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50 Best Classic Rock Songs of All Time

December 7, 2023
best classic rock songs

I’ve compiled the ultimate list of the best classic rock songs of all time, bringing together the tracks that have defined a genre and inspired generations.

This article is a tribute to the timeless energy and spirit of classic rock, celebrating the songs that have become anthems for rock enthusiasts worldwide.

Table of Contents

Best classic rock songs of all time

  • “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix
  • “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin
  • “Baba O’Riley” by The Who
  • “Sympathy For The Devil” by The Rolling Stones
  • “Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen
  • “Roadhouse Blues” by The Doors
  • “Hotel California” by The Eagles
  • “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd
  • “La Grange” by ZZ Top

1. “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix 

“Purple Haze” is often referred to as one of the greatest rock songs of all time.

After all, Jimi Hendrix was one of the most talented and innovative guitarists in music history.

And an idea for “Purple Haze” reportedly came to him in a dream after reading a science fiction novel.

The track turned out to be one of his best-known songs.

And it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

2. “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin

When thinking about the top rock songs of all time, “Whole Lotta Love” is one of the tracks that comes to mind. 

Led Zeppelin made a huge impact on the 70’s music scene. 

And the release of  “Whole Lotta Love” in 1969 marked the beginning of a new era.

The song is included in many all time hits playlists, and it contains the greatest guitar riff of all time (according to BBC Radio 2 listeners.)

3. “Baba O’Riley” by The Who 

“Baba O’Riley” was released in 1971, and it’s arguably one of the most popular classic rock songs. 

The song title refers to guitarist Peter Townshend’s philosophical and musical inspirations: Meher Baba (an Iranian spiritual master) and Terry Riley (an American composer.)

But most people will probably always remember it as “Teenage Wasteland.” 

4. “Sympathy For The Devil” by The Rolling Stones 

Every list of the classic rock songs should include the Stones.

And although it’s hard to pick only one Stones song, “Sympathy For The Devil” seems to capture the spirit of that music era.

It’s wild and lively, and it’s also an ultimate feel-good tune.

It’s everything you want from a good old classic rock song.

5. “Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple

Released in 1972, “Smoke On The Water” is a classic rock anthem.

It has an iconic guitar riff, powerful energy, and an interesting story behind it.

The song was inspired by true events and the smoke spreading over lake Geneva.

The smoke came from a burning casino that caught fire during a Frank Zappa concert.

6. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen 

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is a 6-minute masterpiece entirely written by Freddie Mercury.

It was a life-changing tune back in the 70s, and it still sounds authentic and powerful.

The song essentially talks about the freedom to be yourself and all the possibilities you might miss otherwise.

And it’s undoubtedly one of the most memorable rock songs ever written.

7. “Roadhouse Blues” by The Doors 

If you’re making a classic rock playlist for your car, this one’s for you.

“Roadhouse Blues” is taken from the band’s iconic studio album “Morrison Hotel” released in 1970.

The song has been covered by numerous artists, and it will always be remembered as one of The Doors classics.

Keep your eyes on the road

Your hand upon the wheel…

8. “Hotel California” by The Eagles 

“Hotel California” by The Eagles is one of the best 70’s rock songs.

In fact, it was awarded the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1978. 

The song is actually a commentary on American hedonism, which might come as a surprise to some people.

So, it’s not about the real establishment in Mexico called Hotel California.

9. “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd

“Comfortably Numb” is a timeless classic rock song.

After all, Pink Floyd are one of the most influential bands in rock music.

In 2005,  “Comfortably Numb” became the last song ever performed by Waters, Gilmour, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason together.

And it remains one of the band’s most well-known song as well as one of the best classic rock songs.

10. “La Grange” by ZZ Top 

Another song you should add to your ultimate classic rock playlist is “La Grange” by ZZ Top.

The song is ZZ Top’s most successful song, and it was a huge hit when it came out.

The lyrics refer to a brothel near La Grange, Texas; the brothel was also a subject in one Broadway play.

Either way, the song is ideal for road trips or simply taking it easy with some good ol’ classic rock.

