lonepilgrim said: 1970s AOR
A solid question. I’m going to limit my answer to big hit songs that are still mostly with us on classic rock formats, so minor hits that have fallen mostly by the wayside like, say, Firefall’s “Livin’ Ain’t Livin’”, and deep cuts like, say, Bad Company’s “Don’t Let Me Down”, are out.
1. Boston: “Don’t Look Back” These guys were the kings of AOR, and almost their whole first album could fit here. But my favorite song of theirs is probably this one, from their second album. It’s got the big opening riff, the guitar solo before anyone even starts singing, pick slides in the outro, verses as catchy as choruses and a chorus that’s even catchier. It’s pretty much the platonic ideal of 70s AOR.
2. Journey: “Wheel in the Sky” ”Don’t Stop Believin’” is suddenly the most popular song ever (it still sells amazingly well on download services after being the number one download a couple years ago on iTunes), but a few years before that, Journey made this minor masterpiece of atmospheric arena rock. It has a little bit of a spaghetti Western edge in the guitars and a monster of a chorus.
3. Heart: “Magic Man” Heart’s Dreamboat Annie is a strong LP overall, but this song stands way out to me for being just a little bit deranged, musically. The jumpy underlying rhythm sets it apart early, but the way that rhythm then informs the oddball phrasing of the vocal melody and lead guitar sells it. Then there’s that crazy instrumental breakdown with the Moog interjections and those great backing vocals from the Wilson sisters that come in behind the synth solo.
4. The Cars: “Moving in Stereo” The Cars are sometimes referred to as New Wave, and maybe they’re right on the line, but I think of their first LP as an AOR classic. “Moving In Stereo” is the song that’s held up best for me, with its moody synth and lurching beat. It doesn’t even have much of a chorus or refrain—Ocasek makes it memorable through the arrangement, which is hard to do.