25 Most Influential Songs of All Time

This is the definitive list of the 25 Most Influential Songs of the Rock n Roll era.

Of course it is an on going debate as to when and where Rock n Roll was born, but we will begin this list in 1955 and continue chronologically. 

Now remember the word influential. These songs directly influenced others to make music and or created a new sound or movement. Of course there are many other influential songs, and there are lots of great songs that did not make this list. It was very hard to pick only 25. I could have picked 100 easily.  I look forward to a friendly debate and the readers point of view. So here is my attempt to list the most influential songs in chronological order.

Rock Around The Clock - Bill Haley & His Comets (1955)

Recorded in 1954, the song took off in 1955, when it was used during the opening credits of the film “Blackboard Jungle”. It was wildly popular with teenagers all over the world, and was the first rock and roll recording to hit #1 on Billboard’s Pop charts. Rock Around The Clock was the anthem for the 1950’s youth. It is considered to be the song that brought Rock n Roll into mainstream culture around the world. The guitar solo by Danny Cedrone is considered one of the classic rock and roll guitar solos of all time. The song was also used as the theme to “American Graffiti” and “Happy Days”. Bill Haley was originally a Country & Western act from Pennsylvania, that morphed into a Rock n Roll leader. 
“It's very hard to tell what made me first decide to play the guitar. Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley came out when I was ten, and that probably had something to do with it.”
— David Gilmour, from Pink Floyd

Hound Dog - Elvis Presley (1956)

Hound Dog has been recorded more than 250 times, with the Presley version being the most well known. Recorded by Elvis in July 1956, Hound Dog is one of the best selling singles of all time. It sold 10 million copies globally and was #1 on the US pop, country and R&B charts in 1956. What more can we say about Elvis? The King. He became the face of Rock n Roll. He took Black Gospel, Country, Blues and Rock n Roll and made it mainstream. Elvis added sex, fashion, hair, dance moves and danger. Ed Sullivan felt the country was so threatened by Elvis, that when Elvis appeared on his show, he could only be shown from the waist up. Tamed by today’s standards, “Elvis the Pelvis” scared the bejeezus out of the world. Everyone was influenced by Elvis especially The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
Johnny B Goode - Chuck Berry (1958)

Go Johnny Go! The guitar was Rock n Roll’s signature instrument and Chuck Berry was the first guitar hero. If you ever played the guitar, you were influenced by Chuck Berry. Every guitarist plays a Chuck Berry riff, chord, progression or lead whether he knows it or not. Keith Richards lifted every lick from Berry. Berry’s influence is incalculable. Johnny B Goode, the tale of a guitar-playing country boy whose mother tells him he’ll be a star, was Berry’s signature song, the archetypal narrative for would-be rockers. I think John Lennon said it best. John Lennon once said “If Rock n Roll wasn’t called Rock n Roll, It would be called Chuck Berry”!

I Want To Hold Your Hand - The Beatles (1964)

Released in November 1963, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was The Beatles first US #1 and went on to be the #1 song of 1964. The Beatles invaded America in 1964 and The British Invasion was born. The Beatles influenced everything, the music, the hair, the fashion. The Beatles were also the first band on this list. A true band. 4 guys playing instruments with a common name. Millions of kids went out and formed their own bands after seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. The 1950’s had ended, Elvis was in the Army, Buddy Holly died, Chuck Berry was arrested and nothing was happening in music when The Beatles burst onto the scene and changed everything forever.

Satisfaction - The Rolling Stones (1965)

The single most identifiable riff in music history, “Satisfaction” is very significant due to it’s lyrical content. While the Beatles wanted to “Hold Your Hand”, “Satisfaction” discussed sexual frustration and commercialism. The Stones were the Bad Boys of Rock n Roll. They were dirty and oozed sex. They went on to be the Greatest Rock n Roll Band in the World, and on the way influenced everyone that came after them. “Satisfaction” was the first US #1 hit for The Stones. 
“It was the song that really made the Rolling Stones, changed us from just another band into a huge, monster band ... It has a very catchy title. It has a very catchy guitar riff. It has a great guitar sound, which was original at that time. And it captures a spirit of the times, which is very important in those kinds of songs ... Which was alienation” - Mick Jagger

