The greatest rock song of all time

It’s “Layla,” of course, Eric Clapton’s dithyramb for Patti Boyd Harrison, the wife of his friend George Harrison.  It’s the human equivalent of the peacock’s tail.  Clapton eventually won her, but the romance was short lived. So sad.

As we all agree, the Beatles were the greatest rock group ever, but they never produced a rocker like this one.  And here’s the best live performance on the interwebz, from a Madison Square Garden concert in 1999 (there used to be a better one, but YouTube removed it). The solo that begins at 2:57 shows why Clapton deserves his mythic status.  (I don’t like the slow second half.)

And here’s a performance from (I estimate) 20 years earlier.  As Clapton aged, his live performances of Layla became slower and more expansive:

When Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and their autotuned ilk are tiny footnotes (if that) in the history of rock, they’ll still be playing Clapton on the oldies stations.

As always, you are free to disparage this one and substitute your own, but please—no Rolling Stones.

Fig. 1.  Layla.

UPDATE:  This just in from a Friend of the Website (used with permission):

I am watching the guitar solo now.  London subways were once covered with graffiti “Clapton is God,” an affirmation that both New Atheists and Theists not overly concerned about blasphemy can jointly celebrate.

Uncle Karl

Okay, he’s “Uncle Karl” again.  I’m not holding my breath until Albert Mohler chimes in.

164 Comments

  1. Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, he’s a great guitarist and great performer (not always the same thing).

    The greatest rock song ever? I dunno, but it’s a contender.

  2. Andrew T
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Meh. He’s no Jeff Beck.

    • Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, are just two of my favorite guitarists. There music is different enough I would be unable to rank them. Neither is a Carlow Montoya or Jimmi Hendrix or etc. etc.

      There are more than two sides to any issue.

      Thanks to Dr. Coyne for reminding me of these wonderful concerts.

      • Marco
        Posted November 14, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        It’s Jimi (one “m”), not “Jimmy”, or “Jimmi”.

        Unless it makes no difference to you if people call you “Tony” when your name is “Tommy”…

        • Posted November 14, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          Jesus, I’m sorry! I dictated that comment (my hands don’t work well) and I neglected to proof my totally valueless and inane comment.

          Is there some way I can make up for it?

    • Kevin
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      Stevie Ray Vaughn…

      End of discussion.

      • worried secularist
        Posted October 31, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        Stevie or Jimi, but don’t forget about Duane Allman

    • gnome
      Posted October 31, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Here’s some music theory based analysis for you. The closest thing to ‘science’ that we musicians have.
      Vaughan and Clapton primarily use the Blues Scale which is a 6 note scale that fits over most of the simple chord progressions that they use.
      Beck is capable of playing music that uses extended harmonies and modulations (you know, jazz)and to do this one must have a deeper understanding of harmony and complex scales (sometimes using more than one scale as the chords change.) You never hear Vaughan and Clapton play anything other than a blues based or major scale based music. So the winner is (by far a better player in every sense) Jeff Beck. And if you want to go for technique and complexity without sacrificing expression and tone, there is always JOHN MCGLAUGHLIN.

      • JS1685
        Posted November 1, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        Music theory IS science, especially in the hands of Heinrich Schenker. If you want to get to the very bottom of how and why music works (well beyond fitting scales w chords – indeed, chords are superficial, imposed constructs that are, as biologists would say, “emergent” from more foundational contrapuntal procedures) you can’t beat Schenker’s writings. (He does go off on unnecessary nationalistic tangents, but they don’t affect the quality of his observations and analyses)

  3. Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    The second, earlier version is from 1988’s Prince’s Trust concert. I recognize the solo… yeah, I’m that big of a geek sometimes. I recorded that concert on VHS when it was on TV, and replayed the tape until it broke. Clapton and Mark Knopfler are the reasons I wanted to learn to play guitar in the first place, so seeing them playing together is always sort of special for me.

  4. phil
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    “As we all agree, the Beatles were the greatest rock group ever, but they never produced a rocker like this one.”

    Wow, I had no idea Jerry aspired to be a comedian.

    • rick
      Posted November 7, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      comical indeed. but why does he insist on “no rolling stones”? the true greatest rock band of all time!

  5. Sven DiMilo
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    for a science blog you sure post a lot about God

    • Moochie
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      Thanks — you made my day!

  6. Sundar
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I agree..
    Here’s a nice acoustic version…Mark Knopfler accompanies him.

  7. Cliff Melick
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Two thumbs up and a smile on my face…good times.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, but I don’t see how a sane person can prefer a version of “Layla” that doesn’t include Duane Allman’s playing. Consider especially the track on the “Goodfellas” sound track. Although the concentration there is on the piano coda, I think the guitars sound capital Great.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, but there’s no live performance of Clapton and Allman!

  9. Moochie
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Showing your age there, Mr. Coyne… I agree old “slowhand” was and still is a premier guitarist, although for sheer virtuosity I think it’s difficult to go past Jimi Hendrix. Listening to “Are You Experienced?”, “Axis: Bold As Love”, and “Electric Ladyland” still sends shivers down my spine, over four decades after these records were released.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it’s a hard choice. Some day I’ll put up Hendrix, too. He and Duane Allman (and Dicky Betts) are up there in the top ten, and I’d add Stephen Stills as a ringer.

