After a whole month of NaPoWriMo poems, I don’t want anyone to think I just sit around watching movies and thinking up words that rhyme with orange. Like everyone else, I have a wild side too, even if claiming I have a wild side probably means it’s rather tame, but the best way to manifest it for me is to listen to the head-banging goodness of rock and/or good pop music. These are songs that I can’t help but let loose and bash my cranium against the atmosphere. (Warning: Bashing one’s head against the atmosphere is a known cause of headaches, seeing spots, and other forms of dain bramage. Bash responsibly.)
I feel I should preface this list with a caveat, namely that my taste in what constitutes “head-banging” may be unconventional next to the definition of the hardcore metal-heads out there. For me, it’s a fine line between “head-banging” and just noise, so the majority of metal does not appeal to me, and the same goes for a lot of hard rock with those endless guitar solos. I think my list is actually pretty varied, but be aware that it’s unlikely to match the majority of similar lists. Because the head-banging quality is rather subjective, I’ll also be including my mom’s list at the end, which errs more on the side of classic rock. That will provide a different generation’s contrasting opinion and show where I got my head-banging genes; there’s an asterisk by my picks that would be runners-up for her list. I don’t know if anyone will agree with my picks here, but at least now I’ll have all of them compiled in one place anytime I feel like giving myself whiplash!
- “Don’t Leave Me This Way” – Thelma Houston (1977) *
Written by Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff, and Cary Gilbert, this catchy tune transitioned from soul to disco when Thelma Houston made it into a hit two years after its original recording by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. The Communards later 80s-fied it in the next decade, but, as good as all three incarnations are, Thelma Houston’s is the best, in my opinion. It killed me when her version was included in the soundtrack of The Martian but was cut off right before it really took off.
- “Delilah” – Florence and the Machine (2015)
After discovering Florence and the Machine last year, I’ve become quite a fan of their unique sound and Florence Welch’s voice, and I think “Delilah” is the high point of their discography thus far. The way it builds and lets loose after those stark piano notes is genius, making this a good example for my idea of an unconventional head-banger.
- “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen (1975) *
Well, I don’t think I’ll get much dissent on this one. Thanks to that classic scene from the beginning of Wayne’s World, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is almost synonymous with head-banging (and singing along to weird lyrics). This one speaks for itself.
- “One More Night” – Cascada (2004), Nightcore version
For those who don’t know what Nightcore is, it’s basically a lazy YouTube version of a remix which just speeds a song up and slaps a random anime picture on it; a side effect is that it sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks, but the faster tempo often enhances the instrumental beats, especially in the Eurodance music of Cascada. Pretty much all of their songs sound even better sped up, but for some reason “One More Night” most gets my head jamming.
- “Good Time” – Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen (2012)
This little collaboration was one of the most feel-good summer hits in recent years, and it’s a shame that a now-defunct copyright lawsuit kept it off the airwaves for a time. I remember mowing the lawn to this wholesome headbanger back in 2012 and loving every minute of it.
- “Flyers” – BRADIO (2015)
Have you ever seen an anime series called Death Parade? No? Neither have I, but boy, do I know its opening theme song. Beginning with possibly the greatest opening note of any song, this is upbeat funk at its finest, and I don’t even mind that it’s in Japanese. I especially love the guitar solo.
- “Livin’ on a Prayer” – Bon Jovi (1986) *
Possibly Bon Jovi’s biggest hit, “Livin’ on a Prayer” doesn’t know when to culminate. The chorus just keeps building, and it’s head-banging glory.
- “Timber” – Pitbull, featuring Ke$ha (2013)
As much as I usually detest rap, Pitbull actually has some decent songs to his name, though they’re usually good in spite of his rapping, as is the case with this country-ish dance hit. Leave out the rap entirely, and it’s infinitely better with just Ke$ha’s vocals and that harmonica. This is one I always crank up by the end.
