AM radio stations.
39. White Punks on Dope (1975)
One of a plethora of San Francisco Bay Area rock groups, The Tubes, a glam rock, proto-punk assemblage—whose subversive lyrics and “tongue in cheek” stage production seemed just what the world of rock needed to bridge the gap after the end of psychedelic rock and before the rise of new wave and hair metal—had trouble getting “discovered” at first, but eventually developed cult status, propelling them into the 1980s and beyond. Their debut album, The Tubes (1975), features many of their signatures tunes, including the anthemic “White Punks on Dope,” which ridicules children of the rich and famous in La La Land and has become the finale for many of their live performances.
38. I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (1982)
Originally recorded by the Arrows in 1975, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” was catapulted to the level of rock anthem by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts the following decade. Eventually climbing to number one for seven weeks on the US Billboard Hot 100, The Blackheart’s version of the tune has received many accolades, one of which a ranking of #56 on Billboard’s list of the 100 Greatest Songs of All Time; also, in 2016, it was inducted into the Grammy’s Hall of Fame.
37. Hound Dog (1956)
In the early days of rock and roll, Elvis Presley, billed as “Elvis the Pelvis” and later, the “King of Rock and Roll,” covered “Hound Dog,” a twelve-bar blues tune made popular by Big Mama Thornton. After Elvis heard Freddie Bell and the Bellboys perform the tune, he made it the closing song for his shows. Rocketing to stardom in the middle 1950s, Elvis actually became a little too popular for some people, as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called Presley “a definite danger to the security of the United States,” referring to Elvis’ perceived ability to arouse the sexual appetites of teenagers.
36. Like a Rolling Stone (1965)
Bob Dylan began his singer-songwriting career performing as a folk singer or folkie, producing his debut album in 1962. But in the middle 1960s Dylan began playing an electric guitar and performing with blues artists and rockers who shunned acoustic instruments. In 1965, Dylan released the single “Like a Rolling Stone,” which quickly became the anthem of the counterculture/peace and love generation. Thereafter, Dylan began recording and performing with The Band, an electric ensemble, though he’s always stayed connected to many kinds of music – folk, gospel, country, Christian and rural-based themes.
35. Nights in White Satin (1967)
Included on the Moody Blues second album, Days of Future Passed, “Nights in White Satin” when first released in 1967, wasn’t a hit, only reaching #103 on the US singles chart; but when re-released in 1972, the song hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and garnered a gold record. Not surprisingly, this was a time when progressive rock exploded in popularity. Astonishingly, the song charted one more time in 2010! This dreamy, violin-laced, ethereal ballad has elements of rock and classical, the latter of which played by the London Festival Orchestra. Has rock ever been so . . . romantic?
34. Sunset Grill (1984)
Intermittently, lead singer, songwriter and drummer for the Eagles—the most commercially successful American band in history—Don Henley went solo in the 1980s, producing five solo albums, including Building the Perfect Beast (1984), which featured “Sunset Grill,” an epic song featuring imposing keyboard and synthesizer riffs and meandering horn-based accentuations. Ironically, as impressive as its instrumentation and production values are, the words are simply about a bar where a boy and girl like to meet, drink beer and talk about leaving this place one day, as they “watch the working girls go by . . . down at the Sunset Grill.”
33. 25 or 6 to 4 (1970)
When Chicago, a rock band with horns—eventually becoming one the most successful musical groups of all time, selling 23 gold records and 18 platinum—released their second album, Chicago (1970), one of their hit singles was “25 or 6 to 4,” a blistering hard rock tune highlighted by the incendiary guitar work of the late Terry Kath. Although not considered such at the time, Kath was one of the greatest rock guitarists in the world in the 1960s to ‘70s; even Jimi Hendrix thought Kath was better than him. Notably, in 2019, two music critics for Billboard magazine ranked “25 or 6 to 4” #1 on their list of the “50 Best Chicago Songs.”
32. Mary Jane’s Last Dance (1993)
No, the song isn’t about somebody giving up pot; it’s about an Indiana girl who’s saying goodbye—but the award-winning video shows Tom Petty taking the body of a beautiful woman (Kim Basinger) from the morgue, so he can dance with her one last time and then leave her floating in the ocean till she sinks. The video’s plot is similar to that of Cold Moon, a French film. Having a solo career and one while playing with groups such as the Heartbreakers, Mudcrutch and the Traveling Wilbury’s, Tom Petty wrote countless hit singles over the decades and certainly one of his best is “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” which climbed to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100.
31. Can’t You See (1973)
The Marshall Tucker Band is a Southern rock assemblage that formed in the early 1970s and has continued performing with various musicians to the present day. In 1973, the band produced their eponymous debut album, which included the single “Can’t You See,” perhaps their greatest hit, though that would be hard to figure. Written by the late Toy Caldwell, “Can’t You See” is a song redolent of the country rock sound from that era of classic rock bands (1965 to 1975), and is almost certainly one of those tunes people will never get tired of hearing.