11. “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC

“You Shook Me All Night Long” is expressive, loud, and energetic.

It’s one of AC/DC’s greatest hits.

It was also the first song they performed with Brian Johnson who replaced late Bon Scott.

That was surely a comeback to remember.

12. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” is one of the most iconic rock songs of all time.

It was released in 1987, and it quickly became a universal hit.

The song was inspired by Axl Rose’s first wife Erin Everly (Don Everly’s daughter) as they were dating at the time.

13. “Rock You Like A Hurricane” by The Scorpions

This rock hit by the German band Scorpions can be found in many top classic rock songs lists.

It’s been an essential part of Scorpions’ live sets for the last 36 years.

And many would agree that the song still rocks. 

14. “Tom Sawyer” by Rush 

Rush is one of the bands that brought prog rock to a more mainstream audience.

And their powerful, energetic “Tom Sawyer” is one of their most successful songs and as many critics say: their defining piece.

It’s also frequently played at classic rock radio stations. 

Therefore, it has a well-deserved spot on our list. 

15. “I Love Rock N’ Roll” by Joan Jett

Without a doubt, “I Love Rock N’ Roll” is one of the most famous rock songs.

After it was released in 1981, many artists made a cover version of the song, including Britney Spears.

And the song still lives on; as an ode to rock music and a sweet reminder of another era.

16. “Fee Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd 

Did you know that Axl Rose was inspired by Lynyrd Skynyrd for “Sweet Child O’ Mine”? 

He wanted to achieve that heartfelt atmosphere that can be felt in “Free Bird.” 

“Free Bird” is the band’s signature song, and arguably one of the best classic rock songs.

Also, the “Free Bird” solo has an 8th place on Guitar World’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time.

17. “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie 

What does it sound like when two legends collaborate?

Well, “Under Pressure” is certainly one of the most iconic rock songs ever made.

The song charted in the top 10 in more than ten countries, and it’s included in the majority of lists of greatest songs of all time.

And maybe you’ll be shocked to hear that the rapper Vanilla Ice (who famously sampled the song) apparently owns the rights to “Under Pressure.” 

18. “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin

Another song by Led Zeppelin that made a huge impact on the 70’s rock music is “Immigrant Song.”

This iconic song was written during Led Zeppelin’s tour of Iceland, so it’s no wonder that its lyrics mention Valhalla and Norse mythology.

With its repeating riff and Plant’s distinctive cry in the intro, “Immigrant Song” became one of their signature tracks.

19. “Just What I Needed” by The Cars 

If you’re looking for a classic rock song to sing along to, look no further.

“Just What I Needed” is familiar, catchy, and lively.

And although it’s often described as power pop, many agree it’s one of the most popular classic rock songs from the 70s.

20. “The Boys Are Back In Town” by Thin Lizzy

“The Boys Are Back In Town” is another familiar rock tune that reflects the spirit of that music era.

The band’s vocalist Phil Lynnot supposedly drew inspiration for the song from the troops returning home from the Vietnam War.

Either way, the song is remembered as the band’s best song.

Plus, Rolling Stone magazine included it on the 2012 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

21. “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac 

Released in 1977, Fleetwood Mac’s iconic song “Dreams” reached the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. 

It also sold more than one million copies, and it’s generally regarded as one of the best songs from the 70’s.

In short, “Dreams” talks about the relationship that is going to end soon.

And that calm, melancholic vibe is making this song so beautiful and timeless.

22. “Sultan Of Swings” by Dire Straits 

“Sultan Of Swings” is one of the most loved oldie rock songs.

It’s about a group of guys who go to a club after work and have a good time.

The song was reportedly inspired by ‘watching a hopeless jazz combo in a deserted pub.’

And that’s exactly what shot the band to stardom and made them one of the best known British rock bands.

23. “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath 

Ozzy Osbourne is another name that comes to mind when thinking about classic rock.

And it seems like he really poured his soul into “Iron Man.”

It’s an unforgettable 70’s rock tune with powerful riffs and pounding drums. 

