The conversation begins innocently enough.

I was listening to sports radio the other dayas I doand they meandered into the topic of misunderstood lyrics. Mick Jagger being the undisputed king of them, of course, brought up the lyric in “Sympathy for the Devil”.

Jagger? Moreso than Michael Stipe?

Jagger. Jagger was mumbling and howling words while Michael Stipe was still sucking his mammy’s titty. The lyrics actually say: “I watched and gleamed while you kings and queens fought for ten decades for the gods they made.” Anastasia screamed in vain, you know. The whole song is genius, man. Genius! Best. Rock. Song. Evar. And the challenge is thrown down, Come on. Try me. (And don’t give me no Led Zeppelin pansy ass shit either. All that stuff about faeries and flowers in the hair.) I immediately nominate, “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan and “London Calling” by The Clash. The answer: Like a Rolling Stone, done by Jimi Hendrix, is a good choice. London Calling too, but neither holds a candle.

And so it goes, suggestion and counter:

“My Generation”, The Who: Serious consideration, but no. “Hey Jude”, The Beatles: Not even the best Beatles song. “I Walk The Line”, Johnny Cash: Doesn’t have the same effect. “Me And Bobby McGee” Janis Joplin: Written by? Kris Kristofferson. Therefore, not rock. Q.E.D.

What makes the Best. Rock. Song. Evar? The question, once broached, demanded an answer. For the next two weeks I asked. I interrogated. I debated. I questioned. I tested. No one was safe. Cab drivers would find themselves musing on the idea as they drove. Before I would help people at work, I would require them to answer this one question. It was the new currency of technical support. I asked everyone I ran across. I took notes on the opinions of my friends and family, associates and enemies. I wrote to people I had not spoken to in months—years in at least one case.

Sometimes my target would nominate a song purely subjectively. I just like it. It rocks! Sometimes they would attempt an explanation, like this brilliant bit of poetry from Eamon:

Man, that’s a toughie. I think I’m going to go with AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”, and here’s why: not only does it rock, but it makes you feel like you rock just for listening to it, and it makes whatever song comes after it rock even harder. Because while the song repeatedly promises that full-on rocking is imminent, in fact it has already begun rocking, thus thoroughly priming your sub-consciousness for continued rock.

I add that the fusillade at the end of the song does not hurt the strength of the nomination by any stretch. Liz went so far as to declare this to be the song she wants played at her funeral and Smokes has gallantly agreed to provide the necessary cannon fire.

Some other thoughts:

“Hot for Teacher”, Van Halen: Best drum intro evar! The intro to AC/DC’s “Back in Black” is second to none (Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” is a close second).

“Born To Run”, Bruce Springsteen. The category of rock is so broad, it makes for difficult comparisons. My first reaction was “Born to Run.” Despite the fact that it is not my favorite song and that it violates my own personal Reinheitsgebot for true rock: No horns, no woodwinds, no piano. I still find it to be the best representation of good ol’ rock. It is pretty cool during concerts when Springsteen does this song with the lights up and 15,000 people singing along. Goosebumps.

“War Pigs”, Black Sabbath: I couldn’t choose between “Iron Man” and “Paranoid”, so “War Pigs” wins.

“Whipping Post”, Allman Brothers: Best song for drinking alone in shady dive bar on a Wednesday morning—with only two other people there.

Understandably the conversation often diverged into classification and categorization—Couplandesque musical hairsplitting. People argued to have particular songs removed from consideration. Rock does not quibble! At the nomination of Pink Floyd’s “Money” and “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” I heard the following observation: I don’t know what those Floyd songs are, but rock is like porn: I know it when I fuck to it.

The list of nominees grew. As it took shape, others joined in with their thoughts. Richnut wrote:

AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”: “For Those About to Rock” might rock harder, any of the Beatles songs might rock with a more finesse, some of the Dylan or Hendrix songs might be indicative of genre changing moments in rock history, but no song I have ever heard can transform country-listeners, bible-thumpers, housewives, kids, grandmothers, and just about every other type of person into rockers if only for 3 minutes and 28 seconds. That has got to be worth something.

Whirl nominated several songs, and offered an Honorable Mention to the Scorpions’ “Bad Boys Running Wild”. Because, as she says, it makes me laugh until I nearly wet my pants.

My own nominations include:

  • “London Calling”, The Clash
  • “Black Dog”, Led Zeppelin
  • “Fat Bottomed Girls”, Queen
  • “Hawkmoon 269”, U2
  • “Heavy Metal”, Sammy Hagar
  • “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, Bob Dylan

A great rock song includes: risk, unpredictability, compulsion and endurance. The song does something new; the song does something to me; and the song must establish that this these effects continue with repetition. Great rock songs feature performances so impassioned and so urgent that you fear they will spin out of control. These song evoke feelings. Their performers compel you to move your head, your hands—your body. You may know the words—you may not—but you instinctively reach for the volume to turn it up each and every time it is played. To play it loud.

