Top 10 Songs of 2012
2012 has turned out to be the year in which everything old is new again. From the triumphant returns of Van Halen and Bruce Springsteen, to new material from classic rockers as diverse as <a href="http://ultimateclassicrock.com/tags/aerosmith/"Aerosmith and <a href="http://ultimateclassicrock.com/tags/rush/"Rush, it's as if we've been transported back the glory days of classic rock. But it hasn't been just a bunch of bands looking backward — a surprising number of classic rockers put out viable, forward-thinking new songs this year, making our list of the Best 2012 Songs a series of difficult choices.
Heart came out rocking with the title song of their newest album. Over a backdrop of compressed, almost grungy guitar chords, Ann Wilson demonstrates that she's still one of the most scorching vocalists — male or female — in classic rock. What's great about 'Fanatic' is it finds the Wilson sisters moving forward sonically, but looking backward to their earlier, hard-rocking era for inspiration. 'These Dreams,' it ain't.
Joe Walsh's first solo studio album in two decades had to have just the right title track, and the legendary performer pulled it off with 'Analog Man' by marrying a big guitar riff with a very clean Jeff Lynne production. Walsh's voice sounds great, and the track is a perfect amalgam of his signature slide guitar stylings and the sense of humor that we've come to expect from him, as evidenced by this sly couplet: “When something goes wrong, I don't have a clue / Some 10-year-old smartass has to tell me what to do.”
You have to give kudos to ZZ Top for stepping outside their usual box for the first single from their first studio album in nearly a decade. 'I Gotsta Get Paid' is based in part on a rap song titled '25 Lighters,' a local hit in Houston in the late '90s. The song's gritty lyric perfectly complements the Texas rockers' no-nonsense arrangement, proving that they can take any track and make it their own. Don't worry — by the time the boys in the band are done with it, this one comes off as pure ZZ Top.
Rightfully unafraid of the shadow cast by their back-on-the-scene former bandmates in Van Halen (see below,) Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony and their Chickenfoot bandmates put aside the riff-rock for a minute and chose this surprisingly nuanced song as their first single of 2012. The song clearly struck a chord with our readers, who chose 'Different Devil' by a wide margin in a head to head battle against VH's 'Tattoo.'
'Legendary Child' was a pretty bold choice for a first single from Aerosmith's first album in a decade. A big step away from the schlock ballads the group have favored at radio for years, the song juxtaposes a fairly heavy guitar riff with an almost Beatle-esque chorus, creating a feel that is classic and new all at once. Steven Tyler is practically rapping in the verses, calling to mind the type of rhythmic, in-your-face singing that made 'Walk This Way' so special.
Kiss seem to have finally figured out how to balance new material with the band's core influences. 'Long Way Down' is a top-notch example of Kiss using a glossy modern production to convey a song that could have been lifted directly from one of the group's classic '70s outings, exploiting the different textures of Stanley and Simmons' voices in a way that's retro cool. And if Kiss haven't exactly re-invented the wheel with 'Long Way Down,' well, at least they've added a really sweet set of new hubcaps.
Rush pulled off one of the biggest surprises of the year by releasing a conceptual album that is sonically reminiscent of some of their best past work. 'The Wreckers' is part of that work, but strong enough to stand on its own, and musically the band have dialed back their approach to the three-piece format that served so well in their classic era, before every track became buried under layers of synths. There are orchestrations here, but the focus is on the core of drums, bass and guitars, and Rush are still one of the most lyrically intelligent rock groups in the world.
If any E Street fans out there needed a big rousing anthem to cheer them up after last year's loss of beloved saxophonist Clarence Clemons, Springsteen certainly delivered with this working class manifesto. This retro-sounding number from his album 'Wrecking Ball' features pianos and bells straight out of his '70s bag of tricks, as he vows that a spirit of community will see us through both personal and worldwide tough times. Springsteen shows once again that he has his finger on the pulse of his audience with this angry comment on economic inequality.
This not-quite-political take on current events finds Mick Jagger and company in fighting shape, with a perfectly sloppy guitar riff over a classic Stones drum groove. Jagger is singing, if anything, better than he has in years, belting out a scathing vocal performance. Lead guitar lines weave in and out of the track, but the centerpiece is undoubtedly Jagger, who handily destroys singers half his age.
The first single from Van Halen's comeback album, 'Tattoo,' may not have been the best re-introduction for longtime fans, but there's plenty of classic material on the rest of the record. It's an album chock-full of old-time Van Halen goodness that was exactly what the doctor ordered, but the spectacular drum and guitar interplay on 'Outta Space' may just be the coolest thing on there. It's nice to see Van Halen not only back to work, but rocking with a vengeance.