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The Best Classic Music Songs

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10 Classic Songs Every New Music Lover Should Know

By Jordan Hicks on 2016-12-24

New to the music world or just exploring the classics, these 10 songs are a must for anyone hitting the classics. They changed the game with these hits and made history in their wake.

New music lovers are made every day. They hear something on the radio or digging through their parents CDs and its love at first listen. Some are voracious for music in general, devouring every song of every genre, learning instruments or how to sing, and some are more selective sticking to just their preferred artists or that particular genre which first caught their attention. Either way, there are certain classics that every music lover should know just for the sake of how much they’ve done for art. These musicians charted the way for artists who followed and have affected not just their own genres, but the music industry as a whole.

The Thrill is Gone, BB King

B.B. King’s biggest chart topping hit in the pop genre, “The Thrill is Gone” gave him his first crossover hit in 1970. The lyrics tell the story of breaking free from a possessive lover using world-weary vocals empowered with serious blues imagery. But the real star of this show is all the background. A blues-rock base is the main melody, fitted with a heavy jazz flavor and some sinewy guitar arpeggios laid in on top. This groove is the lesson King taught his students including Michael Bloomfield and Eric Clapton throughout the 60s. While their albums charted first, his exquisite piece defined the blues movement when it landed in the 70s. While the single holds the intended lesson, hearing the extended live version from the San Quentin show gives the real grandiose power package this song is meant to deliver.

When the Lights Go Down, Journey

This song wasn’t a hit to begin but its popularity has grown over the years to become the classic hit it is now known as. This song was the first Journey song to feature lead singer Steve Perry, who was added to the band after the group’s manager listened to just 15 seconds of his audition tape. While the song was originally written in Los Angeles, Steve Perry had just moved to the San Francisco Bay area to join the band. It had been a scrap of lyrics that weren’t adding up until Perry drove across the bay bridge in the early morning. Then the lyrics found their meaning, changing from 'when the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on LA” to the iconic 'When the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on the bay.' The fit was perfect and just the thing for a new beginning in a new city with a new band. Journey found its starting fan base in the San Fransisco area and with this song, started their own journey to the chart topping icons we know now.

Still Loving You, Scorpions

Many forget, but this band actually originated in Germany. They always recorded in English though because they always intended to concur the United States. They toured much of Europe and Asia before they made it to the U.S. as they had a deal with their record company that their albums would only be sold in countries they toured. When they finally make it to America in 79, they became an exotic hit right from the start with their classically based music and ethnic twist on rock as opposed to the America rock based more traditionally in blues. The song Still Loving You is written in crescendo, beginning with a calm acoustic start and growing into power cords, accompanied by Klaus Meine’s pain-filled vocals. Drummer for the band, Rudolf Schenker talks about the song’s popularity in France, “‘Still Loving You,' the song of love, created a baby boom in France. But we didn't believe it, either, you know? We were on a TV show in France between recordings, and the host, a very famous guy that interviews us each year, goes, 'Hey, guys, you know that you are responsible for the baby boom in '85.' We were laughing like crazy! And yes, it's been measured by the government. It's unbelievable, I tell you."

Dust in the Wind, Kansas

“Dust in the Wind” was the second big hit for Kansas following the release of “Carry On My Wayward Son.” However, with its slow acoustic styling crossing the formats of rock and country, it was quite a departure from the Kansas style they’d become known for. In fact, we have Kerry Livgren’s wife to thank for this song’s existence at all, not to mention a series of fortunate pressures later on. The song originated when Livgren was doing some acoustic guitar exercises and his wife suggested putting the lyrics to the patterns might just yield his next hit song. "I didn't think it was a Kansas-type song," he said. "She said, Give it a try anyway. Several million records later, I guess she was right." Later pressure from the band’s producer, Jeff Glixman, asking if they had any more songs to add to their Point of Know Return album. Reluctantly Livgren played the song insisting it was not Kansas. To his surprise and upset, they loved the song and insisted on recording it. Livgren fought against his own song, however “Dust in the Wind” became their biggest hit but never managed to gain Livgren’s love. "I tend to like the more bombastic things, like 'The Wall.” As their best known song, this one has caused some shock amongst those searching out the band expecting more of the same.

