Since the mid-1950s, rock music has been a driving force in popular culture and has given rise to many iconic bands. Some of the most famous rock bands—the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and the Police, among countless others—have left a lasting impact on music, influencing subsequent generations and spawning numerous sub-genres within rock.
And the genre has had a profound influence on popular culture as well. In fact, some lyrics have become so memorable that they have become synonymous with the band that wrote them. Still, it can be challenging to identify even some of the most well-known rock artists from a single verse. To test just how deeply your knowledge of rock 'n' roll history goes, Stacker compiled a list of iconic rock lyrics by bands from the 1960s to the present day to see if you can guess the rockers behind the track by just one line. Only bands with multiple members are included here—so no solo acts. Songs were ordered randomly prior to publication.
Ready to rock 'n' roll? Keep scrolling to see how many iconic lyrics you know by heart.
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This one-named band was formed with its lead singer—who goes by the same name—and a guitarist, who went on to become one of the most popular and influential new wave bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
- Year: 1978
- Album: "Parallel Lines"
Blondie's hit song "Heart of Glass" was originally written as a slower, more melancholic track. The band tried different versions and arrangements of the song, but they weren't happy with any of them. The band attributes producer Mike Chapman for helping them shape the song into the catchy, upbeat hit that we know today.
This one-named band has the top-selling digital track from the 20th century, with over 7 million digital copies sold in the U.S. alone.
- Year: 1978
- Album: "Infinity"
"Wheel in the Sky" became one of Journey's most unforgettable tracks and has been covered by numerous artists over the years. The song originated as a poem called "Wheels in My Mind," written by Journey bassist Ross Valory's wife, Diane. The song was then expounded upon with new lyrics by Robert Fleischman and a melody written by Neal Schon, according to various interviews.
According to the liner notes of Journey's "Time3" compilation and two separate interviews with guitarist Neal Schon and Steve Perry, the song started as a poem called "Wheels in My Mind" by Diane Valory, the wife of Journey bassist Ross Valory. Robert Fleischman, the band's first vocalist, wrote new lyrics, and Schon wrote the melody.
This band's famous lead singer goes by just one name and is known for his humanitarian work.
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- Year: 1983
- Album: "War"
U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was inspired by the events of Jan. 30, 1972, when British soldiers opened fire on unarmed civil rights protesters in Derry, Northern Ireland, killing 13 people and injuring many others. The song is a powerful anti-war anthem expressing the band's anger and frustration at the violence and injustice that occurred on that day. Despite its heavy subject matter, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" became one of U2's most popular and enduring songs and is still performed at their concerts today.
This four-man band from the United Kingdom was one of the most popular in the world in the 1960s.
- Year: 1968
- Album: B-side to "Hey Jude"
There are actually three different versions of the Beatles' "Revolution." The first version—a slow, bluesy take on the song—was recorded in May 1968 and released on the Beatles' self-titled album, commonly known as the "White Album." The second version—a faster, more rock version of the song—was recorded in July 1968 and released as the B-side to "Hey Jude." The two versions of the song have slightly different lyrics and arrangements and are considered distinct recordings.
This band's lead singer is known for her lilting Irish accent and for being a favorite of one of the main characters in the 1995 hit film "Clueless."
- Year: 1993
- Album: "Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?"
The Cranberries' song "Dreams" was the band's first major hit and helped launch their career. The song was written by lead singer Dolores O'Riordan when she was just 19 and was inspired by the joy and hope she felt when she first fell in love. "Dreams" remains one of the Cranberries' most popular records in their catalog.
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This contemporary one-named band is known for its lead singer's powerful vocals, combined with its punk attitude and sound.
- Year: 2007
- Album: "Riot!"
Paramore's "Misery Business" was released in 2007. In more recent years, lead singer Hayley Williams has expressed discomfort with some of the lyrics in "Misery Business," particularly one about women. Williams has since said she no longer sings that line during live performances, inviting fans to sing it back to her instead.
This is one of the most influential bands of the alternative rock and punk rock movements of the 1980s and early 1990s.
