Best Rock n Roll Songs My 50 Favorites PART 1Nov 23, 2004 (Updated Apr 4, 2011) Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in MusicThe Bottom Line I drove myself mad trying to pick just 50 favorites of the Greatest Rock-N-Roll songs ever made. This is Part 1 of 2.
The problem with making a list like this is quite frankly--making a list like this. Putting songs in some kind of order and telling the reader they are in some kind of order and this one is the best and this one, though great, isn’t quite as great as that one and that one over there doesn’t get on the list at all because you have to give proper respect to this song over here and…
It’s also maddening to try and figure out just how to define what Rock-n-Roll is. Patsy Cline’s Crazy is a great record—but it isn’t Rock-N-Roll. I can’t sneak in records like Minnie the Moocher, or What A Wonderful World or Louis Prima’s Just a Gigolo or even Mannish Boy. I’ve decided to not call Bobby Darin’s Mack the Knife a rock-n-roll record either. However you’ll find a few on my list that you can certainly say.. wait a minute is that really a Rock-N-Roll record? Ballads and slow songs are Rock-n-Roll too, right? My answer to it is: the records on my list are from a Rock-N-Roll place and belong on this list rather than a list of Rap Records or Jazz Records. Subjective? You bet. I’m judge and jury—it’s my list.
This isn’t a perfect or even a definitive list but I’ll stand my ground and defend it if I must. I know there’s a whole lot to quibble about too. A lot of these choices are too easy…and maybe they shouldn’t be that easy—but that’s the way it is and the way I see it when push comes to shove. There’s only a couple songs on this list that are less than 20 years old but I couldn’t replace any of these with newer ones without feeling I was selling out. So I didn’t.
I also realize that there are many more pivotal and ground-breaking songs that didn’t make it onto the list. Should they be on this list? Well they should be near this list and know that they are near this list. There are hundreds of wonderful records and songs, some of them important, some of them just a lot of fun that I respect and love almost as much as what does appear on this list—the key word being almost. They just missed in most cases. Then there was the problem that quite honestly some of these songs on my list are overplayed and even I can get sick of them. Sometimes I think I have gotten sick of them. Then I hear them again. I know how easy it is to fall in love with a brand new HOT song. I also know you look at that song in a few years and wonder how you could have ever liked it. I know why I liked these songs then, and I still like them now—even more so.
Here’s Part 1 of my list.
#50 Father and Son —Cat Stevens The generation gap wasn’t just about getting wild in the Streets and protesting war and injustice, smoking dope, and finding ourselves, there was a deep painfully emotional side. It’s this quieter but more painful part of the generation gap that Cat Stevens’ brilliant song is about. Its got a sobering clear precision that captures two generations of perspectives without compromise. It’s a song in my heart, forever.
#49 Crying –Roy Orbison was singing in three octaves and leaving everyone else in the dust when it came to vocal performance. It was a song about love and pain and you knew it would hurt even worse if you tried to sing about it like Roy does. So let him sing… just listen.
#48. Locomotive’s Breath - Jethro Tull. I can defend several songs on Benefit, Stand Up and everything on Aqualung. This was a mixture of sounds and ideas that exploded through whatever feeble commercial barriers were in its path.
# 47 White Rabbit - Jefferson Airplane Grace Slick penned this trippy bit of surrealistic imagery that was released in 1967. Alice from Wonderland drops Acid and meets Dorothy in Oz from the Summer of Love San Francisco scene that was mostly a fantasy as well.
#46 Smoke on Water —Deep Purple’s classic memory of a Frank Zappa and the Mothers concert had everyone-- and I do mean everyone-- playing air guitar and wanting to be a rock-n-roll star. Ian Gillian’s vocals were so incredible he would later be recruited to sing Jesus on the Jesus Christ Superstar album that pre-ceeded the Broadway show. Ritchie Blackmore,Ian Paice and Jon Lord were still together when this was unleashed in May of 1973.
#45 Sweet Emotion and Back in Black Aerosmith and AC/DC have a knack for connecting their music with a large audience by learning from the past and integrating the right combo of hooks and swagger, sweat and sex. Two of their best share a spot.
#44 Life During Wartime - Talking Heads When art majors turn rock punk, crash into Brian Eno and let world music wash over everything. . . it creates, well something completely unique. This is one of their best, but there’s about 5 or 6 T.H. songs that could go here.
#43. Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin For a while no self-respecting High school Prom would dare choose another song other than this one and oh how the grown-ups cringed. Suddenly three-chord Rock N Roll was getting a lot more complicated, and dense.
#42 Won’t Get Fooled Again –The Who Yet another inspired Pete Townshend creation. Released in 1971 off the Who’s Next Album. It’s pre-punk angry and in your face and was originally going to be part of a concept album called Lifehouse that never was. Behind Blue Eyes and Baba O’Reily are here too.
