"I've escaped it, a life wasted/And I'm never going back again." - Pearl Jam, "Life Wasted"

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Top 25 Classic Rock songs

If you dig hard rock, you have to dig late 1960s to the early 1980s. That was when guitar solos were not a crime yet, and jaw-dropping passages are the norm in this classic rock era.

And since I'm on it, let me say that it's a crying shame that grunge and everything after seem to advocate guitarists not to solo. Where's the inventiveness if you frown at expertise? Look, I appreciate the "three chords and the truth" tenet, but there's only so many ways you can play three chords. Sometimes, a guitar solo speaks more than nonsensical fretboard noodlings. Not everyone can be The Edge or Johnny Greenwood.

In fact, I can argue convincingly that guitar music is so dead now simply because youngsters these days don't know how far they can take this instrument to.

So anyway, here are 25 classic rock songs that may inspire you to pick up a guitar.

25 Jimi Hendrix - The Wind Cries Mary
I've heard jazz pianist Jamie Callum cover this and, while I appreciate his novel attempt, it just pales in comparison to the guitar god. Hendrix scales back on this mellow rocker, and lands a solo so restrained and refined, you swear it's another guitarist. Spine-tingling moment: The sweetest outro I've ever heard.

24 Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit
Hippy rock supremos come up with a counter-culture anthem to being stoned. Builds from a spidery guitar solo and menacing bass into a swirl of guitar frenzy. Groovy. Spine-tingling moment: When Grace Slick describes the weird images after taking the 'shrooms. Peace, dudette.

23 Elton John - Your Song
The odd man out, because he inspires with his piano instead. No-one appreciates his lyrical piano playing beneath all the wigs and costumes he wore in the 1970s, but truth is he wrote music to all his great songs. This is a beautiful ballad, with John's touching lyrics and understated piano sweeping it into the stratosphere. Spine-tingling moment: The amazing power of the chorus.

22 Led Zeppelin - The Rain Song
What inspired Jimmy Page to re-tune his guitar into a weird tuning, and come up with an otherworldly epic like this, we'll never know. This paints a pastoral landscape for Robert Plant to add his medieval paean. Almost Classical. Spine-tingling moment: The sweeping acoustic intro is like a painter's starting strokes to a masterpiece.

21 David Bowie - Rebel Rebel
The riff is back, and it sounds like a clarion call to rebellion on this oft-overlooked Bowie classic. The Chameleon has never sounded this fun before, and since. Spine-tingling moment: When the drums augment the riff to poundingly-great effect.

20 The Doors - Riders On The Storm
One-of-a-kind bands are few and far between. The Doors are one of them; no one even attempts to replicate their dark brilliance. This one is from their later days, and it's their spookiest, yet most moving. Jim Morrison may seem like rock's greatest poser, but he's suitably subdued and brooding here. It's Ray Manzarek's organ that steals the show - plaintive yet seductive. Spine-tingling moment: The almost-funky organ riff that starts the journey through the rain.

19 - The Allman Brothers Band - In Memory Of Elisabeth Reed
Most people frown on jamming on stage nowadays, because of stoned, lacklustre bands ruining shows with boring noodlings in the 1970s. (Uriah Heep, anyone?) But this band just blows away all competition when it comes to thrilling jams. This one takes the cake, as Duane Allman and Dicky Betts soar on almost-jazzy solos that ebb and flow along with tremendous power. Chugging along for 13 minutes, yet not a note is wasted. Spine-tingling moment: Every time the guitarists take off.

18 Queen - Somebody To Love
How could anyone deride this lovable band? My jaws dropped when I read that Queen were often trashed by critics. Sure they are bombastic, but with Freddie Mercury, how can they not be? This one could have been a run-of-the-mill love song under other bands, but Queen add harmonies, stunning arrangements and Brian May's singing solo and, voila! Stadium anthem par excellence. Spine-tingling moment: The vocals fading in as the drums crescendoed.