  10. reckoner
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know about that one Jerry! I pretty much agree with just about everything you write, but Clapton? Greatest song ever? Comparing Clapton to the Beatles?

    usted está loco!

    🙂

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      If I could pick just one song that typified the genre, it would be Layla. But Clapton was nowhere near the stature of the Beatles, who produced, hands down, the best and most innovative rock in history. That said, I can’t think of one Beatles song that rocks out the way that Layla does. But they have plenty of “better” songs, if by “better” you mean better crafted and deeper. Eleanor Rigby and A Day in the Life are two of these. (Revolver, of course, was their greatest album.) But these are almost sui generis—it’s hard to consider them rock and roll.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        I never considered the Beatles as rock. They were in a class all by themselves that spanned genres as you stated.

  11. Joe Fogey
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Greatest rock song ever? It doesn’t compare with “My Generation”, and the Who live in the 60’s were a thousand times more exciting.

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      As we are going from rocks to rock, I’m enjoying this mightily. My vote to The Who. Keep ’em comin’.

    • daveau
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      Hell yeah! My answer to the eternal question “Beatles or Stones?” is emphatically: “The Who!”

    • gussnarp
      Posted November 1, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      The Who should win for best rock band, but for best rock song I submit the following: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_FZVD5lsAw

      • Sarah
        Posted November 10, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        yes!! The Who is the best band ever!!!!!! I wish I was born 40 years earlier just so I could have seen them live with Keith Moon!!!

    • Gregory James
      Posted November 14, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      I’m late tho this thread, but I can’t let this one pass un-commented. I saw Eric Clapton last summer in concert in Milwaukee. Roger Daltrey was the opening act. All I can say is that what Daltrey lacked in subtlety he made up for in volume.

      Clapton came out and it took only one note from his guitar to demonstrate that a true master was on stage. My atheism was shaken.

  12. Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, are just two of my favorite guitarists. Their music is different enough I would be unable to rank them. Neither is a Carlos Montoya or Jimmi Hendrix or etc. etc.

    There are more than two sides to any issue.

    Thanks to Dr. Coyne for reminding me of these wonderful concerts.

  13. ken kukec
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, but I don’t see how a sane person can prefer a version of “Layla” that doesn’t include Duane Allman’s playing. Consider especially the track on the “Goodfellas” sound track. Although the concentration there is on the piano coda, I think the guitars sound Great, with a capital G.

  14. Brian
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    What no love for David Gilmour? Time from DSOTM is probably the greatest rock song. De gustibus non disputandum and all that. 😉

    • Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I’m with you… except that Pink Floyd sort of experimented beyond what can easily be defined as “rock”. To be a great rock song, you sort of have to take the form and stretch it. Pink Floyd blew it up so far it was sometimes hard to recognize their music as rock at all. That’s not to say that it wasn’t brilliant stuff, because it was and is. 🙂

      • Brian
        Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        I concur. That’s why I put Time up as a contender. With a lot of the Floyd, it’s too hard to even try to fit it into the rock pigeonhole.

  15. Reinard
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Other great rock songs inspired by Ms. Boyd:

    “Something” by the Beatles
    “Wonderful Tonight” by Clapton (solo)
    “Bell Bottom Blues” also by Derek and the Dominos

    I dare say no other woman in history has inspired so many hit songs.

    • salon_1928
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      I’m a Bell Bottom Blues fan – Clapton at his lowest. To quote Joey Ramone – “there’s a lot of livin’ in those songs…”

  16. chemicalscum
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    The greatest rock song ever is “London Calling”.

    The greatest rock group ever was the Clash.

    I say this as someone who went to see the Cream’s first London performance at an almost empty Roundhouse (as it had been kept secret it was only known by word of mouth) I then went the next day at the Reading festival where they headlined as the first performance of the super group.

    And then there was punk and everything changed!

    • Norm
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      No argument here, but don’t forget “Complete Control”, which has to be one of the greatest punks songs of all time (of all time I tell’s ya!).

      • Norm
        Posted October 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        typo: “punk song” not “punks song” (although it was a song that a lot of punks liked).

    • Anonymous
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Stay Free

    • Vytautas
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      I have to agree there. Fuqq the whole “Clapton is God” absurdity. Joe Strummer is actually God.

  17. Pagey
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    It’s a goodie alright, but best rock song ever? These things are so subjective and whilst this.may be a bit obvious I,d plump for Kashmir by Zeppelin. No big solos but bloody hell the drama off that moorish mofo of a riff! Sounds like the last dinosaur on earth walking up the garden path. I should clarify that I am in no way suggesting garden paths and dinosaurs existed at the same point of time.

  18. Lester Ballard
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Won’t Get Fooled Again; the great power chords and Roger Daltry’s incredible scream after the synth break.

    Also Baba O’ Reilly’ more power chords and Keith Moon.

  19. stvs
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Music itself may be a good example of sexual selection, but I don’t think that this fits with the narrative of The Muse—an obsession with and inspiration from a specific individual like Pattie Boyd.

