Fire – The Jimi Hendrix Experience It’s pretty commonly held the Jimi is the greatest damn electric guitar player to ever walk this Earth. Can others play faster? Cleaner? Louder? Heavier? Sure. But Hendrix was not only a nearly unparalleled innovator who changed the face of the instrument and pioneered modern rock guitar; he was also an untamable force of nature. Fire, while not his most innovative song, stands among his catalog as being ab embodiment of The Experience: Jimi’s ripping riffs, soulful and clever vocals, and manic energy; Noel Redding’s hot and fast groove; and Mitch Mitchell’s Yin-Yang blend of jazz precision and bombastic delivery. Move over Rover… Let Jimi take over.
Fly by Night – RUSH Rush is arguably the best musical thing to come out of Canada… ever. Nickleback comments aside, our neighbors to the North usually don’t have quite as much rock royalty as us or the Brits. Rush is the outstanding exception: only few other times in history have three dudes made so much sound. Let’s not forget that Rush has some of the most complicated and clever arrangements in all of rock, and they are the veritable fathers of Prog. Neil Peart is one of the greatest drummers in history, and for good reason: listen to that precision. Geddy Lee manages to sing all of that ridiculousness and play a mean bass. And everyone always forgets Alex Lifeson, despite the fact that he’s won rock guitarist of the year from several magazines multiple times, and is downright nasty. Fly by Night showcases all that is Rush in a convenient package: drums tighter than a mounty’s pants after a trip to Tim Hortons, vocals that soar over all of Saskatchewan, and a guitar solo that could melt the face off of a Yukon gold miner.
Money – Pink Floyd Pink Floyd is one of the most creative groups of all time. There… I said it. Money, while not necessarily my favorite Floyd song, is so exemplary of their innovation and style. The syncopated time, strange sound effects, and layered instrumentation give a taste of the rest of Dark Side and much of the classic Floyd catalog. David Gilmour’s solo is often overshadowed by Time and Comfortably Numb, but I think that it’s one of his best.
Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin I’ll admit, Led Zeppelin is my favorite band of all time. But I choose to think that it’s because they are one of the best rock bands ever. They managed to mix the blues with the heaviest rhythm section that rock had ever seen. Bonham is the godfather of modern rock drumming. Plant could sing, scream, play harmonica, and wear tighter pants than anyone ever should. John Paul Jones, aside from being one of the best rock bassists ever, also takes people out to lunch on like six more instruments: piano, organ, guitar, and mandolin to name just a couple. Jimmy Page, while delightfully messy, is an absolute animal, and was once quoted that his job in the studio was to “build and army. A guitar army…” There are certainly deeper Zep tracks, but Whole Lotta Love fits the bill for Bonham drum solo, Page classic screaming leads, Plant orgasm noises, and fatass JPJ grind.
Whipping Post – The Allman Brothers Band Real men listen to the Allman Brothers Band. Plain and simple. These guys were from another world: down home Southern good ol’ boys, they were virtuosos on their instruments, and pushed jamming to new territories as they pulled from blues, jazz, country, rock, and classical, all while retaining their signature sound. Whipping Post is an Allman classic. I gave you the studio version so that you could get just a taste, but I think everyone should listen to the 23-minute version from Live at the Fillmore uninterrupted at least once. I kid you not, it is a life-altering experience.
Lady Madonna – The Beatles I’m not going to patronize you by telling you why I chose a Beatles song, or explaining why we owe rock music as we know if to the Fab Four. And I won’t waste time arguing why I chose Lady Madonna. Truth be told, I could have chosen any of about 200 Beatles songs for this list. No matter which I chose, I’m sure that I would have caught shit from some folks and got a pat on the back from others. Ultimately, I wanted to choose something from their most well-known tunes, and I happened to hear this song while I was thinking about the list. It’s a badass song, and it’s catchy as all hell. Love them or hate them, the Beatles deserve a spot on any Top [insert any number here] Rock Songs list ever. Period.
Layla – Derek and the Dominos Layla is a bonus for me on this list: it features two of my all-time favorites, Duane Allman and Eric Clapton. Both are absolute behemoths of the electric guitar. One was taken far to early, and we only barely got a taste of his greatness. The other has lived through trials and tragedy (from addiction to the loss of his son) to become one of the elder statesmen of the guitar. Some call him Slowhand. Others call him God. However you call him, make sure it’s with respect. Clapton is the only man I would argue is the spokesman for the electric guitar: the undeniable face and voice of the instrument. Layla is his iconic anthem – a tour de force through blazing licks, soulful vocals, and beautiful composition, complete with a slide solo from the elder Allman.
Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd Go ahead… laugh. Yell it out, I can hear you doing it your head. But when you’re done calling it out like every other drunk jackass in every bar every cover band has ever played ever, listen to the track. Because it’s not for nothing that Free Bird is requested at every rock show in every dive every weekend. Collins and Rossington pushed the boundaries of dual-lead guitar. And we all know that as overplayed as it might be, every time you hear that open organ chord, you reach for a beer, a lighter, and a buddy to sing along to the whole damn song. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Free Bird is a phenomenon of the natural world. So do it. Yell it out. I dare you.
Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones The Stones are the original rock and roll badasses. At the arguable height of their young stardom, they threw a tremendous concert at Altamont in California. While they were onstage, a man was killed in an altercation with the Hells Angels not more than a couple yards from the band. The result was a hiatus by the band and ultimately, the song Gimme Shelter. Not only is it one of the most meaningful songs in the Stone’s catalog, it also exemplifies classic Stones: the attitude, the groove, and a fierce drive to prove that they were rock and roll greatness.
Good Times Bad Times – Led Zeppelin I decided to put two Zep songs on this list, mostly due to my own bias, but also because as I explained before, they’re pretty much the embodiment of rock. I won’t go over it all again, but I will explain this: I thought about putting a longer Zeppelin song on here (honorable mention to Stairway to Heaven, When the Levee Breaks, Dazed and Confused, and How Many More Times), but then this song came on, and I had my reason: listen to that goddamn bass drum. You can check out the rest of the pretty much perfect Zeppelin library later. But you haven’t heard a drummer until you hear those Bonzo kick fills. Cheers.So that’s it for now, kids. Hope my list helps. All of these songs are classics. I have plenty more from all these artists that are a lot deeper. Who knows… Maybe I’ll put up a list of deep tracks by my favorite rock artists soon, and you can impress your friends and relatives with awesome songs by their favorite rock bands that maybe they didn’t even know. Rock on.
– Del Sleeper