Hard Rock’s Ten Most Perfect Songs 1975-1979 [OPINION]
After the “British Invasion” of the early 1960s, perhaps the second-best generation of dependable, profiting rock bands putting out quality records mostly includes the ones who prevailed throughout the whole 1970s decade and peaked with their legendary status in the second half of it.
While The Beatles had already broken up, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, or even America’s Beach Boys never lost a steady presence in the '70s. However, it was really the time for some in the next wave of extremely talented bands to take the reigns and shine.
If the best heavyweight boxing era was when Muhammed Ali, Joe Frasier, George Foreman, and Ken Norton reigned, for my money the “dream team” of hard rock super bands along with their best works was from 1975 through 1979.
For those not having read my prior two articles in this series, this is a look at the hard rock genre only and merely an opinion piece. I think many of us can agree it was also the rise of the “easy listening” or “adult contemporary” singer/songwriters, but they will not be found on this list.
Here are my selections for hard rock’s ten most perfectly written and performed songs:
10. "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions," Queen (1977)
Obviously regarded as one of the greatest bands of all time, Queen parlayed the epic success of their 1975 record A Night at the Opera with three consecutive-year releases of that, A Day at the Races and News of the World. For millions, "We Will Rock You" has been the crowd-rousing anthem of sporting events and other great gatherings of people for four decades and counting.
It’s hard to think of that song without thinking of "We Are the Champions," since the radio stations refused to not play both together when aired, and since they do happen to be paired together on the record.
Through his lyrics, Freddie Mercury begins a trend of bands allowing the audiences to know that the life of rockers isn’t what people think it is. Brian May is one of the most dependably outstanding guitarists when it comes to leads and he does not disappoint here.
9. "Detroit Rock City," KISS (1976)
Don’t deny it – KISS was a force in the 1970s. For tens of millions of typical American young, (mostly male) teens, this was the gold standard for bands. What’s not to like about "Detroit Rock City?" It has it all: partying, car crashes, explosions. It’s like a testosterone-elevating movie but in song. Actually, of all their hits, this is probably the best in terms of composition. It’s best to review this song through a live concert recording to get a better idea of the appeal of KISS to its “army."
Rock purists and snobs will scoff at this selection but there should be no denying KISS a place at the table for this period.
8. "Draw the Line," Aerosmith (1977)
The "Bad Boys of Rock 'n Roll." Full disclosure: I am biased as they do hail from Massachusetts but Aerosmith is in the argument for the greatest American band of all-time. Not my choice, but I would respect the selection in the debate. "Draw the Line," the title song off of the album, was a grab-you-by-the-throat tune from beginning to end and if I had to explain Aerosmith 100 years from now, I’d play this song first.
"Dream On" was written before this late '70s era but I’m happy to include this song which pushed Stevie Tyler’s vocal cords off the grid for several months following the release of the record. After the guitar solo, you’ll understand why. Thank God for Mark Baxter; otherwise, Aerosmith would never have worked with Desmond Child and made their 1990s fortune with one of the greatest comebacks in history.
7. "Dance the Night Away," Van Halen (1979)
Tough not to include Van Halen at this exact point in time. Van Halen I, released just 13 months earlier in 1978, thrust the band to instant stardom and the whole record industry was waiting to see the band fail with the typical second record “sophomore slump." However, it elevated them in the biz instead.
The guitar wizardry of Eddie Van Halen and the Tarzan-esque, blonde banshee, acrobatics of David Lee Roth set this band apart as a top demand for live concert tickets but there would be no denying their recording artistry, which would rival anyone.
They again chose to include covers, an unlikely one with "You’re No Good" (made famous by Linda Rondstadt, and others before that) but they owned their version of it. The follow-up song "Dance the Night Away" was on the Billboard charts all year and went as high as No. 15.
It remained in the hard rock top 40 for 20 weeks. Other songs on the Van Halen II album were "Somebody Get Me a Doctor" and "Beautiful Girls," but the most commercial song they’d written to that time, "Dance The Night Away," opened doors to many more fans.
6. "Born to Run," Bruce Springsteen (1975)
Here is a real royal member of the rock and roll family with his most epic hit. I don’t dislike “The Boss," but if I’m being honest, I didn’t care for a large percentage of his songs. Not true for this one. "Born to Run," like many Springsteen songs, struck a chord with millions of blue-collar workers and others. Gearheads had their musical emperor for sure with all the lyrics about cars, rims, and Hemi-powered drones, although I think the song was filled with sexual metaphors.
