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Top 16 Best Classic Rock Songs

Classic Rock is undoubtedly my favorite genre. The quality of music and depth of choice is vast. So much so that I believe that my best classic Rock songs list only begins to scratch the surface. 

It would have been easy to have ten times more songs included, but I hope you still enjoy the shortened version. Let’s delve into the past and get started.

Best Classic Rock Songs

Top 16 Best Classic Rock Songs

Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin

I’m starting with what is arguably the greatest rock song ever written. I understand that there’s plenty of competition, but “Stairway to Heaven” has it all. It’s hard to think of another song with so many layers.

The song is divided into three main parts…

The first part contains flutes and acoustic guitars with soft vocals. Then, almost four minutes into the song, the tempo and intensity increase. A little later, the drums and electric instruments join in, and the vocals become louder. 

Finally, there’s a build to a full Hard Rock arrangement that crescendos into one of the greatest guitar solos of all time.

Undisputed greatness…

Led Zeppelin was one of the most talented Rock bands of all time. The four musicians individually were some of the best in their respective fields. However, combined, they were an unstoppable musical force, the like of which we’ll be lucky to see again.

Stairway to Heaven” was released in 1971 as a single from their untitled fourth album. This is often referred to as Led Zeppelin IV. The single helped drive the album to become the tenth best-selling album of all time. More than 40 million copies were sold.

These days… 

It’s hard to imagine a song just short of eight minutes getting any significant traction. Frankly, that’s a crying shame because the world would be poorer without “Stairway to Heaven” in it.

It’s the most played song on US FM radio, has more sheet music sales to its name than any other Rock song, and is ranked as the 31st best song of all time across all genres by Rolling Stone magazine. In short, it’s an amazing classic Rock song.

Hotel California by The Eagles

This is another gigantic classic Rock song. It’s one of the most played classic Rock songs and also one of the most successful.

Hotel California” went multi-platinum in the US and helped to drive the album of the same name to sales of over 32 million. This makes it the sixth best-selling album of all time across all genres.

Some may question or dismiss the song as being unworthy of a place on a best classic rock songs playlist. 

Why is that?

Well, because it’s one of the most covered songs of all time. Anywhere there’s a Rock band playing, you can guarantee that they’ll know the song and probably play it. 

That means many music lovers have probably heard it a lot, which breeds familiarity. And that can easily turn people off to the song’s magic which is a huge shame.

So, why is the song so good?

The guitar work, especially the intro and the guitar solo, is second to none. It contains wonderful musical hooks, melodies, and harmonies. Plus, the lyrics are very cryptic and contain so many interesting references to a culture of excitement and excess. 

The song is an absolute classic and will likely still be played in bars and clubs a hundred years from now.

Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen

Queen are the second most successful band of all time. Only The Beatles have sold more records. Consequently, it’s fair to say that Queen knows how to put together a great Rock classic.

Bohemian Rhapsody” is undoubtedly their biggest and most recognizable single. It was released in 1975 as the lead single to the concept album, A Night at the Opera. The song, like the previous two, was also a long one. To be precise, five minutes and fifty-five seconds. 

At the time, it was hard to get airplay… 

However, Freddie Mercury cleverly tricked Kenny Everett, a DJ at Capital radio, into playing it on his show. Subsequently, it became the most requested and most played song and quickly became accepted on other radio stations.

The song, like the video, is theatrical, operatic, and grand. It’s split into several sections. These include an operatic style intro, a powerful piano lead ballad transitioning into a second operatic section, and a final Hard Rock finale followed by a full one-minute outro. All so Freddie Mercury and so dramatic.

The critical acclaim, awards, and sales are huge… 

What’s interesting is that the song also got an unexpected second life in 1992. It was used as a song in the comedy hit “Wayne’s World” featuring Mike Myers. The exposure led to renewed interest amongst a whole new group of fans.

Back in Black by AC/DC

This is a phenomenal band. If you like Hard Rock with screaming vocals and awesome guitar solos, you can’t go wrong with AC/DC. They are one of the best-selling bands of all time, having sold 130 million records. And they are also one of the tightest live acts ever.

