10 Essential Classic Rock Biker Songs

Biker Songs

Feature Photo: Ivanantunez / Shutterstock

When Indian Motorcycle and Harley-Davidson out as motorcycle manufacturing brands in 1901 and 1903, respectively, they did more than simply create something creating two-wheeled bikes that happen to have motors in them. They became pioneers of something that has since become cultural icons. While neither of these companies were technically the first to produce motorbikes, they are the big two American-based brands that contributed to a special breed of citizens that fell in love with these two-wheeled beauties of motorized creation. In some cases, it’s three-wheeled, but the shoe still fits. Unfortunately for Indian and Harley, not everybody welcomed their creations as there were certain social classes that began to form as the years went by. As new technological breakthroughs saw the motorcycles rumble the road, some saw this as a mean form of muscle that created a lifestyle that was very different from the men and women who drove family cars.

The difference was there for a reason but not to make a social statement. It was there for a multitude of reasons. Granted, the bikes were mostly designed for single riders but that was the point. Not everybody had a spouse with children. In many ways, driving around in a large automobile as a single person didn’t seem to make sense. At least in a motorcycle there is a sense of freedom that catered to a person’s natural instinct to embrace their own concept of independence. For motorcycle enthusiasts, riding a motorbike down the road was that perfect feel to explore America like freebirds on wheels. Yes, there are motorcycle clubs that can pass for gangs, but this is no different than any other club that share common interests in something.

Media Influence

People are easily impressionable. As babies, we sponged up everything we’ve been exposed to. The poem by Dorothy Law Nolte, Children Learn What They Live, is a perfect example of this fact. As children, whatever environment we’re exposed to will play a defining role how we become adults. While everything is subject to perception and how we adapt, whatever we’re exposed to gives us opportunities how we’re going to respond to it. This is an art the media knows well. Long before the internet, long before television, and long before radio, there was a publication known as the newspaper. After all, the earliest known method of recorded communication came from ancient hieroglyphs, scrolls, and tablets that still are being discovered by archaeologists today.

Whether the media painted motorcycles as something good or something bad, it did exactly what it was designed to do. The media, regardless of the material, strives to get the attention of the audience so that it can deliver whatever it is it’s been sponsored to do. Since the media has been known to be so influential, this has laid out a platform for artists to capitalize on something they can use to do the exact same thing. In the category of music, what better way to promote something as iconic as motorcycles, as well as the people who ride them? Taking this into reflection, when it comes to songs that have proven to be just iconic, what comes to mind?

Top 10 Biker Songs

#10 – Motorcycle Man

It makes perfect sense to have “Motorcycle Man” earn a spot in the top ten songs list that is dedicated to bikers. Saxon’s 1980 adrenalin rush of a single welcomed listeners to the new wave of British Heavy Metal. Most of the album, Wheels of Steel, first served as an ode to the two-wheeled machines before its 1997 remaster boosted the track list to fifteen.

Five of the six extra songs were live performances while the title track featured a second version from its original recording. “Motorcycle Man” was not released as a single so it’s not on any official music charts but it this heavy metal classic has served, and continues to serve as a rumbling favorite for bikers that also happen to be heavy metal music fans. What “Motorcycle Man” did, as did the album, was spike the popularity of Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle even more, bringing forth a new generation of bikers and wannabes.

#9 – Bad Motor Scooter

When Sammy Hagar was still with Montrose, he penned the hard rock single, “Bad Motor Scooter,” which became one of the best known songs ever performed by this band while they were still together. It was released in 1973, as was another hit song of theirs, “Rock Candy.” The distortion brought on by the electric slide guitar would make someone like Jimi Hendrix proud as it beautifully mimicked the sound of a revving motorcycle. This was the defining component of the song as that ideal hook to make it a stand out. “Bad Motor Scooter” was the first song Sammy Hagar ever wrote but it has made an everlasting impression on more than just bikers who also happen to be music fans.

