THIS LIST WAS NOT done scientifically. We did not get out the decibel meter to measure just how loud these songs were. Instead, we relied on our ears and our guts. We might have missed a few, but the ear damage our eventual choices caused were proof enough for us that these selections belong here. Because these aren't just the loudest songs in existence: They're also the ones that make the most noise.
AC/DC: "Highway To Hell" from Highway To Hell (Atlantic '79). Bon Scott's last drunken howling waltz gave us this nightmarish blast of devilish metal sludge and proved once and for all that this great rock vocalist was not only a twisted poet but an accurate prophet (too bad for him, and us—but not for Brian Johnson). (R.A.M.)
Atari Teenage Riot: "Deutschland (Has Gotta Die!!)," from Burn, Berlin, Burn (DHR/Grand Royal '97). I wouldn't accuse Alec Empire of being a songwriter, but as leader of the Riot he's as effective as a Molotov cocktail. There's a place in the world for this Angry Young Man and his histrionic compatriots. (R.A.M.)
Beastie Boys: "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun," from Paul's Boutique (Capitol '89). As if to remind everyone they were the same band who'd made Licensed to Ill three years earlier, the Beasties threw this rock-hard gem onto their psychedelic follow-up. It's more serious than any of its predecessors, maybe, but no less aggressive, and remains their definitive song. (M.M.)
The Beatles: "Helter Skelter," from The Beatles (EMI '68). Besides being the most trendsetting band ever, the Fab Four also mastered the art of the prolonged, painful breakup, which led to impassioned and angst-ridden performances like this blast from the White Album; it's so raw and so loud that it inspired Manson, and 32 years later it's still more daring than anything Marilyn Manson's come up with. (R.A.M.)
Bikini Kill: "Rebel Girl," from The Singles (Kill Rock Stars '99). They liked it so much they recorded it three times (our nod goes to the Joan Jett-enhanced version), and who could blame them, if only because it contains what might be the greatest punk lyric of all time: "That girl thinks she's the queen of the neighborhood/I've got news for you—SHE IS!" (M.M.)
Black Sabbath: "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Warner Bros. '73). Ozzy gets all the credit, but Geezer Butler's rumbling bass and Tony Iommi's searing guitar helped turn this cut into a metal classic, churning together the low-end blues, rock, and goop composite that made Sabbath bloody, bold, and beautiful. (R.A.M.)
Hellacopters: "Gotta Get Some Action Now" from Super Shitty to the Max (Man's Ruin '00). Are you a real rocker? Then do yourself this favor: Chase down a vinyl copy of Super Shitty, put it on your turntable, crank that fucker, and run for cover. Song one, side one. If only everything was this good. (M.D.)
Husker Du: "Eight Miles High," from 7-inch (SST '84). The Byrds turned Dylan's folk into bucolic country-pop, and then, 18 years later, saw one of their own hits transformed into a yowling, scorched, and distorted jam that could penetrate eardrums like a heated ice pick. (R.A.M.)
Iggy & the Stooges: "Death Trip," from Raw Power (Columbia '73). The ultimate nihilist statement from the ultimate nihilist band: The Stooges often sounded as if they were skirting the perimeter of insanity, but on this, the last song on their last album, they went shooting over the edge. (M.M.)
Led Zeppelin: "Whole Lotta Love," from Led Zeppelin II (Atlantic '69). Picking the loudest Zeppelin song seems redundant and difficult. This one gets the nod for the enormously influential and deafening orgasm section in the middle: proof positive that they were every bit as primal as the blues they stole half their shit from. (M.M.)
Melvins: "Queen," from Stoner Witch (Atlantic '94). Jeez, trying to pick the loudest Melvins song is like trying to pick the ugliest Mariners fan: There's just too many of them to be totally happy with your selection. So we're picking "Queen." So there. (M.D.)
Ministry: "Just One Fix," from Psalm 69 (Warner Bros. '92). Around the time Al Jourgensen finally dropped that stupid fake-Brit accent, he began cranking the guitars and beats to hyperdrive. The results, while they lasted, were so absurdly intense they were almost funny, as with this scabrous junkie's lament, which sounds something like getting your teeth drilled with a jackhammer. (M.M.)
Public Enemy: "Rebel without a Pause," from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Def Jam '88). The squeal heard 'round the world, this record's repeated motif, a combination of a James Brown sax shriek and co-producer Hank Shocklee's tea kettle, sent rap-fearing parents running for the hills and a nation of hip-hop producers back to the drawing board. (M.M.)
Second Phase: "Mentasm," from 12-inch (R&S '92). The birth of the infamous "Hoover" sound (i.e. a pure-noise synth blat that sounds like a rhythmically oscillating vacuum cleaner in heat) that would overtake hardcore techno just as decisively as Public Enemy's screeches. Brought to you in part by 20-year-old Joey Beltram, less than a year after making techno's best-ever record, "Energy Flash." (M.M.)
Sonic Youth: "Expressway to Yr Skull," from Evol (SST '86). One of the most perfectly titled songs in history, with Thurston Moore crooning sightseeing highlights ("Mystery train, three way plane") and promising that "We're gonna kill/The California girls" before he and Lee Ranaldo proceed to commit unspeakable atrocities to their axes. Neil Young calls it "the ultimate guitar song," which you know means something. (M.M.)
Ike & Tina Turner: "River Deep, Mountain High," from River Deep, Mountain High (Philles '66). A showdown between Phil Spector's mighty Wall of Sound and conceivably the only singer who could have shouted it down. Ultimately it's a draw, though the ground beneath the competitors' feet was leveled from the impact. (M.M.)
The Velvet Underground: "Sister Ray," from White Light/White Heat (Verve '68). Recorded in one take (!), Lou and Sterling and Cale keep climbing on top of each other while Mo Tucker holds it all in place for 17 straight minutes. The all-time lease-breaker, as more than one writer and musician has put it; to this day there may be no more fearsome racket extant that's still identifiable as music. (M.M.)
Josh Wink: "Higher State of Consciousness (Tweekin' Acid Funk Mix)," from Left Above the Clouds (Nervous '96). No dance record has ever made so much out of so little: Over a simple breakbeat, Wink manipulates, twists, and malforms a simple little 303 bass line until it reaches critical mass, shapeshifting it from a growl to a piercing scream that could shatter glass. (M.M.)
The Who: "Won't Get Fooled Again," from Who's Next (MCA '71). With a synthesizer program keeping them from flying apart, the Who whip up the most controlled racket of their career, with Moon all over the place as usual, and Daltrey getting off one of the great rock and roll screams toward the end. (M.M.)
Neil Young: "Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)," from Rust Never Sleeps (Reprise '79). Forget about the infamous lyrics, the crunching guitar riff is among the most memorable and arrhythmia-inducing of all time, and when Neil growls, people listen. (R.A.M.)
Johnny Burnette Rock & Roll Trio: "Train Kept a Rollin'"
Link Wray: "Jack the Ripper"
Fear: "Let's Have a War"
The Sex Pistols: "Holidays in the Sun"
James Brown: "Mother Popcorn"
L.L. Cool J: "I Can't Live without My Radio"
Naked Raygun: "Throb Throb"
Big Black: "Jordan, Minnesota"
Miles Davis: "Rated X"
Funkadelic: "Maggot Brain"
Bruce Springsteen: "Born in the USA"
Prince & the Revolution: "Let's Go Crazy"
Pere Ubu: "Non-Alignment Pact"
Music Machine: "Talk Talk"
Grand Theft, "Scream (They're Eating Me Alive)"