The 50 Best Garage Rock Songs of All Time

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The 50 Best Garage Rock Songs of All Time

As far a genres go, garage rock is pretty broad. Its gritty, simplistic approach first rose to prominence in the mid ’60s, simultaneously drawing inspiration from and coexisting with everything from surf rock and psychedelia to bubblegum and British Invasion bands. It laid the groundwork for punk to take over the world in the subsequent decade, and in the early 2000s, revivalists like The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Vines and pretty much any other band beginning with “The” carried the garage torch for a new generation. Presently, artists like the Black Lips, Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees are in possession of said torch, champions of the lo-fi, DIY aesthetic who have managed to modernize the sound.

In short, “garage rock” is a very wide umbrella, one that spans 50 years and countless local scenes. The famous “I know it when I see it” Potter Stewart description of obscenity seems to apply here to the question of what, exactly, garage rock is for the purposes of this list. And, like obscenity, garage rock can be brash, off-putting and extremely satisfying. So without further ado, we give you the 50 Best Garage Rock Songs of All Time.

50. Reigning Sound, “Your Love is a Fine Thing”
These days, the Reigning Sound is putting the emphasis on their soul/R&B roots, but back when their third album Too Much Guitar was on the scene, they used those influences as a jumping off point into much more electrified, psychedelic waters. Got a new girl or boy in your life? Drop this cut on a mixtape for them, then sit back and watch the sparks fly.—Robert Ham

49. Spider Bags, “Friday Night”
Following the demise of his previous band, the wild and wayward DC Snipers, Dan McGee headed down South. After taking up residence in Chapel Hill, N.C., McGee formed Spider Bags, a group that matched the Snipers’ intensity, but threw in a healthy dose of Southern flavor for good measure. The band’s best record to date, 2012’s Shake My Head, is a boozy affair characterized by raunchy guitar solos and pleasant pop hooks. “Friday Night,” the album’s most satisfying track, showcases McGee’s intelligent pop sensibility, as well as his band’s rowdy and rambunctious inclinations.—Chris Powers

48. Harlem, “Gay Human Bones”
If garage rock has taught us anything, it is that being delightfully dumb ain’t a bad way to be. Take as a modern example this 2010 track from Austin, Texas band Harlem that’s all about a basketball team that goes by the name “Gay Human Bones.” They apparently win most of their games thanks to the good shooter that leader Michael Coomer found while stoned and hallucinating about being covered in water moccasins. None of it makes any sense, nor should we really want it to. Embrace the stupidity.—Robert Ham

47. The Kills, “Love Is a Deserter”
Unlike most garage rockers, The Kills made technology an essential part of the band: using a drum machine freed up Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince to hone the lean, serrated guitar riffs and harrowing sexual tension that was an essential part of the band before Hince married Kate Moss. “Love Is a Deserter,” from their 2005 album No Wow, is The Kills at their best: it’s a dark, electrifying surge of barely contained fury edged with a discomfiting, seductive allure.—Eric R. Danton

46. The Brian Jonestown Massacre, “Oh Lord”
If there was one word to describe California’s Brian Jonestown Massacre, it would likely be prolific. Beginning with its roots in shoegaze, the ramshackle group followed frontman Anton Newcombe’s manic aspirations toward psychedelia through the ‘90s and onward, touching on folk and our beloved garage rock along the way. “Oh Lord” is the band’s greatest contribution to garage rock’s storied history. Featuring wide-open strumming and a meandering organ lead, the tune is effectively a tribute to the ‘60s giants that Newcombe and company sought wholeheartedly to emulate.—Chris Powers

45. The Strokes, “What Ever Happened?”
Though Is This It? is often rightfully praised as a garage rock masterpiece, perhaps the best song The Strokes have written is on their often-overlooked but also excellent sophomore album Room on Fire. Beginning with the palm-muted tremolo picking of Albert Hammond Jr., “What Ever Happened?” couldn’t have been on the debut; it showed precision and complexity not previously present, without muddying the band’s sound at all. It was both instantly recognizable as The Strokes and something totally different. When Julian Casablancas exclaims “I want to be forgotten,” the fact of the matter is had Room on Fire been a stinker, it might have been easy to dismiss the band and the debut’s place in history. “What Ever Happened?” ensured that they would not be forgotten and cemented the band’s career.—Philip Cosores

