Rock music is a music genre that developed in the late 1960s from rock ‘n’ roll, beat music, and blues. The heyday of rock was definitely between the late 60s, the beginning of the 70s, and the 80s. Rock music with bands still famous today such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles often dominated the singles charts in the three decades.
Probably the most famous rock song was released in 1971 and is called “Stairway to Heaven” by the English band Led Zeppelin. The band has sold over 300 million records to date and is one of the most successful bands of all time.
Other legendary rock songs include Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by the British band Queen.
Our playlist of the 200 best rock songs of all times offers AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, The Eagles, Supertramp, and the already mentioned bands and musicians probably the best selection of rock songs that there has ever been!
(At the end of this article, we have put together a Spotify playlist with all the songs listed here.)
The best rock songs of all time:
01. Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
Queen is one of the few bands that could fill a list like this all by itself. A representative for the incredibly multifaceted oeuvre of the Brits, however, is probably their biggest hit, which was a groundbreaking audiovisual experience when it was released with a video clip in 1975: “Bohemian Rhapsody” mixed rock song and opera in a previously unknown way, which is why the responsible label bosses initially gave the almost six-minute number very little chance of success.
The rest is history – today it is an undisputed classic of the genre and namesake of a multiple Oscar-winning band biography.
02. Deep Purple – Smoke on the Water
Usually, it should be a massive nuisance for a band when a fire breaks out in the building where they want to record their new album. For the Brits of Deep Purple, however, precisely this circumstance in December 1971 proved to be an incredible stroke of luck in the medium term. After all, that evening in Montreux inspired “Smoke on the Water,” as thick smoke settled over Lake Geneva. While the song’s lyrics give a first-hand account of events, the main riff, as simple as it is practical, is one of the basic exercises for any novice guitarist!
03. AC/DC – Highway to Hell
What an auspicious harbinger: Australian riff factory AC/DC got their fans in the mood for their sixth album, “Highway to Hell,” in 1979 with the now-iconic title track. On the music, written as usual by the Young brothers and held in the powerful midtempo, frontman Bon Scott sings about the strenuous life on tour – and ironically, the song was no longer to be excluded from the live program of the band.
It stayed in the German charts for 45 weeks and also gave AC/DC its first place on the charts in the United States.
04. Jimi Hendrix – All along the Watchtower
This Performeration of the song originally written and published by Bob Dylan could be the most style-defining cover in rock history. Released in 1968 on “Electric Ladyland,” the Jimi Hendrix Experience version is better known than the equally popular original, not least thanks to its use in film and television, and introduced many people to it in the first place psychedelic stylistic means familiar.
Of Hendrix’s singles, “All along the Watchtower” proved most successful in the U.S.; the prestigious Rolling Stone magazine also honored it as one of the 500 best songs of all time (rank 47).
05. Motörhead – Ace of Spades
Without the initial concert announcement, “We are Motörhead….and we play Rock ‘n’ Roll!” was not a complete live performance of this British band. At the same time, singer and bassist Lemmy Kilmister, as well as his cohorts, who have changed several times over the years, have constantly pushed the limits of a rock song through sheer volume and speed!
Recorded in 1980 with “Fast Eddie” Clarke and “Philthy Animal” Taylor, “Ace of Spades” is probably the best-known example of this approach, combining gambling metaphors with boisterous music that comes dangerously close to punk or speed metal.
06. Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb
Actually, “Comfortably Numb” deals with a critical scene of the 1979 concept album “The Wall”: main character Pink finds himself with a dubious and phrase-mongering doctor, embodied in the verses by Roger Waters. He is supposed to inject his patient fit for performance. In turn, the passages are sung by David Gilmour describe Pink’s spaced-out, “comfortably numb” state from a first-person perspective.
The fact that the song is also an absolute star hour of rock, detached from the context of the album, is due in particular to its second guitar solo by Gilmour, which even after the umpteenth hearing still unfolds its full emotional penetrating power.
