If the first six months of 2024 have proven anything, it's that rock 'n' roll isn't just alive and well — it's taken on plenty of different forms.

The first half of the year has seen triumphant releases from stalwart headbangers like Judas Priest, Bruce Dickinson and Sebastian Bach, along with confident new albums from '90s rock giants such as Pearl Jam, Green Day and the Black Crowes. Billy Joel returned to popular music after three decades away, and glam rock icon Ian Hunter showed he's still got gas left in the tank. Meanwhile, Slash paid long-overdue tribute to the blues with a star-studded covers album, and Robert Plant put a captivating spin on a classic from his former band.

See all of these and more in our list of the 20 Best Rock Songs of 2024 (So Far).

20. Slash feat. Brian Johnson and Steven Tyler, "Killing Floor"

From: Orgy of the Damned

Twenty-five years after retiring Slash's Blues Ball, the guitarist finally committed his love of the genre to record with his all-star covers album Orgy of the Damned. He's squarely in his comfort zone on this cover of Howlin' Wolf's electric blues staple, ripping fast-and-loose solos and locking into an effortless groove with his bandmates. Brian Johnson delights with a soulful vocal showcasing his husky low register, and a guest harmonica performance from Steven Tyler adds extra grit and gravitas.

 

19. Mike Campbell & the Dirty Knobs feat. Graham Nash, "Dare to Dream"

From: Vagabonds, Virgins & Misfits

After decades of serving as Tom Petty's right-hand man, former Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell has spent his past three solo albums finding his own voice as a singer and bandleader. He sounds confident in his new role on "Dare to Dream," a languid, quasi-psychedelic rocker full of droning guitar licks and Campbell's nasally sneer, which sounds more than a little bit like his late partner's. A guest vocal from Graham Nash further solidifies the song's '60s pop-rock bonafides.

 

18. Melvins, "Working the Ditch"

From: Tarantula Heart

"Working the Ditch," the lead single off Melvins' 27th studio album Tarantula Heart, finds the group working in a mode that's familiar if not exactly accessible. The band's sludge-metal cacophony reaches new long-form, experimental heights across the LP, and "Ditch" is anchored by grinding, hypnotic riffs and Buzz Osborne's gruff, repetitive chants. The dual-drum assault of Dale Crover and Roy Mayorga simultaneously adds density and looseness to their gurgling sonic stew.

 

17. Ian Hunter feat. Joe Elliott, Brian May and Taylor Hawkins, "Precious"

From: Defiance Part 2: Fiction

Ian Hunter has been a glam-rock kingpin for more than half a century, and on "Precious," the octogenarian proves he's still more than capable of commanding a rock 'n' roll band — and corralling top-shelf cameos in the form of acolytes Joe Elliott, Brian May and Taylor Hawkins. Crunchy guitar riffs encase fizzy pop hooks as Hunter gleefully confesses, "If you're looking for genius, there ain't nothin' there." Hawkins' cool, unhurried performance offers yet another testament to the late drummer's talent and ability to play well with others.

 

16. Bruce Dickinson, "Rain on the Graves"

From: The Mandrake Project

Far be it from Bruce Dickinson to take the path of least resistance. The Iron Maiden frontman's first solo album in 19 years, The Mandrake Project, is another high-concept epic about abuse, identity, power struggles and the occult. Pre-release single "Rain on the Graves" combines Dickinson's operatic vocals and tongue-in-cheek theatrics with muscular riffs and propulsive grooves. After all this time, he still sounds out for blood.

 

15. Sheryl Crow feat. Tom Morello, "Evolution"

From: Evolution

Sheryl Crow is still capable of the same effortless cool that shot her to stardom in the '90s, but she tackles headier subject matter on "Evolution," a moody rocker about the dangers of artificial intelligence left unchecked. As a 30-year music industry veteran, Crow's confusion and dismay over hearing "a song that sounded like something I wrote" on the radio ring especially poignant. A futuristic solo from Tom Morello drives home the point that some eccentricities can't be manufactured.

