Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Rolling Stone Top 100 Greatest Guitar Songs Review

In Rolling Stone's June 12, 2008 issue they have an article titled "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time." I have a fondness for lists like this - here is a link to a post about Blender's top 100 indie rock albums and a link to a post about Blender's list of the top 500 songs in your lifetime.

In any list like this, there is subjectivity. However, this Rolling Stone list is so full of ridiculous biases and blatant misses that I threw the magazine down in anger. For I am quite qualified to comment on this topic, basically having spent my entire life listening to and / or playing these types of guitar songs.

I will briefly digress on Rolling Stone's sins:

- pretending that random, 60's blues guitarists and obscure people like Paul Butterfield belong on the list
- selecting songs based mostly on politics... for example they take the Jimi Hendrix song "Machine Gun" (over "Crosstown Traffic") solely because Jimi referenced some anti-war protesters in his introduction
- picking useless Rolling Stones favorites like Bruce Springsteen and pretending that they should get here just because they are politically correct (these are guitar songs, remember)
- just missing out on trends that need to be hit hard... classic rock in the 70's, heavy metal in the 80's and grunge in the 90's. Sure there were a few hits, but way too many misses

Below is a list of all the Top 100 songs (per Rolling Stone) and my categorization of these rankings on a scale of 0-4 as follows:

Rank Description
0 Way Off Not even close
1 Close, No Cigar No, but kind of close
2 Wrong Song right artist, wrong song
3 Alright We'll let it slide
4 Right On Agree 100%

My analysis is pretty straight-forward. If Rolling Stone put together the best list (in my opinion, but since it is our blog, my opinion is all that matters) then their score would be 4 (score) times 100 songs or 400. As it turns out, Rolling Stone batted very poorly... and less than an average of 2 (1.96 to be exact). Here is how it "broke down" (literally) - 27 right on, 15 that we'll let slide, 17 with the right artist, wrong song, 9 close, and 32 off by a MILE.