Like A Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan (1965)

Bob Dylan is the single greatest lyricist of all time. The Beatles influenced Dylan’s decision to turn electric, and in turn, Dylan influenced the Beatles lyrics. From the opening snare drum snap of “Like a Rolling Stone”, you know something amazing is about to happen. The mesmerizing organ riff, was improvised by a 21 year old Al Kooper during recording. The song came in at over 6 minutes long, at a time when songs were at most 3 minutes. Dylan challenged everyone to take the music a little further. He rewrote the rules for pop music, it was revolutionary. “Like a Rolling Stone” reached #2 on the US Billboards charts, behind The Beatles “Help”.
“The first time I heard Bob Dylan, I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind ... The way that Elvis freed your body, Dylan freed your mind, and showed us that because the music was physical did not mean it was anti-intellect. He had the vision and talent to make a pop song so that it contained the whole world. He invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording could achieve, and he changed the face of rock'n'roll for ever and ever.” - Bruce Springsteen

God Only Knows - The Beach Boys (1966)

A beautiful love song, “God Only Knows” was Brian Wilson’s response to The Beatles “Rubber Soul”. Paul McCartney has gone on to say that “God Only Knows” is his favorite song and “Pet Sounds” is his favorite album. “Pet Sounds” influenced McCartney to create The Sgt. Pepper Album. 
“God Only Knows” is important for it’s lush production and arrangement. Beautiful harmonies mingle with unorthodox instruments, including French horn, accordion, sleigh bell, harpsichord, and a quartet of violas and cellos. “God Only Knows” raised Rock music to an art form.
The End - The Doors (1967)

The psychedelic era exploded in 1967. It was the summer of love and California was a big part of the scene. The Doors added darkness, and a little evil to the L.A scene. Lead singer Jim Morrison pushed the limits to the edge. “The End” was an 11 minute masterpiece from The Doors debut album. 1967, the world was still innocent, so can you imagine the shock and horror of a song that deals with the Oedipus complex. “The killer awoke before dawn…Father, Yes son, I want to kill you…Mother, I want to…..”  All of this over a dark, ominous yet beautiful soundtrack. Robbie Krieger goes all out on guitar and gives an amazing performance and solo. Keyboards and Drums handled masterfully by Ray Manzarek and John Densmore. “The End” is the last song the Doors ever performed as a foursome. Jim Morrison, forever 27, died in 1971 and will live on forever as one of the greatest frontmen of all time. 
Heroin - Velvet Underground (1967)

Released on the Velvet Underground debut album, “Heroin” was a dark song that neither celebrated or condemned drug abuse. Lou Reed originally wrote the song in 1964, when he worked as a songwriter for a publishing house. “I was working for a record company as a songwriter, where they'd lock me in a room and they'd say write ten surfing songs, ya know, and I wrote "Heroin" and I said "Hey I got something for ya." They said, "Never gonna happen, never gonna happen.” Writing a song about Heroin in 1964, was way ahed of the curve. Some would call it insane. 
The Velvets were Andy Warhol’s house band and embodied NYC cool. The dark underbelly. They were a huge influence on future punk musicians. 
Purple Haze - Jimi Hendrix (1967)

After Chuck Berry, Hendrix was the most influential guitarist of all time. Jimi took the guitar to new heights, unimagined before. “Purple Haze” featured the signature “Hendrix Chord”, or the E7#9 chord which Jimi popularized. It was previously only used in jazz. His innovative use of distortion, effects, and feedback is psychedelic genius. 
“Purple Haze” is one of the greatest guitar rock songs of all time and has influenced millions to pick up a guitar. It may have also influenced some to put the guitar down and give up, with no hope of matching Jimi’s mastery of the instrument. Jimi was also an excellent songwriter, and vocalist. “Are You Experienced”, the debut album which contains “Purple Haze”, shook the world, and changed it forever. Jimi influenced all those who came after him.
Sunshine Of Your Love - Cream (1967)

