2018’s Best Rock Songs
This past year was marked by comebacks, as Steve Perry, Smashing Pumpkins and Dave Matthews returned. But 2018 also featured plenty of highlight moments from old-reliable types like Paul McCartney, Judas Priest and David Crosby, all of whom have stayed remarkably busy. Paul Simon and Billy Gibbons took long looks back, while Matt Pike released not one but two well-received records. There were also new sounds from new bands, including Greta Van Fleet and Magpie Salute, a Black Crowes offshoot. Here's a look back at 2018's Best Rock Songs ...
Steve Perry, 'Sun Shines Gray'
Steve Perry's first solo album in nearly 25 years was born out of deep sorrow over a lost love, so it's no surprise that Traces is populated with so many ballads. "Sun Shines Gray," though just as marked by grief, is the exception. Collaborating with guitarist John 5, Perry recaptures every element of his Journey-era arena-pop glory. – Nick DeRiso
Paul McCartney, 'I Don't Know'
From: Egypt Station
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. These 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. – Nick DeRiso
Judas Priest, 'Flamethrower'
Half a decade has passed since what was originally planned as Judas Priest's farewell tour, and the energy and skill on display throughout 2018's Firepower makes you wonder why saying goodbye was even a consideration. At age 67, singer Rob Halford understandably uses his high register more judiciously, but proves he's still more than capable of dialing up his best fastball when it's time to turn "Flamethrower" up a notch. – Matthew Wilkening
Ace Frehley, 'Rocking With the Boys'
Ace Frehley's "Rockin' With the Boys" dates back to when he was in Kiss, doing just that. It was only after he'd completed this classic-era leftover that Frehley realized he'd reused a theme from one of his old band's best-known songs. The track focuses on a touring musician who's missing a loved one back home, the same as "Beth" from Kiss' 1976 LP Destroyer. – Nick DeRiso
Paul Simon, 'Questions for the Angels'
From: In the Blue Light
Often the changes on this remake album seem so incremental as to have been largely undetectable to the average listener. That certainly seems the case with "Questions for the Angels," at least at first. But Bill Frisell's more detailed guitar work lures the listener ever deeper, and then it all gives way to a thrilling burst of color from harmonium, chromelodeon and percussion. – Nick DeRiso
Ted Nugent, 'Where Are You Gonna Run to Get Away From Yourself'
From: The Music Made Me Do It
There probably aren't many rock fans out there who haven't permanently chosen sides for or against the polarizing Motor City Madman. But you should know that Ted Nugent's uncorked his best riff in many hunting moons here, and paired it quite nicely with an unusually non-partisan message about personal responsibility and the need for unity. – Matthew Wilkening
Joe Satriani, 'Headrush'
From: What Happens Next
Joe Satriani has described "Headrush" as "just a crazy boogie," and he's not wrong. Paired this time with drummer Chad Smith and a thrillingly funky Glenn Hughes on bass, Satriani trades his typically eye-popping guitar pyrotechnics for an impish sense of humor. – Nick DeRiso
Greta Van Fleet, 'When the Curtain Falls'
From: Anthem of the Peaceful Army
Plenty of songs on Greta Van Fleet's debut album sound like they were pulled from the Led Zeppelin songbook, but their first single does it most convincingly. With a riff straight out of Houses of the Holy and a powerhouse vocal that conjures images of a swaggering Robert Plant in all his rock-god glory, "When the Curtain Falls" gallops over the hills and far away toward the young band's backward-looking future as classic-rock saviors. – Michael Gallucci
David Crosby, 'Glory'
From: Here If You Listen
There were 18 years between David Crosby's first and second solo albums, and 21 between his third and fourth. Since then, however, Crosby has been on a tear, issuing four LPs in just five years. He's done it by staying in the moment. The loose and lovely "Glory" was created live in the studio with a group of new collaborators including Snarky Puppy's Michael League. – Nick DeRiso
Billy Gibbons, 'Rollin' and Tumblin''
From: The Big Bad Blues
Billy Gibbons returned to more familiar ground with this cover of a signature Muddy Waters tune, digging into his bluesier roots after a solo career-opening exploration of Afro-Cuban sounds on 2015's Perfectamundo. Gibbons hasn't sounded this grimy and gruff in years. – Nick DeRiso
Mark Knopfler, 'Back on the Dance Floor'
From: Down The Road Wherever
"Back on the Dance Floor" initially calls back to Mark Knopfler's Brothers in Arms-era work with Dire Straits, but then something new happens: A syncopated rhythm moves to the fore, and background vocalist Imelda May slips in, adding layers of sensuality to the proceedings. By the time she closes with a wordless vocal, an almost tribal intrigue has set in. – Nick DeRiso
David Byrne, 'Everybody's Coming to My House'
From: American Utopia
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 the Talking Heads' nervy classic sound. He even invites Brian Eno over. – Nick DeRiso
Corrosion of Conformity, 'Cast the First Stone'
From: No Cross No Crown
Corrosion of Conformity's reunion with Pepper Keenan produced instant sparks, as heard on this muscular advance single. The band had initially moved on, releasing a pair of albums as a trio – their first without Keenan since 1989's Technocracy. "Cast the First Stone," a flinty outburst that sounds something like Clutch meets Black Sabbath, reminded everyone just how much better they are together. – Nick DeRiso
