Top 30 Rock Songs of 2023
It's hard to believe, but the end of 2023 is already upon us, and musically speaking, this year had a lot to show for itself.
A number of artists embarked on extra special projects. Roger Waters took it upon himself to re-record the entirety of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon (Roger's Version, if you will), while Dolly Parton made good on her promise to record a rock 'n' roll album, bringing in various high-profile guests.
Arguably one of the most pleasantly surprising parts of the year was when both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — two bands with decades of history to their names — made it to the top of the charts with brand new music.
The options were plentiful, but below we've compiled the Top 30 Rock Songs of 2023.
If you were expecting some kind of short and sweet offering as Yes' first single from 2023's Mirror to the Sky, you were proven wrong with "Cut From the Stars," a lively track that clocks in at over five minutes. It's exactly the kind of vigorous, celestial sound that the prog rockers have been honing since 1968.
While many fans have spent the last few years wondering if Heart will ever reunite, Ann Wilson has wasted no time building her own solo catalog. Her most recent LP arrived this year, including the powerful, grunge-esque "This Is Now." She's even been playing it live already.
It's been a big year for U2. Back in March, they released their 15th album, Songs of Surrender, and in late September, they opened up the Sphere in Las Vegas, where they have a residency scheduled to last into 2024. They also dropped a brand new song, "Atomic City,"
a track that somehow manages to nod to the Beach Boys, Blondie and the Clash all in one.
It's been eight years since Blur released new music, but 2023 saw the arrival of The Ballad of Darren. Its lead single, "The Narcissist," is something of an acknowledgment of where the band stands today. A lot has changed since Blur first arrived on the scene in the '90s, including themselves as people: "Looked in the mirror / So many people standing there."
There was a time when it wasn't exactly clear whether or not Blink-182 would ever return as the band fans knew them to be. In 2015, Tom DeLonge left the group, and in 2021, Mark Hoppus revealed that he was battling cancer, a diagnosis he managed to beat. But in 2023, DeLonge returned for another album, and Hoppus remained cancer-free. The title track of One More Time... noted the band's complicated history and emphasized that life, when you think about it, is remarkably short: "I gotta say, 'I love you' while we're here."
Guitarist Tracii Guns took a new approach to "You Betray," the first single from L.A. Guns' Black Diamonds. He was initially sent a drum part by Adam Hamilton and worked his way up from there, "a first for me," as he put it on social media. "Has an obvious 'Immigrant Song' rhythm, which is a monster thing," he added. "Hope you dig it like we do."
Roger Waters is not the first rock artist to revisit songs from his past, and he certainly won't be the last, but 2023 was a big year for Pink Floyd history. It marked 50 years since the release of The Dark Side of the Moon, an album that changed the world's perspective on what a conceptual album could sound like. In re-recording the songs, Waters, now 80 years old, has a different sense of wisdom. Sure, he added some new words, but the principle of "Money" remains true five decades later, "the root of all evil today."
Five years ago, Joe Perry released Sweetzerland Manifesto, an album that included collaborations with Robin Zander, David Johansen and more. The Aerosmith guitarist decided to keep the party going this year — "It was like the engine of a train that wasn't going to stop," he explained —with Sweetzerland Manifesto MKII, starting things off strong with "Fortunate One" featuring Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes.
Ian Hunter is up there this year for Most Collaborations on a Single Album with Defiance Part 1, which features everyone from Johnny Depp to the late Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons to Brad Whitford and a whole lot more. "No Hard Feelings" is one of the strongest offerings from the album, a loping track that showcases what was likely one of Beck's last recordings of his life.
You might reasonably assume that Stevie Nicks and Gorillaz, the virtual band created by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett in 1998, would not have that much in common. And maybe they don't, but that didn't stop them from collaborating this year on a song called "Oil." ("I want to be a Gorilla," Nicks said.) It appeared on their new album Cracker Island, which also included guests like Bad Bunny, Tame Impala and Beck.
20. Dolly Parton, "World on Fire"
When Dolly Parton sets her mind to something, there is little anyone can do to stop her. Following her Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, Parton made good on her promise to release a rock album, and though it was abundant with famous covers, it also had a robust new original, "World on Fire."
The last time John Cale, formerly of the Velvet Underground, released original music was over a decade ago, so his newest release, Mercy, was a welcome arrival. There are a number of notable guests on the album, but Weyes Blood's appearance on "Story of Blood" is one of the most captivating — at points, as Cale described, her voice is "a dead-ringer for Nico."
Wilco's "Evicted" taps into an especially difficult human reality: the one in which your own actions bring about unfortunate or unintended consequences. "Self-inflicted wounds still hurt and in my experience, they're almost impossible to fully recover from," Jeff Tweedy explained in a press release. It can help, as Tweedy seems to do in the song, to own up to your mistakes.
