The 100 Most Awesome Rock Songs of All Time

Here you have it—my list of the 100 most awesome rock songs of all time. I can guarantee you’ll either 1) find it ludicrous proof that I have deplorable tastes in music or 2) dismiss it as a willfully perverse attempt to irk on my part. Or both. But here’s the thing—these are MY 100 most awesome rock songs of all time. I could have attempted to write an “objective” list of the top 100 most awesome songs of all time, one that would have surely included songs by the likes of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Ramones, the Clash, Joy Division, and Nirvana (to name but a few), but truth is I rarely if ever listen to any of ‘em. Besides, the exercise would have been boring as hell.

What’s my idea of an awesome song? Simple. A truly awesome song is one that I could listen to with a smile in my heart every single day for the rest of my life without growing sick of it. No exaggeration. Which is why I haven’t included songs I’ve loved for, say, a mere five years or so. How can I be certain that one day down the road I’ll hear, to cite just two examples, the MC5’s “Black to Comm” or Mud’s “Tiger Feet” and mutter, “Jesus, not that fucking song again.” My ears are fickle bastards.

To be truly accurate, a list like this would have to be updated daily, because none of us have every song we’ve ever loved at our fingertips. They will only announce themselves to us when we hear them in our sleep, on the radio, in movies, TV shows and annoying ads, in supermarkets, dentists’ chairs, or at the gym. Hell, I’ll probably hear at least one awesome song at my own wake.

So yeah, no one will be happy with this list. My uneducated guess is that some 99 percent of readers will conclude I’m full of shit, as opposed to the 92 percent of readers who’ve been convinced I’m full of shit for years now. But I have no regrets. Better to do 100 things wrong than do nothing at all. My mom used to tell me that, before they packed her off to the penitentiary for committing a dozen or so armed robberies.

One final note: I’ve tried to stick as closely as possible to that “rock” in the title. Hence I’ve attempted to exclude, for better or worse, songs in the funk, hip hop, gospel, reggae, country, soul, ska, disco, R&B, Americana, folkies with banjos, electric dance, and industrial genres that might otherwise have made the list. I’ve also excluded, with one notable exception, progressive rock, for the simple reason that I loathe the shit.

100. “Closer to the Heart” • Rush
Geddy Lee wants to “mold a new reality, closer to the heart,” and I’m okay with that.“You can be the captain, and I will draw the chart,” he sings, and I’m okay with that too. And I hereby announce that my first act as ship’s commander will be to make Geddy walk the plank.

99. “Miracles” • Starship
Marty Balin: “I had a taste of the real world/When I went down on you, girl.” Well there you have it—if it ain’t vagina, it’s Maya.

98. “Bittersweet Symphony” • The Verve
A stroke of genius, sampling the Andrew Oldham Orchestra’s version of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time.” But how can Richard Ashcroft be stuck in a mold if he’s a million different people from one day to the next? Oh well. It’s no dumber than “Slowly walking down the hall/Faster than a cannonball.”

97. “Smoke on the Water” • Deep Purple
Remember that stupid guy with a flare gun? You’re looking at him.

96. “Candles in the Rain” • Melanie
Before she got her brand new pair of roller skates and zipped herself off the American Top Forty forever, Melanie of the amazing voice recorded this gospel-flavored salute to the festival at Woodstock, which tops “Woodstock” because she doesn’t 1) say anything really stupid like “We are billion-year-old carbon” or 2) make me blow radioactive chunks like Crosby, Stills Nash & Young.

95. “Lights Out” • The Angry Samoans
The newest teen fad? Poking your eyes out with a fork. Or a pen. Actually any pointy object will do. But be sure to read the instructions: “If you poke too far you reach the front of your brain/Fork in your mind can drive you insane!” And no one wants that.

94. “Come Sail Away” • Styx
Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. Dennis DeYoung’s the captain of a ship setting course for a virgin sea. When along come some angels in a starship, which should not be confused with the Starship of “We Built This City” or the guitar-shaped starship on the cover of Boston’s debut album. DeYoung’s starship is just your average run of the mill UFO, by which I don’t mean the band.

93. “Calling Occupants of Interstellar Craft” • The Carpenters
One minute the brother and sister team then President Richard Nixon called “Young America at its very best” were churning out brilliant chart toppers, the next they were inviting bug-eyed green people from outer space to stop by for finger sandwiches. As if Klaatu hadn’t stopped by for finger sandwiches some four years earlier.

