I was raised in a home whose music appreciation mostly centered around church music. I don't mean Christian rock, gospel, or anything like that—more like large chamber choir music. As a teenager I learned to love jazz, alternative rock, and pop music. Now I am learning the guitar, and would love to become well-acquainted with rock and roll. However, I know very little about real rock. I'm wondering if there are certain songs I can listen to to become more familiar with rock that would give me a good introduction into this genre. I've heard/heard of some rock songs that I think are probably considered "classics", but, as a total rock-noob, my exposure has been limited only to what I've heard in movie soundtracks and pop culture. Any guidance would be appreciated.

  • Hi Kenny. Are you OK if these songs deal with some explicit topics such as insults, drugs, love (which are very common in rock music)?
    – Bebs
    Nov 16, 2017 at 10:04

2 Answers 2


Rock has such a long and diverse history, it's difficult to give a single list, since early rock is utterly different than contemporary rock. The closest you can probably come to a canonical list is something like this one from Rolling Stone magazine, the most famous and influential rock-oriented magazine: http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/sns-rolling-stone-top-songs-pictures-photogallery.html

If I was going to give my own, highly-subjective list --of iconic rock songs, not necessarily personal favorites -- it would probably include:

"Strange Things Happening Every Day" - Sister Rosetta Tharpe
"Tutti Frutti" - Little Richard
"Blueberry Hill" - Fats Domino
"Johnny B Goode" - Chuck Berry
"Hound Dog" - Elvis Presley
"Great Balls of Fire" - Jerry Lee Lewis
"Be My Baby" - Ronettes
"Like a Rolling Stone" - Bob Dylan (named #1 by Rolling Stone)
"Satisfaction" - Rolling Stones
"Purple Haze" - Jimi Hendrix
"Time Has Come" - Chambers Brothers
"Stairway to Heaven" - Led Zepplin
"Comfortably Numb" - Pink Floyd
"Bohemian Rhapsody" - Queen
"Tipitina" - Professor Longhair
"Enter Sandman" - Metallica
"Ironman" - Black Sabbath
"I Love Rock and Roll" - Joan Jett
"Walk This Way" - Aerosmith / Run DMC
"Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo" - Rick Derringer
"What's Love Got to Do With It?" - Tina Turner
"Born in the USA" - Bruce Springsteen
"Old Time Rock n Roll" - Bob Seger
"Purple Rain" - Prince
"One" - U2 (really 90s, but pre-grunge)
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" - Nirvana
"Say it Ain't So" - Weezer
"Creep" - Radiohead
"Hey Ya!" - Outkast
"Seven Nation Army" - White Stripes
"Tribute" - Tenacious D
"Tighten Up" - The Black Keys
"Sail" - AWOLNation
"Radioactive" - Imagine Dragons

I've left off some of my own favorite rock songs and groups --such as the immortal Beatles --because, while they were rock musicians, and their songs are iconic, their best songs are not iconic as rock, but as their own individual thing. I've also included some not-so-favorites because they are iconic as rock.

At any rate, although I'm sure there could be a ton of arguments over any particular song on this list, together, they'll give you a good, roughly chronological sense of the shape of rock over the years from the 50s to the early 2000s.

Immortalized as a playlist here for your convenience and listening pleasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzqGq6jiorg&list=PLuH0DI0d4JB_ymm8IFfiR2Mhuep3rHR-t

  • Be careful some of this songs might have some explicit topics so we should warn OP.
    – Bebs
    Nov 16, 2017 at 10:01
  • @Bebs Do you think so? I guess Hey Ya is a tiny bit risque, and "Enter Sandman" has some dark imagery, but I'm really not seeing a need for a warning label here. It also doesn't sound like OP is still a child or a teenager. I guess some of these songs were controversial when they first came out, but by modern standards... Nov 16, 2017 at 14:18
  • 1
    @Bebs I guess I'm used to the radio edit! Hopefully he isn't shocked by reading your comment :) Also... sex, drugs and rock and roll: this really isn't the genre for you if you're easily offended... Nov 16, 2017 at 14:40
  • You're right, I was going to say that.
    – Bebs
    Nov 16, 2017 at 14:49

This is really a wiki question, but My Bloody Valentine "Loveless," The Pixies, and Sonic Youth "Daydream Nation" are probably completely obscure by "pop culture exposure" standards, but were amazingly influential to other bands.


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