As popular music grew from the rock and roll movement of the mid 20th Century, it branched out into several different genres. Some music became light and bubbly, drawing from pop culture and folk music, but another genre quickly developed, drawing its inspiration mainly from the Blues. This was the birth of Hard Rock, taking the gritty emotion and structure of blues music, ramping it up, and calling to a generation who did not think everything was okay. These musicians brought in electric guitars that were played to extremes of volume, and wrote gut punching riffs, layering them over a solid foundation of power drumming and bone shaking bass lines. Lead guitar melodies and solos were structured around blues chord progressions and became note bending expressions of angst. Hard Rock is music to be felt, not just listened to and while it may have given birth to Heavy Metal, Nu Metal, Glam Rock and other sub-genres they all fall under the encompassing umbrella of Hard Rock. Here are 9 examples of the very best Hard Rock Songs...
Hard Rock Love Songs
9. Love Me Forever by Motörhead
Even in a genre of music that is often defined as aggressive, Love can play a dominant theme and Motorhead’s “Love Me Forever” is a perfect example. By slowing down the tempo but ramping up the intensity Lemmy provides a stunning vocal performance in this hard rock classic. His gruff, almost growling, tone delivers passion during the verses, but the last few words leading to the chorus let you know the hard beat is going to kick in. Sung over Phil Taylors repetitive guitar riff, the moment the chorus starts the drums, bass and rhythm guitar all crash in, with drummer James Hoskins powerful use of bass drum, snare and cymbals punctuating the whole section. When Taylor segues into a laid back yet soaring guitar solo at around 2:25 Michael Burston takes over the power chord riff while the bass and drums maintain the solid back beat. Taylor solos again at the song’s end where a brilliant three note bass line sustains through the outro with lead guitar laid over the top.
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8. She’s Gone by Steelheart
Opening with a gentle piano intro that lulls you into a false sense of security “She’s Gone” by Steelheart takes only 30 more seconds to remind you why this is one of Hard Rock’s best love songs. The piano fades, there is a very brief silence until one sliding bass note calls in the guitars and drums who establish a massive sonic assault with the twin guitars providing melody and riff. This too fades and the piano accompanies vocalist Mike Matijevic who gives a stunning and emotional performance and when he begs “forgive me .. girl” and slides effortlessly into an upper octave, he shows why he’s often lauded as having the widest vocal range in rock. Matijevic’s upper register never wavers and he and Chris Risola’s guitar work duets beautifully all through the song. With it’s masterful use of small breaks and melodic piano over hard hitting drums and guitars this song is a definitive example of a hard rock love song.
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Hard Rock Dance Songs
7. We’re Not Gonna Take by Twisted Sister’s
The ultimate fist-pumping, hard rock dance song, Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is driven by A.J. Pero’s pounding drums which lay a perfect backdrop for vocalist Dee Snider’s anthem to youth rebellion. There are very few moments of subtlety in this glorious and pounding tour de force. Force is right too because Snider’s vocals never let up and the guitar chord riffs punctuate every growl and snarl and when the chorus kicks in with the backing vocals overlayed several times the song’s dynamics change from one man’s call to rebellion to a mob like frenzy that should strike terror into the heart of conformity. If this song comes on at a club or a party and the floor isn’t shaking from bodies jumping up and down in unison and fists being thrust into the air as everyone screams “We’re not gonna take it!” something is seriously wrong. This is hard rock and dance colliding to give the disenfranchised a voice like no other song has before.
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6. Cum On Feel The Noize by Slade
From Fist Pumping to Finger Pointing, Slade’s “Cum On Feel The Noize” is another great example of a hard rock, riff driven song that people can’t sit, or stand, still to. The cover version by America’s Quiet Riot is more famous internationally but the original by Slade is the most energetic and hard driving version and Noddy Holder’s gruff vocals and Don Powell’s drums never let up as the three guitars power through the chords. Slade had everyone dancing to this song which had no pretensions to be anything other than a wall of sound designed to make you leap up and down. Even Dave Hill’s mini solo is just three chords pounded out on a downward stroke and a single repeated note. The title is almost the very definition of hard rock as it urges you to just feel the noise, and Slade hit you with a barrage of power chords, and a driving bass and drum line that lets you do just that. Another dance floor filler in the hard rock genre.