92. “Deuce” • Redd Kross
If Kiss had a goddamn clue as to how to play their own songs, they’d be Redd Kross.

91. “This Is Just a Modern Rock Song” • Belle and Sebastian
These Glasgow Twee People have never been as innocent as they sound—that “Arab strap” in the title of “The Boy with the Arab Strap” is a cock harness. On this one, Stuart Murdoch ambles about Glasgow getting tossed arse over tit by a girl who knows judo, and making self-effacing comments about his band. To wit, “We’re four boys in corduroys/We’re not terrific but we’re competent.”

90. “Monday Monday” • The Mamas & the Papas
Unlike the absolutely true and shudder-inducing story about Three Dog Night vocalist Chuck Negron’s penis splitting open like a pork sausage from overuse, the one about Mama Cass Elliot’s vocal range increasing by three notes after she was konked on the noggin by some copper tubing is urban legend. None of which has anything to do with this luscious slice of California dream cake about Monday being a duplicitous bastard, which we knew already.

89. “Love Offering” • Meat Puppets
The Meat Puppets’ 1982 debut was far too twisted for most hardcore kids, largely because Curt Kirkwood sings like a lawnmower choking to death on a wad of wet grass. Which is why the LP comes with a lyric sheet. So you can choke along.

88. “The Joker” • Steve Miller
Granted you invented the word “pompatus,” Maurice, but ain’t no way you’re shaking my tree.

87. “Crazy Train” • Ozzy Osbourne
Metal power pop from the guy rumored to have eaten a live 42-pound nutria on stage, “Crazy Train” comes without a dead man’s switch, which is too bad because you won’t want to be there when the Oz Express goes off the rails. But what’s with lines like “Maybe it’s not too late/To learn how to love and forget how to hate”? Are you going all soft on us, Ozzy? Have another nutria, dude.

86. “Black Water” • The Doobie Brothers
Boy are those wind chimes spooky. Boy are those harmony vocals cool. If we’re lucky Patrick Simmons will be eaten by alligators.

85. “Lust for Life” • Iggy Pop
On which Iggy sings about hypnotizing chickens and confesses to having engaged in aural sex (“I’m just a modern guy/Of course I’ve had it in the ear before”). But the song’s rather tame by Iggy standards, don’t you think? You’ll never hear “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell” used on a Royal Caribbean commercial.

84. “Wheel in the Sky” • Journey
Like the wheel on the long-running TV game show Wheel of Fortune, Journey’s “Wheel in the Sky” keeps on turning. But Journey’s wheel in the sky sucks—not only will it not tell you where you’ll be tomorrow, it won’t even give you the chance to win a Winnebago Solis 59P. Or ogle Vanna White.

83. “I Hate Music” • The Replacements
Written by Paul Westerberg before he got all talented and stuff. Inspirational lines: “I hate music/Sometimes I don’t/I hate music/It’s got too many notes.”

82. “5D (Fifth Dimension)” • The Byrds
Like “White Rabbit,” “5D” takes you down the hallucinogenic rabbit hole. But it’s more cosmically optimistic: “And I opened my heart to the whole universe/And I found it was lovin’.” Happy hippie horseshit? Perhaps. But it beats being bossed around by chess pieces.

81. “Six Pack” • Black Flag
Not as good-natured as Gang Green’s “Alcohol,” or anthemic as “T.V. Party,” “Six Pack” still makes for a great punk shout along. Best lines: “My girlfriend asked me which one I like better/Six pack!/I hope the answer won’t upset her.”

80. “Yeah Yeah Yeah” • Kix
On which Kix’s Brian “Damage” Forsythe insists, “Hey, I’m a nice guy/I bathe/Sure I got blue balls, so what?/Doesn’t make me a bad person.” He also does a great Elmer Fudd impersonation (“Be ve-e-ewy v-e-eewy qwiet/It’s woman season/I’m woman huntin”). Oh, and his attempt to seduce a girl by means of booze and ludes backfires when she pukes on him. How many rock stars are willing to paint themselves as total losers? Not Anthony Kiedis, that’s for sure.

79. “Solsbury Hill” • Peter Gabriel
I’m not quite sure why this one makes my heart go boom, boom, boom. But it may have something to do with Peter Gabriel standing over me with a sledgehammer.

