I had the idea for this blog post for a while but kept it in my back pocket and I asked my followers about this and they said it was a good idea. My obsession with classic rock really took off when I was 14 or 15 thanks to movies like Austin Powers and The Boat That Rocked. Those movies were two of my biggest influences in who I am and a big part of that was the music. I guess teenage me would be happy because I have Austin Powers like clothes and I had a classic rock radio show in uni. Unlike a lot of millennial classic rock fans, it wasn’t my parents who pushed me into loving classic rock, it was me naturally falling into it. Starting with the music and pop culture and then progressing into living it as much as I could with the fashion. Music will always be king to me, but I love dressing like my favourite classic rockers. If time travel isn’t possible, then I want to surround myself with stuff from the time period.
But even before that, there were seeds planted. I remember being 9 years old and going to the cinema to see School of Rock. I liked the music, but as a kid it wasn’t “cool” to listen to old music and I wanted to fit in with my classmates so I listened to pop and rap music like everyone else did. Another seed planted was having boomer parents and one boomer-ish (if you count 1945 births as boomer) grandmother. Old stuff was all around my house: record players, vinyl, an 8 track player, and my dad would often play Motown and disco, when he wasn’t playing salsa and merengue. Sometimes my dad would play the oldies station when we were in the car and I liked it a lot. I always thought I was a weirdo for having “old” parents, but I ended up growing to love it because my parents have so many stories of the time period and I loved asking them questions about what life was like then, even when I was a kid. I was so fascinated with vinyl records and the old VHS tapes dating from 1979-1989 of old programmes, movies, and music videos my dad would tape. Even fashion wise I loved tie dye shirts and platform shoes and would wear them to school.
When I was 11, my parents finally decided to get satellite TV and a whole new world opened up when I got access to VH1 Classic, which I preferred watching because there were music videos and documentaries. By the noughties, VH1 and MTV lost themselves and started showing dumb reality shows rather than music videos. I loved watching things like I Love The 70s, I Love The 80s, Pop Up Video, all their countdown shows of things like one hit wonders, and of course Behind The Music. These shows inspired me to want to be a music historian. Maybe one day I’ll get to contribute to a music documentary, wouldn’t that be cool?
The Beatles were my gateway band to my classic rock obsession, but there were a lot of other bands that were my gateway, and maybe to an even larger extent because I didn’t listen to the Beatles much as a little kid.
That’s enough of my story because I have a lot of other stories to tell associated with these 35 gateway songs plus a bonus one that isn’t exactly a song, but an early exposure to classic rock that I wouldn’t have realised at the time:
The Gateway Songs – No particular order:
1. “96 Tears” – ? and the Mysterians
I first remember hearing this song when I was a tween in this greatest one hit wonders VH1 Classic show. The organ was really something. It’s a song that my dad really likes. He likes old garage rock.
2. “Good Lovin'” – The Rascals
This was one of my dad’s favourites from his childhood and he has this one story associated with it from his time as a DJ and I remember telling it on one of my radio shows. In the 70s, my dad worked for a family owned radio station in Watsonville, California. The family who owned the station were really conservative and they were rigid with their radio playlists and you couldn’t deviate from it without getting scolded. My dad was feeling kinda cheeky and decided to play “Good Lovin'”. Big mistake because he got an angry call from the station owner who called that song way too loud and naughty.
3. “Gimme Some Lovin” – Spencer Davis Group
This is a song I remember hearing a lot around my house and in adverts too, and it was one of the first 60s songs I fell in love with. My dad loves Steve Winwood’s soulful voice and his organ playing. My dad being a huge R&B fan, you can tell why he loves Steve Winwood.
4. “Happy Together” – The Turtles
I remember hearing this in some movie trailer from the 80s or some movie from the 80s when I was a little kid and I always liked this song. So catchy.
5. “Back in Black” – AC/DC
I think this is the first hard rock song I really liked and I think I first remember hearing about AC/DC on VH1 Classic because of Behind The Music.
