10 Of the greatest rock songs in history

From Nirvana to AC/DC, discover some of the greatest rock tunes in music history 

1. “Bat Out of Hell” by Meat Loaf 

By Jim Steinman | Produced by Todd Rundgren | From Bat Out of Hell (Epic, 1977) 

“Blown-up and melodramatic and comical to the extent that it didn’t seem as though anyone would take it seriously,” producer Todd Rundgren admitted to the BBC. “Yet it involved a lot of humour and interesting things.”  

“The imagery is heavy,” writer Jim Steinman observed. “I’m trying to incorporate the mythical imagery of metal with more of a variety of musical styles. I like a lot of the mythology, the resonance of heavy metal… Flamboyant fantasy qualities, too. I like adding Wagner to everything. A little bit of dramatic Gothic never hurt anyone.” 

 

2. “Whole Lotta Rosie” by AC/DC 

By Angus Young, Bon Scott, Malcolm Young | Produced by Harry Vanda, George Young | From If You Want Blood You’ve Got It (Albert Productions, 1978) 

If You Want Blood…” Malcolm Young reflected to writer Mark Blake, “was recorded at one of the best gigs of that tour, at the Glasgow Apollo… ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ and ‘Let There Be Rock’ were going down a treat by then.” The “Angus!” chant (prompted by the preceding “Problem Child”) helped turn this into a standard.  

“Its opening riff,” Angus Young told Sounds, was “our version of an old blues… like a classic Muddy Waters ‘Mannish Boy’ or ‘I’m A Man’ kinda thing. We were looking for something that might have that same sort of impact.” 

 

 

3. “Hello America” by Def Leppard 

By Rick Savage, Steve Clark, Joe Elliott | Produced by Tom Allom | From On Through the Night (Vertigo, 1980) 

“We had never even been to America…” Joe Elliott admitted to Rolling Stone. “I had seen a TV show the night before—Kojak or Starsky & Hutch; something where they show the tree-lined boulevards of LA… You go, ‘Wow, this is a lot sexier than Sheffield!’”  

The resultant song—replete with sparkly synths—became a self-fulfilling prophecy for a band who filled Stateside arenas long before becoming heroes at home. Even Pantera’s Dimebag was impressed, reminiscing to Guitar World, “Man, that first Leppard album really jams.” 

 

 

4. “Disposable Heroes” by Metallica 

By James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett | Produced by Metallica, Flemming Rasmussen | From Master of Puppets (Elektra, 1986) 

“The best Metallica song ever…” Corey Taylor frothed to Rolling Stone. “That f*****g song is a clinic… I can’t play it, and I can play almost anything. That’s how good it is.” “Disposable Heroes” is also the most intense epic since “In My Time of Dying”.  

“I couldn’t believe it,” Dave Grohl recalled to Q. “I’d heard Motörhead and some punk but not a band as fast and tight and as metal.” “I love the rhythm and timing on this one,” Slash noted to Paste, “and it’s got a real sinister drive to it, too. Like you just know something bad’s about to happen.” 

 

 

5. “Give It Away” by Red Hot Chilli Peppers 

By Anthony Kiedis, Flea, John Frusciante, 

Chad Smith | Produced by Rick Rubin | From Blood Sugar Sex Magik (Warner Bros., 1991) 

“This idea of ‘give it away’ was tornado-ing in my head,” Anthony Kiedis wrote in his autobiography, Scar Tissue. “When Flea started hitting that bassline, that tornado just came out of my mouth.” Inspiration came from an ex-girlfriend, German singer Nina Hagen (whose 1982 album Nunsexmonkrock was an obvious titular influence on Blood Sugar Sex Magik). Going through her closet, Kiedis “came upon a valuable exotic jacket”. “Take it—you can have it,” Hagen told him. “It’s always important to give things away: it creates good energy.” 

 

 

6. “Breed” by Nirvana 

By Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl | Produced by Butch Vig, Nirvana | From Nevermind (DGC, 1991) 

“I thought, and still think, that Nirvana has more balls than heavy metal,” Alcest’s Neige noted to Metal Hammer. “I don’t care about Kurt Cobain and I don’t listen to the lyrics; for me, the genius of Nirvana is their ability to compose extremely well-written songs that are also super-simple.”  

Nevermind ramped up the heavy, especially on “Territorial Pissings”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and, most crushing of all, “Breed”. Its lyrics, said Cobain, were aimed at Middle America: “Marrying at age 18, getting pregnant, stuck with a baby—and not wanting it.” 

 

 

7. “Unholy” by Kiss 

By Gene Simmons, Vinnie Vincent | Produced by Bob Ezrin | From Revenge (Mercury, 1992) 

“Kiss had become a pop band,” manager Larry Mazer complained to Kiss Alive Forever. “The prince of darkness was not in the mix… Gene Simmons was a sideman… He was managing Liza Minnelli, he had Simmons Records, he was making these terrible movies.”  

To claw back credibility, Kiss issued the grinding “Unholy” as the first salvo from Revenge, complete with a voguishly grungy video. “I just loved the word ‘unholy’,” recalled Simmons. “Vinnie [Vincent, former Kiss guitarist] stuck in some of the lyrics. He twisted the song inside out.” 

 

 

8. “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys 

By Mike D, Ad Rock, MCA | Produced by Beastie Boys, Mario Caldato Jr. | From Ill Communication (Grand Royal, 1994) 

“[MCA] came in one day with this idea…” Ad Rock recalled to Rolling Stone, “where the fuzz bass keeps playing, and we would all do these hits and stops to bring suspense and drama.” But, as producer Mario Caldato Jr. admitted to soundonsound.com, “The guys were saying, ‘It sounds too rock. We don’t really want to go down that route.’” The track remained an instrumental until two weeks before Ill Communication wrapped, when Ad Rock added vocals. “It just had so much more energy…” Caldato enthused. “When we’d play it to people, they’d freak out.” 

 

 

9. “Caravan” by Rush 

By Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart | Produced by Nick Raskulinecz, Rush | From Caravan/BU2B (Anthem, 2010) 

“Caravan” and “BU2B” were unleashed as a single two years before the storming concept album Clockwork Angels—then a “work in progress”. The former, Geddy Lee explained to musicradar.com, “[is] basically about a young guy who’s got big dreams, big desires, and a very romantic vision of what the world’s supposed to bring him.” As usual, however, behind the conceptual flourishes and monster riffs was a glimpse into the imagination of Neil Peart. “To paraphrase ‘Caravan’,” the lyricist told Classic Rock, “I couldn’t stop thinking big.” 

 

 

10. “Happy Song” by Bring Me the Horizon 

By Oli Sykes, Lee Malia, Jordan Fish, Matt Kean, Matt Nicholls | Produced by Jordan Fish, Oli Sykes | From That’s the Spirit (RCA, 2015) 

“It’s about making light out of a s****y situation,” Oli Sykes explained of the cheerily foreboding “Happy Song”. “We all live with depression to some extent… We all have so many problems, and the world has so many problems too. And we really need to probably address ’em, and be honest about ’em. But instead we choose to ignore, and replace it with something trivial or superficial. We’re all guilty of that—myself included. And the way I see it is, if we don’t laugh, we’ll cry. So let’s poke some fun at the fact that we’re all f****d.” 

 

 

 

666 Songs to Make You Bang Your Head Until You Die is the ultimate bible for metalheads, presenting the best metal songs from the 1960s to the present day.  

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