Top 30 Rock Songs of 2022
As 2022 draws to a close, it's time to look back.
For some artists, looking back was already a large part of their year. The Beach Boys and Queen, for example, dug into their archives to find recordings from decades gone by. What once had sat in a vault was brought out and freshly polished, ready for listeners' ears in 2022.
Acts like Bruce Springsteen took this year as an opportunity to pay tribute to the legends before him. There were bursts of fresh productivity, too: Metallica released their first new song in more than six years. Jack White discovered he had so much new material that he actually released not one but two albums.
As you'll see, all of those LPs were all packed with great moments. Here's our list of the the Top 30 Rock Songs of 2022:
30. (Tie) Mick Jagger, "Strange Game"
Mick Jagger knows how to keep an audience engaged. "Surrounded by losers, misfits and boozers," he sang at the top of "Strange Game," which was written for the Apple TV+ series Slow Horses. He drew on the show's plot about British intelligence agents, but "Strange Game" worked on its own, too. Slinky and puckish, Jagger teases with lines designed to intrigue: "You don't even know my real name." (Allison Rapp)
30. (Tie) The Cult, "Give Me Mercy"
The first single from Under the Midnight Sun found the Cult embracing their two predominant (and opposing) musical forces: singer Ian Astbury's post-punk spiritualism and guitarist Billy Duffy's arena-rock histrionics. The latter's glistening, single-note leads conjured the yearning, melancholy grandeur of songs like "Nirvana" and "Rain" off the band's breakthrough 1985 sophomore album Love. Astbury, meanwhile, remains as cryptic as ever, imploring listeners to "Watch the butcher's knife, in his trembling hand / The end of a species, the shimmering veil." "Give Me Mercy" achieved the not-insignificant feat of evoking the Cult's glorious heyday while treading new sonic terrain. (Bryan Rolli)
29. 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 did this approach work better than the punkish firecracker "Call Off the Dogs." Drummer Brent Fitz, bassist Todd Kerns and guitarist Frank Sidoris rocked with raucous, ironclad precision, laying an unshakeable foundation for Slash's crunchy riffs and fleet-fingered solo that echoed the early Guns N' Roses classic "You're Crazy." Kennedy, meanwhile, supplied 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)
28. 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's ably stepped into the role of the frontman of the Dirty Knobs. "Wicked Mind" from the band's second album, External Combustion, was scorching proof of Campbell's eternal rock 'n' roll spirit. "I don't think you understand what kind of man I really am," he sang. "I'm a sinner with a rebel soul, got a wicked mind with a heart of gold." (Rapp)
27. Kirk Hammett, "High Plains Drifter"
“High Plains Drifter” had 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 was 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 Hammett's debut solo EP, Portals. A noted horror aficionado, Hammett constructed these pieces as mini-movie soundtracks. Again: Why isn't Hollywood calling? (Matt Wardlaw)
26. David Lee Roth, "Nothing Could Have Stopped Us Back Then Anyway"
For decades, David Lee Roth has been notoriously hard to read. That’s not to say that he retreats from the limelight – far from it – but Roth has often answered questions by talking in code, making veiled references but rarely delivering an easily deciphered statement. That’s why "Nothing Could Have Stopped Us Back Then Anyway" was so unexpected: Roth dropped his guard, offering an earnest look back at his days in Van Halen with just an acoustic guitar and organ supporting his voice. Long-ago shenanigans like throwing a TV out of a hotel window weren’t presented for glory, but rather reflected upon with the wisdom of time. Those years were wild, maybe even dumb, but they sure as hell were fun – and Roth’s poignant look back gave fans a rare look through his eyes. Never has Roth seemed so vulnerable. (Corey Irwin)
25. Bruce Springsteen, "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)"
Springsteen's soul covers album Only the Strong Survive works best when the turns are unexpected. His takes on Motown classics "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" and "Someday We'll Be Together" are serviceable, if not revelatory. But his cover of another Motown song, Frank Wilson's 1965 obscurity "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)," was a highlight of a record that often plays like a tribute to the R&B past that helped shape Springsteen. (Michael Gallucci)
24. Queen, "Face It Alone"
Queen frontman Freddie Mercury has been gone now for more than 30 years, but pieces of his lasting legacy continue to emerge. “Face It Alone” dates back to sessions for 1989’s The Miracle and is more than a traditional outtake. Roger Taylor and Brian May said “Face It Alone” came together slowly, as a carefully considered marriage of fragmented ideas from the period when they were working to complete the album. Even knowing those origins, it hardly sounded like a Frankenstein creation from the Queen laboratory. Instead, “Face It Alone” was a poignant and emotional excursion, made whole by a moving vocal from Mercury that stands with some of his most legendary work. (Wardlaw)
23. John Mellencamp (feat. Bruce Springsteen), "Did You Say Such a Thing"