    Clapton, the superlative bluesman transcends a narrow genre like rock. If you really want to appreciate Clapton’s accomplishments, listen to Robert Johnson and then From the Cradle.

    And let’s just pretend the commentary about the Beatles never happened. Instead, attempting to embed the photo deserves a few tries here:

    https://moffling.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/clapton-is-god.jpg

    • stvs
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      No pic with that code. How about <img> tags?

      • stvs
        Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        • Jeremy Nel
          Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

          Surely the greatest Christian Rock ever! (Especially the “body of Christ”)

  20. Andy
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    That is one gorgeous woman.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Not everyone can look like an 8-year-old in their 20’s…alas.

      • daveau
        Posted October 30, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        Now that would be a really creepy comment if you were a guy.

      • Posted November 1, 2010 at 5:35 am | Permalink

        The secret of feminine beauty exposed!

        (A child’s face with a woman’s body? Can it be that simple?)

  21. Sigmund
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Clapton’s a good guitarist but he was no Rory Gallagher. Layla never cut it for me as a song. I used to play it with a band in my younger years and found it too simple in arrangement and without a good punch behind it. I wouldn’t even call it rock – its typical middle of the road schlock. I suspect, however, my negative feelings for the song are tainted by the fact that I cannot think of the song without that dreadfully plodding acoustic ‘uplugged’ version blotting out the original electric version in my mind.
    As for better ‘rock’ songs? I could go on all day. There’s plenty of Led Zep that blows Layla out of the water (Rock and Roll, Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop, When the Levee Breaks, (and that’s from just one album!), Ramble On, Kashmir, The Immigrant Song, No Quarter, Achilles Last Stand.
    How about some Black Sabbath – terrible production in the early albums but the songs themselves were wonderful – War Pigs, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Paranoid…
    We still haven’t left the early seventies! Others have mentioned The Who and Hendrix and I concur that they have both produced many better examples of rock than Layla. So have meny other groups – Thin Lizzy, (early)ACDC, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Motorhead (well, Ace of Spades). Now we’ve reached punk and new wave. How about ‘God Saves the Queen’ by the Sex Pistols? or ‘Into the Valley’ by The Skids? Or ‘Pump it Up’ and ‘I Don’t Want to (Go To Chelsea) by Elvis Costello?

    • Bryan
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Pump It Up and Chelsea are great songs, but I don’t think they fit the mold of “rock” Jerry is looking for here.

  22. Bill
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Are you all mad? The Smiths – any song at all *ducks*

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      *rotten tomato*

    • Posted October 30, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      I love The Queen Is Dead, not just for the clattering, roller coaster ride music, but Morrissey’s deftly sarcastic, self-deprecating, anti-monarchist lyrics.

      “So I broke into the palace
      With a sponge and a rusty spanner
      She said, I know you and you cannot sing
      I said, that’s nothing, you should hear me play piano”

      Love it.

  23. Bill
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Oh wait – just saw Sigmund is supporting Elvis Costello – I’ll second that

  24. GMP
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I always had a soft spot for “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island”

    • Posted October 30, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      Hey, that’s great!

      My musical talents tend mostly toward parody of other people’s music. If I had a lot more talent, I’d try to be Weird Al.

  25. GMP
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    And why no Rolling Stones – Rip This Joint!!

  26. salon_1928
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Since this is quickly turning into a “plug your favourite guitar player” thread I’ll throw my 2 cents in. J Mascis does it for me like know other guitar player. Now I’m off to play some Dinosaur Jr…

  27. Ken Pidcock
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Ah, but no Rolling Stones means no Little Red Rooster.

    And while I know it makes me a music prole, I remain fond of what’s on my playlists as TV version.

    • Mike from Ottawa
      Posted November 1, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      If one admits the Stones’ take on Little Red Rooster as rock, then Howlin’ Wolf’s take on it should be admitted too and is, IMO, much better than the Stones’. The Stones couldn’t improve on either Wolf’s vocals or Hubert Sumlin’s guitar work.

  28. Vytautas
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    A choice like Clapton is a confusion of technical prowess with artistic prowess. There are (and have been) thousands of underground artists who have far more going on artistically than somebody like a Clapton (or numerous other popular technicians).

    • Posted October 30, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, when I think of great guitarists, I think of Al Di Meola (among others): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Atz9vzTAUh0

      That’s not to take anything away from great performers like Clapton. His is a different sort of music for a different audience.

      • Vytautas
        Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        I think you’re being a bit generous about the “different sort of music for a different audience”. I think that could be reclassified as saying: people who don’t get out much. Or people who have only exposed themselves to mind-numbingly boring corporate rock. Somebody above mentioned the Smiths (Johnny Marr) and J. Mascis (Dino Jr.), which are interesting examples where somebody with a high level of technical skill has done something artistically interesting and exciting. Likewise for guitarists in bands such as Sonic Youth, Don Caballero, The Psychic Paramount, Lightning Bolt etc. etc. etc. But my original point is that, especially with rock oriented music, technical virtuosity is not a prerequisite for producing music with artistic merit (nor should the two ever be confused).

