Rock’s most famous artists didn’t put out very much music during the past decade. But as our below list of the Top 50 Rock Songs of the ’10s shows, many of them made good use of their limited time in the studio.
AC/DC, Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, Van Halen and ZZ Top are among the big names who released only one new studio album between 2010 and 2019. With a few exceptions, most notably Neil Young, established rock acts have slowed down the pace at which they release new music.
Singles have taken an even bigger hit. It’s been decades since classic-rock radio played new songs with any regularity, even from the artists whose older tracks still fill their playlists. MTV has musically been dead far longer than it was ever alive. And the recent vinyl resurgence is primarily focused on LPs, not 45s.
Still, the artists on the list continue to believe in the power of great songs. You’ll find popular singles and obscure album tracks by rock’s biggest and most enduring acts below, as well as a few tracks from some of the newer bands out there.
50. Sleep, “Marijuanaut’s Theme” (From The Sciences, 2018)
Nearly 20 years after the release of the last of Sleep‘s influential ’90s albums, the kings of stoned metal returned with The Sciences. Following their 1998 breakup, guitarist Matt Pike explored a more aggressive style of music with High on Fire. But after an appropriately slow-building reunion that began in 2009, he and bassist and singer Al Cisneros returned to the studio and delivered an album that solidified and expanded Sleep’s legacy. At a relatively compact 6:40, the glacial, hypnotic Sabbath-inspired riffing of “Marijuanaut’s Theme” makes the perfect entry point.
49. Bob Dylan, “Pretty Saro” (From Another Self Portrait, 2013)
Bob Dylan‘s Another Self Portrait, the 10th installment of his Bootleg Series, shined a newer, kinder light on one of his first critically savaged efforts, 1970’s Self Portrait, with outtakes, demos and unreleased tracks from that album and New Morning. The highlight is “Pretty Saro,” an English ballad from the 18th century that had gone unnoticed, even by Dylan’s numerous bootleggers, until it surfaced in 2013. The brief but lovely track shows the depth of Dylan’s love and innate understanding of traditional folk music, and how much it influenced his own compositions.
48. George Thorogood and the Destroyers, “Going Back” (From 2120 South Michigan Ave., 2011)
Thorogood’s 15th studio collection is named after the address of the Chess Records recording studio in Chicago. The album itself is mostly comprised of songs originally recorded by the artists on the famous blues label. Two originals are also included, like this rousing opening mission statement. Over a riff that sounds like the steroid-abusing brother of ZZ Top’s “Tush,” Thorogood tells the Chess story and praises his blues heroes.
47. David Crosby, “What’s Broken” (From Croz, 2014)
As “What’s Broken” elevates into a cirrus cloud of lonesome reverie, David Crosby briefly reclaimed every lost promise of his solo career — dormant then for two decades and, aside from 1971’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, largely forgettable. Certainly, it had been nothing befitting a two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee with a crystalline voice so tender and unaffected that it places a finger right on your heart. Croz didn’t completely correct that egregious wrong so much as open the door for a late-career renaissance. Crosby put out three more albums in the ’10s, matching his career total before then.
46. Randy Newman, “The Great Debate” (From Dark Matter, 2017)
Randy Newman opens up 2017’s Dark Matter with an eight-minute track where he serves as the moderator in the never-ending battle between science and religion, particularly on matters related to climate change. As befits rock’s greatest wise-ass, he punctuates the proceedings with enough humor and even calls himself out by name for setting up the religious side as a straw man. The scope of the argument is matched by the music, whose ambitious, ever-shifting horns, strings and gospel choir owe more to his film-scoring career than the pop-meets-ragtime songs on which he made his name, though there’s some of that in there too.
45. The Monkees, “Me and Magdelena” (From Good Times!, 2016)
The Monkees‘ first album since 1996’s Justus included a number of reliably kooky songs that recalled their heyday as sitcom stars – either because they were written by longtime collaborators or like-minded modern-day fans like Weezer‘s Rivers Cuomo. “Me & Magdalena,” composed for the Monkees by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, isn’t that. Instead, this Mike Nesmith-sung gem displays a strikingly introspective bent.
