Show Mobile Navigation
Music |

Top 10 Performances In Rock Music History

by Estelle
fact checked by Jamie Frater

It is widely accepted that “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston And His Delta Cats was the first ever rock ‘n’ roll song. However, many rock fans are not on board with this, as they feel that “That’s All Right, Mama” by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup should receive the honor of being the first-ever rock ‘n’ roll tune. Other candidates include “Good Rockin’ Tonight” by Wynonie Harris and “Saturday Night Fish Fry” by Louis Jordan & The Tympay Five.

Rock ‘n’ roll has come a long way since those early songs and there have been many memorable rock moments over the years. On this list are just a handful of people who contributed greatly to rock music and will continue to be remembered in generations to come.

Top 20 Best Rock Bands Of All Time

10 “Ooh! My Head” – Ritchie Valens

Ritchie Valens – Ooh My Head (1959) – Feat. Chuck Berry and Alan Freed – HD

Richard Steven Valenzuela became the first Hispanic rock star while he was still in high school. He was signed in 1958 by Del-Fi Records which was a small record label owned by Bob Keane. Richard soon changed his name to Ritchie Valens to be different from the ‘bunch of Richards around at that time.’ Valens recorded many hit songs, the most notably of which were “Donna” and “La Bamba” and his career became so demanding that he dropped out of high school.

Valens appeared in the 1959 film “Go, Johnny Go” in which he performed “Ooh! My Head.” The movie also featured Chuck Berry, Jimmy Clanton, and Alan Freed and was Valens’ sole movie appearance. Shortly after filming Valens died in a plane crash along with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. He was only 17 years old.

9 “Sweet Little Sixteen” – Chuck Berry

While Ritchie Valens was considered a pioneer of the Chicano rock movement, Chuck Berry was nicknamed the “Father of Rock and Roll” after developing rhythm and blues into the distinctive sound of rock music. Even though Berry had several run-ins with the law and served time in prison, he overcame his troubled past to become one of the greatest rock artists of all time and was one of the first musicians inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, along with Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Ray Charles, James Brown and more.

Berry appeared in the film, Jazz on a Summer’s Day, which was released in 1959. In it, he performed the song “Sweet Little Sixteen.” This excellent performance inspired Keith Richards to pursue a career as a rock star, after seeing the film as a teenager.[1]

8 “Runaway” – Del Shannon

Del Shannon 1961 – Runaway

“Runaway” was one of the most popular songs recorded by Charles Weedon Westover, better known as Del Shannon, in 1961. Shannon was popular in the UK and became the first American singer to record a cover version of a Beatles song, “From Me to You, which charted in America before the Beatles version did.

Shannon eventually re-recorded “Runaway” for the NBC show Crime Story and enjoyed renewed popularity. Unfortunately, Shannon suffered from alcoholism and depression and he took his own life on 8 February 1990. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

7 “Barracuda” – Heart

Heart – Barracuda Live at Cal Jam 2

Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart performed an electric version of their song “Barracuda” at Cal Jam 2 in 1978. Ann later revealed that the song was written out of the anger that she and Nancy felt towards Mushroom Records after the recording label released a fake story about an incestuous relationship between the two sisters.

The song was named “34th Best Hard Rock Song of All Time” by VH1 in 2009 and features on a multitude of compilation albums.

6 “Carry On Wayward Son” – Kansas

Kansas – Carry On Wayward Son (Live from Canada Jam)

“Carry On Wayward Son” is instantly recognizable not only because of Supernatural and South Park, but because of the excellent intro especially when played live. Rock band, Kansas, recorded the song in 1977 and it was certified gold in 1990. Today, the song is certified quadruple platinum.

After releasing three successful albums by 1976, Kansas had yet to come up with a song that would get radio airplay. And they desperately needed one after all the big bands at the time became wary of Kansas opening for them as the band was a tough act to follow. After writing seven songs, chief songwriter Kerry Livgren brought in a last-minute idea. As soon as the rest of the band heard “Carry On Wayward Son” they knew they had something special. It soon became the hit they needed.

