57 Best Classic Rock Songs Ever

Best Classic Rock Songs Ever

Ah, classic rock! Maybe you’ve loved it forever or grew up with a parent blasting it on road trips. Classic rock is blues-influenced or hard rock from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. You can’t help but rock out to these infectious songs.

Pull out your distressed denim, air guitar, air drums, and hairbrush microphone, and keep reading as we reveal the best classic rock songs ever made.

Contents

“Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Song year: 1973

Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Free Bird” is probably the most classic of all classic rock songs. It’s widely seen as anthemic and often requested at pretty much every concert, no matter the band. While some might often ask for it as a joke, there’s no denying the power of this song.

“Free Bird” is about a man who loves his girlfriend but is not the kind of guy who can settle down and stay in one place.

“Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin

Song year: 1969

Led Zeppelin is one of the titans of classic rock, and many of their creations could easily make this list. From the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II comes “Whole Lotta Love,” a blues-inspired track that hit #4 on the U.S. charts.

It is full of innuendo, heavy, churning riffs, glimmering solos, and emotional, theatrical singing and hollering.

“Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd

Song year: 1979

From the 1979 conceptual Pink Floyd album, The Wall, “Comfortably Numb” explores classic rock’s quiet and psychedelic side.

While commonly believed to be a song about drugs, Roger Waters, who wrote the lyrics, explained they came from the detached feeling he’d get when he had a high fever as a child.

“Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple

Song year: 1972

Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” from the 1972 album, Machine Head, is narrative-driven, with inspiration from an event that happened while they were at a Frank Zappa concert in Switzerland on December 4, 1971.

Someone that was there in the crowd fired a flare gun which set a fire. Deep Purple watched the fire from a nearby restaurant and noticed a blanket of smoke covering Lake Geneva.

Classic rock is often extra, theatrical, loud, and show-offy, and “Smoke on the Water” has all these qualities in spades.

“Just What I Needed” by The Cars

Song year: 1978

While people often divide music by the decades, it’s usually not that clear cut. There’s some overlap. The Cars’ “Just What I Needed,” from their self-titled 1978 song, carries the rhythms and irreverence of music typical of the 1980s.

Many people interpret it as a love song sung by someone who doesn’t want to admit their true feelings. Others see it as a parody of a love song or a not-love song by someone who probably shouldn’t be in a relationship. In any case, it’s fun and catchy.

“Baba O'Riley” by The Who

Song year: 1971

If you think you’ve never heard The Who's “Baba O’Reily,” off their 1971 album, Who’s Next, take a listen. Yes, this is the “Teenage Wasteland” song. It is one of the best rock songs and is often covered live by bands such as Pearl Jam.

The synthesizer sounds in the intro and throughout the track come from an organ engineered to sound like music from the future.

As for the title, it is a nod to Pete Townsend’s guru at the time, Meher Baba, and minimalist composer Terry Riley who influenced the music of the song. The inspiration, meanwhile, comes from the experience of teenagers at the infamous Woodstock festival.

“Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix

Song year: 1967

However you categorize Jimi Hendrix, his music was rooted in exploring emotion through rocking as hard and true as possible, and he remains one of the most influential rock musicians.

“Purple Haze” is a swirling, psychedelic, atmospheric rock song inspired by Hendrix’s dream about walking under the sea.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

Song year: 1971

Queen had so many classic rock hits, and despite Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991, the band and the man endure as icons for writing some of the best rock songs ever.

The word epic is often overused, but it’s unquestionably appropriate for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” While there has been some debate about the meaning of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” this song cycles through numerous styles of music and singing to express feelings of alienation and hopelessness.

It also captures all the ways music is used in classic rock to yank at your heart and get your pulse going. Try to listen to “Bohemian Rhapsody” without singing along.

“Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young

Song year: 1989

Neil Young is no stranger to tackling challenging subjects and expressing his political opinions through song. “Rockin’ in the Free World” was written during a time of political unrest in the U.S. and worldwide.

On his 1989 album, Freedom, Young’s lyrics criticize the first George Bush presidency, trying to shed light on the hypocrisy he saw in the country. Regardless, this song became an anthem and a source of strength for people in the United States and Europe, as the fall of the Berlin Wall happened shortly after its release.

“Barracuda” by Heart

Song year: 1977

When thinking of classic rock, you might think of long-haired men windmilling out a guitar solo, singing their throat hoarse, but they don’t have a monopoly on affecting hard-hitting rock music. The first example of women who rock in this list comes from Heart’s 1977 album, Little Queen.

