YOU REALLY GOT ME
VH1 recently listed the top 100 rock songs of all time. As they made so many mistakes, we felt the need to voice our opinion on the matter. Their second-ranked tune is Aretha Franklinís "Respect" -Ė a great song, sure, but so is "Fur Elise" by Ludwig van Beethoven. Neither belongs on a list of great rock songs, and certainly not ahead of the Beatles.
Our first order of business is to define our terms. What constitutes Rock, as distinct from Pop, R&B or Soul? We came up with four requirements:
The song must be big. Either itís played to death on classic rock stations, constantly requested by classic rock stations, or, in the case of more recent material, will be played on classic rock stations 20 years from now. If you donít know the song, it doesnít belong on the list. Thus, many alternative rock favorites are eliminated, such as The Violent Femmesí "Blister in the Sun" and pre-Document R.E.M. This also means a lot of great songs wonít make the cut.
Bang a Gong
Simply put, if it doesnít have a rock beat, it isnít a rock song. This eliminates not only slow songs and rock ballads, but death metal as well.
Power Chords Rule
Apologies to avatars of the keyboard and the bass, but the staple instrument of a rock band is the electric guitar. Any song that does not feature an electric guitar prominently is disqualified. This allows us to excise most of the songs that do not belong on VH1ís list. Out the door are the aforementioned Ms. Franklin, most Motown songs, half the Beatles catalogue, folk rockers like Paul Simon, most Bob Dylan, almost everything written in the 80s, and, annoyingly, every Pink Floyd offering. We did, however, make an exception here and there, especially with the older songs. "Great Balls of Fire" is not a guitar song, but it captures the spirit of rock Ďní roll. We donít know if Jerry Lee Lewis ever destroyed his piano after a set, but itís not difficult to imagine.
The Velvet Rope
One-hit wonders have contributed mightily to the canon of rock Ďní roll. But to qualify for our list, the artist must have a significant body of work. Think this rule is unfair, that a great rock song can be made by an inferior band? Take the challenge: Write down five one-hit wonders that belong on this list. When you get to five, let us know. If you donít find us at our current address, weíll be in a retirement community in Fort Lauderdale.
Now that we know the parameters, a few words about how we ranked the songs. Much weight was given to the holy grail of rock composition, the Cool Guitar Riff. Tribute was paid as well to the Eight Minute Tour de Force, though not as much as the radio stations pay. Is "Stairway to Heaven" the most requested song because itís the best, or because itís as long as a rock block of Beatles hits?
Choosing the songs was not as difficult as we initially thought; the hardest part was ranking them, especially with the more recent songs. Where does Nirvana belong in relation to Chuck Berry, Guns Ďní Roses to the Rolling Stones? We honored our mothers and fathers (though not our Mammas and Papas, who are folk) but not so much. Just because itís older doesnít mean itís better, necessarily.
Finally, while our own preferences and biases did factor somewhat in the process (yes, Elvis Costello made the cut), this is not a list of our favorite rock songs, but the ones we feel are the best.
Now then, without further ado, the 101 greatest rock songs ever:
By Greg Olear