So I’m down to the no-more-screwing-around phase of Tyranny and Rotation’s 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs of All Time™, starting to realize I will have to leave out songs I would have been comfortable lauding – apologies to Aerosmith and Robin Trower – and accepting the fact that “Hollywood” by Shooting Star was ultimately just too stupid to include on a list that includes its fair share of stupid.
Count it off, Sundance.
1, 2, 3, go!
50. “Burnin’ For You,” Blue Oyster Cult
If Sabremetrics were worth a damn, the statheads would create ADM, the Adam Dunn Number, to explain the net gain/loss of a player who hits between 25-40 homers but strikes out 130-200 times a season. And then they’d calculate the percentage of mix tapes made from 1982-89 that were called “Time to Play B-Sides,” and then further parse those that contained nothing but B-sides.
Editor’s Note: Some Good Samaritan has posted on YouTube a clip of Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom on Charles Grodin’s brief late-night talk show pimping “Fire of Unknown Origin.” They play live and there’s an interview. It’s tremendous.
49. “Time,” Pink Floyd
If you don’t like Pink Floyd I can’t help you. You know who else can’t help you? Sigur Ros.
48. “Intro/Sweet Jane,” Lou Reed
He may have been mocking the conventions of show business, and by extension bloated rock, by having his band play him on stage, but Lou Reed picked the wrong guys to do it. Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner completely upstage Reed at the height of his Dickhead Period by opening this record – and concert – with perhaps the greatest guitar moment in rock history, swapping licks in front of a righteous rhythm section that immediately proves itself underemployed for the old Velvets stuff they later plow through. One of my pet peeves of the stars is when the band kicks into Reed’s immortal chord progression and the main attraction walks on stage to cheers from a grateful audience then cock blocks the start of another wicked solo, which ends abruptly and signals the end of the record.
48. “Woodstock,” Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
I had “I Don’t Need No Doctor” here but fuck it; I don’t like Humble Pie. They should have been much better than they were, and as they say in group therapy, that’s a ‘you’ problem not a ‘me’ problem. When this pops up on the radio I turn it up; when it pops up on shuffle I play it until I get where I’m going. It’s got Stephen Stills on lead vocal and Neil Young on lead guitar, flawless harmonies and absolutely MOVES behind one of the great one-off rhythm sections. Plus, it’s just a remarkable reworking of what started, more or less, as a hippy dirge – the worst kind of dirge there is.
47. “Stairway to Heaven,” Led Zeppelin
Little I can add here, except maybe that you should try to appreciate fully what John Paul Jones is bringing to the table here.
46. “Stone Blue,” Foghat
Foghat is kind of a joke because a) their name is pretty funny and b) their two biggest hits were “Slow Ride” and “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” which could generously called aboriginal. But Foghat was a good band and had a real knack for arrangement, particularly when it came to the two-guitar attack of Rod Price and Dave Peverett. “Stone Blue” is an apogee as a hit single; “Midnight Madness,” which comes later on this record, is the deep cut apex.
45. “Baba O’Reilly,” the Who
When I was in high school, this was by far the most popular Who song, and the one that would at least prick up the ears of the girls in the monogrammed sweaters. Do kids know this song anymore? Do they know who the Who were? When I was in seventh grade, my dad sat me down and played me two records, “Arthur” by the Kinks and “Who’s Next?” This should be in Dr. Spock’s book. Or is Jenny McCarthy the new Dr. Spock? If that’s the case, bag it.
41. “Propaganda/At Home, at Work, at Play,” Sparks
I discovered this among my father’s Lp’s in 1978, back when you might listen to a record because a) you liked the cover or b) it had a cover. This kickoff track might have been my first “WTF is this?” music moment. When Ryko finally issued the first Sparks on CD in 1988 or so – in a sampler called “Profiles” – I played this for a friend who listened intently for a minute or so before saying, “That’s not right.” There are no casual Sparks fans, but you owe it to yourself to see what side you’re on. Fans of Mott the Hoople, Queen and old Split Enz have been proven susceptible.
40. “I’m a Cadillac/El Camino Dolo Roso,” Mott the Hoople
I spent a lot of time weighing the merits of this and “All the Way from Memphis,” which kicks off the other side of “Mott,” considered by the hipster elite to be their best. That’s a great song, and outside of “All the Young Dudes,” their best known. But, shit, man I like this one just a little better. It’s not as smart, or as arch, but it has two guitar hooks (the riff and the chord figure between verses) and that amazing backing vocal – “Love is straaaaange …” That it segues into the instrumental is either a bonus or a mistake relative to your tastes.
