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The 100 greatest rock songs of the century... so far

100 greatest songs of the 21st century
(Image credit: Magictorch, additional typography by Steve Mitchell)

Welcome to our epic rundown of The Greatest Songs Of The Century… So Far! The rules are simple:

  1. Only one song per band/artist. Yeah, we know there are a handful who wrote more than one great song in the past 20 years, but we want to give everyone a chance. Please bear in mind that if a band member surfaces in a different band, that’s okay. Or if they appear as a solo project, that’s cool too. 
  2. It's gotta rock. Probably doesn’t need to be said, but nevertheless we shall. We’re looking at the songs that have rocked the century so far, whether unsung classics or chart-topping megahits, so expect the unexpected and the expected. 
  3. Justify it. Why should you care? Well, we’re about to tell you.

The results? Some are from returning classic rock icons, while others are the work of new faces. Some of the artists in this list are no more, but plenty are still going strong. So what are you waiting for? Dive in.

Alt

100. The Urban Voodoo Machine - Goodbye To Another Year

Back in 2010, this raggle-taggle collective of mavericks, miscreants and snakecharmers came into our lives and made it noisier, more debauched and a lot more fun. This standout track, a heady mesh of junkyard blues, gypsy punk, mariachi horns, stompy drums and the best of times, was a vibrant summary of all the Urban Voodoo Machine stood for.

From: In Black 'N' Red, 2010


99. Magnum - Live 'Til You Die

Since reuniting unexpectedly in 2001, Magnum have enjoyed an unexpected twilight years purple patch. The opener of their eighteenth studio album was heralded by a keyboard flourish, frontman Bob Catley then chirruped gamely, and the enduring Midlanders set to work with a sprightly, colourful and super-hummable slice of pomp-rock that stood its ground alongside Magnum’s records from the 80s.

From: Escape From The Shadow Garden, 2014


98. The Killers - Mr Brightside

‘Fuck off, that wasn’t a rock song!’ some might moan. Oh but it was, albeit one with the sort of stickin-your-head, sing-at-a-club-even-when-blind-drunk melody and lyrics that all bands dream of. In a list of the most-streamed songs of 2019, dominated by young pop and urban stars, the driving alt. rock debut single by Las Vegas rockers The Killers was among the top 20. To date it’s the longest-charting single in UK history. No small beans.

From: Hot Fuss, 2004


97. Sheryl Crow - Soak Up The Sun

Anyone who thinks that Sheryl Crow was just a 90s success story is only half right. True, that was the decade in which the rock-come-country-come-pop star delivered All I Wanna Do, If It Makes You Happy and other singles, but her noughties wave had some magical moments too, the best of which was Soak Up The Sun. Part classy surfer dude pop-rock anthem, part upbeat Americana ballad, it was a dulcet tonic for anyone needing a break from the nu metal banging on everyone’s door.

From: C’mon, C’mon, 2002


96. R.E.M. - Bad Day

It might have been kicking around in R.E.M.’s ‘Abandoned Ideas’ drawer for close to 20 years when it made its proper debut in 2003, but Bad Day proved they were still kings of canny pop nous, jangly Byrdsian guitars and tongue-twisting lyrics. As one of two new songs presumptuously included on a ‘Best Of’ compilation, it deserved its place.

From: In Time: The Best Of R.E.M. 1988-2003, 2003


95. Von Hertzen Brothers - New Day Rising

To some extent an anomaly in the wider Von Hertzen Brothers catalogue (the rest of their records have largely been more progressive), this was the Finnish brothers’ Foo Fighters moment. Having thrown all their resources and energy at their sixth studio album, they emerged with a legitimate arena-ready rock anthem that has remained in our heads and playlists ever since. 

From: New Day Rising, 2015


94. Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing

He’d already proved his post-Porcupine Tree mettle with his two previous albums, but it was his third – and this track in particular – that made the world really take notice of Steven Wilson the solo artiste. Given this exquisite down-tempo masterpiece with a dark yet tender narrative quality, it’s not difficult to see why.

From: The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), 2013


93. Mastodon - Curl Of The Burl

One of the world’s most interesting and successful metal bands, Mastodon brought a QOTSA-nodding groove to the table with this hard-hitting highlight from career-high album The Hunter. Following on from Crack The Skye (a sprawling record that dealt with astral travel, wormhole theory, Rasputin and the suicide of their drummer Brann Dailor’s sister) it was a meaty statement of intent. 

From: The Hunter, 2011


92. Ginger Wildheart - Time

To say that Ginger Wildheart has been a busy man since 2000 would be an understatement. With The Wildhearts put to bed (or so it seemed), he poured his capacity for on-the-money rock tunes into 10 solo studio albums – plus singles, live records collaborations and compilations, all since 2005. But such quantity did not mean diminished returns, as Time proved with sublime ease, grit and sweetness. 

From: 555%, 2012


91. Ian Hunter - When The World Was Round

Ian Hunter came up with one of his finest ever pop songs to bemoan the sheer media overload that increasingly engulfs us all in the modern age, using the metaphor of the world being round for the pre-internet bygone era in which we watched or listened to the news and read newspapers and made up our own mind about what was happening and why. In these pandemic-affected days the words ‘there’s too much information but not enough to go on’ perhaps now carry an additional resonance. 

From: Shrunken Heads, 2007