78. “Hanky Panky Nohow” • John Cale
“Nothing frightens me more,” sings John Cale, “than religion at my door,” before tossing in some cryptic stuff about “the cows that agriculture won’t allow.” Lou Reed reportedly booted Cale from the Velvet Underground in part because Cale’s ideas for the band’s third album included placing the amplifiers underwater. Not commercial enough, said the guy who would go on to record Metal Machine Music. Go figure.

77. “Too Bad” • The Faces
On this irrepressibly good-natured commentary on the English caste system, Rod and his prole pals get thrown downstairs at a posh social-do by a butler who’s twelve-feet tall. The song itself is bum rush fast, and Rod laughs the whole way out the door.

76. “Roll on Down the Highway” • Bachman-Turner Overdrive
BTO’s 1974 album Not Fragile was a husky thumb-your-nose to Yes’ rarified Fragile, and when these meaty Manitobans weren’t chawing on moose jerky they were writing quarry-mined classics like this one. Randy Bachman: “Drove so fast that my eyes can’t see.“ Talking about driving while blind.

75. “Sailor” • Brian Jonestown Massacre
This perfect drone forever is the work of the legendarily unpredictable Anton Newcombe who, if he really wanted to increase album sales, would physically assault the members of his band on vinyl.

74. “Theme for Sparta F.C.” • The Fall
The greatest sports team theme song ever, period. “Come on I will show you how I will change/When you give me something to slaughter,” sings the irascible unto death Mark E. Smith. “We Will Rock You” doesn’t even come close.

73. “Hair of the Dog” • Nazareth
You don’t want to mess with a Scottish son of a bitch with a mean hangover. He may just permanently embed your face in a plate of cold haggis.

72. “Weekend” • The Dictators
These legendary proto-punk “teengenerates” were the Beastie Boys before their time, and this ode to edumacation could well be their finest extra-curricular achievement. Think “School’s Out” plus sopors, puke, and some picked-on kid from Spain, and you’re well on your way to becoming class valedictorian.

71. “Range Life” • Pavement
On which Stephen Malkmus waxes sarcastic about other rock bands (“Out on tour with The Smashing Pumpkins/Nature kids/They don’t have no function/I don’t understand what they mean/And I could really give a fuck”), his fading Walkman and various and sundry other life-or-death matters. If Stephen could settle down, he’d settle down. But the range life is just too much fun.

70. “Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day” • Jethro Tull
Sounds stupid nuts to me, skating on one leg like an English flamingo across thin ice while playing the flute. But then again Ian Anderson was always thick as a brick.

69). “No More Mr. Nice Guy” • Alice Cooper
His dog bites him. His cat claws him. Reverend Smedley punches him in the nose in front of the entire congregation. Get out of town, Alice—the local ladies’ sewing circle is gunning for you.

68. “Sorted for E’s and Wizz” • Pulp
Leave it to sardonic Britpop social observer Jarvis Cocker to pull the pacifier from the mouth of the UK rave scene. “Is this the way they say the future’s meant to feel?” he asks, “Or just 20,000 people standing in a field?” And he truly empathizes with the casualties: “And you want to call your mother,” he sings about one lad in a muddle, “And say mother/I can never come home again/’Cause I seem to have left an important part of my brain… somewhere in a field in Hampshire.” Happy Mondays my ass.

67. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” • Procol Harum
Thee official theme song of Swinging London circa 1967, the baroque “A Whiter Shade of Pale” inspired an admiring John Lennon to say, “You play it when you take some acid and … Whoooooooo.” Geoffrey Chaucer’s miller makes a cameo, the ceiling flies away, and the girl who’s a whiter shade of pale has nothing on Johnny Winter.

66. “Shaking” • Cows
Clamor rocker Shannon Selberg puts a new twist on the Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ chestnut by reinterpreting it as a paean to chicks wearing strap-ons. Inspirational line: “Yo girl, I love it when you make my asshole bleed.”

65. “Smoke It” • The Dandy Warhols
If this joyous celebration of ecstatic inhalation doesn’t have you reaching for your rolling papers you should surrender your bong to your mom. “I should of stayed in college for about another 100 years,” sings Courtney Taylor–Taylor. Then “People got more baggage than JFK, yeah/And I’m talkin’ about the airport man.” Prepare for takeoff!

64. “Free Ride” • The Edgar Winter Group
Great song, but what ever happened to “gas, grass or ass, nobody rides for free?”

63. “Sex Bomb” • Flipper
“Sex Bomb” is the “Louie Louie” of the anti-hardcore set and about as sexy as aluminum siding, but that’s the point. The bass plods on and on, playing one unvarying riff; “Sex bomb baby, yeah!” shout the boys over and over again. You can literally be passed out face down on a sofa and still sing along. I know because I’ve done it.