“Barracuda,” a song written by Nancy and Ann Wilson, Roger Fisher, and Michael DeRosier, was about their feelings about the record industry and is full of angst and vitriol.

“Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones

Song year: 1968

Iconic rock rarely comes from the nice, innocent, squeaky-clean boys and girls across the street. After all, this type of music is all about releasing inhibition, being emotionally raw, and not caring what people think.

“Sympathy for the Devil” from the Rolling Stones’ 1968 album, Beggars Banquet, explored the darker side of humanity using the metaphor of the devil and established The Rolling Stones as bad boys.

“You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC

Song year: 1980

“You Shook Me All Night Long” was the first single recorded by AC/DC’s new lead singer, Brian Johnson, after lead singer Bon Scott died.

This song, off the 1980 album Back In Black, was inspired by Johnson seeing images of American girls in a magazine. Unsurprisingly, it’s filled with mischievous innuendo, but it is loud and rocking and, of course, fun to sing along with.

“Slow Ride” by Foghat

Song year: 1975

Foghat’s “Slow Ride” is one of the classic standards in the rock genre. While there is a shorter cut, the original full album version of the song lasts for more than eight minutes, in which the music gathers speed, gathering itself into a frenzied climax. While there are few lyrics, the track is another example of rock focusing on desire.

“The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy

Song year: 1976

Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” is another entry you’ll catch on the best playlist of the best classic rock songs ever. The song starts with a rockabilly rhythm driving a harder lead guitar riff, giving this one a mixture of power and nostalgia, just like its lyrics.

Some speculate “The Boys Are Back in Town” was about Manchester’s Quality Street Gang, but the lyrics are ambiguous enough to make your own interpretation.

“School’s Out” by Alice Cooper

Song year: 1972

One of the hallmarks of a great classic rock song, other than unbridled guitar dominance, are lyrics about summer, having a good time, and sometimes destruction. “School’s Out” touches on all three.

Alice Cooper’s growly vocals mesh with harsh rhythms and soaring instrumentation. It carries a bit of the older rock and guitar sound of the late 1960s while propelling it into the cockiness known throughout the 80s.

“La Grange” by ZZ Top

Song year: 1973

The blues rock of “La Grange” by Z.Z. Top features one of the most recognizable guitar riffs, making it one of the finest tracks ever made.

Sparse though the lyrics may be, “La Grange” is about a Texas brothel. While it wasn’t exactly a secret, “La Grange” brought so much attention to it that they ended up closing.

“Rock You Like a Hurricane” by Scorpions

Song year: 1984

“Rock You Like a Hurricane” appeared on the 1984 Scorpions album Love At First Sting. This classic rock song is full of up-and-down guitar neck work and wet resonant drums.

The lyrics center on attitude and lust and are sung in a hoarse, almost-whisper that escalates into a flying anthem of a chorus.

“The Joker” by The Steve Miller Band

Song year: 1973

If there was ever a song made to be played loudly through a car stereo while having a chill, beer-filled picnic on the grass, The Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” is that song. It’s a mellow, naughty song centered on being who you are and having a good time.

“Take It Easy” by The Eagles

Song year: 1972

“Take It Easy” is an easygoing rock song that takes its own advice. Jackson Browne started writing this country-tinged track, and Glenn Frey finished it and recorded it with The Eagles.

It’s about trying to calm down in the middle of a crazy life. The lyrics dwell on relaxing, not taking things too seriously, and not getting yourself into more than you can handle.

“More Than a Feeling” by Boston

Song year: 1976

Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” featured on their self-titled 1976 album. It centers around waking up sad, putting on some music, and being reminded of old memories, lives you’ve lived, and people you’ve loved.

It’s an emotionally driven song that most people of a certain age may relate to.

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses

Song year: 1987

“Sweet Child O’Mine” by Guns N’ Roses and released on their 1987 album, Appetite For Destruction, is 80s classic rock at its best. It boasts Axl Rose’s raspy emotive singing and his strangled almost-screams, as well as guitarist Slash’s incendiary guitar work.

Axl Rose wrote the lyrics for his then-girlfriend, Erin Everly. After dating for four years, they were wed in Las Vegas until the marriage got annulled nine months later.

“Iron Man” by Black Sabbath

Song year: 1970

Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” has arguably one of the most iconic riffs in classic rock. On vocals, Ozzy Osborne sings about a literal man made of iron who has traveled in time and has seen the end of the world. No one wants to listen to him.

