The young always have the same problem – how to rebel and conform at the same time. They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another. — Quentin Crisp
James Dean was a rebel. Marlon Brando was a rebel. Johnny Yuma was a rebel. You’re not.
But listening to some of our Top 11 Rebel Songs may get you there.
- We’re Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister
Despite their success, Twisted Sister‘s We’re Not Gonna Take It was the metal band’s only Top 40 hit. Frontman Dee Snider told Wikimetal that the song was born of frustration after years of career struggles.
“Twisted Sister, when we started, we were not just like any band, we were into glam and stuff, but we were more of a fun, ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ band. And I was young, and I was coming into the States, and I was sure like ‘Oh, man, I’m in this cool band, we’re going to get discovered any day now, and everything’s going to be crazy …’ And as the years went on, an anger built in me, and a frustration built in me, it started to reflect, not just in the performances, but in the music, in the songs I was writing. So I don’t think We’re Not Gonna Take It, I Wanna Rock would have been written – know they wouldn’t have been written in year one or year two of Twisted Sister. Those songs were written in year six, in year seven, in year eight, when just like, for years of fighting, the frustration just built, and the anger built. So I think it was important to go through that, for Twisted Sister to develop the type of act and song that people love us for.”
We’re Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister
- Friend of the Devil by the Grateful Dead
Friend of the Devil has become one of the Grateful Dead‘s most popular songs. A collaboration of the Dead’s Jerry Garcia, New Riders of the Purple Sage’s John Dawson and lyricist Robert Hunter, the song took shape at Dawson’s home in Marin County. Hunter had written a song with the opening lyrics, “I set out running but I take my time / It looks like water but it tastes like wine.”
“We all went down to the kitchen to have espresso made in Dawson’s new machine,” Hunter recalled in his online journal entry. “We got to talking about the tune and John said the verses were nifty except for ‘it looks like water but it tastes like wine,’ which I had to admit fell flat. Suddenly Dawson’s eyes lit up and he crowed, ‘How about “a friend of the devil is a friend of mine.”‘ Bingo, not only the right line but a memorable title as well!”
Friend of the Devil by the Grateful Dead
- The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde by Georgie Fame
The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde was a Top 10 hit in 1968 for British Invasion singer Georgie Fame. Written by Mitch Murray and Peter Callender, the song includes sound effects of gunfire, screeching tires and police sirens. The team wrote the song after seeing the popular gangster film Bonnie and Clyde.
“We both decided that they had blown the music,” Murray recalled in 1000 UK Number One Hits. “They should have had a hit song and so we thought we’d write one. At first we considered giving it to Joe Brown or Lonnie Donegan, but they didn’t seem quite right for the song. Then the managing director of CBS told Peter that they had signed Georgie Fame and were looking for a big hit. We added a special jazzy bit for Georgie – ‘Bonnie and Clyde got to be Public Enemy Number One‘ as we thought that would sell it to him, but he wasn’t very keen on the song.”
As it turned out, The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde would be Fame’s last charting single in the U.S.
The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde by Georgie Fame
- Desperado by the Eagles
Written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, 1973’s Desperado was never released as a single but became one of the Eagles’ most popular tunes. “Desperado was a song fragment that I’d had since the late ’60s. Maybe ’68, I started that song,” Henley told Cameron Crowe. “It wasn’t even called Desperado. It was called something else, but it was the same melody, same chords. I think it had something to do with astrology [chuckles]. Whatever the title was back then, it was horrible [laughs].”
“Don sat down at the piano and showed me this song he was working on, and it was the intro to Desperado,” added Frey. “Originally, it was written for a friend of his whose name was Leo. And so the song started out ‘Leo, my God, why don’t you come to your senses / You’ve been out ridin’ fences for so long now.'”
“I showed him this unfinished tune that I had been holding for so many years,” Henley added. “I said, ‘When I play it and sing it, I think of Ray Charles – Ray Charles and Stephen Foster. It’s really a Southern gothic thing, but we can easily make it more Western.’ Glenn leapt right on it – filled in the blanks and brought structure. And that was the beginning of our songwriting partnership … that’s when we became a team.”
Desperado by the Eagles
- Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) by Pink Floyd
Another Brick in the Wall was a three-song segment of Pink Floyd‘s rock opera The Wall.
Pink Floyd songwriter and bassist Roger Waters explained his inspiration in the Wall Street Journal. “The lyrics were a reaction to my time at the Cambridgeshire High School for Boys in 1955, when I was 12. Some of the teachers there were locked into the idea that young boys needed to be controlled with sarcasm and the exercising of brute force to subjugate us to their will. That was their idea of education.”
Waters maintains that the song is often misinterpreted. “After Brick 2 was released as a single, even some intelligent writers thought it was an anti-education song and said it was disgusting and obscene. But the song was never that. It’s a protest song against the tyranny of stupidity and oppression, not just in schools but universally. It’s about the malign influence of propaganda. Obviously, I care deeply about education. I just wanted to encourage anyone who marches to a different drum to push back against those who try to control their minds rather than to retreat behind emotional walls.”
Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) by Pink Floyd
- He’s a Rebel by the Crystals (actually, Darlene Love and the Blossoms)
When Phil Spector first heard He’s a Rebel, written by Gene Pitney, he knew it had hit potential for the Crystals. But Spector was in Los Angeles and his girl group was in New York. When he heard that Vicki Carr was about to release a version of the song, Spector rushed Darlene Love and the Blossoms into the studio to record He’s a Rebel – but it was released under the better-known Crystals name.
