The Top 10 Classic Rock Songs

It was a real challenge to narrow the following list down to 10, especially for those on the bottom half of the list. But after much reflection, I have come up with my list of the top 10 classic rock songs of all time.

The Top 10 Classic Rock Songs: #10 – “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield

“For What It’s Worth” was written by Buffalo Springfield guitarist Stephen Stills. It was released as a single in January of 1967 and appeared on the album entitled, “Buffalo Springfield.” Many people believe that it was written specifically to protest the Vietnam War; others believe that it’s about the Kent State shootings. Interestingly, neither is true. It was written about a confrontation between cops and hippies over the closing of Pandora’s Box, a nightclub on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, California. Still, the song has come to be closely associated with the turbulence and anti-establishment ethos of the 60s. Whenever I hear this beautiful song, it conjures vivid memories of driving along the Sunset Strip in the late 60s (in the backseat of my parent’s car as I was only 10-years-old at the time) and being awe-struck at the number of hippies lining the street – there were hundreds of them on any given night.

The Top 10 Classic Rock Songs: #9 – “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf

“Magic Carpet Ride” was written by John Kay and Rushton Moreve. It was released in 1968 and appeared on Steppenwolf’s second album. There are a number of rumors swirling around this classic rock song. One of them is that it was written about the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and that it contains cryptic references to its initiation ceremony. Others believe that it’s about an LSD trip. Some feel that it’s about sex. To me, the song is about pushing personal boundaries, letting your hair down and having fun. The tune is brimming with hooks – when you get it in your head, it’s hard to shake loose.

The Top 10 Classic Rock Songs: #8 – “Light My Fire” by The Doors

Authorship of “Light My Fire” is credited to the whole band. The song appeared on the band’s self-titled first album and was released in 1967. One of the most notable characteristics of the song is the long instrumental solos. In fact, the song was shortened from seven to three minutes for the radio version. This atmospheric classic rock song has been covered numerous times by a wide range of artists, but, in my view, the best version is by Jose Feliciano. His blending of Latin influences with American pop is masterful.

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The Top 10 Classic Rock Songs: #7 – “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

“Like A Rolling Stone” is from the album “Highway 61 Revisited” and was released in 1965. No other pop song has so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic conventions of its time,” declares Rolling Stone magazine, who ranks it as the greatest song of all time. Some believe this classic rock song is about Edie Sedgwick, an actress known for her association with Andy Warhol, but, as with any piece of art, “Like A Rolling Stone” is open to interpretation. To me, the song expresses the turbulence and social upheaval of the 60s – a time in which it felt like there was “no direction home.”

The Top 10 Classic Rock Songs: #6 – “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice is the opening track to the seminal album, “Pet Sounds,” which was released in 1968. The music was written by Brian Wilson and the lyrics were written by Tony Asher. This gorgeous tune is characterized by the lush, layered harmonies that have come to be known as The Beach Boys’ trademark sound. In an interview, Brian Wilson summed up what this classic rock song means to him (and me as well): ” ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice'” was not a real long song, but it’s a very up song. It expresses the frustrations of youth, what you can’t have, what you really want and you have to wait for.”

The Top 10 Classic Rock Songs: #5 – “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix

The Jimi Hendrix experience recorded “Purple Haze” in 1967 and it appeared on the album, “Are You Experienced.” It is ranked a respectable number 17 on Rolling Stone magazines list of the “500 Greatest Songs of all Time.” The tune is believed to be a reference to Hendrix’s experience with LSD, but Hendrix himself noted that it was about love. It’s that blazing guitar riff that gets me. This classic rock song still holds up after all these years and it puts any contemporary heavy metal song to shame.

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The Top 10 Classic Rock Songs: #4 – “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who

Behind Blue Eyes” was written by Pete Townshend in 1971. It appeared on the brilliant “Who’s Next” album. Who’s Next” was originally intended to be a science fiction rock opera – and a follow-up to “Tommy” – but the project, which was to be called “Lifehouse,” was abandoned in favor of making a traditional rock album. “Behind Blue Eyes” was originally written about a character in the aborted “Lifehouse” project. This classic rock song is characterized by its alternating sections (wistful and hard rocking). Its hauntingly beautiful melody and themes of resisting temptation and not giving in to expectations resonate with me at a very deep level.

The Top 10 Classic Rock Songs: #3 – “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones

“Wild Horses” was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and is from the album, “Sticky Fingers,” which was released in 1971. It is rumored to be about Jagger’s break-up with Marianne Faithful, but he has denied this – “Everyone always says this was written about Marianne but I don’t think it was; that was well over by then. But I was definitely very inside this piece emotionally,” wrote Jagger in the liner notes of the 1993 Stones collection, “Jump Back: The Best of the Rolling Stones.” In my opinion, this classic rock song is the best Stones song ever, and I too get very inside it emotionally.

The Top 10 Classic Rock Songs: #2 – “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin

“Stairway To Heaven,” a classic rock song that frequently appears as the number one song on top 10 lists, is a track on Led Zeppelin IV, which was released in 1971. It was never released as a single to the general public and therefore never charted. This is an astonishing fact given how wildly popular the song is. The music and lyrics of the song are extraordinary, and Jimmy Page’s guitar work is sublime. I don’t believe you could find one aspiring or accomplished rock guitarist who is not familiar with this piece. In fact, it sells an average of 15,000 copies of sheet music a year, which is more than any other rock song. I am mesmerized every time I hear this song and the guitar solo takes my breath away.

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The Top 10 Classic Rock Songs: #1 – “Hey Jude” by The Beatles

“Hey Jude” is my pick for the best classic rock song of all time. It was conceived by Paul McCartney in 1968. It is characterized by a four minute “na na na” fade-out coda that music journalist Alan Pollack aptly described as, “an astonishingly transcendental effect.” As Paul has stated on many occasions, the song was written to comfort John Lennon’s son Julian during the time of his parents’ divorce. Paul changed the lyric to “Jude” because it’s easier to sing. Interestingly, John Lennon has been quoted as saying the song was about him. Others claim the song was written about either journalist Judith Simons or Paul’s breakup with longtime girlfriend Jane Asher. Some speculate Paul subconsciously wrote the song about himself. Regardless of who or what it was written about, it is an amazing song, and if you don’t get chills up and down your spine and a tug at your heart strings when you listen to it, I question whether you have a spine or heart at all.