Rolling Stone Magazine Botches “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time”

In Rolling Stone’s June 12, 2008 issue they have an article titled 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.” I have a fondness for lists like this – here is a link to a post about Blender’s top 100 indie rock albums and a link to a post about Blender’s list of the top 500 songs in your lifetime.

Rolling Stones Top 100 Guitar Songs

In any list like this, there is subjectivity. However, this Rolling Stone list is so full of ridiculous biases and blatant misses that I threw the magazine down in anger. For I am quite qualified to comment on this topic, basically having spent my entire life listening to and / or playing these types of guitar songs.

I will briefly digress on Rolling Stone’s sins:

– Pretending that random, ’60s blues guitarists and obscure people like Paul Butterfield belong on the list
– Selecting songs based mostly on politics… for example they take the Jimi Hendrix song “Machine Gun” (over “Crosstown Traffic”) solely because Jimi referenced some anti-war protesters in his introduction
– Picking useless Rolling Stones favorites like Bruce Springsteen and pretending that they should get here just because they are politically correct (these are guitar songs, remember)
– Just missing out on trends that need to be hit hard… classic rock in the ’70s, heavy metal in the ’80s and grunge in the ’90s. Sure there were a few hits, but way too many misses

Below is a list of all the Top 100 songs (per Rolling Stone) and my categorization of these rankings on a scale of 0-4 as follows:

Score Rank Description
0 Way Off Not even close
1 Close, No Cigar No, but kind of close
2 Wrong Song right artist, wrong song
3 Alright We’ll let it slide
4 Right On Agree 100%

My analysis is pretty straight-forward. If Rolling Stone put together the best list (in my opinion, but since it is our blog, my opinion is all that matters) then their score would be 4 (score) times 100 songs or 400. As it turns out, Rolling Stone batted very poorly… and less than an average of 2 (1.96 to be exact). Here is how it “broke down” (literally) – 27 right on, 15 that we’ll let slide, 17 with the right artist, wrong song, 9 close, and 32 off by a MILE.

