So…Billboard did a thing: https://www.billboard.com/charts/decade-end/hot-rock-songs
Not to sound sassy, but as a rock artist myself, I feel insulted.
This is rock music?
Don’t get me wrong – I love all music. From Alternative to Classic Rock, Jazz to Vaporwave, Hip-Hop to R&B Country, Blues, Techno, House, Punk, New Wave, and everything in between: I love it all! And…to be fair, some of these songs I do see belonging on a top rock songs of the past decade list, easily.
Portugal.the Man, for example. A lighter flavor of Rock perhaps. It is definitely not the most hard-rocking inclusion, but I do recognize their inclusion nonetheless. It is Indie Rock/Pop and that’s still rock no matter how you slice it.
We also got Walk the Moon with “Shut Up and Dance,” and I feel this inclusion makes sense as well. It belongs because while very poppy and having lots of electronic production backing it, you can still hear all the live rock instrumentation behind it. It’s U2 for the modern era that’s more obsessed with being pop than rock, whilst still paying homage to the roots of rock: the guitar. The guitar is prominent in the instrumentation and mixing of the track, and the drums have that Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA vibes. All-in-all, I love it!
Stone Sour is on the list too, and while I’m not fond of their more recent output, I recognize their inclusion as well. I also see Foo Fighters, Black Keys, Muse, and inclusions such as those are correct in my opinion.
However, one becomes dismayed when looking at the Top 10.
Imagine Dragons? Panic! at the Disco? The Luminers? The only two bands whose inclusions make sense (in my opinion) are Portugal. the Man and Walk the Moon. When it comes to everything else filling out the top 10…
I think Anthony Fantano said it best in his video (posted below) “I feel like these are only rock songs if I kind of tilt my head and squint at them so hard.”
Suddenly, I thought of a question.
In an end-of-the-decade rock list – where most of the artists featured on said list dabble in rock, but are not rock – doesn’t this prove that the significance of genre placement is null-and-void? Everyone is dabbling with everything these days. A simple dab does not constitute a core sound & style, but it’s nice to know that everyone is taking influence from everywhere.
However, at the end of the day, pop is not rock. There is Rock/Pop – but even that genre has Rock in it to begin with. Imagine Dragons is more Dance-Pop than rock. The Luminer’s make indie-folk, nowhere near rock. SHOW ME ON THE DOLL WHERE MUMFORD AND SONS IS A ROCK BAND!?!?!
It goes to show that Billboard is not concerned with quality, they’re only concerned with quantity. The music industry when it comes to Grammy’s, accolades, and chart positions – it’s all a numbers game. The band with the most units sold is the victor. Honestly, I feel that every artist should recognize this fact and work their best to achieve it in their own way.
I’m not saying sell-out. I believe in no such thing. As long as the artistic integrity of the artist is not compromised, they can make as many easily digestible pop tunes as they like. If our ultimate goal as artists is to not only to express ourselves, but to have that expression sustain us financially (so that we never have to work a “real” job ever), then we gotta make sure we at least sell something. We don’t sell our soul for rock and roll, we keep it alive by creating and selling our art as well as providing our talents to various projects.
However, I will again reiterate – Billboard is only concerned with quantity, not quality. And quality-wise, without those inclusions of artists like the Foo Fighters, Muse, and the Black Keys: this list SUCKS!
With that in mind….I decided to create my own list. Do note that some of these songs are in fact on the Billboard list as well, but they’re now ranked in a manner I feel is more appropriate. Some of these songs also came out fairly recently, but I did try to include some songs released before 2015 (just so we had some songs before the halfway point of the decade). There’s also inclusions on my list that you won’t even find on Billboard. Strap yourselves in!
Here are my top 10 rock songs of the decade.
First off, our Honorable Mentions:
American Valhalla by Iggy Pop
The xylophone/marimba/glockenspiel (whatever the hell is playing in the first few seconds of this song), it hooks you instantly. Come for chill, spaghetti western vibes; stay for groovy-yet-grimey bass and desert rock guitars galore! I just adore the pure tone of this song as well. Iggy Pop never fails to deliver and having his style with Josh Homme on guitar providing tasty melody licks is amazing!
While I’m Still Here by Nine Inch Nails
While I was not a fan of the full album Hesitation Marks, there are some cuts, like this one, that I feel will inevitably become Nine Inch Nails classics. The beat sequencing on this song alone sends chills up my spine every time I hear it panning through the headphones. And that sub bass during the chorus – damn dude!