 

14. Billy Joel, "Turn the Lights Back On"

Non-album single

Billy Joel abandoned pop music after 1993's River of Dreams, convinced he had nothing left to say. Thirty-one years later, he returned with "Turn the Lights Back On," a reflective piano ballad in which he openly wonders if he's missed his window of opportunity. The song captures Joel in classic '70s balladeering mode, his voice weathered but still robust. The rapturous reception to the song's live debut at the 2024 Grammys squashed any doubts whether the public would still embrace him.

 

13. Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Morrison and Steve Stevens, "Crack Cocaine"

From: The Morrison Project

Sure, you can take Billy Morrison at his word and read the lyrics to "Crack Cocaine" as a metaphor for a toxic love affair — but only if you can divorce the track from Ozzy Osbourne's legendarily debauched history. However you interpret it, the song is a classic Ozzman stomper, full of��chugging, Zakk Wylde-approved riffs and a furious solo from Morrison's Billy Idol bandmate Steve Stevens. Osbourne sounds fierce and lucid as he bellows about a pastime that often made him behave in a less-than-dignified manner.

 

12. David Gilmour, "The Piper's Call"

From: Luck and Strange

"The Piper's Call" is a cautionary tale about the perils of fame from somebody who's spent more than half a century keeping the hounds at bay. The contemplative track begins with delicate acoustic guitar strums and a hushed vocal from David Gilmour, who warns that you "can't undo the voodoo that you do" and implores listeners to "steer clear of snakes." The song builds gradually and climaxes with a smoldering guitar solo — the proverbial North Star that's always righted Gilmour when the industry threatened to lead him astray.

 

11. Mark Knopfler, "Ahead of the Game"

From: One Deep River

Mark Knopfler conquered the globe decades ago with Dire Straits, but on "Ahead of the Game," he makes playing in the noisy back room of the neighborhood pub sound like the most glorious endeavor in the world. The singer and guitarist delivers his tried-and-true strand of laidback pop-rock, slick but far from sterile, as he sprinkles in blues and country licks with effortless panache. "We're worn out and weary, all of us / But we know why we came," Knopfler croons, sounding like a man who knows some cosmic secret the rest of us are still trying to figure out.

 

10. Ace Frehley, "Walkin' on the Moon"

From: 10,000 Volts

On 10,000 Volts, Ace Frehley sticks largely to what he knows best: catchy, three-chord hard rock with a chewy pop center. "Walkin' on the Moon" exemplifies this formula with its swaggering cowbell groove, gigantic power chords and a confident vocal performance from the Spaceman. Is this part of Frehley's personal UFO testimony, or just a love letter to old-fashioned rock 'n' roll? Either way, it soars.

 

9. Kings of Leon, "Mustang"

From: Can We Please Have Fun

"If you're free tomorrow, don't make any plans / We can go to Sylvan Park and kick over trash cans," Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill croons at the beginning of "Mustang," the lead single off Can We Please Have Fun. The rest of the band matches his impish excitement with stabbing guitar riffs and a propulsive beat. By the time Followill cuts loose and unleashes his whiskey-and-honey growl on the chorus, Kings of Leon sound very much like they're having fun.

 

8. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, "When the Levee Breaks"

Non-album single

Few classic rock titans have figured out how to reinvent their old songs as effectively as Robert Plant. Together with Alison Krauss, the former Led Zeppelin frontman offers another take on the Memphis Minnie blues tune, reimagining it as an exotic, elemental dirge. Plant's husky vocals lend an air of desperation to the performance, while Krauss' evocative violin work nods briefly to Zeppelin's "Friends" before propelling the song to a climactic rootsy stomp.