Rank Artist Song Score Description
1 Chuck Berry Johnny B Goode 0 Not even close
2 Jimi Hendrix Purple Haze 4 Agree 100%
3 Cream Crossroads 4 Agree 100%
4 Kinks You Really Got Me 3 We’ll let it slide
5 Rolling Stones Brown Sugar 1 No, but kind of close
6 Van Halen Eruption 4 Agree 100%
7 Beatles While My Guitar Gently Weeps 2 right artist, wrong song
8 Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven 4 Agree 100%
9 Allman Brothers Statesboro Blues 1 No, but kind of close
10 Nirvana Smells Like Teen Spirit 4 Agree 100%
11 Led Zeppelin Whole Lotta’ Love 4 Agree 100%
12 Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) 4 Agree 100%
13 Derek & The Dominos Layla 3 We’ll let it slide
14 Bruce Springsteen Born To Run 0 Not even close
15 The Who My Generation 0 Not even close
16 Neil Young Cowgirl In the Sand 2 right artist, wrong song
17 Black Sabbath Black Sabbath 2 right artist, wrong song
18 Ramones Blitzkrieg Bop 3 We’ll let it slide
19 Prince Purple Rain 2 right artist, wrong song
20 Impressions People Get Ready 0 Not even close
21 White Stripes Seven Nation Army 3 We’ll let it slide
22 Beatles Hard Days Night 2 right artist, wrong song
23 Yardbirds Over Under Sideways Down 0 Not even close
24 Rage Against The Machine Killing In the Name 4 Agree 100%
25 Rolling Stones Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ 3 We’ll let it slide
26 B B King How Blue Can You Get 0 Not even close
27 Paul Butterfield Look Over Yonders Wall 0 Not even close
28 U2 Where The Streets Have No Name 4 Agree 100%
29 AC DC Back In Black 4 Agree 100%
30 Bill Haley Rock Around The Clock 0 Not even close
31 Queen Keep Yourself Alive 2 right artist, wrong song
32 Dire Straits Sultan Of Swing 3 We’ll let it slide
33 Metallica Master Of Puppets 2 right artist, wrong song
34 Aerosmith Walk This Way 4 Agree 100%
35 Stooges 1969 0 Not even close
36 Pink Floyd Interstellar Overdrive 2 right artist, wrong song
37 Elvis Presley That’s All Right 0 Not even close
38 The Faces Stay With Me 0 Not even close
39 Santana Black Magic Woman 4 Agree 100%
40 The Who I Can See For Miles 0 Not even close
41 Television Marquee Moon 0 Not even close
42 John Mayall Hideaway 0 Not even close
43 Sex Pistols Holiday In The Sun 3 We’ll let it slide
44 Sleater Kinney Dig Me Out 0 Not even close
45 Beatles I Saw Her Standing There 0 Not even close
46 Dick Dale Miserlou 4 Agree 100%
47 Van Halen Panama 4 Agree 100%
48 Clash London Calling 4 Agree 100%
49 Jimi Hendrix Machine Gun 2 right artist, wrong song
50 Pixies Debaser 4 Agree 100%
51 Ozzy Osbourne Crazy Train 4 Agree 100%
52 Radiohead My Iron Lung 3 We’ll let it slide
53 Creedence Born On The Bayou 2 right artist, wrong song
54 Stevie Ray Vaughan Little Wing 4 Agree 100%
55 Cream White Room 1 No, but kind of close
56 Byrds Eight Miles High 0 Not even close
57 Grateful Dead Dark Star 0 Not even close
58 Link Wray Rumble 0 Not even close
59 Jeff Beck Freeway Jam 0 Not even close
60 Funkadelic Maggot Brain 0 Not even close
61 Sam And Dave Soul Man 0 Not even close
62 Albert King Born Under A Bad Sign 0 Not even close
63 Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child O’ Mine 3 We’ll let it slide
64 Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird 4 Agree 100%
65 Police Message In A Bottle 3 We’ll let it slide
66 Stevie Ray Vaughan Texas Flood 2 right artist, wrong song
67 Bruce Springsteen Adam Raises A Cain 0 Not even close
68 B B King The Thrill Is Gone 0 Not even close
69 Pink Floyd Money 4 Agree 100%
70 Smashing Pumpkins Bullet With Butterfly Wings 3 We’ll let it slide
71 The Strokes Take It Or Leave It 1 No, but kind of close
72 Weezer Say It Ain’t So 2 right artist, wrong song
73 Blue Cheer Summertime Blues 1 No, but kind of close
74 Z Z Top La Grange 3 We’ll let it slide
75 Frank Zappa Willie The Pimp 2 right artist, wrong song
76 Tom Petty American Girl 4 Agree 100%
77 Pearl Jam Even Flow 2 right artist, wrong song
78 Buddy Guy Stone Crazy 0 Not even close
79 Sonic Youth Silver Rocket 0 Not even close
80 Steely Dan Kid Charlemagne 4 Agree 100%
81 Michael Jackson Beat It 1 No, but kind of close
82 Ventures Walk, Don’t Run 3 We’ll let it slide
83 Sublime What I Got 4 Agree 100%
84 John Mayer Gravity 0 Not even close
85 Phish You Enjoy Myself 1 No, but kind of close
86 Jeff Beck I Ain’t Superstitious 1 No, but kind of close
87 King Crimson Red 2 right artist, wrong song
88 Quicksilver Messenger Service Mona 0 Not even close
89 Joan Jett I Love Rock N’ Roll 3 We’ll let it slide
90 Smiths How Soon Is Now 4 Agree 100%
91 Mars Volta Drunkship Of Lanterns 2 right artist, wrong song
92 Mick Jagger Memo from Turner 0 Not even close
93 My Bloody Valentine Only Shallow 0 Not even close
94 Dire Straits Money For Nothing 1 No, but kind of close
95 Moby Grape Omaha 0 Not even close
96 Husker Du New Day Rising 4 Agree 100%
97 Queens of the Stone Age No One Knows 4 Agree 100%
98 Red Hot Chili Peppers Under The Bridge 4 Agree 100%
99 My Morning Jacket Run Thru 2 right artist, wrong song
100 Tool Vicarious 2 right artist, wrong song

How to fix it? Let’s start with replacing the “Right Artist, Wrong Song” elements on the list.

