All Things Music: Vol. 3: Top 10 Classic Rock Songs of All Time

I love lists, you love lists, and we all scream for ice cream. These are universal truths. We all love to rank things; from best old-school Nickelodeon shows (Rocko’s Modern Life) to best video game (N64’s Super Smash Bros., although Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog is a close second) we all love to debate, argue, and conceive new lists. So, partly inspired by last nights Oscar’s, and partly because I have been considering – and changing – this list ever since I discovered classic rock in Mr. House’s psychology class, here is my personal top 10 (because 20 takes up too much space) list of best classic rock songs, with a couple stipulations:

It has to sound like classic rock. Eric Clapton is synonymous with the phrase, but I do not consider “Forever Man” to be a classic rock song. Bob Dylan, and most songs sung by The Band are not classic rock either; although they come close, I consider them folk. There is also an automatic disregard of anything sung by Cheap Trick or Poison; even though 101 the Fox (the station in Kansas City that calls itself a “classic rock station”) insists on playing them. They just do not capture the sound. A classic rock song has to have a riff so familiar, you can recognize it in a second, and lyrics that the listener can relate to in some way; it cannot have a drumbeat that a five-year-old could play. Finally, it cannot be a cover, so sorry Hendrix, but “All Along the Watchtower” does not make this list. And just FYI, if I put a YouTube link to the song, watch it, it is worth your while. Anyway, without further delay:

10. Bron-yr-aur Stomp, Led Zeppelin – Above “Stairway,” above “Kashmir,” and even above “Dazed and Confused,” this song embodies the sheer skill of Jimmy Page. Written about man’s best friend, their dog Strider inspired the lyrics for this one. But that’s not why it makes the list; it’s the riff, and the crowd-inclusion to clap along during the chorus. Robert Plant proves that “there ain’t no companion like a blue-eyed merle,” and one cannot help but tap their foot to this one.

9. Call Me the Breeze, Lynyrd Skynyrd – This is another song that may not be known by casual Skynyrd fans. Yes, it’s better than “Gimme Three Steps,” better than “What’s Your Name?” and way better than “Sweet Home Alabama.” Blues-like lyrics accompanied by a sick horn-riff, this is another song that, if you are able to sit still through it, you have a serious problem.

8. Hollywood Nights, Bob Seger – One of the great lyricists of all time cuts right to the heart in this one. His imagery is so vivid, you can easily picture yourself as the character he portrays in “Nights.” A simple, yet relatable, story about a mid-western boy – who moved west ’cause he felt that a change would do him good – falls for a girl with soft eyes so innocent and blue, and knows right then he is too far from home, this one brings down the house at his shows. Side note: if there is one person I wish I could sing like, Seger is it.

7. Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd – There is really not much I can say about this song. To this day, I have no idea what it is about, but the guitar solos give me chills every time I hear it. It is no stretch to call this one a masterpiece, as it is musically perfect. That is the only reason I need to put it on this list.

6. Under Pressure, Queen feat. David Bowie – One of the best bass lines in music history is unfortunately stapled by todays generation to the deplorable “Ice, Ice Baby.” But more educated music fans know it as the song that dared us to change our way of caring about ourselves. The saddest story in music, Freddie Mercury, combined with David Bowie to write a cutting-edge song about love and what we sacrifice for it.

5. Revolution, The Beatles – Well, you know, we all wanna change the world, and we’re all doin’ what we can. The Beatles successfully changed the world of music as we know it, and paved the way for bands like them. This song embodies what the band’s main lyricists – Paul McCartney and John Lennon – stood for in a time of social unrest and upheaval. They were the voice of reason during that era, and it’s sad that one of the great song writers of all time – Lennon – and one of the great guitarists of all time – George Harrison – are no longer with us.

4. My Generation, The Who – They weren’t trying to cause a big sensation, but they did with this tune. In a time of rebellion and general distaste for the music of that time by the older generation, this song spoke the mind of millions of teenagers everywhere, and is still applicable today. Side note: For a great story about just how much the music of that time was hated by elder’s, and just how much the kids fought to keep it, check out the movie “Pirate Radio.” It’s the best movie you’ve probably never heard of.

3. Where the Streets Have No Name, U2 – I will admit, I am a little biased towards this one, as it was used for a time during the pre-game videos for Kansas Jayhawk basketball games, and is now used when they announce the lineup. The Edge’s guitar riff could carry on forever as the song fades out, and the lyrics, speaking of tearing down the walls that hold you inside, this song remains as my ultimate pump-up tune for sporting events. It gives me chills every time.