Cream was one of the first power trios, and consisted of Eric Clapton on Guitar, Jack Bruce on Bass, and Ginger Baker on Drums. “Sunshine of Your Love”, written by Bruce after attending a Jimi Hendrix concert, became their unofficial anthem. “Sunshine” is one of the greatest riffs of all time, and is one of the first songs every beginning guitarist tries to copy. The song is the culmination of the British adaption of American Blues and Rock n Roll. A great riff, Bruce’s voice, Clapton’s guitar, and the jazz drumming of Ginger Baker, make this an important part of the soundtrack of the 60’s. The album was “Disreali Gears” and paved the way for the “Clapton is God” movement.
Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin (1969)

After the Beatles, Led Zeppelin is the most influential band of all time. This means they influenced the most kids to pick up a guitar and form their own bands. Along with Black Sabbath, they invented hard rock/heavy metal. Robert Plant was a nordic god up on that stage and no one was cooler than Jimmy Page with his dangling cigarette and Gibson Les Paul slung low. Not to mention the best rhythm section in the business of John Paul Jones and John Bonham. “Whole Lotta Love” is a sexy groove and one of the all time great riffs. The insane musical break contains the first use of the “Theremin”.
Kick Out The Jams - MC5 (1969)

More than any other band, The MC5 are continually mentioned by the 70’s Punk Bands when asked for main influences. These guys may have been truly insane. They were Bad Ass! They played at the 1968 Democratic Convention while a riot was going on. They posed with guns, they formed ‘The White Panther Party’. They were radical, revolutionary and the real deal. “Kick Out The Jams” is so raw and powerful. It influenced a generation. “Kick Out The Jams Motherfuckers”! That was incredibly radical in 1969, and still is.
I Wanna Be Your Dog - Iggy & The Stooges (1969)

The Stooges were another band out of Detroit, led by their energetic, and also possibly insane lead singer and frontman, Iggy Pop. Iggy Pop became known as The Godfather of Punk. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is a great example of raw, in your face rock n roll. The song was covered by everyone and their brother and appeared in many films, where a punk attitude was necessary.
Iron Man - Black Sabbath (1970)

Black Sabbath invented Heavy Metal. No question. No doubts. Millions of kids picked up a guitar and tried to play like Tony Iommi. What more can be said about the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne! No one ever heard anything like Black Sabbath before. There was nothing like the doom rock they produced. Basically any Sabbath song off the first or second album could have been included on this list, but we feel the album “Paranoid” introduced Sabbath to a much wider audience. And of course “Iron Man” is the song every kid that has ever picked up a guitar tries to learn first.
Im Eighteen - Alice Cooper (1971)

Alice Cooper invented horror rock/shock rock. He did it better than anyone else. The song was the band's breakthrough, and left a considerable influence on hard rock, punk, and heavy metal. Joey Ramone wrote his first song for the Ramones based on the chords to "I'm Eighteen", and John Lydon auditioned for the Sex Pistols by miming to the song. A killer riff, Cooper sings with raspy vocals of the existential anguish of being at the cusp of adulthood. It is an anthem for teenage angst and rebellion. And of course there would be no Marilyn Manson or Rob Zombie without Alice.
Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie (1972)

Ziggy Stardust is a song written and recorded by David Bowie for his 1972 concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. The song describes Bowie's alter ego Ziggy Stardust, a rock star who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings. While Bowie  may not have invented Glam Rock, that honor would go to Marc Bolan, Bowie with the help of Ziggy, took Glam to the stratosphere, where every mall and suburban teen was Glam crazy. Of course Bowie’s influence cannot be overstated. Bowie is a once in a lifetime talent, a genius who changed with the wind. Ziggy plays guitar!
Blitzkrieg Bop - The Ramones (1976)

Hey Ho, Let’s Go! Blitzkrieg Bop is the finest 2 minutes of recorded music. At a time when rock music became bloated and corporate, The Ramones came along with straight ahead, loud and fast rock n roll. 2 minute songs with 3 chords. That’s all you need. These were some of the most catchy melodic songs you ever heard. Dressed in jeans, t shirts and matching biker jackets, these 4 kids from Queens were creating a scene in NYC, downtown at CBGB’s called Punk.
Anarchy in The UK - The Sex Pistols (1977)