Rank Artist Song Score Description
1 Chuck Berry Johnny B Goode 0 Not even close
2 Jimi Hendrix Purple Haze 4 Agree 100%
3 Cream Crossroads 4 Agree 100%
4 Kinks You Really Got Me 3 We'll let it slide
5 Rolling Stones Brown Sugar 1 No, but kind of close
6 Van Halen Eruption 4 Agree 100%
7 Beatles While My Guitar Gently Weeps 2 right artist, wrong song
8 Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven 4 Agree 100%
9 Allman Brothers Statesboro Blues 1 No, but kind of close
10 Nirvana Smells Like Teen Spirit 4 Agree 100%
11 Led Zeppelin Whole Lotta' Love 4 Agree 100%
12 Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) 4 Agree 100%
13 Derek & The Dominos Layla 3 We'll let it slide
14 Bruce Springsteen Born To Run 0 Not even close
15 The Who My Generation 0 Not even close
16 Neil Young Cowgirl In the Sand 2 right artist, wrong song
17 Black Sabbath Black Sabbath 2 right artist, wrong song
18 Ramones Blitzkrieg Bop 3 We'll let it slide
19 Prince Purple Rain 2 right artist, wrong song
20 Impressions People Get Ready 0 Not even close
21 White Stripes Seven Nation Army 3 We'll let it slide
22 Beatles Hard Days Night 2 right artist, wrong song
23 Yardbirds Over Under Sideways Down 0 Not even close
24 Rage Against The Machine Killing In the Name 4 Agree 100%
25 Rolling Stones Can't You Hear Me Knockin' 3 We'll let it slide
26 B B King How Blue Can You Get 0 Not even close
27 Paul Butterfield Look Over Yonders Wall 0 Not even close
28 U2 Where The Streets Have No Name 4 Agree 100%
29 AC DC Back In Black 4 Agree 100%
30 Bill Haley Rock Around The Clock 0 Not even close
31 Queen Keep Yourself Alive 2 right artist, wrong song
32 Dire Straits Sultan Of Swing 3 We'll let it slide
33 Metallica Master Of Puppets 2 right artist, wrong song
34 Aerosmith Walk This Way 4 Agree 100%
35 Stooges 1969 0 Not even close
36 Pink Floyd Interstellar Overdrive 2 right artist, wrong song
37 Elvis Presley That's All Right 0 Not even close
38 The Faces Stay With Me 0 Not even close
39 Santana Black Magic Woman 4 Agree 100%
40 The Who I Can See For Miles 0 Not even close
41 Television Marquee Moon 0 Not even close
42 John Mayall Hideaway 0 Not even close
43 Sex Pistols Holiday In The Sun 3 We'll let it slide
44 Sleater Kinney Dig Me Out 0 Not even close
45 Beatles I Saw Her Standing There 0 Not even close
46 Dick Dale Miserlou 4 Agree 100%
47 Van Halen Panama 4 Agree 100%
48 Clash London Calling 4 Agree 100%
49 Jimi Hendrix Machine Gun 2 right artist, wrong song
50 Pixies Debaser 4 Agree 100%
51 Ozzy Osbourne Crazy Train 4 Agree 100%
52 Radiohead My Iron Lung 3 We'll let it slide
53 Creedence Born On The Bayou 2 right artist, wrong song
54 Stevie Ray Vaughan Little Wing 4 Agree 100%
55 Cream White Room 1 No, but kind of close
56 Byrds Eight Miles High 0 Not even close
57 Grateful Dead Dark Star 0 Not even close
58 Link Wray Rumble 0 Not even close
59 Jeff Beck Freeway Jam 0 Not even close
60 Funkadelic Maggot Brain 0 Not even close
61 Sam And Dave Soul Man 0 Not even close
62 Albert King Born Under A Bad Sign 0 Not even close
63 Guns N' Roses Sweet Child O' Mine 3 We'll let it slide
64 Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird 4 Agree 100%
65 Police Message In A Bottle 3 We'll let it slide
66 Stevie Ray Vaughan Texas Flood 2 right artist, wrong song
67 Bruce Springsteen Adam Raises A Cain 0 Not even close
68 B B King The Thrill Is Gone 0 Not even close
69 Pink Floyd Money 4 Agree 100%
70 Smashing Pumpkins Bullet With Butterfly Wings 3 We'll let it slide
71 The Strokes Take It Or Leave It 1 No, but kind of close
72 Weezer Say It Ain't So 2 right artist, wrong song
73 Blue Cheer Summertime Blues 1 No, but kind of close
74 Z Z Top La Grange 3 We'll let it slide
75 Frank Zappa Willie The Pimp 2 right artist, wrong song
76 Tom Petty American Girl 4 Agree 100%
77 Pearl Jam Even Flow 2 right artist, wrong song
78 Buddy Guy Stone Crazy 0 Not even close
79 Sonic Youth Silver Rocket 0 Not even close
80 Steely Dan Kid Charlemagne 4 Agree 100%
81 Michael Jackson Beat It 1 No, but kind of close
82 Ventures Walk, Don't Run 3 We'll let it slide
83 Sublime What I Got 4 Agree 100%
84 John Mayer Gravity 0 Not even close
85 Phish You Enjoy Myself 1 No, but kind of close
86 Jeff Beck I Ain't Superstitious 1 No, but kind of close
87 King Crimson Red 2 right artist, wrong song
88 Quicksilver Messenger Service Mona 0 Not even close
89 Joan Jett I Love Rock N' Roll 3 We'll let it slide
90 Smiths How Soon Is Now 4 Agree 100%
91 Mars Volta Drunkship Of Lanterns 2 right artist, wrong song
92 Mick Jagger Memo from Turner 0 Not even close
93 My Bloody Valentine Only Shallow 0 Not even close
94 Dire Straits Money For Nothing 1 No, but kind of close
95 Moby Grape Omaha 0 Not even close
96 Husker Du New Day Rising 4 Agree 100%
97 Queens of the Stone Age No One Knows 4 Agree 100%
98 Red Hot Chili Peppers Under The Bridge 4 Agree 100%
99 My Morning Jacket Run Thru 2 right artist, wrong song
100 Tool Vicarious 2 right artist, wrong song
How to fix it? Let's start with replacing the "Right Artist, Wrong Song" elements on the list.

