Two days before the Grammy Awards, Aerosmith will be honored with the 2020 MusiCares Person of the Year award. Not only has Aerosmith made an impact in the music industry, but they’ve also devoted time to philanthropic efforts over the course of five decades. These rockers are true icons of the classic rock genre.
Classic rock in itself has long been established as a true American music genre. In fact, one could argue that classic rock is the staple of American music culture.
Of course, the definition of classic rock has been under contention for years, with some people arguing a rock song of any genre merely needs to be 25 years old to be considered a “classic.” Meanwhile, others find there’s a difference between classic rock, punk rock, pop rock, alternative rock, and, well, you get the idea.
While bands like Aerosmith and The Doors are often considered to be the fathers of classic rock, the fluid lines of what defines a “classic” will vary depending on the part of the world you’re in. For the sake of this article, the definition of classic rock is music created between the 1960s and early 1980s with an emphasis on guitar-focused compositions.
Though we could list only songs like “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, and quite literally any song by The Beatles, these are some other songs you should add to your must-listen-to-playlist ASAP.
Listen to “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry.
Chuck Berry is often hailed as the true father of rock ‘n’ roll and his 1958 hit “Johnny B. Goode” is considered to be an instant classic. In fact, it was one of the recordings brought along on the 1977 Voyager spaceship as a representation of life on earth.
Rock along to Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”
Just on the cusp between hard rock and classic rock, depending on who you ask, “Rock You Like a Hurricane” is a guitar-heavy song that deserves your attention. Released in 1984, the song is still popular today, appearing in the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”
Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” is iconic.
This 1976 hit should be on every classic rock playlist from today until the end of time. With a catchy chorus and guitar riffs that will replay in your head over and over again, “More Than a Feeling” is an undeniable classic rock epic. Fans of “The Walking Dead” will recognize it from one of the show’s earlier seasons.
Don’t sleep on “Renegade” by Styx.
“Mr. Roboto” isn’t the only song Styx is known for. Give their 1979 hit “Renegade” a chance, it doesn’t involve grown men dressed up as humanoid machines and has a reputation for making it into major films like “Big Daddy” and “Billy Madison.” It is also the preferred classic rock song of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Supernatural” fans will love “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas.
Fans of “Supernatural” already know this classic Kansas song, but others should become well acquainted with this 1976 track. Written as a last-minute song, this hit made Kansas famous, making them more than just an “opener” band.
The Eagles’ “Hotel California” is a creepy hit.
1976 was quite the year for classic rock hits, with The Eagles’s famed “Hotel California” topping the charts. Other Eagles songs that should be on your radar include “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Heartache Tonight,” and “Take It to the Limit,” all great examples of a classic rock bop.
Classic rock is nothing without “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith.
Often cited as the #1 classic rock song, Aerosmith’s 1975 rock and roll anthem “Sweet Emotion” is just slightly more powerful than their 1973 classic “Dream On,” making it one of the classic rock songs you need to hear ASAP. The song was the band’s first Top 40 hit and put them on the map as an iconic rock ‘n’ roll band.
“Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac is a bop.
Up there with “Rhiannon” and “Dreams,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” is the 1977 classic rock hit you need in your life. The song was a major hit with a sad backstory: It was written by vocalist and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and believed to be about his breakup with bandmate Stevie Nicks.
“La Grange” by ZZ Top is peak rock and roll.
Perhaps considered more southern rock than classic rock, ZZ Top’s 1973 song “La Grange” is still a worth blues-focused boogie to bop your head along to when you’re driving with your top down on a Texas highway.
ZZ Top had the very same opportunity when they finally performed the song in the titular town of La Grange, Texas in 2015.
“Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf is truly a classic.
The band Steppenwolf might not be as recognizable as others on this list, but the band’s 1969 song “Born to Be Wild” is a defining classic rock jam. Listen to it once and you’ll be aching to buy a leather jacket, a motorcycle, and take to the open road.
Eric Clapton’s “Layla,” performed by Derick And The Dominoes, has all the drama.
With perhaps some of the most iconic guitar riffs of the 1970s, Eric Clapton’s internationally acclaimed song “Layla,” written for his band Derek And The Dominos, is a rock ‘n’ roll classic. Clapton wrote the song for model Patti Harrison, the wife of The Beatles’ George Harrison. Clapton wanted to be with Boyd and would eventually go on to marry her, although they split in 1988.
