When it comes to certain pairs of classic rock songs, you can’t have one without the other. Even though each individual track stands on its own (some were even released as singles independent of one another), a combination of natural flow, LP sequencing, and habitual radio play have rendered each of these successive tunes into a single entity. As a result, two distinct creations have been compounded into one rocking whole that’s even greater than the some of its already great parts.
Let’s all raise (both) our fists now in salute to classic rock’s most knockout one-two punch song combinations.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”/”With a Little Help From My Friends” – Beatles
As rock’s first acknowledged concept album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a natural to also introduce the first utterly indisputable, unbreakable song pairing.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” opens the famous album by announcing the title group, an early 20th century British military quartet that serves as alter egos for the Beatles. The Pepper band proclaims they’re here to entertain its “lovely audience” with an evening of music, ending with “the singer’s gonna sing a song/and he wants you all to sing along.”
As the group singingly introduces vocalist Billy Shears, Ringo-as-Billy launches into the loveable strains of “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Each song gets by with more than a little help from the other.
“We Will Rock You”/”We Are the Champions” – Queen
“We Will Rock You” sounds like the cover of Queen’s 1977 album News of the World feels: the LP depicts a painting of a giant silver metal robot who holds the broken, battered, and bloody members of the band in his massive mechanical hand. Surely Roger Taylor’s larger-than-loudness drum beats match the sound of that iron monstrosity’s inner gears at work, not to mention the pounding of his population-flattening feet.
The hulking, stomp-clap-chant percussive hugeness of “We Will Rock You” climaxes with a particularly incendiary Brian May guitar solo that was originally intended to end the song. However, just try to imagine hearing May’s final, high-pitched licks not being followed immediately by the piano lilts and slow-build Freddy Mercury vocals that open “We Are the Champions.” It’s impossible.
Initially, “We Will Rock You” was simply the lead single issued from News of the World, with “We Are the Champions” serving as its B-side. Radio station disc jockeys took to playing the songs back-to-back, as they appear on the album, recreating the two numbers as a single monolothic anthem to human triumph. Sports stadiums worldwide have never been the same ever since.
FYI, here’s the song done by LEGOs.
“Eruption”/”You Really Got Me” – Van Halen
“Eruption,” from Van Halen’s 1978 self-titled debut, introduces Eddie Van Halen as the guitar shaman to which all previous axe-masters had led and from which all subsequent visionary six-string slingers would proceed
After a couple of drum beats courtesy of brother Alex, Eddie erupts, indeed, into an impossibly intricate, mesmerizing, and unprecedented blitzkrieg of guitar virtuosity. More importantly, though, “Eruption” is not merely a show-off piece, it’s an actual, structured instrumental song with peaks, valleys, a break in the middle, and a grand finale.
The breathless moment that stands between the last note of “Eruption” and the opening brontosaurus stomp riff of “You Really Got Me” is one of the rock’s all-time great pregnant pauses. The band kicks back in with a barn-burning cover of the 1964 Kinks classic whose brute force and fuzzed-out sound pioneered much of what would become heavy metal, punk, and, of course, Van Halen. The picture is complete.
Van Halen repeated the one-two trick, sort of, on 1982’s Diver Down. The ominous, suspenseful, keyboard-driven instrumental “Intruder” leads into the group’s smash version of “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” Still, “Intruder” doesn’t sound like an independent entity, coming off as merely an extended intro. It’s a great intro, but not really a song; so much so that Van Halen just included it as part of “(Oh) Pretty Woman” in the single’s hilariously bonkers music video.
“Intruder”/“(Oh) Pretty Woman”
“Brain Damage”/”Eclipse” – Pink Floyd
The song popularly known as “Dark Side of the Moon” is actually a six-minute suite that conjoins the tracks “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse.”
As with much of Floyd’s ’70s music, songwriter and bassist Roger Waters took inspiration from Syd Barrett, the group’s founder and fallen leader who, after just one album, succumbed to drug-aggravated madness. The lyric “and when the band you’re in starts playing different tunes” actually refers to Barrett’s late-tenure inability to play anything remotely in keeping with what the others were doing onstage.
“Eclipse” lays out all things in existence and concludes “everything under the sun is in tune/but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.” It acts as an organic, inevitable conclusion to the set up of “Brain Damage,” pointing out how despair and insanity can obscure our every moment. Waters has stated that the song is about human connection, that in exposing and sharing our dark sides, we can create new light and warmth. That’s a message so heavy it’s no wonder it takes too songs to properly hammer it home.
“Heartbreaker”/”Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)” – Led Zeppelin
Side two of Led Zeppelin II comes on twice as hard and heavy by opening with the one-two haymaker of “Heartbreaker”/”Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman).” Barely the smallest fraction of a second separates the two tracks, prompting listeners and disc jockeys alike to just keep the needle in place and let it all dive-bomb, blues-boogie, and cut loose as one long composition.
“Heartbreaker”’s instantly memorable, impossible-not-to-imitate lead riff is among the most familiar sonic totems in the Zep canon. So, too, is Jimmy Page’s improvised waterfall of a guitar solo that sets up the back half of the song.
Robert Plant hardly takes a breath after his final wail of “Heart-break-er!” before bellowing forth, “With a purple umbrella and a fifty cent hat/Living, loving, she’s just a woman!” From there, “Living Loving Maid” supplies two-minutes, thirty-nine seconds of electric booty-shaking bliss, finishing the job “Heartbreaker” started.
“Feeling That Way”/”Anytime” – Journey
Journey’s 1978 album Infinity transformed what had been a near-metal fusion group into an era-defining arena rock powerhouse. It’s prudent to imagine that record’s debut of new Journey frontman Steve Perry had something to do with the upgrade.
“Feeling That Way” begins softly with keyboardist Gregg Rolie singing lead before Perry’s booming pipes supply real power to the ballad. Multi-tracked harmonies sound huge as they repeatedly sing the song’s title. Remarkably, the layered voices expand even further when “Feeling That Way” stops short and, utilizing a high-tech version of a capella, the group sings “Oooh-ooh, anytime that you want me/ooh-ooh, anytime that you need me.”
Rolie and Perry trade vocals again, and the entire two-act piece beguilingly lays out all the ingredients that would propel Journey to a uniquely turn-of-the-’80s brand of superstardom, one in which they even got their own arcade video game.
“This Beat Goes On”/”Switchin’ to Glide” – The Kings
Canadian rockers the Kings only sort of count as a one-hit wonder due to the fact that their one hit, 1980’s “This Beat Goes On”/”Switchin’ to Glide,” is actually two songs.
And what a song it is… uh, are? Who knows—all that matters is that “This Beat Goes On”/”Switchin’ to Glide” is a tandem masterpiece of power pop that stood out among hits by the group’s skinny-tie contemporaries on the order of the Cars and the Knack by feeling genuinely epic. It was epic enough, in fact, to require two whole songs.
It also didn’t hurt that the songs charmingly convey the anticipation of partying over the course of a couple of days off. “Switchin’ to Glide” even starts with the cry, “Nothin’ matters but the weekend/from a Tuesday point of view/like a kettle in the kitchen/I feel the steam begin to brew.”
Before Loverboy put out “Working for the Weekend” had to play something on Fridays at 5 o’clock. The Kings not only gave them an obvious go-to, the songs lived on as classics all their own.
Mike “McBeardo” McPadden is the author of Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever! (Bazillion Points).