Rock music has been, well, rocking audiences for a long time. Rock stars make magic with musical instruments and their voices and the combination never gets old. There is a genre of rock for just about everyone including alternative rock, rock ‘n roll, country rock, glam rock, folk rock, pop rock, hard rock, heavy metal and many more.
A lot of songs from these different rock genres were huge hits back when they were first released and they remain popular to this day. On this list are just some of the rock tunes still pumping up the party in 2021.
10 “Should I Stay or Should I Go” – The Clash
On March 9, 1991 English rock band The Clash scored their only U.K. Number 1 single with the catchy “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” The track was originally released in 1982 but gained renewed popularity after it was used in a Levi’s TV ad. The lyrics led some fans to believe that it was written by vocalist, Mick Jones, about his impending dismissal from the band. However, Jones denied this saying that it was just the band’s attempt at writing a classic.
The song has also been listed in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. More recently, it featured in the Netflix smash hit series: Stranger Things.
9 “Born to be Wild” – Steppenwolf
“Born to be Wild” is often credited with being the first heavy metal song and for the first use of the phrase “heavy metal thunder.” It became Steppenwolf’s most successful single and was used in the soundtrack of the 1969 film, Easy Rider. The song was initially meant to be a folk ballad but Steppenwolf increased the tempo and the iconic tune was born.
In 1994, Ozzy Osborne recorded a memorable duet of the song with Miss Piggy after which it was released on an album named Kermit Unpigged.
8 “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” – Guns N’ Roses
Featuring one of the most recognizable intros in rock music history, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” hit one billion views on YouTube in 2019, after averaging around 600,000 daily views. The song was released in June 1988 as the third single off Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction Album and it became their only number one US single.
During a warm up session, lead guitarist Slash was goofing off and played a ‘circus’ melody that soon inspired the rest of the band to come up with chords, a bassline and a beat. Lead singer Axl Rose was upstairs in his room at the time, listening to the band playing and he starting writing the lyrics to “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, completing the song by the next afternoon.
7 “Proud Mary” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
In 1967, two days after being released from active duty in the Army Reserve, John Fogerty bought a notebook and a pen. He wrote “Song Title” on the first page and week later he wrote the words “Proud Mary” next to it.
A few months passed and Fogerty started putting some chords and words together before he realized his song was about a river boat. “Proud Mary” sold a million copies in the US alone and reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The success of the single was followed up by the famous cover done by Ike and Tina Turner in 1971, which won a Grammy Award.
6 “You Shook Me All Night Long”- AC/DC
“You Shook Me All Night Long” is AC/DC’s first single with Brian Johnson as lead singer after the death of Bon Scott. There have been several claims over the years that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to the song. Scott’s late former girlfriend said during an interview that she knew for sure that the song was written in her flat in London in 1976 and the band’s booking agent Dough Thaler also said that the lyrics were written by Scott.
In 2020, AC/DC celebrated the 40th anniversary of their Back In Black album by sharing a rare performance video of “You Shook Me All Night Long” from their 1981 tour.
5 “Rock And Roll All Nite” – Kiss
“Rock And Roll All Nite” is said to have been inspired by the Slade song “Cum On Feel the Noize”. It was written by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons and introduced during a concert at Cobo Hall in Detroit in 1976. The song eventually replaced Kiss’ closing number “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll” for their ongoing tours. A live version of the song reached number 12 on the Billboard singles chart in 1976 and it was named the 16th greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1 in 2008.
Kiss also had the highest grossing hard rock tour at Madison Square Garden during 1996-1997 and were among the highest grossing touring bands in 2019 alongside Metallica and Fleetwood Mac.
4 “Love Bites” – Def Leppard
While some fans might debate whether “Love Bites” is rock or pop song, it is a hugely popular power ballad recorded by rock band Def Leppard and is their only number 1 single on the US Billboard Hot 100. Not your typical upbeat tune, but it remains a staple of party playlists worldwide and even wedding receptions.
“Love Bites” was originally a country song, but Def Leppard added their magic touch by introducing power rock elements and backing vocals. The song helped their album Hysteria reach over 12 million in sales in America alone.
3 “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
“I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll was first recorded by the Arrows in 1975 but became a hit after Joan Jett & The Blackhearts put their spin on it in 1982. The cover was a huge success and became the number 3 song of that year. It sold 2 million copies and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016.
Britney Spears also found success with a cover of the song recorded in 2002. It was used in her film, Crossroads and received many positive reviews, but of course none that could rival that of Joan Jett’s version.
2 “Purple Haze”- Jimi Hendrix
“When I die, I want people to just play my music, go wild and freak out, do anything they want to do.” – Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix was an extraordinary musician that left a lasting legacy even though his music career only spanned four years. He played his Fender Stratocaster upside down because he was left-handed and even played guitar with his teeth. He was self-taught, inspired by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and was discovered by Chas Chandler of The Animals. The rest is history.
One of Hendrix’s most popular songs is “Purple Haze” and it was ranked number 2 by Rolling Stone on a list of greatest guitar songs. “Purple Haze” was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Jimi Hendrix died on 18 September 1970 at the age of 27, and he will forever be remembered as described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”
1 “Radio Ga Ga”—Queen
Queen are one of the greatest success stories in the music industry. By the time the early 1980s rolled around, the band were one of the biggest stadium rock bands in the world. Their 1985 Live Aid performance went down as one of the greatest in rock history and Freddy Mercury will forever be remembered for his spectacular voice and stage presence.
Queen had a slew of fantastic songs, including “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “We Are The Champions”, and “Under Pressure.”
Queen performed another one of their hits, “Radio Ga Ga”, at every one of their concerts between 1984 and 1986 including the aforementioned Live Aid concert. The song was written as a commentary on how TV was overtaking the popularity of the radio and was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award in 1984.
In recent times, Lady Gaga credited her stage name to “Radio Ga Ga” saying that she loves Queen and their hit song made her love the name.
+ “Poison” – Alice Cooper
What is a party without a little glam rock thrown into the mix?
“Poison” by Alice Cooper was released in 1989 and became one of the singer’s biggest hits in the US, and an even bigger hit in the UK. The song was written by Cooper and Desmond Child who also wrote songs for Kiss, Bon Jovi and produced Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell III album.