Top 30 Rock Songs of 2022 (So Far)
As we head into the second half of 2022, we're taking a look back at some of our favorite songs that have been released in the first half. Some artists have continued to sharpen their skills outside of their full-time bands – Ann Wilson released her third solo album, as did Eddie Vedder – while others started from scratch with new groups, like the Smile (Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood) and Envy of None (Rush's Alex Lifeson with Hatch's Andy Curran).
There's more to come as we head into the second half of the year. Until then we offer some suggestions for your playlist as we count down the Top 30 Rock Songs of 2022 (So Far).
30. Envy of None, "Look Inside"
Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson has spent his career making intriguing sounds, always searching for new ways to push his creativity. His new band Envy of None shows he’s not done exploring. The dream-pop tint of “Look Inside,” lifted by the ethereal voice of Maiah Wynne, mixes with a grimy industrial tension and sludgy groove. It’s a combination that puts fans at the center of what feels like a murky and mournful period, with lyrics by Wynne that illustrate the darkness while hinting at new light. It may not be what Rush fans were expecting, but “Look Inside” and Envy of None's debut LP start an occasionally fascinating new journey. (Matt Wardlaw)
29. Journey, "You Got the Best of Me"
On their first album in 11 years, Journey plays it safe by offering modest twists on a proven formula. Several songs on Freedom echo past hits such as "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)." The LP's peppy lead single "You Got the Best of Me" offers an undeniably infectious chorus in the same vein as the classic "Any Way You Want It," even when its five-and-a-half-minute run time overloads on false endings. (UCR Staff)
28. Scorpions, "Rock Believer"
Fifty years after their first album and more than a decade after they announced plans to retire, Scorpions are still around. Their new album was made with the band's classic records in mind. “Rock Believer,” the title track, even includes guitar squeals that recall vintage Scorpions hits. Singer Klaus Meine hasn't aged a bit, delivering a performance that radiates with mellow intensity. The band gives plenty of reasons to believe that rock 'n' roll is still very much alive. (Wardlaw)
27. Joe Satriani, "Pumpin'"
Joe Satriani has long been a chameleon guitar player, so he ripped up his playbook on The Elephants of Mars. “Pumpin’” sounds like late-1970s fusion, complete with spacey keyboard leads by Rai Thistlethwayte. Satriani keeps arrangements tight throughout the album, giving songs like highlight “Pumpin’” plenty of room to stretch. But even though the track heads into jam territory, it still clocks in at less than three and a half minutes. (Wardlaw)
26. Skid Row, "The Gang's All Here"
No matter how much time passes since their acrimonious split, Skid Row will always be haunted by the specter of former frontman Sebastian Bach, but new hotshot lead singer Erik Gronwall might finally help them break the curse. The former H.E.A.T. member ushers Skid Row boldly into a new era on "The Gang's All Here," a swaggering, empty-calorie rocker full of slinky riffs, tasty cowbell, skyscraping vocal runs and a chorus engineered to be shouted by thousands of fans at summer sheds across the U.S. It's no accident that "The Gang's All Here" nods to Skid Row's late-1980s heyday with a reference to "tricky little Vicky" and a bass riff that evokes the classic "Piece of Me." But when you've got a set of pipes like Gronwall's, there's no need to run from the ghosts of the past. (Bryan Rolli)
25. Edgar Winter (feat. Taylor Hawkins), "Guess I'll Go Away"
Brother Johnny, Edgar Winter's star-studded tribute to his late sibling, is an embarrassment of riches from start to finish, but "Guess I'll Go Away" is especially and unintentionally poignant as the first song to feature Taylor Hawkins since his death in March 2022. It's a brilliant memorial to both legends and a reminder that Hawkins is perhaps one of rock's most underrated singers. He replicates Winter's raspy, boozy howl with ease, while guitarist Doug Rappoport's fiery fretwork would make Winter cohort Rick Derringer proud. The rockers' collective enthusiasm is palpable throughout the track, which Winter noted when he praised Hawkins' "energy" and "love of music." "It's probably one of his last performances," Winter said upon its release, "and it means the world to me to have him on the song." (Rolli)
24. Megadeth, "We'll Be Back"
Megadeth returns in tiptop form on their first new music since 2016's Dystopia. Gone are the awkward attempts at midtempo arena rock that have plagued Dave Mustaine and company intermittently throughout their career; in their place are gut-busting riffs and dizzying solos played at whiplash-inducing speed. Mustaine sounds no worse for wear following a 2019 bout with throat cancer, barking gravelly commands that elevate the song's sinister energy. The final minute of "We'll Be Back" is its highlight, as lead guitarist Kiko Loureiro lays down mesmerizing dive-bombs and diminished leads over a brutal, superbly catchy breakdown. (Rolli)