44. Paul McCartney, “I Don’t Know” (From Egypt Station, 2018)
Paul McCartney‘s first No. 1 album since 1982 opens with this looming sense of doubt, a most surprising emotion from the world’s most famous progenitor of silly love songs. The verses, perhaps the bleakest McCartney has ever penned, eventually give way to a gorgeous, more typically consoling chorus. McCartney’s piano figure traces that brilliant juxtaposition perfectly.
43. The Cars, “Sad Song” (From Move Like This, 2011)
You expected the Cars, reformed without late bass-playing singer Benjamin Orr, to come out with a sad song. Not a track called “Sad Song” that sounded anything but. In fact, the lead single from the Cars’ first studio album in 24 years boasted all the crunchy nerve of their best hit-making sides. Ric Ocasek and company didn’t just get back together; they definitively reclaimed their legacy from descendant acts like Bloc Party, Bravery and the Strokes – then, along the way, found a path to beginning again.
42. Corrosion of Conformity, “Cast the First Stone” (From No Cross No Crown, 2018)
After spending most of the past two decades playing guitar alongside Pantera‘s Phil Anselmo in Down, Pepper Keenan returned to Corrosion of Conformity in 2018. It’s a joy to hear him behind the mic again, eagerly tearing through a knotty, gnarled and impressively textured collection of songs that draw equally from punk, Sabbath and Skynyrd. “Cast the First Stone” sounds like the ranch’s angriest, meanest bull finally being let out of the gate.
41. Bruce Springsteen, “We Take Care of Our Own” (From Wrecking Ball, 2012)
The siren-like slide guitar that opens “We Take Care of Our Own” serves as a wake-up call. Surveying a country wrecked by the financial crisis of the late ’00s, Bruce Springsteen reminds us of a core American value — the need to look after each other when government has forsaken its duty to its citizens — on the opening track to 2012’s Wrecking Ball.
40. Arctic Monkeys, “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” (From Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, 2018)
The title song to Arctic Monkeys‘ 2018 album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino found the band embracing a lush, psychedelic sound. Unlike their previous efforts, which had been written on guitar, frontman Alex Turner wrote exclusively on piano for this LP. The move was designed to combat writers’ block and break Turner out of his comfort zone. Mission accomplished. “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino,” with its gliding sound and cool croon, delivered Bowie-esque artistic bravado. Another bold move by one of the 21st century’s most fascinating rock bands.
39. Sammy Hagar and the Circle, “Affirmation” (From Space Between, 2019)
If you could go back in time and secretly add this track to the end of 5150, it’s hard to believe anybody would bat an eye. Apart from the absence of an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo, Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony effortlessly capture the magic of the first Van Hagar album on the climactic track of their first album with the Circle. Over a thumping synth-bass and keyboards straight out of Genesis‘ Abacab, Hagar throws down chunky guitar riffs and some instructions for good living: “You got to unplug, laugh out loud, be right, pay attention, touch things, make friends, love, don’t judge, believe, don’t hate!“
38. Bob Dylan, “Pay in Blood” (From Tempest, 2012)
Tempest, with a scarifying Titanic narrative as its centerpiece, promised to be the ever-enigmatic, never-tiring Bob Dylan‘s most ruminative work yet. But it was different in the listening. In fact, there’s often a loose improvisational feel – especially during moments like “Pay in Blood,” which settles into a shambling groove, almost like a country R&B. As for the theme, Dylan rejoins an ongoing hard-bitten survivor’s tale: “How I made it back home, nobody knows — or how I survived so many blows. I’ve been to hell. What good did it do?“
37. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, “I See Through You” (From Wasteland, 2018)
The shadow of Black Sabbath loomed larger than ever over heavy metal in the ’10s, with many of the genre’s best bands expanding on or creatively warping the work of Tony Iommi and company. “First Black Sabbath record, that changed everything,” Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats frontman Kevin Starrs said of his childhood. He’s done his heroes and onetime tour mates proud with his band’s first five albums, which mix fuzzy riffs with a Beatles-loving sense of melody and a never-ending sense of Altamont-era dread. Wasteland is their sharpest collection to date, kicking off with the insidiously hooky “I See Through You.”
