The Top 5: Best/Worst Rock & Roll Songs of All-Time

By: Jason Colthorp
By: Jason Colthorp

Not your run-of-the-mill rock and roll countdown.


This is not another list of the 5 greatest rock songs of all time. REPEAT: This is not just another list of the greatest rock songs. This is a list of the best songs of all time, yes, but there are criteria that go with this one. Conversely, the five worst songs of all time aren't bad songs. Yes, I'll explain why "We Built This City" doesn't qualify.
But let's start with the best.
The best list can be boiled down to one question: If you were to be stranded on a desert island, what five songs would you take with you?
This sounds easy, but these are the only five songs you get, so you have to be able to listen to them forever without getting sick of them. Narrows the list down a bit, yeah?
5. "Cocaine" Eric Clapton (1977) 
Actually, a cover of the J.J. Cale song recorded in 1976. "Cocaine" was released as a single in 1980 and is widely recognized as one of Clapton's best. It's just one of the coolest songs ever. The lyrics are cool, the guitar lick is cool, and the live versions are even cooler. The only uncool thing is the fact Clapton won't play it anymore because he thinks it'll promote drug use. Weird, because I've never even thought about doing Coke and I love the song.

4. "Enter Sandman" Metallica (1991) 
Yeah, technically this is heavy metal but it's become so mainstream that it qualifies. Plus it's hard to ignore a song that I have never failed to crank the volume up to the max every single time I've heard it in the last 22 years. Interestingly, the band's greatest song (commercially anyway) is the one that probably put the most strain on it. James Hetfield, who usually wrote most of the music and the lyrics, had to write lyrics after the song was mostly arranged by Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich. Hammett came up with the riff and the rest came together fast. Hetfield thought it sounded too commercial so he wrote some ominous lyrics to offset it. But Ulrich told him he could do better and to try again. He did... and it was a huge hit. 

3. "Brown Sugar" The Rolling Stones (1971) 
The only thing you always wanted to know about this song: It was written by Mick Jagger with Marsha Hunt in mind-- Hunt was Jagger's secret girlfriend and mother of his first child Karis.

2. "Highway to Hell" AC/DC (1979) 
The ultimate rockin' out song. The highway to hell, by the way, was what Angus Young called the band's early touring schedule.

1. "Born To Run" Bruce Springsteen (1974) 
The beauty of this song is that you discover something new every time you listen. This song is the musical equivalent of a grand slam home run with two strikes, two-outs in the bottom of the 9th inning to win Game 7 of the World Series.  After two poor-selling albums, Springsteen was under the gun by record execs to produce a hit record or hit the bricks. It's basically a song about getting out of Freehold, NJ-- his hometown-- but his passion for perfection made it one-of-a-kind. The guitar track had to be laid down as many as 11 times and the band's arrangement was done and re-done many times over weeks in the studio before it was finally signed off on. And as good as this song is every single time, it's a whole new song live. The cut off the Live in New York City album is my favorite.
"Purple Haze" Jimi Hendrix
"Don't Stop Believing" Journey
"Baba O'Riley" The Who
"Rocket Man" Elton John
"Jailhouse Rock" Elvis Presley
"Comfortably Numb" Pink Floyd
"Tiny Dancer" Elton John
"Alive" Pearl Jam
"On the Dark Side" John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band
"Killing In the Name Of" Rage Against the Machine
Now to the worst.
This will sound strange, but to be considered one of the worst, the song still has to be great. But like the deserted island scenario, these songs make your ears bleed you've heard them so many times. For whatever reason, they just haven't held up over time. To qualify for this list, these songs must; at one time be considered a great song, and make you change the station immediately if you hear it come on the radio.

5. TIE: "You Shook Me All Night Long" AC/DC (1980) "Old Time Rock & Roll" Bob Seger (1979)
The only time you listen to these two songs in their entirety is at a wedding... and the fact you're grandma will dance to both explains why they're on this list. (Although the Tom Cruise "Risky Business" intermingling in the "Old Time" video is fun to watch knowing that was at one time considered modern on MTV.)

4. "Start Me Up" The Rolling Stones (1981) 
The moments before the start of countless sporting events in effect, killed this great Stones tune.

3. "Sweet Child O' Mine" Guns N' Roses (1988) 
The only #1 song for the LA rockers that was written in five minutes. When it's played though it feels like it goes on much longer than that. I think the fact that Slash has said on many occasions that he hates the song because of the annoying repetitious guitar riff says it all.

2. "Stairway To Heaven" Led Zeppelin (1971)
Remember when this song was #1 on all of those Rock countdowns for Greatest Rock & Roll Songs of All-Time? Probably had something to do with the fact it was the most requested song on FM radio in the U.S. in the 1970's.
For some reason, I can listen to lots of Led Zeppelin songs over and over, but not "Stairway." Somewhere along the line it got too mainstream and just played too much on the popular Classic Rock stations. (And yes, I feel treasonous for saying anything negative about Led Zeppelin which is probably the greatest rock band of all time.)

1. "Jump" Van Halen (1984) 
I don't feel bad putting my favorite band's signature song at the top of this list. I'm sure I'll get plenty of people arguing with me about many of these songs, but not this one. I think we can all agree that VH's only #1 song has not held up over time. Seriously, wouldn't you rather have the initials of your ex-wife's boyfriend tattooed on your forehead rather than listen to the synthesizer and the lyrics one more time?
REST OF THE WORST (In no particular order)
"Livin' On A Prayer" Bon Jovi
"Pour Some Sugar On Me" Def Leppard
"Bohemian Rhapsody" Queen
"Hotel California" Eagles
"Light My Fire" The Doors
"Crazy Train" Black Sabbath 
"Born In the U.S.A." Bruce Springsteen
"Sweet Emotion" Aerosmith
So there it is-- the best and worst of Rock & Roll. Did I forget anything? If you disagree with any of this please comment, and then I'm going to make you watch five hours of David Lee Roth videos.
Read More Blogs

You must be logged in to post comments.

Password (case sensitive):
Remember Me:
WILX 500 American Road Lansing, MI 48911 517-393-0110
Copyright © 2002-2016 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability
Gray Television, Inc.