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

50. H.e.a.t. - Dangerous Ground

In our album review earlier this year, we said that this song “couldn’t be more 80s if it pulled up in a vintage DeLorean with Max Headroom behind the wheel”. Dangerous Ground is essentially the soundtrack Top Gun should have had, topped with loads of additional shimmering guitars and harmonies. 

But because it’s 2020 and not 1986, such qualities have not brought the Swedish band the fame they could have reasonably expected 30-odd years ago. Should that stop you playing it on a regular basis? Hell no! In such worrisome times we need music like this.

From: H.e.a.t II, 2020

49. The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound

Question: when does ‘influenced by’ become ‘a blatant rip-off’? It’s a fine line, but New Jersey’s Gaslight Anthem walked it brilliantly. Unashamedly indebted to both their home state’s favourite son Bruce Springsteen and The Replacements, the quartet skilfully managed to sound like no one but themselves. The title track of the band’s second full length album, The ’59 Sound is a blinder. 

With its gloomy subject matter of kids dying in car wrecks, it manages to be melancholy, insidiously catchy and bizarrely uplifting all at the same time, with vocalist Brian Fallon spinning a tale of small-town heroes that avoids mawkish clichés, over a backdrop of massive, anthemic (pun intended) guitars. 

Jon Bon Jovi might dearly wish he was heir apparent to The Boss’s throne, but on the evidence of this track it looked like The Gaslight Anthem had him whipped. It’s just a shame it didn’t last.

From: The ’59 Sound, 2008

48. Nightwish - Wish I Had An Angel

Nightwish were nearing the end of a five-album run with original, co-founding singer Tarja Turunen when they had their biggest-selling album, Once, and their highest charting single in the UK (No.60) with Wish I Had An Angel. Given the Finnish band’s current arena-headlining status, it’s odd to consider that this commercial high point was more than 15 years ago. 

Some people have speculated that the anthemic Wish I Had An Angel is about a Valkyrie that craves spending her life with a human, ‘burning [her] angel wings to dust’ to sacrifice immortality in order to do so. Regardless of the subject matter, the track is a sublime summation of the band’s symphonic bombast.

From: Once, 2004

47. Def Leppard - Dangerous

The fact that we wished Def Leppard would play this on their Hysteria tour (in the section of the show dedicated to other career highlights) spoke volumes. Leppard’s self-titled 2015 studio album was their best since that seminal 1987 hit – at least in part because they had a lot in common – and Dangerous was its crown jewel. A rollicking glitter-bomb of rock, pop and 80s panache, it didn’t try to be the least bit trendy and turned out beautifully for it.

From: Def Leppard, 2015

46. Royal Blood - Figure It Out

When this drums ’n’ bass duo played under canvas at Download 2014, the demand to see them was such that the tent was way too small. So there was a definite buzz, but what new and exciting tricks were Royal Blood pulling here? The answer appeared to be none. Everywhere you look in their song catalogue you’ll find other bands, from Them Crooked Vultures to The White Stripes. All of which seemed to crystallise in album highlight Figure It Out

From: Royal Blood, 2014

45. Shinedown - Sound Of Madness

In 2008, Brent Smith had yet to undergo his shorn-haired, GI Joe muscled makeover (a result of abstinence along with “insanity” workouts), but even then the Shinedown singer sounded like a UFC fighter crossed with a terrifying drill sergeant. 

That’s the not-so-secret ingredient in Sound Of Madness, a strapping beefcake of a tune that makes often-derided labels such as ‘bro-rock’ and ‘stadium-friendly’ feel like the height of flattery. No wonder the song has remained in Shinedown’s set-lists ever since. Resistance is futile, so embrace the madness (or the sound thereof).

From: The Sound Of Madness, 2008

44. Jet - Are You Gonna Be My Girl

It slipped by almost unnoticed when it first came along, as the first single from Jet’s 2003 debut album Get Born. So it’s curious that gloriously retro barnstormer Are You Gonna Be My Girl managed to feel oddly zeitgeist-y upon its re-release the following year in the UK, where it made the Top 20. 

By then the Aussie rockers had picked up some heavyweight exposure and enjoyed the kind of easy, widespread popularity rarely generated by classic rock singles. Kids and grownups alike sang the charismatically rakish lyrics at gigs, and learned the sprightly Who-come-Faces guitar part at home. Living proof of the old adage that simple is often best. 

From: Get Born, 2003

43. Pearl Jam - World Wide Suicide

Beginning life as a free digital track available from the band’s own website, World Wide Suicide, the spiky and frenetic first single from 2006’s Pearl Jam, racked up a whopping 150,000 downloads in just four days. Written from the perspective of a dead soldier’s family, it was one of three shots from the album fired at George W Bush’s White House. 

“It doesn’t sound slick or that we polished it. That’s the main thing, really, politics aside,” said guitarist Stone Gossard. “The melody is really strong. It sounds like AC/DC. Fuck, kick ass! I like it. It’s blowing up. The song just has energy in it. It has the intangibles.” 

From: Pearl Jam, 2006

42. Tool - Lateralus

Odd time signatures and scholarly themes once seemed to be the preserve of classic prog (think British public school boys with flutes and loon pants). But in 2001 it was American progressive metal behemoths Tool who rectified that with this gnarly, enveloping epic. 

True, it wasn’t an easy listen – lyrics revolving around the mathematical fibonacci sequence don’t exactly scream ‘Party on!’ – but it did showcase a unique breed of experimental heaviness that felt both strange and grandiose. 

Five years later Tool returned with 10,000 Days, and then… nothing, until last year when they finally released the Fear Inoculum album and both the rock and metal worlds lost their shit. 

From: Lateralus, 2001

41. Faith No More - Motherfucker

Beginning with a didgeridoo/ heartbeat, desultory clanking and piano and martial drums that were a recurring motif on 2015’s Sol Invictus (Faith No More’s first album since ’97), Motherfucker was a paean to a process of cultural toxic rearing (‘Force-fed more than we eat in the wild/Grazed on a mash that can suffocate a child’) whose victims will have their revenge: ‘Get the motherfucker on the phone’. 

As well as being a snarling declaration that FNM meant business, it also showed a group at ease with both their instruments and each other, showing no signs of rust or sclerosis despite their long lay-off. 

From: Sol Invictus, 2015

David Stubbs

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.