We never did come to conclusion—I do not believe that is even possible. But regardless I present my thoroughly subjective, completely unprofessional and entirely unscientific list of nominees for the Best. Rock. Song. Evar.

  • “Add It Up”, Violent Femmes
  • “All Along the Watchtower”, (Dylan) Jimi Hendrix
  • “All Right Now”, Free
  • “All the Young Dudes”, Mott the Hoople
  • “American Girl”, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  • “Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)”, Pink Floyd
  • “Back in Black”, AC/DC
  • “Bad Boys Running Wild”, The Scorpions
  • “Ball And Chain”, Social Distortion
  • “Beds Are Burning”, Midnight Oil
  • “Black Dog”, Led Zeppelin
  • “Black Water”, The Doobie Brothers
  • “Blitzkrieg Bop”, The Ramones
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Queen
  • “Born To Be Wild”, Steppenwolf
  • “Born To Run”, Bruce Springsteen
  • “Cocaine”, Eric Clapton
  • “Do You Feel Like We Do”, Peter Frampton
  • “Dream On”, Aerosmith
  • “Enter Sandman”, Metallica
  • “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”, The Police
  • “Fat Bottomed Girls”, Queen
  • “Fell On Black Days”, Soundgarden
  • “Fire”, Jimi Hendrix
  • “Fool in the Rain”, Led Zeppelin
  • “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)”, AC/DC
  • “For What It’s Worth”, Buffalo Springfield
  • “Foreplay – Long Time”, Boston
  • “Free Bird”, Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • “Green-Eyed Lady”, Sugarloaf
  • “Hawkmoon 269”, U2
  • “Head Like a Hole”, Nine Inch Nails
  • “Heavy Metal”, Sammy Hagar
  • “Heroes”, David Bowie
  • “Hey Jude”, The Beatles
  • “Hitch a Ride”, Boston
  • “Hold Your Head Up”, Argent
  • “Hot Blooded”, Foreigner
  • “Hot For Teacher”, Van Halen
  • “Hotel California”, The Eagles
  • “House of the Rising Sun”, (Traditional) The Animals
  • “Hurricane”, Bob Dylan
  • “I Walk the Line”, Johnny Cash
  • “I Want You To Want Me”, Cheap Trick
  • “Interstate Love Song”, Stone Temple Pilots
  • “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”, R.E.M.
  • “Jump”, Van Halen
  • “King of Fools”, Social Distortion
  • “L.A. Woman”, The Doors
  • “Layla”, Derek and the Dominos
  • “Like A Rolling Stone”, Bob Dylan
  • “London Calling”, The Clash
  • “Louie, Louie”, The Kingsmen
  • “Magic Carpet Ride”, Steppenwolf
  • “Magic Man”, Heart
  • “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • “Me and Bobby McGee”, (Kristofferson and Foster) Janis Joplin
  • “Message in a Bottle”, The Police
  • “Misty Mountain Hop”, Led Zeppelin
  • “Money”, Pink Floyd
  • “My Generation”, The Who
  • “My Morning Song”, The Black Crowes
  • “Need Somebody To Love”, Jefferson Airplane
  • “Once In a Lifetime”, Talking Heads
  • “One”, Metallica
  • “Paradise By the Dashboard Lights”, Meat Loaf
  • “Paradise City”, Guns ‘N Roses
  • “Paranoid”, Black Sabbath
  • “Piece of My Heart”, (Berns and Ragovoy) Janis Joplin
  • “Rearviewmirror”, Pearl Jam
  • “Rebel, Rebel”, David Bowie
  • “Rock and Roll All Nite”, KISS
  • “Rock and Roll Band”, Boston
  • “Rock the Casbah”, The Clash
  • “Rusty Cage”, (Cash) Soundgarden
  • “(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, The Rolling Stones
  • “Shoot To Thrill”, AC/DC
  • “Smoke on the Water”, Deep Purple
  • “Spirits in the Material World”, The Police
  • “Stairway to Heaven”, Led Zeppelin
  • “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, Bob Dylan
  • “Suffragette City”, David Bowie
  • “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, Crosby Stills & Nash
  • “Sweet Home Alabama”, Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • “Sympathy For The Devil”, The Rolling Stones
  • “The Joker”, Steve Miller Band
  • “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”, Blue Öyster Cult
  • “Tiny Dancer”, Elton John
  • “Tom Sawyer”, Rush
  • “Tommy The Cat”, Primus
  • “Twilight Zone”, Golden Earring
  • “Walk On the Wild Side”, Lou Reed
  • “War Pigs”, Black Sabbath
  • “Welcome to the Jungle”, Guns ‘n Roses
  • “Whipping Post”, Allman Brothers
  • “White Room”, Cream
  • “Who Are You”, The Who
  • “Whole Lotta Love”, Led Zeppelin
  • “Wild Mountain Honey”, The Steve Miller Band
  • “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, The Who
  • “You Really Got Me”, The Kinks
  • “You Shook Me All Night Long”, AC/DC