Rock and Roll: Music for the neck downwards.
– Keith Richards
Below, enjoy Frank Mastropolo’s new Top 11 Rock N’ Roll Songs, but note: The absence of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” is not an egregious omission, but a conscious choice. You see, that song appeared on our Top 11 Geezer Songs list already!
“Travelin’ Band,” backed by Who’ll Stop the Rain, was one of three doubled-sided hits released by Creedence Clearwater Revival from their 1970 LP Cosmo’s Factory. The lyrics describe a band on the run between planes, hotels and the stage, where sometimes “Someone got excited / Had to call the state militia.” Creedence front man John Fogerty wrote and sang “Travelin’ Band” in the tradition of the great 1950s rock tunes. “That was my salute to Little Richard,” Fogerty told Uncut.
“That’s just ‘Long Tally Sally,'” Little Richard said in Rolling Stone. “They’re really rocking and it ain’t bull, they’re really rocking. And his voice is strong, he’s got the same thing that I have, it’s strong, it’s there. It’s strong without any doubt, it’s not weak, and there’s no letup, it stays forceful. Everything the cat touches is a smash; it’s funky, you can’t say nothing but it’s funky.”
But Little Richard’s publisher heard enough similarities between “Travelin’ Band” and Richard’s “Good Golly, Miss Molly” that it sued Fogerty for plagiarism. The lawsuit was settled out of court.
“Travelin’ Band” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
The 1980s were a turbulent time at home and abroad and Neil Young raged against all of it in 1989’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Among his targets were the hypocrisy of the “kinder, gentler nation” of the first President Bush; the “Keep Hope Alive” slogan of Rev. Jesse Jackson; the widespread consumerism that bred waste and pollution; and the crack cocaine epidemic that spread throughout large cities.
Young released both live acoustic and electric versions of the song on his 1989 album Freedom. In a BBC Radio 1 interview, Young said, “The song is an anthem on the one hand – a Bruce Springsteen kind of a thing – but on the other hand it’s not, it’s the opposite, the negative side … From the chorus you’d think it was going to be ‘Hooray for us’ but it’s not.”
Young performed a memorable version on Saturday Night Live in Sept. 1989. Before his performance, Young worked with a trainer, lifting weights and exercising to pump himself up. “I don’t like TV. Never have,” Young told the Village Voice. “It always sucks and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t just walk on and do “Rockin’ in the Free World,” or you’ll look like a fuckin’ idiot. To perform that song the way it’s supposed to be performed you have to be at peak blood level, everything has to be up, the machine has to be stoked. To do that I had to ignore Saturday Night Live completely. I had to pretend I wasn’t there.”
“Rockin’ in the Free World” (on Saturday Night Live) by Neil Young
“The Heart of Rock & Roll” was a No. 6 hit for Huey Lewis and the News in 1984. The song was written by Lewis and News saxophonist Johnny Colla. “Several times Huey will come up with a hook, something that he likes, something that rings with him lyrically and I’ll try and wrap music around that,” Colla told Michael Cavacini.
“’Heart of Rock & Roll’ started as … we had just finished a show in Cleveland, Ohio. We jumped on the bus and we were all jacked up because we had just killed Cleveland – best show of our lives up to that point. We’re on the bus driving to who knows where and Huey goes, ‘Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a tune. The heart of rock and roll is in Cleveland.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Keep workin’ on it [Laughs]. So literally, he sat down in the bus and started pounding his knees to create the beat he had in his mind and he’s singing, ‘The heart of rock and roll is in Cleveland, and from what I’ve seen I believe ’em.’ And I went, ‘Yeah, there’s something there. Keep workin’ on it.’
“So, it was no more than a couple weeks later when I said, ‘What’s going on with that tune?’ Huey said, ‘Well, nothing yet.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve got an idea.’ I put some music together and the song was finished.”
