The 20 Best Rock Songs of All-Time

Derek and the Dominos

By Alan Weeks, howiGit Music Writer & Geoff Roberts, howiGit Founder, Boston, MA

Geoff’s preliminary remarks: So here it is at long last, howiGit’s 20 Best Rock Songs of All-Time. After our success with The 20 Best Rap Songs of All-Time, this list was a given — especially considering our music writer’s Rock N’ Roll leanings. To touch on our process and criteria, I can assure you that this list was completed after countless hours of listening and deliberation. There are literally thousands of other amazing songs that did not make the list, and similarly thousands of incredibly influential songs (there’s no Elvis on the list) that also did not make the list. We took a broad interpretation of rock, as many of these songs pull from genres such as blues, jazz, and pop. There’s only room for 20 songs people, so before you argue with us ask yourself, “Is this really a top 20 song ever?” As Alan and I collaborated on the list, neither of us is 100% satisfied with the results– but this is pretty damn close and a great place to start anyone listening to rock music.

Alan’s preliminary remarks: Before we get into the list to end all other non-Rolling Stone, MTV, or VH1 lists, I want to say that as a law student, this has been the hardest thing I have had to do in the past month. While standing on the subway platform every afternoon I was thinking “Little Wing” by Stevie Ray, or “Little Wing” by Hendrix? Is “Space Oddity” by Bowie a better song than “The End” from the Doors, or do I just like it because I love the movie Mr. Deeds? G and I stayed up many a night discussing and at times arguing to the point that physical threats may or may not have been thrown around. We finally agreed on a list that we felt was the best ever. Not the best, but the best ever, and if you disagree, you are wrong. If you haven’t heard of a song on the list, do me a favor Ke-mo sah-bee, take the three minutes out of your mundane Ke$ha-listening existence and plug-in.

Without further adieu, The 20 Best Rock Songs of All-Time, in order…

1) Derrick and the Dominos — Layla

Now I know that we are going to get a lot of rabble rabble and “that is so trite” for this pick, but the truth is people, like it or not, this is the best Rock and Roll song of all-time. We are not talking about the MTV “Unplugged” version here. My boy EC (Eric Clapton for you haters) wrote this song of love and everlasting longing about Pattie Boyd, the then current wife of one of Clapton’s best friend’s, none other than the Beatles’ quiet guitarist, George Harrison. The two had a long flirtation-based relationship while she was still married. Clapton was told about an old Persian love story about a princess, “Layla,” who was to be married to someone other than the man she was madly in love with. This drove the left out party to madness, and later death in the desert — EC related. One fateful week in Miami, while recording the Dominos’ album, Rock N’ Roll history was made. Duane Allman of the very same Allman Brother Band sat in on “Layla” on slide during that amazing piano/guitar solo. The power of this song is what should drive all rock songs, madness, love, and benders in Miami. When Clapton finished the album, he called Pattie, went over to her house, and sat with her while all four sides of the LP played. Yeah, pretty awkward, she was terrified and rejected him. But she must have realized how much the song rocked at some point, because the two were later married. There is your number one people.

2) The Rolling Stones — Gimme Shelter

3) Led Zeppelin — Stairway to Heaven

4) Pink Floyd — Run Like Hell

5) The Beatles — Come Together

6) Jimi Hendrix — All Along The Watchtower

7) Bob Dylan — Like A Rolling Stone

8)Lynyrd Skynyrd — Free Bird

9) The Eagles — Hotel California

10) The Rolling Stones — You Can’t Always Get What You Want

11) The Velvet Underground — Rock N’ Roll

12) The Band — The Weight

13) Credence Clearwater Revival — Fortunate Son

14) The Who — Baba O’Reilly

15) The Allman Brothers — Midnight Rider

16) Queen — Bohemian Rhapsody

17) CREAM — Sunshine of Your Love

18) Pink Floyd — Comfortably Numb

19) Elton John — Rocketman

20) The Doors — Light My Fire

Honorable Mentions: Led Zeppelin — Over the Hills and Far Away, The Who — Emminence Front, The Mammas and the Pappas — California Dreaming

Other Songs Seriously Considered included: There were hundreds of songs considered, which we subsequently cut to a list of about 100, which was then cut to about 40 before the list was finalized. These songs included: Buffalo Springfield — For What It’s Worth, The Clash — Rock the Casbah, CCR — Born on the Bayou, Led Zeppelin — Tangerine, Pink Floyd — Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Pink Floyd — Wish You Were Here, Oasis — Wonderwall, Lynyrd Skynyrd — Sweet Home Alabama, The White Stripes — 7 Nation Army, Foo Fighters — Everlong, Nirvana — Come As You Are, Nirvana — Smells Like Teen Spirit, U2 — One, The Rolling Stones — Under My Thumb, David Bowie — Space Oddity, Rush — Tom Sawyer, The Beatles — Elinor Rigby, Bruce Springsteen — Born to Run, The Allman Brothers — Whipping Post

Now go make yourself a playlist.

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28 responses to “The 20 Best Rock Songs of All-Time

  1. Pingback: The 20 Best Rap Songs of All-Time | howiGit's Blog

  2. j-bone

    No Jefferson Starship?

  3. Alan Weeks

    I am just going to say that I am glad Pearl Jam didn’t make this list.

  4. Kevin Youkillis

    this a tough topic to list so i cant complain to much or critique too much, i would have changed the order a bit but i guess that’s gonna happen based on preference.. overall pretty good.
    But I am kinda surprised there was no mention of any Metallica, AC/DC, or Grateful dead anywhere though. not even in the seriously considered portion.

  5. Kevin Youkillis

    also.. its George Harrison, not George Hamilton.. that is an inexcusable mistake and you should be ashamed.

  6. Alan Weeks

    George Hamilton is this man

    Awesome flub

    • Kevin Youkillis

      Ha yes, i knew George Hamilton from Godfather III, but wikipedia just informed me he also starred in “Zorro, The Gay Blade”..which sounds like the best movie of all time.

  7. Teck

    Im shocked Katy Perry – Fire Works wasnt number one. But i suppose shes more pop than rock and roll.

    also i know someone who would be very upset that Bowie – Under Pressure didnt make it.

    personally Oasis would have made my top 20 as well

  8. A. Rab Money

    Great list. Hard to argue against any of the songs in there. I was surprised that Nirvana did not make it though, but its still a fair top 20. None of them do not deserve to be there, I just think it comes down to personal preference for certain songs over others. Great job guys.

  9. Williams

    stairway to heaven should be 1

  10. defiantlll

    Radiohead’s Paranoid Android should be on this list. One of the best rock songs ever written.

  11. Shmi

    Good list. Subjectively, I might change the order but all these songs deserve a place on the list. One nitpick though: Hendrix has songs that are as good, if not better than Watchtower (Purple Haze, Foxy Lady), that were actually written by him.

    • A Shmi appearance! Phenominal! Happy to hear you liked the list, and your feedback about Hendrix was echoed by many. I know he didn’t write Watchtower, but I do think he made it rock.

    • j-bone


  12. Pingback: The 20 Best Rock Songs of All-Time | U.S. Justice Talk

  13. What? No Journey? Ha ha, Journey is an all time great!!!

    Another of my favorites is the Semitone Band

    give them a listen!

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