Top 100 Classic Rock Songs

Jeff O'Kelley
Classic rockers Aerosmith in concert

As the 1950s passed and the world slowly began to heal from the deafening noise of war and upheaval, the late 1960s hippie generation responded by turning up the volume and making noise on its own terms. While older generations called this new sound evil, the youth called it something else: Hard and heavy rock 'n roll. These are some of the best songs to come from the classic rock era.

The 100 Greatest Classic Rock Tunes

Classic rock is the style of rock that filled the airwaves between the late 1960s and late 1980s. This list, arranged in alphabetical order, features 100 larger-than-life classic rock songs that achieved phenomenal success and shook up popular music for generations to follow.

Song Title Artist Notes
1. Ace of Spades Motorhead In the 2005 March issue of Q Magazine, this hard rock hit was ranked 27th in its list of the Top 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks of All Time. In 1980 it peaked at number 15 on the U.K. charts.
2. After Midnight Eric Clapton According to Clapton: The Autobiography by Eric Clapton, he discovered the song After Midnight from a penniless, struggling musician named J.J. Cale. When the song hit number 18 on the U.S. charts, it kick started Clapton's legendary solo career and brought Cale some much-needed income.
3. All Along The Watchtower Jimi Hendrix This classic Vietnam-era anthem from Hendrix earned a number 47 ranking on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
4. American Woman The Guess Who This scathing commentary on the American attitude toward war, sung by a Canadian band, found a place in history when it hit number one on the U.S. charts and 19 on the UK charts in 1970.
5. Another One Bites The Dust Queen Queen's 1980 smash-hit single Another One Bites the Dust reached the top of the charts in the U.S. and number 7 in the U.K. It was nominated for a Grammy award in 1981.
6. Aqualung Jethro Tull This song helped Jethro Tull's progressive masterpiece album Aqualung sell over three million copies.
7. Barracuda Heart The signature song for the hard rock act, Barracuda became Heart's second top 20 song when it hit number 11 on U.S. charts.
8. Beast of Burden The Rolling Stones This 1978 release reached number 8 on US charts and ranked in 443rd place on Rolling Stone's Top 500 list. According to Rolling Stone, Mick Jagger tried singing the song in falsetto before recording the final take in his normal range.
9. Black Magic Woman Carlos Santana This song reached number 4 on the U.S. charts in 1970 and became the signature classic for legendary Latino rock guitarist and songwriter Carlos Santana.
10. Bohemian Rhapsody Queen This song's appearance at number 166 on the list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time confirms its influence over popular culture, which offered such famous tributes as the scene in the 1990s hit film Wayne's World.
11. Born to Run Bruce Springsteen Born to Run is one of the greatest songs of all time in any genre with appearances on several "all time" lists, including Rolling Stone's list at number 21, as well as the unranked list of the Songs that Shaped Rock 'n Roll at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.
12. Break on Through The Doors According to the book The Doors FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Kings of Acid Rock by Rich Weidman, Break on Through, although it didn't peak very high on the charts, would go on to become the signature song of one of the most legendary rock bands in history.
13. Brown Sugar The Rolling Stones Ranked at number 495 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs list, Brown Sugar tackled complex racial issues while maintaining the irresistible hard rock energy that made The Rolling Stones famous.
14. Changes David Bowie Bowie's jaw-dropping career got a boost in the early days when his song Changes became a huge hit. The song would eventually be ranked as one of the greatest songs of all time in any genre.
15. Come Together Aerosmith This cover of the famous Beatles' song strengthened Aerosmith's popularity in classic rock's prime years when it peaked at number 23 on the 1978 U.S. charts.
16. Comfortably Numb Pink Floyd This perennial Pink Floyd song was one of the featured tracks from their masterpiece The Wall. Thanks in part to Comfortably Numb, the album would go on to eventually sell well over 23 million units.
17. Crazy Train Ozzy Osbourne Osbourne's first solo hit after he left Black Sabbath, Crazy Train peaked at number 9 on the U.S. rock charts and opened up the door for his successful solo career.
18. Detroit Rock City KISS This iconic KISS song, though it just fell short of cracking the top 40 charts, became a cult favorite among rock fans and inspired a Hollywood film of the same name.
19. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap AC/DC This AC/DC staple reached number 3 on the 1980 rock charts and number 47 in the U.K. helping put AC/DC on the map in rock stardom.
20. Don't Fear The Reaper Blue Oyster Cult The song famous for its haunting lyrics and distinct cowbell, Don't Fear the Reaper ranked at number 405 on Rolling Stone's Greatest Songs list.
21. Don't Stop Believin' Journey Journey's world-famous power rock anthem sold over five million copies.
22. Dream On Aerosmith Dream On brought Aerosmith to the forefront of rock music in the 1970s, the prime years of classic rock. It made the top 10 on the charts in 1976, even though guitarist Joe Perry wasn't a big fan of the song in the beginning.
23. Drive The Cars The Cars hit the rock scene in 1978, but it took six years for them to rise to the pinnacle of their career when Drive zoomed into the number 3 spot on the charts.
24. Dust In The Wind Kansas Their only top 10 hit, Dust in the Wind became an American rock classic that has found its way into every corner of popular culture from movies and television to video games and cover versions by other bands.
25. Eight Miles High The Byrds According to the book Die at the Right Time!: A Subjective Cultural History of the American Sixties by Eric Luft, Eight Miles High was the first psychedelic rock song, and it spawned the genre in the 1960s.
26. Enter Sandman Metallica The highest charting single from Metallica's iconic self-titled album, Enter Sandman has become one of the most famous rock songs of all time. It helped the album sell an astonishing 16 million copies.
27. Faithfully Journey Written by Journey's keyboardist for his then-wife to express his devotion to her while facing the temptations of being a touring rock star, the song peaked at number 12 on the charts and became a Journey staple.
28. For Those About to Rock (We
Salute You)
AC/DC This 1981 release peaked at number 4 on the US charts and number 15 in the UK, which signaled AC/DC's growing worldwide prominence.
29. Fortunate Son Creedence Clearwater Revival With a coveted high ranking in Rolling Stone's all-time greats list, Fortunate Son used CCR's perfectly crafted roots rock to blast the power elite who kept themselves out of the fray of the Vietnam War while less fortunate people were thrust into the fighting.
30. Free Bird Lynyrd Skynyrd This Skynyrd classic, according to the book 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die by Tom Moon, became famous for its live performance, which often lasted nine minutes long and became one of the first examples of the live jam song.
31. Free Fallin' Tom Petty One of Tom Petty's most beloved songs from the latter end of the classic rock spectrum, this song became his signature anthem as it conquered the charts in '89.
32. Gimme Shelter The Rolling Stones Pitchfork ranked this apocalyptic-themed classic by The Rolling Stones at number 12 on their list for the Top 200 songs of the 1960s.
33. God Only Knows The Beach Boys This 1966 masterpiece from The Beach Boys not only landed the number 25 spot on Rolling Stone's list, it is credited for having influenced one of the greatest bands in music history: The Beatles.
34. Good Vibrations The Beach Boys Transforming the classic rock genre with Brian Wilson's experimentation with unusual instruments, this song was quickly recognized as a masterpiece and would be considered one of the greatest of all time.
35. Have You Ever Seen The Rain Creedence Clearwater Revival This CCR 1971 hit peaked at number 8 on the US charts and became well known for its documenting of the departure of Tom Fogerty from the band. The song's remarkable bittersweetness has left a lasting impression on generations to follow, spawning dozens of covers.
36. Heart of Gold Neil Young With the help of James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals, Neil Young created a classic folk rock masterpiece with Heart of Gold, his only number 1 hit.
37. Heartbreaker Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin defined classic rock in the 1970s with songs like Heartbreaker which featured one of the most famous guitar riffs of the genre, as famous producer Rick Rubin observed in the 2011 January print issue of Rolling Stone.
38. Hello, I Love You The Doors The biggest hit for this legendary rock band, it reached number 1 on Billboard's Top 200.
39. Heroes David Bowie Ranked number 46 in the All Time Greatest Songs list from Rolling Stone, Heroes became Bowie's signature song. It tells the story of two lovers rendezvousing at the Berlin Wall beneath a guard tower.