 

7. Sebastian Bach, "Everybody Bleeds"

From: Child Within the Man

The titles of "Everybody Bleeds" and accompanying album Child Within the Man suggest that Sebastian Bach has gained some hard-earned wisdom and a fresh perspective. But don't think for a second that the former Skid Row frontman has softened with age. "Everybody Bleeds" is a bludgeoning metal anthem, packed with catchy riffs, titanic drums and Bach's full-throttle screams. If everybody bleeds, burns and drowns in the end, Bach sounds determined to go down swinging.

 

6. Green Day, "1981"

From: Saviors

Ever since 2004's American Idiot revitalized their career, Green Day has fought (and often succumbed to) the temptation to turn every project into a massively ambitious undertaking. Even Saviors was touted as their long-awaited reunion with longtime producer Rob Cavallo, and the third installment in a spiritual trilogy also comprising Dookie and American Idiot. Thankfully, Green Day tamps down these outsize urges on the brash "1981," a back-to-basics punk anthem full of blunt-force power chords and singalong choruses. It's Green Day just like you remember them — one version, at least.

 

5. The Black Keys, "Beautiful People (Stay High)"

From: Ohio Players

The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney long ago dropped the pretense of operating as a duo, and "Beautiful People (Stay High)" sounds like a big-budget alt-rock anthem befitting its seven credited co-writers, most notably Beck. That's not necessarily a bad thing: The "na na na" backing vocals and auxiliary brass and keyboard contributions elevate the song's funky blues-rock strut. It may not be a literal arena-sized banger, but it's the work of a band that proudly busted out of the garage a long time ago.

 

4. Pearl Jam, "Dark Matter"

From: Dark Matter

The title track to Pearl Jam's 12th album goes straight for the jugular with martial percussion, fist-pumping riffs and savage call-and-response vocals from Eddie Vedder. It's a sweaty, breathless performance that harks back to the band's mid-'90s heyday. Producer Andrew Watt gives the song a modern, gut-punching sheen, and Mike McCready's scorching guitar solo proves the alt-rock giants have lost none of their bite.

 

3. Judas Priest, "The Serpent and the King"

From: Invincible Shield

If you want progressive grandeur or epic balladry, there are plenty of songs in Judas Priest's catalog to satiate your appetite. "The Serpent and the King" is not one of them. The Metal Gods serve four-and-a-half minutes of unadulterated, ass-kicking heavy metal, anchored by rapid-fire riffs, double-kick drum commotion and Rob Halford's siren-like wail. It's an epic story of good versus evil, delivered with the venom of the serpent and the authority of the king.

 

2. The Smile, "Friend of a Friend"

From: Wall of Eyes

Is it a copout to say "Friend of a Friend" sounds positively Beatlesque? The Radiohead offshoot did record its sophomore album at Abbey Road Studios, and the album's third single is a twisting art-rock odyssey, anchored by Tom Skinner's lithe drumming and Thom Yorke's lilting vocals. The lyrics were inspired by footage of Italian people singing on their balconies during the COVID-19 lockdowns; the climactic string swells offer a cathartic rebuke to the fear and isolation wrought by the pandemic. Yet "Friend of a Friend" ends on a note of uncertainty — a warning against complacency and an interrogation of who benefits in times of global crisis.

 

1. The Black Crowes, "Wanting and Waiting"

From: Happiness Bastards

There's something exhilarating about a couple of seasoned professionals picking up right where they left off and sounding no worse for wear. That's the case on "Wanting and Waiting," the lead single off Happiness Bastards, the Black Crowes' first studio album in 15 years. Brothers Chris and Rich Robinson serve up their patented blues-rock boogie with soul and swagger, combining sassy vocals and sizzling riffs with smoky keyboard flourishes and poppy hand claps. Fellas, we beg you: Don't leave us wanting and waiting for another 15 years.

Top 15 Rock Albums of 2024 (So Far)

Reports of the genre's death have been greatly exaggerated. 

Gallery Credit: Michael Gallucci

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