It’s become a Labour Day tradition to countdown the Top 500 rock songs of all time based on your votes. Now that the weekend has come and gone, the 2023 results are in.
Here are the Top 5 rock songs from this year’s Top 500 Countdown, as voted by you!
5. TRAGICALLY HIP – “WHEAT KINGS”
“Wheat Kings” by the Tragically Hip moved up 91 positions from #96 to #5.
This song is about a man named David Milgaard.
In 1970, Milgaard was convicted of raping and murdering a girl. The previous year, he and his friends had gone for a road trip across Canada. While in Saskatchewan, they had stopped at a friend’s house. While there, a young nursing student named Gail Miller was found dead in a snowbank near the home Milgaard was staying at.
A few months later, the police issued a warrant for his arrest based on flimsy evidence. Milgaard was convicted and ended up spending 23 years in prison.
While he was incarcerated, his family fought hard for his release, believing in his innocence. His aunt contacted the Tragically Hip with the story. The band helped gather signatures for a petition and raised funds to help with the case.
In 1997, Milgaard was exonerated. New evidence uncovered a new suspect – Larry Fisher.
Downie once shared that “Wheat Kings” is “about David Milgaard and his faith in himself … about his mother, Joyce, and her absolute faith in her son’s innocence. And about our big country and its faith in man’s fallibility. And about Gail Miller, all those mornings ago, just lying there, all her faith bleeding out into that Saskatoon snowbank.”
4. LED ZEPPELIN – “BLACK DOG”
Our #4 song is Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” which moved from #25 in 2022 to #4 this year.
The title of this particular song never appears in the lyrics. Instead, it refers to a nameless black lab that showed up at Headley Grange in Hampshire, England when the band was working on the song. The dog wandered the grounds around the mansion and the band would feed it when it stopped by.
When the song was complete, they still needed a name. Thinking of their four-legged friend, they decided on “Black Dog.”
The blues rock song eventually became the first track for their untitled and best-selling album.
In an interview, Plant explains, “Not all my stuff is meant to be scrutinized. Things like ‘Black Dog’ are blatant, let’s-do-it-in-the-bath type things, but they make their point just the same.”
3. THE ROLLING STONES – “SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL”
The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil” moved up one place to become this year’s 3rd place song.
The song was inspired by a book by Mikhail Bulgakov called The Master and Margarita, which was given to Mick Jagger by his then-girlfriend Marianne Faithful. While the song got some press for implying the Stones had an interest in the occult, Jagger has said the song is about the dark side of man and not Satanism.
In 2002, Keith Richards explained, “’Sympathy’ is quite an uplifting song. It’s just a matter of looking the Devil in the face. He’s there all the time. I’ve had very close contact with Lucifer – I’ve met him several times. Evil – people tend to bury it and hope it sorts itself out and doesn’t rear its ugly head … ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ is a song that says, /Don’t forget him. If you confront him, then he’s out of a job.’”
“Hotel California” was the title track for an album of the same name. The album won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1978, but the band didn’t attend to receive the award as Henley didn’t believe in contests.
2. AC/DC – “THUNDERSTRUCK”
AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” moved up 12 positions to #2.
Written by Angus and Malcolm Young, the song was said to have been inspired when a plane that Angus was flying in got struck by lightning.
But, in the re-release of The Razors Edge, Angus shared, “It started off from a little trick that I had on guitar. I played it to Mal and he said, ‘Oh I’ve got a good rhythm idea that will sit well in the back.’ We built the song up from that. We fiddled about with it for a few months before everything fell into place.
Lyrically, it was really just a case of finding a good title, something along the lines of ‘Powerage’ or ‘Highway To Hell.’ We came up with this thunder thing and it seemed to have a good ring to it. AC/DC = Power. That’s the basic idea.”
The song made it to #5 on the US Billboard Hot Mainstream Tracks and was used in a number of movies including The Longest Yard and The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
1. EAGLES – “HOTEL CALIFORNIA”
“Hotel California” by the Eagles moved up two places to the #1 position for 2023!
The song was written by Don Felder, Glenn Frey, and Don Henley and speaks of materialism and excess in LA, though it could apply to many places. In 2007, Henley explained, “Some of the wilder interpretations of that song have been amazing. It was really about the excesses of American culture and certain girls we knew. But it was also about the uneasy balance between art and commerce.”
Fedler came up with the song while playing at the beach. He later played the chord progression and basic guitar track for Henly and Frey, who helped finish the song. A year later, they recorded the song.
This is just a small taste of the iconic rock songs that appear on this year’s Top 500 listing. We can’t wait to see what next year brings!
See the full list of Top 500 Rock songs …