Dumb by George Clanton
I mentioned Vaporwave earlier in this blog. I love Vaporwave, but I understand it is not for everyone. Some folks find the genre very vapid and bland. When the whole backbone of the genre is to take soulless pop and reveal the emptiness of it all through electronic production, the result sometimes is more soulless than the original sample. This is why I love George Clanton. By mixing elements of shoegaze, post-rock, 90s indie-rock/grunge, and hypnagogic pop into the Vaporwave aesthetic and style; George Clanton creates a dream-like quality to what are – at the end of the day – silly little love songs. It’s like taking a bite out of a Twinkie and realizing that it’s not just a Twinkie, it’s a gourmet twinkie with a homemade sponge-cake for the outside, and french vanilla cream for the filling. At the end of the day, it’s still junk food – but dammit if it ain’t the best junk food I’ve ever had! George Clanton with Slide (the album this song comes off of) delivers a nostalgic and glossy fever dream for those still stuck in the 90s. AND IT STILL HAS GUITAR, which is why I consider it a rock song, and noteworthy of an honorable mention.
Writing’s on the Wall – OK GO
2014 saw the release of OK GO’s “Hungry Ghosts.” This has remained to be their latest release to this date (save for a few singles here-and-there). The timbre of OK GO’s music is what Imagine Dragons done right sounds like. Filled with synths, huge bombastic production, but enough intricate musical details to get the music-nerd in me excited. Not to mention this entire album has an 80s vibe to it. It’s like stumbling across a Bizarro-World version of a Brian Eno project. As always, the music videos OK GO provide are jaw dropping. Their video for this song in particular is just simply baffling. I really don’t know what else to say, just watch it.
And now, onto the top 10.
- The Fever (Aye Aye) by Death Grips
Not necessarily rock, but in my opinion, if there was a band to represent the last decade in it’s entirety, it would be Death Grips. They formed in 2010 and have been dropping releases every since their Full-Moon Classic EP and their Ex-Military mixtape. I don’t think there’s any rock group currently that bumps as hard as Death Grips. They’re punk rock for a digital age. When we look back on music made this past decade, I don’t think there’s going to be any other artist that’s done more to shake the establishment than Death Grips. Where some artists would find things like piracy and album-leaks to be detrimental to their growth and progression as musical artists, Death Grips uses these things as advantages and shows how, in the internet age, there’s no roadmap for any artist to follow towards success. Anything is possible. Best way to describe their sound? Imagine if Trent Reznor produced a hardcore punk band making an industrial gansta-rap album with the intensity of death metal….that’s Death Grips. And this song, “The Fever (Aye, Aye),” is probably their most frenetic song yet. Just listen to those drums provided by Zac Hill and how interestingly they’re mixed into the chaotic wall of noise provided by Flatlander’s synths. Top it off with MC Ride screaming his brains out about “Ankles tied to cinder blocks,” and you got a recipe for a dark magic ritual of sound. It shouldn’t work….BUT IT DOES! That’s why I love Death Grips, that’s why I consider them rock, and knowing that they technically aren’t rock – this is why they’re #10.
- Blood and Rockets – The Lennon Claypool Delirium.
I’ve noticed a pattern when it comes to certain media making year-end lists (or even end-of-the-decade lists); in that it is very rare for a more recently published piece of work to make said list. For example, a song that has been out for 5 years will make the list more often than a song that has only been out for 2 years. Reasons being that we have more time to observe the staying power of the music. However, there are notable exceptions to this rule. For example, The Flaming Lips The Soft Bulletin, released in 1999, was placed on the best of the decade list by Rolling Stone that year. Regarding my list, there’s a few songs that have been released in the past 2 years or so…but dang, I can see them sticking around for a long time, like this song here:
It’s the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono (Sean Lennon) writing tunes with Les Claypool from Primus – how cool is that? I have this song listed as one of the best of the past decade due to its unique structure and beautifully constructed chorus. I didn’t even notice until today that the outro changes it’s time signature to 5/8. It’s also a subtle ear-worm. One minute you’re just thinking about the song, the next minute you’re quietly singing “how high does your rocket fly?” as you’re making breakfast, the next minute you’re belting the lyrics at full volume on your morning commute to work. The lyrics weave a tale so strange because it’s true. I had never heard of Jack Parson’s before this song, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget about him now. The father of modern rocket science was into occult magik and hosted orgies at his mansion in Pasadena, California. Only someone as skilled with songwriting like Sean Lennon and someone so kooky like Les Claypool could turn a topic like that into a fun, baroque-pop meets acid rock journey via sound.
- Sixteen Saltines – Jack White.
Off of Blunderbuss, Jack White’s first solo-venture outside the White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather; I find this song to have the most staying power out of all songs on Blunderbuss due to it’s amazingly catchy guitar riff. The production is also something I admire. It keeps the nice warm-mids of a retro recording whilst still having a heavy drive through modern day compression. While I enjoy Boarding House Reach much more, it’s still too early to say how much of an impact Boarding House Reach will have on popular music. With Blunderbuss, on the other hand, you hear it’s influence from the first second to this day! That organ/guitar sound are going to be synonymous with rock in the 2010’s – I guarantee it! Not to mention, out of all the folk-rock-stylings of the 2010s (from Mumford & Sons, to The Lumineers) I feel like Jack White is the only one in this niche-genre trying to give the music some balls. His performance at the Grammy’s that year (2012) shows just how much aggression he can add to it. I still get a smile on my face remembering how Katy Perry had to wait for Jack White’s guitar to stop feeding back before she could speak.
