2009's Best Rock Songs

What were the best rock songs of 2009? Well, there was a little bit of everything: rockers, ballads, tracks from ambitious upstarts, tunes from established titans, well-known radio smashes, and obscure album cuts that are just begging to be discovered. Here are 2009's top songs.

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Loaded - “Sick”

Photo courtesy Century Media.

When old-school Guns N’ Roses fans imagine what Chinese Democracy might have sounded like if the original lineup had remained intact, the betting is that it would have come close to “Sick,” the title cut off former GNR bassist Duff McKagan’s most recent album. The song’s 172 seconds are all bad attitude and guitars, guitars, and more guitars – there’s nary a keyboard or bombastic string section to be found.

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Seether - “Careless Whisper”

seether careless whisper
Photo courtesy Wind-Up.

George Michael hasn’t received the best treatment from rock bands covering his material – let us all pause to remember Limp Bizkit’s snarky, tone-deaf cover of “Faith.” But Seether give his old group Wham’s “Careless Whisper” a vigorous, sincere redo. The original was an elegant pop ballad, but Seether turn it into a grunge heartbreaker. An unlikely hit, the song helped to renew interest in the band’s 2007 album, Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces, where it appears as a bonus track on the record’s recent re-release.

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Disturbed - “The Night”

disturbed the night
Photo courtesy Reprise.

Disturbed walk the line perfectly between metal and rock, appealing to headbangers while sneaking in melodic choruses that make their songs catnip for radio programmers. “The Night” is a good example of this – booming drums, sawed-off guitar riffs and a slick, shiny chorus all work in unison. Frontman David Draiman turns this cut into an invitation to embrace the darkness within yourself, and considering how well “The Night” is doing on the charts, a lot of people are interested in accepting his request.

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Hoobastank - “So Close, So Far”

hoobastank so close so far
Photo courtesy Island.

Hoobastank’s For(n)ever focuses on the sadder aspects of love – frontman Doug Robb seems to be dealing with one bad girlfriend after another on the album. “So Close, So Far” is the big ballad in the vein of their huge 2004 hit, “The Reason,” although thankfully it’s not a note-for-note rewrite. You can roll your eyes, but Hoobastank have a gift for big, emphatic relationship songs that rock fans and soccer moms can both claim as their own.

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Shinedown - “Sound of Madness”

shinedown sound of madness
Photo courtesy Atlantic.

The title track from Shinedown’s superb 2008 album The Sound of Madness is a stomping, sarcastic tirade about a friend who’s constantly being melodramatic. Frontman Brent Smith advises his pal to stop thinking the world is against him and instead adopt a sense of humor. But the punchline comes in the chorus when he admits that he’s an even bigger drama queen than his buddy – if Smith can keep it together, so can his pal.

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Linkin Park - “New Divide”

linkin park new divide
Photo courtesy Reprise.

One of this summer’s unofficial theme songs, this Linkin Park track got a lot of mileage thanks to its inclusion on the soundtrack. At first, “New Divide” seemed rather ordinary, but over time it emerged as a strong entry in the Linkin Park canon. Maybe we just needed to erase the memories of that terrible movie to finally appreciate this song on its own terms.

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U2 - “Magnificent”

us magnificent
Photo courtesy Interscope.

The first single off No Line on the Horizon, “Get on Your Boots,” divided audiences, but the next single proved to be an across-the-board success. “Magnificent” combines the clanging guitar energy of Achtung Baby with the openhearted romantic fervor of U2’s ‘80s work – and yet it sounds remarkably contemporary. As always, the song’s secret weapon is Edge’s fluid, magnificent guitar playing.

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Chris Cornell - “Long Gone”

chris cornell long gone
Photo courtesy Interscope.

Hate it or love it, Chris Cornell’s Scream elicits passionate reactions, although strong album sales haven’t followed in the wake of all that difference of opinion. Still, I think “Long Gone” remains one of the album’s surest shots, a deft blend of Cornell’s booming voice and producer Timbaland’s silky pop rhythms. Of course, even in this case you may disagree – perhaps you favor the newly remixed version of the song from veteran rock producer Howard Benson.