07. Kiss – Detroit Rock City
The opener of the fourth Kiss album “Destroyer” from 1976 is based on a sad story: while writing it, singer and guitarist Paul Stanley remembered a fan who died in a car accident at the band’s concert. While the inspiration is reflected in the story told, Stanley was also concerned with paying homage to Detroit – where Kiss was able to prove themselves especially early on as headliners.
Although the single was not a significant success, “Detroit Rock City” became one of the most popular hard rock songs of all time!
08. The Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil
When Mick Jagger sings, “Please allow me to introduce myself: I’m a man of wealth and taste / I’ve been around for a long, long year…”, one could well assume autobiographical lines. In fact, of course, it is the Horned One himself for whom Jagger calls for a little more compassion by the song title from 1968.
After an intro with evocative screams and maracas, he takes the listener on a six-minute journey through the darker chapters of human history. At the same time, the samba rhythms and Keith Richard’s incisive lead guitar contributions contribute indispensably to the overall atmospheric picture.
09. Thin Lizzy – The Boys are back in Town
Thin Lizzy had already made a name for themselves with “Whisky in the Jar,” but in 1976, the Irish band was in desperate need of a hit. To its surprise, “The Boys are back in Town” turned out to be just that bright spot after some enthusiastic radio D.J.s in the U.S. played the number up and down, and their colleagues soon followed suit. The song, written by singer and bassist Phil Lynott, is infectious with its positive mood and inevitably motivates you to go out with friends.
The double-voiced leads have not established themselves as the group’s trademark for nothing!
10. The Beatles – Helter Skelter
The complete works of the perhaps most successful music group to limit the complete works of the Beatles to a single rock song is a truly thankless task. When it comes to rich, distorted guitars, the selection can, fortunately, be narrowed down a bit: The Fab Four only went as heavy as on “Helter Skelter” (1968) in the case of “I want you”!
The hard rock blueprint was not created on a whim: The fact that The Who claimed to have written the hardest song in living memory with “I can see for Miles” was not something Paul McCartney wanted to take lying down and prompted his musical comrades-in-arms to outdo their colleagues.
11. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird
Possibly due to modern rePerformerations, “Sweet Home Alabama” is the best-known song of these Southern rock giants overall, but “Free Bird” (1973) is generally accepted among fans of the genre as their magnum opus: The first half of the album version, which is over nine minutes long, is a sometimes wistful power ballad before the second half is a veritable feast of joy for lovers of dueling lead guitars. In a live context, the band often stretched out the hit and used it as a brilliant finale to a show; in addition, the solo part, in particular, was used as background music in several films and T.V. series.
12. Guns N’ Roses – Welcome to the Jungle
Despite a slow start and skeptical critics, the Los Angeles band led by front siren Axl Rose put a strong exclamation point on “Appetite for Destruction,” which hard rock fans remember fondly to this day. It enjoys a status as the best-selling debut album of all time; a mention in the corresponding bestseller lists is virtually a civic duty.
However, “Welcome to the Jungle” should be representative of the enormous hit density of the disc released in 1987: It unites the most diverse trademarks, radiates energy in abundance, and is thus a simply perfect opener!
13. Faces – Stay with me
It’s hard to fit much more essential rock ‘n’ roll feeling into less than five minutes, really: Snappy tempo, bluesy riffs, a melody punctuated with a hearty “Guitar!” and last but not least lyrics about a one-night stand with a red-haired Rita, which was at best non-committal. Rod Stewart, one of the most distinctive grater voices of our time, was behind the microphone, while string master Ronnie Wood and drummer Kenney Jones continued their careers later with the Rolling Stones and The Who.
In the charts of their home country England, the Faces reached fourth place in 1972!
14. Neil Young – Rockin’ in the Free World
The Canadian singer-songwriter didn’t want to decide between an acoustic and an electrically amplified version for “Rockin’ in the Free World” and without further ado included both on his 1989 album “Freedom” – an obvious reminiscence of his own “Hey Hey, My My.” Neil Young deals with the politics of the first Bush administration and refers in the lyrics directly to statements of the U.S. president or other personalities of that time.