62. “The Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not” • X
I suggest you pick up the phone, pal. You don’t want Exene Cervenka showing up at your door and tearing it off the wall.

61. “Just Like Heaven” • The Cure
The pale mope with the electric chair hair sure knows how to drive the ladies crazy. He has this trick see, that makes them scream, laugh, and throw their hands around his neck, and they want to know how he does it. Could it be that Robert Smith is the Houdini of Love? Perhaps. But you rest assured that trick of his has nothing to do with making elephants disappear.

60. “Bohemian Rhapsody” • Queen
“Stairway to Heaven” with faux operatic upholstery, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is Queen’s triumph—an endearing pomp rocker by a band who’s abiding fault was pomposity. It takes a healthy dose of self-awareness to turn weakness into strength, and while I would never call the song deliberate self-parody, it comes hilariously close.

59. “Ballroom Blitz” • Sweet
Unlikely Glam legends—no one has ever looked more ridiculous in full glitter regalia—the Sweet produced the most lovably zany hard rock songs of their time. “Ballroom Blitz” is the best of them; Steve Priest’s goofy “Cause she thinks she’s the passionate one!” alone is so cool the Beastie Boys sampled it.

58. “Back on the Chain Gang” • The Pretenders
In the wake of the untimely deaths of Pretenders’ lead guitarist James Honeyman Scott and bassist Pete Farndon, a tough-on-the-outside Chrissie Hynde announces her intention to pick up the sledgehammer and get back to smashing rock. But the sorrow in her voice is real, and coming from her mouth the lines “I found a picture of you/Those were the happiest days of my life” are by no means maudlin.

57. “I Am, I Said” • Neil Diamond
Mr. Forever in Blue Jeans finds himself in the world’s oldest thought experiment—if he talks but no one’s listening, is he making a sound? Neil’s chair for sure isn’t hearing him. That or it’s ignoring Neil out of spite.

56. “Roadrunner” • The Modern Lovers
Jonathan Richman recorded this VU-influenced love song to driving “faster miles per hour” past the Stop & Shops of his beloved Massachusetts suburbs before regressing to childhood, abandoning the electric guitar, and playing “happy songs” at elementary schools. Where he was frequently pelted with chalkboard erasers by 2nd graders screaming, “Play your electric shit!”

55. “Everyday Is Like Sunday” • Morrissey
Morrissey may well be the funniest performer to ever croon into a microphone, and it’s not unintentional. Dropping an A-bomb on an English seaside town simply to alleviate the boredom may seem a bit drastic, but I once spent an interminable afternoon at Brighton Beach and nuking the place seemed a perfectly reasonable idea.

54. “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” • Elvis Costello
Asking England’s (then) most spiteful little shit to sing this one seems an odd choice, that is until you realize he’s the perfect vehicle; no one, with the possible exception of John Lydon, could have approached the song with such scalding irony. Nick Lowe’ original is a plea. Costello’s cover is an indictment. Jonathan Swift would be proud.

53. “Slow Ride” • Foghat
When it comes to making love the tortoise beats the hare, and “Lonesome Dave” Peverett’s “Ah come on baby, take a slow ride on me” makes it clear who’s on top. “Slow Ride” sets no longevity records at eight minutes plus, but it beats the Edgar Winter Group quickie “Free Ride” by a full five minutes and change and T. Rex’s “Ride a White Swan” by a little more than six minutes, although I’m not sure bestiality counts.

52. “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” • The Fifth Dimension
Anodyne shlock from the risible rock musical Hair, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” was the “Up, Up and Way” of the faux freak set. It also offered a measure of reassurance to their concerned parents—if this was what their kids were listening to, they could go back to making meatloaf and voting Nixon. Your authentic freaks, on the other hand, knew the sunshine the Fifth Dimension were singing about was coming out their asses.

51. “New Speedway Boogie” • Grateful Dead
The world’s greatest jam band lived in a good times bubble that excluded the real world, and that’s the way their audience of Patchouli-drenched dancing bears liked it. But on “New Speedway Boogie” the Dead paused just long enough to take stock of the events at Altamont, where things got so ugly they took off like a helicopter from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon. Afterwards they returned to truckin’ as usual.