“No one knew the difference of who it was,” Love told Reap. “The record just ended up being a number one record. And that’s when, as they say, ‘the crap hit the fan.’ Phil Spector was able to do that because he paid me as a background singer to do it, and he owned the Crystals, so he was able to do whatever he wanted to do. Back in those days, they did that. They changed groups and changed names and changed lead singers, so it wasn’t unusual back in the 60’s.
“The Crystals didn’t know what was going on. When the record was starting to become a hit, they were out on the road with Gene Pitney, who wrote the song. I talked to Gene, and he said he taught it to the girls backstage at one of the shows they were doing. That’s how they learned the song. Phil never even called them and told them that the record was out under their name.”
He’s a Rebel by the Crystals (actually, Darlene Love and the Blossoms)
- Take the Money and Run by the Steve Miller Band
Take the Money and Run was a No. 11 hit for the Steve Miller Band in 1976. The saga of a young renegade couple is set in Texas, where Miller attended school as a boy. Miller revealed in Goldmine that in concert, the song was interchangeable with another of his hits, Rockin’ Me.
“For a while I was singing the lyrics to Take the Money and Run on Rockin’ Me and the Rockin’ Me lyrics on Take the Money and Run. In the end, I finally figured it all out. Take the Money and Run was the first single off of Fly Like an Eagle. Everybody was telling us that we put the wrong song out for the first single. We put it out first because we thought Rockin’ Me would follow it up and be a bigger hit.
“I had a really good friend of mine who was giving me a really hard time about putting all the hand claps on that song. He told me he thought it was really corny. I told him, ‘This is a hit single, you just wait and see.'”
Take the Money and Run by the Steve Miller Band
- The Ballad of Billy the Kid by Billy Joel
Billy Joel has no illusions about the historical accuracy of The Ballad of Billy the Kid, written, he told WNYC, out of a fascination with Westerns.
“There’s a song, actually, on the Piano Man album called The Ballad of Billy the Kid, which, historically, is completely inaccurate. I just used Western-sounding things. He wasn’t from Wheeling, West Virginia. He was actually from Brooklyn. A boy with a six-gun in his hand, and then he robbed his way from Utah to Oklahoma – he never got out of New Mexico.”
Billy, by the song’s end, is a boy from Long Island, but the reference is not autobiographical. The final verse, Joel told Newsday, “is about a bartender from Oyster Bay, a guy named Billy who used to tend bar at a place called Uwe’s … right on South Street. We all ended up at the pub at the end of the day and were entertained by the bartender. He was a very personable guy.”
The Ballad of Billy the Kid by Billy Joel
- Rebel Rebel by David Bowie
David Bowie‘s gender-bending hit was released in 1974 as part of the Diamond Dogs LP. The song was intended for a Ziggy Stardust musical that was never produced. Guitarist Alan Parker explained in Uncut that Bowie wrote the song to “piss off” Mick Jagger.
“He said, ‘I’ve got this riff and it’s a bit Rolling Stonesy – I just want to piss Mick off a bit’,” said Parker. “I spent about three-quarters of an hour to an hour with him working on the guitar riff – he had it almost there, but not quite.
“We got it there, and he said, ‘Oh, we’d better do a middle …’ So he wrote something for the middle, put that in. Then he went off and sorted some lyrics. And that was us done.”
Rebel Rebel by David Bowie
- Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings
Released as a single in 1974, Band on the Run was a No. 1 hit for Paul McCartney and his post-Beatles group, Wings. McCartney told NPR that he’d always intended the song to be a montage of different musical styles.
“Band On The Run starts off in one place and goes to another place. It’s a sort of story song, an episodic thing. But I wanted that because I wanted to write that kind of a song and also with the idea of a ‘band on the run.’ I thought, ‘Okay, well the characters have got to be in prison at first and then for them to be a band on the run they got to break out. So these little story points were kind of obvious, they sort of suggested to themselves: Prison, break out, on the run, nighttime in the desert. And so that was a nice one to write but I did start off thinking I’m going to write that kind of a song.”
McCartney told Clash that Band on the Run was “symbolic” of the bureaucracy he’d faced as a member of the Beatles. “We’d started off as just kids really, who loved our music and wanted to earn a bob or two so we could get a guitar and get a nice car. It was very simple ambitions at first. But then, you know, as it went on it became business meetings and all of that, and eventually it was really not fun. You’d have to go into these meetings. So there was a feeling of ‘if we ever get out of here,’ yeah. And I did.”
Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings
- Rebel Yell by Billy Idol
Rebel Yell was a 1985 hit for Billy Idol. The inspiration for the song came during a party at the apartment of Rolling Stones‘ guitarist Ronnie Wood. Idol describes the meeting in his autobiography Dancing With Myself.
“I soon found myself standing with and talking to Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Wood, noticing each had a bottle of booze in his hands. As the bottle moved toward their lips, I followed its path and saw it had a Confederate cavalry officer dressed in gray riding a horse on the label. Above this figure was the name REBEL YELL. I had been interested in the American Civil War ever since I’d visited Gettysburg when I was five.
“Gazing at the three guzzling Stones, I asked them if they had the bottle custom-made. ‘It’s a Southern mash bourbon,’ they answered. ‘And it’s called Rebel Yell?’ I asked. ‘Do you think you’d ever use that as a song title?’ I tried to convince them it wasn’t quite as iconic for them as Jumpin’ Jack Flash or Gimme Shelter, and they shook their heads and said they wouldn’t use it. ‘Great,’ I said. ‘Because I might just use that title for a song, and maybe even call my next album that.'”
Rebel Yell by Billy Idol