- Never Fight A Man with a Perm – Idles
Another song that’s only been out for two years or less, Never Fight A Man with a Perm by Idles is a thunderous track that grooves like a machine hellbent on pummeling you to the earth’s core, and then having you ask for more. The bass tone is grimy and gritty, the drums are primal and danceable, and the lyrics make for great quotables. What makes me love this song even more is that it brought punk rock to the modern era with modern politics. Idles are attacking toxic masculinity in a way where you get the message, but you can also laugh at the absurd imagery Joe Talbot provides. His snarky and sardonic tone is what sells it. “Me oh me oh my Roy/ you look like a walking thyroid/ you’re not a man, you’re a gland/ you’re one big neck with sausage hands!” As you can see, the song is pointing out something that DRASTICALLY needs to be discussed in this day and age, but doing so in a way that’s both enjoyable yet doesn’t pull punches. Destroying our preconceived notions about social norms in a way that’s satirical with a biting edge? What could be more punk than that?!?
- The Reason they Hate Me – Daughters.
Again, another song released more recently than others, but one I feel will have lots of staying power. The hook alone as frontman Alexis Marshall screams “don’t tell me how to do my job,” seems so appropriate for our modern times. Not only that, but I’ve never heard a song like this before in my life, and that ain’t no hyperbole. Sure, I could compare it to Sonic Youth, but even in their most experimental form, Sonic Youth never got as aggro as this song. Not to mention the details going into the production to get this digital yet organic timbre is spellbinding. The guitars …my god….it’s like my ears are being stabbed, but with a sound; and the stabbing is enjoyable! The drums are amazingly performed and the compression on them is so thick that each hit brings me closer to vomiting out of nervousness. The music is sick, depraved, hive-inducing…and I LOVE IT! I can see this being a theme-song for a Goth road-trip. You might not like their inclusion on this list but I feel like Daughters are giving rock a much needed facelift by providing new sounds and techniques that no other rock band is trying. Like I mentioned earlier with Jack White and how I liked Boarding House Reach more than Blunderbuss – at least Jack White is trying to expand upon the genre of rock to keep it from going stagnant. Same with Idles and same with Daughters. They’re pushing the envelope in more ways than one. And again, if you don’t like their inclusion on the list, I’ll point ya to the hook of this track as my unfiltered reply: “Don’t Tell Me How to Do my Job!”
- Rhinestone Eyes – Gorillaz
Now let’s flip the script and look and an album that was released exactly at the start of the decade. Sure, everyone likes to talk about Humanz, as it officially told the world the Gorillaz were not done and would keep on rocking until the wheels came off the wonderful machine of Damon Albarne’s and Jamie Hewlett’s design. However, I’m sure many Gorillaz fans would also agree that Plastic Beach has been the Gorillaz strongest album concept-wise. It plays off the theme of excess waste and pollution, stringing together beats like a mad scientist, with lyrics frantically calling us to action. Damon paints a whole world in which he’s telling us the end is nigh and that the bringer of our doom is ourselves and the plastic we had doth brought. The whole album is amazing in my opinion, but the highlight for me is Rhinestone Eyes. Yes, Melancholy hill is a phenomenal ballad, but the way Rhinestone Eyes constructs itself by layering synths and drum machines over-the-top of eachother, it’s awesome! And, to top it all off, the song is catchy as hell – even the non-human parts! I still find myself quietly chanting the “now that’s electric-ic-ic,” from time-to-time.
- Hold On – Alabama Shakes
I was debating back and forth between this song and the opening track from their follow up album “Sound and Color.” I think Sound and Color is the greater technical achievement, but as far as overall songwriting and memorability goes, Hold On is Alabama Shakes crowning achievement for this decade. Those inclusions of The Lumineers and Mumford and Sons on Billboard’s list should be replaced with Alabama Shakes because (in my opinion) if you want to be rock and folk at the same time – you do it the way Alabama Shakes do it. It’s CCR for a modern time, just add a dash of R&B and Soul and you’re good to go! The groove drummer Steve Johnson lays down is tasty AF, and perfectly constructs the foundation for Brittany Howard’s guitar line and vocals. And speaking of vocals, might I add that Brittany Howard should be noted as best female vocalist of the decade? Forgot the Katy Perrys, the Taylor Swifts, and the Beyonces of our world – Brittany Howard packs more soul into a single note or “yelp” than any of those singers have in their whole discography. I mean, the song was around Rolling Stones #1 song of the year 2012, so why wouldn’t it be included in the best of the decade list?