50. “Dream Weaver” • Gary Wright
On which former Spooky Tooth keytar pioneer Gary Wright closes his eyes and climbs aboard the Dream Weaver train, destination the nearest astral plane or affordable B&B should said astral plane in question be booked solid. The song is as spacey as Star Trek, and I can’t help but wonder if the profession of dream weaver requires a university degree.

49. “Sloop John B” • The Beach Boys
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” it ain’t. But poor damaged Brian Wilson’s desperation is tragedy writ small, and when he pleads “I feel so broke up, I want to go home” you want to toss him a lifesaver.

48. “Lord Have Mercy on My Soul” • Black Oak Arkansas
On the hilarious spoken introduction “Jim Dandy” Mangrum recounts a visit to “a place called the Halls of Karma.” He might have stuck around awhile, but he has to come back because he has “a thing to do for the good of all of us all,” by which I’m assuming he means playing Southern Rock washboard and singing like a pitcher who rarely hits the strike zone. Jim Dandy to the rescue!

47. “Year of the Cat” • Al Stewart
What do you do when you find yourself playing Peter Lorre contemplating a crime in a Humphrey Bogart movie set in an exotic locale where they turn back time? And what manner of crime is it you’re contemplating in the first place? Purloining that bong-like object on the album cover? What is that thing, anyway?

46. “Jack and Diane” • John Cougar Mellencamp
John Mellencamp was a cantankerous old coot from birth, and barely into his thirties when he released 1982’s “Jack and Diane” with its fatalistic lines “Oh yeah, life goes on/Long after the thrill of livin’ is gone.” But about that “Suckin’ on a chili dog outside the Tastee Freez.” Is it some sort of Heartland perversion I should know about?

45. “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad” • Bad Company
C’mon boys: Everyone knows you have to keep good lovin’ in the refrigerator.

44. “Atlantis” • Donovan
Legend has it that the passengers on board the ships sent out to all corners of the earth by the dying continent of Atlantis included the poet, the physician, the farmer, the scientist, the magician, and that guy down the block who mows his lawn at 11 o’clock at night, driving the entire neighborhood crazy.

43. “Night Moves” • Bob Seger
Bob Seger went from Detroit journeyman to bona fide rock star on the strength of songs like “Night Moves,” on which he waxes nostalgic about a long-ago summer spent doing the Michigan Boogie with a girl every bit as horny as he was. But that summer’s long gone, and Seger sees autumn closing in. He was thirty-one when he wrote the song. Autumn closes in early out Lake Michigan way.

42. “Cherry Bomb” • The Runaways
These Glam Vixens generated so much teenage lust I bought their debut album just to jerk off to the cover. Hell, I’m not sure I even listened to the damn thing. My loss—Cherie Currie’s “Hello world, I’m your wild girl” is one of rock’s greatest howdy-dos, and that “I’m your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb” tops David Bowie’s “Changes” in the stutter rock sweepstakes, easy peasy.

41. “You Shook Me All Night Long” • AC/DC
Brian Johnson, who so far as I can tell is having sex with the San Andreas Fault, would like us to know that the thighs knocking him out were made in America.

40. “Bad Moon Rising” • Creedence Clearwater Revival
More so than any other band of their time, Creedence Clearwater Revival saw the storm clouds brewing over a troubled America. “Bad Moon Rising” is John Fogerty’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” and when he sings “Don’t go out tonight/Well, it’s bound to take your life” he isn’t referring to the Vietnam War or domestic social unrest—he’s a prophet of the Apocalypse, now.

39. “Man on the Moon” • R.E.M.
You had me at Mott the Hoople.

38. “Indiana Wants Me” • R. Dean Taylor
“Indiana Wants Me” finds R. Dean on the run from the law, could be for rooting against the Indiana Pacers. The song ends in police sirens and a hail of gunfire, giving you the distinct impression R. Dean didn’t make it. Hoosiers take their pro hoops very seriously.

37. “Carry On Wayward Son” • Kansas
Why carry on, my wayward son, when all you are is dust in the wind? That’s what I’d like to know.

36. “Bad Reputation” • Joan Jett
A Ramones-fast number by the black leather-clad glam metal goddess who’s done as much in the cause of feminism as Helen Reddy. The diff? Fuck with the late Ms. Reddy and I doubt she’d have sent you home in seventy separate gift boxes labeled “jaw,” “heart,” and “genitals.” Then again, it’s always a mistake to underestimate a roaring woman.