40. Hey Jude The Beatles Hey Jude spent 9 weeks at number 1 on US charts and sold five million units by the end of 1968. Paul McCartney wrote the song for Julian Lennon, John's son, to comfort the boy as he dealt with his parents' divorce.
41. Hotel California The Eagles This classic song won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1977.
42. I Can See For Miles The Who I Can See For Miles became The Who's most commercially successful song when it charted in the top ten in the US.
43. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction The Rolling Stones This 1965 hit from The Rolling Stones peaked at number 1 on the US and UK charts, and Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as the number 2 greatest song of all time.
44. I Wanna Be Sedated The Ramones According to The Ramones: American Punk Band by Brian Bowe, this 1979 song was the signature track of a band whose sound would influence a variety of musicians, from Bono of U2 to the punk bands that would follow in later decades.
45. I Want You To Want Me Cheap Trick This song, one of the great mixes of pop and classic rock, would find heavy airplay in the late 1970s and early 1980s and would peak at number 7 on the US charts and number 29 in the UK.
46. I've Seen All Good People Yes Yes, one of the great progressive rock bands of the classic rock era, saw their song I've Seen All Good People: Your Move make it into the top 40 in the US in 1971, a difficult feat for any progressive rock band who dabbles in complex musicianship and experimentation.
47. Iron Man Black Sabbath Ozzy Osbourne's original band Black Sabbath would achieve some commercial success with Iron Man, but its true legacy would be its influence on future musical styles such as the low, grinding sludge rock of grunge. Rolling Stone ranked the song at number 317 on its Top 500 Greatest Songs list .
48. I Want to Know What Love Is Foreigner This song by Foreigner became one of many top 20 hits in this band's legendary career, reaching number 1 in 1984. It has been covered by icons such as Mariah Carey.
49. Jump Van Halen Possibly the archetype of the classic hair metal song of the 1980s and Van Halen's biggest hit, Jump has become a classic rock staple.
50. Kashmir Led Zeppelin Regarded as Zeppelin's most ambitious musical experiment, this legendary song matched Stairway to Heaven in its epic length and genre-defining success.
51. Knockin' On Heaven's Door Bob Dylan One of many classic Dylan mid-tempo musings, this song, released on the soundtrack for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, was the biggest hit to come from a Western in 21 years.
52. Layla Derek & the Dominoes This song, known for one of the most famous opening guitar riffs in popular music history, put Eric Clapton and his short-lived backing band on the map and helped Clapton establish his solo career in later years. The song would also eventually be regarded as one of the greatest of all time.
53. Legs ZZ Top This classic rock group struck gold when their sexy song Legs strutted across four different charts, including number 3 on the US rock charts in 1984.
54. Life's Been Good Joe Walsh Walsh's catchy, self-reflective song charmed the rock world in 1978. The 1979 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide pointed out that Walsh's song was the most significant statement made in the 1970s about the life of a rock star.
55. Light My Fire The Doors This epic rock hit instantly transformed The Doors into household name rock stars, and it became their second biggest hit at number 1 on the US charts and number 49 in the UK.
56. Like A Rolling Stone Bob Dylan Like A Rolling Stone is the perennial rock 'n roll song and according to Rolling Stone magazine it is the number 1 greatest song of all time of any genre in the history of Western popular music.
57. Maggie May Rod Stewart This Rod Stewart song became the first single to reach number 1 on the US and UK charts simultaneously.
58. Midnight Rider Allman Brothers The Allman Brothers found their place in the classic rock pantheon when the song Midnight Rider became a fan favorite in live settings and was considered to be a classic rock masterpiece.
59. More Than A Feeling Boston This 1980s classic rock power ballad helped add an iconic shine to Boston's career when the song hit number 5 on the US charts.
60. No One Like You Scorpions The chart-topping No One Like You captured the heavier classic rock sound of this world famous German rock group.
61. Ohio Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young This heart-wrenching song was written in response to the Kent State University tragedy when the National Guard shot and killed four student protesters. The song would go on to become one of the greatest of all time.
62. Paint It Black The Rolling Stones This rock monster became known for featuring unusual world instruments such as a sitar and was featured in Q Magazine's top 50 great songs of Britain list.
