Awesome Classic Hard Rock Songs We Need to Retire (At Least for Awhile)

There are some songs that are so iconic that we can sing along to every recorded note, right down to the background vocals and guitar solos.  If not a sign of a genuine masterpiece, it’s unquestionably a quality of music so catchy that it boggles the mind.  It’s important to note that catchiness does not automatically equate to greatness, but all the songs here are both catchy and (arguably) great.  Just to be sure I’ve sufficiently stirred the pot; I’d like to point out the absence of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird”.  Undeniably catchy and singable by all the drunks at the pre-Nascar race tailgate party, “Freebird” is overly long, harmonically boring and severely overrated.

Now that we’ve gotten that business out of the way, here are a few of the great hard rock tracks that need to be shelved just long enough so that in a few years time, we can relearn to appreciate them and their once radical sounds.  I’m sure you’ll come up with dozens more on your own.

*Note – if I need to explain why I have not included links to the songs mentioned in this particular article, well…never mind.

 

  1. Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody

Why it’s great:

Arguably the greatest song on my list, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the apex of “A Night at the Opera” the greatest album by one of the greatest bands in rock and roll.  Freddie Mercury’s voice was a force to be reckoned with and he used that voice to its fullest potential here, both with the expressive solo singing he performs throughout the very long track, as well as the phenomenally (and infinitely) overdubbed backing vocals.  The mock-operatic aspects of the song aside, Brian May played his most memorable guitar solo ever on BR, and that’s saying a lot in regard to a guitarist whose career is full of memorable solos.  It is worth noting for the young ‘uns that “Bohemian Rhapsody” topped the charts twice, sixteen years apart, reaching number one (number 9 and later number 2 in the US) both in 1975 and 1991, thanks to its use in “Wayne’s World”.

Why it needs to be retired:

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is so good, it’s impossible to call it overrated, but it’s played on classic rock radio so often that we’ve generally become desensitized to how distinctive, original and remarkable it really is.  Nothing, even in Queen’s diverse and consistently excellent catalog even resembles this.  Give it some time to breathe and allow your ears to be shocked once again.

 

  1. Van Halen: Eruption

Why it’s great:

Van Halen’s “Eruption” comes from their 1978 debut album.  That first album had a mix that sounded like you were listening in on the world’s greatest dress rehearsal.  It was as if you heard Van Halen playing a concert that only lacked a screaming audience.  That same album is also approximately 400 times heavier than anything else in the band’s catalog (alas).  “Eruption” is only a “song” in that it is a track you can listen to, but in reality, it began as Eddie Van Halen’s warmup before his gigs.  It’s impressive for Eddie’s electric guitar virtuosity and for just how metallic it sounds without any additional instruments, with the exception of the drum hits in the first few seconds.  This song and this album introduced the world to “tapping” during solos and technique that was radically different from what had been heard by rock fans up until that point.

Why it needs to be retired:

“Eruption” needs time away from the rest of Van Halen’s radio staples, especially the ballad-drenched “Van Hagar” years.  To a degree, the same could be wished for Van Halen’s entire first album, which was an essential step in the evolution of early heavy metal.  Unfortunately, Van Halen drastically tamed down their distortion with their very next album release, “Van Halen II”, but the original “Van Halen” explodes with guitar fire, perhaps most of all on Eddie’s legendary (almost) solo track.  Let’s wait and reintroduce it as what it is: metal.

 

  1. Led Zeppelin: Stairway to Heaven

Why it’s great:

See nearly every single above comment about “Bohemian Rhapsody”. (Sigh…)  Seriously, it’s “Stairway to Heaven”.  You know why this is an awesome classic rock song.  This is one of the few hard rock songs valued for its lyrics as much as its musical strengths, which are legion.  Robert Plant’s proto-metal wailing and Jimmy Page’s adventurous (particularly for the time) guitar playing were at a high point on Zeppelin IV, which came out a year after the emergence of Black Sabbath.  It’s fair to assume that there must have been a feeling in the air that something very special was happening in the world of hard rock in the early seventies.  Iconic metal albums by Judas Priest, Rainbow and a host of other early metal bands were just off the horizon and drew inspiration heavily from Zeppelin IV and “Stairway”.  We’ll try to ignore for the moment that after the four number-titled Zeppelin albums, the quartet that helped to bring on the birth heavy metal swiftly abandoned it for the rest of the band’s career.

Why it needs to be retired:

“Stairway to Heaven” has been a punchline for years.  Wayne’s World (which I can’t believe I’m referencing twice in one article) even made fun of how often hack guitarists love to play the intro in their local Guitar Center with the amp cranked.  The song deserves better.

 

  1. Boston: More Than a Feeling

Why it’s great:

Boston’s eponymous debut album is still one of the biggest selling albums of all-time.  Period.  That’s not surprising since it’s full of hits and, honestly, doesn’t have a bad track on it from beginning to end.  “More Than a Feeling” is the song we listen to when we want to feel exhilarated.  When the world gets you down, you can make a pathetic attempt to match the late Brad Delp note for note as he does that falsetto/scream thing on the words “she slipped awayyyy-ayy-aaaaah”.  The singing is equally spectacular and hilarious.  Guitarist/producer Tom Scholz has now become almost as famous for his neurotic obsession over the mix as he is for his guitar playing.  This album showcases the results of his laborious attention to detail in ways that the two long-awaited follow ups did not.  The balance is fantastic and it’s one of the most effectively-produced hard rock albums ever.

Why it needs to be retired:

“More than a Feeling” is a victim of being overplayed, plain and simple.  While its constant radio playlist rotation is undoubtedly still making a lot of people absurdly rich, it’s too good a song to dismiss the advantage of reviving it to fresh ears after a nice little break from the airwaves.

 

  1. KISS: “Rock and Roll All Nite”

Why it’s great:

Believe it or not, before Gene Simmons was best known for his constant barrage of word vomit, he was the bassist/co-lead singer for the rock band KISS.  In the seventies, KISS pumped out a bunch of fun, catchy and occasionally heavy rock songs.  Although their biggest chart success was with the horrendously awful ballad, “Beth”, “Rock and Roll All Nite” has become the song most associated with the band (sorry, Peter Criss).  While it’s not exactly sophisticated, “Rock and Roll All Nite” is so much fun and so very catchy as to qualify for legitimate greatness.  The story of the production goes that everyone in sight was invited into the studio to shout-sing the famous chorus.  The effect is one of a party in the studio, and KISS realized quickly that the presence of their fans was as important to their performance as the music itself.  That’s probably why “Alive” and “Alive II”, both soaked in constant crowd noise, are easily the band’s best albums.  It’s just a part of the full experience.

Why it needs to be retired:

As I said, “Rock and Roll All Nite” is a great song, but that’s not because it is a masterful piece of music.  Hearing it too much is like overdosing on dessert.  It’s delicious, but after awhile, the shame will kick in.

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