My Five Favorite Rock & Roll Songs

1. The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter

I am curious what other people would pick as the greatest Rock & Roll song ever. My pick is this masterpiece from the album Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones. The 60s were coming to an end, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated, the Vietnam War was at its bloody worst with the Tet Offensive, race riots erupted in every major American city, and Nixon was elected President as the “law and order” savior (sound familiar?). The world was upside down, violently out of control, and the hippie dream of peace and love had proven to be a bad LSD trip, brought crashing back to earth by the vicious and brutal reality of real life.

And here were the Rolling Stones to chronicle that dark, ugly mood with this absolutley beautiful, blusey, kick-ass anthem, highlighted by Merry Clayton’s high-octane wailing as she pleads to the Almighty to give her shelter from all the rape and murder and war. To me, it’s simply the most brilliant and poignant piece of Rock & Roll ever recorded, so topical for that time and yet so timeless too, the quintessential work of a band on top of its game like no other, then or now.

2. U2 – Bad

Another great Rock & Roll song, my #2 favorite song, in fact. I was at this show at the Hippodrome in Paris on July 4, 1987; my German girlfriend, Tanya, scored two tickets to cheer me up after the USS Stark Incident tore a massive hole in my soul. The funniest part was we drove to it in my 1980 Pontiac Firebird and all the Frenchies in the parking area freaked out over this exotic (to them) American car. This was always one of my favorite U2 tunes and on that night it became something transcendent and healing for my blackened soul, as for the first time in weeks I could clear my mind of all the dead sailors from the Stark who had been haunting me. When Tanya saw me crying during this song, she asked if I was OK, and I told her, yes, as a matter of fact I feel alive again. I think that’s what I said in my bad German. 

When Bono sang the following words:

If you twist and turn away
If you tear yourself in two again
If I could, you know I would
If I could, I would
Let it go

Let it go! I had to let it go! OK, maybe the hashish I smoked was screwing with my head, but those words struck me to the very core of what was haunting me, and I let it go; it was the first time in weeks I wasn’t crippled by anxiety and grief. I grabbed Tanya and held her tight. And I was better, maybe never whole again, but better. I wrote all this down in my journal, which I still have. Great band, perfect song.

3. Foo Fighters – Everlong

I am not a huge Foo Fighters fan, but I am a huge fan of this song, #3 on my list of my favorite Rock & Roll songs. Firstly it’s beautifully melodic, then there’s that buzzsaw guitar like a great Husker Du song, moreover Dave Grohl sings his ass off, all to a fantastic, almost wildly frenetic beat as if Keith Moon rose from the dead to play this track; as much as I loved Nirvana, this was better by far than any single Nirvana song if only because it’s both cuddley romantic and fun as well as it frickin’ ROCKS. The recording is crystal clear and as sonically excellent as any rock song ever laid down in a storage media. I cannot tell you how many 68-mile loops I drove around Lake Tahoe in 2000 while blasting this song, over and over, in my rented Mustang, top down, doobie blazing, all the while screaming along with Grohl. It’s just a goddamn great song for living life in the moment. There’s probably still an APD posted by both the California and Nevada cops looking for me. Screw them, you only live once, bitchez. You all know I’m insane, right?

4. The Doors – LA Woman

My #4 fave in STEREO: This is the Doors about five minutes before Morrison drugged and boozed his way into the Great Beyond, with a real bass guitarist in the mix, the sound of one of the greatest, most innovative Rock & Roll bands proving, without a doubt, just how goddamn great this band really was, and here’s that proof, nearly eight minutes of a Mr. Mojo Risin’ like no other, break out the wine and smoke, build a huge bonfire, bring on the bikini-clad girls, and get your hippie dance on, brother, this is the bona fide shit, what Rock & Roll was meant to be in 4/4 time, and holy crap Robbie Krieger was a great guitarist. At the 6:05 mark the song blasts into another galaxy far, far away from ours, and hell yeah for taking us there. Dude, really, Morrison partied like a pig and left a bloated 27-year-old corpse, but he was the real deal, a Rock & Roll genius of nearly peerless, insane brilliance. Just LISTEN. Bach, Mozart, Miles Davis or Cole Porter will not hook you up with that foxy chick in the red bikini quite like this, brother.

5. The Smiths – Well I Wonder

First of all, Meat is Murder is a superb record and certainly the most underrated one in the band’s catalogue, with a brilliant mélange of pop styles both old and new from 50s Rockabilly to Punk and Post-Punk and everything in-between, especially on this track where the lads from Manchester evoke 60s-era Roy Orbison but with the kind of literate and poignant lyrical beauty that that old pill-popping hillbilly would have never been able to pull off simply because he wasn’t smart enough.

Gasping, but somehow still alive
This is the fierce last stand of all I am

Morrissey stifles his usual snotty, haughty, and smart-aleck tendencies on this song and plays it straight, with heartfelt and genuine emotional depth and feeling, and for once you can clearly look behind his mask to see the real pain and anguish that tormented our favorite celibate vegetarian pop singer. Unrequited love, holy shit what a painful and soul-sucking experience for anyone, especially for such a sensitive and neurotic soul like our boy Stephen, and luckily we get to experience his abject melancholy through this beautifully haunting track. Meanwhile the band gently leads us through Morrissey’s anguish and torment with sublime sonic perfection, careful not to overwhelm the ambiance but to make it soar nonetheless by its sheer, breathless excellence. This is a great song by one of the best bands in the long history of Rock & Roll.

One thought on “My Five Favorite Rock & Roll Songs

  1. Dear Mat,
    I read your 22nd St article that friends from Rock Island sent me.
    In the comments that followed your excellent writing, Ramona B is Ramona Bernal (& her brother Frank Bernal). They lived on 8th Ave just south of the A&P (at 26th Street or so).

    You characterize our neighborhood perfectly. We lived at 921 22nd St. Jeanie, your sister, was in my class at Lincoln. My brother Tony was your age (born in 63). My sister Vanya was born in 1959 and she knew Jeff pretty well.

    My parents divorved in 1972 and my mom took us to Sweden for a year. So, although I heard that Jeanie’s dad had a brain tumor and I learned of Jeff’s murder, it must have been once we were back from Sweden. We hung out with Alan & Ricky Speed (900 block of 21st St), John Baxter across the street from us, the Reyes family (920 22nd St) and Eric Zimmerman up by your house.

    You are very intelligent and you are a good friend. I wish you peace.

    [Mat Scheck]:
    Tina – I sent you an email. Thanks for the comment. I recall your family very well, and Tony was a really good friend at Lincoln.

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