The (Very Nearly) Definitive List
Though few now remember me as the keyboardist for the wildly-underappreciated rock group Orphan, I can still stake a claim to being a knowledgeable source of rock music, based largely on the fact that I lived through (and stayed awake for most of) the "classic rock" era. If you did, too, then maybe I saw you at one of the concerts; Grand Funk Railroad at Shea Stadium, or Jethro Tull at The Fillmore East, a few weeks before that hallowed hall forever closed its doors. Those really were the days, man . . .
It occurs to me, as I write this, that many alive now think radios always came with FM and AM; I know differently. Most radios back in the 1960's were AM-only, since FM broadcasting was reserved for primarily classical music, which few in America listened to. Then The Doors' Light My Fire came along. AM radios adhered to a 3-minute rule for songs, and so only played the 3-minute version of Light My Fire, which simply eliminated the instrumental solo. But a few groundbreaking radio stations (I listened to WNEW-FM in New York) played the full song, which lasted six or seven minutes. Suddenly, we all had to have FM radios. But I digress . . .
It's impossible, of course, to truly put together a list such as the one below that would satisfy everyone. Music is personal. I'm more than willing to listen to suggestions, but if you do send an e-mail, please make it a polite one; the fact that your favorite song isn't on the list shouldn't be taken as a personal affront. Besides, there are some who may not appreciate the classic sound of The Archies the way you do . . . :)
Number Song Title Artist 1 All Day and All of the Night Kinks 2 Sunshine of Your Love Cream 3 Satisfaction Rolling Stones 4 Light My Fire Doors 5 Stairway to Heaven Led Zeppelin 6 Runaway Del Shannon 7 House of the Rising Sun Animals 8 Born To Be Wild Steppenwolf 9 In the Presence of the Lord Blind Faith 10 Truckin' Grateful Dead 11 Whiter Shade of Pale Procol Harum 12 Purple Haze Jimi Hendrix 13 Good Vibrations Beach Boys 14 Sounds of Silence Simon & Garfunkel 15 Woodstock Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 16 Bad Moon Rising Creedence Clearwater Revival 17 Like A Rolling Stone Bob Dylan 18 American Woman Guess Who 19 You've Lost That Loving Feeling Righteous Brothers 20 Jailhouse Rock Elvis Presley 21 Here Comes My Girl Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 22 Born To Run Bruce Springsteen 23 California Dreaming Mamas & Papas 24 Jesus Is Just Alright Doobie Brothers 25 You Really Got Me Kinks 26 Hey Jude Beatles 27 Train Kept A-Rollin' Yardbirds 28 Eight Miles High Byrds 29 Oye Como Va Santana 30 Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress Hollies 31 Johnny B Goode Chuck Berry 32 When A Man Loves A Woman Percy Sledge 33 Nights in White Satin Moody Blues 34 Do You Believe In Magic Lovin' Spoonful 35 Hotel California Eagles 36 Imagine John Lennon 37 Ticket to Ride Beatles 38 Whole Lotta Love Led Zeppelin 39 Gimme Shelter Rolling Stones 40 Walk Away Renee The Left Banke 41 La Bamba Richie Valens 42 Pretty Woman Roy Orbison 43 Do Wah Diddy Diddy Manfred Mann 44 Yesterday Beatles 45 Sultans of Swing Dire Straits 46 Pinball Wizard Who 47 Whipping Post Allman Brothers 48 Somebody To Love Jefferson Airplane 49 Time of the Season Zombies 50 Turn, Turn, Turn Byrds 51 White Room Cream 52 Dust In the Wind Kansas 53 Feelin' Alright Traffic 54 For What It's Worth Buffalo Springfield 55 Daniel Elton John 56 You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet Bachman Turner Overdrive 57 Heart Full of Soul Yardbirds 58 Bohemian Rhapsody Queen 59 Unchained Melody Righteous Brothers 60 Glad All Over Dave Clark Five 61 You Make Loving Fun Fleetwood Mac 62 Lay Lady Lay Bob Dylan 63 Changes David Bowie 64 Brown Eyed Girl Van Morrison 65 Maggie May Rod Stewart 66 Summer In the City Lovin' Spoonful 67 Layla Derek and the Dominoes 68 Dream On Aerosmith 69 Brown Sugar Rolling Stones 70 Heart of Gold Neil Young 71 One Three Dog Night 72 Won't Get Fooled Again Who 73 Roadhouse Blues The Doors 74 More Than a Feeling Boston 75 Wear Your Love Like Heaven Donovan 76 Piece of My Heart Big Brother and the Holding Company 77 Shambhala Three Dog Night 78 Magic Carpet Ride Steppenwolf 79 All Along the Watchtower Jimi Hendrix 80 Take It to the Limit Eagles 81 Suite Judy Blue Eyes Crosby, Stills & Nash 82 It's Only Make Believe Conway Twitty 83 Ball and Chain Big Brother and the Holding Company 84 Badlands Bruce Springsteen 85 Refugee Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 86 Bad to the Bone George Thorogood and the Destroyers 87 I'm A Man Spencer Davis Group 88 Morning Has Broken Cat Stevens 89 Lucky Man Emerson, Lake & Palmer 90 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Elton John 91 Still Haven't Found . . . U-2 92 Hush Deep Purple 93 Black Magic Woman Santana 94 The Flame Cheap Trick 95 Roxanne The Police 96 25 or 6 to 4 Chicago 97 Smoke on the Water Deep Purple 98 Can't Get It Out of My Head Electric Light Orchestra 99 Louie, Louie Kingsmen 100 I Wonder Why Dion and the Belmonts
Like I said, not everyone will agree, and the order of the songs is almost a moot point when listing such great music, but I doubt you could go wrong by assembling this group of songs for your listening pleasure. (Don't tell me these songs aren't on your iPod!) And if I've reminded you of a few you'd forgotten, or encouraged you to go out and listen to one or two you might not have heard, then my task is accomplished.