So if you’re looking for a heandbangable song, this is it.

24. “Rockin’ In The Free World” by Neil Young

In “Rockin’ In The Free World”, Neil Young expresses his thoughts towards world leaders.

To be more precise, this intense rock track is a sarcastic comment on how our systems work.

There is evidently so much suffering, but we claim we live in a free world.

And after more than 30 years of its release, the song is still relevant. 

25. “Barracuda” by Heart

“Barracuda” is an iconic melody from the 1970s.

It’s incredibly catchy and charming, but it’s also a bit angry – especially if you know the story behind it.

Ann Wilson revealed that the song was about Heart’s anger towards Mushroom Records.

The record label released a made-up story of an incestuous affair involving Ann and her sister Nancy as a publicity stunt. 

26. “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks

Released in 1964, “You Really Got Me” is arguably one of the best old rock songs.

It’s upbeat and catchy, and definitely unforgettable.

However, this was initially supposed to be a laid-back song, but it turned out to be a guitar-lead track; even though it was written around a sax line.

27. “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Club 

“(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” probably deals with the inevitability of death and the fact that we shouldn’t be afraid of it.

Either way, Blue Oyster Club’s signature song is a 70’s classic.

And it has a well-deserved spot on Rolling Stone’s list of the top 500 songs of all time.

28. “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf

“Born To Be Wild” is one of the classic rock songs everyone knows.

In essence, it’s a song about freedom and being care-free.

It’s often described as the first ever heavy metal song (instead of hard rock), which is actually very interesting. 

And that’s probably because of the lyric “heavy metal thunder.” 

29. “My Sharona” by The Knack 

The Knack released “My Sharona” as their debut single – and it immediately became a chart-topping hit. 

The meaning of the song is pretty straightforward – it’s about a girl lead singer Doug Fieger liked.

And the real Sharona is even on the famous cover of the track. 

Well, thank you Sharona for being the inspiration for one of the most beloved classic rock songs.

30. “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley 

Of course, every classic rock playlist should include the King of Rock n’ Roll.

The song was released in 1956 though, and not many tunes from the 50s get included on such lists.

However, “Hound Dog” is certainly a classic; and it made a notable impact on the evolution of rock music. 

31. “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin is a rock icon.

And her signature song “Me and Bobby McGee” is also a classic rock anthem.

The song was written by Kris Kristofferson – he created a road song story about a pair of travelers who drifted apart.

In the story, Bobby was originally a woman, but Joplin made Bobby a man in her version. 

32. “More Than A Feeling” by Boston 

This rock classic is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”

It took Tom Scholz five years to complete the song, but it was obviously worth it.

It was the band’s first popular single, and it remains one of the classic rock favorites.

33. “American Girl” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 

“American Girl” was a life-changing song for Tom Petty.

And since it was released in 1976, it’s proof of how fresh their debut album actually sounded.

Also, “American Girl” was the last song performed in concert by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

34. “All Along The Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix 

Another song that deserves to be mentioned is “All Along The Watchtower.”

The song was originally written by Bob Dylan, but Hendrix added a different vibe to it. 

Bob Dylan himself said that ‘he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them.’

Either way, the song is powerful and catchy, and it definitely withstands the test of time.

35. “Evil Ways” by Santana 

Maybe “Evil Ways” is exactly what you need right now.

It’s a perfect blend of Latin rock, jazz, and classic rock.

It’s also smooth and laid-back, and it features Santana’s incredible guitar skills.

36. “Layla” by Eric Clapton

“Layla” is arguably one of the greatest classic rock songs.

It’s about Clapton’s forbidden love for the wife of his close friend George Harrison.

She eventually became Clapton’s wife.

And the name Layla was derived from the Persian poem about unrequited love ‘Layla and Majnun.’ 

37. “Funk #49” by James Gang 

Although “Funk #49” was a moderate success upon release, it’s often included in the lists of classic rock songs.

Nevertheless, the song is cool and catchy, although it has only two verses.

But Joe Walsh’s guitar skills make up for everything.