“The Heart of Rock & Roll” by Huey Lewis and the News
“Pop Muzik” was a No. 1 hit in 1979 for M, the pseudonym of British musician Robin Scott. The song was produced at a time when rock, punk and disco competed for fans’ attention. “I was looking to make a fusion of various styles which somehow would summarize the last 25 years of pop music,” Scott said in The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. “It was a deliberate point I was trying to make. Whereas rock and roll had created a generation gap, disco was bringing people together on an enormous scale. That’s why I really wanted to make a simple, bland statement, which was, ‘All we’re talking about basically [is] pop music.'”
Scott explained how he came to use the name M: “I was thinking that I really needed a pseudonym which would create sufficient interest. I was looking out of the window and I saw this large ‘M,’ which you see all around Paris for the Metro, and I thought, ‘Perfect. I’ll take that. And the more people read into it, so much the better.’ I should have never told anybody who I was.”
“Pop Muzik” by M
In 1973, “Cum On Feel the Noize“ was a No. 1 hit in the U.K. for glam rock band Slade but the song barely eked out a spot in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. Feel the Noize, which encouraged audience participation at concerts, was written by Slade’s Jim Lea and Noddy Holder. “I was at a Chuck Berry gig in ’72 and everybody was singing his tunes,” Lea recalled in Record Mirror. “He kept stopping and letting the crowd sing and it wasn’t just a few people, it was everyone. I thought it was amazing and thought – why not write the crowd into the songs?”
Ten years later, heavy metal band Quiet Riot had a Top 10 hit with its version. Quiet Riot’s lead singer Kevin DuBrow told Classic Rock Revisited that he wished he could have written what became the band’s biggest hit. “Especially in a financial sense. You knew where the royalties were going. We saw the accounting and knew what was going on. I never loved that song but at the same token, I never thought we were the greatest songwriters in the world. We were trying to be rock ‘n’ roll stars.”
“Cum On Feel the Noize” by Slade
“Cum On Feel the Noize” by Quiet Riot
Singer-songwriter Rob Parissi wrote the 1976 No. 1 hit Play That Funky Music at a time when rock was being eclipsed by disco music. ” We were struggling to play Rock / Funk tunes in this big club and then they would take breaks and put on these doggone Barry White records and they’d sound so large,” Parissi told Classic Bands.
Parissi called a meeting and said the group needed songs that would work in both rock clubs and discos. “And the drummer finally ended up talking about these black people who were coming to see us at this disco. They would come up and tease us. When the disco machine would go off, they’d say, ‘You white boys gonna play any funky music?’
“Finally, the drummer just spoke up and said, ‘Yeah, it’s like they keep saying “play that funky music, white boys’ [Laughs] and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s a good title.'”
Parissi began work on the song on the way back to the stage. “I just started writing lyrics; ‘play that funky music’ and I wrote the last verse in the car on the way home.”
“Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry
Moody Blues bassist John Lodge said he wrote “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” as a reaction to fans who placed too much faith in the band’s wisdom. “A lot of people had decided that we knew the answers to the universe,” Lodge told the Daily Press. “Somehow they believed if you came to Oklahoma and saw the Moody Blues perform, the world wouldn’t end. But we were just the same as everyone else, with no clue at all about what life’s about. All I knew was that if you enjoy what you do and focus on what you’re doing, you probably have a better chance of enjoying life than if you de-focus.”
The song was a No. 12 hit in 1973 and became one of the Moodies’ most requested numbers. “I think you do want your songs to have meaning,” Lodge explained in Examiner.com. “But sometimes you write a song that has a representation of who you are as well, like “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band).” That’s who I am, you know, full stop. And that’s the meaning of that song.
“Within a song like that, you can put other things in there that hopefully are thought-provoking for people and have meaning. That to me is the pure magic of it because the one thing you don’t want is to grow old and everyone else grows old with you. You really want your music to be timeless so people can relate to it, whatever the age.”
