Pop quiz: which songs have AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses and Queen played live the most? It’s got to be Whole Lotta Rosie, Welcome To The Jungle and Bohemian Rhapsody, right? Actually, no - two of those three are wrong (no spoilers here, you’ll have to carry on reading to find out which ones). We decided to trawl through essential setlist website Setlist.fm to find out exactly which songs 25 of rock’s biggest bands and artists– living and dead – have played live, and there are some big surprises in there.
Most played song: The Jack
Right out of the gates we have a surprise –this slice of prime, Bon Scott-era sleaze beats Whole Lotta Rosie into second place by a wide margin. As with many songs on this list, seniority counts in its favour - The Jack made its live debut on January 1975, two years before …Rosie. A handful of original AC/DC songs pre-date The Jack in their live sets, including Rock ’N’ Roll Singer, Can I Sit Next To You Girl and semi-obscurity Soul Stripper, but none have been played nearly as often.
Most played song: Walk This Way
This is much more like it – Aerosmith’s most famous song is the one they’ve played most. In fact, ’Smiths fans could probably pick the top three blindfolded: Dream On is at number two and Sweet Emotion at three.
Most played song: Twist And Shout
The Beatles’ career as a live band last just six years, give or take the odd rooftop performance, but they managed to fit in a staggering 1400-plus gigs during that time, often playing two shows a day in their early years. The song they played the most was their version of The Isley Brothers’ Twist And Shout (originally performed by The Top Notes). In fact the three songs they played most are all covers, with Long Tall Sally and Roll Over Beethoven at numbers two and three respectively (the first original song is She Loves You at four).
Most played song: Paranoid
It had to be Paranoid, albeit narrowly trouncing Iron Man and War Pigs as the most-played Black Sabbath song after making its first live appearance in March 1970 during a show at the long-gone Temple Club in London. Fittingly, it was also the final song the Sabbath played during their farewell show, which took place in their hometown of Birmingham in February 2017.
Most played song: Fame
This one was harder to predict, given the sheer volume of top tier songs Bowie released. He actually debuted Young Americans single Fame on a handful of TV shows in late 1975 – including Cher’s TV show and Soul Train – before unveiling it onstage the early the following year. It was in the set at his last full gig, at Germany’s Hurricane festival in June 2004.
Most played song: Rock Of Ages
1983’s Pyromania album holds the top two spots in terms of the songs Def Leppard have played live more than any others, with Rock Of Ages followed by Photograph. Hysteria tracks Pour Some Sugar On Me and Animal follow at numbers three and four respectively, with only Bringin’ On The Heartbreak (from 1981’s High ’N’ Dry) breaking the Pyromania/Hysteria monopoly in the top 10.
Most played song: Light My Fire
People sometimes forget that The Doors didn’t end with Jim Morrison’s death in 1971 – they limped on for another two years and two albums with keyboard player Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger sharing vocal duties, and reunited in 2002 as The Doors Of The 21st Century with The Cult’s Ian Astbury on vocals. But even taking that into account, Light My Fire remains the song they played live the most by a long chalk, well ahead of their cover of Willie Dixon’s Back Door Man.
Most played song: Take It Easy
Spoiler alert: Hotel California isn’t even in second place –1973’s Desperado pushes the Eagles’ most renowned song into third place. Instead it’s their Glen Frey/Jackson Brown-penned debut single which takes the top spot, having been played around 1200 times over the last 51 years.
Most played song: Rhiannon
1977’s inescapable Rumours is home to the majority of the Top 10 songs Fleetwood Mac have played live, though the top two are both from its self-titled 1975 predecessor: namely Stevie Nicks’ witchy anthem Rhiannon and, more surprisingly, plaintive acoustic ballad Landslide. Rumours number Go Your Own Way is third, with the Peter Green era represented by Oh Well in ninth place.
Guns N’ Roses
Most played song: Welcome To The Jungle
No surprise here either – Appetite For Destruction’s opening track was the song that introduced GN’R to the world. The fact that they’ve played Mr Brownstone (in second place) more than either Paradise City (in third) or Sweet Child O’ Mine (fourth) is more unexpected.
Most played song: Purple Haze
In the spirit of transparency, we’ve taken into account the different bands the guitarist led, including The Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Band Of Gypsys, as well as a handful of times he played under his own name. Even then, Purple Haze still comes out on top, beating Foxy Lady into second place.
Most played song: Iron Maiden
A no-brainer. The song that gave the band its name (or vice versa) has been played more than 2500 times since it was first unveiled at London boozer The Cart And Horses way back in August 19, 1976. Forty seven years later, it’s still in their setlist.
Most played song: Breaking The Law
Another obvious one, even though Judas Priest’s biggest UK singler didn’t appear until their sixth album, British Steel. The oldest Priest track to make their Top 10 most played songs is Victim Of Changes from 1976’s Sad Wings Of Destiny; the most recent is 1990’s Painkiller.
Most played song: Rock And Roll All Nite
The hard rock icons’ 1975 party anthem just edges it over fellow setlist staple Detroit Rock City, probably because Rock And Roll All Nite came out a year earlier. No surprises in the rest of their Top 10 - every song except Lick It Up (1983) and I Love It Loud (1982) comes from the 1970s.
Most played song: Dazed And Confused
Not Stairway To Heaven? Not even close - that’s only the fifth most played Zeppelin song according to Setlist.fm, counting John Bonham drum solo Moby Dick. Interesting fact No.1: Dazed And Confused was first aired live at London’s Roundhouse on November 9, 1969. Interesting fact No.2: the longest ever version of the song was reportedly played at the LA Forum on March 27, 1975 – it clocked in at an arse-numbing 44 minutes and 49 seconds.
Most played song: Freebird
It was either that or Sweet Home Alabama, right? Unsurprisingly, the latter comes in at second place, though it’s close, having been played just 20 times less than Skynyrd’s signature epic. Bad boy boogie Gimme Three Steps is at number three.
Most played song: Master Of Puppets
The Stranger Things-boosted title track from their landmark 1986 albums beats out Creeping Death, Seek And Destroy, For Whom The Bell Tolls, One and Enter Sandman to take the top spot as the most played Metallica song. The only song from the last 30 years to make the top 20 is 1997’s Fuel, which comes in at number 18.
Most played song: Money
The Dark Side Of The Moon’s tricksy 1972 single was played live more than any other song during Pink Floyd’s on-off-on-again-now-definitely-off career. Interestingly, it was first aired live in January 1972 – 14 months before the album itself was released, which is pretty inconceivable these days (thanks, camera phones). Us And Them and Time complete the TDSOTM top three hat-trick.
Most played song: Now I’m Here
Whoah, not Bohemian Rhapsody? Nope, Queen’s 1974 single Now I’m Here beats Bo-Rhap into second place by a very narrow margin. However, we’re just counting the original, Freddie Mercury-fronted line-up incarnation here. Take into account more recent incarnations featuring Paul Rodgers and current incumbent Adam Lambert and… Bohemian Rhapsody still isn’t the winner. Nope, that’ll be We Will Rock You, with Freddie’s operatic epic once again in second place. Bismillah! No!
The Rolling Stones
Most played song: Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Not (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, not Brown Sugar, not Honky Tonk Women – the Stones song that’s been given a run out more than any other is their 1968 single Jumpin’ Jack Flash by a bigger-than-narrow-but-not-exactly-wide margin. Though given they show no signs of ever retiring, that could change at some point in the future.
Most played song: 2112 Part II: The Temples Of Syrinx
Trust Rush to make it difficult. Not only is their most played ‘song’ actually a drum solo – because of course it would be if the late, great Neil Peart was your drummer – but the actual song they’ve played is part of a bigger, multi-part epic. But the statistics speak for themselves, and it’s the second – and frankly most memorable – section of the title track of 1975’s 2112 album that takes the honours.
Most played song: Born To Run
It’s the most enduring song in a catalogue of enduring songs, so it’s no surprise that the title track of Springsteen’s 1975 album has been played more often than any other, closely followed the same record’s equally beloved opening number, Thunder Road. But The Promised Land from Darkness On The Edge Of Town at number three? We didn’t expect that.
Most played song: The Boys Are Back In Town
There have been numerous line-ups of Thin Lizzy, including several without the late Phil Lynott, starting with the one put together by early 80s guitarist John Sykes in 1990 right up to the current, semi-inactive version featuring long-tenured guitarist Scott Gorham and singer Ricky Warwick. But immortal 1976 single/jukebox staple The Boys Are Back In Town is still the top Lizzy live song, irrespective of who’s in the band.
Most played song: Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love
The most played Van Halen song according to Setlist.fm? ‘Guitar solo’. The second most-played Van Halen song according to Setlist.fm? ‘Drum solo’. We have to go to number three before we get to a proper song, namely Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love, which first appeared in a VH set on May 29, 1977 at LA’s Whisky A-Go-Go. The most-played Sammy Hagar song? Discounting those pesky solos, it’s Why Can’t This Be Love, in tenth place. The most-played Gary Cherone song? Without You, which got a run out 78 times.
Most played song: Won’t Get Fooled Again
Even at their height, The Who weren’t as productive in the studio as their contemporaries the Rolling Stones, meaning the pool of songs they can draw from is much smaller. But Who’s Next staple Won’t Get Fooled Again takes the top spot, followed by Pinball Wizard and Behind Blue Eyes. Baba O’Reilly and Who Are You are the sixth and seventh most played Who songs ever, lending some strong CSI energy to their Top 10.