17 Tom Petty - Free Fallin'
How I wish I could be like Petty, crafting indelible songs with the simplest ideas. This song has just one chord progression, miminal lyrics and not a guitar solo in sight. And guess what? It's unforgettable. Spine-tingling moment: The chorus, another wonder in simplicity.

16 Pink Floyd - Shine On You Crazy Diamond
Listening to Pink Floyd is like travelling to outer space and back, none more so than on this moving odyssey, a tribute to mad former member Syd Barrett. Over 16 hypnotic minutes, they evoke a languid mood, as every note pays gentle affection to their friend. Dave Gilmour's extraordinary guitar lines are a guilty pleasure, taken at your own pace. Spine-tingling moment: For six opening minutes, guitars mourn, keyboards murmur, then in comes the first verse at last - it's like a human finally joining in your space walk.

15 Led Zeppelin - Black Dog
If only my bands have the dexterity and versatility of Led Zep. This is a wild, raunchy ride that encapsulates the hammering power of the four excellent musicians. John Bonham manages to swing even amid his thunderous drumming, and John Paul Jones' ably supports with phat basslines. Robert Plant's wail is affecting, and then Jimmy Page tears away with a killer solo that leaves other rockers in the dust. Spine-tingling moment: That outro solo. Sheer magic.

14 Grateful Dead - Dark Star
The epitome of spacy soloing. Jerry Garcia's liquid guitar sound guides hippies alike through 23 minutes of ecstacy during their live concerts. An effort that's unlikely to be topped - the joy of journeying into the unknown, with a grizzled Garcia smiling his way through it all. Peace. Spine-tingling moment: The longest solo I've ever heard.

13 Creedence Clearwater Revival - Proud Mary
Here's another band that strives to keep it simple and powerful. This is a loving tribute to either the ships along Mississippi or, if you're imaginative enough, to marijuana. But hearing the chugging guitars and a carefree vibe, I would guess it's the river they're chasing after. Spine-tingling moment: The simple yet effective guitar solo.

12 Thin Lizzy - The Boys Are Back In Town
Good time rock song made thrilling by the harmonised guitars. Hear it, and be awed by the telepathic interplay between Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. Spine-tingling moment: When the final chorus fades and the guitars revs up, up and then soars away in harmony. Is your hair standing yet?

11 The Doors - Light My Fire
Indisputable classic. It's like plugging into the celestial the moment this song begins. With a melody that is as fresh now as before, Jim Morrison wisely cuts back on his rambling lyrics and lets Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger loose. And in the instrumental passages, they manage to whip up a hypnotic groove like no other band. Spine-tingling moment: Yet when Morrison sings the chorus, it's like everything in the world falling into place and lighting your fire.

10 Free - All Right Now
Archetypical classic rock. Every ingredient is here: the shattering opening riff, the swaggering verses, the singalong chorus and the longer-than-necessary-but-still-thrilling solo. Air guitar time! Spine-tingling moment: Insane rush alert, when the opening chords rip through you.

9 David Bowie - Starman
Charming muse on aliens. Bowie changes style more often than others in the 1970s, but he never let go of his innate melodism. This classic features a wondrous chorus that sweeps the song from the mundane to the memorable. Spine-tingling moment: Like said before, the chorus is a treat for any rock fans.

8 Jimi Hendrix - Little Wing
The genius of Hendrix, and the reason why he will never be topped, is that besides his solos, his subtle guitar phrases whenever he sings are mind-bending as well. This nugget is the prime example. Under any other guitarist, the opening run-through of chords will be boring. But Hendrix pulls out all the stops, with hammers-on and trills to craft a memorable intro that still excites to this day. Wispy, understated brilliance. Spine-tingling moment: The opening note. That's how good Hendrix was.

7 Deep Purple - Smoke On The Water
Simple. Catchy. Monstrous. They can only describe one thing on this song. Spine-tingling moment: Duh duh duh, duh duh duh duh, duh duh duh, duh duh...........No explanation needed if you're a music fan.