10 Groupies That Majorly Impacted The History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll

5 “I’ll Stand By You” – The Pretenders

Pretenders – I’ll Stand By You – Glastonbury 1994

In 1978 Chrissie Hynde founded the rock band, The Pretenders. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 after producing a number of hits including “Brass in Pocket”, “Back on the Chain Gang”, “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and the hugely popular “I’ll Stand By You.” This song was covered by many artists over the years and Noel Gallagher famously said, “he wished he’d written it.” “I’ll Stand By You” was written by Chrissie Hynde and released in 1994. The band performed the song live at Glastonbury that same year.

4 “Paranoid Android” – Radiohead

Radiohead also played at the Glastonbury Festival in 1997 and their performance was credited with helping to rescue the then flailing event. It had been raining heavily for weeks leading up to the festival leaving the grounds where it was to take place soggy and muddy. One of the stages began to sink into a pool of mud, and Neil Young as well as Steve Winwood dropped out of the festival. Things were truly looking bleak. Then Thom Yorke and company took to the stage and what followed was one of the most memorable rock performances of the 90s.[2]

3 “Zombie” – The Cranberries

The Cranberries – Zombie 1999 Live Video

It is hard to imagine the 90s without hearing Dolores O’Riordan over the radio or picturing her smashing it at a live concert with The Cranberries. By 2019 the band had sold nearly 50 million albums worldwide. Tragically, O’Riordan was found dead in a London hotel room the year before and the remaining members confirmed that their final album that was to be released in April 2019 would be their last as they didn’t want to continue without her.

One of The Cranberries most iconic songs was released in 1993 and even though multiple great covers have been done of “Zombie”, nothing compares to O’Riordan singing it live with her incredible voice.

2 “Lightning Crashes” – Live

Live – Lightning Crashes (Pinkpop 1997)

Live released “Lightning Crashes” in September 1994 and even though it wasn’t released as a single in the US, it was played on the radio so often that it peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1995. The song was dedicated to a long-time friend of the band, 19-year-old Barbara Lewis, who died after being hit by a drunk driver in 1993.

Record executives told the band that the song would never become a single because it was too long. However, it became one of Live’s biggest hits after its debut at Woodstock ’94 and constant airplay on MTV. The band performed it live many times, including at Pinkpop, Holland in 1997, which has been hailed as one of their best live performances.

1 “Last Kiss” – Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam Last Kiss – Live Francisco 2006 – HD

Wayne Cochran released “Last Kiss” in 1961 but it wasn’t a success on the charts at the time. The song was recorded by other artists including J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, and Wednesday, and became enormously popular once recorded by rock band, Pearl Jam. “Last Kiss” also became the band’s highest charting single in both Canada and the US. The cover was released as a single in 1999 and the proceeds went to assist the refugees of the Kosovo War. The song earned around $10 million in relief aid.

Eddie Vedder performed the song live in San Francisco in 2006, while standing in the crowd who were singing along at the top of their lungs.

+ The Sound of Silence – Disturbed

Disturbed – The Sound of Silence feat. Myles Kennedy [Live in Houston]

Paul Simon wrote “The Sounds of Silence” while living with his parents in 1963. He would sit and play his guitar in the bathroom with the faucet turned on and came up with the words to what would turn out to be a massive hit song for Simon & Garfunkel, eventually. The song attracted airplay in 1965 and producer, Tom Wilson, remixed the track. The remix was released in September 1965 and hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1966. Renamed “The Sound of Silence” the song was named the 18th most-performed song of the 20th century in 1999.

Simon & Garfunkel were a folk-rock duo and “The Sound of Silence” has been covered by artists in many genres of music. The most recognizable cover however came from heavy metal band, Disturbed. Paul Simon sent the frontman of Disturbed, David Draiman, an email in 2016 praising his performance to which Draiman responded “… your compliment means the world to me/us and we are eternally grateful.”

Disturbed performed the song live in Houston in 2016 alongside Myles Kennedy, frontman of rock band Alter Bridge which made for an extremely memorable music moment.

10 Rocking Facts About Bands From The Golden Age Of Music

fact checked by Jamie Frater

Estelle is a regular writer for Listverse.

Read More: Mary and Me