39. “Kick out the Jams,” MC5
You hear this stuff and realize the Sex Pistols were a canard. Plus, a debut album recorded live.
38. “Dominance and Submission,” Blue Oyster Cult
One of things I like about BOC is their conspicuous connection to Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, another trait that sets them apart from counterparts who worshipped at the feet of Muddy Waters/Albert King/Robert Johnson. Listen to that Bouchard/Bouchard rhythm section: There is nothing there that might be considered a “groove.” They’re holding on by the skin of their chops, trying to be heard — and noticed — over what was often a three-guitar fusillade. It’s like a race to the end.
37. “One of These Days,” Pink Floyd
Some smart person once wrote that bands tend to make their most interesting music when they don’t know exactly who they are. The writer’s example was Genesis’ first post-Gabriel album, “Trick of the Tale,” which I don’t like much, but the observation is sharp: Think of all those weird little Jethro Tull singles and B-sides on “Living in the Past,” when they still considered themselves something of a “pop band.” Pink Floyd’s “Meddle” is another good example, when the band still had a foot in the post-Barrett wilderness years but suddenly took one firm step into the template that would ultimately define them. As good as “Dark Side” and “Wish You Were Here” are, there’s nothing quite as cool there as “Echoes,” or this, the anomalously beautiful child of “Set the Controls …” and “Careful with that Axe …”
36. “Marionette,” Mott the Hoople
A sweaty, rotgut nightmare in sepia. The band could have survived the Mick Ralphs schism for a few more good records, but after recording this, what would be the point?
35. “Top of the World,” Cheap Trick
“Adult” is an adjective one doesn’t readily apply to Hard Rock, or Cheap Trick, but no one moved out of the genre’s willful adolescence as successfully as Rick Nielsen. No one wants to hear, say, a Natalie Merchant song about unbridled ambition, drug-fueled narcissism and America’s collective lack of center. But this lives it, lyrically and musically – aural mise en scene.
34. “You Shook Me All Night Long,” AC/DC
I have a 1979 copy of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, which I’m guessing was the first iteration, and it’s hilarious, circumspect and vitriolic, dismissive of “Pet Sounds” and enamored of Yes and the Doors. Nothing is more venomous than its assessment of AC/DC, whom the fellas essentially call the world’s worst rock n roll band. Personally, I miss the self-righteous indignation of these Protectors of Rock. They clearly didn’t get AC/DC, but what passes for rock criticism these days is a three-star review and encouraging pat on the back. Thanks, MOJO!
33. “My Woman from Tokyo,” Deep Purple
Ian Gillan is an odd singer, a belter who often seems to be singing in a key a half-step beyond his range. I sometimes think it was a trait best put to use on “Jesus Christ Superstar,” his Jesus always sounding appropriately incredulous at the behavior around him. Listen to his refrain on “Everything’s All Right,” for instance. But this one was right in his wheelhouse, his finest Deep Purple moment. Plus, the Jon Lord-Richie Blackmore riff – cribbed from a Kinks song – is ferocious. Receives 10 bonus points for the inspiring the bridge on “Stonehenge.”
32. “Limelight,” Rush
Not many bands get a chance to grow while recording music for a major label; and I’m not talking about growing stylistically, or artistically, like, say, Ray Davies. I’m talking about being generally pretty shitty and ultimately getting really, really good. Then there’s Rush, who had the good fortune to immediately cobble together dirthead anthem “Working Man,” which kept fans buying their records even when they weren’t very good. But bit by bit, single by single, Rush evolved into something special by 1980’s “Moving Pictures.” This might be their best song, an astonishing hybrid of musical gymnastics and composition, by turns beautiful and rocking, with Alex Lifeson’s remarkable guitar solo – one of the greatest in all of rock – at the center.
31. “High Roller,” Cheap Trick
And now a few words about Tom Petersson, whose relentless search for the true bottom end prompted the creation of the 12-string bass, which was concocted by Hamer and made its debut on the peerless “Heaven Tonight.” I can’t pretend to know exactly what he’s playing on the opening to this track, No. 4 on Side 1, but whatever it is, it has more than four strings – and a percussive effect that seems tangible. That the rest of the song is a monster of strutting irony and “Lucy in the Sky” background vocals, well, it’s better than just Top 40 – you know it, I know it. Let’s just move on …
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