30. Back in Black (1980)
Played by masters of metal AC/DC, “Back in Black” has an incredibly infectious beat nobody can resist. (Listen to it right now and see if you can keep from gleefully jumping up and down.) Appearing on an album of the same name, the album sold 50 million copies - the second highest selling album ever - while “Back in Black” the song peaked at #37 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. A tribute to former lead singer Bon Scott, who died young at 33, Brian Johnson, Scott’s replacement, was asked to write the song and then the band created one of the most memorable hard-rock tunes of all time.
29. Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991)
Dubbed as an anthem for apathetic kids, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is arguably Nirvana’s greatest hit and perhaps the greatest one of Grunge or alternative rock. It’s so popular, even now, that college marching bands sometimes play it. Moreover, the intro guitar lick, played with power chords, has become one of the most iconic riffs in rock and roll history. It seems every rock guitarist can play it to some degree. How about you? Anyway, the song blasted to #6 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1991 and 1992, shaking up the entire world of rock.
28. Imagine (1971)
After leaving the Beatles in 1970, John Lennon began a successful solo career, creating 11 solo albums and many hit singles, including “Imagine,” widely considered Lennon’s best; it’s won praise, awards and honors aplenty, eventually becoming as legendary as Lennon himself. Widely influential, over 200 artists have performed or covered the song. “Imagine” is song which asks people to envision a world of peace, with no countries, borders or divisions and no ownership of property, a heavenly place, if you will—but one with no religion, its most controversial line.
27. Pour Some Sugar on Me (1987)
One of seven hit singles from their fabulous album, Hysteria, which sold 25 million copies worldwide, “Pour Some Sugar on Me” became one of the best stripper songs of all time, if nothing else. Also, in case you’re interested, the song reached #2 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the 1980s in 2006; and the video for the song was rated #1 on MTV’s list of the Top 300 Videos of All Time. It seems safe to point out that the tune is synonymous with Def Leppard’s greatest success as a rock group.
26. Something to Talk About (1991)
Singer/guitarist Bonnie Raitt, whose country-rock sound, which features her bluesy slide guitar breaks, didn’t find commercial success until she released the album Luck of the Draw, which won three Grammy Awards and included “Something to Talk About,” a song that reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and may be her most popular song to date. Artist Graeme Connors said this about her: “Bonnie Raitt does something with a lyric no one else can do; she bends it and twists it right into your heart.”
25. God Only Knows (1966)
Released in 1966 and written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher and sung by Carl Wilson, “God Only Knows” is perhaps the greatest hit on the Beach Boys album, Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson’s answer to the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. “God Only Knows” is a song rich with experimental instrumentation, structure and vocals, creating what could be called baroque pop or progressive rock. And, notably, this was the first time “God” was mentioned in a mainstream rock tune. Also recorded as a single, the record’s flip side was “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.“ Rolling Stone magazine voted “God Only Knows” #25 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time; and Pitchfork Media labeled it the greatest song of the 1960s.
24. Rocket Man (1972)
It would be hard to name a rocker or pop star who’s garnered more awards and honors and produced more hit singles and albums than Elton John, who rocketed to prominence in the 1970s as an exemplar in the glam rock genre. Written by Elton John and his longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, “Rocket Man” is a ballad about an astronaut who, no longer perceived as being a hero, must blast off into space and become “high as a kite,” simply because it’s his job. Featured on the album Honky Château (1972), the single climbed to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached the status of three-times platinum in the US.
23. Juke Box Hero (1982)
Included on Foreigner’s album 4, “Juke Box Hero” is a story within a story. It’s about a young man who waits for hours outside a concert that sells out before he can buy a ticket. Hearing the music inside, he has an inspirational moment and hopes to become a juke box hero, a goal he eventually achieves. Then one day this same guy spots another young man standing outside the stage door of one of his concerts, then invites him inside and shows him around backstage. Mick Jones, who co-wrote the tune, said it’s based on a true event: he waited in line to see Jimi Hendrix, but the gig was sold out. “Juke Box Hero,” the single, reached #3 on for the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and eventually sold over a million downloads.
22. More Than a Feeling (1976)
“More Than a Feeling” is the lead single for Boston (1976), Boston's debut album, which sold a whopping 17 million copies. Written by Tom Scholz, the lead singer of Boston and one of its founding members (the only one still with the group in fact), “More Than a Feeling” is widely considered the best song Boston ever produced. Notably, in popular culture, the song is certainly one of the most popular rock tunes ever; it can be heard in seemingly countless movies, premium channel series and TV shows. Also, during the 2008 Republican presidential campaign, Mike Huckabee used it promote his candidacy, but when Tom Scholz found out about it, he told Huckabee to stop, which Huckabee promptly did!