44. The Raconteurs, “Salute Your Solution”
Sure, sure, Jack White and Brendan Benson…whatever. A track like this is all about the rhythm section, and this outfit had one of the best in the garage rock business: Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence of the Greenhornes. Without their fuzzy insistence and the steady swing of that high hat, poor Brendan and Jack would be lost in the wilderness with nothing but their tube amps to keep them warm.—Robert Ham

43. The Von Bondies, “C’mon C’mon”
Right after vocalist/guitarist Jason Stollsteimer became an inadvertent punching bag for former buddy Jack White, this Detroit combo took their shot for the big time with this new wave-influenced jam. The lyrics pitch it as some kind of political hullaballoo but it’s best remembered as a fist pumping sing-along foot stomper.—Robert Ham

42. Ty Segall Band, “Oh Mary”
There are many who argue that Slaughterhouse, the sludgy 2012 LP from Ty Segall and his comrades, is not a garage-rock record. True, it’s steeped in mucky blues and its frequently harmonizing guitar leads recall ‘70s hard rock legends like Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin. But at its heart, the album still showcases what makes garage rock great: a few chords and a bad attitude. And if it’s attitude you’re looking for, “Oh Mary” has it in spades.—Chris Powers

41. The Dirtbombs, “Chains of Love”
The Dirtbombs’ second full-length Ultraglide In Black arrived just in time to ride the wave of the big garage rock revival driven by fellow Detroit acts like the White Stripes. But what all of them lacked was a soulful vocalist like Mick Collins who helped turn this cover of J.J. Barnes’ 1967 lite-funk groover into something snarling, seamy and out-and-out rocking.—Robert Ham

40. Allah-Las, “Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind)”
This Los Angeles-based combo, like many of the bands on this list, so ably ape the sound of ‘60s garage pop that if you told me this was some bonus cut from the Nuggets set, I might’ve believed you. This 2012 track is as quietly affecting as you please, with a perfectly buoyant bass line, jangly guitars and singer/guitarist Miles Michaud’s laconic vocal delivery.—Robert Ham

39. Thee Oh Sees, “Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster”
A blast from the last album to feature the “classic” Oh Sees lineup. And on it, the quintet goes for something a little slower, a little sultrier, and a lot heavier. Led by Dwyer’s deliriously overdriven guitar, these three-and-a-half minutes call to mind a slow motion tracking shot in a dark crime movie. Imagine Robert DeNiro in Mean Streets kicking the door open to the bar and glad-handing every patron while this blares loudly in the background.—Robert Ham

38. Mikal Cronin, “You Gotta Have Someone”
Mikal Cronin keeps close company with garage-rock wonderkid Ty Segall, so it’s no wonder the like-minded musicians often tread onto each other’s turf when it comes to songwriting. But unlike Segall, Cronin has always been at his best when he’s crafting pristine pop melodies—and weaving impassioned harmonies behind them. “You Gotta Have Someone” perfectly illustrates the sharp dichotomy behind Cronin’s songcraft. It’s got a bubbly melody and cordial, carefree lyrics—but it also has its fair share of scuzzy, distorted guitars to boot.—Chris Powers

37. King Khan and His Shrines, “Burnin’ Inside”
This three-minute monster from King Khan builds piece by piece, with instruments joining in one after the other—drums followed by fuzz bass followed by that sweet horn section. By the midpoint, we’re under the full sway of the Shrines’ soul-R&B-garage power. And then what do these Berlin-by-way-of-Montreal misfits do? They stop and do it all over again! It’s absolute madness, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.—Robert Ham

36. Paul Revere and the Raiders, “Kicks”
Though dressing up like their Revolutionary namesake was a perfect TV gimmick for this Portland, Ore., band, “Kicks” was anything but a joke. In fact, it was a cautionary tale: trebly guitar parts frame a stick-in-your-head chorus that contained an anti-drug message, just as the counterculture was taking root. Originally written for Eric Burdon, the Animals leader turned down the song, which became a No. 1 in Canada and made it to No. 4 in the U.S. for Paul Revere & the Raiders when they released it in 1966.—Eric R. Danton