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

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Top 25 Hard Rock songs

Ahh, the good old days of 1980s big-haired hard rock. I will cheerfully admit that it was the songs from this genre that inspired me to pick up a guitar. Mat rock it may be, and there are some truly god-awful bands, but the guitar solos, wailing vocals and chicks in their music videos left an indelible impression on me when I was 13.

So here are 25 headbanging anthems to play air guitar to =)

25 Joe Satriani - Always With Me, Always With You
The guitar teacher who rocked. His early stuff are filled with mind-bending solos, and I can hardly play any of them - except this one, a more ballady instrumental. Satch's genius is in composing memorable guitar phrasings, and this song is full of classy, never showy, passages. Spine-tingling moment: The liquid-like finger-tapping solo.

24 Van Halen - Eruption
One minute, 42 seconds of sheer guitar acrobatics from the most innovative guitarist ever, Eddie Van Halen. Jaw-dropping. Spine-tingling moment: A third into the frenzied shredding, EVH strums really quickly and his guitar sounds like it's flying away.

23 White Lion - When The Children Cry
Ah, the requisite acoustic-based ballad hit for every hard rock act. All are sappy, but at least this one deals with a noble cause - helping children (not in the Michael Jackson way =p). Spine-tingling moment: Vito Bratta's carefully-constructed intro fading in. Listen once, and you know it's not a love song.

22 Motley Crue - Dr Feelgood
The ultimate hard rock bad boys, this galloping monster was cut when they sobered up. Wise move, as the anti-drug sentiments hit home with sheer malevolence. Spine-tingling moment: The murderous intro, like a bulldozer ripping through a path, returning midway through the song.

21 Aerosmith - Livin' On The Edge
Longevity usually leads to tedium for rock bands, save for a few outstanding ones. Aerosmith's second wind in the late 1980s is decidedly tamer than their wild incarnation in the 1970s, but they have occasional gems like this one. Joe Perry's eastern-tinged riff is married to Steven Tyler's manic delivery. Weirdly evocative. Spine-tingling moment: Any time Perry's riff comes in.

20 Guns N' Roses - Civil War
Go ahead, name me another big-haired hard rock band that dares to write such strident anti-war songs. GN'R had the biggest balls during their peak years, and this song is proof of their audacity. Tempo changes, mood swings, highly-charged lyrics and, of course, Axl Rose's unforgettable wail. Chilling. Spine-tingling moment: When Axl Rose launches into the stratosphere: "My hands are tied!"

19 Jeff Healey - Angel Eyes
The soulful guitar grabs you on first listen and never lets go, turning a so-so love song into a tender, teary heart-tugger. Then you find out that Healey is blind. Awesome. Spine-tingling moment: The tasteful outro solo. Restrained, yet utterly passionate.

18 Bon Jovi - Bed Of Roses
I once had a big argument with my platoon mate, who said Bon Jovi was better than Guns N' Roses. What a wimp. Still, Jon and Richie and gang did come up with some good tunes. This one stands out because the band never sounded more restrained and touching. Spine-tingling moment: Ironically, their restraint makes Jon Bon Jovi's final leap up the vocal ladder much more stunning as he screams: "For tonight I'll sleep on a bed of nails."

17 Kiss - God Of Thunder
Cartoonish menace is never done better than these four dudes in copious make-up. The stomping riff is added to Gene Simmons' wicked lyrics. Thoroughly infectious. Spine-tingling moment: Kiss never wrote a nastier riff than on this song.

16 AC/DC - Back In Black
Where did that vocal come from? Brian Johnson's screech is one-of-a-kind, as are the Young brothers' clobbering riffs. This classic builds on an unforgettable opening line, and never lets up. Intensely fun. Spine-tingling moment: Dun, dun-dun-dun, dun-dun-dun. Riff language at its best =)

15 Velvet Revolver - Fall To Pieces
Slash was the first rocker to inspire me to play guitar. His guitar lines are always thrilling, and I practically aped his guitar tone when I started out. This song does not belong to the hard rock era, being released only last year. Yet, his nuanced riffs still manages to lift and excite. Spine-tingling moment: Scott Weiland may sing "Fall to pieces, I'm falling", but Slash never lets him, with soaring phrases throughout.

14 Guns N' Roses - November Rain
Generally, I dislike overblown, bombastic, orchestra-tinged epics. Those songs always sounded fake. This is the exception. What makes this song memorable is the way the multiple instruments are given space to breathe. The orchestra take centrestage first in the intro, then Axl Rose sings behind some soft guitars and piano, then Slash cuts two exquisite solos before the coda hurtles into hard rock territory. The results, ironically, is GN'R's most tender ballad. Spine-tingling moment: The first guitar solo. Romantic hard rock at its best.

13 Lenny Kravitz - Again
The odd man out of the bunch of big-hair, small-brain rockers, Kravitz almost threw this gem away, only to include it in his "Best of" compilation. Lucky for us, because this is first-class yearning, complemented by Lenny's best guitar solo. Spine-tingling moment: The chorus is simple, but utterly aching.

12 Gary Moore - Still Got The Blues
Ahhh, vintage mat rock territory here. You just have to cut your teeth in guitar soloing with this epic lament. Every moment of this ballad swells with Moore's gut-wrenching guitar. Riffs are for weaklings here, every line is sheer improvisational brilliance. Spine-tingling moment: The opening four notes. Sadness personified.

11 The Darkness - I Believe In A Thing Called Love
Insanely funny homage to hard rock, done remarkably over-the-top in this cynical decade. Trust a British band to come up with a killer riff, a crazed frontman and a much-needed humour as we look back fondly to the hair-metal era. I believe in a thing called love, indeed. Spine-tingling moment: Justin Hawkins' wild falsetto reaches insanely-high pitch before the final chorus.