Occasionally the song – also one of the 500 best ever according to Rolling Stone magazine – is incorrectly prefixed with “Keep on” used in the chorus.
15. The Who – Baba O’Riley
After the success of the rock opera “Tommy,” Pete Townshend wanted to launch a similar, even more, ambitious project. The work was put aside in favor of a conventional studio album, and already written material for “Who’s next” was used – so also “Baba O’Riley,” released 1971. The title is composed of the names of the spiritual Meher Baba and the musician Terry Riley, who both served Townshend as sources of inspiration.
Lyrically, the youthful devastation brought on by the Woodstock festival is critiqued – a message that is not infrequently overheard.
16. Roky Erickson – I think of Demons
Roky Erickson’s career, which began in the mid-1960s with the 13th Floor Elevators, was not marked by commercial success for long periods. After laying the foundations of psychedelic rock with the band above, his life was dominated by drug problems and his stays in psychiatric wards.
In 1981, however, he released “The Evil One” – an album that, between melodic leads and Roky’s incredibly distinctive vocals, carries with it a magic that, in its best moments, transcends mere rock songs. “I think of Demons” provides the ideal introduction to the work of a criminally underestimated artist!
17. Metallica – Enter Sandman
On “…and Justice for All,” Metallica played their acclaimed thrash metal more progressive and intricate than ever before. As a direct counter to that, for 1991’s subsequent “Black Album,” they strove for songs that got to the point more quickly – like the first single, “Enter Sandman,” which speaks of the fear of falling asleep and the associated nightmares.
Fans of the earlier years were bothered by the hard rock orientation of the number. Still, it served its desired purpose perfectly precisely because of that: Metallica opened up the mainstream to hard guitar music and, thanks to their reorientation, were able to assert themselves as one of the world’s most successful bands.
18. David Bowie – The Width of a Circle
In hindsight, David Bowie is particularly celebrated for his tireless changeability. But before he became a chameleon of experimentation, shuttling at will between pop and avant-garde, he delivered his third studio work, which opens with “The Width of a Circle” (1970), a veritable hard rock eight-minute wonder.
A valuable part of the two-part song was contributed by his then-new guitarist Mick Ronson, whose expressive playing in some moments even reminds him of Jimi Hendrix. The later Ziggy Stardust at the peak of his heaviness!
19. Nirvana – Smells like Teen Spirit
Kurt Cobain himself wanted to write “the ultimate pop song” when he started working on “Smells like Teen Spirit,” inspired by the loud/quiet interplay of the Pixies, whom he adored. Instead, the result was a quake initiated by simple power chords, which almost single-handedly triggered the grunge wave of the early 1990s!
After the groundbreaking success of the first single of the major debut “Nevermind” (1991), the press quickly wrote the trio, completed by Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, a role as “mouthpiece of Generation X” on the body, with which especially the sensitive Cobain has struggled very much throughout his life.
20. Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven
A list of the “best rock songs” – subjective as it may be – would probably lose all credibility if Led Zeppelin were not on it. And although the British band could place numerous legitimate candidates, the choice at the end of the day is pretty clear: It falls on “Stairway to Heaven” from the fourth, officially untitled long-player.
The acoustic intro needs no more description than Robert Plant’s haunting vocals or Jimmy Page’s fabulous solo, in which not only devoted fans of the seminal group hear the greatest of all time!
Places 21-201 of the best rock songs of all time:
Each song is linked to the corresponding music video via the title.
