Purely as a little diversion, I’ve decided to compile ten of my personal favourite songs selected for their sheer cathartic thrill. They come from all kinds of eras and rock subgenres, and if you click the song titles you’ll be taken to a YouTube link that will allow you to hear the songs. Enjoy, and please comment!
Bad Religion – “What Can You Do“
From Suffer (1988)
Always alarmingly tight and mercilessly heavy, Bad Religion just had to have a place on my list. My personal favourite from their acclaimed 1988 album Suffer is “What Can You Do”, which may appear late on the record but has enough energy to match any other song present. More hard rock and less punk than most of Bad Religion’s output, the song plays out lyrically as a tongue-in-cheek meditation (if “meditation” can sound this rollicking) on the apparent futility of existence, especially if that existence is in a rock band.
Led Zeppelin – “Rock and Roll“
From Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Personally, I’ve always thought that good use of the cymbals is key to a drummer’s success at making a rock record truly gripping. Long recognised as among the most exciting songs in rock, “Rock and Roll” is among my favourites from Led Zep’s finest album Led Zeppelin IV as well as a brilliant cymbals song. A homage to the formative early rock n’ roll songs of the 1950s, referencing several of them in the lyrics belted out by Robert Plant, this is a perfect demonstration of how gloriously muscular Zeppelin, and early ’70s rock in general could be.
Nine Inch Nails – “Not So Pretty Now“
From NINJA Tour Sampler (2009)
My absolute favourite NIN track, “Not So Pretty Now” was originally meant to be on the project’s 2005 record With Teeth but it was canned; four years later, it appeared as a quick track to stick onto a free tour sampler to promote Trent Reznor’s tour with Jane’s Addiction and Street Sweeper Social Club. It’s a shame that it didn’t get a wider audience, as it’s ludicrously propulsive, featuring a wonderfully bitter vocal from Reznor. It’s so good, that I’ve written about it before, and I’m sure I’ll write about it again. Just ace.
Manic Street Preachers – “Suicide Is Painless (Theme From M.A.S.H.)“
Charity single (1992)
The Manics have a fair number of awesomely exciting songs to their name, but after much deliberation I’ve plumped for one which is really exciting in only one brief section. That section, though, is such a glorious orgy of vulgar thrash-rock posturing that it just screams for inclusion. The fact that they made the theme from the classic TV show M.A.S.H. into this rock monster is simultaneously near-unbelievable and completely, totally Manicsian to the very core. Riotous.
Nirvana – “Tourette’s“
From In Utero (1993)
Possibly at least partly intended as a joke (it is prefixed by a voice sample saying “moderate rock” and follows a track called “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” after all), this song from Nirvana’s final studio album In Utero nevertheless comprises 95 of the most thrilling seconds ever committed to disc. Kurt Cobain wails incoherently as drums and guitar attempt to drown each other out, in what Meat Loaf would refer as “Everything Louder Than Everything Else” on Bat Out of Hell II which, fascinatingly, was released the day after In Utero.
Swimming – “Panthalassa”
From The Fireflow Trade (2009)
If you’re writing a song about and titled after the global ocean which surrounded the supercontinent Pangaea 250 million years ago, what must it sound like? The answer, obviously, is massive. The wonderful Nottingham band Swimming realised this golden rule, observed by all bands that had written on the topic before… all none of them. Accordingly, “Panthalassa” is a song so thrillingly realised that its six-minute span flies by, wrapping the listener up in a nigh-on transcendent experience forged from the five elements: guitar, bass, drums, synth, voice.
Foo Fighters – “Wattershed“
From Foo Fighters (1995)
Back when Foo Fighters was a one-man Nine Inch Nails-esque project run entirely by Dave Grohl, that project released a track on the self-titled debut album by the name of “Wattershed”. Totally stripped down in the mold of Grohl’s former band Nirvana, the track was a two-and-a-half minute raucous thrash, helmed by one of Grohl’s most enjoyably frantic vocal performances featuring a minimal number of recognisable phrases, one of which is “just another rock band!” Foo Fighters was one of those by the time of the next album, albeit still rather a good one.
The Beatles – “Helter Skelter“
From The Beatles (1968)
A bit of an obvious one, this. Infamously the probable most heavy track The Beatles ever recorded, “Helter Skelter” won a dark reputation for itself when it became one of the inspirations for one Charlie Manson, who saw it as the omen of a forthcoming apocalyptic race war. As it turned out, “Helter Skelter” was an omen of something, which was the coming of heavy metal, spearheaded by bands like Blue Cheer and a little later, Black Sabbath. A successor to earlier gripping Beatles riff-based records records like “Paperback Writer” and “I Feel Fine”.
Talco – “La Crociata del Dittatore Bianco“
From Tutti Assolti (2004)
So here’s something a bit different for you! Talco are an Italian ska-punk band from near Venice. They’ve given much of their music away free, including their debut full LP Tutti Assolti. Their sound is gloriously heavy but also fluent and listenable, and among the highlights of that album is the brilliant “La Crociata del Dittatore Bianco”. Crank this one up loud, don’t worry about not understanding the rapid-fire Italian lyrics, and instead enjoy the fantastic surge of that magnificent chorus. Look up Talco on the free music site Jamendo and you can get another great album by them, Combat Circus.
Black Sabbath – “Never Say Die“
From Never Say Die (1978)
Black Sabbath were always heavy, but not neccesarily “exciting” as such, as their songs were often more crushingly slow and powerful rather than fast and propulsive. There were a few exceptions though, which cropped up as real gems even on deeply flawed albums like Never Say Die, the last album Ozzy was present on before being fired from the band in 1978. Actually lyrically uplifting, “Never Say Die” is a corker of a track which deserves to be remembered even if its unfortunate album-mates are forgotten. A hell of a ride.