This Friday I thought I’d do something different. Enough serious stuff has gone down lately that I thought I’d do a culture post, and by “culture” I mean “shit I’m familiar with.” So here, interspersed with the usual Friday Rule Five totty, are a list of twenty of my favorite classic rock songs, with a few of my comments. Note that this isn’t necessarily the top twenty, just twenty that would be on any of my classic rock playlists. Comments and additions are welcome.
- Paradise by the Dashboard Light, Meat Loaf
A concert staple by the big guy, generally featuring Richard Thomas’s (John-Boy Walton) wife (!) in the co-starring role. Every kid that went to high school in the Seventies knows well the meanings in this song.
2. Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin
Maybe the greatest rock & roll song ever created, at least from the standpoint of the influence it had on the music scene. Every garage band in the country has covered Stairway at some point. I say this even though it’s not my favorite Led Zep tune; I like Kashmir, The Immigrant Song and Dazed and Confused more.
3. Hotel California, Eagles
The Eagles were a big deal back in the day, and while they did some songs that I liked better in some ways (See Stairway, above) like the haunting Desperado, this is the song that they are remembered for.
4. Tangled Up in Blue, Bob Dylan
All I can say about this is that it’s the best song written and performed by America’s Songwriter.
5. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
Seriously, if you’re over 40 you can’t listen to this song and not picture the famous Wayne’s World scene. Still, the best song by a ground-breaking band – and I would also recommend Weird Al Yankovic’s cover of it, Bohemian Polka, which is priceless.
6. Carry On Wayward Son, Kansas
A rare one, this; Kansas had a few good tunes but were never on the level of a Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith. But Carry On is a masterwork, a huge, rocking epic tune.
7. Dream On, Aerosmith
I was fortunate enough to see this one performed live once, as I remember in 1979. Aerosmith’s music runs the gamut from fun to thoughtful to hardcore, but Dream On was probably their masterwork.
8. American Pie, Don McLean
This may well be the greatest ode to American rock music ever written. As with Stairway, almost every garage band in the Seventies would cover this song, and why not? It’s got a good tune, shades of meaning that no two people interpret the same way; it’s deep blue Americana.
9. Frankenstein, Edgar Winter
Edgar Winter, a musical prodigy, played several instruments; on this massive instrumental tune alone the world’s greatest albino rocker played synthesizer, electric piano, saxophone and timbales. The synthesizer portion of this song was an odd one even for the Seventies; my friends and I referred to it as “electric pigs.”
10. Dreams I’ll Never See, Molly Hatchet
This is actually a cover of an Allman Brothers tune, but it’s on the list of covers done better than the originals. Molly Hatchet was one of the best southern rock bands, and Dreams was one of their best releases.
11. YYZ, Rush
Some of the best percussion work ever done is found in this song, even more so in live cuts than in the studio single. Neal Peart stands alone.
12. Edge of Seventeen, Stevie Nicks
Stevie Nicks isn’t know for slam-bam rock & roll, but in her first solo album, she proved she could keep up with anyone in the genre. Edge was the tune that proved she had some rock & roll chops, after all the fluff and flutter of Fleetwood Mac.
13. Barracuda, Heart
Ann and Nancy Wilson probably broke a few glass ceilings while Her Imperial Majesty was still taking cattle-futures payoffs in Arkansas. I had a hard time choosing one of their tunes for the list, but finally settled on the hard-hitting Barracuda as the best showcase for their talents.
14. Free Bird, Lynyrd Skynyrd
While it’s Skynyrd’s best tune, in the Seventies it was probably the single most-requested song at every wedding reception, anywhere.
15. Stage Fright, The Band
Probably the best song by one of the best bands ever; Robbie Danko’s great vocals led the way for a tune that was all about finding joy in performing.
16. We’re an American Band, Grand Funk Railroad
What more could you ask for in an essentially American rock & roll song?
17. I Love Rock & Roll, Joan Jett
Along with Lita Ford in The Runaways, Joan Jett pioneered the genre of bad-girl rock. While Lita sort of faded after The Runaways, Joan went on to carry the genre by herself for a while, and I Love Rock & Roll was her paen to an era.
18. Funk #49, James Gang
Beginning with a signature guitar riff, Funk goes on to lay down some not-too-impressive lyrics supported by some great guitar work by Ronnie Silverman. It’s a fun song that had us reaching to turn the car stereo’s volume dial up back in the day.
19. You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, Bachman-Turner Overdrive
While this song probably did not inspire a famous comment by President Reagan, it did have BTO’s signature sound, and lyrics that were good fun.
20. Bang a Gong (Get It On), T. Rex
Nothing deep or thoughtful about this one; it’s just good fun. A good solid rock & roll song with decent guitar work, decent vocals, and a theme that appeals to those very youths upon which youth is wasted – like yr. obdt. at seventeen.
Honorable mentions (I knew I’d never be able to hold it at 20):
1. Tush, ZZTop.
This song summed up the weekend aspirations of every teenage boy in the Seventies, and got no small amount of play for that reason. It’s also a great representative piece from an iconic Texas band in their heyday.
2. Rock and Roll All Nite, Kiss
Honestly I wasn’t a big fan of Kiss when they first came on the music scene. I thought that rather than being iconic, their signature makeup just detracted from the music, and I’ve always been one to favor good tunes over fancy showmanship. Still, this is a good solid tune.
3. Peaches en Regalia, Frank Zappa
Zappa was several kinds of musical genius; he wrote and conducted freakin’ symphonies, for crying out loud. But he was also one of the greatest guitar players ever, and always seemed most at home on a stage in front of a big, dozen-or-so piece band. Peaches shows off the unique genius that was Zappa amazingly well; a variable instrumental that combined a big-band sound with Zappa’s own signature style.
4. Abracadabra, Steve Miller Band
For the most part, despite having plenty of radio play back in the day, Steve Miller was for the most part only so-so. This song, though, while distinctly Steve Miller’s style, managed to be a good solid tune musically, even if the lyrics were kind of weak.
As always, feedback, comments and suggestions are welcome.