63. Paranoid Black Sabbath This dark iconic rock anthem was reportedly recorded in only 15 minutes, but it received heavy airplay and landed on a variety of top pick lists.
64. Piece Of My Heart Big Brother & the Holding Company (Janis Joplin) Janis Joplin took the world by storm with this song when it topped the charts in '68 and introduced audiences to Joplin's way of screaming the blues out of her songs, according to The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll in 1980.
65. Pinball Wizard The Who Featured in the mega-hit musical Tommy, Pinball Wizard would find great commercial success, helping the concept album peak at number 4 on the Billboard charts.
66. Proud Mary Creedence Clearwater Revival Ranked number 155 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 list, this signature CCR tune lasted 14 weeks on the charts, peaking at number 2. John Fogerty wrote the song after being discharged from the military during the Vietnam War.
67. Purple Haze Jimi Hendrix Hendrix's classic song ranked number 17 on Rolling Stone's list of the top songs of all time and single-handedly launched '60's psychedelic rock.
68. Ramblin' Man The Allman Brothers Band The Allman Brothers Band's most successful song, it hit number 2 on the US charts and confirmed their status as an iconic band of the 1970s.
69. Refugee Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers The enduring genius of Tom Petty first got the world's attention with his hit song Refugee. The track helped his landmark album Damn the Torpedoes become one of the great albums of the classic rock era.
70. Rhiannon Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac's Rhiannon performed well on the charts and became the signature song for female songwriter and vocalist Stevie Nicks.
71. Rock and Roll Led Zeppelin The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame ranked this Zep classic as one of the most influential songs in rock history.
72. Rock You Like A Hurricane Scorpions One of the most famous top 40 hits from Scorpions, this song captured their classic 1980s head-banging sound.
73. Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time) Elton John One of Elton John's most successful and enduring songs, it soared into the Top 10 on the charts in 1972 and helped his first Greatest Hits album peak at number one on the Billboard Top 200.
74. Roxanne The Police Sting got the idea for this lyric when he was wandering around the red-light district of Paris after a canceled show, wondering what it would be like to fall in love with a prostitute. Rolling Stone ranked the song among the greatest of all time.
75. Stairway to Heaven Led Zeppelin According to Dave Lewis's book The Complete Guide to the Music of Led Zeppelin, this hallmark Zeppelin song was the most requested track on FM radio stations in the 1970s even though it was never formally released as a single. The song is the band's most famous work.
76. Start Me Up The Rolling Stones One of The Rolling Stones' best chart performers, Start Me Up reached number 1 on US rock, number 2 on US pop, and number 7 on UK charts.
77. Strawberry Fields Forever The Beatles Considered to be one of the greatest songs in history, John Lennon felt it was his best work with The Beatles. The song tells the story of Lennon's childhood memories with a sweet, dream-like nostalgia.
78. Surrender Cheap Trick This song became massively popular among teens in the 1980s and was included in the hit teenage movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High in 1983.
79. Sweet Child O' Mine Guns n' Roses Though released on the latter end of the classic rock spectrum, this acclaimed and beloved song has become a staple on classic rock stations. Its legendary guitar work by Slash was voted the Greatest Guitar Riff in History in a BBC poll.
80. Sweet Emotion Aerosmith Aerosmith's first major hit breached the top 40 on the US charts at number 36 in 1975. The song includes oddities such as a bass marimba and guitarist Joe Perry singing the song's title into a voice-box instrument.
81. Sweet Home Alabama Lynyrd Skynyrd This epic Southern rock masterpiece is considered not only the ambassador for all Southern classic rock, but the unofficial anthem of Alabama.
82. Sympathy For The Devil The Rolling Stones Featuring lyrics with complex social and geopolitical issues more reminiscent of folk than hard rock, this song has become a legend and has earned a place near the top of Rolling Stone's Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list at number 32.
83. Tangled Up In Blue Bob Dylan A feature song from Dylan's Blood On the Tracks album, it reached number 31 on the US charts, number 51 in the UK, and Rolling Stone placed it at number 68 on its Top 500 Greatest Songs list.