While The Ramones were doing it in NYC, The Sex Pistols (and others) were doing it in London. Poor disillusioned kids, sick of no jobs and no future picked up guitars and said we can do this. We don’t need to play like Emerson Lake and Palmer, we can do this with 3 chords and attitude. The Sex Pistols took the world by storm and with 1 album changed the world. No song captures the energy and attitude of this time better than “Anarchy in the UK”. 
Runnin’ With The Devil - Van Halen (1978)

Van Halen released their debut album in 1978 and changed the world. No one ever heard Guitar playing like Eddie’s before. It was revolutionary. Lightning fast, melodic and Eddie added a whole new approach to playing the guitar, called “finger-tapping”. Just like that, everyone was trying to finger tap. Eddie was the most influential guitarist since Jimi Hendrix. Van Halen brought hard rock and partying back to the forefront. They were a hard partying, good time, fun band form California with an incredible frontman, David Lee Roth. From the opening horns of “Runnin’ With The Devil” to the ominous bass beat, to the incredible riff, to David’s yells, to Eddie’s solo, Alex’s drumming and Michael Anthony’s backing vocals, it is a perfect song.
London Calling - The Clash (1979)

The Clash were called “The Only Band That Matters”. The “London Calling” album showed what Punk could be. It reflects the band's growing interest in a range of styles beyond their punk roots, including reggae, rockabilly, ska, New Orleans R&B, pop, lounge jazz, and hard rock. Themes explored in the songs include social displacement, unemployment, racial conflict, drug use, and the responsibilities of adulthood. The double album is pure genius and is The Clash at it’s best. The song “London Calling” is an apocalyptic, politically charged rant about the news of the day, including nuclear error at Three Mile Island, rivers flooding and the troubles within The Clash.
The Message - Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five (1982)

"The Message" was the first prominent hip hop song to provide a social commentary rather than the self-congratulatory boasting or party chants of earlier hip hop. The song's lyrics describe the stress of inner city poverty. “Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge, I'm trying not to lose my head, It's like a jungle sometimes It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under”. "The Message" took rap music from the house parties of its origin to the social platforms later developed by groups like Public Enemy, N.W.A, and KRS-One.
Straight Outta Compton - NWA (1988)

Straight Outta Compton is the debut studio album by American hip hop group N.W.A, released August 8, 1988. The album has been viewed as the pioneering record of gangsta rap with its ever-present profanity and violent lyrics. This was the group's only release with rapper Ice Cube prior to his 1989 departure. It has been considered to be one of the greatest and most influential hip-hop records by music writers and has had an enormous impact on the evolution of hip hop. Straight Outta Compton redefined the direction of hip hop, which resulted in lyrics concerning the gangster lifestyle becoming the driving force in sales figures. The album and song “Straight Outta Compton” put Compton, California on the map.
Fight The Power - Public Enemy (1989)

"Fight the Power" is a song by American hip hop group Public Enemy, released as a single in June 1989 on Motown Records. First issued on the “Do the Right Thing” 1989 soundtrack, a different version was featured on Public Enemy's 1990 studio album Fear of a Black Planet. "Fight the Power" incorporates various samples and allusions to African-American culture, including civil rights exhortations, black church services, and the music of James Brown. As a single, "Fight the Power" reached number one on Hot Rap Singles and number 20 on the Hot R&B Singles. It was named the best single of 1989 by The Village Voice in their Pazz & Jop critics' poll. It has become Public Enemy's best-known song and has received accolades as one of the greatest songs of all time by critics and publications.
Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana (1991)

Smells Like Teen Spirit is the opening track and lead single from the band's second album, Nevermind (1991). The song was a huge smash, being played everywhere you turned. The unexpected success propelled Nevermind to the top of the charts at the start of 1992, an event often marked as the point where grunge entered the mainstream. Grunge became so prevalent that it completely wiped Hair Metal off the map. Nirvana and Kurt Cobain were the voice of a generation. In the years following Cobain’s suicide and the breakup of Nirvana, “Teen Spirit” is considered to be one of the greatest and most important songs ever recorded.

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