  29. wunelle
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    That’s awesome. If we’re going to have gods, they should at least be democratically elected.

    I gotta vote for Steve Gadd, whose name is already most of the way home. The man astounds again and again.

  30. phil
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    For “greatest rock song of all time”, I suggest sticking to nominations that actually rock. “Givin the dog a bone” by AC/DC might get my vote. Or Van Halen’s “And the cradle will rock..”. “Layla” doesnt have enough energy to qualify.

    Im a huge fan of Slayer, Iron Maiden, and early Metallica, but I guess those would fall into the metal category.

  31. hexag1
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    No Rolling Stones? What’s Jerry got against the Stones?

  32. Stella
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Boys, boys, boys! There is so much you are missing here. And Jerry, you don’t like the slow, second half? Blasphemy!

    The tone and tempo have to be just right, but the second half of Layla can bring a woman to orgasm. I have an n of 1 on this, but fifty cents says other women would concur.

    Stella

    • palaeodave
      Posted October 31, 2010 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      Damn. Should have stuck at those piano lessons.

  33. yesmyliege
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Eric and Duane (along with Jim Gordon on drums) were simply phenomenal on that entire album. Duane Allman will go down in history as the absolute finest slide guitarist rock has ever, or likely will ever, see. The memories that that song, Layla, dredges up!

    And Eric Clapton is a legendary guitarist.

    But….

    If you want to know who George Harrison and Eric Clapton thought is the finest English rock guitarist in the world, who Rolling Stone called “the thinking man’s guitar God”, look no further than….

    Richard Thompson.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      This opens up a can of worms. “Greatest guitarist” could refer to only technical proficiency, or to a combination of technical proficiency and songwriting skills. I’d go for the latter, in which case Hendrix and perhaps Santana would be near the top, with Clapton a bit lower. But I might put Stephen Stills at the top for best all-around guitarist, since he not only played really well (and not just guitar, either: piano, banjo, drums, bass, etc.), but wrote great songs AND was a fantastic singer.

      • Posted October 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

        If you want to go for best all-rounder, try Stevie Wonder, who does all that and more with his eyes shut.

      • Potco
        Posted October 30, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

        As long as we are talking great guitarists, I think Stevie Ray Vaughan should be in the mix. Not rock, more bluesy, but his music just stirs emotions like no other artist does.

      • yesmyliege
        Posted October 31, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        Richard Thompson is one of the best songwriters in the history of rock. There are at least two retrospective albums (his songs done by other musicians in homage) of his work, which includes a roster of hundreds of originals.

        He has been a professional musician since the age of 16 as lead guitarist in Fairport Convention and is now in his sixties and still putting out remarkable vibrant work regularly.

        His music is compelling, varied, timeless, extremely well-received by critics, and relatively unknown to everyone else except the cognoscenti and fellow professional musicians.

        Obviously, I am a huge fan. This is “the best musician most people have never heard of”, and if you like guitarists you really must check him out.

        • Sigmund
          Posted October 31, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

          I’d certainly second that. I’d never describe his music as rock but he is definitely one of the best guitarists around.

          • Posted November 14, 2010 at 8:44 am | Permalink

            Third that–Richard Thompson rules. Yesmyliege is right, Clapton would vote for Richard Thompson:))

    • stvs
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      It’s tough to compare across genres, but it would also be tough to ignore Andrés Segovia’s protégé Christopher Parkening for classical guitar or Django Reinhardt-inspired John Jorgenson for jazz guitar. Listen to both A Tribute to Segovia and Ultraspontane for combined artistic and technical mastery.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted October 30, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        Or the great Django himself. Back in the 30s and 40s, HE was god. I’m a big fan.

  34. MB
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Geez. another old fart trying to tell younger (and older) people his music is better than their’s…

    You want rock, look at the Clash, the greatest R&R band of their era.

    Better than the Beatles? Probably depends on how old a fart you are, geezer!

    (Not that Layla’s not a great song, but most of the Cream live jams were pretty, well, wonderful.)

    Excuse me, but now I must go and see if my tickets for the Combichrist, Aesthetic Perfection, God Module and iVardensphere concert in LA are here yet… If you go, figure I’m the second oldest one there – next to you!!!

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      LOL! Somebody’s era of music has to be the best, and it just happened to be mine. . .

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 30, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

        Yep. Ours.

        One of the few positives ’bout bein’ a Boomer…

  35. TrineBM
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Must say I love Jimmy Page more than any of the mentioned men … err… guitarists, I mean. His playing in Led Zeppelin is just that much more electrifying than any other guitarist’s playing.
    But Layla has a big chunk of my heart. Two years ago we (SO, son + me) were in Venice, and a beautiful sunny fall day we were walking along the Lido, finding shells and enjoying life. We found a deserted café with a very distinct “out of season” mood. An equally distinct Death in Venice-feel was creeping up on us (well count my, at the time, six-year old son out on that one.) That strange, moody, bittersweet feeling got washed away when Layla suddenly blared out of the café’s speakers. I laughed out loud – and then I suddenly had happy-tears in my eyes. Great music does that to me.