6. “Louie, Louie” – The Kingsmen
Yet another song that my dad would often play in the car and it was love at first listen for me even as a little kid. “Nobody knows the lyrics of this song”, my dad said, and it made it hard to sing in the car. I loved the mysteriousness of it, but later on I ended up finding out what the real lyrics were. My dad was excited when he found a YouTube video that gave the real lyrics, wow the mystery is solved! This song has one of the craziest stories, any boomer will tell you that this was a scandalous song and every one was trying to figure out the lyrics and old people thought it was sexual, which it wasn’t. I guess it’s one of those things that people heard what they wanted to hear. A marching band version of it was also in the soundtrack of one of my favourite movies as a kid, The Naked Gun.
7. “Help!” – The Beatles
I remember hearing this one in Cheaper By The Dozen, which was a movie my family loved. I asked who was this and my dad was like, that’s The Beatles, they’re from the 60s. And at that time I was like wow that’s old and now I hardly listen to music made after the 80s haha! Years later, all I would talk about were The Beatles and I’d memorise their discography and could even name songs after a second of hearing it. The Beatles were 100% my gateway band and got me into so many other bands. They would cheer me up whenever I was feeling down. Lots of people have The Beatles to thank for their careers and life purposes and I’m one of those people. I have memories of going to work placement with my friend and we would sing Beatles songs on the bus and talk about how cute the Beatles were and this one girl would make fun of us and say we were weirdos talking about bugs. So we started jokingly calling The Beatles, The Bugs.
8. “Wild Thing” – The Troggs
I remember hearing this song in a greeting card that would play the song when you opened it and I loved that guitar riff intro thing and fuzzy sound.
9. “Higher Love” – Steve Winwood
My dad has this on a 45 and I remember him playing this song in the car all the time.
10. “Oye Como Va” – Santana
My parents love Santana because it combines lots of things they love, Latin American music plus boomer rock and roll. My favourite Spanish music is Santana of course!
11. “Wooly Bully” – Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs
My dad bought this compilation CD of early 60s party music and this song was on it and it would be played a lot in the car.
12. “Tequila” – The Champs
This song was also on that party music compilation CD and I really loved this song too. One of my favourite instrumentals as a kid.
13. “Green Onions” – Booker T & The MGs
My dad’s a big soul music fan and I remember hearing this song growing up and it’s another all time favourite instrumental of mine. Can’t believe it’s from 1962 because it sounds so fresh.
14. “La Bamba” – Ritchie Valens
Are you Hispanic if you didn’t listen to this song as a kid? I remember my dad telling me the story of the day the music died and it was something that made me so sad. The musicians who died were all so young and I always wondered what they could have accomplished.
15. “I’m a Believer” – The Monkees
In my childhood, the Smash Mouth cover got a lot of airplay and my dad preferred the original and every time the cover came on he shouted “Remake!” I’d get annoyed, but now I’ve become that! My dad loves The Monkees and Davy Jones is the reason my dad loves England and the accents there so much.
16. “Incense and Peppermints” – Strawberry Alarm Clock
This song was in the soundtrack of Austin Powers in the Electric Psychedelic Pussycat Swingers Club scene in 1967, and I’d play this song all the time when I was a teenager. I remember seeing that scene and even though I was and still am a total wallflower and would get sensory overload from being in a nightclub, if I had the chance to time travel to the 60s, I would love to check out a nightclub. At least the music is good! Little did I know, Austin Powers would change my life and turn me into a 60s obsessed girl. Even to this day I wish I lived in the 60s and I’d do anything do live in that decade.
17. “Mony Mony” – Tommy James & The Shondells
My dad loves garage rock and he would play a few Tommy James & The Shondells songs and this is one of the ones that I loved the most.