#8 – Motorcycle Mama (featuring Nicolette Larson)

Neil Young’s “Motorcycle Mama” comes from his 1978 album, Comes a Time. This duet continues to feel like a cruise-control favorite that has been known to be used as a wedding song when a pair of bikers have decided to tie the knot. If there was a perfect “ride off into the sunset” song for a biker couple, “Motorcycle Mama” is definitely it. The harmonic vocal delivery by Nicolette Larson seemed to add even more romantic soul to this song that has understandably made it one of the favorite songs played in biker bars that do like to mellow out from time to time.

#7 – Midnight Rider

Whether or not “Midnight Rider” by Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band was designed as a biker song may seem like a subject for debate ever since its 1970 release. The outlawing protagonist in the song did seem to leave an impression with Gregg Allman’s vocal delivery that suggested the lives of his brother, Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley lost their lives to motorcycle accidents.

While the original 1970 release of this single failed to chart, the forlorn solo performance recorded by Gregg Allman as a solo artist in 1973 turned it into a number nineteen hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. In the UK, Jamaican singer, Paul Davidson, brought forth a cover performance that had it peak at number ten on the UK Singles Chart.

Willie Nelson’s country version in 1980 saw “Midnight Rider” achieve its best overall success as it peaked at number six on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. What continues to make “Midnight Rider” a biker favorite is how well the blend of blues and traditional folk make this song feel so desperate and determined as a narrator on the run from something he hopes will never catch up to him.

# 6 – Freewheel Burning

Regarding biker songs, Judas Priest found its niche as a band, especially with “Freewheel Burning.” This 1984 classic from their album Defenders of the Faith suggested when it’s time to ride, ride fast and ride hard. Just like the rest of Judas Priest’s music, “Freewheel Burning” is not for the subtle. There is nothing gentle about this song, as there is no room for a slow ride here. As the lyrics describe the two-wheeled juggernaut, it is all about respecting the motorbike and what it can do.

#5 – Bat Out of Hell

In 1977, a certain album named Bat Out of Hell from Meat Loaf became one of the best-selling albums in the history of rock and roll. Developed from the 1974 futuristic rock music version of Peter Pan’s Neverland, this entire album deservedly holds the honor of a biker-loving classic. The title track, “Bat Out of Hell” was instrumental in this album to earn platinum certifications from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) fourteen times over. It remains as the best-selling album in Australia and as of June 2019 has spent a roaring 522 weeks on the UK Albums Chart. There is even a musical called Bat Out of Hell that was staged by Jay Scheib and opened at the Manchester Opera House on February 17, 2017. It was later transferred to the London Coliseum and Toronto, Ontario’s Ed Mirvish theatre that same year.

“Bat Out of Hell,” as a single, was intensely popular and highly influential to an audience that found themselves revving up to the heavy-hitting riffs that blasted the ear drums with many fans will describe as insane intensity. The piano genius added even more drama to a song that wasn’t officially released as a single until 1979, long after the album itself was already out. “Bat Out of Hell,” as a song and album, revolved around Peter Pan and his homeland, which was inspired by teen tragedy songs such as “Leader of the Pack.” Initially, the original intention behind Bat Out of Hell was not supposed to be a rock album, let alone a rock song. However, this operatic tale took on a life of its own as its compelling storyline met with opposition from media giants that didn’t share the creative vision of Meat Loaf, nor the songwriter, Jim Steinman.

Knowing Bat Out of Hell needed to come out, adjustments were made to make sure the audience got to hear it. “Bat Out of Hell” was released as a single twice. In 1979, it peaked at number fifteen on the UK Singles Chart. In 1993, it was re-released after another infamous Meat Loaf single, “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” made its first release. The second go-round for “Bat Out of Hell” saw it peak even higher on the UK Singles Chart at number eight. As a single, it became a certified platinum hit with the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and with the Australia Recording Industry Association (ARIA).

#4 – Leader of the Pack

“Leader of the Pack” was a 1964 hit for the all-girl group, The Shangri-Las. During an era that still saw a great division between the family concept of All-American and the biker concept, the heartbreaking tale of the narrator sharing her story with her backup singers remains as an all-time classic favorite. In the story, the leader of a motorcycle group perished in an accident after emotionally speeding off when his girlfriend caved into social peer pressure to dump him. At one point, it was believed the authentic sound of the motorcycle that was played in the song came from an incident in the hotel lobby The Shangri-Las was recording in.