36. Ted Nugent, “Where Ya Gonna Run to Get Away From Yourself” (From The Music Made Me Do It, 2018)
Unapologetic and outspoken as ever, Ted Nugent warns of a coming revolution while taking aim at the weak-minded sheep lining up for their “government lobotomies” on his strongest cut in many hunting seasons. As always, the strongest punctuation comes from his guitar playing, which remains a marvelous mix of tasteful insanity.
35. The Raconteurs, “Help Me Stranger” (From Help Us Stranger, 2019)
Jack White and Brendan Benson harmonize their kindred voices over a pair of folksy acoustic strums, a rumbling synth and a distorted hi-hat-heavy drum groove that could have been easily piped in from a hip-hop song. “Help Me Stranger” — like much of the Raconteurs‘ third LP, which followed an 11-year recording drought — leans into the experimental production/arrangement style of White’s recent solo work. But the energy never wavers.
34. R.E.M., “Oh My Heart” (From Collapse Into Now, 2011)
Even though they didn’t announce Collapse Into Now as a farewell album until six months after it came out, it’s pretty clear R.E.M. were taking a victory lap by revisiting various eras of their career. “Oh My Heart” finds them squarely in guitar-and-mandolin Out of Time / Automatic for the People mode, with Michael Stipe’s gently aching vocals giving way to a massive and instantly memorable chorus.
33. David Gilmour, “Rattle That Lock” (From Rattle That Lock, 2015)
If there was a criticism to be made of David Gilmour‘s two most recent albums before Rattle That Lock, it’s that his solo On an Island and Pink Floyd‘s The Endless River sometimes suffered from a confining sense of quiet. If you were among those who wished they’d broken free of that steadfast reserve more often, the title track from Rattle That Lock delivered. It’s as if Gilmour finally came fully awake. He sang with a fierce attitude, occasionally going outside his range. He played with an aggression unheard for some time too.
32. David Byrne, “Everybody’s Coming to My House” (From American Utopia, 2018)
David Byrne‘s solo albums are often seen as uneven affairs, mostly because of the aspirational nature of his work: He tends to race down any blind musical alley when most fans just want him to sound like his old self. “Everybody’s Coming to My House” does just that, returning Byrne to Talking Heads‘ nervy classic sound. He even invites Brian Eno over.
31. Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” (From You Want It Darker, 2016)
Like David Bowie‘s 2016 album, Blackstar, Leonard Cohen‘s You Want It Darker arrived just days before its creator’s death. And just like Bowie’s LP, Cohen’s record gained new poignancy and relevancy following his passing, with songs reading like final ruminations before he moved on. The opening title track sums it all up elegantly and succinctly.
30. Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie, “In My World” (From Lindsey Buckingham Christne McVie, 2017)
It’s no surprise that the first album to feature both Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie since 1987 sounded a lot like Fleetwood Mac‘s Tango in the Night. What was remarkable was how quickly Buckingham clicked with McVie – even though they didn’t share the kind of history he had with the missing Stevie Nicks.
29. ZZ Top, “I Gotsa Get Paid” (From La Futura, 2012)
After a nine-year break from new music, ZZ Top hired producer Rick Rubin to help them get back to basics on 2012’s La Futura. The trio can’t ever walk a truly straight line, and why would we even want them to? So, the lead single was actually a loose cover of a 1998 hip-hop song, “25 Lighters” by DJ DMD. As with many of the band’s other genre-bending innovations, “I Gotsa Get Paid” fit ZZ Top as perfectly as frontman Billy Gibbons’ signature nudu hats.