Free Bird, Lynard Skyndard

This song is more synonymous with a band heckle than it deserves. Many who have never even heard this song, know of its length and complicated rhythms. Van Zant asks during his definitiive 14-minute live version on One More From the Road, “What song is it you want to hear?” At the time, no one was yelling “Free Bird”, not until Collins added an uptempo section to the end with overlapping guitar riffs. The dynamic tine options “If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me?” a vulnerable setup for the somber freedom pondering that follows. He’s less excited voicing “I’m as free as a bird now” than the idea commands paired with the lethargic beat. Many choose to skip past this first bit to the more energetic party material of the second chorus where the tempo increases and chords rev up with a seriously heavy guitar solo. Give the song a chance for the full experience at least once before you write that introspective first chorus yourself.

War Pigs, Black Sabbath

When Black Sabbath first came together in the late 60s, the quartet was a drastic contradiction to the thriving hippie music of the time. The band was “pro-peace” of course, but they saw the sunny songs of most rock bands of the era and more so, the hippies weren’t “preventing the senseless Vietnam War from raging elsewhere in the world.” They came from a small industrial town, bleak of outlook and angry with the “rich, power-mad, and heartless politicians” spreading war and hatred. Their song War Pigs dealt with this topic, specifically, the politicians getting what they deserved. Several classic lommi guitar riffs serve as the base of this gloomy molten-heavy rock ballad.

Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen

Bohemian Rhapsody is perhaps one of the band’s most unusual songs, so much so that the studios the band worked with, EMI and Elektra (both in the U.K.) tried to cut the length of it and nearly didn’t release it. This song was Freddie Mercury’s baby; Brian May was quoted in an interview in 2002, “He knew exactly what he was doing… We just helped him bring it to life.” The band was adamant about the song not being cut down in length, saying “Well we could cut it, but it wouldn’t make any sense’, it doesn’t make much sense now and it would make even less sense then; you would miss all the different moods of the song. So we said no. It’ll either fly or it won’t.” The original song script including all the composite harmonies on scraps of paper and pages from telephone books. Even the rest of the band had a difficult time getting a handle on the thing. Recording the opera parts took more than 70 hours to complete and the vocals required more than 180 overdubs. Between the scaramouches and fandangos, some of the tapes became near transparent from so many overdubs, fully taxing the technology of the time. At first, the reviews came in low-balled,  TIME’s review called it “a six-minute cut that mingles introspection with Gilbert and Sullivan operatics,” and The New York Times called the band’s songs pretentious and irrelevant after their 1978 appearance at Madison Square Garden. However, after the first radio play released and the switch board lit up with requests for the song, the record labels and critics were proven wrong and this song went down in history.

Texas Floods, Stevie Ray Vaughn

When this song hit the scene in the early 80s, blues had already gone out of style with the 60s. Texas Flood brought the blues back to the charts where it spent six months on the charts. Vaughn became an instant star and the blues were alive and kicking again. Vaughn’s critics said he didn’t have an original voice for the audience, wearing his influences on his sleeve including Albert King’s solo style and Larry Davis’ emotional pitch. While the song itself is outstanding, it really shines in line with the rest of its release album, which is built like a club show, starting slow with ballads and building into excited covers. Vaughn truly celebrated his influences, breathing new life into the genre and raising his idols back to their pedestals.

In the Air Tonight, Phil Collins

Phil Collins first charted in 1981 with Face Value album’s “I Missed Again.” His second chart single, “In the Air Tonight” topped at 19 like his first single, but at a completely different angle. The song sports an ominous pace with a creeping rhythm accompanied by an echoing vocal track. The song tells the story of one man drowning while another offers no aid, all this witnessed by Collins’ vocal character at a helpless distance. Later it was learned that the song was an allegory to Collins’ failing marriage with wife, Andrea. The song’s backtrack shines with instrumental prowess, especially the resounding drum work near the finale contrasting Collins’ own macabre vocal prowl.

Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin

This piece stands alone in the myriad of songs from artists across the centuries. It has every element any piece of art should have - depth, controversy, mysticism, and variegated interpretations. The lyrics tell the story of a cynical woman who gets whatever she wants. The lyrics were inspired by a book by Lewis Spence and Lord of the Rings, those who’ve read either won’t fail to see the similarities. Of course, there’s other interpretations, allegations of hidden messages to or about Satan, but what great rock song doesn’t have some rumor circling it. The song itself gradually rises in tempo from classic rock style to a slow electric middle section, followed by a long guitar solo and a faster hard rock finale ending with short vocals in epilogue.

These artists changed the game and these songs are their top hits which made the biggest impact on the music scene and inspired countless artists afterward. If you're a new music lover, or know someone who is, or if you're just exploring the world of classic rock music which changed the way the bell tolled over the years, these are definitely on your top list for where to start.

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