The purists who say that nothing will ever top what Pink Floyd or The Rolling Stones did have got to admit that some contemporary bands, like it or not, do not stay behind when it comes to earning their place in the history of rock. It’s really unfair to compare contemporary bands to those that boomed right before digital media became an important element in our everyday lives.
In the mid and late twentieth century, bands could have a steadier and longer presence in the radio and media. The popularity of a song could be such that a single hit could last for months or even years. Picture the whole album and its respective singles, but that was back in the day. Nowadays, a hit might stay on the charts just a few months or weeks, but then a few months later, like it happens in other mass production industries, it will be out of fashion and long forgotten.
Nevertheless, some bands survived the impact of the changes in the industry and have been able to make a name for themselves and remain in contemporary culture and industry. Bands like Alabama Shakes, The White Stripes and the Arctic Monkeys resisted and offered a fresh sound in the first decades of this century.
Rock is not dead, but we need to understand that things change over time, and so does music. We should be more receptive toward new bands and sounds because that is how music evolves. We should accept the fact that art is changeable, mimetic, and syncretic, and, rock itself, revolutionary. Here we present an overview of those songs that make us shiver and made history many years ago. Outstanding, unique, and often subversive, these singles are going to live forever. So, put on your headphones (mind the stranger next to you, come on) or make your apartment shake (and do your neighbors a favor), just pretend it’s 1969, and you’re at Woodstock.
“Johnny B. Goode”
The Grand Father of Rock and Roll made this hit, which not only became an instant classic when it was released, but also reached younger generations when it appeared in the soundtrack of the cult movie Back To The Future. Little did Marty McFly know that he would help tell the story of Johnny B. Goode to moviegoers for years to come.
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
The number of covers this single has had is ridiculous (even Britney Spears paid tribute to the great London band). It is, without a doubt, the Stones’ biggest hit. In contrast to The Beatles, they had a rougher sound and stage presence, which set the bar for the Rock and Roll attitude many bands emulated after them.
“You Shook Me All Night Long”
Though this British band definitely has “louder” songs, none are as representative as this one. It is impossible not to sing along and let yourself fall in love with the Young brothers (*sighs in fangirl*).
Do we really need to introduce this song? Come on, where have you been? I bet you have found yourself at more than one party going “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, naaaah” at the top of your lungs. It’s so enjoyable, whether you’re listening to it by yourself in your room or seeing Sir Paul McCartney in the flesh: the untouchable classic single of The Beatles needs nothing, nothing but for you to shut up and listen.
“Light My Fire”
Jim Morrison, the Rock poet, the icon, the Lizard King, was part of an amazing group of musicians who created a musical phenomenon by mixing Rock and Blues in a way that could never be repeated. Hey, no one’s watching, so light those goody shoes on fire.
Metal as we know it today would not exist had it not been for Black Sabbath. Their music was infused with the psychedelic and craziness of the legendary Ozzy Osbourne and the quite strange yet appealing strumming of Tony Iommi’s guitar. Not to brag, but I’m rather sure they were such an influence in musicians of their time.
“Whole Lotta Love”
It is so unfair to limit ourselves to just one single from this band. But, since we want to do “a brief introduction to the most renowned Rock & Roll tracks,” here we present their most famous song. It’s definitely an introduction because I know that, after you listen to this one, you’re going to want more.
“Another Brick in the Wall”
Yes, we know we are being ridiculously brief with this list, but no other song can compare to the cultural impact of this tormenting and marvelous single from their album, The Wall. It became an instant anthem for all the rebels of their generation (and the ones to come).
“Sunshine of Your Love”
Yet another classic that broke new ground in psychedelic rock. Oh, and I almost forgot, one of the many cool things about this band: Eric Clapton, one of the greatest guitar players of our time, got his start here.
“We Will Rock You”
The impact of this song in popular culture is astonishing, especially because it’s the best sports anthem of all time. Whether people are cheering for their team at a stadium or just anxiously waiting for their favorite band to start playing, nobody can resist the power of the clapping and Freddie Mercury’s immortal vocals.
How could we possibly forget the soul and spirit that made Jimi Hendrix a legend in progressive rock? There has never been a guitar player and composer as complex as he is. The way he combines his instrument with the rest of the music is simply unparalleled.
“Come and Get Your Love”
On a lighter scale, Redbone gave the world this classic, which was recently brought back to our attention thanks to the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. It is one of the most distinguished rock songs ever thanks to its riffs and catchy beat.
“Livin’ On a Prayer”
Whether you tear your vocal chords at a karaoke bar or discredit the band while singing in the shower, there is no doubt that this is an immortal and extremely catchy song. We know that Bon Jovi inspired a whole generation of musicians in a way that can be seen as the downfall of rock, but we also have to admit that the man’s voice goes right into our veins, making us surrender to the story of Tommy and Gina until we scream as if we had big 1980s hair.