23. Joan Jett, "Bad Reputation"
Sometimes the best way to prove the potency of a good rock song is to strip away its shiny production. Joan Jett' reworks her classic "Bad Reputation" on Changeup, an acoustic album of old favorites. Gone are the heavy-duty electric guitars and punk drumming, replaced with layered acoustic guitars and nothing but a tambourine for percussion. The song loses none of its bite. If anything, there's more edge to the new version, as Jett, now in her 60s, sings with close to five decades behind her. She was just 21 when "Bad Reputation" was initially released and had strong ideas about how to craft a powerful song then. She still does today. (Allison Rapp)
22. Jethro Tull, "Shoshanna Sleeping"
"It is intended to be a rather saucy – even erotic – glimpse of admiration and arousal," Ian Anderson told It’s Psychedelic Baby of this heavy folk tune. "But I hope softened with tenderness, respect and measured restraint. Gentle, worshipful voyeurism." Indeed, the single’s most, um, descriptive moments read like passages from an ancient softcore romance novel ("She sleeps; breath comes quickly / A sigh parts silky lips / Soft-swell breasts, proud golden tips"). But conviction matters and Anderson delivers those words with the requisite drama — enough to make "Shoshana Sleeping" a classic of 21st century Tull. (Ryan Reed)
21. Mick Jagger, "Strange Game"
Mick Jagger knows how to keep an audience engaged. "Surrounded by losers, misfits and boozers," he sings at the top of "Strange Game," which was written for the Apple TV+ series Slow Horses. The singer draws on the show's plot about British intelligence agents, but "Strange Game" works on its own, too. Slinky and puckish, Jagger teases with lines designed to intrigue: "You don't even know my real name." (Rapp)
20. Ghost, "Call Me Little Sunshine"
Fans complaining Ghost incorporating too much pop into their recent albums are missing the point. Although he hid his name and face behind the Papa Emeritus character for years, frontman Tobias Forge was always upfront about his love of ABBA and 1980s hair metal. He's just gotten better at bringing those elements to the front of his increasingly complex songwriting. The atmospheric "Call Me Little Sunshine" is a highlight of 2022's Impera, blending chiming guitars, a sinister bass line and an irresistible chorus. (Matthew Wilkening)
19. Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Black Summer"
Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Yes, it’s a cliche, but so is complaining about the Red Hot Chili Peppers' funk-rock formula. Instead, let’s celebrate the fact that the band knows its sound and still plays it to perfection. From the intricate noodling of John Frusciante’s guitar and the distinctive sing-speak delivery of Anthony Kiedis to the funky sounds of Flea’s bass line and the bombastic power of Chad Smith’s drumming, “Black Summer” is quintessential Chili Peppers. Like most of the band’s material, the song feels like the soundtrack to a sun-drenched California day at the beach. Red Hot Chili Peppers don���t break the mold here. Instead, it’s reaffirmed. (Corey Irwin)
18. Dream Widow, "March of the Insane"
Dave Grohl established his heavy music bona fides decades ago, but still, did anybody expect this from the chief Foo Fighter? "March of the Insane," the lead single from his fictional one-man band Dream Widow from the Foos' Studio 666 movie, is the kind of blistering, blackened thrash anthem that went out of style around the time the classic Venom lineup broke up. Grohl sounds like he gargled nails before recording his larynx-shredding vocals, and his breakneck D-beat drumming is a nod to his pre-fame days in hardcore punk band Scream. This is still the work of the guy who wrote "Everlong," and brutality aside, "March of the Insane" is catchier and more fun than most extreme metal releases you'll hear this year. (Rolli)
17. Kirk Hammett, "High Plains Drifter"
“High Plains Drifter” has a cinematic reach that makes you wonder why Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett isn’t a giant in the world of film scoring. There's some heavy riffing here, but the bulk of Hammett’s playing is more acoustic, surrounded by intricate orchestrations from his creative partner Edwin Outwater. The song was initially presented to his bandmates but eventually rejected, so it ended up a highlight on Portals, his debut solo EP. Hammett - a noted horror aficionado - constructs these pieces as mini-movie soundtracks. Again: Why isn't Hollywood calling? (Wardlaw)
16. The Black Crowes, "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone"
The Black Crowes have always sounded like a relic of the past, going back to their debut album in 1990. The band embraced and found inspiration in music from the 1970s, so it should come as little surprise that their first release since re-forming, an EP simply titled 1972, includes songs from that classic year. Among them is a cover of the Temptations' "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" that marries Motown with soulful, southern blues-rock. (Rapp)