“Just wrap your legs ‘round these velvet rims
And strap your hands across my engines”
Springsteen literally created a genre within the genre and hit a home run for tramps like us. It would be an injustice to not submit a live recording of this song as his concerts are where Springsteen was titled “The Boss” for his tireless four-hour performances.
5. "More Than a Feeling," Boston (1978)
An instant classic rock staple, "More Than a Feeling" was beautifully written, beautifully performed, and beautifully recorded. Boston may be best known as the band that taught other bands how not to sign record contracts. Had they not been caught up in legal issues with management that sent them into obscurity almost as fast as fame found them, we would probably have a much longer inventory of Boston songs, but by 1981 the band was done.
Epic Records was shocked that this music just fell on their lap. After hearing two songs written and recorded by Don Thomas Scholtz over six years, they invited Scholtz, singer Brad Delp, and other local Boston musicians to prove they could perform the music live.
Next, Boston was signed on the spot following their live audition. Their debut album Boston was one of the fastest-selling records of all time and today has sold over 17 million copies. "More Than a Feeling" was the first release.
4. "Comfortably Numb," Pink Floyd (1979)
With groundbreaking songs, this incredibly inventive band took its music to places few others could hope to bring it. A strong influence by the Beatles is felt throughout their records and The Wall is the defining record for Pink Floyd. The lyrics of "Comfortably Numb" are as creative as they are disturbing.
One can almost feel the song's (mostly) silent protagonist drift in and out of coherency and sanity as he is injected with drugs that were never determined to be consensual, at least at the point in the story of this song. In my opinion, this is one of the more epic guitar solos in all of hard rock. It climaxes as the song closes with genius guitar by David Gilmour.
3. "Hotel California," Eagles (1977)
I can’t think of another band that had as many members go on to enjoy such successful solo careers as the Eagles. Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Glen Frey all arguably Hall of Fame candidates on their own, the Eagles were a vital organ of 1970s rock and roll. "Hotel California" was their most successful single and belongs high on this list. The tune is a beautiful nightmare, implying self-destruction and vice itself.
It is an eerie, melodic song inside a veiled story that comes with strong vocal leads, along with, of course, their patented, superior harmonies and an unforgettable anthem. The writing and performances match on this A-list song.
2. "Kashmir," Led Zeppelin (1975)
Physical Graffiti was the best work of Led Zeppelin since its 1971 legendary record Led Zeppelin IV or “Zoso," as it is sometimes called. It’s hard to feel bad for singer Robert Plant who has not had too many setbacks as a recording artist and today lives in a castle in England as a prince of rock, but this song was his biggest disappointment as a member of the band. In the three years it took for him and guitarist Jimmy Page to write "Kashmir," he had high hopes that it would be acclaimed as Led Zeppelin’s greatest masterpiece song, even over "Stairway to Heaven."
They might easily be the most perfect blend of members to have ever formed a rock band. Led Zeppelin’s most important song in the latter half of the 1970s cannot be left off this list. The song has it all: the tones, bridges, bluesy improvisation and a lot of imagination. It’s hard to identify any chorus which is unique and the composition is brilliant, ominous, and somehow commercial.
Jimmy Page is great throughout the song and drummer John Bonham approaches the song once again with a brilliant unlikely beat, great fills, and holds back with impeccable anticipation and timing for the climaxes of the song. Bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones again solidifies his position as a worthy member here as well with his choices of patches and riffs in addition to his bass.
1. "Bohemian Rhapsody," Queen (1975)
Maybe the piece de resistance of all rock and roll, the masterpiece song "Bohemian Rhapsody" raised the bar for hard rock bands, which was great for fans. Freddie Mercury composed this operatic tragedy brilliantly and pushed the other band members vocals to their ultimate limits. There is no greater harmony and no better-written song in all of rock and roll.
Queen loved to dive into many genres and did so well with just about every one attempted. It was as if they were toying with other bands in terms of ability and versatility. They remind the listener that rock is their home, that they return to it first and often and where they are lord and master of it.
It climaxes with a heavy metal frenzy before ending back to the calming tragic story that began the song. Brian May’s solo does not disappoint and I’d put it up there with that of "Stairway to Heaven" or any other solo in terms of composition, resolution, and just tastefulness. This is the gold standard song of hard rock and I don’t expect to see it surpassed in my lifetime.
Up next: the 10 most perfect songs of the British Invasion (1963-1968).
Ken Pittman is the host of The Ken Pittman Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Contact him at ken.pittman@