- Rope – Foo Fighters
Like i mentioned earlier – some songs that I’ll feature on this list were included in Billboard’s list, it’s just the placement of the song that I found atrocious. This song is one of them. How can this song not be in the top 10? Easily this is one of the Foo’s best tunes of the past decade. The whole album “Wasting Light,” might be Foo Fighter’s best album since “Echoes, Silence, Patience, Grace.” And while I love the concept of Sonic Highways and the singles off of Concrete & Gold, as full albums – both are a little inconsistent: more bad tracks than good. But with Wasting Light, I cannot think of a single wasted note: all notes are needed and when performed sound amazing. What I love about Rope is that it’s a U2 song with the one thing that’s always lacking in a U2 songs – punk power. You can hear the U2 influence with the first few delayed guitar notes. Then the rhythm guitar gets added with that juicy yet brittle tone, then Taylor Hawkins drop-kicks you in the chest with a thunderous drum fill on just the snare! The pummeling drums will put hair on your chest, the guitar work is so much fun, and Dave Grohl’s vocals sound heavenly during the 2-part harmony on the chorus. Not to mention his screams still sound awesome! And, like I mentioned earlier with the drums, there’s a drum-solo on this track that I see many a young-drummer will be trying to perfect for the next few years. This song is going to be played in sporting stadiums for years to come; and it is with this hard-rocking piece of ear candy that the Foo Fighters cement their place in the past decade as one of the few great rock bands that is still rock to it’s core.
- Smooth Sailing – Queens of the Stone Age
…like Clockwork is one of the best rock albums of the past decade. Maybe not the best (there’s an album that has way more historical significance and sonic experimentation that I’ll mention in the next song) but definitely a solid record from front-to-back. This record proves that rock isn’t dead, and this song, “Smooth Sailing,” shows just what rock needs to do in order to stay relevant. PUSH THE ENVELOPE! Try new sounds. Has anyone ever thought of doing a song like this? Combining funk and electronica elements with rock instrumentation? Real acoustic drums with hip-hop drum machines – this is how we keep Rock alive! I love the electric guitar, but the electric guitar is going to die unless we try to do way more with it. This song, the way the beat moves has an undeniable swagger – and how the guitars are mixed and the effects being used over the guitar lines …ugh – so good!
- Lazurus – David Bowie
Ok, so, story-time:
I was a sophomore in college at the time of David Bowie’s death. I found out about his death as I was opening up the university’s cafe (which is where I worked at the time). I saw a picture of The Thin White Duke posted on the Salad-Bar, and it just staid “R.I.P.” next to it.
I loved the works I heard from Mr. Bowie at that time, so I was understandably sadden. However, I wasn’t as sad as most folks that day.
You see, currently typing this it has been 7 days since Neil Peart passed away. I grew up a drummer, and naturally Neil Peart became one of my many inspirations. Neil Peart’s passing was felt very heavily by me, as compared to Mr.Bowie’s passing. The reason for this is because I know Neil’s work, but at the time of David Bowie’s passing (I’m ashamed to admit this) – I only knew his singles, I never listened to a full album of his.
That all changed with this album.
When I heard rumors that David Bowie recorded an album to be released upon his passing, I was flabbergasted. This man turned his death into an art-piece about the fragility of human nature, our lives therein, and the responsibility of the artist to their fans… and ultimately what that responsibility even really is. I own a first edition pressing on vinyl, and even after going through David’s amazingly versatile discography and loving albums like Ziggy Stardust, and Station to Station, Heroes, and Low; I still think this is Mr. Bowie’s most ambitious work of all time.
He planned everything, down to the release of the music video for this song here – just one hour AFTER his death.
He was in a hospital bed, knowing he was about to pass, called his manager and said, “release the video now.”
6 hours after shedding his mortal coil, we are notified of this song’s existence.
And what are the first words of this song? The first words us Bowie-fans hear from the man after his death?
“Look up here, I’m in heaven.”
HOLY HOPPING TROMBONES ON A POGO-STICK!!! That’s some deep shit.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this song is the best rock song of the past decade; for several reasons. 1. It’s a fantastically constructed tune with beautifully sounding horns and a haunting guitar reverb that is just chilling. 2. Mr.Bowie’s singing and lyric writing is just immaculate. 3. It pushes the envelope by having an electronica-jazz band provide the backing instrumentation to a casual and slow rock ballad. 4. No other album is going to have this much significance behind it; a literal swan song. 5. It is the last album by one of rock n roll’s original pioneers.
God Bless you Mr. David Bowie. Hope you’re chilling like the goblin king you are up in heaven.
P.S. Now that Neil Peart is up there with you, can you kindly try to work on some music together and send it to us earthlings down here?