35. “Chevy Van” • Sammy Johns
Sammy’s one of those take-it-easy California types with no worries, no hang-ups, and no visible means of support. On this one he picks up a hippie hottie so free and easy she doesn’t even own a pair of shoes. Sammy’s more than an archetype. He’s a goddamn American hero.

34. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” • Gordon Lightfoot
Gordon Lightfoot, Lumberjack Country’s greatest export this side of the hockey puck, has produced such moose-sized classics as “Sundown” and “Carefree Highway.” But it’s this somber epic about the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in the “big lake they call ‘Gitche Gumee’” that ice-fishing Canucks will forever hoist their Molsons to. Says the cook when the main hatchway gives in, “Fellas, it’s been good to know ya.” The same can be said for the song.

33. “We’re an American Band” • Grand Funk Railroad
Mark, Mel, and Don want it to be known they’re not an English, Ugandan, Moldavian, Cambodian, or Ethiopian band. It should be noted, however, that Don’s Sabian cymbals hail, at least in part, from Armenia. But “We’re an American Band with Armenian Cymbals” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

32. “The Weight” • The Band
“The Weight” may have been written by some Canadian named Robbie Robertson from up Hogtown way, but it has joined Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in the canon of American folklore. Except Jack the dog isn’t blue. He’s dog-colored.

31. “Hamburger Martyr” • Killdozer
The hilarious (to me, anyway) tale of a customer so dissatisfied with the slop pushed his way at a diner he beats the fry cook to death. “You call this a hamburger?” asks frontman Michael Gerald. “Well, I don’t call this a hamburger. Hell, I can make a better hamburger with my asshole.” He has colorful things to say about the coffee too.

30. “Low Rider” • War
It’s not hydraulics but B.B. Dickerson’s bass, Charles Miller’s alto saxophone, and a 1964 Buick Riviera packed with percussionists that give this low rider its bounce. I’d give anything to own one. My ex-girlfriend says I’d look like a damned fool in it. My ex-girlfriend is always right.

29. “Surrender” • Cheap Trick
I never caught my parents doing the nasty with my Kiss records on, for the simple reason that I never owned any Kiss records. But everyone’s parents have their secrets; my mom once admitted to regularly flirting with the German prisoners of war at the POW camp outside Gettysburg, PA while my dad returned from the Pacific Theater with the name of a woman not my mom tattooed on his right forearm. He attempted to hide his crime by covering the tattoo with a larger tattoo of an American eagle so blurry it looked like a Rorschach test. That’s life during wartime for you.

28. “More Than a Feeling” • Boston
The album cover features a guitar-shaped spaceship with Beantown in a snow globe on top; the song itself is hard rock buffed and polished to a fine sheen that makes Steely Dan sound like a garage band. For a month or two in 1976 I thought these guys were the wave of the future. Then punk came along and that was that.

27. “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” • The Raspberries
Eric Carmen wanted a No. 1 hit so badly he wrote a song about wanting a No. 1 hit, which didn’t become a No.1 hit. But it wasn’t his fault—if any songs deserved to top the charts they were “Go All the Way,” “Tonight,” and this one. Towards the end of the song poor deluded Eric hears this very song coming out of a tinny radio, and I can almost hear Eric’s attendant at the psychiatric institute saying, “There is no radio, Eric. It’s in your head.”

26. “Layla” • Derek and the Dominos
Holy tears in heaven from my father’s eyes, “Layla” is one of the very few times in his chinless career Old Slowhand got it right. On the song’s super-charged first half Clapton pleads, bleeds, and gets down on his knees; Jim Gordon’s piano exit is the calm after the storm. A few short years later Clapton would be singing the praises of notorious anti-immigrant politician Enoch Powell. One great song does not a dickhead unmake.

25. “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” • Rick Derringer
“I’m gettin’ high all the time, hope you all are too” sings former McCoy and All American Boy Rick Derringer, who’s out to spread the rock and roll news. As for his aside “Did somebody say keep on rockin’?” I intend to have it engraved on my headstone.

24. “Don’t Fear the Reaper” • Blue Öyster Cult
Urban legend has it “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is the song of choice for doomed lovers taking the Lover’s Leap. Give me Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” I’d leap to my death just to get away from the thing.

23. “Tired Eyes” • Neil Young
Like Blue Öyster Cult’s “Then Came the Last Days of May,” this one’s about a dope deal gone horribly wrong.“Well, he shot four men in a cocaine deal,” says Neil matter of factly, “And he left them lyin’ in an open field/Full of old cars with bullet holes in the mirrors.” It was Neil’s elliptical way of saying Aquarian dream had turned Aquarian nightmare, and the shooter’s epitaph (“He tried to do his best/But he could not”) could be the counterculture’s as well.