The slower, acoustic version of “Layla” also became famous as a Clapton solo song and he still performs both versions today.
“Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix is underrated.
While Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” should definitely be on any classic rock playlist, newbies to the genre should listen to “Purple Haze” immediately. Hendrix said the “real” version of the hit song has about 10 different verses, the lyrics of which came to him in a dream.
“The Joker” by Steve Miller Band is a great chill-out song.
Take your pick of Steve Miller Band songs that absolutely rock. If you’re new to the band, start with “The Joker,” a 1973 #1 hit that is delightfully catchy.
“Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks has a sad backstory.
Nominated for a Grammy award for best female rock vocal performance at the 1981 Grammys, “Edge of Seventeen” was a song written by Nicks in response to her uncle and John Lennon’s deaths in the same week. The name of the song was inspired by Tom Petty’s wife Jane Benyo saying that she met Petty at the “age of 17” but Nicks misheard her.
Classic rock is embodied in “L.A. Woman” by The Doors
While The Doors have an extensive discography filled with numerous classic hits, “L.A. Woman” is arguably the group’s most-iconic classic rock hit. Released in 1971, this would be one of the last songs Jim Morrison would record before his death.
“Show Me the Way” by Peter Frampton has psychedelic vibes.
The 1975 classic “Show Me the Way” wasn’t an instant success, but the artist’s talkbox effect eventually made the song famous. Since its release, the song has gone on to appear in a number of movies and shows, including “Click” and “Wayne’s World 2.”
“Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Creedence Clearwater Revival is a great cover of Marvin Gaye’s iconic song.
Released in 1970, CCR covered Marvin Gaye’s famed 1968 song “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Gaye’s version of the song is soulful and bluesy, while CCR gives the track a classic rock tempo. Both versions of the song are deserving of a spot on this list.
Everyone should listen to “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple.
Mystical and eerie, Deep Purple’s 1971 hit “Smoke on the Water” is as classic as rock gets. Peaking at #4 on the charts in 1973, the song is a must-listen for all rock ‘n’ roll fans.
“Purple Rain” by Prince is one of the most iconic songs of all time.
When the artist Prince died in 2016, many fans and admirers shared their favorite songs from his decades of performance. There is perhaps no more iconic song than “Purple Rain,” the 1984 ballad that was on the album and in the film of the same name.
“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is a deeper cut Rolling Stones song you need to hear.
Chances are, you’ve heard many Rolling Stones songs in your life, but while you may rock out to “Sympathy for the Devil” or “Gimme Shelter,” if you want to go deeper into their catalog, this 1971 song is a great place to start.
Led Zepplin’s “Going to California” is a bit of a mellow one.
This slow acoustic track is a welcome reminder that classic rock was not without its softer, more beautiful moments. This song paid homage to the state of California (obviously) and all of its natural wonders.
You may know The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” by another name.
OK, so you may know this song as “Teenage Wasteland,” but the actual title is “Baba O’Riley.” Though the song came out in 1971, The Who’s frontman Roger Daltrey said he thinks the songs still very much applies today.
“Teenage Wasteland speaks to generation after generation,” he told Big Issue. “The bridge – ‘Don’t cry/ Don’t raise your eye/ It’s only teenage wasteland’ – if that doesn’t say more about the new generation, I don’t know what does.”
“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream is another entry by Eric Clapton to this list.
Another Eric Clapton addition to this list, his guitar work on this 1967 song with the band Cream is still talked about today.
You’ll salute rock ‘n’ roll with “For Those About To Rock” by AC/DC.
Another fairly known song by a well-known band, this 1981 tune has special meaning to fans. After the 2017 death of AC/DC founding member Malcolm Young, fans in the UK campaigned to make this song number one on the charts in his memory.
“I Saw Her Standing There” by The Beatles is one of the group’s best.
It’s pretty impossible to pick a song by The Beatles that you haven’t heard but “I Saw Her Standing There” is one song that doesn’t get as much love as it should. It was one of the Beatles’ earliest songs and arguably, one of their best.
“Better Be Good To Me” by Tina Turner is a rockin’ song you can’t help but bop to.
Tina Turner is often referred to as the “Queen of Rock” and it’s for a good reason. Though you may love “Proud Mary,” “Better Be Good To Me” is another rock ‘n’ roll hit with an iconic guitar line you just can’t miss.
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