RS Rank Artist Song Update
7 Beatles While My Guitar Gently Weeps Replace with Revolution… basically popularized fuzz
16 Neil Young Cowgirl In the Sand Ever Hear of “Hey Hey My My” (in Cobain’s suicide note, no less)
17 Black Sabbath Black Sabbath Replace with Paranoid (invented the faster heavy metal riff)
19 Prince Purple Rain How about “Let’s Go Crazy” with its riff and solo?
22 Beatles Hard Days Night Replace with Helter Skelter… Manson killed for it
31 Queen Keep Yourself Alive Killer Queen… but close
33 Metallica Master Of Puppets If you have room for one Metallica song it has to be “Whiplash”
36 Pink Floyd Interstellar Overdrive “Run Like Hell” – how can you not take it for that opening riff, alone
49 Jimi Hendrix Machine Gun “Crosstown Traffic” blows your speakers out
53 Creedence Born On The Bayou “Heard It Thru The Grapevine”… for the long stoner jam
66 Stevie Ray Vaughan Texas Flood “Love Struck Baby” basically put Stevie on the map
72 Weezer Say It Ain’t So Good song.. But better is “Hash Pipe”
75 Frank Zappa Willie The Pimp I’ll leave this for blog-mate Dan the Zappa fan
77 Pearl Jam Even Flow “Jeremy” basically defined the genre with the harmonics intro
87 King Crimson Red Need more whammy bar from Adrian Belew… how about “Thela Hun Gingeet”
91 Mars Volta Drunkship Of Lanterns Very close… but “Cicatriz esp” is even better
99 My Morning Jacket Run Thru Try “It Beats For U” even with its Prince-like spelling
100 Tool Vicarious Change to Parabola

These fixes make a big improvement on the list… but what about the rest of them? Here are 41 songs to replace the crappy ones I noted up above.

Artist Song Notes
Deep Purple Smoke On The Water This is hands down #1
Heart Barracuda Riff is immense
Days of the New Downtown Power acoustic
Motorhead Ace of Spades Can’t beat it
Ted Nugent Cat Scratch Fever For Sure Top #10
Alice In Chains Man In the Box Helped invent grunge
Soundgarden Black Hole Sun Grunge classic
Helmet Unsung Power riff to end power riffs
Jay Z 99 Problems Power Rubin rap riff
Def Leppard Photograph Remember the ’80s?
AC DC Whole Lotta Rosie Simple riff, power
Ten Years After I’d Love To Change the World An absolutely iconic riff
Motley Crue Kick start My Heart That riff will wake you up
Thin Lizzy Boys Are Back in Town You can hear the dual guitar solo in your head
Rush 2112 Did they miss the ’70s? Probably didn’t like Peart’s lyrics
Joe Satriani Surfing with the Alien All the “Satch” you need
Alice In Chains Dem’ Bones Perfect quick power song
Scorpions The Zoo T.I. would be no where without this
B-52’s Rock Lobster Now that’s a funky riff
Violent Femmes Blister In the Sun Just think of that jangly open riff in your head
Bon Jovi Wanted Dead or Alive Remember the ’80s?
Ratt Round and Round An iconic riff
Ozzy Osbourne Over the Mountain the Randy Rhodes solo is perfect
Foghat I Just Wanna Make Love To You blazing solo
Steppenwolf Magic Carpet Ride Invented “Heavy Metal Thunder”
Blue Oyster Cult Don’t Fear the Reaper The first song you learn on guitar
Buckcherry Lit Up Can’t believe that singer’s alive
Elastica Connection One hit wonder but power riff
Blur Song 2 Right between the eyes
Judas Priest Breaking the Law One for Beavis and Butthead
Megadeth Peace Sells Top 10 riff
Muse Hysteria My life, my favorite riff
Outlaws Green Grass and High Tides Did you forget those solos?
Pat Travers Snortin’ Whiskey Drinking Cocaine Insane riff, early Buckcherry ‘tude
Silversun Pickups Well Thought Out Twinkies Reason this song dominated the video list
Stone Temple Pilots Sex Type Thing Put STP on the map
Tool Aenemia Crazy power riff
Van Halen Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love Put VH on the map like Eruption
Yes Starship Trooper Crazy little jig fill… to boot
Emerson Lake & Palmer From the Beginning Admit it… sounds good
Boston More Than A Feeling Cobain “borrowed” this riff

