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

40. Metallica - Atlas, Rise

In 2003 Metallica released the tortuous St. Anger, in 2008 the overwrought Death Magnetic, and in 2011, in collaboration with Lou Reed, the downright weird art-rock experiment Lulu

Then with 2016’s Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, Metallica’s fourth album of the 21st century, came a triumphant return to form (the seventh-best-selling album of 2016 in the US), illustrated most powerfully by a track as epic as its title suggested: Atlas, Rise! 

It had the genius-level riffing of Master Of Puppets and, in its passages of twin lead guitars, an echo of Iron Maiden, a band that had a profound influence on Metallica. They hadn’t sounded as great as this since the Black Album.

From: Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, 2016

39. Ghost - Dance Macabre

Classic Rock’s album review said Dance Macabre was “a pure 80s rock-club banger that’s as audacious as it is glorious”. If Europe revisited The Final Countdown, with Satan, and swapped some (but not all) of the synths for guitars, this could have been the result. 

Warmly embraced by the metal world, despite being about as un-metal as ABBA, Dance Macabre defied heavy music conventions and nailed one of the most irresistible choruses of the century.

From: Prequelle, 2018

38. Rammstein - Sonne

Sonne was proof that Du Hast was no fluke. As, in fact, was all of Rammstein’s third album, Mutter. Now, nearly 20 years – and all the fire hazards – later, it’s still their most consistently strong record to date. Mein Herz Brennt, Ich Will and Links 2,3,4 were all contenders for this list, as was 2009 single Ich Tu Dir Weh, but it was Sonne that really grabbed listeners by the throat. 

A swaggering, pneumatic-drill blast of industrial atmosphere and metallic guitar grooves, it made perfect sense to see lots of actual drilling in the video – as part of a characteristically fucked-up take on Snow White & The Seven Dwarves

From: Mutter, 2001

37. Michael Monroe - Ballad Of The Lower East Side

Finland’s evergreen Tasmanian Devil has sustained a momentum this side of 2000 that is rivalled by few of his peers. If ever a man had clearly had his Weetabix, it was Matti Antero Kristian Fagerholm – aka Hanoi Rocks frontman-turned-solo force of nature Michael Monroe – and 2013’s Ballad Of The Lower East Side was the ultimate proof. 

The track fizzed with angry teenage kicks and punchy, punky nostalgia for the ‘junkies, pimps and whores’ of yore (i.e. New York’s lower East Side ‘back in the day’), and even if you’d never been to the Big Apple, chances are you found yourself singing along in agreement. 

From: Horns And Halos, 2013

36. Airbourne - Runnin' Wild

If you didn’t like this song, you’re likely to be reading the wrong magazine. The O’Keeffe brothers and their chums have made it their mission to uphold the legacies of AC/DC, Motörhead and other true-spirit-of-rock’n’roll types (but mostly AC/DC, let’s be honest here), and Runnin’ Wild was the song that relished this mission with the most glee. 

Lemmy himself even made a cameo appearance in the music video – for the princely price of a limo to pick him up, a bottle of JD and some crisps. Essentially an up-tempo ‘ain’t gon’ be tied down by no woman’ boogie, it was exquisite proof of what can still be done with an A-chord, a Gibson SG and the firm belief that you can never be too loud. 

From: Runnin’ Wild, 2007

35. Black Stone Cherry - Soulcreek

After the grungy rumble of Lonely Train, and before the radio-friendly muscle of Blame It On The Boom Boom, Black Stone Cherry hit a juicy sweet spot with Soulcreek. Millennial country boys with feet in ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s boots, they found their muscular yet loose-limbed mojo on this track. 

The band’s subsequent records have rocked too, not least the recent return-to-roots bluesy rock of Family Tree, but Soulcreek has retained a special place in our hearts.

From: Folklore & Superstition, 2008

34. Chris Cornell - You Know My Name

The best James Bond film in years also came with one of the best Bond themes. Sung by Chris Cornell (just as he was set to part ways with Audioslave) and co-written by him and composer David Arnold (who has written music for five Bond films), it brought Cornell a new wave of mainstream recognition, including a first round Oscar nomination. 

Its positioning at the very end of his solo album Carry On could have implied a certain lack of enthusiasm for the track, but we’d argue that You Know My Name more than held its own. Sweeping strings and lyrics that go well with Daniel Craig’s ‘blue steel’ stare were crunched through brooding, swashbuckling vocals and guitars, creating a cool and befitting 007 theme tune. 

From: Carry On, 2007

33. David Bowie - Lazurus

The knowledge that these were the last sounds of a dying man inevitably made them more potent. Still, even without that Lazarus was still a stunning piece of music, from an album that included more thoughtful innovation and ambition than we had any right to expect from a man on his twenty-fifth album, in a recording career of more than 50 years (let alone someone in the tightening grip of cancer). 

Bowie artfully fused alt.rock, avant-jazz and unflinching meditations on mortality into a darkly beautiful masterpiece. The haunting, enigmatic pearl of his twilight years. 

From: Blackstar, 2016

32. Linkin Park - Crawling

The second single to be released from the band’s Hybrid Theory album, Crawling won Linkin Park a Grammy in 2002 in the Best Hard Rock Performance category. 

Talking to Spin about the song in 2009, frontman Chester Bennington said the song “is about feeling like I had no control over myself in terms of drugs and alcohol. That feeling, being able to write about it, sing about it, that song, those words, sold millions of records, I won a Grammy, I made a lot of money.” Played live, Crawling featured guest appearances from the likes of Chris Cornell and Fred Durst

From: Hybrid Theory, 2000

31. Judas Priest - Judas Rising

Heralded by a dramatic faded-in gothic-flavoured intro that eventually gave way to a blast furnace of twin guitars, locked-tight rhythm section and banshee vocals, Judas Rising was the perfect heavy metal anthem to welcome vocalist Rob Halford back into the bosom of Judas Priest

Guitarist KK Downing confided to Classic Rock that after 11 years apart the much-vaunted reunion with the Metal God felt “like stepping into an old pair of slippers”, but even allowing for Downing’s somewhat clichéd analogy this landmark moment in rock history was commemorated by the twin-barrel dizbuster it so richly deserved. 

From: Angel Of Retribution, 2005