Back In Black” was the second single from the same-titled album that was released in 1980. It charted the comeback of the band following the sad death of the founding singer, Bon Scott, who died from an alcohol overdose. 

The new singer, Brian Johnson, took over the reins in Rock N’ Roll style with this fine tribute to Scott. The song pays homage to the previous frontman and his hectic life. However, unlike a lot of songs, there’s nothing overly sentimental or sad about it. 

We are talking about AC/DC, after all…

Written by Brain Johnson, it’s a celebration of his life and holds nothing back in recounting someone who’d lived on the edge for many years.

The song was a hit with fans and critics alike. It sold well and helped the album to 50 million sales, making it one of the best-selling albums ever. An incredible feat for a come-back record featuring a new singer.

Their live performances are every bit as good as the records, if not better. I should know because I’ve seen them twice and can vouch for how good they are in person. If you don’t believe me, listen to them play “Live At River Plate.” I promise you you’ll be glad you did.

Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses

Guns N’ Roses are a classic American Rock Band. They got together in 1985 and, like many other Rock bands of the time, were based in Los Angeles. Known for their Hard Rock signature sound, featuring amazing vocals from Axl Rose and solos from Slash, I could have picked any of a dozen of their songs. 

However, I think “Paradise City” is their best song and undoubtedly one of the best classic Rock songs in history.

The song is super-high energy. It contains super heavy riffs and all the other good stuff I’ve just talked about. Additionally, the lyrics are pure Rock n Roll. They transport us effortlessly into a new world of excitement, adventure, and endless possibility.

Almost like a Rock paradise…

Paradise City” was released in 1989, close to the height of the band’s fame. It was taken off the album Appetite for Destruction, which was released two years earlier. Why there was a two years delay to release such a great song is strange. But better late than never, I guess.

The song wasn’t Guns N’ Roses’ most popular. That prize goes to “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” But, it still sold over a million copies and was a Top 10 hit in multiple countries.

If you’re into this kind of music, although I think this is the best single, I think the best albums were released a couple of years later, in 1991. These were Use Your Illusion I and also Use You Illusion II, which came out on the same day.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

I’d say that this is probably his best-known song. Interestingly, it was his first international release. It sold reasonably well, going platinum in the UK. But, most of the sales were still reserved for his home-grown audience.

The track was released in 1975 as the lead single to the album of the same name. The album became a huge hit, selling over nine million copies and going multi-platinum in the US.

Like many of Bruce Springsteen’s songs, “Born to Run” deals with ordinary people’s everyday worries and concerns. It was this kind of theme that made him a hero amongst blue-collar workers who could easily relate to his music and storytelling.

At first glance… 

The song appears to be a simple story of two young lovers who want to escape and start a new life. It’s a familiar tale and one that most of us can easily connect to.

However, as the song and the story develops, it’s revealed that the deep social connections they have in the community inevitably draw them back. It’s a song of people trying to work out the price of personal freedom concerning deeper ties. It’s a song about two young lovers finding their way home.

The complexity and layers of the lyrics are undoubtedly a reason for the song’s enduring appeal. “Born to Run” is a memorable classic Rock song. And the fact that it’s #21 on Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Songs of all Time is a testament to its brilliance.

One by U2

U2 is the most successful Irish band of all time. They have sold over 115 million records in their long and illustrious career stretching back to 1976. Of the all-time greatest-selling bands, they fall just shy of Bruce Springsteen’s tally.

Lyrically, I believe this is one of, if not the best U2 song. Like all great lyrics, they are very much open to interpretation. Although essentially, it’s about individuals or groups coming together. It was inspired by the unification of East and West Germany at the time of writing.

The best explanation of its meaning… 

Different beliefs and/or ideas coming together and uniting by forced circumstance. This is not due to a shared desire but because of duty and necessity. Happiness could be a result. Although, that’s very much down the list as far as other priorities are concerned within the context of the song.

Interestingly, “One” is a commonly requested song at weddings. An inappropriate choice in many ways since that runs mostly contrary to its main message. After all, it’s not a song about romantic love and attachment but more a song about need and doing the right thing.

