The 6 Best Classic Rock Songs About Rebellion

If the genre of music known as classic rock were to be summed up with an image, it would probably be a fist through a brick wall, or someone grabbing their crotch, or better still a middle finger addressing the entire world.

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But which songs offer the best versions of this rebellion? Which songs truly embody this curled upper-lip snarl? Below we’ve culled a handful (plus one) of the best six songs that illustrate classic rock’s ability to inspire and subvert.

[RELATED: Top 5 Rock ‘n’ Roll Songs of the 1950s]

1. “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Twisted Sister

It’s the ultimate song of rebellion. That’s why this song is used during political rallies by upstart candidates (and why Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider has had to file so many cease and desist orders). This song’s chorus tells the whole story. Snider growls out to anyone who will listen over electric guitars and big percussion: We’re not gonna take it! Released on the 1984 album, Stay Hungry, the song is an all-time rebellious classic.

1. “Killing in the Name,” Rage Against the Machine

Released on Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled 1992 album, this song’s lyrics were inspired by the brutal beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles by the hands of police hired to (allegedly) protect him. Rage, a very political and progressive band, had to speak out about it. It’s a song of rebellion against the West’s infatuation and fetishization of the military, guns, and societal control. Somehow, the song is also catchy.

3. “Rebel Rebel,” David Bowie

Rebellion is in the literal title of this song, released by David Bowie in 1974 on the album, Diamond Dogs. The song is about a rebellious young woman who has her “mother in a whirl.” Sings the glam rocker on this sticky single:

You’ve got your mother in a whirl
She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl
Hey babe, your hair’s alright
Hey babe, let’s go out tonight
You like me, and I like it all
We like dancing and we look divine
You love bands when they’re playing hard
You want more and you want it fast
They put you down, they say I’m wrong
You tacky thing, you put them on

Rebel rebel, you’ve torn your dress
Rebel rebel, your face is a mess
Rebel rebel, how could they know?
Hot tramp, I love you so!

4. “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2,” Pink Floyd

This protest song is all about anti-indoctrination. Many believe that public schooling is a way to control the minds of citizens. And here on this 1979 song, from the band’s album The Wall, Pink Floyd wants to stand up to that problem. Sings the band’s Roger Waters:

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher, leave them kids alone

Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone
All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall

5. “I Won’t Back Down,” Tom Petty

This song is often used in political rallies, like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” And like Twisted Sister, Tom Petty and his estate have had to order cease and desists. But it makes sense. This 1989 song from Petty’s album, Full Moon Fever, is all about not backing down, as the chorus suggests. It’s about standing up to whatever is in front of you, even if it’s scary. Thankfully, with Petty’s lyrics, music fans have a song they can puff out their chest to.

6. “Rebel Girl,” Bikini Kill

The iconic 1993 anthem for the riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, fronted by Kathleen Hanna, is a song about femme power. Bikini Kill would bring all the women to the front of the stage at their shows and then they would belt out this number. In a world (rock music) often dominated by men, this song attempted to flip that dynamic. And it did so brilliantly.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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