Top 40 Classic Rock Lyrics
Rock lyrics aren't necessarily meant to be closely examined. After all, this is supposed to be fun. Yet some lines stand out more than others, whether because of their smarts, their hilarity, or their ability to challenge perceptions. A few rise to the level of poetry, while others are about more base desires. To make our list of Top 40 Classic Rock Lyrics, a writer had to say something unforgettable. Some of these have even moved into everyday language:
No. 40. Jimi Hendrix, "Purple Haze"
From: Are You Experienced (1967)
The lyric: "Excuse me, while I kiss the sky."
Who knows what it means? But maybe that's why this line is so unforgettable – or maybe this.
No. 39. Led Zeppelin, "Stairway to Heaven"
From: Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
The lyric: "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now – it's just a spring clean for the May Queen."
Actually, all of this is very alarming.
No. 38. Journey, "Don't Stop Believin'"
From: Escape (1981)
The lyric: "Streetlight people, livin' just to find emotion."
We're going to ignore the fact that this all happens in a place that doesn't exist.
No. 37. The Who, "Substitute"
From: Single (1966)
The lyric: "I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth."
But have you ever eaten a ketchup-packet sandwich?
No. 36. Meat Loaf, "Paradise By The Dashboard Light"
From: Bat Out of Hell (1977)
The lyric: "Ain't no doubt about it we were doubly blessed, 'cause we were barely 17 – and we were barely dressed."
Soon, however, he's literally praying for the end of time. Love can be like that.
No. 35. The Beatles, "Old Brown Shoe"
From: Single (1969)
The lyric: "I want a love that's right, but right is only half of what's wrong."
Taking inspiration from a series of oppositional words, George Harrison stumbles on a moment of genius.
No. 34. Billy Joel, "You May Be Right"
From: Glass Houses (1980)
The lyric: "You may be right, I may be crazy – but it just may be a lunatic you're looking for."
The best example among many where Billy Joel admits he's an asshole while demanding that you love him anyway.
No. 33. The Beach Boys, "Wouldn't It Be Nice"
From: Pet Sounds (1966)
The lyric: "You know it seems the more we talk about it, it only makes it worse to live without it."
No. 32. Eagles, "Take It Easy"
From: Eagles (1972)
The lyric: "Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy."
Great line, of course, but Bernie Leadon's double-time banjo is what makes it.
No. 31. Fleetwood Mac, "Go Your Own Way"
From: Rumours (1977)
The lyric: "Tell me why, everything turned around – packing up, shacking up is all you want to do."
Stevie Nicks actually sang backup on this. Brutal.
No. 30. Patti Smith, "Gloria"
From: Horses (1975)
The lyric: "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine."
This was the most punk rock thing that had ever happened in America.
No. 29. Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Tuesday's Gone"
From: (Pronounced 'Leh-'nerd 'Skin-'nerd) (1973)
The lyric: "I'd trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday."
All the sadder in light of the shared fate that awaits this band.
No. 28. Jimi Hendrix, "All Along the Watchtower"
From: Electric Ladyland (1968)
No. 27. Bruce Springsteen, "No Surrender"
From: Born in the U.S.A. (1984)
The lyric: "We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school."
No. 26. Neil Young, "The Needle and the Damage Done"
From: Harvest (1972)
The lyric: "I caught you knockin' at my cellar door – 'I love you, baby, can I have some more?'"
This hit close to home, as his friend and bandmate Danny Whitten died the same year after a heroin overdose.
No. 25. Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi"
From: Ladies of the Canyon (1970)
The lyric: "They paved paradise, put up a parking lot."
No, this most certainly is not a Counting Crows song.
No. 24. Joe Walsh, "Life's Been Good"
From: But Seriously, Folks ... (1978)
The lyric: "I go parties sometimes until four – it's hard to leave when you can't find the door."
This totally checked out with anyone who knew Joe Walsh back then.
No. 23. The Byrds, "My Back Pages"
From: Younger Than Yesterday (1967)
The lyric: "I was so much older then – I'm younger than that now."
The Byrds stole this from Bob Dylan, and they never gave it back.
No. 22. Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody"
From: A Night at the Opera (1975)
The lyric: "Mama, I don't wanna die – I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all."
