The 50 Best Garage Rock Songs of All Time

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20. The Troggs, “With A Girl Like You”
There’s a reason this song gets a lot of play at weddings. Its simple romanticism (along with the line “I want to spend my life with a girl like you”) makes it an obvious choice, but “With a Girl Like You” is actually about what happens before walking down the aisle. Before you can make your crush your bride, you’ve gotta work up the nerve to ask her to dance, and given the infectious way Reg Presley sings “until that time has come that we might live as one/can I dance with you?/ba ba ba ba ba, ba ba ba ba ba,” how could she possibly say no if this song’s playing?—Bonnie Stiernberg

19. The Cramps, “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”
Lux Interior, Poison Ivy and Co. blended punk, rockabilly, garage-rock and a love of campy horror movies into one fully awesome package, as epitomized by “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.” Shivers of tremolo guitar cascade over the thudding beat as Lux yowls and sputters like a man in mid-transformation. Adding to the song’s pedigree is the fact that Big Star’s Alex Chilton produced it as part of the Cramps’ 1980 debut LP, Songs the Lord Taught Us.—Eric R. Danton

18. The Remains, “Why Do I Cry”
Like all the best lovelorn men of the world, Barry Tashian, leader of the Boston-based Remains, put the sound of his broken heart to music. He may still be pining for Mrs. Wrong, but from the sound of this agonized bluesy romp, he’s going down swinging. If that doesn’t sell you, listen for bassist Vern Miller’s fuzzy two-note solos throughout. They help recalibrate the senses and help give you that brief moment to catch your breath before you frug the night away.—Robert Ham

17. Roky Erickson, “I Walked With a Zombie”
By the time the ‘60s ended, psych-rock forefather and former 13th Floor Elevator Roky Erickson had endured horrific psychiatric treatments and retreated into his own world, writing anguished tunes full of weird, creature-feature imagery and paranoid tensions. “I Walked with a Zombie,” from his 1981 album The Evil One, is loosely based on Val Lewton’s infamous ’43 horror movie—or at least its title. Erickson and his backing band the Aliens play it as a fleet, almost magisterial blues, repeating the title over and over until it becomes a mantra—a means of warding off the undead at his door.—Stephen M. Deusner

16. The Seeds, “Pushin’ Too Hard”
Lyrically “Pushin’ Too Hard” is a textbook case in teenage resentment, as an almost 30-year-old Sky Saxon seethes about how a girl or parents or work or take your pick are stifling his fun and freedom. There’s an edge here not found in most garage songs, though—this isn’t a group of college friends playing for beer and sex, but a frantic two-chord rush through a desperate, paranoid mind.—Garrett Martin

15. MC5, “Kick Out the Jams”
There’s a reason the Motor City Five named its debut after this punishing song, and that reason is a battle cry that would ring on for decades after its release: “KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKER!” These proto-punks are the reason Detroit is a firm pin in the Map of Classic Garage Rock, and you can see the city’s effect in the band’s very qualities. The MC5, aside from being the most brutal band to emerge from the ‘60s, was a blue-collar, rowdy, thoughtful, soulful, political act, and “Kick Out the Jams” is undoubtedly its best-known offering.—Tyler Kane

14. The Kinks, “All Day and All of the Night”
I can only imagine the thrill of hearing this song for the first time in 1964 (!) and having my brain reduced to soup. That opening riff is a mean, snarling beast even 50 years (!) later. “All Day and All of the Night” came on the heels of their breakthrough single “You Really Got Me” (and is far superior), employing a similar guitar attack from Ray Davies. And although that’s what this song is built on, brother Dave Davies’ solo is just as vicious. Every rock band worth their salt has essentially been writing newer, lesser versions of it ever since.—Mark Lore

13. Them, “Gloria”
Perhaps the closest thing we have to a garage-rock standard, Them’s “Gloria” has been covered by everyone from fellow early garage pioneers like the Bobby Fuller Four and The 13th Floor Elevators to Patti Smith, The Doors, David Bowie and AC/DC. It’s the song that introduced the world to the legendary Van Morrison, who was just 18 when he wrote this track and notorious for ad-libbing on live performances of it, sometimes stretching the simple three-chord song all the way into a 15-minute saga. You don’t even have to be old enough to know how to spell to appreciate that “G-L-O-R-I-A” will be ringing in rock fans’ ears forever.—Bonnie Stiernberg

12. White Stripes, “Fell in Love With a Girl”
On their career-making, century-cinching album White Blood Cells, this Detroit blues twosome toyed unironically with childhood imagery: the duochromatic wardrobe, the candy fixation, “We’re Going to Be Friends.” So Legos were a natural endpoint. The infamous video for “Fell in Love with a Girl” is simple but wildly effective in illustrating the massive charms of this short, sharp single—which is still one of the Stripes’ best. It’s also the gnarliest single to get airplay this millennium, as Jack’s excitable vocals convey a lust/logic split (“the two sides of my brain need to have a meeting!”) and Meg pounds away joyously.—Stephen M. Deusner

11. The Sonics, “Strychnine”
One of Tacoma, Washington’s greatest musical exports were these five young men who added the perfect amount of danger and delinquency to their screaming, blasting compositions. Among their best is this short revved-up ode to leader Gerry Rosie’s beverage of choice—a straight shot of strychnine, the cure for what ails you. I’ll have what he’s having.—Robert Ham

