Staff Top 10
Top Ten Songs Tragically Snubbed by Guitar Hero

guitar Hero, for the sadly uninitiated, is a Playstation 2 video game that simulates guitar playing with a controller shaped like a small Gibson SG. You can master the 30-song set list on four levels of difficulty by yourself, or challenge another player to a “rock off.” Basically, imagine yourself drunkenly kicking the shit out of your living room while proclaiming, “That’s how you play Sabbath, dammit!” and you’ve got a pretty clear picture of the spectacle. In short, the game is absolute genius despite the self-righteous mocking it receives from too-serious guitar players.

After playing through “Fat Lip” by Sum 41 a few dozen times, however, you start to wonder if maybe, just maybe, there are a few songs out there more worthy of inclusion. I know, I know, that sounds crazy. But let’s see what we can dig up. Before we begin, a couple of guidelines to frame the discussion. First, I’ve mostly chosen songs that were popular hits; just like karaoke, Guitar Hero is way more entertaining when everyone can sing (or play) along. Second, unless severely warranted, I’ve limited each artist to one song only. Third, I’ve assumed all labels and artists listed below would unconditionally agree to the use of their songs in my hypothetical version of Guitar Hero. Right, Hendrix? Just remain dead if you agree. All right, cool! Let the list commence!

10. Bush: “Machinehead”
Guitar Hero’s set list mostly ignores the early 90s, an error I will correct here. “Machinehead” slips in at number ten due to its dominant guitar lines and riff variety. More importantly, the spaces during the verses (“Breathe in / Breathe out”) give you ample opportunity to trash talk your opponent.

09. Sex Pistols: “God Save the Queen”
If Guitar Hero is going to include The Ramones, I’m going to include the Sex Pistols. Because if we’re doing a pseudo-historical survey, we’re going to do it right. Plus, the game needs some easy songs. In fact, now that I think about it, this song might actually be harder to play in-game than in real life. The punks would be proud.

08. System of a Down: “Cigaro”
Of course, for every easy song, you need to counterbalance it with pure adrenal speed riffs that will either break the controller or your fingers. Of course, they might also have to censor the lyrics to satisfy those ESRB suits (“My cock is much bigger than yours / My cock can walk right through the door”). Never mind that the average age of gamers is now 29.

07. Nirvana: “Smells Like Teen Spirit"
As mentioned before, Guitar Hero turns a blind ear to the grunge movement, which forced me to clear a spot for grunge on this list. Nirvana certainly has better songs than “Teen Spirit,” but the fire and prominence of the guitar here, along with a few nicely varying sections, earns “Teen Spirit” the coveted slot. Hell, there’s even a little guitar solo thrown in there toward the end! Nothing flashy, but definitely enough to lock down number seven.

06. Jimi Hendrix: “Foxy Lady”
“Spanish Castle Magic” is included in the original Guitar Hero set list, but given the chance, I would immediately replace it with another Hendrix song. The best Guitar Hero songs are the ones you see on the list and say to yourself, “Nice! Let’s see what that looks like!,” and “Spanish Castle Magic” just doesn’t provoke that reaction. I really wanted to put “If 6 Was 9” into this slot. It’s chock-full of phenomenally tight riffs that ratchet up tension and require patience to pull off. Great stuff. Unfortunately, after two minutes, the song basically disintegrates, and I’m not sure they’d be able to translate that accurately into the game. However, I am sure that if they did, it would be unplayable. So instead, “Foxy Lady” wins. It’s got that great, instantly recognizable jumpy riff, and it makes you smile. Sure, it’s a bit repetitive and the solo is fairly short. But it’s still Hendrix, and it’s still going to be more entertaining than “Spanish Castle Magic.”

05. Guns N’ Roses: “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
Unbelievably, Guns N’ Roses are completely left off Guitar Hero’s set list. Who was their guitarist again? Oh that’s right, fucking Slash. Come on! Anyway, ranting aside, I’ve corrected the mistake here at number five with “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” I really could have just put “Any Guns N’ Roses Single” here and it would have been fine; there’s no wrong answer. “Sweet Child” has that great arpeggiating intro riff and a classic eighties solo that is neatly split into two sections for competing players. Not to mention the ridiculous homestretch, where Slash just mindlessly keeps on soloing. Good luck!

04. Aerosmith: “Eat the Rich”
This perfect party song is simply tailor-made for Guitar Hero. With raucous, sharply realized guitar lines and an absolutely dominating solo, “Eat the Rich” demands would-be players to at least attempt some rock splits. Add Aerosmith to the list of greats not included on Guitar Hero’s list. Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives? On the list. Aerosmith? Not.

03. Guns N’ Roses: “November Rain”
OK, give me a chance here. I know this choice is a hard sell. First, it’s my second Guns N’ Roses selection. Second, there is basically no guitar until about three-and-a-half minutes into it. A minor detail. Consider that “warm-up” time. You’ve gotta get into the groove, right? I’m ready to give the song the benefit of the doubt, because what comes next is sublime. Two guitar solos (one for each player), and then a third screaming solo to be played in unison as the combatants fight off fatigue and race each other to the finish. There is no other song in the history of rock ‘n’ roll with the potential for such an amazing finish in competition. “November Rain” would test your stamina and attention span as much as your fingering skills. Despite its awkward structure, it cannot be ignored.

02. AC/DC: “Back In Black”
How in the name of Xenu did this song not make the cut? I don’t care how many licensing issues have to be worked out! Git. It. Dun. Everything about this song screams Guitar Hero. From the metronome-clicking of the drumsticks at the start to the simple rhythmic variety of the verse riffs, always dancing around the vocals so you can sing along easily while playing—it just feels right. Plus you’ve got a guitar solo, a nice short bridge to change things up late in the song, and the perfect lead vs. rhythm interplay at the end for those heated multiplayer contests. The only thing keeping it from the number one slot is the fade-out at the end (hard to adapt into game format), and the sheer magnitude of the Number One Snub.

01. Led Zeppelin: “Black Dog”
Unbelievable. Led Zeppelin, a god among bands, absent from Guitar Hero. I’m not entirely sure how to address this atrocity. Let me take a deep breath here. Gather, gather, focus. Gather, gather, focus. OK. “Black Dog” gets this spot because it’s like Plato’s Ideal of an effective Guitar Hero song. And there’s an admirable guitar solo at the end, which never hurts. But mostly, “Black Dog” gets number one because of that immortal arrhythmic guitar riff connecting the verse to the chorus (you know, the one that you try to nod your head along with, but always fail). To pull that off, you’re going to need a serious disdain for the meter. That takes more than skill—it takes instinct. Here’s hoping the chance to prove yourself worthy will someday arise. Although I suppose a band that refuses to make its songs available for download at online music stores (uh oh, Led Zep, your age is showing!) probably aren’t going to jump onto the video game train anytime soon. How sad. Somewhere, in a distant land where the sun never sets, on the west-facing crag of a lofty mountain, the gods of rock are weeping.

By: Jeff Shreve
Published on: 2006-07-14
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