RS Rank Artist Song Update
7 Beatles While My Guitar Gently Weeps Replace with Revolution… basically popularized fuzz
16 Neil Young Cowgirl In the Sand Ever Hear of "Hey Hey My My" (in Cobain's suicide note, no less)
17 Black Sabbath Black Sabbath Replace with Paranoid (invented the faster heavy metal riff)
19 Prince Purple Rain How about "Let's Go Crazy" with its riff and solo?
22 Beatles Hard Days Night Replace with Helter Skelter… Manson killed for it
31 Queen Keep Yourself Alive Killer Queen… but close
33 Metallica Master Of Puppets If you have room for one Metallica song it has to be "Whiplash"
36 Pink Floyd Interstellar Overdrive "Run Like Hell" - how can you not take it for that opening riff, alone
49 Jimi Hendrix Machine Gun "Crosstown Traffic" blows your speakers out
53 Creedence Born On The Bayou "Heard It Thru The Grapevine"… for the long stoner jam
66 Stevie Ray Vaughan Texas Flood "Love Struck Baby" basically put Stevie on the map
72 Weezer Say It Ain't So Good song.. But better is "Hash Pipe"
75 Frank Zappa Willie The Pimp I'll leave this for blog-mate Dan the Zappa fan
77 Pearl Jam Even Flow "Jeremy" basically defined the genre with the harmonics intro
87 King Crimson Red Need more whammy bar from Adrian Belew… how about "Thela Hun Gingeet"
91 Mars Volta Drunkship Of Lanterns Very close… but "Cicatriz esp" is even better
99 My Morning Jacket Run Thru Try "It Beats For U" even with its Prince-like spelling
100 Tool Vicarious Change to Parabola

These fixes make a big improvement on the list... but what about the rest of them? Here are 41 songs to replace the crappy ones I noted up above.

Artist Song Notes
Deep Purple Smoke On The Water This is hands down #1
Heart Barracuda Riff is immense
Days of the New Downtown Power acoustic
Motorhead Ace of Spades Can't beat it
Ted Nugent Cat Scratch Fever For Sure Top #10
Alice In Chains Man In the Box Helped invent grunge
Soundgarden Black Hole Sun Grunge classic
Helmet Unsung Power riff to end power riffs
Jay Z 99 Problems Power Rubin rap riff
Def Leppard Photograph Remember the 80's?
AC DC Whole Lotta Rosie Simple riff, power
Ten Years After I'd Love To Change the World An absolutely iconic riff
Motley Crue Kick Start My Heart That riff will wake you up
Thin Lizzy Boys Are Back in Town You can hear the dual guitar solo in your head
Rush 2112 Did they miss the 70's? Probably didn't like Peart's lyrics
Joe Satriani Surfing with the Alien All the "Satch" you need
Alice In Chains Dem' Bones Perfect quick power song
Scorpions The Zoo T.I. would be no where without this
B-52's Rock Lobster Now that's a funky riff
Violent Femmes Blister In the Sun Just think of that jangly open riff in your head
Bon Jovi Wanted Dead or Alive Remember the 80's?
Ratt Round and Round An iconic riff
Ozzy Osbourne Over the Mountain the Randy Rhodes solo is perfect
Foghat I Just Wanna Make Love To You blazing solo
Steppenwolf Magic Carpet Ride Invented "Heavy Metal Thunder"
Blue Oyster Cult Don't Fear the Reaper The first song you learn on guitar
Buckcherry Lit Up Can't believe that singer's alive
Elastica Connection One hit wonder but power riff
Blur Song 2 Right between the eyes
Judas Priest Breaking the Law One for Beavis and Butthead
Megadeth Peace Sells Top 10 riff
Muse Hysteria My life, my favorite riff
Outlaws Green Grass and High Tides Did you forget those solos?
Pat Travers Snortin' Whiskey Drinking Cocaine Insane riff, early Buckcherry 'tude
Silversun Pickups Well Thought Out Twinkies Reason this song dominated the video list
Stone Temple Pilots Sex Type Thing Put STP on the map
Tool Aenemia Crazy power riff
Van Halen Ain't Talkin' Bout Love Put VH on the map like Eruption
Yes Starship Trooper Crazy little jig fill… to boot
Emerson Lake & Palmer From the Beginning Admit it… sounds good
Boston More Than A Feeling Cobain "borrowed" this riff