- Year: 1989
- Album: "Don't Tell a Soul"
The Replacements' "I'll Be You" music video features a cameo from Tom Petty, a friend of the band and their music. Petty was instrumental in helping the Replacements advance early in their career and can be seen in the video holding a guitar while standing in front of a wall covered in graffiti as the band performs the song around him.
This band's drummer is now famous for being married to one of the stars of a major reality television family.
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- Year: 1999
- Album: "Enema of the State"
Blink-182's "All the Small Things" was a single from the album "Enema of the State," and it is often cited as a defining song of the pop-punk genre. The song's famous riff was inspired by a specific band Mark Hoppus, Blink-182's bassist and vocalist, was listening to at the time: the legendary punk rock band the Ramones.
This iconic American rock band was formed in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s and rose to fame over the next two decades with a series of rock hits—and a ballad or two.
- Year: 1987
- Album: "Appetite for Destruction"
Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O'Mine" is widely regarded as one of the greatest rock songs of all time and was a massive commercial success, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The iconic guitar riff that opens the track was created while Slash at home testing different notes. According to Slash, he was messing around with different riffs until he found the right notes and melody.
This American rock band formed in Las Vegas in 2009 and went on to claim numerous awards, including a Grammy for Best Rock Performance.
- Year: 2012
- Album: "Night Visions"
Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" is one the band's biggest hits, serving as the lead single from their debut studio album, "Night Visions." The song achieved meteoric success, reaching the top of the charts in multiple countries and earning a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance. It has been featured in trailers for "The Host," "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," and "Kingsman: The Secret Service," as well as in TV shows like "Arrow" and "The Originals."
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This 1997 song is known for its iconic string arrangement, sampled from a recording by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra, and its emotional lyrics and vocals.
- Year: 1997
- Album: "Urban Hymns"
The iconic string arrangement that forms the basis of the Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" was actually sampled from an orchestral version of the Rolling Stones' song "The Last Time." The Verve had secured permission from Decca, the record label that released the orchestral version, to use a few notes of the original recording. But they ended up using a much larger portion of the string melody, leading to a legal dispute over songwriting credits.
This American alternative rock band was formed in Los Angeles in 2009 and is known for its energetic, high-octane sound and use of electronic and hip-hop influences.
- Year: 2011
- Album: "Megalithic Symphony"
AWOLNATION's "Sail" almost didn't make it onto the band's debut album because lead vocalist Aaron Bruno had low expectations for the song's commercial potential. But the hit became viral, peaking at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earning multiple platinum certifications. It has been featured in movies like "Disconnect," "Two Night Stand," and "The Loft," as well as in TV shows like "Suits," "Criminal Minds," and "The Vampire Diaries."
This British rock band was formed in London in the 1960s and is known for its powerful, high-energy sound and explosive live performances.
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- Year: 1969
- Album: "Tommy"
The Who's "Pinball Wizard" came as a result of a poor reaction to the band's album "Tommy" from friend and music critic Nik Cohn. Knowing that Cohn was an avid pinball fan, and in hopes of a better review, Pete Townshend decided to make his "Tommy" character a "pinball wizard."
This act was one of the most successful female rock bands of the 1980s and helped pave the way for other women in rock music.
- Year: 1981
- Album: "Beauty and the Beat"
"We Got the Beat" was a smash hit for the Go-Go's, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helping to propel the album on which it appeared, "Beauty and the Beat," to the top of the charts. The song's catchy, danceable sound and upbeat lyrics made it an instant classic. It has since been covered by everyone from the Chipettes to the cast of "Glee."
This band was formed in Seattle in the early 1970s and is known for its powerful vocals, intricate harmonies, and hard-rocking sound, which still inspires rock musicians today.
- Year: 1977
- Album: "Little Queen"
Heart's "Barracuda" was inspired by Ann Wilson and her sister Nancy's frustration regarding the lack of equality between men and women within and outside the music industry. Ann channeled her anger into writing "Barracuda," which features biting lyrics and a hard-hitting, guitar-driven sound.
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This American punk rock band was formed in New York City in the mid-1970s and is considered one of the pioneers of the punk rock movement.