Toto, 'Spanish Sea'
From: 40 Trips Around the Sun
This hits-package bonus track provided a different kind of reunion opportunity: Toto originally began "Spanish Sea" during sessions for 1984's Isolation, but set it aside. Since then, both Jeff Porcaro and Mike Porcaro passed away. Returning to complete the tapes, Steve Lukather told UCR, "was a roller coaster ride emotionally" – but it paid off with one of their best modern-era songs. – Nick DeRiso
Joe Bonamassa, 'Evil Mama'
Joe Bonamassa opened his 13th studio album by channelling Zeppelin – and not just with the razored riff and foundation-rattling "Rock and Roll"-inspired rhythm. Check out how this tough blues-rock song finds a whole new vista during a lengthy instrumental passage that would have been right at home in the shag-carpeted '70s. Even the title is a throwback. – Nick DeRiso
Ghost, 'Dance Macabre'
Despite an unwanted public unmasking and nasty legal battle with some former bandmates, Ghost frontman Tobias Forge continued to grow more playful and confident throughout the band's fourth studio album, Prequelle. Imagine if the Scorpions decided to make a dance record at the height of pop-metal's '80s heyday – and it was somehow still excellent – and you've got the basic idea of "Dance Macabre." – Matthew Wilkening
Boz Scaggs, 'Rock and Stick'
From: Out of the Blues
Need more proof that Boz Scaggs, the former guitar-playing Steve Miller sideman-turned-R&B smooth operator, has become one of his generation's most expressive singers? Head straight to Track 1 from the final entry in a trio of roots-exploring albums. Along the way, he's dug deeply into R&B, soul, New Orleans and Memphis influences, and finally the blues. Scaggs handles it all with the perfect balance of grace, wit and emotion. – Nick DeRiso
Dean Ween, 'Love Theme from 'Skinheads Kicking Your Ass''
Much of Dean Ween's second solo band album is wisely and awesomely dedicated to showing off his guitar playing in a variety of interesting settings. The most immediate and memorable of them is this oddly titled "driving rebel hillbilly thing," which he wrote (but never submitted) as the potential theme song for King of the Hill. The largely instrumental song's only recurring lyric was a last-second addition. "It never had that until one day when I was playing the song for a buddy," Ween told Consequence of Sound. "He kept yelling, “Oy” whenever that bar came around, [so] I just added it on there." – Matthew Wilkening
Dave Matthews Band, 'Again and Again'
From: Come Tomorrow
Long-time fans were familiar with "Again and Again" long before it finally found a home on Come Tomorrow, with concert performances dating all the way back to the Dave Matthews Band's 25th-anniversary show in 2016. Much had changed in the meantime, as group dabbled with an exciting new sound that was far more bass- and synth-forward in the absence of now-departed violinist Boyd Tinsley. Despite its title, "Again and Again" was anything but rote. – Nick DeRiso
High on Fire, 'Freebooter'
From: Electric Messiah
Like a heavy-metal George Clinton, Matt Pike reached new twin peaks in 2018 by delivering excellent and very different albums with both High on Fire and Sleep. Electric Messiah is obviously the most aggressive of the two projects, and "Freebooter" boils everything that's great about this remarkably consistent album down to five very savage minutes. – Matthew Wilkening
Magpie Salute, 'High Water'
From: High Water I
Comparisons to Rich Robinson's old band are inevitable, in particular with the presence of former Black Crowes bandmates Marc Ford and Sven Pipien in the lineup of Magpie Salute. But they have the ability to move far afield of those built-in expectations. "High Water," for instance, brings in a Led Zeppelin-ish eastern-flavored vibe, moving from acoustic psychedelia to a hypnotic drone then into a soaring vocal-based finale. Slipping out of the shadow of Robinson's elder brother has clearly been freeing for Rich. – Nick DeRiso
The Melvins, 'Don't Forget to Breathe'
From: Pinkus Abortion Technician
A twin-bass lineup was the twist for the Melvins' typically excellent Pinkus Abortion Technician album. Butthole Surfers and Honky vet Jeff Pinkus and Redd Kross star Steven McDonald make the most of the extra room they're given to roam on this hypnotic eight-minute epic, while frontman King Buzzo delivers one of his most impassioned vocals ever. – Matthew Wilkening
Smashing Pumpkins, 'Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)'
From: Shiny Oh So Bright Vol. 1
A pair of overdoses forever altered the Smashing Pumpkins' '90s-era career trajectory, and they never quite recovered. Decades later, Billy Corgan must have started feeling nostalgic. "Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)" represented more than a reunion with James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin; it was an embrace of everything that made 1995's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness their best-selling album, right down to the billowing strings. – Nick DeRiso
Sleep, 'Marijuanaut's Theme'
From: The Sciences
Pike returns to our list of 2018's best songs for a second time with the long-awaited studio return of the recently reactivated Sleep. On April 20th (of course), the lumbering stoner rock titans released their first album in nearly 20 years. "Marijuanaut's Theme" proves that their particular strain of Black Sabbath and marijuana worship has only grown stronger and more potent over the years. – Matthew Wilkening