PS - Thanks to a reader for suggesting Dion and the Belmonts.
A reader from Britain recently wrote and asked why Back in Black by AC/DC wasn't on the list. I'm sorry to admit that I don't know the song. Maybe I'm too old . . .
He also asked "why do all these lists include not rock songs..." which is, I think, a good question. Rock has always been difficult to define, which is why people are always trying to create sub-genres, like classic rock, folk rock, etc.
A good bit of what we might consider rock music is simply blues music. Two of Cream's biggest hits were "Crossroads," by Robert Johnson, and "Spoonful," by Willie Dixon. The Rolling Stones, especially in their early days, were heavily blues-influenced. (Am I the only one who realizes that Mick Jagger has spent his entire musical career imitating the song stylings of African-American women?) You can hear a lot of blues music by listening to the Spencer Davis Group and, of course, Cream's most famous band member, Clapton. Even Jethro Tull did a version of "Stormy Monday." (Not great - don't rush right out to find it.) Back to Cream - what about "Born Under a Bad Sign"?
The Grateful Dead did, "Turn on Your Love Light," which had previously been recorded by James Cotton. Rock or blues? The Dead also did a song about teaching that weeping willow how to cry, cry cry . . . rock or country? The Byrds were almost always a folk/country/rock mix, which was inevitable, given the deep folk roots of their founders. Is Dylan folk or rock? It's hard - some might say semi-blasphemous - to exclude him from either group.
The Moody Blues tried to be classical/rock, and so did, in a way, ELO.
One could go on, ad infinitum.
Lastly, there is the question of rock versus "easy listening." My only observation here is that some songs we might today regard as being "easy listening" were once clearly regarded as rock songs. Perceptions change over time.
Update - Thanks to recent input from a correspondent, a few changes have been made - notably, The Police and U-2 are now represented, as they should probably always have been. However, we remain unrepentant for rating The Kinks as highly as we do....
Ten Years After....?
A reader from Denver recently wrote, "I don’t agree totally with your list; it is however, probably more accurate than most I have seen. One song always seems to stand out in my mind as I read these lists. That is “I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After. I don’t find it on many lists and did not find it on yours. I think that song rocks pretty hard and is a great anthem of that time as well." This is a good point, and brought to mind Ten Years After's other great song, "I'm Going Home," which was probably one of the better tunes performed at Woodstock. I didn't change the list to add Ten Years After (at least not yet), but the group certainly deserves to be remembered more than it is today, and you couldn't really go wrong adding a few of their songs to your iPod. Thanks to J.Y. for the memory jog.
It's More Than a Feeling
I was in a fairly mellow (some might say comatose) mood when I first made up the list years ago, and over time most of the not-really-anything-remotely-like-rock songs on the list from that early period have been removed and replaced. So I was surprised when reader S.B. wrote and said, "Pretty good list, but Bread and Melanie don't belong on it." Bread? Melanie? Still there? (If you're curious, the two songs were "Lost Without Your Love" and "Lay Down, Lay Down," respectively.) S.B. suggested three possible replacements, the first two of which are now on the list: "More Than a Feeling," by Boston; "All Along the Watchtower," by Hendrix; and "Who Are You," by the Who. The Who are already fairly well represented on the list, they were never great musicians anyway, and I just simply liked the first two choices better. Thanks, S.B.!
Long, Cool Woman
Reader A.S. wrote in to suggest the Hollies' "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress," and I thought, "That must be on the list - it's a great song!" But it wasn't, so I added it, replacing Aretha Franklin's "Respect," which is also a fine song, but technically R&B and not rock. Thanks, A.S.!
More Changes, End of 2009 . . .
Maybe it's age, but more and more I've been going back to the Sixties when listening to music. A group of younger coworkers tried to place me music-wise recently with, "I guess you were into the Beatles, huh?" It was hard to get across to them that, while the Beatles were indeed big in the Sixties, there was so much going on musically besides the Fab Four. So anyway, I've made some changes on the list. I took out the Kinks' Lola from Spot 40 (great song, but the Kinks are already very well-represented on the list), and replaced it with The Left Banke's Walk Away Renee (not Just Walk Away Renee, which I always thought was the title). Someone once told me that the original members of the Left Banke were from Glen Oaks in Queens, New York, where I spent my adolescent years, but that's another story, and not the reason I put the song on the list.
I also changed out Spot 57, replacing the Yardbirds' For Your Love (great song) with the Yardbirds' Heart Full of Soul (perhaps greater song). If you're into the Yardbirds - and as a rock aficionado, it would be hard not to be - be sure to also give a listen to their song, Over, Under, Sideways, Down. I'd listened to Elvis and others as a small child, but Over, Under, Sideways, Down was the first song that really made an impression on me. (The second was Eve of Destruction. My parents despaired.)
Also see: One Hundred (More) of the Greatest Rock Songs of All Time
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