18. “Blitzkrieg Bop” – The Ramones
This was the first punk song I really liked. It was in the soundtrack of another favourite movie of mine, National Lampoon’s Vacation. The scene where the parents are singing cheesy songs in the car and the kids are like “hell no” and they put on their headphones and listen to The Ramones is the biggest mood and I’ve done that so many times in my parents car. One good thing about being a millennial is iPods were a lot more convenient than Walkmans. But nothing beats having an iPhone and Spotify, convenience wise. As much as I want to time travel, I’d be annoyed at how many tapes I’d need to have in the car because I love a lot of music.
19. “All Day and All Of The Night” – The Kinks
That opening scene of The Boat That Rocked with “All Day and All of the Night” was an awakening in so many ways – I felt like I was reborn. As soon as I heard that fuzzy, distorted guitar and saw those 60s London visuals, I was captivated. I wanted to be a DJ. I wanted to learn as much as I could about classic rock. A few months after I saw that movie, my family took a trip to London and I fell in love with that city.
Little did I know that this band would become a comfort for me as a bisexual who lived in a very homophobic, conservative small town. Few people in secondary school really understood me and my love of Britain and the 60s, but it was my little escape. The song “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” has really become an anthem for me.
20. “One Way Or Another” – Blondie
This was in the Mean Girls soundtrack and that’s one of my favourite movies. A big influence on my sense of humour and I didn’t realise it at the time but one of the characters names comes from the name of a 60s singer, Janis Ian. Boomers and Gen X just love to hide classic rock references in everything, don’t they?
21. “Venus” – Shocking Blue
A classic and I loved hearing a woman’s voice for a change in rock music! I loved Mariska Veres’s style: big hair with heavy thick fringe and lots of eyeliner.
22. “Love Shack” – The B-52s
I jokingly call The B-52s the gayest classic rock band – almost all the members are gay or bi and they are loved the the LGBT community. I don’t know how anyone could think I’m straight because I adore this song. I remember first hearing it in the Flintstones Movie and my parents would play it all the time in the house. Time period wise it isn’t classic rock, but The B-52s are absolutely a classic rock band.
23. “Magic Carpet Ride” – Steppenwolf
This was a song that my dad would often play in the car and I would always request this one. My dad had a hot take and only liked the poppy part of it, not the psychedelic organ jam thing so he would press the rewind button and play it from the beginning again. Me on the other hand, I love fuzz, psychedelia, distortion, reverberation, can’t get enough of it – the more it sounds like the musicians were stoned when they made the song, the better.
24. “Don’t Leave Me This Way” – Thelma Houston
Not the original, that was by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. But this was such a good version that you’d think this was the original, she made it hers. Disco was a genre that got me into classic rock oddly enough, because it’s the same era, and my dad is a huge disco and funk fan. This is one of my favourite disco songs ever and I could make a whole list of disco songs that I really liked growing up, but this list is more about rock and pop music, but I guess disco is a form of pop music too. Tired of hearing the elitism and looking down upon disco. It’s good.
25. “I’m Into Something Good” – Herman’s Hermits
This song was in the Naked Gun soundtrack and the scene it was in was hilarious and was a scene I would often replay. Songs like this made me realise the 60s were actually quite cool.
26. “What I Like About You” – The Romantics
This song was my introduction to power pop and what a great introduction. This song was often played at Bulls games and my family being from Chicago and such sports fans, this song would be played a lot at home.
27. “Sirius” – The Alan Parsons Project
I didn’t know this was classic rock (or more accurately, progressive rock) or all the classic rock connections there are associated with Alan Parsons, like how he worked with The Beatles and Pink Floyd and at such a young age too! He was only 20 when he was an assistant engineer on Abbey Road and was 24 when he was an engineer on Dark Side of the Moon. Definitely an important part of rock history, working on two of the most legendary albums in classic rock. Anyway, this is one of those songs you may not know the title of but when you hear it you know it, especially if you’re a Bulls fan – this song was the one that was used to introduce the Chicago Bulls. This song will always be associated with Michael Jordan. I also recommend listening to “Eye in the Sky”, the song this segues into.
