One of the things I love to do when sitting around with friends is find out what their favourites are in various categories … favourite movie, favourite actor or actress, favourite flavour of ice cream, etc. It generally stimulates some debate and it’s interesting discovering people’s tastes.
I also like to ask them what they think is the best because they are not always the same. For instance, my favourite song (Layla, by Derek & the Dominoes) and the song I consider to be the best are not the same … although, I think Layla is one of the best!
In considering which is the best rock song of all time I think it’s important to take into account the core elements of a song … the melody, the lyrics, musicianship and the vocals. Let’s begin with the melody. (A brief qualifier here. Although I play the guitar and mandolin, I am not schooled in song writing, so I’m giving you the layperson’s version song structure.)
The best songs generally have great melodies (The Beatles’ Let It Be being a perfect example). Great melodies are memorable. They stay with you. They make you want to dance. I think it is through the melody that songwriter really connects with song lover.
The second element is the lyrics. The finest songs are well written. When I think of really good lyrics I think of Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen and Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan. Sometimes the best lyrics are simple, sometimes they stir emotion and sometimes they take you back places. Sometimes they are mysterious and quite often they tell a story.
The third element is musicianship. Great songs may have a captivating drum line (two excellent examples of this, are No Time, by The Guess Who and When The Levee Breaks, by Led Zeppelin), a wicked base line (how about Down On The Corner by CCR), a great chord progression (One by U2), a unique strumming pattern (A Horse With No Name by America), a great riff (too many to choose from, but how about Layla), a great intro (is there anything better than Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry), an awesome guitar solo (More Than a Feeling by Boston and Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd) and the use of non-standard instruments (the saxophone in Turn the Page by Bob Seger and the mandolin in Maggie May by Rod Stewart.)
The fourth element is the vocals. The best songs are sung by good, if not great, singers who give us a brilliant vocal performance (again, too numerous to mention, but how about Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, with Freddie Mercury on vocals … I swear, he could have sung this song acapella and it would have sounded just as good).
Q107, a Toronto, Canada, classic rock radio station regularly conducts a Top 500 songs of all time poll and over the years several songs have been voted the best, including Born to Run by Springsteen, A Day in the Life by The Beatles, Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, Hotel California by the Eagles and Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. (All of these songs contain many of the elements I listed above.) One song though has topped this list more often than the others and this song tops my list as the best rock song ever written … Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin.
Stairway to Heaven has a great melody, fantastic lyrics, terrific musicianship, including the best guitar solo ever, and an outstanding vocal performance by Robert Plant.
A point of note. In their most recent ranking of the 500 greatest songs of all time, Rolling Stone magazine didn’t even rank Stairway to Heaven in the top 30. Surprisingly, it was 31st. Makes you go, hmmmm!!!
In any event, in my humble opinion, the best rock song of all time is Stairway to Heaven … hands down!!!
What’s your choice for best song?
Have a heavenly awesome day!