- Year: 1976
- Album: "Ramones"
The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" was the opening track on the band's debut album, "Ramones." The song's catchy chorus and simple, repetitive lyrics ("Hey! Ho! Let's go!") became an instant punk rock anthem, which helped to establish the Ramones as one of the most exciting and influential bands of the 1970s. The song has since been covered by artists including Green Day, Rob Zombie, and the Offspring.
This folk rock duo from New York City rose to fame in the 1960s and is known for their intricate harmonies, poetic lyrics, and timeless melodies.
- Year: 1968
- Album: "Bookends"
Simon & Garfunkel's "America" was inspired by a road trip Paul Simon took with his then-girlfriend in 1964. The song's lyrics describe the couple's trip from Pittsburgh to Saginaw, Michigan, and capture the sense of adventure, longing, and uncertainty they felt traveling across the country.
This all-women rock band from Los Angeles was big in the 1970s and is known for its rebellious attitude and provocative stage presence that challenged traditional gender roles.
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- Year: 1976
- Album: "The Runaways"
"Cherry Bomb" helped to establish the Runaways as one of the most exciting and innovative bands of the 1970s, paving the way for future women rockers to follow. The song's lyrics, which celebrate the power and confidence of young women, became an anthem for generations of women rockers and helped break down barriers in the male-dominated world of rock 'n' roll.
This British rock band was formed in 1968 and is known for its powerful and innovative sound that blended elements of blues, folk, and heavy metal.
- Year: 1970
- Album: "Led Zeppelin III"
Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" was inspired by the band's experiences touring in Iceland, and its lyrics are filled with references to Norse mythology and Viking lore. The song's driving rhythm, thunderous guitar riffs, and Robert Plant's soaring vocals helped establish the record as one of the band's most iconic and beloved tracks.
This band was a famous punk act in the early 1990s before its lead singer's life was tragically cut short.
- Year: 1991
- Album: "Nevermind"
In a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone, lead singer Kurt Cobain told the outlet he was trying to write the ultimate pop song when he penned "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Cobain added that he was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. The song was released in 1991 as the lead single from Nirvana's second album, "Nevermind," and quickly became a massive hit that catapulted the band to mainstream success.
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Another one of this band's hit songs was also turned into a successful Broadway musical.
- Year: 2004
- Album: "American Idiot"
"Boulevard of Broken Dreams" was released in 2004 as the second single from Green Day's album "American Idiot," which would win several awards, including a Grammy for Record of the Year. The song's music video, which features Billie Joe Armstrong walking alone down a deserted city street, also became an instant classic and has been widely parodied and imitated in the years since its release.
This influential rock band in the 1960s and '70s was known for its avant-garde style and provocative lyrics that challenged societal norms and conventions.
- Year: 1967
- Album: "The Velvet Underground & Nico"
"I'm Waiting for the Man" is one of the Velvet Underground's most popular songs and tells the story of a person addicted to drugs waiting on a street corner to buy heroin from his dealer. The song was based on Lou Reed's real-life experiences buying drugs in New York City.
This iconic British rock band, formed in the late 1970s, was known for blending elements of punk, reggae, and pop to create a unique and distinctive sound.
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- Year: 1983
- Album: "Synchronicity"
"Every Breath You Take" is one of the Police's most well-known songs, which was released in 1983 as a single from their album "Synchronicity." The song was written by frontman Sting and is a haunting ballad that explores the darker side of love and obsession. Sting himself has described the song as "very sinister and ugly" and has expressed surprise that it has been played at so many weddings.
Despite criticism by some that their music is formulaic, this band has become one of the bestselling rock bands of all time, with over 50 million records sold worldwide.
- Year: 2005
- Album: "All the Right Reasons"
"Photograph" is one of Nickelback's fan-favorite tracks and was written by lead vocalist Chad Kroeger as a nostalgic look back at his teenage years. The photograph featured in the music video is a real photograph of Kroeger as a child.
This New Jersey-based band rose to fame in the mid-2000s with its unique blend of emo, punk, and pop influences.
- Year: 2006
- Album: "The Black Parade"
"Welcome to the Black Parade" was the lead single from My Chemical Romance's third studio album. The song was written by the band's lead vocalist, Gerard Way, and was inspired by the triumph of the human spirit over darkness. The song's grand, sweeping sound and lyrics about mortality have made it an enduring classic of the emo rock genre.