2. Layla, Eric Clapton – This song is my aforementioned discovery of classic rock. What premise does this song have in a psychology class, you might ask? Well, Jim Gordon, the drummer and the man who wrote the piano part of the song, was severely schizophrenic, and killed his mother with an axe. But that’s not why it’s on this list (as I hope was obvious). This song is on here because it has one of the most recognizable intro guitar riffs of all time, and it summarizes every hopeless romantic on Earth who has ever had feelings for a woman. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, think about this: Clapton won over George Harrison’s wife with this song; she left Harrison and married Clapton. I know of no other song that has that kind of power. Not to mention Clapton’s guitar work during said piano outro is enough to make a grown man cry.

And the number one classic rock song of all time is…

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen – Bruce scored big with the title track to his third album, released in 1975. This song is almost beyond words, as Bruce is such a master lyricist that he sums them all up for us. Nothing we can say or think is original, because Bruce already sang it. This song is perfect – partly because Bruce and the band spent six months working on this song to make it so – in every way: its lyrics, which speak of escaping a town that rips the bones from your back and the highway jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive, all the great poets who have ever existed would be jealous of such mastery of words. The music, so powerful and so full of raw energy, it is almost scary. Bruce has probably played thousands of shows after this song’s release, and has played it at every one, pouring his heart into every chord and verse. Never have I heard a crowd explode like I did at the Sprint Center two-and-a-half years ago when its opening riff was played, and it is something I hope to experience again. No song is better than “Born to Run.”

So there you have it, my top ten. Agree or Disagree? Think a song was too high or too low on the list? Think I left one out, or was too generous to another? Please share your thoughts.

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11 Responses to All Things Music: Vol. 3: Top 10 Classic Rock Songs of All Time

  1. Hadley says:

    I was reading this and going – wtf Brian – no Bruce??? So glad to see he was number one. And I agree, that crowd was amazing. I feel like every time I listen to this song it’s a new experience, and I never ever get sick of listening to it.


  2. Marile Cloete says:

    I won’t disagree with anybody who puts Bruce at number 1! Your list also comes at a time when I have been thinking about which would be considered the greatest Springsteen songs of his whole career. I was thinking Born to Run and Thunder Road. With probably Jungleland somewhere close. And Born in the USA the most popular, but not the greatest.
    Anyway, it feels like sin to try to choose … 🙂


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  4. Floyd says:

    Solid list. Always fun to rank items and create a debate. But more importantly, gets people thinking about the subject. I listened to classic rock songs all day today — most of which I haven’t heard in too long — to make my own list and found myself really enjoying and appreciating great music. So thank you for that.

    I wanted to make a Top 10 list, but after finding about 30 songs I wanted to add to it. I thought of setting up a bracket [March Madness, baby!] but settled for ranking the 32 best songs I could think of [#1 – #8 seeds]. Well, here’s my top 10… or so.
    – – –
    10. Dear Mr. Fantasy, Traffic
    9. Dream On, Aerosmith
    8. Layla, Clapton
    7. Come Together, The Beatles
    6. Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin
    5. My Generation, The Who
    4. Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd
    3. You Really Got Me, The Kinks
    2. Hotel California, The Eagles
    1. (Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, The Rolling Stones
    – – –
    Other Notables…
    11. Fire, Jimi Hendrix
    12. Fortunate Son, CCR
    14. Walk on the Wild Side, Lou Reed
    15. For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield
    18. Born to Be Wild, Steppenwolf
    24. All Right Now, Free
    25. Reelin’ in the Years, Steely Dan
    28. We Gotta Get Out of This Place, The Animals
    31. Spirit in the Sky, Norman Greenbaum
    32. Ballrooms of Mars, T. Rex


    • bwclausen says:

      A bracket would be one great idea, maybe I will do that in the futute.

      Your top 10 isn’t bad, but imo there are a lot better rolling stones songs than satisfaction; paint it black, sympathy for the devil, and honkey tonk women come to mind. And come together is a great choice for a beatles tune.


      • Floyd says:

        Yeah, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ was number #21. I should have moved it up in my list [as it is my 8th favorite song of all-time].

        The only “problem” with doing a bracket would be figuring out the pupose — as the songs should be ranked in order. It just depends on how they get seeded and what you are trying to measure them on. I have a really good bracket in the works. Once it’s done, I’ll facebook it to you somehow.


      • bwclausen says:

        Yea that would be good. My only thing would be one song per artist. Zeppelin or Clapton would easily have 4 songs in the top 32, so we should limit it to one per artist (Cream and Eric Clapton would count as different artists).


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  6. UTKARSH says:

    1. johnny B. goode – chuck berry
    2. highway 2 hell – ac/dc
    3. we will rock u – queen
    4. smell like teen spirit – nirvana
    5. kings & queen – 30 seconds 2 mars
    6. stairway 2 heaven – led zepelin
    7. numb – linkin park
    8. 21st cen breakdown – green day
    9. everybody – backstreet boys
    10. one – metallica


    • bwclausen says:

      the day nirvana, linkin park, green day, metallica and the backstreet boys are included in a classic rock discussion is the day President Obama is liked by 100% of the country.


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