Even I don't have enough energy and time on my hands to come up with this list ranked 1-100. However, here is my take on the top 10, in no particular order:

- Jimi Hendrix - Purple Haze (like a broken watch, even RS is right a couple times / day)
- Deep Purple - Smoke on the Water (CAN'T BELIEVE THAT RS MISSED THIS ONE... didn't they ever pick up a guitar?)
- Ted Nugent - Cat Scratch Fever (Also missed, even the Pantera cover version beats 1/2 their picks)
- Helmet - Unsung (a monster song, also missed)
- Ozzy Osbourne - Over the Mountain (also missed completely, that solo is mesmerizing)
- Heart - Barracuda (also missed, can't you hear that chunky riff in your head?)
- Blue Oyster Cult - Don't Fear the Reaper (I don't know what to say... absolutely iconic even with the cowbell)
- Van Halen - Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love (the hit that put them on the map with the guitar sound that revolutionized everything)
- Prince - Let's Go Crazy (for a pop artist he plays a hell of a guitar, and that middle solo is great, also missed completely)
- Alice In Chains - Man in the Box (that sound is as responsible for grunge as Kurt)

So... out of my top 10 (which I really don't think are that controversial, for the most part) - only 1 was also picked by RS.

All in all Blender is much better and takes more chances than RS... even when I disagree with Blender, I generally respect their choices.

Cross Posted at Chicago Boyz


Dan from Madison said...

Great post! I can't really put a Zappa song in there though, essentially the entire "Guitar" collection would be my first choice if I had to pick one. Funny you mentioned the Zap, I was just listening to Guitar a week ago.

Carl's Sox Tix said...

Great post! Much effort put in I know. How about Alive from Pearl Jam, some great duel guitar solos, especially in the live (highly played) version. Probably their best song. Glad you added you picks, including Rush, Soundgarden and the like.

Gerry from Valpo said...

Carl, your fingertips should be blistered from typing this one. Very well done.

There are way too many great tunes left off this list. RSM has it's head up it's ass as usual. But hey, Jann Wenner? Who knew?

Nothing from the Country & Western side or even Country Rock? Maybe I am still too bitter out here in my small town.

Conspicuously absent, anything from:

The Allman Brothers (Duane Allman or Dickie Betts)
Ten Years After (Alvin Lee)
Mountain (Leslie West)
Marshall Tucker band (Toy Caldwell)
Robin Trower (himself)

Just a few great guitar bands not included IMHO.

WAIT! What? No Skynyrd either?

Carl from Chicago said...

You know... I had ten years after on there right until the end. I took off the allman brothers out of spite to RS. They DID have Skynyrd on there with freebird.

I didn't have MTB but I did have the outlaws.

Am a big Robin Trower fan... did you know that their most popular singer died? The guy that sang on bridge of signs?

johnnyj said...

I am shocked that there isn't a Pavement song on this list.

-Just kidding...Great post, Carl. That's an impressive knowledge of music on your behalf!

...I like your top-10 WAAAAY better..

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I disagree, Johnny B. Goode invented the rock and roll guitar hero...
and it blended Elmore James, T-Bone Walker and the swing horn sections all together. It was a great step to go toward the future.
To put it simply , if nobody ever had invented the automobile we would have no Ferrari.
If Rock music began in the early Fifties Chuck Berry pretty much invented rock and roll guitar (with less important help from, among others, Bo Diddley, Scotty Moore, Cliff Gallup, Link Wray and Eddie Cochran ) so why not acknowledge him with that?
Sorry for my english but I'm not mothertongue....
Johnny Bye Bye

Anonymous said...

This could probably go on forever. How could this whole thing even be valid when Aqualung by Jethro Tull and Journey to the Center of the Mind by the Amboy Dukes are left off by RS and Chicago Boyz. Nothing by Jefferson Airplane? Has Les Dudek's City Magic become totally forgotten? I'm just getting started.

This whole thing makes me so angry that I just threw down my keyboard in anger (had to type the last sentence with my replacement keyboard).

Anonymous said...

... and I just noticed that no one thinks Sunshine of Your Love by Cream isn't a GREAT guitar song? Gotta be top 10. Great googly moogly! Wake up and smell the Fuzz Tone and Wah Wah, you dead beats!