As it was described in a press release, In Times New Roman... by Queens of the Stone Age is "raw, at times brutal and not recommended for the faint of heart." This is absolutely true for "Carnavoyeur," its second single, which juxtaposes a rather harsh guitar part with Josh Homme's smooth, Bowie-like vocal.
"Here's the deal on this album: No overdubs," Alice Cooper told UCR earlier this year. That means everything you're hearing on "I'm Alice" was done live in the studio, not exactly a commonplace recording technique these days. And in case there was any confusion, Cooper reintroduced himself: "I'm Alice, the master of madness, the father of fright."
Much of Jason Isbell's songwriting revolves around ideas of lost relationships, whether with others or with one's self. "King of Oklahoma" from Weathervanes includes those themes too, a song about a man whose work, home and personal life all seem to crumble on top of one another.
14. Green Day, "The American Dream Is Killing Me"
From: Saviors (2024)
Green Day is not exactly unfamiliar with writing about the socio-political, and there's certainly no reason for them to stop doing so now. "From sea to shining sea," Billie Joe Armstrong sings in "The American Dream Is Killing Me." "Whitewashed upon the beach / My country under siege." Punk rock hasn't died, but the American dream? Gone as far as Green Day sees it.
13. Dirty Honey, "Won't Take Me Alive"
From: Can't Find the Brakes
"Whatever we do, no matter what style, it's gonna be Dirty Honey and it's gonna kick ass," bassist Justin Smolian recently told UCR. But what Dirty Honey perhaps does best is dirty rock 'n' roll, which is exactly what you have with "Won't Take Me Alive."
Paul Simon is no longer a touring musician, but that doesn't mean he's not a writing and recording one. His 2023 album, Seven Psalms, is meant to be listened to as one continuous piece of music, but if you have time for just one, let it be "The Lord," a sweeping beginning to a truly intricate body of work.
Metallica's 11th album, 72 Seasons, might best be described as an absolute force. Beginning with its very first song, the title track, it's clear the band meant business on this LP — it even earned a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance.
The only thing more challenging than making a first album is making its followup, but Wolfgang Van Halen of Mammoth WVH was undeterred. On "Another Celebration at the End of the World," Van Halen plays every single one of the instruments himself, and though the overall sound is similar to Mammoth WVH's debut LP, there's a new sense of confidence here.
Good things come to Guns N' Roses fans who wait. "Perhaps" dates back over a decade to the Chinese Democracy era — a demo leaked on the internet years ago. But 2023 finally saw the official release of the song, and it's already made its way into the band's live performances.
At 76, Iggy Pop isn't done performing concerts with his shirt off, and he certainly isn't done making raucous new music. "Frenzy" is textbook Pop, unruly and assertive, with contributions from Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Earlier this year at the Power Trip festival in California, Judas Priest provided some excellent news to their fans: a new album, their 19th, would arrive in March 2024. There's still a ways to go before Invincible Shield makes its entrance into the world, but in the meantime, Judas Priest has offered up some exciting singles to help make the wait more bearable, including "Panic Attack."
Following the death of drummer Taylor Hawkins in 2022, Foo Fighters made it clear that although the band would continue, an entirely new, frankly daunting era awaited them. "Without Taylor, we never would have become the band that we were - and without Taylor, we know that we’re going to be a different band going forward," they said in a statement. The pain felt by the band was channeled into some of their new music, particularly in "Rescued," their response to losing one of their own.
You've heard of holiday albums, but how many bands do you know that have done full-length Halloween LPs? You can count Duran Duran among them. Their 2023 album Danse Macabre contains 13 spooky tracks, including "Black Moonlight" featuring Nile Rodgers.
Like Foo Fighters, Depeche Mode faced the reality this year of making music with one less bandmate, Andy Fletcher. And despite Memento Mori's somewhat somber tone — and a single titled "Ghosts Again" — the new music, if anything, helped the remaining members of Depeche Mode work through their grief. Fletcher's passing, Dave Gahan said, gave the project "an extra level of meaning."
3. The Beatles, "Now and Then"
Who would have thought that in the year 2023, a little over 50 years since the Beatles split up for good, we'd have brand new music from them? Paul McCartney did, evidently. After several decades away from it, he and Ringo Starr finally completed "Now and Then," a track that stems from an old demo tape of John Lennon's, recorded prior to his passing. It is, as Starr put it, "the closest we'll ever come to having him back in the room."
Most musicians, when releasing new music, opt for the traditional route: release a few singles before the full album. But not Peter Gabriel, who chose to release one song from his newest album, i/o, every full moon. His first offering, "Panopticom," was perhaps the strongest, grandiose and ambitious, much like Gabriel's entire career.
It's beginning to appear as though only the destruction of the planet we live on will stop the Rolling Stones from continuing. This year, the band released their 24th album, Hackney Diamonds, — their first since the death of drummer Charlie Watts — kicking things off with a classic-sounding Stones track, "Angry."
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Gallery Credit: Matthew Wilkening