15. David Byrne and Yo La Tengo, "Who Has Seen the Wind?"
"Who Has Seen the Wind?" was originally Yoko Ono's contribution to the B-side of John Lennon's "Instant Karma!" single. As a key track on the tribute album Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono, it's a safe point of entry to an often challenging catalog. David Byrne and Yo La Tengo accentuate the song's soft-focus melody and peaceful lyricism, retaining Ono's spiritual uplift while making it distinctively timeless. (Michael Gallucci)
14. Slash (feat. Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators), "Call Off the Dogs"
Slash, Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators recorded their latest album, 4, live in the studio with virtually no overdubs, and nowhere does this approach work better than the punkish firecracker "Call Off the Dogs." Drummer Brent Fitz, bassist Todd Kerns and guitarist Frank Sidoris rock with raucous, ironclad precision, laying an unshakeable foundation for Slash's crunchy riffs and fleet-fingered solo, which echo early Guns N' Roses classic "You're Crazy." Kennedy, meanwhile, supplies the soaring chorus melody and some well-placed whoops and wails. Four albums and 10 years into their partnership, these dogs are howling louder than ever. (Rolli)
13. Mike Campbell and the Dirty Knobs, "Wicked Mind"
Mike Campbell spent the better part of the 40 years playing guitar with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but he ably steps into the role of the frontman of the Dirty Knobs. "Wicked Mind" - from the band's second album, External Combustion - is scorching proof of Campbell's eternal rock 'n' roll spirit. "I don't think you understand what kind of man I really am," he sings. "I'm a sinner with a rebel soul, got a wicked mind with a heart of gold." (Rapp)
12. Eddie Vedder, "Brother the Cloud"
Layered within “Brother the Cloud,” the standout cut from Eddie Vedder’s Earthling solo LP, are some of the deepest and most personal lyrics of the Pearl Jam singer’s career. Vedder, who lost his half-brother to a climbing accident in 2016, examines the struggles that come with the death of a loved one, delivering such powerful lines as: “There's no previous reference for this level of pain / I can't feign indifference, can't look away / The years they go by, the hurt I still hide / If I look okay, it's just the outside.” That Vedder was able to mine such anguish in the name of art is admirable. That he was able to use it in a song that manages to still build, soar and rock is downright impressive. (Irwin)
11. Bonnie Raitt, "Made Up Mind"
Bonnie Raitt has always delivered it straight. "Made Up Mind," the lead single from Just Like That..., is a cover of a song by Canadian roots duo the Bros. Landreth. As she has done so many times in the past, Raitt claims the song, giving it a smooth and bluesy upgrade, complete with some slide-guitar fireworks. Raitt's understated performance here reaffirms what she proved so many years ago: She's a master of doing more with less. (Rapp)
10. Drive-By Truckers, "We Will Never Wake You Up in the Morning"
There's both specificity and universality to Drive-By Truckers' "We Will Never Wake You Up in the Morning," a highlight of Welcome to Club XIII. Watching loved ones dissolve into substance abuse is often a slow and painful process, notes Patterson Hood: "This season of our discontent has given way to torment." He details barroom scenes, but the most poignant section is about forgiveness and understanding: "Hearts broken by your actions, but you had the best intentions." (Rapp)
9. Wilco, "Falling Apart (Right Now)"
The black-and-white video for Wilco’s "Falling Apart (Right Now)" is so low-key that it almost feels accidental. Jeff Tweedy strums some chords and occasionally sits motionless. Drummer Glenn Kotche taps out a groove on his chest and leg. Band members shuffle in and out of their Chicago studio. The song, their first single from Cruel Country, is equally breezy and low-stakes — introducing the back-porch vibe that dominates the double LP. Tweedy, in his ageless, smoke-stained voice, coughs out some funny-sad lines about processing pain in a pecking order ("Why don’t you get in line / Behind the tears I’m crying?"), and Nels Cline cruises us home with some spacey twang. (Reed)
8. The Black Keys, "Wild Child"
After taking a detour to celebrate Mississippi Hill Country blues on their 2021 album Delta Kream, the Black Keys are back to more familiar ground. “Wild Child,” the lead single from Dropout Boogie, includes a little bit of everything that makes the Keys great. Frontman Dan Auerbach howls over an infectious groove, with backing singers adding the perfect hint of soul. Drummer Patrick Carney lays down a propulsive backbeat, Auerbach delivers a fiery guitar solo halfway through and the whole thing runs like a well-oiled, blues-rock machine. The result is the strongest single the band has produced since 2012’s “Little Black Submarines.” (Irwin)