We got to carry each other…

One” was released in 1992 as the third single of the hugely popular album, Achtung Baby. It sold well and charted at #1 in the US and, unsurprisingly, in Ireland too. This one got to #36 on The Greatest Songs of all Time list from Rolling Stone magazine

As well as being a fantastic song, it will also be remembered for raising a huge amount of money for charity. All the proceeds from the band’s royalties were donated to AIDS charities around the world. I commend you for it, guys. 

Cortez the Killer by Neil Young

I love Neil Young, and I could have easily filled an entire list of the best classic Rock songs with his catalog. 

I wanted to include “Old Man,” the 1972 single taken from the sensational album Harvest. However, that’s more of a Rock/Folk song, so I’ve gone with “Cortez the Killer” instead since it’s very much Classic Rock.

An unknown classic…

Cortez The Killer” was the eighth track on his 1975 album, Zuma. Unlike all the other songs on my list, this is the only one not to be released as a single. However, that in no way diminishes its right to be included. 

It’s a well-known and well-loved song that received a huge amount of critical acclaim over the years, and rightly so. Why it was never released as a single, though, is still a mystery.

Cortez the Killer” follows a very basic chord progression and begins relatively quietly. It maintains a very slow tempo throughout its seven minutes and twenty-nine seconds. However, it still contains a wonderful epic solo which is very much the climax of the song. 

Galleons and guns…

The track covers the exploits of a Spanish explorer, Hernan Cortes. It recounts his abuse of power and the slaughter in Mexico as Spain sought to conquer the New World. Its release caused controversy in Spain, and it was duly banned for shining a poor light on Spain’s previous blood thirty conquests.

The original recording is wonderful, but I also like the live cover version performed at New York Central Park by Dave Matthew’s Band. It featured Warren Haynes as a guest performer. He not only pulls off a fantastic vocal performance but also one of the greatest guitar solos of all time.

You can check out Dave Matthew’s live video, “The Central Park Concert.” You’ll be pleased you did.

She Loves You by The Beatles

This isn’t my favorite, but I believe it has all the ingredients to be the best classic rock song they recorded. Although it might not be my favorite, that’s certainly not the case for their fans. The fact is that “She Loves You” was their best-selling single.

So, how popular was it?

It was released in 1963, reached #1 in multiple countries, and sold close to two million copies in the UK alone. This makes it the eighth best-selling single of all time in the UK. It was also the best-selling single of the 1960s.

She Loves You” is a classic Rock/Pop love song. It’s the story of a young guy who thinks he’s messed up with his girl. He then happily finds out that she still loves him… “yeah, yeah, yeah” and the situation can be saved. 

Subsequently, his friend gives him some rather sage advice that he shouldn’t let his pride get in the way and that he needs to apologize.

It’s a great song with a great hook, and overall, it’s a very catchy classic Rock song.

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones

This is one of The Rolling Stones’ early songs. It was released in 1965, back in the days when everything was in black and white. Incredibly, it was already their fourth studio album, namely Out of Our Heads.

It enjoyed phenomenal success and made it to #1 in the US, the UK, and a host of European countries. The record sales were equally impressive as they sold over a million copies in the US alone.

Critically it was also well received. Ultimately it made it to #31 and the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest songs list. Very appropriate. Additionally, it became one of the most covered songs of all time. Even Britney Spears has done a version, and we all love her.

So, what is it about?

The song’s meaning was based on the growing success of the band and all the associated problems that came with it. These included the commercialism and demands of the music industry. The lyrics also contained some blatant sexual references, which at the time caused some not inconsiderable issues.

Although by today’s standards, the words were somewhat tame and would be unlikely to lift so much as an eyebrow. But, back in 1965, things were very different. The consequences were that the single was initially denied airplay in the US, and the band had to rely on pirate radio stations for coverage.

However, all of this still didn’t deny them from getting their first #1. It was an important breakthrough that helped to propel the band to superstardom in the US.

