The criteria: 1) The song must be over four minutes long. Anything shorter is just a pop song. Pompous Arena Rock Songs require length for that epic quality, man. 2) The song must have been played in an actual arena by the original band. This is how we can disqualify songs like Hey Jude and All Along the Watchtower. 3) The song must generally follow the formula of a slow, preferably acoustic opening (lending to the artist’s cred as a virtuoso), leading to the the sudden machine-gunning on the distorted guitars. This is the ROCK OUT. 4) The artist must be absolutely sincere that the song is an Important Piece of Work. Any hint of irony disqualifies it (think Spiñal Tap).
But enough of my yakkin’— Let’s boogie!
10. Don’t Stop Believing, Journey
Journey sucks, no matter how hard so-called rock historians try to “re-assess” their works in a post-Sopranos world. This song brings its pomposity to the table right with the new-agey preaching title, and wraps it in a bow of Steve Perry wailing.
Lyric of Pomposity: Some will win, some will lose / Some were born to sing the blues
9. Dream On, Aerosmith
Opening with the literally self-reflective warble of Steven Tyler, Dream On dares the guy in the Loge to not start flailing his head when the screaming commences on the verse. This song was written in Aerosmith’s hard-core Hell’s Kitchen heroin days, but that doesn’t excuse its pretension.
Lyric of Pomposity: Half my life is in books written pages / Live and learn from fools and from sages
8. Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin
Yes, it makes every list. Hell, it’s probably on the list of “Top 10 Tourist Destinations in Belgium”, but the standard-bearer of arena rock pomposity cannot be denied. Framed by the medieval fret-harmonics of the opening and wistful “oh by the way, remember it started slow?” ending, Stairway throws down the gauntlet to all who dare challenge its throne.
Lyric of Pomposity: And a new day will dawn for those who stand long / And the forest will echo with laughter
7. Free Bird, Lynyrd Skynyrd
Skynyrd, the Rolling Stones to the Allman Brothers’ Beatles, suffered from a career-long inferiority complex next to their long-haired Southern Rock bretheren. It’s no wonder then, that they turned up the amps in compensation. Many a shoulder-sitting concert going woman raised her shirt to this song, but that doesn’t excuse 20 minutes of guitar mashing to about three lines of actual lyric. For all its nouns and verbs, the lyrics of Free Bird are shockingly free of actual content.
Lyric of Pomposity: Lord knows, I can’t change.
6. Hotel California, The Eagles
We may never learn if Henley meant “colitas” or “coitus”, but it hardly matters. With Hotel California, the Eagles graduated from the hemp-hoodie wearing troupe who sang Seven Bridges Road to the coke-infused Arena pomp-peddlers in the fast lane. The closing guitar duel is so ingrained in our heads, we go into convulsions waiting to hear the “whoop”.
Lyric of Pomposity: Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends / She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends
5. More than a Feeling, Boston
In 1978, you couldn’t take a dump without hearing the opening guitar riff of More than A Feeling. This signaled the dudes to do bad air guitar and the girls to sing it at each other. And yet for all its pomposity, MTAF is as cold and programmed as Tom Scholz’s Rockman. Boston fancied themselves the Stanley Kubricks of rock, releasing one meticulously-crafted album per decade, but the uniform, derivative blandness of their works makes them more like the Brian DePalma.
Lyric of Pomposity: When Im tired and thinking cold / I hide in my music, forget the day
4. Thunder Road, Bruuuce
With each passing year, as Springsteen morphs closer to his Woody Guthrie ideal, his earlier works stands out as all the more transparently phony. Was he really that Jersey kid of myth, hanging out on the hood of his Chevy, making out under the Asbury Park phosper glow? Not likely. Thunder Road‘s pomposity comes not so much from the ROCK OUT, but for having a lyrical density surpassing that of a white dwarf star.
Lyric of Pomposity: All the redemption I can offer, girl is beneath this dirty hood
3. November Rain, Guns n’ Roses
Guns n’ Roses had it all: fame, fortune, hot and cold running groupies. That all came crashing to the ground with the release of November Rain, perhaps the most pompous of arena rock songs released in the 1990s. When Axl Rose first took seat behind that piano, the Whiskey wept.
2. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
Rocking out at the end doesn’t make up for the byzantine lyrics and operatic harmonizing, guys.
Lyric of Pomposity: Galileo / Galileo / Galileo / Galileo
1. Come Sail Away, Styx
It is rumored Come Sail Away was constructed in a lead-lined bunker deep within the bowels of NORAD as a Defense Department skunks-works project. It is mathematically impossible to turn on CSA without arriving in the middle of one of the endless opening piano stanzas, the net result being the listener is forced to brave their way through the entirety of this soppy mess just to get relief when the ROCK OUT finally appears.
Lyric of Pomposity: “I thought that they were angels, but to my surprise / They climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies.”