“I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” by the Moody Blues
One of Led Zeppelin’s most popular tunes, Rock and Roll debuted on Led Zeppelin IV in 1971. Guitarist Jimmy Page said that while working in the studio on “Four Sticks,” a “spontaneous combustion” occurred. “We’d just finished a take and John Bonham did the drum intro and we just followed on,” Page told Trouser Press. “I started doing pretty much half of that riff you hear on Rock and Roll and it was just so exciting that we thought, ‘let’s just work on this.'”
“‘Rock And Roll’ was a spontaneous combustion,” Page recalled in the (London) Times. “Bonzo played the beginning of Little Richard’s Good Golly Miss Molly with the tape still running and I just started doing that part of the riff. It actually ground to a halt after about 12 bars, but it was enough to know that there was enough of a number there to keep working on it. Robert [Plant] even came in singing on it straight away.”
“Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin
Though a 1982 hit for Joan Jett, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” was written in 1975 by Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker of the U.K. band the Arrows. “That was a knee-jerk response to the Rolling Stones’ It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll,” Merrill told Songfacts. “I’d met Mick Jagger socially a few times, and I knew he was hanging around with Prince Rupert Loewenstein and people like that – jet setters. I almost felt like ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ was an apology to those jet-set princes and princesses that he was hanging around with – the aristocracy.”
The song’s success in Britain earned the Arrows their own TV show on the ITV network. Enter Joan Jett, who caught the show while touring the U.K. with the Runaways.
“It was the B-side of a single by a group called the Arrows and I immediately thought it sounded like a hit,” Jett explained in Guitar World. “I played it for the band, but they didn’t want to do it because we had just recorded ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and they didn’t think it was a good idea to have two songs on the same album with the words ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ in the title, so we didn’t do it. I thought to myself, I’ll just stick it in my back pocket, and maybe we’ll revisit in another album or two. Anyway, the band broke up, I ended up recording it for my solo album and the rest is history.”
“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” by the Arrows
“It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” marked the first time guitarist Ronnie Wood appeared on a Stones album. The title track of the Stones’ 1974 album was recorded at Wood’s London home. “It was all done in three takes,” Mick Jagger recalled in Rolling Stones: Off the Record. “I just wrote it very quickly one day … I suppose it does sound as though it could have come off any one of our first three albums, ‘cept that the chorus, it’s a bit rock ‘n’ roll revival in parts, don’t you think? But that was done quite unconsciously.”
Jagger claimed that it was written in response to music journalists who criticized each new Stones release as “not as good as their last one.”
“It’s me anti-intellectual record,” said Jagger, who wrote the song with Keith Richards. “As soon as I’d written it, I knew it was a single. And I haven’t felt that about a song for years … It’s my answer to everybody who takes what I do, or what the band does, too seriously. It’s only rock ‘n’ roll, man, so what the hell.”
“It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)” by the Rolling Stones
“We’re an American Band” provides a glimpse into Grand Funk Railroad’s 1973 U.S. tour. Written and sung by Don Brewer, the song topped the charts later that year. “I just took little snippets of what was going on out on the road with ‘up all night’ with Freddie King playing poker, ‘four young chiquitas in Omaha,’ and ‘sweet, sweet Connie’ in Little Rock,” Brewer told Musicguy247. “I took all of these things and put them together. I really didn’t come up with a tag for the song until I had already written the song. I came up with the three or four chords that I knew on the guitar [Laughs] and put them all in the song. I came up with the verses, the bridge, the chorus, but it didn’t have the final chorus tag line. I knew what I wanted to sing ‘Da da da da da da da’ but I didn’t have the words. It just dawned on me one day, that that’s what we are, that’s what we do, and boy did it sing well.”
Guitarist Mark Farner explained to Vintage Rock that he told Brewer, a drummer, that the song needed more cowbell. “I wrote the drum lick intro to that with the cowbell. I said, ‘Man, we gotta do this with a cowbell.’ He didn’t have a cowbell then. ‘We need to get a cowbell!’ I said to him, ‘All these songs that are starting with these cowbells are hits!'”
“We’re an American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad