From AC/DC to ZZ Top, these songs go to eleven. Go back in time with these immersive classic rock songs that put you in the studio with your favorite artists.
Do you remember rock and roll radio? We do. R-A-W-K. Rock.
This playlist has it all—big riffs, big attitude, big hair and the biggest classic rock hits of all time from artists who defined a generation. From AC/DC to ZZ Top, these songs go to eleven.
Here in their ultimate classic rock glory are thirteen thunderous tunes where artists take listeners back in time—to the Sunset Strip, to 1970s Detroit, the British Invasion or a little spot outside La Grange, Texas—with renegade studio production (plus a few happy accidents and one squeaky drum pedal) that’ll make you pump up the volume.
Guns ‘n Roses — “Welcome to the Jungle”
Do you know where you are? Immersive yourself in the glitz, glamour and grime of the ‘80s Sunset Strip with “Welcome to the Jungle,” the second single from Guns ‘n Roses’ debut album Appetite for Destruction and VH1’s greatest hard rock song of all time.
The production on this classic hard rock staple shines like the chrome rims on a Hollywood executive’s limousine. Steven Adler’s snare drum is swimming in stereo reverb and Slash’s famous intro guitar riff gets its sound from a “secret” setting on a digital reverb unit. But the riffs within are stuffed with a down-and-dirty streetwise attitude that’s impossible to fake.
In headphones, the twin-guitar interplay between Slash and rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin set the stage for an unhinged Axl Rose vocal performance that demands close listening.
Suzi Quatro — “48 Crash”
Though Suzi Quatro struggled to break through at home in America, the Detroit-born bassist, vocalist and songwriter found success in Europe and Australia with her diesel-powered brand of Motor City glam rock, selling more than 50 million albums worldwide.
The drum sound that opens “48 Crash,” from Quatro’s self-titled debut album, is a time warp to the days of orange-and-brown shag carpet covered everything. Quatro’s thumping bassline motors through this power pop stomper like a 1973 Dodge Sportsman van with an airbrushed wizard on the side. The dry and crunchy production would have sounded massive on the transistor radios of the day and is exceptionally punchy on headphones.
Queen — “Killer Queen”
Queen scored their first US hit with the regal “Killer Queen,” the third single from their 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack.
Freddie Mercury bounces between the left and right channels with impeccably arranged vocal harmonies throughout this bouncy Broadway musical-inspired number. Not to be outdone, Brian May’s guitar solo features a few harmonic tricks borrowed from barbershop quartets and big band jazz ensembles, like the overdubbed “bell chord” between 1:48 and 2:00. And May’s multi tracked ping-pong guitar line during the fadeout is a drop-dead gorgeous display of virtuosity.
Led Zeppelin — “Since I’ve Been Loving You”
John Bonham’s thunderous blues shuffle swings harder than ever thanks to the unusual and unintended syncopation produced by a squeaky kick drum pedal on “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” from Led Zeppelin III (1970). Panned hard right, Bonham’s beloved Ludwig Speed King bass drum pedal squeaks loud and often enough that some drummers and audio engineers have crowned it the “Squeak King.”
Fortunately, the squeak recedes, shadowed by John Paul Jones’ dynamic performance on the Hammond organ and bass pedals, becoming part of the fabric of the rhythm section long before Jimmy Page’s famous guitar solo.
Thin Lizzy — “Bad Reputation”
With guitarist Brian Robinson out of the picture after a bar-fight hand injury, Scott Gorham knuckled up to tackle Thin Lizzy’s twin-guitar duties on his own on “Bad Reputation.”
Released in 1977, the title track from the band’s eighth album certainly features enough guitar pyrotechnics to satisfy fans, but drummer Brian Downey steals the spotlight with a propulsive drum performance—both behind the kit and on percussion overdubs. While “Bad Reputation” is one of Thin Lizzy’s leanest and meanest tunes (which is really saying something), producer and engineer Tony Visconti keeps things interesting with an immersive and engaging mix.
Subtle touches like the phaser effect on Phil Lynott’s bass guitar during the solo section around the 1:20 mark prove that Thin Lizzy’s “Bad Reputation” is well-earned.
Cheap Trick — “Dream Police”
Cheap Trick decked out their crunchy, barebones power pop in orchestral overdubs to great effect in the bombastic 1979 single, “Dream Police.” While the string section builds suspense with a dissonant ostinato, the band slices through the tension to deliver another classic, tongue-in-cheek Rick Nielsen-penned power pop hit.
The band and strings sound at-odds for most of the song, but when they converge on the build-up to the last chorus, it’s a stunning juxtaposition of high-energy pop rock and sophisticated orchestration.