38. “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones 

“Gimme Shelter” was released as the opening track from the band’s iconic album “Let It Bleed.”

The song tackles heavy topics such as war, rape, and murder.

Nevertheless, it sounds very energetic and motivating.

It’s just the charm of the Stones and their timeless classic rock hits.

39. “Highway To Hell” by AC/DC

“Highway To Hell” is one of AC/DC’s best known songs.

Some interpretations say that it was inspired by the band’s tough touring schedule.

Regardless of its true meaning, the song became a rock classic.

And many would agree that it still rocks.

40. “The Joker” by Steve Miller Band 

Although it was released in 1973, “The Joker” somehow sounds much more fresh.

Either way, the song topped the US Billboard Hot 100 in early 1974 and reached the top 20 in Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands.

And it’s still frequently played on radio stations across the globe.

41. “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin 

There’s a lady who’s sure

All that glitters is gold

And she’s buying a stairway to heaven…

“Stairway To Heaven” maybe isn’t as loud and energetic as some other songs on this list, but it’s an absolute classic.

The song slowly increases in tempo and volume, and ends up being a powerful and rather loud rock tune.

It’s simply a masterpiece.

42. “Locomotive Breath” by Jethro Tull 

“Locomotive Breath” is proof of Jethro Tull’s innovative creativity and authenticity.

The song was inspired by Ian Anderson’s concern regarding overpopulation.

And as a comment, the song was meant to replicate the chugging rhythm of a train.

In one of the interviews, Anderson explained: ‘It was about the runaway train of population growth and capitalism, it was based on those sorts of unstoppable ideas.’

43. “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd 

Sweet Home Alabama” can be described in so many ways.

A popular karaoke song, a perfect sing along, an ultimate feel-good tune, one of the top classic rock songs…

Either way, it’s a song that will immediately put you in a better mood. 

Or make you feel nostalgic – that depends entirely on you.

44. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival 

“Fortunate Son” is widely regarded as one of the anti-war rock songs

It’s also related to  the counterculture’s opposition to U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War.

And it will always be remembered as one of the best classic rock songs.

 45. “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper 

“School’s Out” is an interesting mix of classic rock, goth rock ,and metal.

Cooper was inspired to write the song when answering the question: “What’s the greatest three minutes of your life?”

He believes that one of the answers could be those last 3 minutes of the last day of school.

And he wanted to capture that feeling of excitement; we think he succeeded.

46. “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac 

Fleetwood Mac is known for making music based on the band members’ personal experiences.

And their track “Go Your Own Way” depicts the breakup of Sevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham.

It’s actually Buckingham’s letter to Stevie Nicks.

At the same time, the song feels very liberating.

47. “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” is undeniably one of the best rock songs of all time.

It’s unique and powerful, and it simply doesn’t get old no matter how much you listen to it.

At one of the shows, Plant described Kashmir to the audience as a song about revisiting ‘our travels in Morocco.’

Of course, the song has a more profound meaning.

It’s not just about the geographical place; it’s a vision and an idea. 

48. “Runnin’ With The Devil” by Van Halen

“Runnin’ With The Devil” is yet another popular rock song from the 70s.

The song is often interpreted as the story about a life of a touring young band.

The theme of freedom is definitely there.

However, the song may also point out that a simple lifestyle isn’t as simple as it seems. 

49. “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen

“Fat Bottomed Girls” is one of Queen’s gems written by Brian May.

In essence, the song celebrates women of all shapes and sizes.

But it also sounds like a celebration of rock n’ roll.

50. “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones

This list wouldn’t be complete without “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” 

This Stones classic was controversial at a time and even banned in some places.

At the same time, it was included in the Grammy Hall of Fame and won multiple awards.

But more importantly, the song will always be remembered as one of the most iconic classic rock songs.

Best Classic Rock Songs – Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed our list of the best classic rock songs!

As you can see, classic rock is a genre of its own – and it’s quite powerful.

But the thing that most classic rock hits have in common is that will probably never die.

Similar Playlists: 

Best 80s Rock Songs

Best Rock Love Songs

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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