|21.||Paint It Black||The Rolling Stones||1966|
|22.||Born to Run||Bruce Springsteen||1975|
|23.||Highway Star||Deep Purple||1972|
|24.||You Shook Me All Night Long||AC/DC||1980|
|25.||Bring Me To Life||Evanescence||2003|
|27.||We Will Rock You||Queen||1977|
|28.||Bat Out of Hell||Meat Loaf||1977|
|29.||Hotel California||The Eagles||1976|
|30.||Gimme Shelter||Rolling Stones||1969|
|32.||Livin on a Prayer||Bon Jovi||1986|
|33.||Sweet Child O’ Mine||Guns N’ Roses||1987|
|34.||Whole Lotta Rosie||AC/DC||1977|
|35.||Master Of Puppets||Metallica||1986|
|36.||Carry On Wayward Son||Kansas||1976|
|37.||Run To The Hills||Iron Maiden||1982|
|38.||All Right Now||Free||1970|
|39.||The Spirit Of Radio||Rush||1980|
|41.||Don’t Stop Believin’||Journey||1981|
|42.||Rock And Roll||Led Zeppelin||1971|
|43.||Wish You Were Here||Pink Floyd||1975|
|44.||The Final Countdown||Europe||1986|
|45.||Whiskey In The Jar||Thin Lizzy||1973|
|46.||Nothing Else Matters||Metallica||1991|
|48.||Still In Love With You||Thin Lizzy||1974|
|49.||Another Brick In The Wall Part 2||Pink Floyd||1979|
|50.||Dazed And Confused||Led Zeppelin||1969|
|52.||Cum On Feel The Noize||Slade||1985|
|53.||Achilles Last Stand||Led Zeppelin||—||1976|
|54.||Brown Sugar||Rolling Stones||1971|
|55.||Won’t Get Fooled Again||The Who||1971|
|56.||Black Night||Deep Purple||1988|
|58.||Purple Haze||Jimi Hendrix||1970|
|59.||You Really Got Me||Kinks||1964|
|61.||Hey Joe||Jimi Hendrix||1966|
|63.||Tiny Dancer||Elton John||1971|
|64.||Since I’ve Been Loving You||Led Zeppelin||1970|
|68.||Whole Lotta Love||Led Zeppelin||1969|
|69.||Speed King||Deep Purple||1970|
|70.||Locomotive Breath||Jethro Tull||1978|
|71.||War Pigs||Black Sabbath||1970|
|72.||Let It Be||The Beatles||1970|
|73.||Don’t Fear the Reaper||Blue Oyster Cult||1976|
|74.||I’ve Seen All Good People||Yes||1971|
|75.||Black Magic Woman||Santana||1970|
|77.||July Morning||Uriah Heep||1971|
|78.||La Grange||ZZ Top||1973|
|80.||Let There Be Rock||AC/DC||1980|
|81.||Still Of The Night||Whitesnake||1987|
|82.||Hallowed Be Thy Name||Iron Maiden||1982|
|83.||In My Time of Dying||Led Zeppelin||1975|
|86.||Shine On You Crazy Diamond||Pink Floyd||1975|
|87.||The Chain||Fleetwood Mac||1977|
|88.||Fear Of The Dark||Iron Maiden||1992|
|89.||For What It’s Worth||Buffalo Springfield||1966|
|91.||Born To Be Wild||Steppenwolf||1968|
|92.||You Really Got Me||Van Halen||1978|
|93.||I Still Haven’t Found||U2||1987|
|94.||Nights in White Satin||Moody Blues||1967|
|95.||Layla||Derek & The Dominos||1970|
|96.||Shoot to Thrill||AC/DC||1980|
|97.||When The Levee Breaks||Led Zeppelin||1971|
|98.||Sultans of Swing||Dire Straits||1978|
|101.||For Those About To Rock||AC/DC||1981|
|102.||Black Water||Doobie Brothers||1974|
|103.||Like a Rolling Stone||Bob Dylan||1965|
|104.||Iron Man||Black Sabbath||1970|
|105.||The Trooper||Iron Maiden||1983|
|107.||Thunder Road||Bruce Springsteen||1975|
|108.||Let My Love Open The Door||Pete Townshend||1980|
|112.||Black Dog||Led Zeppelin||1971|
|113.||Take It Easy||Eagles||1972|
|114.||Bloody Well Right||Supertramp||1974|
|115.||My Generation||The Who||1965|
|117.||Call Me The Breeze||Lynyrd Skynyrd||1974|
|118.||School’s Out||Alice Cooper||1997|
|119.||Johnny B Goode||Chuck Berry||1955|
|120.||Rocket Man||Elton John||1972|