“Iron Man” hugely influenced hard rock and heavy metal. It shows the tendency of those genres to rely on science fiction and fantasy concepts and metaphors to tell a story and make a point in their lyrics.

“Layla” by Eric Clapton

Song year: 1970

Recorded first with Derek and the Dominos, Eric Clapton’s “Layla” is a bluesy, classic rock song about a man pleading with the married woman he’s in love with.

Clapton wrote this song for his lover Pattie, who just happened to be George Harrison’s wife.

A stripped-down version performed and recorded for Unplugged created a resurgence of popularity and attention for it and Clapton.

“Jump” by Van Halen

Song year: 1984

Van Halen’s “Jump” was their only #1 hit with David Lee Roth as lead singer. Enigmatic Roth has given various stories about how the lyrics came to him and what they’re about, from the serious to the ridiculous.

Whatever the actual story is, “Jump” is full of the hard, classic rock energy Van Halen was known for. It is a song that encourages action over fear and carries an inspirational feeling.

“My Sharona” by The Knack

Song year: 1979

The Knack’s “My Sharona” is from their 1979 album, Get The Knack. There is just something unusual and irresistible about the name Sharona and something infectious about the churning rhythms and pronouncements of love in this song.

The lyrics capture the pining and yearning that comes with having feelings for another person. They were written as a real-life come-on to a woman the lead singer, Doug Fieger, had a thing for.

“Funk #49” by James Gang

Song year: 1970

“Funk #49” by James Gang features playful but serious guitar, otherworldly solos, a funky bass line, and acrobatic R&B- style singing. While there are few lyrics, “Funk #49” tells the tale of a woman whose wild ways can’t be contained. James Gang proves classic rock isn’t necessarily about one style or theme.

“Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf

Song year: 1968

Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild,” released on their self-titled 1968 album, is full of growl, colliding guitar, and beating drums and cymbals. It’s high-energy and is a celebration of leading a life of adventure.

It hit #2 on the U.S. charts and appeared in the counterculture film Easy Rider.

“Carry on Wayward Son” by Kansas

Song year: 1976

“Carry on Wayward Son” is on Kansas’s 1976 album, Leftoverture. The song is about a personal, spiritual search and features the hard guitar rhythms and guitar solos typical to classic rock, as well as an anthemic chorus.

“All Right Now” by Free

Song year: 1970

A theme that often shows up in the best classic rock songs is living life to the fullest by seizing any opportunity for fun or love. When that message is put to bluesy, hard-rocking music, you get a song like Free’s “All Right Now,” with lyrics both intense and celebratory.

“Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams

Song year: 1984

Bryan Adams’s “Summer of ’69” has confused people for decades. Surely, Bryan Adams was too young to play guitar in the titular year? This nostalgia-filled classic rock song isn’t about the year 1969 but rather an innuendo-laced ode to summer romance.

“Roxanne” by The Police

Song year: 1978

So many classic rock songs are about women, pining for a woman, relationship troubles, and one-night stands. “Roxanne” by The Police is a funk-tinged, slinky song about a man who wants to take a woman away from a profession he disagrees with.

There is just something irresistible in Sting’s vocal tone and delivery, which makes listening and rocking to his songs a delight. That’s the case even when they’re dealing with problematic or less-than-savory subjects.

“(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult

“(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult

Song year: 1976

From the Blue Oyster Cult’s 1976 album, Agents of Fortune, “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” has a swirly, sunny, psychedelic sound reminiscent of the earlier classic rock of the 1960s.

“(Don’t Fear) the Reaper,” as you might assume, is about not being afraid of death. The lyrics and the music gather and escalate dramatically, taking the song from statement to story.

“White Room” by Cream

Song year: 1968

One of the great things about classic rock songs is that they are full of emotion and atmosphere and excel at creating a mood.

Cream’s “White Room” is a perfect example of this. About hopelessness and depression, this song is set in an empty apartment and blends hard and psychedelic rock for maximum effect.

“Because the Night” by Patti Smith

Song year: 1978

Often regarded as a Godmother of Punk, Patti Smith has a huge cult following. Her commercial success, however, has not reflected her level of influence on rock music. “Because the Night,” off Patti Smith’s 1978 album, Easter, was her only hit.

Although written by Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Iovine convinced the legend to hand it over to Patti Smith because it didn’t fit the album he was working on.

She completed the lyrics and recorded it. Smith’s version is a dark, intense love song that deserves its place in the pantheon of iconic rock.

