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

30. Andrew W.K. - Party Hard

Andrew W.K. just wasn’t made for those times. His debut single, Party Hard, was ostensibly everything that post-9/11 society could not tolerate, particularly if viewed in tandem with its video: dressed in grubby whites like some anti-Messiah, in the mirror of a sinister, strip-lit bathroom, he inspects deep facial cuts; a robot voice gabbles: “When-it’s-time-to-party-we-will-party-hard.” 

Then begins an adrenalin shot of pop-metal, its chant of ‘Let’s get a party going!’ seeming deeply out of place amid the debris and body bags.

From: I Get Wet, 2001

29. U2 - Vertigo

Opinions about Bono, The Edge and co. tend to mostly fall sharply into two camps: the old-school, Joshua Tree-worshipping purists, and the increasing contingent who rail angrily against Bono’s propensity for ostentatious piety (and plastering himself, uninvited, all over our iTunes accounts). 

In the middle of all that, Ireland’s colosso-rock four-piece released what even the latter would agree were some absolute classic songs. Of those, Vertigo was the biggest and brightest. The band sought a more hard-hitting sound with their 2004 album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, and Vertigo, with its mighty, propulsive riff (simple enough for kids to learn at home) and irresistible refrain, was its ultimate anthem.

From: How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, 2004

28. Guns N' Roses - Better

It took 14 years, and a cast of thousands, for Axl Rose to complete Chinese Democracy, and even then it was a flawed masterpiece, its great, monumental songs (Madagascar, There Was A Time) sitting uncomfortably alongside woefully substandard tracks such as Shackler’s Revenge

Ultimately, Axl’s reinvention of GN’R was perfected on Better, which Metallica’s Lars Ulrich said was “my favourite song on the record”. Written by Axl with former (and later) Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, it had an industrial rock edge, but also a classic rock sensibility, in both the music and that unmistakable voice. It was the sound of an artist pushing himself. 

From: Chinese Democracy, 2008

27. Alice In Chains - Check My Brain

The pinnacle of William DuVall’s triumphant first album with Alice In Chains, this supremely cool, commanding track from their fourth album (their first since 1995’s self-titled record) offered everything we loved about the grunge icons’ grounding era – plus a boatload of fresh enthusiasm, depth and swagger. 

To date it’s their only song to chart on the US Billboard Hot 100. Anyone still bitching and whining about Cantrell and co’s post-Staley days would do well to remind themselves of it.

From: Black Gives Way to Blue, 2009

26. Black Sabbath - God Is Dead?

God Is Dead? was a clear highlight of Black Sabbath’s studio swansong. Musically it built tension gradually, with atmospheric layers crescendoing into the sort of heavy, riffy swagger and ominous bravado that no one really expected of them at this point. Lyrically it was pure 1972; the overriding preoccupations remain the triple-headed terrors of science, religion and death. 

The imagery is stark and often hopeless, with ‘Rivers of evil run through dying lands’ and ‘Out of the gloom I rise up from my tomb into impending doom.’ At just shy of nine minutes, its sprawling length, tempo shifts and vintage Iommi guitar sound gave the track a proggy backdrop. Best of all was the stomping groove-off in the last quarter, in which you could practically feel them all smiling and having the best time.

From: 13, 2013

25. Wolfmother - Joker  And The Thief

When Aussie rockers Wolfmother arrived in a blaze of hair and heavy hooks with their self-titled debut album in 2005, it felt like the Second Coming of Christ. In terms of proper rock’n’roll, that is. Glowing reviews and comparisons to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin followed their self-titled debut album, and Joker And The Thief was their canyon-sized flagship track. 

All classic rock beef, with sharpened teeth and fire in its belly, it’s easy to see why it ended up appearing in numerous TV, film and videogame soundtracks (and why Slash had Andrew Stockdale sing on his own album).

From: Wolfmother, 2005

24. Joe Bonamassa - The Ballad Of John Henry

Joe Bonamassa co-credited Mississippi John Hurt for the half-borrowed vocal hook, but the younger bluesman was the true architect of this hammer-heavy career standout. The title track of his seventh album, The Ballad Of John Henry was a master class of tension and release, its banjo-plunking verse setting up a swaggerous electric guitar riff and a skin-busting beat worthy of the titular steel-driving folk hero.

Most thrilling was an instrumental section that broke free of the blues moorings, with a proggy chop of orchestration, and a tripped-out solo that was far from Bonamassa’s usual liquid-fingered pentatonic playing. 

From: The Ballad Of John Henry, 2009

23. Greta Van Fleet - Highway Tune

Robert Plant knows the score. “Greta Van Fleet are Led Zeppelin I,” he said of the Michigan four-piece. He meant it as a compliment, and rightly so. Highway Tune, the first track on their 2017 debut EP Black Smoke Rising, partied like it was 1969 and wasn’t afraid to let the world know. 

Jake Kiszka’s throaty guitar riff and brother Josh’s paint-stripping wail couldn’t help but bring to mind you-know-who, but why was that such a bad thing? What Highway Tune lacked in originality it made up for in exuberance. Sometimes it seemed like modern rock had become scared to sound this electrifying. 

From: Black Smoke Rising EP, 2017

22. Nickelback - How You Remind Me

Like many big hit singles, How You Remind Me was nearly buried as just an album track. “Almost every band, when they put an album out, hopes certain songs will be heard on the radio. But we never had that conviction,” says Nickelback guitarist Ryan Peake. But How You Remind Me did get heard. And bought – by enough people to send it to No.1 in Canada and the US (the first song for more than 30 years to do that simultaneously) and keep it in the UK Top Five for weeks. 

After nearly 10 years of toil, Nickelback were finally an overnight success. “I don’t know how much money it’s made us,” says singer Chad Kroeger, “but it’ll pay for our retirement."

From: Silver Side Up, 2001

21. Halestorm - Love Bites (So Do I)

They were the ballsy kids that rocked, with a girl who sang and played guitar while her little brother did bonkers things on drums. There was much more to them, of course – fans were aware of that – but Halestorm seemed to be comfortably at a certain level. 

Then came the 2012 album Strange Case Of…, and lead single Love Bites (So Do I). A lot more heads began to turn. The track won a Grammy, beating a slew of classic rock and metal A-listers in the process. Suddenly they weren’t just a gimmick: they were giving the heavyweights a serious run for their money.

From: The Strange Case Of…, 2012