On the surface, this song sounds like a baldfaced tribute to indie rock ("Glamorous indie rock 'n' roll is what I need. It's in my soul, it's what I need.") the sentiments of which match the same kind of intoxicated enthusiasm Bob Seger has for his "old time rock 'n' roll," the lyrics and melody of which are far from overthought. In this song however, things aren't quite as simple as they appear. Flowers, who regrets the song more than any other in the Killers catalogue, insists that the song deals with more than just raw, unrefined passion; the lyrics are to be taken more sardonically, as a sort of shot at music snobs who resist the mainstream at all costs: "Two of us flipping through a thrift store magazine. She plays the drums, I'm on tambourine. Bet your bottom dollar on me." The melody too takes all sorts of twists and turns and key shifts that suggest the rock and roll complexity of David Bowie, hero of countless indie rockers. The Killers do seem to skate a fine line between mainstream and indie rock, the only real difference in Flowers' eyes being how quickly you pack a stadium.
This song, in spite of its optimistic melody, is very critical in its lyrical invective: "Just get an electric guitar, then take some time and learn how to play. And with your hair swung right, and your pants too tight, it's gonna be all right. Then it's time to go downtown where the agent man won't let you down. Sell your soul to the company who are waiting there to sell plastic ware." At the time, the Byrds were attacking (think Hitchcock) pre-packaged-seeming bands like the Monkees, who seemed like factory-churned glossy pop products. Nowadays, with pop stars who can't even play their own instruments (nor are they deemed necessary to make pop music), like Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga, this Byrds gem is shown to be as entirely applicable as it is timeless. If only more songs contained 12-string Rickenbackers plucking in the background of beautifully-harmonized trash-talk.
In spite of a career of gentle acoustic folk, Neil Young certainly knows how to handle an electric guitar. And, consequently, to make it rock. This song, which is explicitly about "rockin,'" does just that with a dark sort of jangling (paired with cynical lyrics like "I see a woman in the night, with a baby in her hand, under an old street light near a garbage can. Now she puts the kid away, and she's gone to get a hit. She hates her life and what she's done to it.") which builds into some triumphant chord progressions where in which the song title becomes the chorus. This song is all about paradoxes, and the idea of one musician doing well in spite of countless individuals who aren't; the idea of carrying on in spite of that fact, or else in the ignorance of it.
Every so often some pretentious incendiary feels compelled to declare the the death of a genre (e.g. "disco is dead," "rock is dead," etc.). This person most certainly makes a fully dependent living on the to-the-minute currency of the music industry and equates evolution to abandonment of the past. Far more revolutionary is when Danny and the Juniors declared the durability of the newborn music genre of rock 'n'roll. Back in 1958, Danny sang, "Rock and roll will always be. I dig it to the end. It'll go down in history. Just you watch, my friend. Rock and roll will always be. It'll go down in history." Pretty insightful given the era in which it was written, where rock 'n' roll was all about barber-shop vocals and blues-piano-riffing and the Beatles, punk, post-rock, and the infinitecimal splinters of the mother genre were far away in the future.
This song evokes two images: a) Tom Cruise in tighty whiteys, tube socks, and sunglasses, and b) a retirement-aged musician who insists on drunkenly belting out this karaoke-Purgatory-trapped hit on stage decades past his prime (during any one of his never-ending greatest hits tours). The song reeks of brain cell-absenteeism, as the sentiments couldn't get any denser, nor could the melody (i.e. a basic 12-bar blues arrangement masked in cloistering layers of saxophone and piano). And while the lyrics clearly present an inability to cope with changing times ("Don't try to take me to a disco. You'll never even get me out on the floor."), this song will play on golden oldie radio stations til the end of time, and by then surely no one but Seger will be longing for that old time rock 'n' roll. Think of something new or let go already.
From a band of former addicts and junkies, this song treats an enthusiasm for rock 'n' roll as an unhealthy one, an addiction no less whereinwhich the subject in they lyrics will do anything to get a piece: "If I could stick a knife in my heart, suicide right on stage, would it be enough for your teenage lust? Would it help to ease the pain? Ease your brain?" For die-hard Stoners, this band is more than enough to hush up those swelling withdrawal symptoms, fierce riffing and forcefully emphatic vocals on Mick's part making it all come on strong, but never strong enough to O.D. Most fans singing along assure that they know it's only rock 'n' roll, but they like it, like it, yes they do.
The band Twisted Sister is best known for clownish make-up and a deep-seeded subversive attitude, as well as the solemn belief that "rock and roll is rebellion." Take songs like "We're Not Gonna Take It" (which Arnold Schwarzeneger adopted as his campaign theme song) and this one which defies all those who still maintain that rock 'n' roll is the music of the devil. That was apparently a big problem back in 1984: "Turn it down you say, well all I got to say to you is time and time again I say, 'No!' (No!) No, no, no, no, no!" While the tone may be rather confrontational, it's not without a genuine passion for the music that makes the speaker want to "Go! (Go!) Go, go, go, go, go!"
The main point Lou Reed is trying to get across across with this song is how Janie discovered rock and rock on the radio and suddenly everything was aaaallll-right (it was alright). Of course, the same applies to discovering this song by listening to the Velvet Underground's Loaded. Life is shown not to be well-lived without a good soundtrack, and Reed puts it best: "She started shakin' to that fine fine music. You know her life was saved by rock 'n' roll."
"It's been a long time since I rock and rolled," sings Robert Plant over heavily distorted blues-riffing, as every rock and roll cliche is indulged to no end by these gods of 70s sex rock. But what they lack in ground-breaking originality, they make up to no end in style and bad-assery. The very which would make high school kids to this day feel empowered upon hearing Led Zeppelin IV for the first time. You can't entirely blame the band for embracing structural simplicity, for it was the seventies, a time where the most-oft heard phrase was "C'mon man, everyone's doing it."
This song fittingly appears on one of Bowie's most straight-ahead rock albums, Diamond Dogs, which contains heavy guitar-riffing and homages to the Rolling Stones throughout. This song, as an exception, is more slowed-down and ballad-y, more of a romantic reflection on Bowie's own profession as a sort-of rock 'n' roller (Guy Ritchie reference not intended). He sings, "When you rock 'n' roll with me, no one else I'd rather be. Nobody here can do it for me. I'm in tears again, when you rock 'n' roll with me."