|121.||Money for Nothing||Dire Straits||1985|
|122.||Immigrant Song||Led Zeppelin||1970|
|123.||Back In Black||AC/DC||1980|
|124.||Heaven and Hell||Black Sabbath||1980|
|125.||Brown Eyed Girl||Van Morrison||1967|
|127.||Number of the Beast||Iron Maiden||1982|
|128.||(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction||Rolling Stones||1965|
|129.||Bennie & The Jets||Elton John||1973|
|130.||Who’ll Stop The Rain||CCR||1970|
|131.||Voodoo Child (Slight Return)||The Jimi Hendrix Experience||1968|
|132.||Here Comes The Sun||The Beatles||1969|
|134.||Ramble On||Led Zeppelin||1969|
|136.||You Can’t Always Get What You||Rolling Stones||1969|
|137.||Pour Some Sugar On Me||Def Leppard||1987|
|138.||House of the Rising Sun||Animals||1964|
|141.||Turn the Page||Bob Seger||1973|
|142.||Runnin’ With The Devil||Van Halen||1978|
|143.||Brain Damage||Pink Floyd||1973|
|145.||Crazy On You||Heart||1976|
|147.||Maybe I’m Amazed||Paul McCartney||1970|
|149.||Breakfast In America||Supertramp||1979|
|150.||Walkin’ On The Moon||Police||1979|
|151.||Jumpin’ Jack Flash||Rolling Stones||1969|
|152.||Bridge of Sighs||Robin Trower||1974|
|153.||Oh Well||Fleetwood Mac||1969|
|154.||Walk This Way||Aerosmith||1975|
|155.||Oye Como Va||Santana||1970|
|156.||Do It Again||Steely Dan||1972|
|157.||Every Breath You Take||Police||1983|
|158.||I’d Love to Change the World||Ten Years After||1971|
|160.||Dancing Days||Led Zeppelin||—||1973|
|161.||Fire on High||ELO||1975|
|162.||Fool In the Rain||Led Zeppelin||1979|
|163.||Feel Like Making Love||Bad Company||1975|
|164.||Do You Feel Like We Do||Peter Frampton||1973|
|168.||Radar Love||Golden Earring||1973|
|169.||More Than a Feeling||Boston||1976|
|170.||Cold As Ice||Foreigner||1977|
|172.||Rock and Roll Fantasy||Bad Company||1979|
|173.||Eleanor Rigby||The Beatles||1966|
|174.||Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door||Bob Dylan||1973|
|176.||Dance The Night Away||Van Halen||1979|
|177.||Hitch A Ride||Boston||1976|
|178.||American Woman||Guess Who||1970|
|179.||In My Life||The Beatles||1965|
|180.||Eight Miles High||Byrds||1966|
|182.||Give A Little Bit||Supertramp||1977|
|183.||Reeling In The Years||Steely Dan||1972|
|184.||With Or Without You||U2||1987|
|185.||Behind Blue Eyes||The Who||1971|
|186.||Have A Cigar||Pink Floyd||1975|
|187.||You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away||The Beatles||1965|
|188.||Never Been Any Reason||Head East||1974|
|189.||Karn Evil 9||ELP||—||1973|
|190.||Love Me Two Times||Doors||1989|
|191.||Just What I Needed||Cars||1978|
|193.||Burnin’ Sky||Bad Company||1977|
|194.||Can’t You See||Marshall Tucker Band||1973|
|195.||Middle of The Road||Pretenders||1984|
|196.||Your Song||Elton John||1970|
|197.||New Year’s Day||U2||—||1983|
|198.||Good Times Roll||Car||1978|
|199.||Pink Cadillac||Bruce Springsteen||1984|
|200.||White Rabbit||Jefferson Airplane||1967|
|201.||Dear Mr. Fantasy||Traffic||1967|
Rock Music Spotify Playlist:
Music is a matter of taste, no question. However, if you’re even remotely enthusiastic about electrically amplified guitars, this list is definitely worth checking out with a catchy tune leave! Alternatively, maybe one or the other musical education gap will reveal itself, which would like to be closed as soon as possible?