Top 10 Biker Songs
When rock and roll was young and its outlaw image still an establishment-threatening prospect, its songs evoked the same sense of freedom and devil-may-care risk-taking afforded by a motorcycle. Maybe that’s why so much of what still defines biker aesthetics come inextricably connected to the roaring sounds of classic rock. You dig? So pull on your boots and strap on your helmets! Here are the Top 10 Biker Songs.
What better way to start a list of Top 10 Biker Songs than with a racing chopper’s engine roars, fast approaching and then flying past, on ‘Wheels of Steel’? That’s the way ‘Motorcycle Man’ welcomed listeners to New Wave of British Heavy Metal legends Saxon’s definitive album, and it never fails to send an adrenalin rush.
‘Live to Ride, Ride to Live’
Another heavy metal stomper, this time originating on this side of the pond, ‘Ride to Live, Live to Ride’ anchored Twisted Sister’s underrated, pre-breakthrough sophomore album, ‘You Can’t Stop Rock ’n’ Roll.’ Frontman Dee Snider is an avid motorcyclist who has an annual ride to benefit a food bank on his native Long Island.
‘Ballad of Easy Rider’
Before it was cut by the Byrds as a single, ‘Ballad of Easy Rider’ was recorded solo by band leader Roger McGuinn to make the deadline for that iconic movie’s soundtrack. But amazingly, the song’s opening lyrics, “The river flows / It flows to the sea,” were scribbled on a napkin by Bob Dylan, who declined actor Peter Fonda’s request that he contribute a song, but told him to “give this to McGuinn.”
“Born to lead at breakneck speed / With high octane, we’re spitting flames.” When Judas Priest head out to the highway, they don’t go for slow rides or stop to pick up sweet hitchhikers. Instead, they do pedal to the heavy metal, all blinding chrome and melting rubber, as evidenced by the thrilling juggernaut that is ‘Freewheel Burning.’ After all, Rob Halford’s Harley won’t drive itself onto the stage.
Not every motorcycle song has to open the throttle ’til a fuel line explodes. Neil Young’s ‘Motorcycle Mama,’ from his laid-back ’78 album, ‘Comes a Time,’ is a perfect case in point, with Neil and Nicolette Larson trading lines as they leisurely cruise on down the highway. Whatever kind of trouble they get up to, one gets the feeling that speeding won’t be one of them.
The only reason ‘Midnight Rider’ doesn’t place higher in our list of Top 10 Biker Songs is because we can’t really say for sure that the Allman Brothers Band’s outlaw protagonist was actually riding a motorcycle (instead of a horse, say). But one certainly gets that impression based on Gregg Allman’s forlorn vocal and the subsequent motorcycle accidents that rudely claimed the lives of his brother Duane and bassist Berry Oakley.
‘Bad Motor Scooter’
Another biker song that revs its engine with a custom piece of complex machinery developed by a man named Les Paul, ‘Bad Motor Scooter’ remains perhaps the signature tune recorded by Montrose. The song was written by singer Sammy Hagar and intriguing in that it predicts his future hit, ‘I Can’t Drive 55.’
‘Bat Out of Hell’
At nearly 10 minutes in length, ‘Bat Out of Hell’ saw composer Jim Steinman taking the concept of a teenage tragedy song to its ultimate conclusion. In fact, thanks to the ample talents of his partner-in-crime, Meat Loaf, Steinman piloted this evocative, theatrical masterpiece all the way to the end of the road, over the barricade, and into the ocean. But hey, excess sells — to the tune of an estimated 43 million copies worldwide.
One of the great posthumously released Jimi Hendrix songs, ‘Ezy Ryder’ (first heard on 1971’s ‘Cry of Love’ collection; later 1997’s fully sanctioned ‘First Rays of the New Rising Sun’) was allegedly inspired by the era-defining motion picture bearing that same name. And yet, as with most things Hendrix, the song transcends the period and strikes a timeless chord with listeners — never mind riders — of any era.
‘Born to Be Wild’
The No. 1 song in our list of the Top 10 Biker Songs has literally become synonymous with biker culture nearly 50 years beyond the 1969 release of the movie that adopted it for its totemic anthem. Originally heard one year earlier on Steppenwolf’s eponymous debut album, ‘Born to Be Wild’ and its distinctive chug-chug-chug persists as the ultimate soundtrack for racing down life’s highway atop two wheels.