As early as the early ’10s, but really gaining steam around 2018, classic rock made a loud, victorious return to rock radio. At the same time, the UK-led New Wave Of Classic Rock movement began to gather momentum.
It fit with – but outlasted – a trend that also saw the rebooting of classic TV sitcoms, the reissuing of toys popular in the ’80s and ’90s, and the resurgence of decades-old fashion.
Retail industries may have largely reset to the current era, but the new wave of classic rock – or the classic rock revival, or the new rock'n'roll, or whatever you want to call it – is still going strong. Read on for ten great songs that reintroduce a classic sound to modern rock fans.
Greta Van Fleet - Heat Above
In Heat Above, from the 2021 album Battle at Garden’s Gate, the band infamous for sounding too much like Led Zeppelin air some of their other classic rock influences, most notably those in the prog space. The save-the-worldism that was too sticky and blunt throughout their debut album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army (2018), is here polished into something glam, exultant, and deliciously over the top.
Their instrumentation will put you in mind of Rush, their presentation of Elton John, and their lyrics of The Guess Who on this years-in-the-making single that represents Greta Van Fleet at their best.
Dirty Honey - When I'm Gone
Dirty Honey were still unsigned when self-released single When I’m Gone hit number one on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart in 2019. The song, which has racked up over 13 million streams on Spotify, introduced rock radio to a band that sounds a lot like their musical heroes, Guns N’ Roses, with a dash of Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, and even Led Zeppelin.
While the vocal similarities between lead singer Marc Labelle and Axl Rose are unmissable, Dirty Honey retains the essence of their influences rather than ripping them off, resulting in original-feeling grooves like When I’m Gone.
The Struts - Could Have Been Me
Glam rock band The Struts burst onto the scene with Could Have Been Me in 2013, the first single from the following year's debut album, Everybody Wants. No one really paid much attention until the album was reissued in 2016, but it's by far their most popular song according to Spotify.
The single exemplifies ’80s stadium rock, influenced by such artists as The Darkness, Aerosmith, and Def Leppard, The Struts are most often paralleled to Queen – in look, in sound, and in showmanship. And it’s almost as easy to picture Freddie Mercury as lead singer Luke Spiller revving out the anthemic but wistful lyrics of Could Have Been Me.
Dorothy - Who Do You Love
It’s nothing new to compare Dorothy lead singer Dorothy Martin to Grace Slick, or the band to Jefferson Airplane at their most soundtrack-friendly. But, by turns, Dorothy also exudes hints of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Stevie Nicks.
2018’s 28 Days in the Valley is saturated in the alternately heavy and breezy sounds of ’60s and ’70s mainstream rock, the clearest example being Martin’s showcase Who Do You Love. The boldly soulful tune reflects both the psychedelic undertones and lyrical heart that made Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody to Love so iconic.
Rival Sons - Do Your Worst
Their biggest streaming hit Do Your Worst (from 2019’s Feral Roots) shows off the band’s electric but moody guitar work backing up a gospel-y story about Satan himself wooing a vulnerable soul. With a melody you’ll instantly latch onto and warmly belted vocals, Do Your Worst is the perfect example of Rival Sons’ bluesy, riff-heavy classic sound.
Larkin Poe - She's A Self-Made Man
From lyrical content to pulsing rhythm, Larkin Poe's blues-influenced She’s a Self Made Man recalls Zeppelin’s Good Times, Bad Times. A theme of aggressive independence-seeking, common to ’70s rock, is reinforced through a blazing slide guitar solo and powerful, echoing vocals.
As a celebration of autonomy, it’s backed up by the fact that multi-instrumentalist sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell self-produced the Self Made Man album (2020) and recorded it on their own label, Tricki-Woo Records. This single represents a culmination of the blues, gospel, and southern rock influences that make the Lovell sisters modern classics.
Goodbye June - Oh No
A Nashville, TN-based trio of cousins, Goodbye June deliver hard blues-rock that pays homage to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix among other classic rock legends. On the 2016 hit Oh No, singer Landon Milbourn’s voice walks the wire between blistering howls and soulful wails.
He has been compared to Bon Scott of AC/DC, and according to his own words is influenced by Paul McCartney and Leon Russell, but Milbourn’s incendiary voice is ultimately a beast all its own. Oh No reflects the band’s southern and blues-rock roots for a sound that brings the past roaring into the present.
White Reaper - Might Be Right
With a style that borrows from the likes of Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Lynyrd Skynyrd, White Reaper stand out primarily for their power-pop enthusiasm and classic guitar-rock ethos.
Might Be Right, from the LP You Deserve Love (2019), offers a peppy but layered guitar sound and hop-along rhythm that will take listeners back to the most optimistic days of ’70s-era rock.
Thunderpussy - Speed Queen
Naming Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, and Aerosmith among their many musical influences, the all-female band Thunderpussy counted Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready among their early fans.
Their single Speed Queen (2018), which appropriately chugs throughout before kicking up to a heart-attack tempo at the end, was written as a quasi-love story between singer Molly Sides and guitarist Whitney Petty. Its echoey, ethereal vocals and crashing instrumentation give the song the big-spectacle feel of ’80s rock classics.
Joyous Wolf - Mississippi Queen
Mississippi Queen, the only cover on this list, was first released in 1970 by Mountain. The original stands out for being raw and buzzy with an explosive vocal. In 2018, after extensive experimentation with their performances and production, singer Nick Reese, guitarist Blake Allard, bassist Greg Braccio, and drummer Robert Sodaro of Joyous Wolf released their version.
Their perfectionism paid off in a cover that honours the high energy and fun/sensual groove of the original while still distinguishing itself, thanks in large part to the deep, thundery vocal offered by Reese.