Sunday, February 09, 2014

The 10 Best Songs of Hard Rock

Despite having fairly broad musical tastes, my first true love has always been hard rock.  The first album I owned was Van Halen's 1984 (I was 9 when that album came out), and I later became a disciple of Guns n' Roses and other hard rock bands of the late 80's.  Even though I'm now more likely to be found listening to "80's on 8" or "Willie's Roadhouse" (classic country) on Sirius XM, hard rock still most definitely holds a special place in my heart.

So with that in mind, I decided to rank the top 10 greatest hard rock songs of all time.  It should go without saying that this is my list.  It's the songs I think represent the best of hard rock.  I've taken into consideration popularity and how widely recognized a song is (because a top 10 of obscure songs no one has ever heard of would be boring), but otherwise, the main factor is how much a song moves me and makes me want to run marathons and leap tall buildings in a single bound.

It's also important to note that I delineate a fine line between hard rock and heavy metal.  For that reason, don't be surprised to see no entries on this list from bands like Iron Maiden, Slayer, Judas Priest, or even Metallica.  

10. Black Betty - Ram Jam/Starstruck

Black Betty - YouTube

This southern rock anthem became a hit for Ram Jam in the late 1970's.  Ram Jam's version of the song was adapted from an old folk tune by blues musician Lead Belly, and was originally recorded by an indie Cincinnati band called Starstruck.  Starstruck dissolved soon after and the guitarist, Bill Bartlett, took the song to a record company, who immediately formed a band around Bartlett (Ram Jam) and released the song nationally.  The recorded version is simply an edited version of the original Starstruck recording, but was included on the debut Ram Jam album.  

This song kicks a whole lot of ass.

9. Love Song - Tesla 

Love Song - YouTube

When this song starts, you think it's just going to be another typical hair band power ballad.  But it goes way beyond typical.  This song just kicks more and more ass the farther along it goes.  The guitar solo gives me chills.  

8. Thunderstruck - AC/DC

Thunderstruck - YouTube

Speaking of kicking ass.  If you can hear this song and not turn the volume up, you don't like hard rock.  

7. Rooster - Alice in Chains

Rooster - YouTube

Alice in Chains had a bunch of songs that were ah-mazing, but Rooster has always been my favorite.  It's one of those songs that starts off sort of soft and slow, and yet it's so full of dark menace that you know it'll just explode later.  It's about the Vietnam war, and Vietnam songs never fail.  Layne Staley's voice is perfect on this song.

6. Slither - Velvet Revolver 

Slither - YouTube

A combination of Slash, Duff, and Matt from Guns n' Roses, fronted by Stone Temple Pilots' lead singer Scott Weiland, there was no way that Velvet Revolver wasn't going to be awesome.  If you can listen to this song's leading riff and not bang your head, you should try the Brittney Spears station.  Between his playing chops and his persona, Slash may be the greatest hard rock guitarist of all time.  

5. Kickstart My Heart - Mötley Crü

Kickstart My Heart - YouTube

I've always thought the members of Mötley Crüe were all pretty much shameless, self-promoting douchebags, but damn they have some songs that just rip the skin off your face.  This was the best of the bunch.  From the opening riff that sounds like an engine revving, to the driving, chest-thumping chorus, this song just kicks all manner of ass.  

4. Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen

Bohemian Rhapsody - YouTube

Forget the sub-category of hard rock, Queen's ambitious magnum opus from 1975 is undeniably one of the greatest songs of all time.  Although only the third segment of the song really constitutes the classic definition of "hard rock," the opening segment qualifies as a legitimate power ballad. Furthermore, the guitar solos that pepper this song are magnificent - some of Brian May's best work.  

3. Tom Sawyer - Rush 

Tom Sawyer - YouTube

As a certified Rush disciple, it was hard for me not to put Rush in the #1 position, but in fairness to the strict category of "hard rock," this is as high as I could reasonably put this prog rock band's signature song.  Tom Sawyer could end after 15 seconds, and it would still be a fantastic hard rock song.  Undoubtedly the best opening chord in rock history.  The instrumental in the middle of the song is a brilliant display of this 3-man band's collective prodigious playing skill.

2. Welcome to the Jungle - Guns n' Roses

Welcome to the Jungle - YouTube

A few years back, Welcome to the Jungle topped VH1's "100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs."  They weren't far off the mark.  The first song on Guns n' Roses debut album was a brilliant example of what hard rock should be in its purest, most powerful form.  One of the best vocal performances in hard rock history.  An unforgettable riff and chorus.  The archetypal image of 80's hard rock by a band at the absolute height of their powers.  This song still gives me chills after more than 25 years.     
1. War Pigs - Black Sabbath

War Pigs - YouTube

On the off-chance that you've never heard this song, click the link above right this second. There simply is no better hard rock song than War Pigs, from 1970.  It has all the elements required to create the ultimate hard rock song - a kick-ass riff, amazing drums, a goose-bump-inducing solo, brilliant vocals, and gritty, poignant, utterly in-your-face lyrics.  Perfection in every way.  The quintessential guitar song.  The quintessential anti-war song.  Quite simply, the quintessential hard rock performance.  


Elissa Christmas said...

I do think it is worth noting that at one time in your life you were bitterly ashamed and probably in fear of my mortal soul because I liked some of these bands. Just sayin'.

Scott said...

Your obsession with Ram Jam was disturbing.

Anonymous said...

Tom Sawyer not first?
Your mortal soul is in danger.

Scott said...

Well, I DID explain that decision in the body of the post...