The Best Rock ‘n’ Roll Songs: 12 Classic Anthems


Once upon a time, mourners thought no great rock ‘n’ roll songs were written after holly buddy died in 1959. Over the years, punk and grungy tried to subvert it from within. Today commentators cannot decide whether the rock is dead, dying, in need of saving, or ready to be reborn. Wherever you are, the spirit of rock music should be alive and well when you crank up the volume on these 12 songs that glorify rock ‘n’ roll.

12: Bill Haley and His Comets: “(We’ll) Rock Around the Clock” (1954)

The first No. 1 single in Billboard The history of the Hot 100 has not only glorified rock’n’roll; he presented it to the world. The term was coined in 1947, but no rock song had reached an audience close to the scale of “(We’ll) Rock Around the Clock”. Before recording the song written by Max Freedman and Jimmy DeKnight, Bill Haley and his bandmates had performed hundreds of high school dances, familiarizing themselves with the vernacular and dancefloor preferences of American teenagers. It turns out that young people wanted the rhythm and blues of black America, and they liked to copulate – 24 hours a day, even! But if they couldn’t sing it in New Jersey gyms, their new favorite genre would do. “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock” was first marketed, but once it was chosen for the soundtrack to the opening of the hit MGM blackboard jungle (about teenage delinquents, no less), the song was on its way to immortality.

11: The Killers: “Glamorous Indie Rock And Roll” (2004)

This song came out after the commercial peak of rock’n’roll – and was a B-side to boot. The killers were one of the biggest rock bands to emerge in the rap-dominated 2000s, but that didn’t mean Brandon Flowers and company were above getting a little cheeky. So hot bustle bonus track (it was officially released on their 2007 compilation, Sawdust), Flowers mocked critics who thought his band was looking for cool indie rock credibility, rather than the festival headlining gigs and international stardom they quickly garnered. The riffs rumble and the hooks are anthemic, but lines such as “Two of us flipping through a thrift store magazine” are sardonic indeed. Thank God.

10: Billy Joel: “It’s still rock’n’roll to me” (1980)

The pianist had gone nostalgic in the early ’80s, absorbing the “hot funk” and “cool punk” of the new wave era, only to shrug his shoulders and spit out the title of this rock radio classic. Billy Joel was many things – legendary songwriter, commercial powerhouse – but he was never really cool. On this ode to the doo-wop and R&B he was raised in, however, Joel owns his square like the rock ‘n’ roll legend that he is.

9: Chuck Berry: “Johnny B Goode” (1958)

chuck berryThe title track glorified rock ‘n’ roll, of course, but also saluted what rock can do when you play it really well: get paid. Chuck could riff better than anyone, and with all the flair of performing on stage, he’d be the first to tell you how rich rock ‘n’ roll would make him. Johnny is a poor, nearly illiterate country boy who plays guitar near the train tracks, but his chops are so weird he doesn’t need a rhythm section, just the din of trains to keep the beat. His mother’s words perfectly capture Berry’s American dream: “One day you’ll be a man and you’ll be the leader of a big band.”

8: Don McLean: “American Pie” (1971)

There’s a reason this obscure eight-minute folk-rock song has been scrutinized as a Rosetta stone of baby boomer lore for nearly 50 years: Don McLean had a bard’s take on what was arrived at rock’n’roll between Woodstock and the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly. But it’s not exactly a love letter to the 60s. After McLean factors in the assassinations, the Vietnam Warthe death of Janis Joplin and the breakup of The Beatleshe cannot get rid of his lingering fear that nothing has been the same since February 3, 1959.

7: Elton John: “Crocodile Rock” (1972)

“Crocodile Rock” took listeners back to their pre-Beatles jukebox dancing days, with EltonThe live Farfisa organ riff and whimsical falsetto lead the way. He never took this rock ‘n’ roll song too seriously, but it did do something that previous singles “Rocket Man” and “Tiny Dancer” didn’t – reach the top of Billboard‘s Hot 100, marking Elton’s first No. 1 in the US or UK. And the way it frames the 1959 plane crash and the British invasion (“Years have passed and the rock just died / Suzie’s gone and left us for a foreign guy”) teaches history too although “American Pie”, but with an even better hook and in about half the time.

6: Grand Funk Railroad: “We’re an American Band” (1973)

Before recording their signature song, Grand Funk Railway were embroiled in a legal battle with their recently fired manager, six albums into a career that would never see them break the Billboard Top 20 Hot 100. But after reaching No. 1 with “We are an American group”, the reputation (and homeland) of Flint, Michigan agitators was quickly immortalized. The verses of drummer Don Brewer reach almost known– level of rock’n’roll tradition: partying with Omaha groupies, playing poker with a Texas blues legend and guitarist Mark Farmer crying from coast to coast to a legendary chorus.

5: KISS: “Detroit Rock City” (1976)

Flint Rock City? “Detroit” just sounds better. It was a live album, 1975 Living! it did EMBRACE stars, and the iconic band followed it up with a rock ‘n’ roll song that captured all the fire and fury from their gigs. His relentless and deadly double guitar attack would inspire the heavy metal giants of the next decade, and a generation later, “Detroit Rock City” would be even more immortalized in the nostalgic comedy of the same name.

4: Queen: “We Will Rock You” (1977)

Boom-boom, clap. Boom-boom, clap. Guitarist Brian May wrote “We will Rock You” to inspire incendiary crowd chants, and the result was a two-minute torpedo that kept revving up Queen crowds, football crowds, basketball crowds, cheerleading competition crowds, varsity decathlon crowds… you get the idea. The whole thing is a sonic serotonin rush: the stomping, the singing, the guitar solo outro, and the fact that it’s often heard right after its A-side, a little song with a similar appeal called “We Are the champ”.

3: Bob Seger: “Old Rock And Roll” (1979)

At the end of the 70s, disco was huge and here to stay, but this grizzled rocker at heart had a few complaints; unlike the crass mass of the “Disco Sucks” contingent, he could still get your feet tapped. “You’ll never even get me off the floor,” Seger rumbles in this love letter to the heyday of the ’60s jukebox, accompanied by a bluesy, piano-rock spree from the Silver Bullet Band that doesn’t. is no less… groovy.

2: Oasis: “Rock’n’Roll Star” (1994)

The opening song from Oasis’ debut album, “Rock’n’Roll Star” was the perfect introduction to a band dying to be the next Beatles. For five minutes, Oasis never lets up on the throttle, speeds along with infectious Britpop riffs and magnetic mythology: ditch your boring life, drive to town, play rock music, indulge in everything. What’s next for the Gallagher brothers should surprise no one: fame, bickering, excess, “Anyway, here comes ‘Wonderwall'” meme.

1: Joan Jett and the Blackhearts: “I Like Rock’n’Roll” (1982)

A 70s band called The Arrows wrote it, but couldn’t make it a hit. A few years later, Joan Jett loved it, but couldn’t convince her band, The Runaways, to cover it. It was all worth the wait. With The Blackhearts, Jett composed a swaggering cover song that propelled “I Love Rock’n’Roll” to the top of the chart. Billboard Hot 100, grain intact. Here’s how to bring the classic rock crowd to the dance floor without having to lose your punk cred.

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