Top 10 Arena Rock Deep Cuts

Top 10 Arena Rock Deep Cuts

Feature Photo: Brandon Nagy / Shutterstock.com

What is Arena Rock? And, how does it fit in with classic rock history? It would take a helluva college thesis or dissertation to cut through the ambiguity, controversy, and subjectivity to figure this one out. From a historical perspective, depending on your internet search, the answer lies somewhere between The Rolling Stones to Boston to Def Leppard to Imagine Dragons.

Probably the most accurate way of detailing the development of Arena Rock is to understand how guitar and keyboard sounds at concert venues could be amplified and beautified in tone to fit a large indoor audience. The beating heart of Arena Rock is found in the amalgamation of high-powered, crisp, clean, really loud rock music.  And, let’s not forget the visuals and fireworks. When it all comes together, it is a sonically-driven, dazzling display.

Really it was modern technologies that gave Arena Rock the podium to launch. And, boy, did it launch. No wonder so many album covers in rock history are designed around themes of outer space, galaxies and stars.  Rock music as Arena Rock was the launching stage of true, unforgettable concert moments. These are the memories etched in the lives of humans all over the world. These concert moments are what have been connecting families and friends for generations now.

Now, the past Arena Rock events of our lives conjure up nostalgia and provide context to us for what we value in art. Arena Rock took us all to a higher place. The musicians, the roadies, the promoters all came together with the audience to create a modern standard. Arena Rock is really a big reason for why we are rock music fans.  The era of Arena Rock chosen for this Top 10 is the Late 70s/Early 80s. A lot of consensus from research on the topic documents this period as the major growth and expansion for the genre.

This list is put together with the idea of finding deep cuts from groups who have a lot of hits. It’s about bands (ten of them), not solo artists, or bands named for individuals. These groups are the ones that forged the Arena Rock path.

# 10 – Sing Me Away – Night Ranger

From 1982’s Dawn Patrol album, this is a definitively underrated classic rock song. Sung by drummer Kelly Keagy, who is best known for “Sister Christian”, the band turns up the energy with a partnership of rhythm and lead guitars, timely backing vocals, bass guitar and solid drumming. There’s nothing extraordinary here other than a great song, and yet it was not a big radio hit. It never reached Top 40 status. Beginning in 1984, Night Ranger were headliners. In 1987, they were still headlining with acts like The Outfield opening for them.

# 9 – Gone Hollywood – Supertramp

A lot of classic rock junkies know the Breakfast In America album from 1979 in its entirety. There are those few albums in which every song is a winner. Most agree that Breakfast In America falls in that category. Interestingly, this song is the first one on the album, and it clearly sets the tone for all the others following behind it, including “The Logical Song” and “Goodbye Stranger.”

# 8 – What’s On My Mind – Kansas

Again, a huge, classic album to discuss in 1976’s Leftoverture. This was a monumental piece of work that has gone platinum five times over. Of course, the phenomenal “Carry On Wayward Son” carries the most weight for its obvious and continuous radio airplay. It opens the album and “The Wall” follows it. For Kansas, “The Wall” is considered always as part of their greatest hits. But, it is the third song that gets our attention here for its clash of guitar action, slow to hot, and distinct vocals by Steve Walsh.

# 7 – I’m Alive – ELO

The 1980 campy movie Xanadu starring Olivia Newton-John was not a box-office hit, but the soundtrack was a huge success. It was dominated by ELO and Olivia Newton-John with one big song assist from The Tubes called “Dancin.” There were three underrated, futuristic-sounding songs from The Electric Light Orchestra on the album, including this one, “Don’t Walk Away”, and “All Over The World.” They all charted well, but they were never considered to be the glue of ELO hits.

# 6 – Superstars – Styx

With Styx, there is plenty of catalog to choose from, so finding that one is not easy. On the album, Pieces Of Eight, there are big emotional ties to the deep cut gems “I’m Ok” and “Pieces Of Eight.” However, The Grand Illusion from 1977 is the turning point album for the band with the unforgettable hits “Fooling Yourself” and “Come Sail Away”, so sticking with that album and a song sandwiched between them seems like a good idea.

# 5 – Love On The Telephone – Foreigner

From 1979’s Head Games, this song rings like a hit, but it fizzled on the charts. How? Hard to say because it sounds like three minutes of perfect radio airplay. It was the third single released from the album after “Head Games” and “Dirty White Boy.” The catchy intro, sounding a little like “Cold As Ice” keyboards, leads to those familiar guitars and then the singular dominance of Lou Gramm’s vocals.

# 4 – Take Me To The Top – Loverboy

From their second album, Get Lucky, released in 1981, we get a special live performance recorded in their home country of Canada. Taken from their 1982 tour, we get a special treat to an extended version with Mike Reno’s lead singing at his very best. “Working For The Weekend” opened the album and this song closed it. It’s probably time to go back and listen to the whole album, lol.

# 3 – Play The Game – Queen

It was tough to decide between this one and “Save Me.” From 1980’s The Game, Queen arguably made their most complete album. In this live footage from their 1981 tour in Montreal, Freddie Mercury sits the entire song at the piano and literally belts out every word with unyielding passion. Watch the rest of this Montreal concert if you want to see their very best Arena Rock entries.

# 2 – Southern Girls – Cheap Trick

It’s common knowledge in rock history that Budokan changed Cheap Trick’s trajectory for success. “I Want You To Want Me” became a live radio hit (which is rare) only after they went to Japan. 1977’s In Color album was a game-changer for the band because of the tightness of the album. There was an abundance of underrated songs on it, but seeing Robin Zander sing this one in all his young glory is really cool. He was sort of the essence of a lead singer in many ways. In this video, he is sans guitar.

# 1 – Mother, Father – Journey

Well, of course it wouldn’t be an Arena Rock list without Journey and classic Steve Perry. This video captures him at his very best…check out his high notes towards the very end of the song. From the 1981 Escape album tour, it was either this one or “Still They Ride” or “Escape.” This Houston concert is considered vintage Journey as the trio of all-stars, Perry, Neal Schon, and Jonathan Cain play it hard while wearing their best blue jeans.

Top 10 Arena Rock Deep Cuts article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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