ZZ Top — “La Grange”
In good headphones, you can almost hear tumbleweeds scrape across the desert sand, propelled by the full-volume Texas boogie of ZZ Top’s “La Grange.”
The bone-dry production on this sly ode to the seedier side of Fayette County, Texas isn’t quite as fancy as the Top’s MTV hits, but Billy Gibbons’ growling double-tracked guitar tone is well worth the price of admission. From the famous intro shuffle to the verse’s vintage overdrive and his iconic lead sound, Gibbons makes his Les Paul whine, chime, scream, howl and cry with delight. And as always, you can set your watch to the rhythm section of drummer Frank Beard and bassist Dusty Hill.
Alice Cooper — “Is It My Body”
Alice Cooper helped lay the foundation for punk and heavy metal with the shock rock classic “Is It My Body,” appearing on the 1971 album Love it to Death.
Cooper and his band worked with producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Deftones) to trim their psychedelic jams into pure rock fury, rehearsing ten to twelve hours a day and yeeting any idea that sounded even remotely like the Summer of Love. In headphones, “Is it My Body” hits hard with stark ‘70s production and Cooper’s savage theatrical swagger. And the keyboard part at 1:46 is just the right amount of creepy.
Jimi Hendrix — “Crosstown Traffic”
Having already mastered the electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix became a virtuoso of using the recording studio as an instrument, pushing stereo recording technology to the limit during the making of his 1968 album Electric Ladyland.
“Crosstown Traffic” opens with a dramatic full-mix pan across the soundstage before unleashing the full Jimi Hendrix Experience with acidic fuzz guitars and hallucinatory falsetto backing vocals. In what is likely the instrument’s most famous appearance on a classic rock album, Hendrix doubled his lead guitar parts with an improvised kazoo made from tissue paper and a comb.
AC/DC — “If You Want Blood (You Got It)”
AC/DC teamed with producer Robert “Mutt” Lange for the 1979 album Highway to Hell, hoping to translate their powerful stage presence into a radio-friendly sound, as their prior five albums earned them a rabid fan base, but few Top 40 hits. To help raise the band’s profile, Lange sharpened AC/DC’s razor edge with bigger choruses, more advanced backup vocal harmonies and a tighter sound.
Lange works his studio magic on “If You Want Blood (You Got It),” a side B deep cut with lead single-worthy production. The chorus backing vocals are enormous, miles away from the gruff gang vocals of “TNT.” And Lange’s clever use of a delay effect on Bon Scott’s scream before the last chorus is a great bit of ear candy.
Heart — “Barracuda”
A galloping hard rock riff, soaring vocal performance and unique guitar tone provided more than enough bait for listeners to sink their teeth into “Barracuda,” the lead single from Heart’s 1977 album Little Queen.
Ann Wilson’s lead vocals have intimidated karaoke singers for decades, but the real big fish in “Barracuda” is the guitar interplay between the acoustic guitar of Nancy Wilson and lead guitarist Roger Fisher’s distinctive flanger sound. “Barracuda’s” unmistakable whooshing guitar sound, which also appears on the song “Mistral Wind,” comes from a DIY kit Fisher assembled himself prior to the recording sessions.
Sparks — “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us”
Brothers Ron and Russel Mael duke it out in “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us,” from Sparks’ 1974 album Kimono My House. Russel’s falsetto is by necessity, as Ron, the group’s keyboardist and songwriter, wrote the tune in the key of A—without any regard for his brother’s vocal range. This sibling rivalry is soundtracked by theatrical piano-driven prog rock and Western movie sound effects wrestled from the BBC audio library.
Born in Los Angeles, the brothers Mael had minor success in America, but were popular abroad, where “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” reached the top ten in Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In 2021, filmmaker Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Baby Driver) chronicled the group’s six decade career in a documentary titled The Sparks Brothers.
The Beatles — “Let It Be”
In November 2021, Beatles fans were treated to director Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back, a meditative three-part documentary featuring eight uninterrupted hours of footage from the 1970 Let it Be sessions. Watching the Fab Four rehearse songs like “Let it Be” up-close and personal is a thrill for Beatlemaniacs, as what begins as a mumbled lyric and a few piano chords grows into another hit.
Of all the film’s iconic moments—Paul McCartney pulling “Get Back” out of thin air, the infamous rooftop concert—few spark joy like the arrival of keyboardist Billy Preston at Apple Studios. Preston, who befriended the Beatles while touring with Little Richard, sits in on Hammond organ, becoming the fifth Beatle on this classic recording.
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