Even I don’t have enough energy and time on my hands to come up with this list ranked 1-100. However, here is my take on the top 10, in no particular order:

– Jimi Hendrix – Purple Haze (like a broken watch, even RS is right a couple times / day)
– Deep Purple – Smoke on the Water (CAN’T BELIEVE THAT RS MISSED THIS ONE… didn’t they ever pick up a guitar?)
– Ted Nugent – Cat Scratch Fever (Also missed, even the Pantera cover version beats 1/2 their picks)
– Helmet – Unsung (a monster song, also missed)
– Ozzy Osbourne – Over the Mountain (also missed completely, that solo is mesmerizing)
– Heart – Barracuda (also missed, can’t you hear that chunky riff in your head?)
– Blue Oyster Cult – Don’t Fear the Reaper (I don’t know what to say… absolutely iconic even with the cowbell)
– Van Halen – Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love (the hit that put them on the map with the guitar sound that revolutionized everything)
– Prince – Let’s Go Crazy (for a pop artist he plays a hell of a guitar, and that middle solo is great, also missed completely)
– Alice In Chains – Man in the Box (that sound is as responsible for grunge as Kurt)

So… out of my top 10 (which I really don’t think are that controversial, for the most part) – only 1 was also picked by RS.

All in all Blender is much better and takes more chances than RS… even when I disagree with Blender, I generally respect their choices.

Cross Posted at LITGM

21 thoughts on “Rolling Stone Magazine Botches “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time””

  1. Absolutely MONSTER post, Carl. Someone had to do this.

    I saw that RS thing, and looked at if for a while, and I thought: “WTF?”, repeatedly.

    There are a lot of problems with it. One thing is, what do you mean by “guitar song?” I think they mean “key moments in the history of rock guitar”. In that case, they should be picking the ur-recordings, as well as key highlights, also, as you note, the key artists even if it is hard to pick just one song. But, as you say, weird, extraneous criteria seem to have crept into the woodwork, including some hippie nostalgia which makes me gag.

    Your list is better.

    A few quibbles. I can see the case for Johnny B. Goode being first. First as im “first in time” more than “best of all”.

    For AC/DC (pretend the slash is a lightning bolt) I would have Highway to Hell. Their breakthrough moment, and a bulldozer of a riff with a blistering solo.

    For Judas Priest, I would have to say Livin’ After Midnight, their canonical song, with a classic riff and, again, a blistering solo.

    There should be a Sex Pistols song, but the song should be Pretty Vacant.

    Sweet Jane should be on there. Sweet Jane is to “alternative” what “Smoke on the Water” is to Classic Rock.

    The Ramones have to be on there. Rockaway Beach would be a better pick.

    I’ll stop there.

  2. Carl, your passion is strong but unfortunately your ignorance of music, its history, evolution and players, is staggering. Your comments make you look petty, biased and simply wrong much more often than not. RS is certainly not going to come up with a list which actually lives up to its title, but then no one has taken Jann and his crew seriously since about the 3rd issue. You clearly care about music, but, to quote your boys Deep Purple, “listen, learn, read on” before you reach your conclusions. (And yes, “Smoke on the Water” is indeed conspicuous by its absence!)

  3. Bob K says, in effect, “I have different taste from you”, when he says “your ignorance is staggering”.

    People get really vehement about music. I used to. When I was 16, if you did not love the Clash, you were a moral cripple. I grew. Now I get vehement about other stuff.

    This list would have been better if they had surveyed a bunch of knowledgeable people and gotten a dozen top ten lists from different angles. This approach does not really work.

    As to Smoke on the Water, it depends on what you mean by “Top 100”. If you mean influential on rock guitar, it has to be on the list, since millions of people learned it as their first song. If you mean most exciting use of the instrument, it is not in the top 10,000. The whole thing is ill-conceived.