“Born To Run”
He wasn’t called “the Boss” for nothing. His energy on stage is electrifying, and his lyrics and raw vocals give us a critique of dreams and decay in the United States. If you’re left wanting more, take a look at his 1984 album, Born in the USA.
“Don’t Stop Believing”
You might recall it from the end of The Sopranos or from other movie soundtracks, like Monster, or the Glee cover – no generation-shaming though. Either way, you know the party is almost over when they play it; the guitar goes solo, the harmonies smooth your energy, and then Steve Perry’s high-pitch voice forces you to love thy neighbor as you love thyself.
When it comes to The Who, we could easily include ten of their most popular hits. However, “Baba O’Riley” is special because it represents the consolidation of the band as influential musicians. Who could ever forget Townsend’s rock opera Tommy? It was groundbreaking, for it inspired other bands to create more refined conceptual music albums.
The Beach Boys
If there was ever a band capable of outshining The Beatles, it would have to be the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson created a unique and incomparable masterpiece with “Good Vibrations,” which no one other group could ever possible copy or improve upon.
“Ace of Spades”
Right after hard rock, metal comes into the scene with the madness of Mötorhead. “Ace of Spades” is without a doubt the opening song for a show. It really gets everyone’s engine going; bodies tremble until the frenzy takes over, and you have surrender to the rhythm.
You thought I was going to forget Metallica and the classic single that propelled the band to international stardom? Thrash would never be the same. The band changed this musical genre forever, and its influence is clear in other contemporary bands.
“Cum On Feel The Noize”
A hair metal and arena classic. Slade may not be as celebrated as other bands, but this song is never to be forgotten; not to mention it is impossible not to sing along to it.
If one band deserves to be twice in this list, it sure has to be Queen. No way, no way could we ever overlook this masterpiece. The way it merges rock and opera was unprecedented. The harmonies, the structure, the lyrics… don’t fight it. We have all made fools of ourselves trying to imitate Mercury’s vocals. Just let the song own you like nothing really matters, nothing really matters to you.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit”
One of the last representatives of rock. Though it’s more commonly referred to as grunge, to many it is still an important part of rock history. Either way, it is an immortal track, never to be forgotten, dismissed, or ignored. Fun fact: the name of the song comes from the name of a female deodorant (look below for references for the animated story).
“Sweet Child O’ Mine”
Guns N’ Roses
The song speaks for itself. We have heard it more than once in our lives. Axl Rose’s high-pitched voice, the perfection of Slash’s riffs, and the stage presence of the whole band created an iconic band. Oh, those days of yore.
This band may be the last man standing from that lineage of Hard Rock bands, and this song proves what they are made of. The track has become a classic and of the most important singles of the band. Though their influence has not been as strong as some bands previously mentioned, the band made their mark in the late nineties and early two-thousands, mainly because of the presence of Dave Grohl, former drummer of Nirvana.
Green Day seems to be the last of the Arena Rock bands. They no longer focus on Punk, but also take inspiration in other artists from this list in order to create something different, to bring Rock energy to big popular stages and grab an audience with a broader musical taste. “Basket Case” settled the beginning to one of the most recognized and influential bands of the early twenty-first century.
“Seventh Nation Army”
The White Stripes
This track keeps it simple: a simple riff and percussions combined at the right tempo made this single from Elephant. Visibility in media came along since it was played all the time, everywhere. Though critics cannot make up their minds as to whether this is or isn’t the best song by the Stripes, it certainly give recognition to this American band.
“Do I wanna Know?”
Summer 2013. An underground club, sweaty bodies, and the tedium of the music industry. Then, those chords. Arousal came seconds later with Turner’s vocals. They were already famous, but this increased their popularity. The track was a breath of fresh air, as formulated music polluted each part of our everyday lives. They came, they saw, and they conquered. Now, we better browse and listen their new album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. The Guardian states that probably, probably they are the ones who redeemed rock. But one thing is for sure: that night, more than one knew things that we could say tomorrow.
From old school to emerging rock, there is no doubt these tracks and bands will always set on fire the souls of those who love the genre. Rock has had such an impact in music and popular culture that it has become eternally relevant, present, and influential. Though it is important to know all these references from the past, we must not diminish contemporary bands that are trying to break, probably at a slow pace, the chains of a pret-a-porter industry that relies in the functional and consumable rather than in craft and the content. Keep the hope up. Avoid musical puritanism and explore new sounds and rhythms. Rock is not dead. Rock has just been silenced. Arise, ye Mighty, and shout out your words!
PS: Here’s the clip on “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
If you want to know more about the history of Rock, there’s an on-line course (Coursera) by the University of Rochester you might want to sign up for. Good luck.
These articles might be interesting too.
20 Songs That Remind Me Of Those Moments Shared With My Dad
20 Songs From The 90s For Your Life’s Soundtrack
15 Queen Songs To Cheer You Up If You’re Feeling Blue
Translation and extra information by Hugo Márquez