2010's Best Rock Songs

The Year's Top Tracks

2010 contained a wealth of great songs, including brokenhearted ballads, underrated gems, and a stellar comeback single from a reunited band. In a year when frontmen from veteran bands explored solo careers and new groups made their move toward the mainstream, these are the tunes that defined a colorful 12 months in the world of rock.

This reworked Badmotorfinger track is prime Soundgarden. The bellowing force of Chris Cornell’s voice and the creepy power of Kim Thayil’s guitar work is undeniable. In 2010, Soundgarden re-arranged their longer 1991 original, added guitar overdubs and Cornell rewrote and rerecorded the vocals. Amazingly Cornell was still able to push the upper register of his voice. Soundgarden's first single since 1997 was their only song to ever enter Billboard's Hot 100 chart, reaching No. 96.

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When listeners heard “The Space in Between,” nobody was surprised that the band that made the song, How to Destroy Angels, was helmed by the same guy who used to be in Nine Inch Nails. Yes, Trent Reznor’s fingerprints are all over “The Space in Between” -- the slow, droning keyboards and the menacing, stripped-down percussion are his hallmarks -- but with new wife Mariqueen Maandig handling the vocals, the song becomes more sensuous and seductive, without sacrificing any of its quiet intensity.

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Taproot’s latest album, , may have been a bit of a misfire, but the first single was a solid blast of alt-metal anger. Frontman Stephen Richards lays into a disloyal girlfriend, balancing between a potently melodic chorus and some galvanic guitars. It’s too bad the rest of Plead wasn’t this memorable and urgent.

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As rap-rock falls out of favor, how can Linkin Park balance a genre that made them popular with a more mature modern-rock sound? A Thousand Suns doesn’t always find the right answer, but “Waiting for the End” certainly does. Balancing rapped and sung vocals, the hopeful, resilient track builds to a beautifully rousing finale.

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The Black Keys are a blues-rock duo, but for this single off Brothers they’re downright poppy, nailing a jaunty groove with a pretty accessible hook. Still, the duo’s penchant for gritty guitar textures remains, making this that rare hit that seems to be adapting mainstream radio conventions for the band’s singular purposes.

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Starting off with the anxious strumming of an electric guitar, “Letter From a Thief” soon expands into a furious, energetic rush of power-trio momentum. Chevelle’s second single off Sci-Fi Crimes is a compelling, angry ode to betrayal and mistrust, and Pete Loeffler’s tense vocals fluctuate from snarled whispers to full-on anguished screams.

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A tribute to someone who follows the beat of her own drum, “Last of the American Girls” is but one of the many rousing songs off Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown. The object of frontman Billie Joe Armstrong’s affection still listens to vinyl and is “a hero for the lost cause,” resulting in a love song that’s so buoyant and lively you’d never accuse him of being sappy.

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Breaking Benjamin frontman Ben Burnley has a gift for crafting loud, pretty tunes about his miserable love life, and “Give Me a Sign (Forever and Ever)” is one of the strongest off the band’s Dear Agony. Unafraid to embrace the melodramatic, Burnley sings about eternal darkness, permanent scars and death on this power ballad, but the song’s expert construction and melodic assurance are so complete that you can’t help but get sucked in.

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Echoing some of the spacey, melodic tendencies of the Killers’ last album, Day & Age, Brandon Flowers gets melancholy and epic on “Only the Young,” one of the strongest tracks from his first solo record, Flamingo. Singing about the desire to recapture the optimism and promise of youth, Flowers sounds reborn himself, stretching out from his band’s New Wave-inspired rock.

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One of the signature sonic trademarks of Alice in Chains was their buzzing, ominous guitar riffs, and Black Gives Way to Blue certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department. “Lesson Learned” in particular is all high-octane intensity, with Jerry Cantrell and William DuVall’s dual lead vocals wrapping together into a vortex of dread and melodic beauty.

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Merging the hypnotic guitar power of their early albums with the down-and-dirty roots-rock of their more recent efforts, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” is a slinky, slithering song with blood on its hands. The world depicted in this bluesy stomper is a pitiless one that’s as bleak and hopeless as the post-apocalyptic scenario sketched out in Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. It’s one hell of a ride.

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The first single off Audio Secrecy packs a punch, as Corey Taylor sings about a relationship that’s built to last. But this Stone Sour hit is no sappy love song: Instead, the hard-rock quintet turn the sentiment into a gripping, urgent battle cry for beating the odds and finding some sort of happy ending in a world with few guarantees.

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The fifth single off The Sound of Madness contains one of Shinedown’s more striking opening lines: “I painted your room at midnight/so I’d know yesterday was over.” From the song’s acoustic opening, “The Crow & the Butterfly” morphs into a string-laden power ballad about the end of a relationship that’s rich with evocative images and melancholy sentiments. All in all, the track is an elegant bummer.

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Released as a single at the end of 2009 but making its impact felt in 2010, Sick Puppies’ “Odd One” is a hopeful song about following your heart and not listening to others. Moving from slow verses to pumped-up choruses, the Australian trio serenade a woman who’s “never concerned with acceptance,” which makes her a target of mocking by others. But frontman Shimon Moore believes that this is what makes her so amazing: “It’s gonna be OK,” he sings, “We’re gonna laugh at this one day.”

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Band of Horses are known for their surging, feel-good rock anthems, and Infinite Arms offers a superb example in “Laredo.” Combining booming, Grand Canyon-sized guitar riffs with frontman Ben Bridwell's wonderfully wistful voice, the song finds the singer heading out of town to reconnect with nature and, more importantly, to figure out what to do with his life. Although “Laredo” is a song about being at the crossroads, Band of Horses make sure there’s nothing uncertain about this powerfully hopeful tune, even if the narrator is pretty convinced his girl won’t be taking him back when he returns.

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The Gaslight Anthem produce perhaps their most rousing song ever on the title track from American Slang. But the tune’s upbeat tone is actually deceiving: Lead singer Brian Fallon is talking about heartbreak and dead dads on “American Slang,” trying like hell to stay optimistic against a sea of troubles. But that struggle just makes the song all the more riveting and inspiring.

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The first track off their comeback album, Stone Temple Pilots, “Between the Lines” is a yummy piece of catchy mainstream rock. Recalling the bubblegum-glam of earlier Stone Temple Pilots singles like “Big Bang Baby,” “Between the Lines” is all about its freewheeling guitars, bouncy rhythm section and Scott Weiland’s snake-charmer vocals. STP haven’t put out a single in years, but with “Between the Lines” it sounds like they haven’t missed a beat.

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On one of the slower, more melodic tracks off Black Gives Way to Blue, Alice in Chains address the destructive choices that ruin lives. Singing in vague terms, Jerry Cantrell speaks directly to a friend who is walking down a path that will only lead to unhappiness. Because original AIC frontman Layne Staley died of a drug overdose after years of addiction, it’s tempting to assume that this gorgeous, Jar of Flies-style ballad is about him, but the song’s sad lament fits any wayward soul who’s reached the point of no return.

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