  36. Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    :- )

    Unka Karl is a mensch.

  37. Strider
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    I going to assume you haven’t listened to the rest of “Layla and other assorted Love Songs”. While “Layla” rocks awfully hard, it is easily bested by “Tell the Truth”, “Key to the Highway”, or even “Little Wing”.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Excuse me? OF COURSE I’ve heard all that. The three songs you’ve mentioned are all fantastic. But I still put Layla above them for “best rocker” award.

      • Strider
        Posted October 31, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        Also this:

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

      I’m with you, Strider. ‘Layla’ got all the airplay, but the remake of Big Bill Broonzy’s classic ‘Key to the Highway’ is the song that made that album for me.

  38. Dave
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Wait a minute, which part was sad? That he wooed the wife of his “friend” (!) or that the romance was short-lived?

    PS I also have to wonder why Jimmy Page has received so little mention here.

  39. Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Whole Lotta Love.

    Ripped off blues riff and lyrics? Check.

    Cascading drum lines, like mountains falling into the ocean? Check.

    Howling, yearning vocals, including Plant’s immortal gutteral descent into hell? (loooooovvvveeeee…..) Check.

    Thundering bass line? Check.

    The king of guitar riffs, embellished by sickeningly crunchy distortion and Page’s just-technical-enough solo? Check.

    Weird twiddly bit in the middle? Check.

    Clapton don’t even come close.

    • Jeanine
      Posted October 31, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Lol! Indeed!

  40. Tim
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m afraid I gotta side with Keith Richards when he said of Clapton, “as good as he is, he could be better. Plus he’s a lazy sonofabitch, and you can tell him I said that.” For me, it sums up all of Clapton’s output from the mid 70s on. And although I’m no rock historian, I’m fairly sure all that ‘Clapton is God’ graffiti goes back to his work on John Mayall’s Bluesbreaker’s album. That and Blind Faith are, for my money, the only two essential Clapton recordings.

    • daveau
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Sums it up for me, too. With maybe a little Cream thrown in. Clapton was at his best when he was breaking new ground in the early days. Then he started believing his own press. Duane Allman was the reason to listen to Layla.

  41. George
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Well, if Sam Harris thinks that morality is not in the eye of the beholder, then either is art.

    I think “Layla” is far from being the greatest rock song of all time, but what we think is irrelevant. In theory it must be possible to figure out what is the greatest rock song of all time. Either ask the experts, or see what song is being played on the radio over and over. My guess would be Lennon’s “Imagine.”

  42. jjq
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    it’s about the only song of Clapton that I do like, don’t care much for the rest

  43. Derek
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Can’t have a Clapton thread without Clapton shredding:

    • Posted October 31, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      I love the “Shreds” series of videos. 😀

      (Especially the “KISS Shreads” video.)

  44. basnight
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    If you have to worship a god, you might as well worship a trinity god – G3 (Satriani, Vai, and the other guy).

    • sasqwatch
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      Allan Holdsworth. Frank Zappa. Scott Henderson. Stanley Jordan. Adrian Belew. Birelli Lagrene. Wrong genres, I know. I guess I just don’t have the patience for most rock. I can still really dig Zep, Stevie Ray Vaughn & Hendrix, tho.

  45. Tim Harris
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    To step outside the frame a bit, the greatest performer on a plucked, stringed instrument I ever heard was the blind Tsugaru shamisen player, Takahashi Chikuzan: there was virtuosity, and there was art. It was extraordinarily exciting music. A friend of mine, Alan Booth, author of ‘The Roads to Sata’ and ‘Looking for the Lost’ (two excellent books about Japan), wrote a good piece about Takahashi in which he compared him to Yehudu Menuhin and Ravi Shankar in the way he enlarged the appeal of the music he played among the public.

  46. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Not sure if it meets your definition of “rock song”, but my all-time favorite is the 20-minute prog-rock opus “Close to the Edge” by Yes, from the 1973 LP of the same name.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      And I’m frankly astonished that no one has mentioned Steve Howe yet in the pantheon of guitar gods.

      • sasqwatch
        Posted October 30, 2010 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

        The proggy stuff always gets overlooked in these kinds of discussions. Not quite popular (accessible) enough, I guess.

        The most expensive CD I ever bought was Gongzilla’s “East Village Sessions”. I spent 3-grand on that CD, essentially so that it would get made. Ever heard of Bon Lozaga? He’s got the chops of Allan Holdsworth, but even less recognition. Everyone I know in music wishes they were doing something else (unless they left the USA and went where the work/money is).

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 31, 2010 at 12:58 am | Permalink

          Everyone I know in music wishes they were doing something else …

          I’m always astounded by how many brilliantly talented yet unheralded and poor (in the money sense of the word) musicians there are.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted October 30, 2010 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, not a rock song, though that was a talented bunch. I saw a lot of great rock “concerts” in the day, including one from the 1972 tour of Those Who Are Not Named Here, but one of the most memorable was from Anderson/Howe/Squire/Wakeman/White. Opened with Siberian Khatru, then the rest of Close to the Edge, then Tales from Topographic Oceans start to finish, then Roundabout. That was a concert.

