It’s been ten years since Rival Sons released its debut album, Before The Fire, and since then, Rival Sons has built a reputation as one of the hardest working bands in rock and roll. They’ve put together in an impressive catalog of music and despite our careful ranking, we know there will be criticism from readers whose favorites didn’t make our list. We totally get that—there are a few songs not listed here that pained us to leave off, too. (For example, Hollow Bones has no representation here, though “Black Coffee” almost made it. And where’s the band’s latest epic “Look Away”?) Trust us, we get the frustration. But as with any Top 10 list, there can only be 10 entries. So, without further ado, here are ours.
10. Destination on Course
This monster song is to me what makes Rival Sons’ fourth album Great Western Valkyrie such a successful album: It shows the band taking a risk with their sound and willing to indulge an idea outside their typical creative space. The song started as a piece guitarist Scott Holiday wrote years earlier and dusted off for the album because, as he told Blues Rock Review at the time, it felt like the right time for the band to explore it. The operatic vocals sprinkled throughout weren’t even the strangest elements for the band in 2014—it was more the dissonant sounds that seem like they’re swimming through the studio that show the band taking a firm step in a different creative direction. The song itself is well written and well performed, but what I enjoy most about it is its representation of a new exploratory era of Rival Sons.
9. Memphis Sun
“Memphis Sun” is by far the bluesiest track on this list. It starts with a bit of finger picking from Holiday before he moves his instrument to a different musical zip code moments later. “Memphis Sun” rises and falls, with more guitar picking preceding each major crescendo. The song’s pacing is its true achievement. Singer Jay Buchanan’s vocals are on point as usual, and Holiday’s guitarwork here is all the proof we need that he’s one of the best in the rock genre at this time. But the way the song moves from start to finish is intriguing no matter how many times I listen to it—with each new play it’s like the story is starting over from page 1.
If you don’t immediately recognize this song, that’s because it’s from Rival Sons’ oft-overlooked self-titled EP, which the band released in 2011 a few months before Pressure and Time. Another song from the EP, “Get What’s Coming,” also came close to making this list (and was on our last one), but there’s something about “Torture’s” rhythm—both rolling and jutting—that makes it stand out. The song is physical, with a magnetizing beat. Better yet, it shows that the band isn’t afraid to fluctuate its volume when the song demands a quiet verse. “Torture” is another example of what Rival Sons had to offer so early on and an indication of what their bandwidth would allow them to accomplish.
7. Until the Sun Comes
Hailing from Rival Sons’ second studio and third full-length album Head Down, “Until the Sun Comes” earned attention at the time of the album’s release for its inclusion on the TV show Sons of Anarchy. It’s one of the band’s more pop-leaning songs in terms of structure, and it has beautiful moments of vocal harmonization that give it the extra nudge it needs to make a list like this. Like “Electric Man” below, it’s mostly on the list because it’s fun to listen to. Rival Sons gives us plenty of hard-hitting rockers, so it’s only natural that fans appreciate the lighter songs when they come along.
6. Burn Down Los Angeles
From Rival Sons’ first studio album came “Burn Down Los Angeles,” a barn burner if we’ve ever heard one. All jokes aside, this song is appropriately structured like a protest song, with the chorus “Burn down Los Angeles” chanted over and over in the chorus. With lyrics speaking to the hopes born—and often burned—in Los Angeles, this song brings an element to which many who have chased their dreams to varying degrees of success can relate. And if lyrical fancy doesn’t impress you, Michael Miley’s almost militaristic drumming gives the song a sharp edge.
5. Electric Man
Another pick from Great Western Valkyrie, “Electric Man” is mostly on this list because it’s fast, it’s fun and it’s catchy. The lyrics aren’t deep like some of the other cuts from this album, but they’re sing-able and easy to remember. The sound of all the song’s parts coming together is what makes it really stand out: Miley’s drums punctuate Buchanan’s vocals, which are further emphasized by Holiday’s guitar licks as Dave Beste’s bass provides the heartbeat beneath it all. It’s a fairly easy song to listen to, but the beauty is in the work behind the scenes that make it all sound so seamless.
4. Tell Me Something
I always catch myself turning up the dial when this song starts, just in time to catch Buchanan’s scream 12 seconds in. This song comes from Rival Sons’ self-released debut Before the Fire, an 11-track album released in the summer of 2009. The level on which the band was performing at that time is impressive looking back; their songs now are a bit more polished, but the rawness of the early stuff is what stands out on Before the Fire. Serving as that album’s opening track, “Tell Me Something” is the epitome of that raw, fresh sound, a fitting introduction to the band we know now.
3. Feral Roots
Rival Sons’ latest album quickly became a favorite for fans and critics alike. Feral Roots has a few list-worthy features, but the title track sums up the lyrical and musical message behind the album in such a nice way. It’s a great representation of where Rival Sons are, at a time when the band is at its pinnacle of success and looking back on the road traveled to get here. Buchanan’s voice is once again a perfect match for the narrative lyrics, lulling listeners in to focus on the story before Holiday, Beste and Miley explode into the chorus.
2. Open My Eyes
One year after our first Top 10 list and not long after the departure of former bassist Robin Everhart, Rival Sons hit with this powerful number from Great Western Valkyrie. “Open My Eyes” sounded like a return of the Rival Sons heard on Pressure and Time, but even more fleshed out with Miley’s drums serving as the glue holding everything together. The song is cohesive, it’s powerful and it lets each musician shine. Though most people will point to Buchanan’s standout vocal performance, the drums are just as vital to this song’s success.
1. Pressure and Time
When Blues Rock Review culled together a list of Rival Sons’ best songs in 2013, “Pressure and Time” was at the top. Six years later, the band has released loads of great music, but in our opinion this song remains the epitome of what a Rival Sons song is. That opening riff is unforgettable—it’s brutal, it’s blistering and it’s as relentless as the band that made it. This song served as my introduction to the band back in 2011, and when friends unfamiliar with the band ask for rock recommendations, “Pressure and Time” is one of my go-tos.
By Meghan Roos
*Editor’s note* – Our initial Top 10 list came out in 2013 and this list has been updated in 2019.