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

20. Muse - Supermassive Black Hole

A British trio with the massive sound of an intergalactic army – and the sort of Pink Floyd-rivalling light show that could probably illuminate a small country for a year – Muse are hands-down one of the most wide-reaching rock bands of the century. With fourth album Black Holes And Revelations the band took a more active role in production, and hit a mega plateau in terms of fame. 

The record was characterised by its striking modern rock blow-outs, led by Supermassive Black Hole. Stirring bold strokes of Sly & The Family Stone and Depeche Mode into their alt.rock formula, together with a generous serving of attitude and swagger, it was the rock equivalent of the popular kid at school who was actually cool. 

From: Black Holes And Revelations, 2006

19. Red Hot Chili Peppers - By The Way

While 1999’s Californication album saw talismanic guitarist John Frusciante come home after his heroin wilderness, 2002’s By The Way found him match-fit and firing on all cylinders. Never more so than the title track, which managed to splice the verse’s vintage slap-funk with a mournful chorus (or, as Frusciante put it, “the wild and the melodic parts of our sound”). 

Singer Anthony Kiedis expected the song to tank, deeming it “an über-bombastic assault of non-commercialism”, but the UK No.2 hit became the Chilis’ joint-highest-charting single, and one of the last times they were unavoidable. 

From: By The Way, 2002

18. Rival Sons - Keep On Swinging

Few bands have played such a pivotal part in rock’s current resurgence as Rival Sons, and Keep On Swinging is one of the reasons why. Kicking off third album Head Down, it saw them shaking off the Free/Zeppelin comparisons and finding an identity all their own. 

Built around a writhing groove and featuring a testifyin’ performance from singer Jay Buchanan, this was the sound of blues-infused rock’n’roll retooled for the modern age. Jimmy Page has made no secret of his love of Rival Sons. Listen to this and you’ll understand why. 

From: Head Down, 2012

17. The Struts - Kiss This

Of all the new bands to have come into our lives relatively recently, The Struts have generated some of the most unbridled glee, and they’ve done it with gems such as Kiss This

Capitalising on the three Gs – glam, glitter and good times – and led by the pitch-perfect lovechild of Freddie Mercury and Marc Bolan, it was a joyous romp that took in all the best bits of 90s Britpop, 70s glam rock and Queen-esque theatricality; the sort of king-size belter you wish every band would write. We’ve put it to the test, and can confirm that it’s impossible to listen to Kiss This without grinning.

From: Everybody Wants, 2014

16. Motorhead - Life's A Bitch

Dismiss 21st-century Motorhead at your peril. Yes, in the 70s Overkill was brilliant and so was Bomber, but Lemmy, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee had a ton of killer ideas to pour into 2004’s Inferno

The deliciously tight, groovy Life’s A Bitch was a clear standout, its titular lyric spat out by Lemmy with a wicked mix of joy and venom. Even with the rest of their back catalogue to contend with, it was the sort of song you’d be genuinely pleased to hear at a gig, rather than stand through politely, wishing they’d hurry up and play the ‘hits’. 

From: Inferno, 2004

15. Green Day - American Idiot

Measured against the globe-shaking events that washed in on the ripples from George W Bush’s election and the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the rebirth of Green Day might have seemed like a footnote. 

For fans of back-to-basics rock’n’roll, though, American Idiot’s title track was a joyous chink of light, puncturing the West’s febrile mood with a fistful of brittle chords and a clarion call: ‘Don’t want to be an American Idiot/Don’t want a nation under the new mania.’

From: American Idiot, 2004

14. Slash featuring Andrew Stockdale - By The Sword

Slash’s first solo album (this was before Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators came on board as a fixed part of the equation) was peppered with big-name cameos: guest vocalists including Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop and Lemmy (not to mention relative curve balls like Black-Eyed Peas singer Fergie) made for a tantalising track-list – a legit A-list ensemble if ever there was one. 

And yet even in such exulted company it was comparative rising star Andrew Stockdale who stood out. The Wolfmother frontman had spent the previous five years being lauded as one of the next great rock voices (his band were justifiably compared to Led Zeppelin more than anyone else in the early/mid00s wave of guitar music), and on By The Sword he proved to be an immensely effective foil for Slash’s swaggery, thick-set riff.

From: Slash, 2010

13. The Wildhearts - Diagnosis

“It’s about the mental health institutions and the medical health profession in this country, and about how it’s letting people down,” Ginger told us last year, regarding this centrepiece of The Wildhearts’ comeback album, Renaissance Men. “How the system is broken, and how the suicide rate is not getting any less. There’s still five and a half or six thousand people committing suicide every year.” 

The fact that the Wildhearts frontman was able to turn that into an uncompromising, life-affirming rock song tells you everything you need to know about him as a writer. Spitting with pain, rage and, ultimately, hope (the chorus declared ‘You are not your diagnosis, simplified for them to understand’), Diagnosis married the polemic of a protest song to the dirty, snappy propulsion of Powerage-era AC/DC

From: Renaissance Men, 2019

12. Clutch - Electric Worry 

Honestly, there are several Clutch tracks from the past 20 years that could have legitimately made it on to this list (just think of everything on Earth Rocker, Psychic Warfare, Book Of Bad Decisions…), but in the end the vote was clear: it had to be Electric Worry

Part original, part early blues cover (half of each verse is taken from Mississippi Fred McDowell’s Fred’s Worried Life Blues), it’s the Marylanders’ most rabble-rousing, head-nodding, beer-throwing banger to date. Guaranteed to put hair on your chest and deepen your voice by about an octave. 

From: From Beale Street To Oblivion, 2007

11. ZZ Top - I Gotsa Get Paid

The idea, as ZZ Top’s mainman Billy Gibbons told Classic Rock, was simple: to “bluesify” 25 Lighters, a 90s hip-hop anthem about crack dealers by DJ DMD and rappers Fat Pat and Lil’ Keke, from ZZ’s home city of Houston, Texas. 

But the Top reinvented the song to such a degree that, as Gibbons explained: “It was classified as a derivative work, not a cover song.” I Gotsta Get Paid, its title a refrain in 25 Lighters, turned out to be one of ZZ’s most badass songs. As producer Rick Rubin told Gibbons: “It sounds like something from another planet.” 

From: La Futura, 2012