28. Ace Frehley, “Inside the Vortex” (From Space Invader, 2014)
Former Kiss guitarist Frehley‘s late-career winning streak reached a new high point with 2014’s Space Invader. The singles on his recent albums all tend to be cover songs or short, poppy numbers. But the real magic can be found in longer album tracks like “Immortal Pleasures, “Past the Milky Way” and especially the lurching “Inside the Vortex,” where the original Spaceman lets his gloriously off-kilter vocals and guitar solos soar freely across the galaxy.
27. U2, “Red Flag Day” (From Songs of Experience, 2017)
U2 returned to “Red Flag Day” when they decided to rework Songs of Experience following upheaval in politics around the world. Suddenly, the issue of refugees had taken center stage once more. Bono hit on the image of red flags, since they are displayed when seas become too dangerous for swimming – yet the Mediterranean boat people were so desperate that they went into the water anyway. The topic sparked a return-to-basics approach that recalled the glories of 1983’s War, but with a sharp modern twist.
26. Neil Young, “Love and War” (From Le Noise, 2010)
Neil Young remained, as always, restless and relentless — imbuing Le Noise‘s modernistic, reverb-soaked project with a kind of anti-melancholy. He hasn’t stopped searching for light in the darkness and, even now, somehow never sounds quite the same from album to album. At the same time, he admits here that his songs are still mostly about love and war. And for that, Young made no excuses. After all, he seemed to surmise, what unites us more often — whether that be in protest or in prayer?
25. Jack White, “Just One Drink” (From Lazeretto, 2014)
“Just One Drink” is as subtle in revealing its influences as a slap across the face after a long night at the bar. That’s the thing about Jack White, notwithstanding his carefully cultivated hipster modernity. Somewhere underneath the crazy outfits, away from the curio recording booth and the world’s-fastest-record stunts, and despite that heartbreaking split with Meg (no, actually, we’re not over that yet), White is really just a stone-cold blues lover. “Just One Drink” proves it.
24. Alice Cooper, “A Runaway Train” (From Welcome 2 My Nightmare, 2011)
Sequels can be trouble, but Alice Cooper delivered a wide range of delights on this follow-up to his landmark 1975 solo debut. Reuniting with former bandmates Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bruce and Dennis Smith in a reworked version of an old Dunaway track, Cooper takes things up up an extra notch by inviting country star Vince Gill to raise all kinds of hell on lead guitar.
23. Queens of the Stone Age, “The Way You Used to Do” (From Villains, 2017)
The boogieing lead single from Queens of the Stone Age‘s seventh LP nodded to the past and pointed a way forward: The grimy guitar riff and distorted bass recall the decadence of 2007’s Era Vulgaris, but the production of pop journeyman Mark Ronson offers a sleekness suitable for an audience beyond stoner-rock die-hards.
22. Mudcrutch, “Hungry No More” (From 2, 2016)
If Mudcrutch’s surprise 2008 debut seemed like the joyous first moments that surround a reunion, Mudcrutch 2 was the sound of perspective setting in. Their subject matter delved ever more deeply into roads not taken, coming to terms with life’s passages and the sweet reverie of memory. “Hungry No More,” the album’s soaring final number, puts period to a very grown-up record, with keen insights into how the choices we make turn into the lives we ultimately lead.
21. Arctic Monkeys, “Do I Wanna Know?” (From AM, 2013)
This slow-burning single from 2013 marked a turning point in Arctic Monkeys’ career. While early hits like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and “When the Sun Goes Down” had proven the U.K. outfit could write a catchy tune, “Do I Wanna Know?” added a gritty, blues-rock swagger to the group’s indie-rock style. The song’s lyrics, detailing a one-sided relationship that borders on obsession, also displayed added depth and intrigue. “Do I Wanna Know?” became an international hit, charting in 13 nations across the globe and hitting No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs Chart.
20. Chickenfoot, “Big Foot” (From Chickenfoot III, 2011)
After a fitfully pleasing debut effort, Chickenfoot tightened up and expanded their range on their more dynamic second album. Lead single “Big Foot” was a tone-setting fastball straight down the middle, with Joe Satriani riffing like a strutting peacock while Hagar sings about the important things in life: blasting Houses of the Holy while speeding down the highway overnight to see his lover.