  4. I find comments like Bob K funny. He doesn’t realize that in fact I have spent my whole life with music in one form or another. I could argue the obscure or the popular. I chose to argue the popular, since I thought that was more in the spirit of the “top 100 guitar songs” list.

    The first song people learned for years and years was smoke on the water… that was what I meant by it being #1. In some sense, that is the uber-criteria for a “top 100 song”. I agree that I don’t really like the song too much, either.

    I like Highway to Hell a lot. I barely crossed out “Whole lotta rosie” from the list… it was right at the edge and all things considered I should have probably put it back.

    I used to play in a band that did a lot of Judas Priest so I have an unfortunately deep well of knowledge on this. My favorite is “green manalishi” but I left in “breaking the law” out of its cultural significance from Beavis and Butthead. I like the early era right prior to British Steel best.

    Rockaway Beach is a great song. I think it is a better song than “blitzkrieg bop”. but from a guitar (only) standpoint, blitzkrieg bop gets me marching faster.

    I thought a lot about the sex pistols, too. There are a few songs you could pick from that album, of course anarchy in the UK including the Megadeth cover. There are a lot of good ones to choose from and you don’t lose.

    I had “hurt” by nine inch nails and it barely missed the cut. If pressed I’d put that ahead of sweet jane a bit.

    Thanks for the positive comments on the post! I appreciate it!

  5. No Rush?? Rolling Stone mag continues to suck. Tom Sawyer, Limelight, closer to the heart, freewill–SPIRIT OF RADIO– hello..the list goes on …2112??? — give me break no rush tunes. Don’t know what the issue is with RS and rush but its more than just a little noticeable.

    We are talking about guitar tunes, not club tunes for chicks.

    Yes and to all above….all the other bands that either missed or had their b sides posted to this list. WTF

  6. Fun stuff. Nice work. Not sure exactly what your list is trying to capture. Influential on rock guitar? Most exciting use of the instrument? A little of both? Anyway, lots of fun. Here are a few sugestions that would fall into “a little bit of both.”

    * AC\DC – agree re: Highway to Hell, though Back in Black and You Shook Me… are very close.
    * Eagles – Life in the Fast Lane – iconic riff from Joe Walsh
    * Joe Walsh (speaking of) – Rocky Mountain Way: Who doesn’t know this riff?
    * Rush – I think Spirit of Radio, Freewill, or Limelight trump 2112
    * Duane Allman – Statesboro Blues: “No, but kind of close”??? What slide work!
    * Jeff Beck – Led Boots from Wired
    * Eric Johnson – Cliffs of Dover
    * The Who – tie between Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again
    * Allan Holdsworth – Devil Take the Hindmost – solo is unreal
    * Ozzy – I like Over the Mountain, but Crazy Train is probably more recognized and influential


  7. Wow – a little love for Helmet. Nice pick. For a simple little song from a one hit wonder, you hear echos of that riff in much of the hard music created since then.

  8. For King Crimson:

    1) Fripp is the guitarist. Belew is the assistant guitarist.

    Best song depends on Old Crimson v. New Crimson, so I’ll list both:

    Old Crimson – “Fracture” off “Starles and Bible Black”. Think 1 minutes of insanely difficult cross-pick work. Honorable mention – “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic Pt.1” which has a massively heavy mid-song riff followed by two minutes of musical dada guitar crosspick.

    New Crimson – “Dinosaur” off of “Thrak” or “Discipline” from “Discipline” – depending on if you want radio hooks or instrumental.

    As always, YMMV.

  9. Hey man, Rolling Stone may not always be right or fair but your list is just as bad and filled with cliche guitar songs that 15 year olds listen to when they pick up their first guitar. If you think Smoke on the Water is the best guitar song ever you must be crazy. My five year old nephew can play that song on guitar. At least Johnny B. Goode is a solid guitar track with some technical stuff that an average/casual guitar player can’t pull together. Everyone and their mother can learn how to play Smoke on the Water. As for the rest of the list you need to branch out of main stream rock and roll.

  10. Re: Boston – More Than A Feeling. Probably the right choice, but Hitch A Ride is clsoe second. That trade-off/harmony guitar solo is beautiful.

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