Unlike probably most people, I didn’t grow up listening to much classic rock. My corner of the state had basically three types of music on the radio- Mexican music, Country music and one lonely Pop music station that leaned heavily toward cheesy 80s R & B. And I think there was an AM radio Oldies station. No Rock.
My other main source of music- my parents- had apparently decided to stop collecting new rock records in around 1970, the newest record in their collection being The Rolling Stones’ Let it Bleed. They had The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s three official albums and The Door’s first album. And The Beatles Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits and a Jefferson Airplane record that sadly wasn’t Surrealistic Pillow.
And there was the music that everyone at school who had MTV was fortunate enough to be exposed to- heavy metal. This was the 80s.
So it wasn’t until relatively late in life that I became even more than passingly familiar with bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Aerosmith (the 70s version, not the 80s one), KISS (again, the 70s not the… shudder… 80s version), Thin Lizzy, Queen, Black Sabbath. AC/DC was still cranking out mostly the same style of music in the 80s as they were in 1978, so I knew them.
The first exposure I got to classic rock was when I went to boarding school. Some of my roommates were talking about Led Zeppelin. One of them was gushing over a song called Black Dog. I don’t know why that stuck in my mind, but I was thinking, Black Dog, that’s a funny name for a song.
At any rate, I’m just trying to give some background here. I didn’t grow up with classic rock, so I’m probably coming at this from a different place than the average fan. But here’s my choice for a perfect classic rock song:
Aerosmith Sweet Emotion
There’s a lot I like about this song- Joe Perry has one of my all-time favorite guitar sounds, Steven Tyler has some great attitude. The rhythm section is killing it. How the song builds from that sweet bass line at the beginning. The loose, underplayed solo.
But my favorite thing about the song is how it plays with the standard verse + pre-chorus + chorus song structure. Is sweeeeeeeeet emoooooooshaaan a chorus? I don’t know. It doesn’t really sound like one. It sounds like a buildup before the verse. Like an intro. I feel like the chorus should be over the part where no one sings- da da dah dah dah dah dah da da. Sometimes I try to imagine what I would put in that part of the song, but I can’t really argue with Aerosmith’s leaving it just a guitar riff.
A couple of other contenders- not quite as good as Sweet Emotion, but still pretty close to perfect
Thin Lizzy The Boys Are Back in Town
This is more of a pop song than a rock song, but I’m a sucker for dual harmonized guitar leads. I also like the laid-back tempo, the laid back singing. Phil Lynott is telling a story here- it’s not anything groundbreaking, just about it his buddies going out, trying to meet girls and get in fights. But he does it well. I can imagine being at Dino’s Bar and Grill when a gang of rowdy dudes comes in and starts making trouble. A deceptively well done tune.
Led Zeppelin Ramble On
Again with the harmonized dual leads! But I kind of like this for the same reason I like the previous one- it’s not a hard rocker, it’s fairly melodic. It tells a story and isn’t trying to melt my face. Never been a huge Led Zep fan, but this song I like a lot.
Black Sabbath Hole in the Sky
Is this a classic rock song? Is this heavy metal? I don’t care.
I picked this song almost at random, because Black Sabbath has so many great songs. They just rocked so hard. Great freakout music. Some of the best.
Black Sabbath for me has always been the Beatles of metal for me. Not because they sound like the Beatles, but because they have the same ratio of very high quality vs very low quality songs. It’s about 50/50 that if you randomly select a song by either band that I will either hate it or I will love it. Almost no songs I am not passionately one way or the other about.
Annnnnnd now I’m hooked on Sabbath for the day. Here’s another great song by them, just because
You’re gonna get what’s coming to you, that’s true!
YEAH, ROCK ON OZZY