Layla by Eric Clapton 

Eric Clapton is easily one of the greatest classic Rock guitarists of all time. I’ve seen him play twice, and even though I’m not his biggest fan, his guitar playing is phenomenal. He’s a Top 10 Rock guitarist all day long.

Layla” is a song that I happen to like. What’s more, it’s also a song a lot of other people like too. After its release in 1971, it reached the Top 10 in most countries. 

The song was written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon. To be accurate, it was originally performed by Derek and the Dominos and taken from their 1970 album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. However, it remains most closely associated with Clapton as a solo artist.

Highly personal lyrics… 

They recount Clapton’s feelings for his best friend’s wife. Subsequently, she divorced her husband, George Harrison, and married Clapton. The song was initially inspired by a seventh-century Persian love poem.

The original song is very Rock N’ Roll, but one of the more popular versions is the Clapton Unplugged recording. This won him a Grammy in 1993. The song is also on that Rolling Stone list I keep referring to. This time it was placed at #27.

It’s undoubtedly one of the best classic Rock songs, but I can’t get over the fact that Clapton appears to be a shitty friend.

The Boys Are Back in Town by Thin Lizzy

Thin Lizzy was a phenomenal Irish Rock group. “The Boys Are Back in Town” was undoubtedly their best song. It was released in 1976 and was taken from the album, Jailbreak, which was released in the same year. 

Unlike the other songs on my list…

This song didn’t enjoy the same kind of commercial success. However, it still made it to the Top 10 in the US and the UK. Unsurprisingly, it also made it to #1 in Ireland.

Despite being only moderately successful, “The Boys Are Back in Town” still makes a regular appearance in Rolling Stone’s Greatest Hits of All Times list. That’s some achievement, and this is for songs of any category and not just Rock. On the 2021 updated list, they appeared at #272.

Thin Lizzy wrote many great Rock songs, and it was difficult to select just one. However, if I could have picked a second, it would have been “China Town.” It’s another absolute corker of a song.

Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix 

I’m a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix. Jimi is another Rock guitar master. However, where Clapton easily slides into a Top 10 best guitarist list, Jimi gets into the Top 3 every time. Plenty would argue he’s the GOAT.

Jimi pushed the envelope of experimentation and was at the forefront of the Psychedelic Rock movement in the 60s. It’s possible that without him, many Prog Rock bands would never have existed, which would have been a crying shame.

We owe a lot to his genius…

Purple Haze” is the perfect example of Psychedelic Rock. Written when he was in the UK, it came about as a mix of ideas relating to dreams and his fascination with science fiction. However, it’s reasonable to assume that the title is a reference to the taking of LSD and other drugs.

It was released in 1967 and also features one of my other favorite songs, “The Wind Cries Mary,” as the B-side. A much more restrained affair, but brilliant nevertheless. 

Purple Haze” was released off the debut platinum album, Are You Experienced, in 1966. The single was rightfully inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival

The group came from the same era as Jimi Hendrix. Their sound, though also closely associated with America in the 60s, was more about Rock, Blues, and Country than Psychedelia. 

Fortunate Son” was an anti-war song released in 1969 at the height of the US/Vietnam conflict. Political tensions at the time were high and anti-war sentiment was beginning to peak. This was being played out in protests that also increasingly encompassed music. 

It was released as a track from their fourth album, Willy and the Poor Boys. The song, more than any other, became synonymous with the Vietnam war and became the de-facto anti-war classic Rock protest song.

Why was that?

The lyrics recount the double standards of the Army draft within America. Sons of politicians and wealthy parents routinely escaped call-ups to the front line. Instead, these “fortunate sons” got deferred drafts or were deployed to easy non-combat positions. 

Unsurprisingly, “Fortunate Son” sold best in the US. It went triple-platinum, selling over three million copies. In the UK, it still held a good account selling a very respectable 600,000 copies and going platinum.

Credence Clearwater Revival mainly wrote about everyday issues, with a further six of them being anti-war. The most famous of the other six were “Have You Ever Seen The Rain.” This was released in 1971 and was a single from the album, Pendulum.