      • yaoi_myantidrug
        Posted October 30, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        Why was I born in 1989 and not 1950?
        I read these comments, saying to myself:’why has no one mentioned Steve Howe, Robert Fripp, Allan Holdsworth or Steve Hackett,etc…’

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 30, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

          Why was I born in 1989 and not 1950?

          Trade ya!

  47. CTC
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Television, “Marquee Moon”, there you are, then.

  48. Vincent
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    WTF?! King Crimson is the greatest rock band of all time!

  49. jt512
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Ugh. That alto sax harmony in the newer video is hideous. Can you say “Kenny G”?

    Jay

  50. Ken Pidcock
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Right. The theme is The greatest rock song of all time. Intro/Sweet Jane from Rock N Roll Animal.

  51. Jeff Chamberlain
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Is “rock and roll” part of “rock?” If so, can you really have a productive discussion of the best rock song without at least mentioning some of the founding tunes? My choice would be “Johnny B. Goode,” but I can easily identify a half dozen others that I’d think should be in the conversation.

    • Posted October 31, 2010 at 3:53 am | Permalink

      Meant Eric Clapton, but you knew that.

  52. Greg
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know, man. Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, John McLaughlin….

    How about this:

    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=EARLY+Led+Zeppelin+Communication+Breakdown&aq=f

    and Hey, what’s wrong with the Stones:

  53. Tim Martin
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    When Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and their autotuned ilk are tiny footnotes (if that) in the history of rock…

    That’ll probably be because Gaga and Perry don’t do rock.

    • sasqwatch
      Posted October 31, 2010 at 2:06 am | Permalink

      Who’s Lady Gaga?

  54. Fifi
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    You’re all a bunch of pussycocks… Let me clue you in, you bastards: rock started and ended with Jim Morrison (of The Doors fame). Howgh!

  55. Ian Smissen
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Layla is great but it comes second to:

    🙂

  56. paul fauvet
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    What have you got against the Rolling Stones?

    Easily the greatest rock song of all time is the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”

    Apart from the music and the intelligent lyrics, it has the great virtue of infuriating Christian fundamentalists.

  57. Posted October 31, 2010 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    The greatest rock song to me is “I wanna be sedated” from the Ramones 🙂

    • Dominic
      Posted October 31, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Their best, I reckon, was “Bonzo goes to Bitburg” – Bonzo being Reagan of course.

  58. Paul g
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    1 for Clapton is god. Either layla or some other Clapton song is the greatest ever. Whiteroom, crossroads are serious contenders. Run back to your side is a bloody classic from the new album. Up there with the best of Clapton.

  59. Joe Fogey
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    For my second go, this keeps springing to mind:

    I can’t imagine dancing to Clapton – I can’t imagine not dancing to Huey Smith. No superstar pretension, no angst, just rock and roll.

  60. palaeodave
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    When I was very young and in my early days of learning to play guitar, my mother told me that really great guitarists will stand out to me because I had some natural musical inclination. I videoed the Grammy’s that year because BB King was going to be on it but there was this white guy playing with him who I thought was just as good. Worried, I told my mother that I couldn’t tell that BB was supposedly so much better. She watched it and said “It’s ok, dear. That’s Eric Clapton.”

    • Dominic
      Posted October 31, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Oh dear – when your mum knows more about rock than you do, it’s time to get a rocking chair out on the porch!

      • palaeodave
        Posted October 31, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        Ease up, I was only eleven! :p

  61. Nick Andrew
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Nobody’s yet mentioned Yngwie Malmsteen, who I think beats Clapton comprehensively in technical skill.

    Here’s Yngwie showing some style in Arpeggios From Hell:

    Layla’s an awesome song, but everything comes from those first few bars which are truly the work of genius. If we’re talking about rock then I can’t ignore the extremely hard rocking Led Zeppelin who wrote songs of genius from the beginning to the end.

    • MosesZD
      Posted October 31, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      Now that’s good guitar playing.

    • Dominic
      Posted October 31, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Yes, my guitarist mate – now a consultant gynaecologist – always revered Malmstein, who was something of a prodigy & I think had tendonitis? Here he is with Graham Bonnet – great intro guitar –

      “They all said it would end the war,
      And we thanked Christ for the bomb,
      And the priests and witches all agreed,
      They should die to keep them free.”

      Don’t believe priests & witches…

  62. MosesZD
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    • MosesZD
      Posted October 31, 2010 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      This mixes Finnish folk music, death metal and speaks to the inner DnD geek in me…

  63. Posted October 31, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I never really thought of The Beatles as a “rock” band. At the beginning they were, but once they started writing their own material it seems like they put that category behind them.

    As for “greatest” rock song, who knows? My personal favorite guitar player is Frank Zappa, and off the top of my head I can think of several of his songs that smoke “Layla” (although “Layla” is a great song!). How ’bout “My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama”, “Po-jama People”, and for those who want a strident critique of religion with their rock, “Dumb All Over”?

    Glad someone mentioned Django. Another non-rock guitarist who deserves mention is Lonnie Johnson, who in my opinion never played a bad note in his life!

