Epic – noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style;majestic; impressively great.
Throughout the history of rock music, there have been many great rock songs that have fit the definition of the word ‘epic.’ Epic rock songs, or anthems, have been around since the late sixties, arguably since the Beatles recorded “Hey Jude” in 1968. These songs have proven to be timeless gems in the annals of rock music and we’ve all had the chance to sing along to them at least a few times in our lives. Many great bands, from Led Zeppelin to Guns N Roses and Queen have all contributed great epic rock songs to the American musical soundtrack, and we all have our favorites.
A great epic rock song has two elements that make them fantastic: complex or intricate storytelling and effective changes in tempo. Tunes that begin slow and work their way up to a rousing crescendo, and sometimes back again, have a way of gluing themselves to our memory banks to relive again and again. When you have a song with great, sing-along lyrics and a musical accompaniment that gets you rockin, then you have one great epic rock song. Herein is a listing of some of my personal favorite epic rock anthems. I’m sure many of them will be familiar to you. Enjoy!
#10 – Hell is for Children – Pat Benatar
This song, from 80’s rocker Pat Benatar appeared on the singer’s 1980 breakout LP, “Crimes of Passion.” The song was inspired by a series of NY Times articles on child abuse and the resulting track is rock music at its best, effectively portraying the pain that these suffering children have to endure. With powerful lyrics and equally potent guitars, “Hell is for Children” is one great epic rock tune!
Watch Pat Benatar perform “Hell is for Children” here.
#9 – Detroit Rock City – KISS
When I was a teenager, I was a huge KISS fan, and during the height of my KISS craze days in 1976 the band released an album called “Destroyer.” Its opening track was a tune called “Detroit Rock City.” The song tells a story of a real KISS fan who was killed in an automobile accident on his way to a KISS concert. The song is masterfully done, with great storytelling. “Detroit Rock City” is spellbinding in its tale and its music, and it even inspired a major motion picture!
Take a listen to “Detroit Rock City” here.
#8 – Another Brick in the Wall – Pink Floyd
In 1979, British rock band Pink Floyd created a concept album like no other. “The Wall” was a double album rock opera, and the track, “Another Brick in the Wall” (Part II) was its centerpiece. Anyone who was around in 1979 knows too well the familiar and haunting voices of the school children singing the final crescendo of the controversial chorus, “We don’t need no education…“
Watch the video for “Another Brick in the Wall” here.
#7 – Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
This is one great song! Originally released in 1981 off of the band’s “Escape” album, the song quickly became an instant classic. The anthem gained a resurgence in popularity in 2007 when it was featured in the final scene of the popular HBO series “The Sopranos.” With a nice mixture of tempos and the kind of lyrics you just can’t seem to get out of your head, “Don’t Stop Believin'” is one of the greatest epic rock songs of all time.
Check out the video here.
#6 – Paradise by the Dashboard Light – Meatloaf
This song epitomizes the definition of an epic song. Written in three acts, and with a ‘baseball interlude thrown into the mix, the track is a long one, coming in at over 8 minutes in length. This undeniably epic song is storytelling at its finest, with a myriad of great highs and lows. Virtually anyone who’s heard song knows virtually every single word. Classic!
Watch Meatloaf and Ellen Foley perform “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” here.
#5 – Dream On – Aerosmith
“Dream On” is Aerosmith’s contribution to the list of great epic rock anthems. The song appeared on the band’s eponymous debut album in 1973 and showcases Singer Steven Tyler’s talent as a songwriter. The tender verses are backed up nicely by Joe Perry’s guitars and the chorus is powerful and uplifting.
Take a listen to “Dream On” here.
#4 – American Pie – Don McLean
I remember hearing this one on the radio way back in 1972 when it first hit the airwaves. Back then I knew all the words even though I had no idea of what they meant. This one was always good for sing-alongs in the car with mom, dad and my siblings, and is classic rock at its best. So, “bye, bye, Miss American Pie…”
Relive the memory here.
#3 – Hotel California – The Eagles
“On a dark desert highway…”
And so begins this epic tale of a nightmarish trip to a luxury hotel. This #1 song from 1977 is a classic rock song through and through. The lyrics are dark and the storytelling is spellbinding.
Check it out here.
#2 – Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is one of the most classic epic rock anthems of all time. This long (8-minute) song is a clear composite of several clear-cut sections, with changing tempos all the way through. It is one of the most popular rock songs of all time and is still one of the most played songs on classic rock radio stations today.
Take a listen to “Stairway to Heaven” here.
#1 – Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
This dizzying and wondrous little rock operetta from classic rockers Queen is surely a favorite of many. This is another one I can remember from my childhood, knowing the lyrics and not having any idea what the song was about, (and I’m still not sure). The song originally hit it big in 1975-76 and had a resurgence in popularity after it was featured in a memorable sequence in the 1992 film, “Wayne’s World.” The complex composition and lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody” make it not only one of the most unique songs ever recorded, but the greatest epic rock song, as well!
Watch the original video for “Bohemian Rhapsody” here and the hilarious version from “Wayne’s World” here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip through my picks for the top ten epic rock anthems of all time. Though I hope many of you will agree with a good number of these choices, I’m sure that some of you may have others in mind. If so, please leave a comment and give props to some of your favorite epic rock songs. Though these didn’t make it into this top ten list, here are some honorable mentions:
Carry on Wayward Son – Kansas
Jeremy – Pearl Jam
Come Sail Away – Styx
Hey Jude – The Beatles
We Are the Champions/We Will Rock You – Queen
Sweet Child of Mine – Guns N Roses