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Hard Rock Workout Songs
5. Duality by Slipknot
A power workout needs adrenaline and Slipknot’s “Duality” will have it pumping through your veins before the chorus even kicks in. In this powerful song the pounding, yet incredibly versatile drumming of the late Joey Jordison dovetails amazingly well with the band’s infamous percussion section. This grammy winning rock song is sheer power. but the counterpoint is Cory Taylor’s vocals which slide easily between Rock Rap and screamed energy. They switch up the rhythm several times but there’s always Jordison’s drumming keeping it in place. A driving bass line under power chord riffs and frenetic percussion from a unit famous for hitting anything in sight drives the song relentlessly. Taylor’s vocals switch between a whispered introduction, becoming menacing in the spoken section to terrifying in the screamed chorus. All over a backdrop of sheer power and hard rock that will push your workout into overdrive.
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4. Dig by Mudvayne
Technically brilliant but with no hint at subtlety “Dig” by Mudvayne is possible the ultimate rock song for a hard workout. Bassist Ryan Martinie opens with a three note bass line that includes a breath taking harmonic and it lets the band build and build to a thunderous crescendo where Matthew McDonough picks up the beat with a powerful snare, tom tom and cymbal driven drum performance. Guitarist Greg Tribbett doubles the beat of the bass line and power chords his way through the song. It never, ever, lets up and the song will drive you hard on the most strenuous of workouts. The vocals of Chad Gray are screamed at you, imagine your workout coach pushing you to one more rep, then one more and even more as he screams at you to push yourself beyond your limits, that’s Gray’s voice you can hear, telling you to dig deeper, and you will to this inspirational hard rock gym classic.
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Hard Rock Guitar Songs
3. 21st Century Schizoid Man by King Crimson
Quite possibly the most unique usage of guitars in any hard rock song, King Crimson’s opus “21st Century Schizoid Man” has never been equaled for technical brilliance and virtuosity. The backbone of King Crimson has always been Robert Fripp, one of rock’s greatest and most versatile guitarists. When this song was first recorded Fripp did all the guitar work, overdubbing track after track and building in slightly off key notes that jar the senses to emphasize the concept of schizophrenia in the song’s title. Subsequent touring bands have often used the gifted guitar work of Adrian Belew to come somewhat close to the discordant guitar sounds that Fripp originally accomplished. Frequently changing the time signature and the key this hard rock masterpiece runs close to 11 minutes and while the drums, bass and sax have very important roles to play, especially with the complex time signatures as the song crosses over to free form jazz. However, it is the guitar that holds this whole thing together and dominates the song completely.
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2. Back In Black by AC/DC
The Young Brothers share guitar duties perfectly in AC/DC’s “Back in Black” which typically for the band is a song with no pretensions to a deeper meaning, it’s just a hard driving song that is instantly recognizable as AC/DC. Angus and Malcolm Young trade riffs beautifully and the lead work of Angus is atypically restrained during this song. He knows when to play and when not to play, interjecting short bursts of notes as a counterp0int to the vocals. When bassist Cliff Williams and Angus and Malcolm all play in unison however, you can understand why this is a guitar rock classic. Three guitars sharing the spotlight, playing the song’s signature melody gives the song it’s signature hook. The lead guitar always sound like it’s about to shred a blistering solo, but Angus shows why he is a master of his instrument, and holds back just enough to let the rhythm guitar share top billing. This is hard rock with top notch guitar playing that has stood the test of time and is still a crowd favorite as well as being one of the band’s best ever songs.
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Best Hard Rock Song
1. Master of Puppets by Metallica
Since Hard Rock covers many styles it can be hard to pick a best of the best song, but if you look up the definition of a hard rock classic it will almost certainly reference Metallica’s “Master of Puppets“. While the lyrics skillfully underscore the way that drug usage can take control of your life, making you it’s puppet, they ae never screamed or shouted, containing just enough aggression and emotion to make you listen. In this song Lars Ulrich demonstrates why he is constantly rated one of rock’s best drummers as he keeps the time with a steady beat overlayed with complex fill patterns. The guitars of Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield work in harmony with hard choppy riffs and featured solos that show true instrumental virtuosity and when the songs breaks at about the halfway mark with a gentle guitar harmony piece played over a steady drum beat from Ulrich, it lays the groundwork for the hard hitting riff to burst back in. “Master of Puppets” is justifiably hailed as a hard rock classic.
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