84. The Boys Are Back In Town Thin Lizzy Thin Lizzy's classic song rose to fame in '76 when it breached the Top 20 in the US and UK charts.
85. The House Of The Rising Sun Animals This famous anthem by The Animals helped their 1964 debut album peak at number 7 on Billboard's Top 200 chart.
86. The Weight The Band One of the great songs of all time -- ranked number 42 on Rolling Stone's list -- The Weight transformed The Band from simply being Bob Dylan's backing group and gave the musicians a legendary name of their own.
87. Thunder Road Bruce Springsteen The opening track on Springsteen's legendary Born to Run album, Thunder Road was voted the best song of all time by WXPN radio and named the third best song of 1975 by Acclaimed Music.
88. Ticket To Ride The Beatles Regarded as one of the finest songs in history, Ticket to Ride was, according to John Lennon, the first heavy metal song.
89. Tiny Dancer Elton John This legendary song was written about a wife of one of Elton John's bandmates. Q Magazine ranked the song among its 1001 Songs You Must Own list.
90. Tom Sawyer Rush With high rankings on three different charts, this 1981 hit defined the legendary sound of the 1980s power group Rush.
91. Touch of Grey The Grateful Dead Although too experimental for commercial success for much of its existence, The Grateful Dead hit it big with this 1987 hit that peaked number 1 on the US rock charts, number 9 on the US pop charts, and number 15 on the US Adult Contemporary charts.
92. Tumbling Dice The Rolling Stones According to Rolling Stone magazine, this song was originally titled Good Time Woman, but was then released as Tumbling Dice and remained on the charts for 10 weeks, peaking at number 7. Rolling Stone ranked it at number 433 on its Top 500 list.
93. Under Pressure Queen (feat. David Bowie) Queen's collaboration with David Bowie produced the classic song Under Pressure, which would be the only collaboration between the two artists -- though it would go on to later fame after becoming the prominent sample on Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby.
94. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) Jimi Hendrix This Hendrix classic 1970 hit has made over a dozen "greatest songs of all time" lists since its release four decades ago.
95. Walk This Way Aerosmith Aerosmith's fourth major hit to breach the top 40 on the US charts peaked at number 10. The song was later revived in the 1980s when the rap group Run DMC covered it and collaborated with Aerosmith on the cross-genre rendition. The new version became an instant hit, peaking at number 4 on the US charts.
96. Wheel In The Sky Journey Although Journey is best known for its 1980s power ballads, it got its foot in the door in the heyday of 1970s classic rock with this song, which made the charts and helped their debut album Infinity sell over three million copies.
97. White Room Cream This song tells the tale of a band member having a bad trip while doing drugs in a white room. The terrible experience motivated him to quit drugs. The song, however, soared to great heights and become one of the most legendary songs of any genre.
98. Whole Lotta Love Led Zeppelin Although Zeppelin's experimental rock kept them off of US charts compared to other bands, their hit song Whole Lotta Love peaked at number 4 on the charts and proved that even their pop-centered songs were some of the best classic rock songs in history.
99. Wonderful Tonight Eric Clapton Ranked by TIME Magazine as one of the Top 10 Overplayed Wedding Songs, the famous Clapton ballad written about his then-girlfriend Pattie Boyd has had an enduring influence on popular culture. Although TIME wrote the list with a negatively worded title, the song's inclusion confirmed its place as one of the greatest love ballads of all time.
100. You Really Got Me The Kinks This rip-roaring hard rock song was intentionally recorded to sound as gritty as possible. The guitarist's speakers were even cut with a razor to increase their raw sound. The song would go on to sell over a million copies, and it would have a heavy influence on the metal bands that would follow in the 1980s.

Timeless Music

Classic rock, by definition, transcends all decades and musical trends. The songs that become classics did not chase after the passing pop fads of their eras. Classic songs, when they are released, are sometimes considered experimental, weird and perhaps a little too unsafe for those comfortable in the mainstream. A timeless song sounds a little out of place in its era. But as the decades pass, the song grows in its brightness until everyone -- not just the song's original fans -- can't help but pause to enjoy the tune when it comes on the radio.

Was this page useful?
Related & Popular
Top 100 Classic Rock Songs