7. Jack White, "If I Die Tomorrow"
It’s been more than 20 years since the White Stripes released their debut album. By now, you’d think we’d be able to anticipate what Jack White’s material will sound like - yet here we are, surprised by “If I Die Tomorrow.” For all his musical wizardry, White is often at his best during ramped-up, garage-rock ragers. “If I Die Tomorrow,” with its slow-paced, contemplative nature is so unlike, say “The Hardest Button to Button,” but it's still distinctly Jack White. A haunting melody wraps around his lyrics, as he ponders mortality. Even after two-plus decades in the spotlight, White is still finding new ways to stretch his musical boundaries. (Irwin)
6. Ann Wilson, "Greed"
"I think people who claim to have made every decision from a root of pure idealism and have never done anything dark or greedy, are lying," Ann Wilson said upon the release of "Greed," the fiery opening track on Fierce Bliss. "I think everybody who ventures into especially the music industry hoping for a career with big success, ends up making these Faustian bargains at some point even if only briefly." Wilson drops all pretenses of nobility on the contemplative, hard-charging "Greed," oscillating between a tender croon and high-pitched wail. Her voice frays wonderfully as she reaches for the power notes, channeling 50 years of hard-won battles into three and a half minutes. (Rolli)
5. Tears for Fears, "Break the Man"
Curt Smith tends to be overshadowed within Tears for Fears; his longtime bandmate, multi-instrumentalist Roland Orzabal, writes and sings most of their material. The bassist is long overdue for a spotlight number, and "Break the Man" delivers — as the third single from the duo’s seventh LP, The Tipping Point, it feels like the slicker, snappier counterpart to the artful epic title track. "It’s more about trying to break the patriarchy, I guess," Smith said in a video breakdown. "I felt that a lot of the problems we were having [in England] and even worldwide to a certain degree came, obviously, from male dominance." But Tears for Fears are masters of dressing up important messages in luxurious production. Ignore the words and you’re still left with an electro-pop anthem. (Reed)
4. Elvis Costello & the Imposters, "My Most Beautiful Mistake"
Elvis Costello's 32nd album recalls some of his best work with the Attractions. Not too surprising, seeing that two-thirds of his longtime backing group make up the newish Imposters. "My Beautiful Mistake" places Costello in the familiar role of an observing narrator: "She was a part-time waitress with a dream of greatness." It's part introspection, too, a fitting companion to The Boy Named If's themes of growing up and accepting change. (Gallucci)
3. Spoon, "Wild"
In the mode of most classic Spoon LPs, Lucifer in the Sofa has plenty of experimental bits and studio trickery. It also has a couple of euphoric singalongs, and the piano-pounding "Wild" ranks up there with Britt Daniel’s stickiest hooks. He co-wrote the song with Jack Antonoff, an industry big-leaguer with a war chest of Grammy nods through A-list work with Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey. The pairing seems unlikely, but the duo pushes each other into a fascinating middle ground of abstraction - why exactly had the protagonist been "kept on [his] knees"? — and windswept melody. (Reed)
2. Def Leppard, "Take What You Want"
Def Leppard has expanded their range over the past three decades, credibly incorporating pop, country and other influences into their music with a success rate none of their 1980s hard-rock peers can match. But now and then it's still great to see them reach back and throw a fastball down the middle. In Diamond Star Halo's storming opening track "Take What You Want," they pair a mighty and memorable riff with a gorgeous stacked-vocal arrangement straight from the Hysteria playbook. (Wilkening)
1. The Smile, "Smoke"
Aside from the most angst-ridden moments on Pablo Honey, Radiohead has never really trafficked in obvious melodies and easily decodable lyrics — even at their most user-friendly, the songs reward digging. And "The Smoke," the second single from Radiohead offshoot the Smile, is similarly rich: As a background listen, it’s a typically bleak Thom Yorke lyric ("As I die in the flames / As I set myself on fire") sung in falsetto over a muted Afrobeat/funk groove. Listen closer and you’ll notice the proggy complexity in Jonny Greenwood’s palm-muted riff, and Yorke’s inkblot words bloom into a climate-change warning. (Reed)