The world has said a lot of things about John Mellencamp over the years, but Strictly a One-Eyed Jack confirmed that he's quite comfortable with who he's become. "Did You Say Such a Thing," one of two songs on the LP featuring Bruce Springsteen, found Mellencamp discussing resiliency. It's palpable in his voice and in the repeating guitar riff. Springsteen's backing vocals added an extra touch of emphasis — two so called "heartland rockers" who have worked to prove they're so much more — but it's Mellencamp's grizzled voice that drove the message home. He pulled no punches: "You say you keep the secret / It's just the people that you tell / Well, here's a little secret / You can go straight to hell." (Rapp)
22. Michael Monroe, "Murder the Summer of Love"
Michael Monroe was only 7 years old when the Altamont Free Concert effectively ended the hippie era. Yet this tragedy was a formative experience for the ex-Hanoi Rocks frontman, if "Murder the Summer of Love" serves as any indication. The lead single off Monroe's I Live Too Fast to Die Young was a sharp-tongued rebuke of rose-tinted nostalgia and a cogent reminder that the "good old days" weren't always as glamorous and decadent as they're cracked up to be. More importantly, it was a riotous punk 'n' roll bonanza, full of slashing riffs and solos and Monroe's ageless, bloodthirsty snarl. (Rolli)
21. 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-'70s fusion, complete with spacey keyboard leads by Rai Thistlethwayte. Satriani kept arrangements tight throughout the album, giving songs like this highlight plenty of room to stretch. But even though “Pumpin’” headed into jam territory, it still clocked in at less than three and a half minutes. (Wardlaw)
20. Billy Idol, "Cage"
Starting with 2021’s The Roadside EP, Billy Idol has been parceling out his newest music in shorter blasts. “Bitter Taste” revealed that he and guitarist Steve Stevens hadn’t lost their knack for crafting tight hooks. “Cage” refined things even further, blasting through a COVID-inspired storyline in less than three minutes. He described the tone of the song as having a Night of the Living Dead kind of inspiration. “The zombies at the window have got in and we’ve had to make friends with them,” he posited, regarding the scenario that inspired “Cage.” If the zombies are indeed here to stay, at least they sound like this. (Wardlaw)
19. 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 incandescent 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 dropped all pretenses of nobility on the contemplative then 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)
18. Wilco, "Falling Apart (Right Now)"
The black-and-white video for Wilco’s "Falling Apart (Right Now)" was so low-key that it almost felt accidental. Jeff Tweedy strummed some chords and occasionally sat motionless. Drummer Glenn Kotche tapped out a groove on his chest and leg. Band members shuffled in and out of their Chicago studio. Their first single from Cruel Country was 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)
17. 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 boldly ushered Skid Row 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" nodded to Skid Row's late-'80s 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)
16. The Beach Boys, "Carry Me Home"
Recorded in 1972 but not released until this year's Sail on Sailor - 1972 box that documents the making of Carl and the Passions - "So Tough" and Holland, "Carry Me Home" was one of a handful of songs written and sung by drummer Dennis Wilson, whose creative growth during this period helped carry the Beach Boys into a new era following Brian Wilson's mental collapse and the group's subsequent commercial drop-off. "Carry Me Home" is the final wish of a soldier dying in Vietnam and the first steps of a sensitive singer-songwriter who'd soon record an introspective solo LP. (Gallucci)
15. Jack White, "A Tip From You to Me"
Entering Heaven Alive, Jack White’s second album of 2022, stood in stark contrast to the first. Fear of the Dawn had been a powerful explosion of guitar riffs, complemented with the occasional surprising collaboration. The follow up was much more scaled back, but there was beauty beyond its subdued sound in moments like “A Tip From You to Me.” With each listen, one heard a different, yet unique part to the song. Whether it’s the jangly piano part, the jazzy back beat, the folky guitar, White’s layered three-part harmonies, or any other element, “A Tip From You to Me” revealed itself to have many layers beyond its seemingly simple facade. It also helped that White, one of his generation's greatest songwriters, leads the way with typically engrossing lyrics. At a time when so many songs are forgotten quickly, White once again delivers material that demands repeat listens. (Irwin)
14. Eddie Vedder, "Brother the Cloud"
Layered within this standout cut from Eddie Vedder’s Earthling solo LP are some of the deepest and most personal lyrics of the Pearl Jam frontman’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. Powerful lines from “Brother the Cloud” included: “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)
13. 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)
12. Neil Young, "Love Earth"