22. “I Heard Her Call My Name” • The Velvet Underground
An underdog for sure, “I Heard Her Call My Name” features a Lou Reed guitar solo so unhinged it makes the likes of Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo sound like ham-fisted turfdragers. Maureen Tucker: “[Lou], who was having an ego-trip at the time, turned himself so far-up on the mix that there’s no rhythm, there’s no nothing.” No nothing never sounded so good.

21. “American Girl” • Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
The Byrds-influenced “American Girl”—the most awesome power pop song ever written, period—was inspired by an urban legend making the rounds at the University of Florida about a co-ed on LSD who leaped to her death from an impressive height, presumably because she thought she was a a blue-winged teal or a paper airplane or something. Which makes “American Girl” the most awesome anti-drug PSA ever written as well.

20. “MacArthur Park” • Richard Harris
Richard Harris overemotes like he’s playing Iago in a high school production of Othello, describes being “pressed in love’s hot fevered iron like a striped pair of pants,” and already I’m with the questions. Why striped? Why not a nice pair of purple elephant flares? And who leaves a cake out in the rain in the middle of a public park in the first place? And how difficult can it be to find a recipe for a cake with green icing? It’s right there on page 65 of Better Homes & Gardens Dessert Cook Book.

19. “Deacon Blues” • Steely Dan
Funny how I used to hate this song because it came out after Steely Dan decided to up the (already elevated) sophistication level another notch and go full smooth jazz, only to be won over by dint of its being about “a victim of laughing chance” with his back against the wall. Personally I’ve always rooted for the underachiever, and the lines “They got a name for the winners in the world/I want a name when I lose/They call Alabama the Crimson Tide/Call me Deacon Blues” hit me where I live.

18. “A Wedding in Cherokee County” • Randy Newman
Randy Newman set out to write his very own Albanian national anthem, only to end up with this colorful tale of an impotent rube on his wedding night. ”I will carry her across the threshold,” sings his feckless bridegroom, “I will make dim the light/I will attempt to spend my love within her/But though I try with all my might/She will laugh at my mighty sword/She will laugh at my mighty sword/Why must everybody laugh at my mighty sword?/Lord help me if you will.” And although his bride apparently can’t hear, see, know, or feel a damn thing, she’d still kill him if she could.

17. “Baba O’Riley” • The Who
The lyrics are total bullshit—the teenage wasteland’s in your parent’s basement, not out in a field somewhere. But the baroque synthesizer figure is bong-load cool, Keith Moon’s drums are cacophony in chains, and while Pete Townshend intended for that “They’re all wasted!” to be interpreted as a negative, every single kid I ever did drugs with took it up as a battle cry.

16. “Against Pollution” • Mountain Goats
Odd that the most spiritual song I know should be about a liquor store clerk who shoots a would-be robber in the face. But I can think of very few lyrics so hopeful and moving as “When the last days come we shall see visions/More vivid than sunsets, brighter than stars/We will recognize each other and see ourselves for the first time/The way we really are.”

15. “Hotel California” • The Eagles
Yeah, I hate Don Henley too. But this parable on American hedonism sung by one of rock’s most legendary hedonists is downright self-incriminating. Upscale guests trapped forever in a glorified roach motel with a sub-par wine list? Serves them right! Can’t kill their beastly meal with their steely knives? Too bad! Let them eat at Mickey D’s like the rest of us!

14. “Fun House” • The Stooges
“Search and Destroy” may be the Stooges’ most iconic song (and biggest crowd pleaser), but I prefer them mired in the filth and sludge of “Fun House.” Aided and abetted by Steve Mackay’s sax skronk and Ron Asheton’s predatory guitar, Iggy doesn’t sing so much as grunt, issue commands (“Take it down!”), and rant the roof beams down. If this call from the fun house is Iggy’s idea of fun, he must have loved the Vietnam War. And follow-up “L.A. Blues” makes “Fun House” sound like R&R.

13. “LA Woman” • The Doors
Mr. Mojo Risin’ saved his best for last with this epic about the Janus-faced city where dreams come to be crushed and the apocalypse is just around the corner. Morrison sees “Motel money murder madness”—even the hills “are filled with fire.” Author Wilson Mizner described Hollywood as “a trip though a sewer in a glass-bottom boat,” and Morrison understood the rules. The winners can afford the ride. The losers had better know how to swim.

