Who would be on your list of top rock classics? These lists are like references in a biography – the accompanying sound track of a music lovers’ life. So here’s my list, which will date me horribly – but who cares… This was the era when every song was new and radical, and thereafter much-imitated.
I’ve included links to live performances (mostly) as this was the time when bands toured interminably in battered old double-wheel Ford Transits.
Please Note: It’s worth turning the volume to ‘huge” for these live tracks. Back then it was never going to be hi-fi, and we had severe problems hearing our instruments on stage, let alone the poor singer. On-stage volumes of guitars were in most cases what the audience was listening to. So unless you play these tracks as loudly as your speakers (and spouse, neighbours et al) can take – or headphones of course, I can’t guarantee that you’ll get the full benefit 🙂 .
“All Right Now” by Free
Sadly played to death (usually badly) by every pub band in the universe, including me. It’s hard to get it right…
But nevertheless a real trailblazer for guitar bands and so-called “crotch rock”
Andy Fraser, Free’s ridiculously young bass guitarist wrote the song. He was also a radical player, and notably only played in the chorus of this song, leaving the intro and the verse to the drums and the song’s interstellar guitar riff. He came in for the chorus, then kicked off the iconic guitar solo with a bass solo of his own.
The guitarist Paul Kossoff established the archetype singing Les Paul/Marshall sound – achieved in those days by turning everything up flat out, and a huge, deeply expressive vibrato. He also reversed the Les Paul’s pickup switching, playing his leads on the more mid-range “Rhythm” setting and chords on the “Treble”. He was a wonderful chord player – using open string variations that were unusual in those days. He was quoted as saying he thought poorly of his chord playing so tried not do it much.
Drummer Simon Kirke was a snare/high hat expert, and Paul Rogers is one of the best rock and blues singers – even today. Free were unique, and I sneaked in to see them play many times – until they became superstars.
I’d also like to include another Free classic here, also from their Isle of Wight festival appearance in 1970 – “Mr Big”, with its magisterial guitar and then bass solo.
“Dr Robert” by the Beatles
Another guitar song, from my current favourite Beatles album, the George Harrison focussed “Revolver”. Less commonly covered, as the guitar parts aren’t easy to play, plus there are the usual hard-to-nail Beatles vocal harmonies.
I much prefer the more stripped-back John Lennon and George Harrison influenced songs, to the Beatles’ more melodic pop tunes (and their McCartney perspective). I suppose Rubber Soul is my next favourite album, but I do love Sergeant Pepper and Abbey Road.
“White Room” by Cream
One of Cream’s Felix Pappalardi-produced tracks from his iconic Disraeli Gears album. Another wonderful amalgam of rock, blues and something intangible – along with an evocative storyline and great imagery.
With Pappalardi, Cream were leaders of the burgeoning psychedelic scene, which had its own very distinct British thrust. This developed into the musical complexity of Pink Floyd, and of course the psychedelic phases of the Beatles, Stones and most other charting bands of those specific years.
Whereas Cream – despite their role in pushing forward the psyche movement – remained a seminal blues band. They came together as already expert musicians from both the blues and jazz traditions of that era. Cream was notable for extended and very heavy versions of blues classics.
“Burlesque” by Family
I was brought up as a teenager in Leicester, where Family were roaring and raging across those years, with singer Roger Chapman windmilling his arms and going for it. I’m sure he must have been a major influence on Joe Cocker.
Remarkably eclectic – with violin, Hammond, 12-string guitar, sax and harmonica – and a huge, heavy and very electric sound. I had a brief fling with their drummer’s’ girlfriend, although I was too young to actually go to the Burlesque – a 1960’s nightclub.
Further biographical note: I was more an habitue of the Il Rondo in Silver Street (rather than the even more disreputable Nite Owl). At the Il Rondo, I saw all the iterations of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, with most of the 20th century’s best guitarists!
The studio version is best. “Burlesque’s” groove was tricky, depending on precise guitar double-tracking and solid funky bass. Later live stage versions with other guitarists ruined it through “improving”.
Family wrote poignant, beautifully arranged songs, but it was their raw, intense live shows that were so special. So much so, that no lesser bands than Jimi Hendrix’ Experience, were afraid to go on after them.
“Heart of Glass” by Blondie
Any of their songs could be on this list. But “Heart of Glass” was 70’s pop at its best, with funky guitar, cool beats, and properly musical keys – as opposed to the more usual 70s to 80’s dominance of yukkie processed sounds that thankfully today have reverted back to more organic Hammond organs and actual brass.
“We Love You” By Rolling Stones
There should also be some Rolling Stones in here too – but which one…? “We Love You”, from the period when jail, drugs and suicide were writ large across their lives, has all the black intensity that characterises their songs.
They’ve spun across so many genres. But are actually rooted in the blues, and classic guitar sounds – thanks to Keef. And their songwriting is sooo strong.
Have I missed out anything obvious?
Is there anything obvious missing? Of course there is: vast swathes of rock songs, from Elvis to Led Zeppelin, the Kinks, Tom Petty, through QOTSA to WolfAlice. It never ends. So please feel free to shout out your favourites in the comments.