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Incubus - “Black Heart Inertia”

incubus black heart inertia
Photo courtesy Epic.

Included as part of a new Incubus greatest-hits collection, Monuments and Melodies, “Black Heart Inertia” is much better than your typical best-of throwaway track. To the contrary, “Black Heart Inertia” is an engaging, pop-leaning mid-tempo number that’s a bit of a departure from their normal sound. It’s a love song that’s refreshingly romantic: “You’re a mountain/That I’d like to climb/Not to conquer/But to share in the view.”

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Foo Fighters - “Wheels”

Photo courtesy RCA.

A new track tacked onto Foo FightersGreatest Hits album, “Wheels” proved that it deserved to be included on the best-of collection by becoming a hit in its own right. As frontman Dave Grohl enters his 40s, there’s no question that he’s becoming a mellower and more reflective songwriter, and “Wheels” is a solid piece of melodic craftsmanship tied to lyrics about second chances and the need to remain optimistic even during dark times.

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The Answer - “Comfort Zone”

the answer comfort zone
Photo courtesy The End.

We haven’t had an epic get-out-your-lighter stadium anthem on the radio this year, but that’s because enough people haven’t heard “Comfort Zone” from the Answer’s Everyday Demons. Hushed guitars in the verses give way to a soaring chorus sung by frontman Cormac Neeson, who just wants a moment with his special someone. Like everything else the Answer do, “Comfort Zone” fondly recalls the broad-chested power of ‘70s arena-rock. This song is a buried gem.

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Eels - “Fresh Blood”

eels hombre lobo
Photo courtesy Vagrant.

“It felt good,” E of the indie-rock group Eels said in an interview about the making of “Fresh Blood.” “It had the feeling you want to have when you’re making a new song, like ‘Oh, here’s something new.’” He wasn’t kidding: This Hombre Lobo track throbs with desire and is highlighted by a menacing beat and some bloodcurdling howls.

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Green Day - “Know Your Enemy”

green day 21st century breakdown know your enemy
Photo courtesy Reprise.

“Know Your Enemy” is cut from the same cloth as many of the tracks off Green Day’s last album, American Idiot, which makes it the perfect bridge between that record and the group’s more recent 21st Century Breakdown. Pounding drums, a devastating opening guitar riff, and Billie Joe Armstrong’s impassioned vocals – it may be a formula, but as executed by Green Day, it’s a shockingly effective formula. “Know Your Enemy” is politically-minded hard rock that sounds really good at any volume. However, louder works better.

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Marilyn Manson - “We’re From America”

marilyn manson were from america
Photo courtesy Interscope.

Marilyn Manson is at his best when he’s shrewdly skewering hypocrisy, which brings us to his fairly brilliant “We’re From America” off The High End of Low. Speaking in the voice of an ignorant American, Manson explains that the U.S. can do whatever it wants because, let’s face it, we’re awesome. “We’re From America” is high-octane alt-metal, but its satiric lyrics cut even deeper that the music does.

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Alice in Chains - “Check My Brain”

alice in chains check my brain
Photo courtesy Virgin/EMI.

Alice in Chains picked up where they left off 15 years ago with this riveting single. “Check My Brain” is a druggy look at life in Los Angeles, and the song’s wall of grunge guitars creates a sense of despair and decadence that’s as thick as the city’s smog. Former frontman Layne Staley may be dead, but Alice in Chains returned in style in 2009. We didn’t realize just how much we’d missed them.

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Kings of Leon - “Use Somebody”

kings of leon use somebody
Photo courtesy RCA.

Kings of Leon’s Only by the Night dropped in 2008, but “Use Somebody” has made its impact felt this year. A nearly flawless example of mainstream rock writing that nonetheless sounds deeply personal and musically exciting, “Use Somebody” talks about lovers separated by distance, superbly articulating the drag of being a band toiling on the road away from those you care about: “Off in the night/While you live it up I’m off to sleep/Waging wars to shake the poet and the beat.” You can hear the longing in every guitar strum.