10 Classic Rock Songs that Would Still Be Hits Today

We all know that parent/grandparent/old person who’s convinced that music peaked decades ago (probably in the ‘70s) when classic rock was king. They’re not necessarily right, but there are certainly some classic rock songs that are as timeless as music itself.

Here are 10 classic rock songs that would hold up just as well today as they did back then.

10. “Lola” - The Kinks
When “Lola” came out in 1970, the world might not have been ready for a love song centered around a trans woman. It might not be the most politically correct song in history, but it would make quite the splash for one of today’s trans (or LGBT-allied) musicians. Aside from subject matter, the song has just enough of a catchy vintage rock vibe without sounding too dated. It’s a perfect storm for a little poppy hipster rock.

9. “All the Way from Memphis” - Mott the Hoople
Decades before Brand New (among many others) complained about touring life with “I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light,” Ian Hunter and his crew penned a tune about losing your guitar on tour. While it likely wouldn’t take a month to find your guitar after a shipping mistake in 2015, losing gear is something that happens all too often and rarely gets written about. There are enough piano-driven rock groups out there these days that any number of them could put out the song tomorrow and it’d be a hit. You could even take it a different direction and let someone like Kings of Leon or Mumford and Sons do it.

8. “Rock & Roll” - The Velvet Underground
If songs about rock ‘’n’ roll problems never get old, then songs about the amazing power of music will never be uncool. Everyone’s had that moment where you hear a song for the first time and it changes your life, and Lou Reed’s story about his initial experience hearing rock music on the radio is as good of a tale as any. For that matter, the song wouldn’t even have to stay as a rock song, it could be converted to hip hop or anything else just as easily. Come to think of it, a lot of Velvet Underground/Lou Reed stuff would probably work well as rap songs.

7. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” - The Clash
Of all the old punk bands, the Clash would probably be most well-received in 2015. Sure, there’d still be places for groups like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, but it’s highly unlikely that the music of either would have a lot of crossover appeal right now (outside of “Blitzkrieg Bop” immediately being on every commercial). The Clash, with their more intelligently politicized lyrics and more polished musicianship would fit in pretty dang well with today’s punk/alternative scene. As soon as one of today’s young bands (The Interrupters or White Lung would be cool, if you wanted to mix it up with a female vocalist) hit that first guitar lick, it’d be the kind of song that would take them to the next level.

6. “Instant Karma” - John Lennon
It’s safe to say that the comments section of this list will be littered with people whining about the lack of a Beatles song (spoiler alert: the Beatles don’t show up on this list), but the truth is that the Beatles sound old. The Beatles’ sound likely wouldn’t work for a new band (or an aging former punk group, ahem, Green Day) because it’s so elementary and fundamental that a lot of fans would get bored with it. The thing that makes the Beatles stand out from every band after the Beatles is they pretty much did it first and they did it well. While his band’s vibes might not fit the modern music scene, can you imagine if one of the heartthrob male singer/songwriters of today put out a tune like “Instant Karma”? It would instantly launch someone like Sam Smith or that ginger kid who hangs around Taylor Swift into music history.

5. “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” - T. Rex
Over the last handful of years, there’s been a reemergence of bands coming into the spotlight with a vintage electro/keyboard/rock sound. Before most of the members of those bands were born, T. Rex released their big song, which could easily be the lone rock song on Top 40 radio today. Between the chorus’ backing vocals, the overall funky/danceable feel of the song, and that same balance of timeless coolness with just enough retro sound, “Bang a Gong” could easily be put out by anyone from the Black Keys to Fitz and the Tantrums, and would probably be the top single on an album.

4. “Fame” - David Bowie
Imagine St. Vincent performing “Fame.” Really, you can substitute almost any “weird” musician and almost any Bowie song, but St. Vincent doing “Fame” would be really perfect.

3. “Gloria” - Patti Smith
Yes, we realize “Gloria” wasn’t written by Smith. Frankly, it doesn’t matter because her version is the one we’d want to hear today. For as long as there’s music, there’ll be a place for soulfully artistic rocker chicks, and any number of them could make a huge hit out of Smith’s rendition of the Van Morrison song. Plus, the line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” is about as punk as it gets.

2. “Like a Rolling Stone” - Bob Dylan
At least once a year, some slightly folky but seemingly intelligent male singer/songwriter comes along and gets heralded for his musical storytelling ability. Inevitably, someone compares them to Bob Dylan, and they’re pretty much always wrong. That said, if one of them released “Like a Rolling Stone,” it would be way more appropriate. Which of today’s folk heroes would be like to see put out one of the greatest of all time? Conor Oberst, because he seems like he’s the right combination of endearing, emotionally destructive, and a little bit of a difficult prick.

1. “Gimme Shelter” - Rolling Stones
Expand this to just about any prime Stones song, and it’s still absolutely true. Old school bluesy rock is what the cool kids are listening to (see: Alabama Shakes), and no one does bluesy rock like Mick and Keith. Seriously though, for all the “originality” of some of these new bands that come through and win hearts and awards, a lot of them are just dipping into what the Stones have been doing for over half of a century.
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Josh Chesler
Contact: Josh Chesler