“Dream On” by Aerosmith

Song year: 1973

“Dream On” from Aerosmith’s 1973 self-titled album was their first recorded single. Steven Tyler’s voice has changed throughout the years, and this song shows the smooth rock style he was noted for, as well as the dynamic, rock screaming, and raspiness he became synonymous with.

Aerosmith lulls you in with a sweet opening and then just tosses you around in pure rock power while the lyrics revolve around longing to be somebody whose dreams come true.

“Tom Sawyer” by Rush

Song year: 1981

One of the best rock songs, “Tom Sawyer” by Rush, was put out on their 1981 album, Moving Pictures. The lyrics pull inspiration from the Mark Twain character and the book of the same name.

Neil Peart and Pye Dubois worked on the lyrics for “Tom Sawyer,” a song about the difference between who a person is and who others perceive them to be.

“Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi

Song year: 1986

Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” is from their 1986 album, Slippery When Wet. The album’s name evokes classic rock themes like innuendo, fun, and resilience.

“Livin’ on a Prayer” features squealing guitar, firm drum work, and John Bon Jovi’s diamond-laced vocals. The anthemic lyrics are all about enduring no matter what, making this track perfect for anyone going through a tough time.

“One Way or Another” by Blondie

Song year: 1978

Blondie’s “One Way or Another” is a guitar and drums-driven classic rock song with a snarl. It could be a song about pursuing a crush, but it was inspired by lead singer Debbie Harry’s experience with a stalker.

Debbie Harry and Blondie’s bass player, Nigel Harrison, wrote the song. It has appeared in over 20 movies and television shows.

“Any Way You Want It” by Journey

Song year: 1980

You have to love the way so much of the classic rock of the 80s captures a stadium concert experience in a recording. Listening to Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” feels like standing stage-side at one of their shows, no matter where you’re listening to it.

The acoustics, the resonance, the larger-than-life soaring vocals, and the lyrics about an accommodating lover make this one of the most infectious examples of classic rock.

“Rock and Roll All Nite” by Kiss

Song year: 1975

Kiss’s “Rock and Roll All Nite” from the 1975 album, Dressed To Kill, is about one of classic rock’s favorite subjects, rocking and partying! If you’ve never heard any other Kiss song, you’ve still probably heard this track, whether on the radio or television.

Its popularity transcended Kiss’s fan base to become a part of popular culture, which is another hallmark of a true classic rock song.

“Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard

Song year: 1987

Whether you classify Def Leppard as hard rock, glam rock, or arena rock, what’s clear is that “Pour Some Sugar on Me” from their 1987 album, Hysteria, deserves a place in any list of the best classic rock songs ever.

The lyrics are a little bit all over the place, but they capture the feeling someone has when they are attracted to another person. How can anyone be coherent about desire?

“Heartbreaker” by Pat Benetar

Song year: 1979

Pat Benetar’s “Heartbreaker” from the 1979 album, In the Heat of the Night was written by Geoff Gill and Clint Wade. It’s a driving rock song that sees Benetar’s voice go from whispers to growls.

Benatar’s record is both a love song and a warning. Its lyrics touch on knowing who you’re dealing with and not wanting to put up with being used or hurt.

“Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty

Song year: 1989

Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” was released on his 1989 album, Full Moon Fever. He explores the softer side of classic rock, but the vocals become more intense during the chorus.

Petty’s themes focus on Los Angeles and the culture there. Like many other legendary rock songs, “Free Fallin’” was unable to avoid becoming an anthem. After all, it’s impossible to hear without singing along!

“Take Me Home Tonight” by Eddie Money

Song year: 1986

“Take Me Home Tonight” on Eddie Money’s 1986 album, Can’t Hold Back, reached #4 in the U.S. This song is based on The Ronettes' “Be My Baby,” and Ronnie Spector herself is featured in the chorus.

Money gives us another classic rock song about lust. The speaker in the song wants the woman he’s singing about to let him come home with her. It has an energetic, infectious chorus.

“I Love Rock and Roll” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Song year: 1981

From Joan Jett’s 1981 album of the same name, “I Love Rock and Roll” was a #1 hit in the United States.

It carries on with the classic rock theme of bad girls and bad boys, doing bad things to good music. This song makes you want to shout and stomp and listen to classic rock all night long.

“Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood

Song year: 1982

The blues influence in George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” is right there on the surface, both in the riffs and in the growly, emotional vocal delivery.

Even though this is a song about someone confessing that they have no redeeming qualities, that they are evil to the core, “Bad to the Bone” is a fun and infectious record with a saxophone break.

“Juke Box Hero” by Foreigner

Song year: 1981

“Juke Box Hero” released on Foreigner’s 1981 album, 4. It is an epic, dramatic, arena rock song about a band from the perspective of a fan. The lyrics paint a deep picture, making the listener feel as if hopes and dreams are on the line.

“Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac

Song year: 1977

Many classic songs are inspired by real-life events and relationships. What made Fleetwood Mac so interesting, and what also doomed them, was the relationship between Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and other band dramas that made their way into their music.

This vitriolic song was written by Buckingham about Nicks. Imagine having to sing a song your ex wrote about you. Despite that, or maybe because of it, “Go Your Own Way” was a hit and continues to be one of the best rock songs ever!

“Bad Company” by Bad Company

Song year: 1974

“Bad Company” is off of Bad Company’s 1974 album Bad Company. This atmospheric song, as well as the band and album names, were all inspired by a Jeff Bridges Western of the same name.

This classic rock song is about a lone wolf and an outlaw. It’s the kind of track you’re likely to hear just before the end of a party when the last people there are enjoying the end of their drinks and staring at the walls.

“Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison

Song year: 1988

Off of Poison’s 1988 album, Open Up and Say…Ahh! “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is one of the best classic rock ballads ever. Bret Michaels wrote this song about a failing relationship.

“Every Rose Has Its Thorn” focuses on a couple growing apart and the pain inherent in something even as wonderful as love. 

“You Got Another Thing Comin’” by Judas Priest

Song year: 1982

Judas Priest’s “You Got Another Thing Comin’” from their 1982 album, Screaming For Vengeance, is yet another example of a classic rock song turned anthem.

“You Got Another Thing Comin’” is about someone who is self-assured and who is not going to be tricked or taken advantage of. It’s about living life to the fullest on your terms.

“Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Song year: 1970

It would be just plain wrong to have a list of classic rock songs without including CCR. “Fortunate Son” was released on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1970 album, Willy and the Poor Boys.

Here, CCR delivers a country-flavored, blues-rock, anti-establishment song centered on classism that roots for the underdog.

“Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen

Song year: 1981

“Under Pressure” appeared on Queen’s 1981 album, Hot Space. Part of what makes “Under Pressure” such a beloved classic rock song is the superstar pairing of David Bowie and Freddy Mercury. Mercury’s clear, dynamic voice, coupled with Bowie’s texture and delivery, is a match made in heaven.

The iconic baseline is instantly recognizable, while the lyrics speak of how love can overcome pressure. Vanilla Ice was famous for being accused of stealing it for his song, “Ice Ice Baby,” which he denied.

“Roadhouse Blues” by The Doors

Song year: 1970

“Roadhouse Blues” from Morrison Hotel, is the Doors at their most bluesy. It’s a romping, rocking, poetic song full of the energy and emotion that Jim Morrison and The Doors were best known for.

While some vocalists are excellent singers and performers, Jim Morrison knew how to inhabit his lyrics, which were reputedly inspired by the Topanga Corral roadhouse and its surroundings.

“We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister

Song year: 1984

Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” released on their 1984 album, Stay Hungry, has become an anthem for the rebellious, the persecuted, the oppressed, and the underdogs. In the song, Twisted Sister reveal they have beef with all authority figures, with the lyrics being about standing up for yourself and saying, “enough is enough.”

The tune exudes confidence, making it an ideal protest song. In that context, wherever a bunch of people are fed up, you’ll probably hear this track.

“Turn the Page” by Bob Seger

Song year: 1973

Bob Seger’s atmospheric “Turn the Page” begins with a jazzy saxophone and settles into an understated, subtle, introspective song about life on the road. The lyrics show Bob Seger considering the darker, sadder side of the life and career of a traveler musician.

“Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen

Song year: 1984

Bruce Springsteen’s gruff rock voice and solid guitar-driven rock are classic rock through and through. Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” from the 1984 album of the same name, is a classic rock song that is as American as apple pie.

It has become such an anthem that many people don’t realize Bruce Springsteen wrote it about the negative experiences Vietnam War veterans faced when they came home to the United States.

Top Classic Rock Songs OF All Time, Final Thoughts

Ah, classic rock! Whether it’s hard rock, psychedelic, stadium, or blues, classic rock is dynamic music that grabs you and sets a mood. Classic rock can be about hooking up, rocking out, rebelling, or doing what you want, no matter what anyone thinks. Classic rock has rocked us for decades and has given us anthems and ways to express ourselves. This list of the best classic rock songs proves that rock and roll will never die and that classic rock, in particular, rocks.

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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