What is the best rock and roll song of all time?
So many songs, where do you start...
Rock and roll is going on 60 years old. From its origins in the mid fifties with pioneers as varied as Elvis, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, there have been a multitude of songs that have entered the public conscience. Many have become the soundtrack to our most intimate life events, some a punchline and some a mere footnote.
Many different entities have tried to categorize what is the best song in the Rock and Roll era. Because there are so many different era's, scenes, genre's and personalities, coming up with one answer can be quite a divisive proposition. One could say trying to come up with the answer can be a herculean task.
Well, I am going to give it a shot.
Some familiar reference points
Of course with every attempt to try and quantify the seemingly unquantifiable, there are some touchstones we can identify along the way.
"Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin invariably comes up in many classic rock radio polls. Ditto for "Satisfaction" by the Stones. Any number of Beatles songs get mentioned. Certainly metalheads will point to "Ace of Spades" by Motorhead, "Master of Puppets" by Metallica or "Reign In Blood" by Slayer. Fans of alternative rock would go with any number of selections from REM, The Pixies, Husker Du or the Replacements. Classic rock fans would go with a "Carry on Wayward Son" or "More Than A Feeling". You get the idea.
But how would one arrive the best song of all time?
I have pondered on this long and hard. I came up with a couple of necessary criteria for my choice.
First of all, the song has to has some staying power. It would also need to have some appeal to a cross section of musical tastes. The song needs to have some pedigree of critical acclaim as well.
My biggest qualifier, though, was the song needs to have a solid original version, a definitive version and a good number of solid cover versions. Simply stated, the song has to be good enough that is almost impossible to screw it up, no matter who tries their hand at recording it.
Over the years, we have all heard cringe-inducing versions of good and great songs. From Limp Bizkit putting the wrecking ball to "Faith" to Celine Dion trying to be hip by ruining "You Shook Me All Night Long" nothing puts me in a tailspin quicker.
And the winner is.....
Drum roll please. The best song in the history of rock and roll is:
All Along the Watchtower.
Originally recorded by Bob Dylan in 1967, his version has evocative lyrics, an understated yet recognizable chord progression and an almost impending doom like ambiance.
The song has one of the great opening lines in Rock and Roll, "There must be some kind of way out of here, said the joker to the thief."
Of course the song also has the definitive version by Jimi Hendrix, which was released six months after Dylan.
Both of these versions are great. But the list of other artists who have had a go at this classic number is a veritable Who's Who's of Rock And Roll.
The Dave Matthews Band, U2, Lenny Kravitz, Eric Clapton, John Mellencamp, The Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam and Steve Hackett (with John Wetton) have all had a go at it, among countless others. It may be the ultimate go-to song for a band looking for a bring down the house encore to their live show.
It has always amazed that artists from across so many genres can take the basic structure of this song and add their own little twist, thereby making the song unique yet altogether recognizable at the same time.
As an extra bonus to many of us, a great many of these versions have played out in high profile live settings, which gives each version an additional spark of energy.
So there you have it. Those of you who read this will invariable have any opinion. But great music lends itself to heady discussion and if my humble view can spark a new conversation for an old argument, I am all for it.
Give any of this song's versions a listen. You wont be disappointed.