6 Cream - Sunshine Of Your Love
If you had thought Eric Clapton is just an old fart who could noodle the guitar a bit, then check out this titanic stomp to have a different opinion. He whips up a timeless riff and, as if it's not enough, tears through a solo as if his life depended on it. The rest of the trio is equally fiery, spewing forth nasty basslines and drumming. Sunshine? Hardly. Spine-tingling moment: Again, it's the opening riff that is forever etched in memory.

5 Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
Out of their minds Queen must be, to incorporate whimsical opera into their songs. Miraculously, that did not diminish the majestic power of this unforgettable classic. In fact, they did the opposite. Nowadays, whenever you hear people talk about this song, they would inevitably quote from the operatic passage: "Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go!" Spine-tingling moment: Brian May's guitar from heaven churns out riff, solos and harmonised phrases with orgasmic delight.

4 Derek And The Dominoes - Layla
Eric Clapton gets outdone here on guitars - a rarity that only Duane Allman can manage. His tingling slide guitar leaps into the upper registers of the guitar that only a slide can reach. It sounds like cries of anguish, which Clapton then tops with his raging vocals to plead his love to a married woman. Oh, don't forget the shattering seven notes that announce this song, and the piano coda from the pits of despair. Spine-tingling moment: The coda still raises goosebumps whenever I hear it. So resigned and weary of an unreachable love, it's like a beautiful woman breaking every male heart in the world.

3 Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb
One of my friends, who is not a classic rock fan, says the Scissors Sisters remake is better. Sacrilege!!!! Which just shows how much modern pop fans are missing if they don't appreciate the old-time rock. This song has not one, but two perfect guitar solos, courtesy of the incomparable David Gilmour. The first takes off on one of the most spine-tingling notes ever, and the second darkens the mood as the protagonist slips into near-madness. The words, painting an absolute weariness of the pressures of life and wishing back to childhood, are moving to the point of tears. Look, my friend, there's a difference between novelty and transcendence. Big difference. Spine-tingling moment: You can hum to every note of the two solos.

2 Led Zeppelin - Stairway To Heaven
Ah, the litmus test to whether you like classic rock or not. If you hate this song, there's not much I can help you. (Go to hell then =p) This encapsulates the joys of guitar-based music. From the pastoral beauty of the acoustic intro, to the folksy ramblings of the clean guitars and finally to the raging beauty of the electrified section, this classic will sweep you off your feet. Led Zep know what's good for us. Spine-tingling moment: As good as the solo is, I find the fanfare-like prelude to the solo even more thrilling.

1 Jimi Hendrix - Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Most classic rock songs sound rehearsed and carefully-planned. This one is a one-take wonder. Most classic rock songs have mundane lyrics. This one has words that speak of mighty confidence. Most classic rock songs have one good section at most, this one rips all competition to shreds right from the fade-in. Raw, feral and intense, Hendrix's tour de force is also his swansong - it's the last song on his final studio album. "If I don't meet you no more in this world, I'll meet you in the next one, don't be late." Spine-tingling moment: The wah-wah drenched intro is appropriated by every decent rock guitarist. Jaw-dropping.


Blogger Mindspace said...

I think that's a perfect compilation of the greatest classic rock tracks.
Definitive and accurate.
To see another person share the same sense of 'spine-tingling moments' makes my spine tingle. :)

6:02 PM

Blogger loudthoughts said...

Great compilation. One small crib. Lyrics to Your Song is written by Bernie Taupin and not Elton John. Bernie collabortaed with Elton for most of his songs.

6:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Free bird???? COME ON!!!

4:01 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

naw, you gotta give every band credit, to not include anything by boston, the who, guns and roses, iron maiden, i just feel like thats not right. Expecially The Who

1:12 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must agree... especially the who and boston.
But they're all great songs on here.

11:41 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

good songs EXECEPT, no lynard skynard!

1:14 PM


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