28. “Touch Me” – The Doors
This was the first Doors song I heard and I think I heard it when I was a teenager watching YouTube videos and someone made their own ad for the iPod Touch or iPhone (can’t remember) and this song was in it. My dad overheard, talked about how this is an old song by The Doors. One of those songs that still sounds fresh.
29. “Major Tom” – Peter Schilling
This wasn’t a song that my parents introduced me to, but I remember hearing this as a kid while on a plane ride and I was listening to the radio (probably the 80s station) and I didn’t know what the song was or who David Bowie was, but I liked it a lot. Years and years later I heard the song and Shazam-ed it, and it brought back so many memories. This was a fan made sequel of sorts to “Space Oddity”. Protip: listen to the original German version, way better than the English version!
30. “Let’s Stay Together” – Al Green
This was another song I remember hearing a lot around the house and in the car as a kid. A classic and it was in Pulp Fiction! Quentin Tarantino movies always have such great soundtracks!
31. “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” – Steam
I remember my dad telling me a bit about the history of this song. It wasn’t even by a proper band, they were just studio musicians who basically made this one song (well actually one album, but no one knows the other songs) and that was it. It’s such a simple, catchy song and recorded in just one session. A lot of times the simplest songs become hits.
As a kid I was always fascinated by one hit wonders and would watch YouTube videos about them and watch VH1 Classic specials about one hit wonders. How can a band make one good song and that’s it? Why did they flop afterwards? Was it a fluke? Poor marketing? I guess that was my gateway to my interest in music history
32. “Brick House” – The Commodores
This was a song that I remember my dad playing in the car a lot early on in my childhood, maybe when I was 7 or 8. Funky. And who says this song is just for straight dudes? This song describes my taste in women.
33. “For What It’s Worth” – Buffalo Springfield
One of those songs where the title isn’t in the lyrics. This was one of the first anti-war songs I remember listening to and it’s such a classic.
34. “Reach Out of the Darkness” – Friend and Lover
This song was one I remember hearing in the Cheaper By The Dozen soundtrack and I liked how poppy and fun it was. I think what made the 60s magical music wise was the optimism. What a contrast from the reality.
35. “Gloria” – Them
One of my favourites, it’s a garage rock standard and it’s by Ireland’s first rock band! This is one song I begged my dad to play on repeat.
Bonus: The Windows 95 startup sound – Brian Eno
I’m going to feel old, but the first computer operating system I remember using was Windows 95, which was cutting edge back when I first used computers at the age of 3! Yes, that’s right, when I was in preschool I would use the computer all by myself. The look and feel of Windows 95 gives me so much nostalgia, but nothing gives me that feeling of nostalgia like that startup sound. Brian Eno isn’t exactly classic rock, but he’s from the era and he was in Roxy Music in the early 70s. Here’s that iconic sound, the best computer startup sound of all time. It’s a sound that gives me hope and brings me back to a carefree time when I would play Arthur’s Reading Race and Magic School Bus games.
Shoutout to my friend Patrick for supporting the blog!
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Lots of good stuff on this list!
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I’ll admit to being old enough to remember these songs when they were new, not “classic”. “96 tears” is the song that everyone can play on a keyboard… even I. Since you mentioned The Turtles, I always loved “Eleanor”, the song that was a parody of itself.
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Plenty of amazing songs on this list! I had a vinyl copy of The Rascals’ Greatest Hits which I used to play constantly, I loved Tommy James and the Shondells so much I wrote a horror short story in my twenties based on “I Think We’re Alone Now,” I like to talk about exactly how many classic bands Steve Winwood was in during the 1960s and 1970s (Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith, and Traffic again), I’m a huge progressive rock fan and I love the collaborative and production aspects behind the Alan Parsons Project. Also, Brian Eno’s experiments with “treating” and “arranging” albums have always fascinated me, and I love listening to his music. Steppenwolf were one of the first bands to inspire heavy metal, and always classic to listen to. Everything The Kinks did in the 1960s is pure gold. So much great stuff on this list.
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