12. “Gimme Shelter” • The Rolling Stones
Last I checked this song has showed up in every Martin Scorsese film ever made, including The Age of Innocence. And no wonder—it’s pure menace, and spreads ill will wherever it goes. “Rape, murder/It’s just a shot away,” sings Mick Jagger, and he didn’t know how right he was. “Gimme Shelter” was released as a single on December 5, 1969—one day before the evil going-ons at Altamont.

11. “Rebel Rebel” • David Bowie
On this Stones knockoff—which I suspect was written in honor of the underage groupies at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco on Sunset Boulevard—David Bowie’s little live wire loves bands when they’re playing hard, and wants more and she wants it fast. Throw in a torn dress and a handful of ludes and what you have is a young American who really should reapply her makeup.

10. “Rocket Man” • Elton John
You would think the regular commute to Mars (especially on heavy traffic days) would induce a serious case of road rage, but it’s only left Captain Fantastic down in the mouth. And what he wants us to know is he’s not the man we think he is. He’s a stranger—the man who fell up from Earth.

9. “Born to Run” • Bruce Springsteen
Released at the height of the Boss’ baroque period, he mythologizes like a mother about a restless youth in search of “the runaway American dream.” The “mansions of glory” are factories belching smoke, the Jersey shore is a death trap and a suicide rap, and Springsteen’s hero wants out. But like all doomed heroes he knows damn well it isn’t in the cards. That’s the problem with runaway dreams—they always outrun you.

8. “Helter Skelter” • The Beatles
The closest The Beatles ever came to the lunatic asylum, and proof positive that Paul McCartney could scream like a man being pursued by a rhino wearing an explosive vest, “Helter Skelter” is also a sad commentary on the failure of America’s education system—the Manson Family couldn’t even spell the song’s title correctly on a refrigerator.

7. “Stairway to Heaven” • Led Zeppelin
One of the best things about the most awesome heavy metal song of all time is it has three parts, like a Zorgamosiolhr but with a killer Jimmy Page guitar solo. As for that bustle in the hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now—it’s just Great Van Fleet taking notes.

6. “Jump” • Van Halen
The most ebullient, good-natured, and downright joyous song of 1984 (the year, not the album), “Jump” makes me wish I’d had the chance to bromance it up with the boys. I’m talking Saturday afternoon barbecues, Korean movie nights, and countless hours spent going through one another’s clothes closets saying things like “Mind if I borrow this tiger print sleeveless Spandex onesie?” Many hard rock fans loathed the synthesizer, but they’re the same people who would have blanched had you informed them Van Halen was a glam band.

5. “Like a Rolling Stone” • Bob Dylan
Talk about your Schadenfreude. What does it say about us as a species that one of rock’s most revered songs is a gloating diatribe directed towards a woman (who admittedly has some glaring character defects) who has it all taken from her, right down to her diplomat with his Siamese cat? And lacks for even a GPS to guide her way home? Nothing good.

4. “American Pie” • Don McLean
The music didn’t die the day the plane with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper went down in a cornfield outside Clear Lake, Iowa. It died the day Paul McCartney released “Silly Love Songs.”

3. “Sweet Home Alabama” • Lynyrd Skynyrd
“Turn it up” sings Ronnie Van Zant to start things off, and I always do. Ronnie was an ornery bastard and knocked Skynyrd keyboard player Billy Powell’s teeth out—twice. When he tells you to do something, do it.

2. “Every Picture Tells a Story” • Rod Stewart
On this, the best coming of age song ever written (“Maggie May” comes in a close second), Rod the Mod’s dad suggests he see the world, so he does only to get arrested in Paris for inciting a peaceful riot, developing a bad case of BO in Rome, and finally getting bit on the deck of the Peking ferry by an Asian woman who doesn’t believe in birth control. But Rod remains philosophical: “Make the best out of the bad just laugh it off/You didn’t ask to come here anyway.”

1. “All the Young Dudes” • Mott the Hoople
This greatest of all rock anthems was dedicated to a generation of Glam Kids who, bored to tears by their elder siblings’ tiresome talk of political revolution (“What a drag, too many snags”), decided to throw a revolution of their own. Glitter, androgyny, garish makeup, and playing dress up—theirs was a children’s crusade, and the children just wanted to have fun. Boogaloo dudes indeed.

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