A heartbreaking line from a song that, quite frankly, makes no sense at all.
No. 21. John Lennon, "Imagine"
From: Imagine (1971)
The lyric: "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."
He wasn't. He was just the only one singing about giving everything away from inside a mansion.
No. 20. David Bowie, "Changes"
From: Hunky Dory (1971)
The lyric: "And these children that you spit on as they try to change their world, are immune to your consultations – they’re quite aware of what they’re going through."
David Bowie admittedly takes the long way around but basically, he's saying, "OK Boomer."
No. 19. Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
From: Let It Bleed (1969)
The lyric: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes well you just might find you get what you need."
The chorus singers almost ruin it.
No. 18. Simon and Garfunkel, "The Boxer"
From: Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
The lyric: "A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest."
A voice from the past speaks directly to our current political environment.
No. 17. Elton John, "Levon"
From: Madman Across the Water (1970)
The lyric: "He was born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas day when 'The New York Times' said, 'God is dead and the war's begun.'"
The title was supposedly a nod to Levon Helm, but he wasn't a fan: "Englishmen shouldn't fuck with Americanisms."
No. 16. Billy Joel, "Piano Man"
From: Piano Man (1973)
The lyric: "They're sharing a drink called loneliness, but it's better than drinking alone."
A song based on his real-life experience as a lounge performer never got more real.
No. 15. Eagles, "Hotel California"
From: Hotel California (1976)
The lyric: "We are programmed to receive – you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."
All they wanted was to get to California. Then they got to California.
No. 14. Rolling Stones, "Sympathy For the Devil"
From: Beggars Banquet (1968)
The lyric: "I shouted out, 'Who killed the Kennedys?' – when after all, it was you and me."
And the CIA and the mafia. And the Umbrella Man and the Cubans. And maybe Woody Harrelson's dad?
No. 13. Bob Seger, "Against the Wind"
From: Against the Wind (1980)
The lyric: "I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then."
No. 12. Paul Simon, "Train in the Distance"
From: Hearts and Bones (1983)
The lyric: "Negotiations and love songs are often mistaken for one and the same."
On a terrible album that includes his worst song ("Cars are Cars"), skip right to this one.
No. 11. Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Fortunate Son"
From: Willy and the Poor Boys (1969)
The lyric: "Some folks are born made to wave the flag, oh they're red, white and blue – and when the band plays 'Hail to the Chief,' they point the cannon at you."
Rage truly inspired John Fogerty on a song where he elsewhere brilliantly references "star-spangled eyes."
No. 10. The Who, "My Generation"
From: My Generation (1965)
The lyric: "Hope I die before I get old."
Docked at least eight spots because they kept going way past the point where they were, in fact, old.
No. 9. Simon and Garfunkel, "The Sound of Silence"
From: Sounds of Silence (1966)
No. 8. Janis Joplin, "Me and Bobby McGee"
From: Pearl (1971)
No. 7. The Beatles, "The End"
From: Abbey Road (1969)
The lyric: "And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make."
Unless you fall in love with your best friend's wife.
No. 6. Bob Dylan, "Subterranean Homesick Blues"
From: Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
The lyric: "You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows."
There's an app for that now.
No. 5. Neil Young, "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)"
From: Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
The lyric: "It's better to burn out than fade away."
Unlike the Who, Neil Young really meant it.
No. 4. Warren Zevon, "Lawyers, Guns and Money"
From: Excitable Boy (1978)
The lyric: "I went home with a waitress, the way I always do"
Written during a Hawaiian vacation that he admitted included "improbable and grotesque mischief." Warren Zevon actually feared that he might need all three.
No. 3. Pink Floyd, "Wish You Were Here"
From: Wish You Were Here (1975)
The lyric: "Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in the cage?"
Back when Roger Waters was making sharp comments about alienation, instead of serving as its source.
No. 2. John Lennon, "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)"
From: Double Fantasy (1980)
The lyric: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
John Lennon knew what he had here, pulling a variation on this line from an early demo called "My Life" to include it on a much better song.
No. 1. The Who, "Won't Get Fooled Again"
From: Who's Next (1971)
The lyric: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
The Pete Townsend line that actually defined his generation, while (sadly) defining every one that followed.
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