    • sasqwatch
      Posted October 31, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Seconded. I would also add Fifty-fifty for the interplay between FZ, George Duke and Jean-Luc Ponty. And Montana… FZ’s quadruple-picking when he was at the top of his game was nothing to sneeze at.

      BTW, Dweezil boned up on FZ’s material for 7 years to produce “Zappa Plays Zappa”. Dweezil actually PLAYS the lines that FZ left for Ruth Underwood. The DVD of Dweezil’s is an amazing 3 hours of live concert, doing the best of FZ to the hilt. It’s downright scary.

      • Chris
        Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:57 am | Permalink

        That’s EXACTLY what impresses me about Dweezil’s playing – he plays all the stuff written for marimba/keyboards. Glad that I’m not the only one who noticed that! FZ is my favorite musician/composer, but I have to admit that Dweezil is probably a better guitar player.

  64. Hempenstein
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Velvet Underground, anyone? Specifically, there’s an 8+ min version of White Heat White Light that’s just masterful in going off to chaos midway thru, almost totally losing it, and then gradually returning to the beginning*, somewhat like th path of a comet.

    And speaking of comets, Bill Haley holds up pretty damn well.

    *Looking for this version online I don’t find it.

  65. Tom M
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Great names, great guitarists; I am a Clapton fan but there are a lot of people who are tied for the title you throw Clapton’s way.
    As a youngster, in the service, we played a lot of bands but one of my favorites (see Woodstock) was Alvin Lee (Ten Years After) but Mayall, McLaughlin and many others are great to listen to, even now when I’m old and hard of hearing.
    Come to think of it, that’s probably why I like them.

  66. sasqwatch
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    In the injustice-rectifying department, we have Steve Morse.

    My brothers saw the “supergroup” of DiMeola, McLaughlin and de Lucia with Steve Morse as the warm-up act. After Steve dazzled everybody for over half and hour, solo, the supergroup came out and dazzled some more.

    Then… for an encore, Steve Morse came out, trading licks one-by-one, with all three. The kicker: diMeola would play something, and Morse would answer back as diMeola. McLaughlin would do something impossible, and Morse would answer back as McLaughlin doing the impossible. deLucia would throw some flamenco at Morse, and Morse would answer back in perfect de Lucian. At the end, the supergroup made a show of bowing to His Eminence.

    Just a couple years back, I saw Morse again – with Jerry Goodman (of Mahavishnu fame) and others… reviving all that great, bizarre early Mahavishnu stuff – and whipping out tons of Dixie Dregs material. An entire night of incredible weirdness. Then everyone (and most of the fellow musicians in Colorado Springs) went from the audience to the lobby, where all the players were hocking their CDs.

    The audience, being largely musicians themselves, could barely afford the meager ticket price, let alone put out for CDs. Since I left music for a science career long ago, at least I had a little money — and made damned sure I went armed with a couple-hundred bucks cash for just such an occasion. While my peers milled around thumbing CDs and buying next-to-nothing, I started going from artist to artist, getting one CD of each.

    Steve Morse looked at me as I was juggling CDs and going for one of his and said with a sad smile: “you just paid for this tour.”

    Sometimes I fucking hate this country for what happens to its true talent.

    • Six_String_Ninja
      Posted October 31, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      That Guitar Trio show sounds like pure awesome… Steve Morse is probably the single most versatile guitar player on the planet, just unbelievably good in any/every genre, flat-picking or fingerstyle. Outrageous.
      In addition to the talent, every interview I’ve read/seen him in he comes across as incredibly humble and sweet, yet he’s hawking CD’s after shows and flying planes to make ends meet (although I’d imagine his Deep Purple gig pays quite well)

      • sasqwatch
        Posted October 31, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

        That GREAT to hear Morse got a mega-gig. I think I saw him around ’93, so it would have been after Kansas and before Deep Purple – when his bio says he was taking a break from music to be a commercial pilot.

        At the time, it really seemed like a meager gig (the Dregs/Mahavishnu-esque one). There were less than 100 people in the audience… a place that could fit 300 people easy. It made me ashamed for my city.

        Consequently, I haven’t seen anybody of such a stature play Colorado Springs since. (except one strange word-of-mouth Jethro Tull gig).

        Another incredible musician that hails from about 2-miles south of where I’m sitting is Gary Willis. Truly one of the best bass players ever. He and Scott Henderson played here a few times (w/ Tribal Tech) in the early 90’s. Big mistake for them… the venues were tiny and poorly-attended. Since then, this town has been a ghost town, culturally. And Gary Willis is enjoying himself and keeping employed constantly by having moved to… Madrid.

        Sucks to be an American in the buckle of the Bible belt.

  67. Posted October 31, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Are there better rock songs than Layla? Dang straight. Just to be contrary, for musicality I put forth for your consideration, “Ride My Seesaw” by The Moody Blues. For technical expertise there are few that can equal Justin Hayward, and John Lodge is a damn fine bassist.