I better calm down, I already ruined one keyboard.

One of my all-time favorite guitar songs is Sausalito Summer Nights, which got to 68 on the Billboard charts, by Diesel, a 70's band from Holland. Killer. Give it a listen. Definately on my top 100.

Gotta really agree with Gerry, not having an Alvin Lee, Leslie West or Robin Trower song is insulting the guitar gods.

Anonymous said...

Good choices there. I would add "Do You Feel Like We Do" from Frampton Comes Alive, since it was groundbreaking. And you could just about do a random pick from any of Robin Trower's first four albums and kill about half the list. A song from a Mick Jagger solo album? They have to be kidding.

monster paperbag said...

i was actually looking for lenny kravitz's "are you gonna go my way?".. oh well, it has a great riff but kinda sucks in its own way..

Anonymous said...

Ohhh so you say that Chuck Berry and BB King's songs are not even close to being great guitar tracks? You make me laugh

razorfistforce said...

Television's "Marquee Moon" most certainly belongs near the top 30 of this list. The sophistication of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd's playing (coming out of the '76-era CBGB's scene which saw the extreme opposite end of the spectrum in Ramones-"Blitzkrieg Bop") influenced countless indie, post-punk bands and is quite simply some of the most beautiful playing ever committed to tape. I hate these stupid lists.....

razorfistforce said...

How and the hell could they not have included one single Robin Trower tune??? The obvious candidate would be "Bridge Of Sighs" a track which despite being a spaced out, tonal workout, STILL managed to crack FM radio. Trower just continues to get overlooked despite a fan base which hasn't waned in 40 years. 40 songs on this list were flat out garbage (White Stripes, gimme a break) or Rolling Stone pandering to younger readers during an era where the guitar plays a vastly reduced role in commercial music. Lists just suck, especially when compiled by R. Stone!

razorfistforce said...

Also, VAN HALEN-"Eruption" is one of the most OVER-RATED pieces of guitar soloing ever. It is interesting that it received radio play as a solo, however, the techniques which Eddie Van Halen supposedly blew the rock world's minds with were NOT new. Anyone who's a student of the development of hard rock/heavy metal/and even jazz fusion guitar development from 1970 to 1978 can quickly recognize that Eddie wasn't even close to the first to use extensive tapping during a solo or highly distorted tremolo (whammy) workouts or speed picking. One only need listen to some of Al Di Meola's "Land Of The Midnight Sun" LP from '76 or the technical mastery of Zappa, Brian May, Tommy Bolin, and the VASTLY OVERLOOKED Canadian legend Kim Mitchell (of Max Webster) to recognize that Eddie Van Halen was NOT onto any truly "new" concepts or techniques with "Eruption" (other than taking the gamble that an audacious guitar solo would gain airplay and therefore influence capabilities). YES, "Eruption" does deserve to make the list for its role in introducing the masses of average 70's rock fans to techniques like tap-soloing, speed-picking, sweeps, etc. Certainly it made it easier for BETTER but lesser known (and often much younger) guitarists like Randy Rhodes, John Sykes, Bernie Torme, Vivian Campbell and of course, Yngwie Malmsteen (and other classic Swedish metal guitarists like Europe's John Norum, etc.) to gain attention as the 80's dawned. But in the end "Eruption" is just a big pile of Hendrix whammy bar assaults, Al Di Meola-esque (or if you prefer, for hard rockers, Michael Schenker and Uli Jon Roth-esque) speed picking, and extensive tapping which had been employed by countless others going back to Hendrix. It's a well written, composed, at times tonally interesting, and well-structured piece, however, in many ways it was just a collage of techniques which the average 70's rock fan hadn't yet heard in such a concentrated form, which made it (along with later visually compelling footage of Eddie performing it) seem FAR more cutting edge than it may truly have been. Much of "Eruption" SEEMS far more complex & technical than it really is with the proof being the eruption of 80's metal guitarists who could out shred "Eruption" with little effort. Should have been #50 at the absolute highest....

Carl from Chicago said...

Great comments!

Actually I am a big Robin Trower fan and played those albums to death. I thought that no one else liked Robin Trower. Day of the Eagle is one of my all time favorites but there are many others including Bridge of Sighs as mentioned.