Top-Down Tuesday: Ten Songs that Get Better the Louder You Play Them

I posted recently that I was starting a couple of weekly features on this page, in large part because it’s a way to force myself to post more frequently. In addition to last week’s institution of “Thursday Three-For-All”, I am also adding “Top-Down Tuesday”. My original thought had been to have a “Top Ten Tuesday”, but I saw a few problems there:

One, I already read one of those (and I’m sure there are a lot more out there).

Two, I refuse to be beholden to a number. I find it endlessly annoying reading a top-ten list that opens with a number 10 that really doesn’t deserve a spot on ANY kind of best-of. What’s wrong with stopping at 9 and keeping your list respectable?

And – finally – three, I struggle to rank lists. After about the top 3-5 (which are usually pretty clear in my mind), it all becomes one big jumble. And, for whatever reason, saying “Top Ten” makes me feel like I MUST rank them from 10 down to 1. It’s rare that I can do that.

So, today I’ve decided to kick off “Top-Down Tuesday” with a list that I’ve always wanted to write:


There’s no real criteria here. I’ll warn you up front that the list is entirely hard rock and metal, but that’s because they’re what I generally listen to. So please don’t take the absence of any particular genre or artist as a slight. This is simply a list of songs that need to be TURNED UP.

People who know more about music than I do can probably identify a pattern here. And there are admittedly similarities between several of these songs that I can’t adequately define. All I can tell you right now is that they all ROCK. So, cue ‘em up and crank ‘em up. Then keep on cranking ‘em up. I guarantee you that 11 just won’t be enough.

“Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade” – Styx (Pieces of Eight, 1978): [This is my one and only cop-out on this list, I promise. I really couldn’t choose between these two songs, but I feel justified in putting them on the list together because they’re from the same album.] Most of my generation really only got to know Styx from Big Daddy and Old School. Such a shame. I was familiar with Styx early on because I went to school with Dennis DeYoung’s son. Unfortunately, both of these songs feature Tommy Shaw’s vocals. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re absolutely bad-ass.

You're damn right, turn up the Styx!

You’re damn right, turn up the Styx!

“Outshined” – Soundgarden (Badmotorfinger, 1991): Probably the closest a song has ever come to sounding like a sledgehammer without sacrificing melody or lyricism. God bless Chris Cornell and Kim Thayil.

“Bullet with Butterfly Wings” – Smashing Pumpkins (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995): Who can scream louder: Billy Corgan or his guitar? Who’s ever listened to this song without getting the hook stuck in their head? And who can actually resist the urge to bang the hell out of said head when it all comes together and that chorus gets rolling?

“Train of Consequences” – Megadeth (Youthanasia, 1994): Yes, I know that Youthanasia is Megadeth’s sell-out album. And I really don’t give a damn. It’s one of my favorite recordings of all time. “Train of Consequences” opens with a guitar riff that assaults the senses like a jackhammer and never relents. It has passages that genuinely evoke the sound of a train careening out of control. And it has Dave Mustaine. What more do I need to say?

'nuff said.

’nuff said.

“Stinkfist” – Tool (Ænima, 1996): In respect to Tool, Honorable Mentions here have to go out to “Sober”, “Forty Six & 2”, and “Schism”. “Stinkfist” has it all, though. It’s violently aggressive, unnervingly catchy, eerily dissonant, and hauntingly beautiful (even in spite of its perceived subject matter). In other words, it’s a quintessential Tool song.

“Panama” – Van Halen (1984, 1984): Ask me if I prefer David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar, I’ll simply say “yes”. Needless to say, I struggled here a little bit. I was between “Panama” and “Best of Both Worlds”, both of which are among my favorite VH songs and both of which earn a serious twist of the volume knob whenever I hear them. I had to give David the edge on this one, though. Sorry, Sammy. I still love you.

Van Halen's reuniting with Gary Cherone?

Van Halen’s reuniting with Gary Cherone?

“Start Me Up” – The Rolling Stones (Tattoo You, 1981): Rolling Stones purists will probably crucify me for choosing a track from the 1980’s, but there’s no getting around how awesome this song is. Sublimely ear-wormy, rockable yet dance-worthy, radio-friendly but more than a little dirty. Do the Stones – does rock and roll for that matter – get better than this?

“Renegades of Funk” – Rage Against the Machine (Renegades, 2000): Are there better Rage songs – better ORIGINAL Rage songs, no less? Of course. But “Renegades of Funk” has bombast, it has thunderous guitar lines, it has absolutely manic percussion, and it has one of Zack de la Rocha’s most frenzied rat-a-tat vocal performances. On top of that, it’s the rarest of things for a Rage song: It’s damn fun to listen to.

“Helpless” – Metallica (The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited, 1987): I could easily have left a blank space with a subscript reading insert any Metallica song here. But I’ve already used my cop out for this list. In the end, this is an obvious choice for me. “Helpless” is a number of precious things. It’s a cover that far exceeds its source material (Diamond Head’s original lacks bite and gets bogged down by a painfully slow refrain). It’s a “garage” track that actually sounds like it was recorded in somebody’s garage…and is better for it. And it’s a song that doesn’t ask to be turned up. It absolutely frakking DEMANDS it. It gains momentum and intensity for almost seven minutes until it sounds like it’s going to erupt from your speakers unless you give it some release. Incredible.

Did he just say "frakking"?

Did he just say “frakking”?

“Fire Woman” – The Cult (Sonic Temple, 1989): I’ll put it as plainly and simply as possible: For me, NOTHING gets turned up louder. I can’t even fully articulate why. What I can say, is this song fucking ROCKS. It’s got bite, it’s got bounce, it’s got catchy hooks and an anthemic chorus, and it’s got Ian Astbury’s snarling yet hypersexualized vocals. It doesn’t get better than this. Play the video below and see for yourself. I defy you not to touch the volume.

I thought long and hard about including a list of “Honorable Mentions” here, but then realized I probably have enough to revisit this topic with a second list in the future. I can promise that if that list ever materializes, it will be far more diverse both in terms of genre and time period. I have an absolute hatred for any “Best Of” lists that seem to stop dead at the end of any given era or that totally ignore a given genre (ask my wife about my reaction to the movie section of EW’s recent “100 All-Time Greatest” issue), and you could easily accuse me of falling into that trap here. Just know that my only goal was to share my thoughts on some songs that I absolutely love and love to play as loudly as possible. Regardless, if you think I’ve missed the boat on anything, let me know.



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