- “Shut Up and Dance” – Walk the Moon (2015)
Yes, perhaps my subconscious youthful bias for recent music is showing, but “Shut Up and Dance” has a strangely ‘80s vibe to it too. Its dance-floor exhilaration instantly made Walk the Moon one of my favorite modern bands. This song might also have fit on a list of songs I can’t stay still to, but that’s another list and shall be told another time.
- “Free Bird” – Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)
One of the quintessential staples of looooong rock ‘n roll, “Free Bird” isn’t just here to prove I do have a taste for classic rock. It’s simply an undeniably awesome rocker, and I’ll always associate it with that also awesome scene from Elizabethtown with the sprinklers and the flaming bird. There’s also a wistfulness to the tune, especially considering how several of the band members died.
- “No Way Out” – Vicetone, featuring Kat Nestel (2015)
Oh, this song…this song is like a shot of adrenaline for me, making me wonder why I’d never heard it until recently. When the chorus builds to its climax with those heavy piano notes, I’m lucky if my head doesn’t go flying.
- “Wake Me Up” – Avicii (2013) *
Like “Timber,” I’ve seen “Wake Me Up” described as folktronica so maybe I should explore that hybrid subgenre more. Sung by Aloe Blacc, this self-confidence anthem may have grown a little less “head-bangy” for me with repeated listens, but it had to be #1. I remember when I used to work late, this song would come on the radio while I was driving home, and I’d let out all the frustrations of the day by giving myself a concussion to this tune. Great stuff!
She didn’t have the heart to rank them, so here are my mom’s personal favorite head-bangers in alphabetical order, all of which are runners-up of mine as well:
“Abacab” (Live version) – Genesis
“Don’t Fight It” – Kenny Loggins and Steve Perry
“Free Bird” – Lynryd Skynyrd
“Get It On (Bang a Gong)” – The Power Station
“Long Time” and the whole of the Boston album – Boston
TIE: “Panama” and “Jump” – Van Halen
TIE: “Rockin’ the Paradise” and “Come Sail Away” – Styx
“Roll with the Changes” – REO Speedwagon
“Rosalita” – Bruce Springsteen
“Roundabout” – Yes
“Thunderstruck” – AC/DC
“Who’s Behind the Door?” – Zebra
And here are my many runners-up, not including my mom’s list above, which also rank among my favorite head-bangers but just couldn’t quite crack the top 12:
“Angel” – angela, opening song to the anime series Coppelion
“Anytime” (Live version) – Journey *
“Carry On, My Wayward Son” – Kansas
“Cherry Pie” – Warrant
“Come with Me Now” – Kongos
“Done” – The Band Perry *
“Don’t Look Back” and “Let Me Take You Home Tonight” – Boston
“Drumming Song” – Florence and the Machine
“Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” – Coldplay
“Get ‘em Up” and “Burn It to the Ground” – Nickelback
“Hell to Your Doorstep” – The Count of Monte Cristo musical
“Hot n Cold” – Katy Perry
“I Bet My Life” – Imagine Dragons
“It’s My Life” – Bon Jovi
“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts version *
“Little Talks” – Of Monsters and Men (just one little part)
“Pour Some Sugar on Me” – Def Leppard
“Pyromania” and “Runaway” – Cascada (Nightcore versions)
“Rock You Like a Hurricane” – Scorpions
“Scream” – High School Musical 3
“Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin *
“Turn Me On” – David Guetta, feat. Nicki Minaj
“Turn Up the Radio” – Autograph *
“Uma Thurman” – Fall Out Boy
“Up All Night” – Hinder
“The Way We Roll” – Newsboys *
“You’re Not Ferb” – from Phineas and Ferb, episode “Invasion of the Ferb Snatchers”
And I have to end this post with the song that inspired it, Kansas’s “Carry On, My Wayward Son,” which is among my favorite rock songs ever (I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard it), but was sadly beaten off the list by stronger head-banging competition.
Thanks to anyone who banged their heads along with me for this list! (Sorry for any neck injuries.)