21. Light My Fire (1967)
Performed by The Doors, a quartet from Los Angeles, “Light My Fire” has a jazzy verse and impressive keyboard riffs at the beginning and end of this tune, which was played throughout that wonderful, peace-and-love summer of 1967. In July of that year, “Light My Fire” ascended to #1 for three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly, when playing the song live, The Doors performed a much longer version of the song with solos for guitar and keyboard. Of course, frontman/singer/poet Jim Morrison, aka the Lizard King, always put on a show with his powerful voice and offbeat stage antics.
20. We Are the Champions (1977)
One of the most commercially successful and popular rock bands of all time, Queen excelled at producing arena rock songs that eventually became anthems of sports teams around the world. Included on the album News of the World (1977), “We Are the Champions” was written by lead singer/pianist Freddie Mercury. In 2005, it was one of the most recognized rock tunes ever. It was also voted the world’s most favorite song by the Sony Ericsson world music poll and may be the catchiest tune in the history of popular music. Notably, Mercury used complex jazz chords while playing the piano in the number, which shouldn’t surprise anybody, since many of the band’s songs had a grand, baroque feel, as was Queen’s style.
19. Hotel California (1977)
Don Henley of the Eagles wanted to write a song about life in Los Angeles, California, particularly its emphasis on fame, hedonism and money. Henley wrote, “It's basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about.” Henley wanted the song—decidedly somber and played in B natural minor with chords from harmonic minor and Dorian—seems like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Apparently the song worked on many levels, because it won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1978. And the dueling guitars coda was rated the greatest guitar solo by Guitarist magazine in 1998.
18. Smoke on the Water (1972)
The lyrics relate to a real event experienced by members of Deep Purple, while staying at an entertainment complex near the Montreux Casino. Suddenly a fire broke out in the theatre where The Mothers of Invention were playing and the casino was soon destroyed. But while watching smoke drift across a nearby lake, Deep Purple created the words to a classic rock tune, “Smoke on the Water.” Released in 1973, it reached #4 on Billboard’s pop singles chart. Also SOTW is often considered one of the best metal songs of all time, highlighted as it is by its iconic, though simple, opening riff.
17. Won’t Get Fooled Again (1971)
Appearing on The Who’s spectacular album, Who’s Next, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” was written by guitarist Pete Townshend, who said the song seeks to make a connection between music - highlighted by the use of a synthesizer throughout the song - and the teachings of Meher Baba and Inayat Khan. Thereafter, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” became a song The Who usually played at the end of their live performances, when Townshend destroyed his guitar and Keith Moon kicked over his drums, as the crowd squealed and hooted with delight.
16. Layla (1971)
This is another song with a true story behind it. The name Layla relates to a book entitled The Story of Layla and Majnun, which tells the tale of Majnun, who falls in love with a beautiful young woman; but her father rejects Majnun and he goes crazy with desire. In real life, guitarist Eric Clapton, the co-writer of “Layla,” fell in love with Patty Boyd, who had married George Harrison. Eventually, though, Boyd and Harrison got a divorce and Clapton then married Boyd. How sweet! Anyway, over the years “Layla” has garnered great popular and critical acclaim. Interestingly, Both Clapton and Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers wrote and played the famous guitar licks throughout the song.
15. Walk This Way (1975)
One of many Aerosmith hit singles in the 1970s, “Walk This Way” is a hard rock tune appearing on the band’s third studio album, Toys in the Attic, which is their highest selling album to date. “Walk This Way” jumped to #10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Then, during the 1980s, when Aerosmith hit a lull in popularity, the rap group Run-D.M.C re-made the song, with Aerosmith vocalist Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry making guest appearances in the tune and on the video. Surprisingly, this version of the song did even better on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to #5, and also helped spawn a new genre – rap rock.
14. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
As the story goes, The Beatles movie needed a title, something other than Beatlemania, so the Beatles suggested a comment made by Ringo might work. Ringo had said they’ve worked so hard night and day that it’s been a hard . . . day’s night, kind of a malapropism. Eureka! Then, once the producers had a title for the movie, they also needed a theme song. So John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote it and the Beatles recorded it the next day. In July 1964, “A Hard Day’s Night,” the single and album, soared to #1 on the charts in both the US and UK, the first time a musical group had achieved such a feat.
13. Johnny B. Goode (1958)
“Johnny B. Goode” is a song about a country boy who makes it big by playing rock and roll; of course, that boy was Chuck Berry himself, whose guitar work on this twangy tune comprises rock guitar 101. Just about every guitarist in the business has studied Berry’s riffs in this quintessential rock classic. Incidentally, “Johnny B. Goode” hit #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Rolling Stone magazine named it #7 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Not bad for a song that has been called “the first rock star origin story.”