10 Lynyrd Skynyrd - Free Bird
Impossibly beautiful ballad is grafted onto some epic jamming. Meaning: a masturbatory delight for any aspiring rock guitarist. Check out the live version, which is even wilder than the nine-minute jam-a-thon of the studio version. Spine-tingling moment: I prefer the most subtle part - the slide guitar that permeates the verses.

9 The Black Crowes - She Talks To Angels
Top-notch acoustic-based ballad, this one puts all the other sappy acoustic love ballads to shame. A dreamy mood permeates, as Chris Robinson draws out a soulful vocal performance that eclipses most other screamers of the 1980s. Spine-tingling moment: The opening riff is the best lick the Rolling Stones never had.

8 Aerosmith - Sweet Emotion
Many prefer "Walk This Way" as the definitive early Aerosmith classic, but I prefer this, a far-heavier rocker. The otherworldly, talk-box intro never prepares one enough for the brutal stomp afterwards. Yet, Aerosmith manages to swing amid the assault, and that's what makes them tick for so long. Spine-tingling moment: The band combine for one hell of a pummelling riff after each verse.

7 Guns N' Roses - Paradise City
Is there anything this band cannot do? They arrived without much warning, and mowed down every hair harmer with a sneer and a middle-finger salute. I love this band; this song is their frenetic, ferocious best. A great intro leads into a dirty verse riff, leads into a majestic chorus, leads into a murderous solo, leads into a chilling bridge and, finally, ending in cacophonic chaos. Add Axl Rose's mad-as-hell lyrics, and headbanging action is necessary to let off the steam. Spine-tingling moment: When Axl screams "So far away!" at the bridge, and you know all redemption is lost in the urban squalor. Paradise City, indeed.

6 Stone Temple Pilots - Interstate Love Song
Grunge? Don't think so. How about a superb hard rock band? STP came out at the wrong time, endured ridiculous bad press and wrote stunners like this. The perfect song for a long drive in your car, this one evokes long journeys in solitude as the band strips away all the hard-rock flab for this sinewy classic. Spine-tingling moment: The intro sounds like it's played in a ghost town. Desolate, yet alluring.

5 Def Leppard - Love Bites
The perfect hair-metal rocker, it is hard to not like this song. Poppy, yet never sappy, Def Leppard craft their songs like mini-symphonies, and this one ebbs and flows with tremendous power. Seething in menace, then exploding in swirls of vocal harmonies, it has a way of grabbing you and never letting go. Spine-tingling moment: Steve Clark's shattering solo. Simple, yet powerful.

4 AC/DC - You Shook Me All Night Long
Lascivious fun. Killer grooves. Stirring solos. Irrepressible catchiness. Angus Young and gang should make this genre their copyright. No one defines hard rock better. Spine-tingling moment: The singalong chorus personifies simple, sexy fun.

3 Tesla - Love Song
This is the rare song that is not instantly likeable, yet grows increasingly more beautiful with age. There is a wondrous acoustic intro, so meticulously constructed that you never realise its complexity. The same can be said for the other parts of the song. Marvellously straight-forward, yet staggeringly intricate. It's a joy picking out the nuances. Spine-tingling moment: The intro still gets me after all these years.

2 Van Halen - Jump
It was audacious, to say the least. Eddie Van Halen, playing a keyboard riff??? Hell, why not, so long as it is the most recognisable, most infectious, most joyful riff I have ever heard. It is impossible to stay seated once the riff starts. And when the song fades out, you are left with only a gleeful smile. Of course, Eddie pumps out a scorching solo, just to make us guitar freaks happy. Spine-tingling moment: Like I said, the riff does just one thing: capture the sheer magic that is 1980s hard rock.

1 Guns N' Roses - Sweet Child O' Mine
This song is a switch. The instant I listened to it, I started embracing rock and roll, and never looked back on pop fluff anymore. It's that shattering. By itself, it is already a tremendous classic. No other song introduced itself better than the thrilling, celestial riff Slash concocted for this. (An aside: This intro gets the loudest cheers whenever played in sports events, even after all these years. Magical.) The sweet lyrics epitomised romantic yearning; Axl Rose never sounded so emotional. Add Slash's angsty solo, and the less-than-optimistic outro, and I was as if struck by lightning at my first listen. The wonderful world of rock beckoned. I never regretted. Thanks, GN'R, for this transcendent piece of magic. Spine-tingling moment: The whole song. Duh.


Blogger Rob said...

Hey Chia Han Keong,

Cool blog! I noticed you play guitar. I teach guitar in Seattle and I just started a blog on my website about guitar teaching and playing. I just posted an entry titled "How to Practice" that you might find interesting.


I've also got tons of songs that I've written out for my students here:


I hope you enjoy the blog. Feel free to join in on the conversation and link to my site if you think you'll be coming back. I plan on updating every couple days or so.

Have fun with the music,


P.S. Life's Rich Pageant is a great REM album--are you a fan? You sound more like a hard rocker, but I thought I'd ask anyway.

2:31 PM

Anonymous Stuart said...

Great list :) every song was a winner Sweet Child O Mine use to be mine fave song but I changed to Paradise City....Got into alot of classic rock but then I heard GNR and never looked back.....Rock on

3:14 AM

Blogger movingmemo said...

Guns n' Roses ?
Oh, come on
I would call them Gods n' Roses
they are like Gods to me

Paradise City
Shotgun Blues
Sweet Child O Mine
Perfect Crime
Ain't it fun
Night Train
Human Beings
November Rain
all of it :D

1:57 PM

Anonymous Yasmine said...

Cool list,Thanks man!

I'm Not a big fan of the 80's(typical 70's fan.eh?:D),but GNR?love 'em like hell!(Slash era of course)

2:12 AM


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