Fans with their arms raised at a concert
A great rock track makes your pulse quicken and your spine tingle — over and over again. I’ve learned that happy, hard-driving lesson as a longtime rock writer for magazines such as Spin and Rolling Stone. So when tasked with winnowing down roughly 65 years of soul-stirring rock songs into a list of 50 essentials, I largely went with tunes that put one’s booty in motion (with some notable exceptions). Hence the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” an explosive call to freedom, rather than a sonic masterpiece like “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Or the Who’s funky “I Can’t Explain” over anthems like “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” And songs like “Jump,” Van Halen’s biggest hit and a physical call to arms, and the B-52’s “Rock Lobster,” the best of a long line of rock tunes as dance adverts. This list is chronological, but rock history moves in fits and starts. Some years — like 1955 and 1978 — simply had it going on, as did the entire ’60s. Rock’s mass appeal started to dwindle by the mid-1980s as rap and electronic pop ascended, and that’s reflected here, too. And to expand the number of artists, I’m representing 50 timeless acts with a single track each (sorry Beatles, Who, Jimi, Stones, Bruce...). That made my job a lot more difficult than yours, which is simply to listen, play some air guitar, and jump.
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