Song of the Year: 2015 Ultimate Classic Rock Awards
Let's face it, any classic rock artist who's still making new music in 2015 is doing so for love of the game, not to make money. After all, in today's fast-moving culture even the most anticipated albums will stay in the public's mind for about two weeks after street date.
It's also a safe bet that royalty checks based increasingly on the streaming industry don't hold a candle to those from the golden days of multi-platinum CD shipments. Which makes the varied collection of songs nominated in the 2015 Ultimate Classic Rock Awards Song of the Year category all the more impressive. Here are 15 examples of established stars still working to refine their craft – or more interestingly, pushing themselves into new genres or even new bands.
You can hear all of the songs below, and then decide which deserves to take home the top prize, in this and seven other 2015 Ultimate Classic Rock Awards categories. The polls will stay open until 11:59PM ET on Jan. 4, 2016. And you can vote once an hour every day until then, if you need an excuse to get away from your family every once in a while this holiday season.
Motley Crue celebrated their final tour with a highly self-referential one-off single that chronicled and celebrated their decades of success and excess. It was good enough to make us wish they had found the time to knock out a full farewell album, but maybe we're just greedy.
From: 'Tracker' (2015)
The crisp, upbeat lead single from the former Dire Straits leader's new solo album is a tribute to famed British novelist Beryl Bainbridge. The lyrics find Knopfler lamenting the fact that the author didn't get the recognition she deserved while still alive.
From: 'Blackstar' (2016)
"Weird Bowie" is back. The new single from Bowie's upcoming 2016 album is an epic 10-minute long exploration of jazz and underground pop sounds that arrived complete with an arty and not totally understandable short film. Is that supposed to be Major Tom's spacesuit?
From: '#1' (2015)
Heart's lead singer gets deep into the blues on this track from her new group's first EP. The bombastic arrangement, and particularly the interplay between the lead guitar and her piercing vocals, brings to mind the early work of Led Zeppelin.
Apparently not content with just being one of the main creative forces behind possibly the most vital and active '70s band left standing, Steven Tyler turns his attention to conquering the country genre here. The results aren't that much of a stretch from his main band's recent hit ballads, but the new textures on display make us curious to hear the rest of his upcoming solo debut.
From: 'Perfectamundo' (2015)
We're not sure what's behind the recent rash of lead singers starting solo careers so late in the game, but if the results are as refreshing as the impeccably-titled 'Perfectamundo,' we're not complaining. The title track to the debut album from ZZ Top's main man is perhaps the most concise and hard-hitting example of the record's intoxicating blend of Afro-Cuban, rock and blues styles.
From: 'Cass County' (2015)
Unlike some of the bandwagon-jumpers out there, the country genre has always been a big part of Don Henley's life and music. Combined with his usual sincerity, activism and studio perfectionism, that love turns this gentle environmental plea into a lovely, understated work of high craftsmanship.
From: 'The Book of Souls' (2015)
You want epic? Iron Maiden's got you covered on their new double album, with three songs that break the ten-minute mark. They're all pretty good, but this is the best, with an exciting three-way guitar solo segment and an irresistible "whoa oh oh oh oh" chorus we can't wait to sing along to with thousands of other metal maniacs when this tour hits our town.
If you're still waiting for Neil Young to slow down or mellow out, we hope you're not holding your breath. Over a typically shambling guitar riff, rock's most outspoken activist stands up for small farmers while attacking the coffee giant for (allegedly) using genetically modified organisms.
From: 'Shockwave Supernova' (2015)
We're not sure if an instrumental record can actually also be a concept album, but that's what Joe Satriani insists has happened here. The basic idea is that the normally reserved guitar wizard turned his wilder on-stage alter ego loose in the studio for the first time, but all you really need to know, and what he proves on the title track, is that Satriani's still one of the few instrumentalists who expresses as easily as he impresses.
From: 'Bad Magic' (2015)
Were you one of the fools who counted Lemmy out after his recent series of health scares? Well, whatever the Motorhead leader was dealing with didn't stop him from unleashing another batch of barreling punk-metal anthems like this one. Of course, he'd just call it rock and roll.
From: 'Crosseyed Heart' (2015)
Hey Mick Jagger, did you know that Gene Simmons wisely and generously handed over full control of the recording console to Paul Stanley for the last two Kiss albums? Why do we bring this up after hearing Keith's new solo album, and hearing that you're about to record a new Rolling Stones record together? No reason. No reason at all...
From: 'Shadows in the Night' (2015)
Dylan shares his own distinctive take on the pop standards of the Great American Songbook here, tackling numbers that date back to the '30s. Unlike Rod Stewart's profitable but much-maligned efforts in the same field, there's no extraneous glop here, just a "sweetly vulnerable crooner who’s apparently existed for years inside of the testy rock legend."
From: 'Live+' (2015)
One of two new studio tracks attached to his most recent live album, "Tribal" started as Jeff Beck's attempt to create "extreme club dance-type" music, and then went wonderfully off-track. The final result is a gloriously unhinged affair that features stomping drums and what sounds like someone torturing the hell out of an electric duck.
From: 'Def Leppard' (2015)
We feel a little bad choosing the most "classic" sounding song from Def Leppard's new album, after spending most of our review praising them for so successfully experimenting with newer ideas. But the fact is, if a lapsed fan gave us just five minutes to prove the new record's worth, this is what we'd play and we're pretty sure it would do the trick.