12. Sympathy for the Devil (1968)
Performed by the Rolling Stones and written and sang by Mick Jagger, who narrates the song as if he were the devil himself, declaring that he’d wreaked havoc on humanity over the centuries. Interestingly, Jagger’s inspiration for the song came from the books of Baudelaire and Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita. Jagger’s intention was that it would be a kind of Bob Dylan song. But it was guitarist Keith Richards’ idea to increase the tempo of the song, add percussion, and give it a samba-like feel. The result – a ballistic rock classic!
11. American Pie (1971)
A solo artist since the late 1960s, Don McLean produced his magnum opus early in his career. “American Pie” is a folk-rock ballad that refers to the death of rockers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P Richardson, aka the Big Bopper, all of whom died in a plane crash in 1959. Popularizing the expression “the Day the Music Died,” the song refers to this tragic day as the end of innocence for rock and roll. The song is the longest - eight and a half minutes - to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. And in 2001 it was voted #5 on the list of 365 Songs of the Century.
10. Welcome to the Jungle (1987)
Guns N’ Roses began their career with a big bang. Their first single, “Welcome to the Jungle,” arrived on their debut album, Appetite for Destruction, and both kicked some serious tail. “Welcome to the Jungle,” a tune about the mean streets of Los Angeles, soon catapulted to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, while Appetite for Destruction eventually sold 30 million copies, the eleventh best-selling album in the US. And, in 2009, VH1 picked “Welcome to the Jungle” as the number one hard rock song of all time.
9. Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 (1979)
Included in Pink Floyd’s rock opera, The Wall, “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” spawned a single that became Pink Floyd’s only number one hit in the US, UK and other countries. Subtitled “Education,” it’s a protest song about the strict schooling in the UK, particularly as it relates to that in boarding schools. Part 2, written by bassist Roger Waters, as well as all the other “parts” of the song, contains a school choir, a searing and poignant guitar solo by David Gilmour and a disco drum beat, of all things. Members of Pink Floyd resisted making this a single, but we’ll all lucky they changed their minds.
8. Purple Haze (1967)
Perhaps the first great acid rock tune, “Purple Haze” was written by guitar god Jimi Hendrix and performed by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix, a blues and R&B guitarist by trade, quickly learned to play psychedelic blues, essentially inventing the style as he produced the album, Are You Experienced, on which “Purple Haze” appears. The words for the song, seemingly about a man tripping on acid, are simply about a young man going crazy for this foxy lady. No drugs required for that, right?
7. Don’t Stop Believin’ (1981)
One of the top rock bands in 1980, Journey produced a classic tune for their seventh album, Escape. Sometimes referred to as the perfect rock tune, “Don’t Stop Believin’” is a song with a complex structure, awesome guitar runs, and sang by a Steve Perry, who may have one of the greatest voices in the world of rock. The song smashed the charts in the US, UK and many other parts of the world, and its subsequent popularity throughout the world cannot be overstated. Also, in 2009, the Glee TV series version of the song did very well. Among many other tunes on this list, this song is a solid gold rock favorite.
6. Wanted Dead or Alive (1987)
Lead vocalist Jon Bon Jovi admired the heroes of the Old West, even the anti-heroes or outlaws, which he likened to rockers who traveled about the country, living the wild life in all the towns and cities where they performed. So he and Richie Sambora wrote the song “Wanted Dead or Alive,” which became Bon Jovi’s anthem. Released on the album, Slippery When Wet, “Wanted Dead or Alive” along with “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Never Say Goodbye” all soared to the Top Ten of Billboard’s Hot 100, the first hard rock album to have three top singles. Not bad for Bon Jovi, a so-called Hair Metal band!
5. Hey Jude (1968)
The impetus for this song is that Paul McCartney wrote it for Julian, John Lennon’s son, after John had filed for divorce from Cynthia and struck up a romance with Yoko Ono. Paul felt sorry for kids in broken homes, ya know? Funny thing is, John thought the song was about him! Anyway, the single lasts seven minutes, long for the time, and who can forget the four-minute, orchestral coda? By the way, “Hey Jude” was the first single produced by Apple Records; it also stayed at number one on the US charts for nine weeks, topping all other Beatles’ singles; and in 2013 Billboard named it the tenth best song ever.
4. Freebird (1973)
“Freebird,” a power ballad by Lynyrd Skynyrd, quickly became a rock and roll classic, particularly its long three-part guitar solo at the end of the tune. Released as a single and also as a longer version on the album, “Freebird” has become the band’s signature song and is generally played at the end of each concert appearance, lasting as long as 14 minutes, give or take. The group solo itself rose to #3 on Guitar World’s 100 Greatest Guitar Solos. Interestingly, the song is dedicated to Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, members of the Allman Brothers who died in motor cycle accidents in the early 1970s, and then became “freebirds.”