While genres like pop and rap might rule the modern era, classic rock songs still stand the test of time. With powerful guitar riffs, charismatic singers, and striking lyrics, the best classic rock songs can move us in ways that are difficult to define and simply demand to be listened to again and again. Bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles produced dozens of classic rock hits, but there are plenty of other bands and songs out there worthy of attention. Even those who aren’t big rock fans can fall in love with these true classics.
Anyone who happens to enjoy the TV show Supernatural might already be familiar with this classic rock song, which is played to herald the final episode of each season. It was released in 1976 on Kansas’ Leftoverture album and has become arguably their most iconic song.
In fact, Carry On Wayward Son actually helped to catapult Kansas from more of an ‘opener’ band into headliner status. It was certified Gold by the RIAA in 1990 and made it to number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, with its powerful opening vocals and catchy riffs cementing its place in classic rock history.
A fascinating song that has been covered by countless artists and even has a few conspiracy theories associated with it, Hotel California is an absolute hallmark of the classic rock genre. It was released on the Eagles’ fifth studio album and given single status in 1977.
Taxi Driver producer Julia Phillips even wanted to make a movie out of the film at one point, but the band disapproved. The mysterious and vague lyrics of Hotel California are open to interpretation, but the band themselves have always maintained that the song is all about “the high life in LA.”
British-American rockers Fleetwood Mac released Go Your Own Way on their eleventh studio album, Rumours. Written by Lindsey Buckingham, the song was the band’s first significant hit in the United States, breaking into the top ten and helping Rumours become the band’s best-performing album too.
The song took several months to fully form, with the lyrics said to be about Buckingham’s break-up with bandmate Stevie Nicks. It’s one of the most powerful break-up songs ever recorded and has touched the hearts of countless forlorn lovers all over the world.
Arguably the greatest guitar player the world ever knew, Jimi Hendrix was also an exceptionally talented songwriter, as evidenced by Purple Haze, the second single of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, released in March of 1967. The song features Hendrix’s characteristic guitar playing and a mixture of blues and Eastern tones.
The lyrics to Purple Haze seem to mean something different to every listener, although Hendrix himself always said it was supposed to be a love song. Either way, it was one of his best-ever hits and was often played at concerts, as well as featuring in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The perfect embodiment of everything classic rock is all about, Smoke on the Water opens up with one of the most instantly recognizable guitar riffs ever heard and has featured time and time again in “Best Song” lists. It was released as part of the band’s 1972 album, Machine Head.
Interestingly, the lyrics of Smoke on the Water are actually based on a true story. The band really was in Montreux, Switzerland, to record an album in an old casino theatre when someone fired a flare gun during a Frank Zappa and The Mother of Invention concert, setting the place ablaze and sending smoke out over the waters of Lake Geneva.