#41 Shout Parts 1 & 2 - The Isley Brothers created this one way back in 1959. It was a popular party song when covered by bar bands but it really caught on after 1978’s Animal House became a hit. Music unites even drunk horn-y rock-n-roll folks on the dance floor.
#40 Proud Mary -- Creedence Clearwater Revival John Fogerty wrote it and Creedence did it justice, but so did Ike and Tina Turner when they covered it making a show-stopper out of it. Whether you listen to the raw white bluesy version or the funky soul version, you’ll still get a great song.
#39 Honky Tonk Woman – The Rolling Stones Jagger and Richards hit the motherlode again when this song came out of them. They were in South America when they started it and finished it in the studio with producer Jimmy Miller adding in that distinctive cowbell.
#38 Blitzkrieg Bop -- The Ramones in 1976 were inventing punk rock before it was labeled as such. The song took about 5 years to get the respect and recognition it deserved. Way ahead of it’s time in the best way a three minute blast into the future of what music could be. Listen to it again. You’ll get it this time.
#37 Time -- Pink Floyd Those clocks and that tick tick and how rich every moment of Dark Side of the Moon feels no matter what kind of sound system you listen to the thing on. And… well YOU know.
#36 Whole Lotta Love —Early Led Zeppelin took it to the next level. A song born out of a blues jam; an homage to Willie Dixon where a chord was borrowed here a few lyrics borrowed there and several years later a lawsuit was settled. None of which matters when you listen to Plant’s screeching vocals and Page’s guitar. Play it at 11 and let your ears bleed.
#35 Magic Carpet Ride -- another incredible blues rock classic from Steppenwolf. I almost put down Monster but if I go there I’ve got to consider Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ and a whole lot more. So I’ll stick with the visceral thrill of the Carpet Ride-- a song I’ve never gotten sick of.
#34 Walk on the Wild Side - Lou Reed The Velvet Underground’s Heroin should probably be here instead but to be honest most of the time I’d rather listen to this and give Heroin the respect it deserves. This was post-Velvet Reed that was inspired by a book title and used in a song that remembers various people who were part of the same Andy Warhol Factory scene that Reed came out of. Reed wore the shoes that walked on the wild side too.
#33 The Boxer —sure maybe Simon and Garfunkle should be represented by Sounds of Silence or Bridge over Troubled Waters, but I chose this song about an unlucky loser who keeps fighting the odds and moving on with his life no matter how many disappointments and troubles he has. Lasting inspiration might be found here.
#32 Peggy Sue - - There’s a few Buddy Holly songs that could be listed but because Holly goes way out on a limb and without a net with his vocals on this one… I’m putting this one down. That’ll be the Day huh?
#31 The Weight --The Band Dylan’s famous Band went into the Big Pink house in upstate New York and recorded a remarkable album whose centerpiece was this sprawling story song full of fascinating characters and the feeling that responsibility and purpose is a difficult thing to take with you as you walk through life. Wow. Was anyone expecting this kind of thing from the music popularized by the likes of Bill Haley and Elvis? I don’t think so.
#30 In the Still of the Night - The Five Satins’ Fred Parris wrote this doo-wop classic while in the army and it was recorded in a church basement. You can hear him wail on it just by reading the title of the song. It’s that memorable. It’s not as polished and pristine as many of the doo-wop classics, but its perhaps the best because of that.
#29 Louie Louie -- The Kingsmen cover of Richard Berry’s song STILL gets discussed and debated. It became a huge hit in 1963, worried the FBI who were also trying to figure out if this cheaply recorded blast of raw guitars and not quite understandable lyric was sending out subversive anarchistic messages to a generation of Americans. It was but it wasn’t the words.
# 28 White Room - Cream’s best known are probably Sunshine of Your Love and this but of psychedelic D.T. imagery that was released in August of 1968.
#27 Great Balls of Fire - Jimmy Swaggart’s cousin Jerry Lee Lewis got liquored up to sell his soul to the devil and record this absolutely blistering rock and roll classic. It was written by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer and recorded by Sam Phillips to be released in November 1957 on Sun Records. Gospel and Rhythm and Blues explode over a modified piano honky tonk. It must be a very dirty song, right?
#26 Brown Eyed Girl - A great pop hit from Van Morrison who wanted no part of being a big pop star and proved it when he next recorded the brilliant Astral Weeks album that wasn't commercial and sounded nothing like Girl. Gloria the song Morrison did with Them almost got this spot and I was going to say it's the best song that The Animals never did. ( We Got to Get Out of This Place and House of Rising Sun barely missed this list in case you wanted to know). I can’t resist how Morrison barely controls his vocals for Brown Eyed Girl and sells the song so well.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2 (click to view Part 2)
Copyright© Christopher J. Jarmick 2004. All rights reserved.
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