19. Ghost, “Dance Macabre” (From Prequelle, 2018 )
Ghost have always thrived on maximum campiness – from the demonic pope and “nameless ghoul” personas to the arena-friendly blend of metal, prog and hard rock that propelled their recordings to international fame. But even hardcore fans may have raised an eyebrow at this fist-pumping sing-along hit, which shared more DNA with Steve Perry-era Journey than Black Sabbath. “Wanna bewitch you in the moonlight,” Tobias Forge belts amid the gothic organ and power chords. What’s not to love?
18. The Black Keys, “Next Girl” (From Brothers, 2010)
The well-known acolytes of the urban mid-century blues cliche didn’t stop hybridizing African-American music into modern rock on Brothers so much as skip forward a few decades into the ’70s — complete with blaxploitation grooves and ghostly new Curtis Mayfield-esque vocals from singer Dan Auerbach. On “Next Girl,” that meant adding an expansive keyboard groove to a roaring fuzz guitar, creating a kind of bell-bottom menace. The results were as fiercely honest, and as throwback funky, as the album’s stark cover art.
17. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “First Flash of Freedom” (From Mojo, 2010)
On one of the more expansive, longer tracks from their blues-heavy 2010 album Mojo, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers channel the Allman Brothers Band with a hypnotic, brooding epic featuring big organ swirls and perfectly ragged intertwining guitar lines.
16. Billy Idol, “Postcards From the Past” (From Kings & Queens of the Underground, 2014)
On his first album in nine years, Billy Idol reconnects perfectly with the dramatic song structures and icy guitar and synthesizer mix that brought him fame on ’80s albums such as Rebel Yell and Whiplash Smile. Longtime guitarist and songwriting partner Steve Stevens gets in on the throwback fun too, adding a quick bit of “White Wedding” at the end of his guitar solo.
15. Jack White, “Sixteen Saltines” (From Blunderbuss, 2012)
Jack White goes full White Stripes on this riff-monster from his debut solo LP, recapturing some of that ragged “Ball and Biscuit” majesty. It’s satisfying enough to pound your steering wheel, oblivious to the words, but it’s worth digging into White’s wild tale of obsessive, jealous lovers.
14. AC/DC, “Rock or Bust” (From Rock or Bust, 2014)
On their first album without founding rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, AC/DC deliver exactly what you’d expect and hope for in a title track: a great riff, a clear statement of purpose and a chorus their fans remember and sing along to for the rest of their lives. It’s a formula so simple that absolutely nobody else has been able to properly replicate it for almost 50 years now.
13. The Rolling Stones, “Ride ‘Em on Down” (From Blue & Lonesome, 2016)
When the Rolling Stones set out to make a new album a few years ago, they got sidelined by the blues covers they were jamming to for fun. The record that came out of the loose sessions, Blue & Lonesome, was one of their best in decades. “Ride ‘Em on Down,” based on an old Bukka White song, features ferocious harmonica and guitar.
12. Roger Waters, “Picture That” (From Is This the Life We Really Want?, 2017)
Roger Waters is not known for pulling punches. But the most un-pullingest punch of them all on his 2017 album is “Picture That,” a Wish You Were Here-esque track that memorably asked listeners to imagine a leader with no brains. (Also a courthouse with no laws.) It’s a high point on an album where Waters remains patently pissed off, but also far more comfortable in directly referencing his thorny past with Pink Floyd. Oddly enough, he got there by working with strangers: New producer Nigel Godrich – who Waters met when he mixed the 2014 movie Roger Waters: The Wall – actually brought in an entirely different core band.
11. Iggy Pop, “Gardenia” (From Post Pop Depression, 2016)
Gardenia was a real-life stripper, once pursued by both Iggy Pop and Allen Ginsberg. (See the line, “America’s greatest poet was ogling you all night.”) Credit producer Josh Homme for combining her story with a memorable bass line, turning a funny anecdote into a career-enlivening comeback song that introduced Post-Pop Depression. Pop initially indicated that this might be his last album, but eventually followed it with 2019’s Free.