How appropriate that this song's accompanying video found Neil Young taking a nature walk. After all, he's covered this well-trod environmentalist ground many, many times. The thing that separated "Love Earth" from similar sentiments on, say, The Monsanto Years really comes down to Young's backing band. He was collaborating back then with Promise of the Real, and the results could feel a little too careful, even precious. Crazy Horse came riding in for 2022's World Record, once again giving everything a feral looseness – but, unusually, very little loudness. They probably haven't been this quietly attentive since 1970's "I Believe in You," and the effect was earthy and mesmerizing. Young's piano becomes a trickling stream, Nils Lofgren's lines transform into a bending breeze, and Ralph Molina's drums erupt like a thunderclap. (Nick DeRiso)
11. Iggy Pop, "Frenzy"
Within the first 10 seconds of Iggy Pop's "Frenzy," it's clear listeners are in for a wild ride. Pop doesn't know how to do anything less than thrill, and "Frenzy" is no exception. Providing an early taste of what's to come from an upcoming 2023 album, Pop has described this Andrew Watt-produced track as "ping-pong balls going off in my mind." At one point, Pop briefly ponders "when I oughta retire?" before swiftly moving on to the next chorus. It's something of a metaphor for the 75-year-old's career: There is no stopping the Godfather of Punk. (Rapp)
10. The Black Keys, "Wild Child"
After taking a detour to celebrate Mississippi Hill Country blues on their 2021 album Delta Kream, the Black Keys were back to more familiar ground with “Wild Child.” The lead single from Dropout Boogie included 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)
9. Metallica, "Lux Æterna"
On the edge of the 40th anniversary of their debut album, Kill ‘Em All, Metallica revealed their first new music in more than six years. Appropriately, “Lux Æterna” channelled those early days of thrash metal and it’s also their heaviest single in recent memory. James Hetfield’s vocal snarl is on point, and the song is instrumentally reminiscent of the cranked up intensity of Death Magnetic. But, to quote Spinal Tap, “Lux Æterna” goes at least one louder when it comes to energy level. It’s an intriguing preview of next year’s 72 Seasons album. (Wardlaw)
8. 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 '80s 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. For Diamond Star Halo's storming opening track "Take What You Want," they paired a mighty and memorable riff with a gorgeous stacked-vocal arrangement straight from the Hysteria playbook. (Wilkening)
7. Ozzy Osbourne, "Degredation Rules"
“Degradation Rules” offered a bit of respite for fans who hoped they might hear more new music from Black Sabbath. Ozzy Osbourne enlisted his former bandmate Tony Iommi to play guitar on two tracks for his latest Patient Number 9 album, and it’s a welcome return. “Degradation Rules” finds Osbourne himself playing a very Sabbath-y harmonica in the intro, surrounded by the unmistakable tone of Iommi. Robert Trujillo and Chad Smith are the perfect acolytes to round out the track’s sound, which lands perfectly as a gloriously heavy homage to Osbourne and Iommi’s Sabbath roots. The result is one of Ozzy’s best songs in years. (Wardlaw)
6. Spoon, "Wild"
In the mode of most classic Spoon LPs, Lucifer in the Sofa had plenty of experimental bits and studio trickery. It also had 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 pushed each other into a fascinating middle ground of abstraction – why exactly had the protagonist been "kept on [his] knees"? – and windswept melody. (Reed)
5. The Smile, "The 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. This second single from Radiohead offshoot the Smile was similarly rich: On 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)
4. Jack White, "What's the Trick?"
Jack White songs are often instantly recognizable as his, but don't mistake that for an unwillingness to expand. "What's the Trick?" from Fear of the Dawn, White's first of two 2022 studio albums, was brilliantly built around a central guitar riff. Then it broke off into unexpected sections, as a different guitar riff was made to sound cello-like in the first minute of the song. Later, there's some talk box-esque action. In the song's credits, there's even a nod to someone named "Bone Dust Mancini," who apparently helped add the sound of a 1975 Harley-Davidson Ironhead motorcycle to the track. There appears to be nothing White won't try once, and aybe that was the trick to writing some of the best rock music of 2022. (Rapp)
3. 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)
2. 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. So, the bassist was long overdue for a spotlight number, and "Break the Man" delivered. As the third single from the duo’s seventh LP, The Tipping Point, it felt 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)
1. Elvis Costello, "Magnificent Hurt"
Elvis Costello has described 2022's The Boy Named If as a coming-of-age song cycle. No such exploration is complete without a song delving into the bewildering pain of first-love heartbreak. "I shed a single tear for my predicament," Costello sang on "Magnificent Hurt." Accordingly, you'd expect it all to unfold like a slow, sad trip to the bottom of a brown bottle. Instead, Costello's throwback musical construction – long-time collaborator Steve Nieve surely fractured a phalange or two at that organ – recalled a certain Angry Young Man. This sound just happens when they're together. "It's not a style you can put a name on necessarily," Costello told the Current, "but it's an attitude." Oh, "Magnificent Hurt" comes off as all attitude – even if it's only masking an eggshell fragility. And what's more reflective of adolescence than that? (DeRiso)