My pal Detroit Rich suggests that I need some sort of rule book, just to give the dozen or so people who might read this a sense of whence I come. So let’s just say it starts with Cream and ends with Van Halen, born of blues and the British Invasion, borne on FM radio, killed by the ’80s. Belts: wide. Hair: long. Shirts: optional. Tastes are my own and do not reflect those of anyone who wasn’t born in 1966 and first heard “Black Dog” on the jukebox in a pizza place.
It also occurs to me that I should post more than 10 at a time, so …
90. “Too Hot to Handle,” UFO
The best Bad Co. song Bad Co. never recorded. The riff is pure Mick Ralphs. If only Paul Rodgers were singing.
89. “If 6 Was 9,” Jimi Hendrix
First heard on the “Easy Rider” soundtrack as a lad, this remains, for my money, the best Hendrix Experience moment, an after-school Friday freak out that makes your ribs vibrate. “I’m the one who’s got to die when it’s time for me to die.” Sing on, brother!
88. “Round and Round,” Ratt
One of my best friends is a professional drummer who plays probably 150 gigs a year and he once told me he’s seen a dozen or so bands do this and it sounds good every time; it’s shitty band-proof. The riff is catchy, commanding and simple, plus the song also lives by the First Commandment of Great Singles: the hooks get progressively better, from verse to bridge to chorus. That, kids, is no mean feat. And the opening riff drives the chorus – dynamics!
Editor’s aside: My freshman year at college, the guy in the dorm room nextdoor called it “The Ratt Cellar.” He was an idiot.
87. “Devil Delight,” Heart
What a band was Heart for about two, three records. Go check out the YouTube concert from Seattle in, I think, 1977. Even back when most bands could play, Heart was two steps ahead of most everyone else. They had it all – great drummer, two hot-shit guitarists, a sex-kitten lead singer who could belt and actual songs. Even when they got ridiculous in the ’80s, they had the songs, but propelled by this band, they were nearly untouchable (see: The Pretenders). This is a throwaway from a throwaway, contractual obligation record (“Magazine”) and is still fantastic.
86. “Soul Grinder,” Head Candy
I like to think life evens out in the end; that we all get what we have coming, good or bad. But when I listen to Head Candy’s only record I know this isn’t always true. Recorded in Cedar Falls, Iowa, it came out on a small label about three years before Foo Fighters rode this template to glory. This opening track is as good as anything by Dave Grohl and Co., and some of the rest – because it features harmonies and some relatively complex arrangements – is better. And I like the Foo Fighters.
85. “The Bomber,” James Gang
If the Story of Rock were “Romeo and Juliet,” James Gang would be Mercutio, strutting on stage with the best lines and dying before anyone hoped. This is the heaviest highlight of the three Joe Walsh albums that touches on all his strengths as a guitarist. Yet it’s that diabolical bass line that carries the instrumental break, revealing that the group – like CCR – was stronger than its parts.
84. “Nothing Is Easy,” Jethro Tull
Mach 1.5 (post-Mick Abrahams) had a relatively long run as arguably the greatest – or at least strangest – big-time act in Rock, when they morphed from disintegrating British blues combo (“Stand Up”) in 1969 to prog progenitors (“Aqualung”) in 1971. This song, the opening track on Side 2 of the former, is a perfect meeting of song, vocal and performance – and a fine example of guitarist Martin Barre’s strengths.
83. “Better By You, Better Than Me,” Spooky Tooth
I can’t pretend to entirely get this song, or band – or how Gary Wright emerged from such a frightening den of total acid heavyosity – but there’s a taste of ugly verisimilitude to this rarely achieved in art. Think Rauschenberg’s “Monogram” or Wes Craven’s “Last House on the Left.” Unpleasant, yet formidable.
82. “Waiting for the Bus,” ZZ Top
Trying to explain this song’s greatness, or that of ZZ Top, seems insulting. A guy is waiting for the bus with pint of liquor. It’s hotter than snot and the bus is packed when it gets there. Then it segues straight into “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” The record is called “Tres Hombres.” Go buy it.
81. “Sheer Heart Attack,” Queen
This is the second/third song on the record that made Queen a monster, “News of the World.” It came out in 1977 and despite the fact that they already had released an album of the same name, suggesting this might be a leftover, I always figured this was a direct answer to “Never Mind the Bollocks,” both misguided and dead on. In any case, it’s pretty ferocious.
80. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Queen,” Mott the Hoople
Has anyone spent more time calling himself a rock ‘n’ roll star than Ian Hunter? The guy even wrote a book about it. Yet Hunter has always known it’s a joke, and it’s that tug-of-war between strutting machismo (uh, this) and whimpering artist (“Irene Wilde,” “Waterlow”) that made Mott the Hoople so combustible and, at their best, unmatched.
79. “The Rocker,” Thin Lizzy
Speaking of combustible dichotomies, it’s Phil Lynott, ladies and gentlemen. Lynott chose to move from guitar to bass, an odd move for a singer, and this slice of fried gold is maybe the best example of how good he was. At this point the band was a trio, with longtime drummer Brian Downey and short-time guitarist Eric Bell. The song was recorded that way, too, and that’s a big sound for three guys to make.
78. “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love,” Van Halen
I should have been right in Van Halen’s Mach 1 wheelhouse when their debut came out in 1978 but I didn’t appreciate them until I was in my 30s because as a teenager I still labored under the belief that for a band to be good, ALL their stuff had to be good (note that I also labored under the delusion that all the Jam’s stuff was good). Now that I embrace the Rock where I can find it, I get it.
77. “Tom Sawyer,” Rush
Drummer/lyricist Neal Peart readily acknowledges that Rush found itself on “Moving Pictures,” which opens with the precision attack of what has become a Classic Rock staple. Not particularly melodic, it may be the only hit whose hook was its sheer power. Someone once insulted Jethro Tull by saying of their music, “You can hum it but you sure can’t dance to it.” Well, some music just needs to be listened to, with headphones, in the dark. That’s Rush.
76. “Cities on Flame with Rock N Roll,” Blue Oyster Cult
There always has been something inscrutable about BOC, and it turns a lot of people off. The uninitiated always want an explanation, and there isn’t one. The band also never had a great vocalist and never found a producer that quite knew how to capture them for posterity. Part biker band, part suburban garage band, part NYC boho, they were – and still are – like nothing else. This riff to the head, however, needs no explanation.
75. “Before the Kiss, a Red Cap,” Blue Oyster Cult
OK, I’ve been thinking about this. The best way I can explain BOC is to say they should have their own pinball table, with that “Agents of Fortune” dude displaying the Tarot on the scoreboard, and playing-surface goals defined by pyramids, Godzilla and zombie Joan Crawford. This song from their 1972 debut is apparently about spitting amphetamines into your girlfriend’s mouth at a NYC bar called Conry’s, and I could listen to the middle section 10 times in a row. In fact, I probably have.
74. “Peace of Mind,” Boston
If you are an American citizen and were alive in 1977, you heard the first side of Boston’s debut record on the radio, in pieces, every day. If you were 11, you likely were blown away. There was nothing like it, and despite an entire generation of imitators – from Toto to Def Leppard to the Outfield – there still isn’t. Remarkably, Tom Scholz and Brad Delp recorded nearly the entire thing alone in Scholz’s basement. Record equipment keeps improving, and yet no one makes records that sound this good anymore.
73. “Bargain,” the Who
You know your list is stupid when the Who clock in at 73. Or maybe it’s because it’s goddamn amazing. You ever think of that? Pete Townshend got so bogged down in concept after “Who Sell Out” that a one-off like this seems out of place even on what we all later learned was an odds-and-sods record like “Who’s Next.” It’s been a long time since I read about the Who, but I don’t think this was destined for “Lifehouse.” Maybe that’s why it’s such a complete production. It also might be the studio zenith of Keith Moon’s brief run as God.
72. “Starship Trooper,” Yes
Time, if not the rock Stasi, has been kind to Yes, whose acolytes mostly hide behind their beards and dirty black T-shirts. Picking something off the flawless “Yes Album” is like picking the best tree in a live oak savannah, so we’ll go with the opener*, which manages to be dense and light and longwinded and melodic all at once. Broken into three parts – Fleet Foxes clearly were paying attention – it’s a sonic explosion of unearthly delights. Headphones help, but it also sounds good on a car stereo, with the windows down, loud.
*Took this out again the other day; “Yours is No Disgrace” is the opener. T&R regrets the error.
71. “Is It My Name?” Todd Rundgren
I’m all for Todd finding a new audience of bespectacled power pop heads, but I can’t help but think the guys who do “Couldn’t I Just Tell You?” as an encore don’t listen much to “A Wizard/A True Star,” the closest sonic approximation of an acid trip ever committed to vinyl. Sure it has its pretty moments, but it’s most often a little scary. Take your pick: “International Feel,” “When the Shit Hits the Fan,” “Zen Archer” … all hard rock nonpareils. But someone should make an overdrive pedal called “Is It My Name?”
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