On the US Billboard Hot 100, “Leader of the Pack” became a number one hit and it charted as high as number eight on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. In the UK, the BBC refused to play the song in what some believed had something to do with the death theme. Regardless, the single charted three times on the UK Singles Chart. The first time was in 1965 at number eleven, followed by a number three peak in 1972 after the BBC lifted the ban. In 1976, “Leader of the Pack” charted again in that nation, climbing as high as number seven. It also became a number one hit in Australia. In 2019, it was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singles category.

#3 – Ezy Rider

Released in 1971 posthumously, “Ezy Rider” became more than just another hit song from Jimi Hendrix. This became just as era-defining classic that have some fans and critics suggesting the inspiration behind “Ezy Rider” came from the 1969 box office hit, Easy Rider. Regardless, this studio recording included Buddy Miles on drums and Billy Cox on bass.

The single was released on Jimi Hendrix’s 1971 album, The Cry of Love, as one of the collection of songs he was working on when he died. “Ezy Rider” has become much more than just some song that paid homage to bikers and their rides as this also became a bittersweet, unintentional goodbye performance by Jimi Hendrix that gave it good reason to become a cult favorite. Besides, who can top Jimi Hendrix and his guitar genius? The beauty of “Ezy Rider” was it was an improvised song that simply came to live thanks to the genius creativity that made Jimi Hendrix become such a legend. Besides, if anybody can funk up a motorcycle ride with jazzy guitar riffs into a thing of beauty, it’s Jimi Hendrix.

#2 – This Life

From 2008 until 2014, the incredibly popular series, Sons of Anarchy, had scores of fans glued to each episode to see what the outlaw motorcycle club from the fictional Charming, California, was up to next. Created by Kurt Sutter, this intensely dramatic series that rumbled with action and motorcycle riding scenes spurred a new generation of enthusiasts that now wanted to grab a two-wheeled muscle machine of their own.

Some of the stars of the show, as well as critics, have gone as far as suggesting Harley Davidson and Indian Motorcycle owe the revival of the motorcycle industry to them. While it’s not uncommon for Hollywood to glamorize motorcycles as it’s been done before, the timing of Sons of Anarchy, plus the quality level of the show that earned it such a large and loyal fan base, couldn’t have been better.

The exploitation of vigilantism, political corruption, and racism was at its finest through its seven seasons of airtime. The technical advisor of the show, David Labrava, was a real-life member of Hells Angels and its Oakland chapter. This is the very same person who played the role of happy Lowman, the motorcycle club’s favorite assassin. As for the show’s theme song, “This Life” was performed by Curtis Stigers & The Forest Rangers. In 2009, it earned an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Main Title Theme Music but lost to the PBS series, Great Performances.

In 2010, it won as a theme song masterpiece by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. This song was never released as a single but has lodged itself in the hearts of fans that may or may not be motorcycle fans, which is what makes “This Life” earn the right to be in the list of the best biker songs known to exist.

#1 – Born to Be Wild

Intended or not, “Born to Be Wild” seems to have served as an anthem for bikers and biker fans ever since it was first released by Steppenwolf in 1968. When it was featured in the 1969 film, Easy Rider, that simply lodged the song to forever be categorized as one of the best biker songs of all time. Many fans will also argue “Born to Be Wild” is the first heavy metal song. Whether this is true or not, it is a song that has made such an impression on the audience that it carved up a lifestyle that became commonplace during the 1970s. In some cases, it still exists today.

Originally, “Born to Be Wild” was written as a ballad by Mars Bonfire, a former member of the Sparrows. The Sparrows is the predecessor to Steppenwolf and Bonfire was the drummer for Steppenwolf. “Born to Be Wild” was first offered to other band but it was Steppenwolf that first recorded it in a sped-up version that became a roaring anthem of what felt like turbo-charged rock music. “Born to Be Wild” became Steppenwolf’s signature song that roared them straight into the big league of radio gods. The gruff behind the lyrics riffed just as beautifully as the guitar did.

On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number two and consistently remains as one of Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of greatest songs of all time. In 2018, “Born to Be Wild” was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its newly created singles category.

Updated December 9, 2023

Top 10 Biker Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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