Turn The Page by Bob Seeger

Bob Seeger has written some great songs. The track deals with the life of a touring musician in all its forms. It talks about the loneliness of being on the road despite being surrounded by people. 

It also reflects on the fleeting nature of relationships. And the sometimes less-than-stellar reception Rock Stars receive from ordinary people. 

It’s a beautifully-crafted song that features plenty of contrasting moments and moods. The saxophone, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar all alter the song dynamics as we’re taken on a metaphorical journey.

Moving along…

Turn The Page” was released in 1973 as a track, ironically from the album, Back in 72. It was later brought out as a single, but as a live version, in 1976. This time it was included on the album, Live Bullet.

A lot of you younger guys might be more familiar with the Metallica live cover taken from the album Garage Inc. I wouldn’t be surprised if you thought it was a Metallica song. However, Metallica’s effort was released as a single some 22 years after the original in 1998.

I’m a big Bob Seeger fan and less of a Metallica fan. That being said, I prefer the Metallica version, which is something I never thought I’d say before hearing it. It’s a fantastic interpretation of a great song, and happily, Bob Seeger loved it too.

Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughan

I believe Stevie Ray Vaughan was the greatest Rock guitarist of all time. I know there are plenty that will disagree. I’m sure names like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page will be shouted my way as some of you read this. 

However, as much as I agree that there are plenty of contenders, SRV has always been my top pick. And, I think “Texas Flood” is his best work. Oh, wait a minute, “Life Without You” is superb too. 

It’s a tricky one… 

They’re both great songs. But I’m going to stick to my guns since this is all about top classic Rock songs. In this regard, I think “Texas Flood” is a winner.

It was released in 1983 from his debut album of the same name. I should make it clear that the song was originally written by Larry Davis in 1958. Regardless, SRV very much made the song his own, which I’m sure Larry Davis would agree with.

As the lead single of his debut album, it allowed him to showcase his incredible guitar skills. Although he was known around the music industry at this time, he was still very much an unknown quantity to most music lovers.

This song changed all that…

Texas Flood” made people sit up and take notice. The single sold well, and the album went double-platinum in the US, selling more than two million copies. Both the single and album received large critical acclaim and were instrumental in propelling his career on the international stage.

Although Stevie Ray is rightly revered for his guitar skills, it would be remiss not to point out he was also a first-class vocalist. The single and album gave him the platform to demonstrate this ability too.

Sadly, SRV was taken from his friends, family, and the music world, prematurely at just 35 years of age.

Looking for More Great Rock Music?

Well, take a look at our thoughts on the Best 80s Rock Songs, the Best 70s Rock Songs, the Best 90s Rock Songs, the Best Songs About War & Anti-War, and the Best 70s Songs for more amazing song selections.

Of course, you will need to hear those tunes. So, check out our reviews of the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Best Headphones for Music, the Most Comfortable Headphones, and the Best Headphones Under $200 that you can buy in 2023.

Plus, don’t miss our opinion on the Loudest Portable Bluetooth Speakers, the Best Tailgate Speakers, the Best Solar Powered Bluetooth Speakers, the Best Waterproof Speakers, and the Best Wireless Outdoor Speakers currently on the market.

Best Classic Rock Songs – Final Thoughts

So, there you have it. I hope that at least one of your favorite tracks made it onto my list. If not, then apologies. There are so many, and it was honestly very difficult to choose so few.

It’s been great to look back on some of these iconic classic Rock songs, and hopefully, you’ve enjoyed them too. 

Until next time, happy listening.

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About Jennifer Bell

Jennifer is a freelance writer from Montana. She holds a BA in Creative Writing and English, as well as an Associate of Applied Science in Computer Games and Simulation Design.

Her passions include guitar, bass, ukulele, and piano, as well as a range of classical instruments she has been playing since at school. She also enjoys reading fantasy and sci-fi novels, yoga, eating well, and spending time with her two cats, Rocky and Jasper.

Jennifer enjoys writing articles on all types of musical instruments and is always extending her understanding and appreciation of music. She also writes science fiction and fantasy short stories for various websites and hopes to get her first book published in the very near future.

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