10. The Black Keys, “Little Black Submarines” (From El Camino, 2011)
The Black Keys had some pleasingly polished hits under their belts by 2011’s El Camino, their third consecutive collaboration with producer Danger Mouse. But the album’s fourth single offers a refreshing return to rawness, with frontman Dan Auerbach crooning in a creaky tone over ragged fingerpicking and blown-out distortion.
9. Bruce Springsteen, “Western Stars” (From Western Stars, 2019)
Bruce Springsteen ended the ’10s with one of his most laid-back and unassuming albums, a throwback to the late-’60s sound of Glen Campbell’s classic records, complete with strings, horns and melancholy subject matter. Western Stars‘ meditative title track is narrated by an old Hollywood bit player looking back at his glory days.
8. Paul Simon, “Cool Papa Bell” (From Stranger to Stranger, 2016)
At 74, Paul Simon was more musically adventurous than artists half his age when 2016’s Stranger to Stranger came out. It’s his best album since Graceland 30 years earlier. Producer Roy Halee, the sonic architect behind many Simon & Garfunkel classics, helped construct this playful ode to the pioneering black baseball player.
7. Van Halen, ‘She’s the Woman” (From A Different Kind of Truth, 2012)
On their first album with David Lee Roth in 28 years, Van Halen rekindled a huge chunk of their original fiery chemistry and charisma. With Roth rewriting verses and new bassist Wolfgang Van Halen contributing a mid-song breakdown, “She’s the Woman” is a perfect reintroduction to the group and the one song every longtime fan wished was the lead single from A Different Kind of Truth.
6. Robert Plant, “New World” (from Carry Fire, 2017)
Robert Plant was inspired to write “New World” after confronting the impact of imperialism on native people, their sacred traditions and the environment. A visit to Fort Sill in Oklahoma connected the dots of history for him: Chief Quanah Parker and the Quahadas band of Comanche were driven there from Texas in the summer of 1875 – a surrender that marked the end of conflict in the south plains between settlers and the people who’d always called that land home. Plant donated proceeds from “New World” to a Native American-focused charity called Honor the Earth.
5. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, “Psychedelic Pill” (From Psychedelic Pill, 2012)
Neil Young released two albums with Crazy Horse in 2012: Americana, which was an LP of covers that dated to the 19th century, and Psychedelic Pill, one of his best of the decade. Many of Pill‘s songs stretched out: Two tracks run 16 minutes each, while another goes to 27 minutes. The fuzzy title cut clocks in at a lean three minutes.
4. Queens of the Stone Age, “My God Is the Sun” (From … Like Clockwork, 2013)
In a way, “My God Is the Sun” sounds like a lot of Queens of the Stone Age songs: fuzzy, growling, tough. But it also sounds like a prototypical QOTSA song, a summation of their 15-year career at that point. It’s certainly their best song of the decade, spotlighted by Dave Grohl‘s steamrolling drums.
3. The Rolling Stones, “Doom and Gloom” (From GRRR!, 2012)
The umpteenth Rolling Stones compilation isn’t the first place you’d think to look for their best new song in nearly two decades. But there, buried at the end of the 50th-anniversary GRRR! collection, sits “Doom and Gloom,” a positively charged and – crucial point here – Stonesy rocker that proved there was still some life in the old band.
2. David Bowie, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” (From The Next Day, 2013)
David Bowie hadn’t released any new music in 10 years when he announced an LP on his 66th birthday. The Next Day was a revelation: Bowie’s best album in three decades and a return to the challenging art-rock he made at the end of the ’70s. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” which came out two weeks before the album, is the rock ‘n’ roll highlight.
1. David Bowie, “Lazarus” (From Blackstar, 2016)
“Lazarus” sounded like a creative rebirth for David Bowie when it arrived a month before his 25th album, Blackstar. The song and LP turned out to be a requiem for one of music’s most enigmatic and brilliant artists: Bowie died two days after Blackstar‘s release, making this final single of his lifetime a poignant and fitting end.