  68. Dominic
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    hmmm… the taste police are on the march! I grew up a decade later & my formative influences were bleaker by far – punk & what followed from it – “I am an anarchist, I am an antichrist…”. I cannot pick one single song as a favourite above all others, but if pushed would have to say The Chameleon’s ‘Don’t Fall’ –
    “It’s a freak out
    Nothing’s familiar
    Nothing seems to fit into the scheme of things
    Seeing faces where there shouldn’t be faces
    No-one’s ever certain what tomorrow brings
    So don’t fall my friend
    All nightmares have an end.”

  69. David
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m not convinced there is a best song of all time. I find different songs have their appeal as my mood changes. That said have a listen to the Wishbone Ash album Argus – all the tracks are available on you tube. If you’ve not heard them before you may be pleasantly surprised (but it is a matter of personal taste)

  70. Peter Beattie
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Seriously? 130+ comments in, and nobody even mentions in passing the swinging rather than rocking version that is part of what defines an era in the history of MTV, the one from MTV Unplugged?

    • Sigmund
      Posted November 1, 2010 at 2:22 am | Permalink

      I mentioned it!
      It’s the reason I now hate the bloody song!
      I detested the whole unplugged thing – its flippin rock music! I don’t want it changed to something my granny could tap her foot along to.

    • Strider
      Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      ZZZZZ…

  71. Notorious P.A.T.
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Great pick!

  72. Posted October 31, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Just thought I’d add this. You noticed that folks tend to go with the flashy guitarists? All these comments and not one in favor of George Harrison. Not a flashy guitarist, but a good, solid, dependable axeman.

    And what about Slash? Folks, when Paul Shaeffer has you sit in on his band you’ve got to be good.

  73. Marta Carlson
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    let us not be forgetting about Stevie Winwood. Or Jeff Buckley. Just sayin’.

  74. dsdquilts
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Prince should be included in the pantheon of guitar gods.

    • Strider
      Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. He’s also a damn fine showman! What’s the rest of the lineup here? I recognized Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Prince but not the rest of the axemen.

    • Jeanine
      Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Wow! Incredible! Gave me goosebumps! I *think* I recognize the dude from Muse in the background, but I could be wrong.

  75. Cents
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Pretty hard to just pick just one top player. My guy is number one on this top 10 guitar player countdown.
    http://videolog.uol.com.br/video.php?id=467852

    And if you are looking for the best performer ever, you can’t beat Freddy.

  76. Sigmund
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 2:24 am | Permalink

    The trouble with atheist rock musicians is that they take themselves too damn seriously.

  77. Bruce Gorton
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Ozzy Osbourne-You Can’t Kill Rock N’ Roll

    Basically a big FU to religion.

  78. What a maroon
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    OK, time to lay down the law:

    Greatest guitarist: Lowell George
    Greatest band: The Band, of course
    Greatest rock song: Roadrunner, by the Modern Lovers
    Greatest pop song: Waterloo Sunset
    Greatest era in rock music: ’77-’79

  79. Jbeck
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    The greatest rock composition ever, is of course Led Zeppelin’s Rock n’ Roll for Led Zeppelin IV. It’s got everything, the beat, the rolls, the solos, the simplicity and sheer class, and got all the rock essentials. As for the Beatles, it’s when you listen to the numberless rock groups, that stretch all the way to jazz-rock you realize how much more, I mena how humoungously more to music there is than the Beatles.

  80. Kirth Gersen
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m interested to see that Prof Coyne is also apparently hip to the “Beatles/Stones Scale,” on which a person’s status as a fan of one band automatically reduces his or her liking for the other.

    I’d go a step further, though: from personal observation, it seems that “nice” people, who observe social rituals, tend to fall closer to the “Beatles” end of the scale; loners instead gravitate toward the “Stones” end. Right there is a tailor-made opportunity for a cross-discipline Music/Psychology PhD!

    Best rock song ever, though? “Layla” and “Don’t Get Fooled Again” are both very strong contenders, but I wouldn’t rule out Heart’s “Barracuda.”

    • Jeanine
      Posted November 1, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      I was actually going to post “Barracuda” as a contender but then I got shy. Oh that voice.

  81. Kirth Gersen
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    … and best rock guitarist? Steve Hackett, the man from whom Eddie van Halen learned about tapping!

    Most influencial guitarist in rock, though, might go to bluesman Albert King, who was both Jimi Hendrix’ idol and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s mentor.

  82. Mike from Ottawa
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Very hard to pick a best rock song (especially if the Stones are ruled out of bounds). If, though, I could never again hear any rock song but the single one I chose as best, I would go with The Beatles’ cover of Twist and Shout.

  83. mrlokinight
    Posted November 14, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Why so many outstanding rock musicians/performers from the British Isles ?
    Perhaps the postwar recession ?

    Peace’n’Love
    Michael (UK)

  84. baraelsblade
    Posted November 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    At the risk of angering the anti-hippy hordes I have to mention Trey Anastasio in the greatest guitarist conversation. Eric Clapton was asked “How does it feel to be the best guitarist alive?” and he replied with “I don’t know. Ask Trey Anastasio.” If anyone would know the answer to that question its Clapton.

    Since we can’t talk about the Stones, I suppose we can’t talk about the greatest rock song ever: Sympathy for the Devil.


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