It’s festival season again! Yep, time to get your groove, your jam and your tan on. And as much as the summer concert series is about discovering new bands and getting down to new sounds—especially those chart-topping superstars of the future who you can someday say you first saw way back when—I want to dedicate this column to my own special list of hands-in-the-air, Bic-burning, mountain-high sing-alongs.
What I am talking about here are the best Red Rocks/Pepsi Center/Sports Authority Field stadium rock anthems of all time: the songs that fuel every Elwayville summer, happy hour and personal Hall-of-Fame makeout session.
My inspiration? A recent ski trip to Sweden where the locals go “ALL IN,” on the afterski scene (Scandinavians won’t say, “après.” It’s some anti-French thing). Rather than wait for the discos to open, they start rocking as soon as the lifts stop, dropping in to the nearest pub to start dancing hard in their ski boots to some of the world’s greatest cover bands. In honor of them, and in honor of all the schmaltz rock masterpieces the Swedes—and you—like to shake a tailfeather to, here are my 10 top Colorado stadium rock songs of all time.
“Bittersweet” Big Head Todd & The Monsters
Yeah, this song (and band) is mostly a Colorado thing. But the guitar intro sounds like summer itself, the timing of the bass and drums is perfect, and the whole thing pulls you into the start of a Friday night better than anything you could smoke or drink. If you’re lucky, and you catch Big Head and The
Monsters at Red Rocks on June 6 (with Lucinda Williams!) or NewWest on August 15 this summer, you’ll be stoked to be dancing to this song.
“Country Roads” John Denver
John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” is Colorado’s “second” state song. You earn bona fide orange-and-blue points if you name the “first” (OK, it’s “Where the Columbines Grow,” but I’m pretty sure you can’t sing a single line). “Country Roads” is still one of the city of Denver’s stone-cold last set killers though, because it lets you reminisce about any dirt road anywhere—even Toots and the Maytals turned it into an anthem about Jamaica, so free your mind…
“Hammer Down” Magnolia Electric Co.
With his haunting melodies and straightforward, heartfelt delivery, the late great Jason Molina is quickly starting to feel like the Gram Parsons of his generation, influencing artists as diverse as Strand of Oaks and The Avett Brothers. The Avett’s—who will be at Red Rocks July 10, 11 and 12 (with John Prine!)—have been known to deliver a particularly emotional rendering of Molina’s “Hammer Down,” a kind of celestial truck driving hymn that includes the reverential verse, “The stars are just the neon lights shining through the dance floor of heaven on a Saturday night.” And then there’s the late night chorus: “Hammer down, heaven bound.”
“Should I Stay or Should I Go” The Clash
The Clash is my all-time favorite band. The fact that I got to see them at Red Rocks—twice!—is an opportunity I will always cherish. But as catchy-as-hell as this song is, it’s included on this list mainly because I once saw Tom Petty (who with “Free Falling,” “American Girl,” “Here Comes My Girl,” etc., could compile his own list of top stadium anthems), pull this out for an encore: “So come on and let me know!…”
“You Shook Me All Night Long” AC/DC
You’re guaranteed to hear this high-decibel-go-the-distance anthem piped over the sound system at nearly every baseball game you attend this summer, so you might as well hear it played live by some cover band. My favorite cover version is by Helles Belles, the all-female Aca-Deca tour-de-force I last saw blowing up Salida’s FIBArk Whitewater Festival, itself an annual gift to the joys of summertime.
“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” Bob Dylan
Being that this is a Bob Dylan song, just about the worst band in the world can butcher it from start to finish and still make it one of live music’s finest all-time sing-a-longs. Get it in the hands of a talented band, however, and play it right about the same time as a multi-colored mountain sunset hits its own high note, and you’ll feel like you’re swing-shuffling right into Elysium when the guitar solo kicks in.
“Go Your Own Way” Fleetwood Mac
The slow guitar buildup, the rapidly intensifying drums, the immediate hook chorus that you can’t help but bellow out in rhythm with your dancing—this is pop magic, man. Of course it’s only fitting that Fleetwood Mac, up there among Stadium Pop royalty with the likes of ABBA, U2 and Bon Jovi, who have so many coliseum crushing hits in their playlist, (and who just played Denver this past April) included this on “Rumors,” one of the top pop masterpieces of all time.
“Don’t Stop Believing” Journey
Don’t hate. Yes, the sound is pure Jersey (by way of San Francisco). But it still always rocks. And it’s better than listening to a bunch of Englewood or Broomfield bros get down to “Born to Run.” Bottom line: Everybody looks good dancing to this song.
“Take It to the Limit” The Eagles
I recently heard a Jersey-to-Boulder transplant complaining about The Eagles on Facebook. I had to remind him The Eagles are why he—or his parents—and all his East Coast brethren moved West in the first place: To feel this sound. It’s just music, man. And one of every Colorado dreamer’s most favorite songs. <East Coast Ed’s Note: I still agree with El Duderino. “Man, I hate the f-ing Eagles.”>
“Burn One Down” Ben Harper
Yes, if you are outdoors at a concert in Colorado this summer then you probably just did—or are just about to—burn one down. Is it time to add a third single to the official list of state songs? No matter, Mr. Harper will be at Red Rocks on September 15.
Be sure to designate a driver. And I am looking forward to seeing you at the shows!
Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray is the author of The God of Skiing. The book has been called “the greatest ski novel ever written.” Buy it here: bit.ly/godofskiing