10. The Swinging Medallions, “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love”
In the Carolinas they call this “beach music.” It’s the sound of your dad’s drunken frat buddies (or maybe your granddad’s, because time never stops) bashing their way through a tender tune about passing out in a front yard after a crazy, drunken, sex-filled night. Although not as raucous as The Sonics or The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,” the group vocals, background hollers and suggestive lyrics give it a similar debauched charm. Also everything about that organ line is perfect.—Garrett Martin

9. The Troggs, “Wild Thing”
Like many of the early garage-rock standout songs, “Wild Thing” is a cover: written by Chip Taylor, New York City band The Wild Ones first recorded the song in 1965. The Troggs’ version quickly eclipsed it the following year. The English rockers hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart thanks to the bludgeoning guitar and singer Reg Presley’s vocals, which go from sounding almost distracted to unsettlingly focused when he veers into the famous chorus. Other acts have since recorded “Wild Thing,” including Jimi Hendrix, The Runaways, X, Cheap Trick, Liz Phair, Sam Kinison and, of course, Animal from The Muppet Show.—Eric R. Danton

8. Bobby Fuller Four, “I Fought the Law”
Most often identified with the Bobby Fuller Four, “I Fought the Law” originated as a b-side for the Crickets in 1960 and was a regional hit for a few garage bands before Fuller rode it into the Top 10 singles chart in ‘65. His would be the definitive and most successful version—at least until The Clash got hold of it in ’79. The Four pound on their instruments like they’re breakin’ rocks in the hot sun, and the bass player has already hopped the fence and made a break for it. Fuller sings it with such devil-may-care abandon that you’d swear the law actually lost.—Stephen M. Deusner

7. The Count Five, “Psychotic Reaction”
Though this San Jose, Calif., group only released one album, they made it count: “Psychotic Reaction,” the title track, is an enduring icon of garage rock, thanks to the punchy guitar riff, the howling harmonica and the way the band slides into the twitchy double-time instrumental breakdown in the middle. The song made it to No. 5 on the singles chart.—Eric R. Danton

6. ? and the Mysterians, “96 Tears”
One of many garage acts referred to as “the first punk band,” these Bay City, Mich., rockers own another more quantifiable distinction: they were the first Latino rock band with a No. 1 hit. Thanks to the relentless organ vamp and defiantly heartbroken vocals from Question Mark (née Rudy Martinez, whose brother Robert played drums), “96 Tears” topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1966 and sold more than a million copies.—Eric R. Danton

5. The Stooges, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
No one wonders why bands still love to cover “I Wanna be Your Dog” in 2014. In fact, even in its much tamer studio version, The Stooges’ feedback-heavy force of a song still out-fought most hard-rockers in ’69, only being outdone by Detroit brothers The MC5. It’s a blistering piece of proto-punk, one that set the stage for any outlandish, fuzzed-out guitar line that would follow in a garage, and Iggy Pop’s unforgettable wails—“Now I wanna be your dog!”—can’t be unheard. Sorry, late ‘60s parents.—Tyler Kane

4. The Seeds, “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine”
Sky Saxon sounds just as desperate on “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” as he does on “Pushin’ Too Hard,” but the band must have sweated out whatever uppers they were on before slinking their way through this one. That subdued quality adds an element of darkness to a song that already straddles the line between unrequited love and stalker anthem.—Garrett Martin

3. The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie”
In many ways, The Kingsmen’s version of “Louie Louie” is the template for garage rock. Three chords fuel a lo-fi masterpiece built around trebly guitar, blaring organ and singer Jack Ely’s murky vocals, which attracted the attention of the FBI and prompted the governor of Indiana to ban the song for its supposed indecency. Didn’t matter: released in 1963, The Kingsmen’s cover of Richard Berry’s tune took the Portland, Ore., band to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, where the song spent six weeks on its way to becoming eternal.—Eric R. Danton

2. 13th Floor Elevators, “You’re Gonna Miss Me”
As garage rock turned psychedelic by the latter half of the ’60s, “You’re Gonna Miss Me” was a significant milestone along the way. First released in January 1966, the song showcases Roky Erickson’s otherworldly shriek and Tommy Hall’s eerie electric jug. Hailing from Austin, Texas, 13th Floor Elevators managed four albums and seven singles in their brief run from 1965-69 (and Erickson went on to subsequent acclaim and notoriety), but “You’re Gonna Miss Me” remains the group’s defining statement.—Eric R. Danton

1. The Sonics, “Have Love, Will Travel”
“Rock and roll—it’s the only place you can scream like that without going to jail,” Sonics vocalist-keyboardist Gerry Roslie told me a few years ago. That voice—sounding pissed and possessed—lit up the band’s two releases, 1965’s Here Are The Sonics and Boom, released the following year. The Sonics were uglier, louder and scarier than anything that had floated this way during the British Invasion. They were also playing what was essentially punk rock in the small town of Tacoma, Wash. one year before bands like The Seeds and the 13th Floor Elevators had done anything, three years before the Brits gave us The Pretty Things or The Deviants, and almost five years before The Stooges and MC5 blew up Detroit. “Have Love Will Travel” isn’t as in-your-face as “The Witch” or “Strychnine,” but it’s still a primal slab of garage rock (the skronky sax solo rips, too). Some insist that punk rock started in the UK in the ’70s; the Sonics tell us otherwise.—Mark Lore

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