Ready to Rock: Looking Back at Rock Band's Most Challenging Songs

With the release of Rock Band 4, Shacknews did not want to forget the plastic instrument afictionados that are out for a challenge. Today, we look at some of the most challenging songs in the long history of the series.


This is the week to get the band back together, because Rock Band 4 has made its way to Xbox One and PlayStation 4. With over 1700 legacy songs supported, anyone that picks it up is in an interesting position. Newcomers will hardly know where to begin and old veterans will hardly remember what's out there.

While there are plenty of songs out there with mass appeal, Shacknews recognizes that there's a sector of plastic instrument wielders that are searching for a challenge. So we recently pitched a question to our Chatty users: What are some of the most challenging Rock Band tracks they've encountered over the course of the series? This may not be a definitive list of the most challenging songs across Rock Band history, but it's certainly a starting point. Here's what everyone came up with:

Vocals: "Good Vibrations (Live)" by The Beach Boys

When one thinks of the great singers, Rock Band players will often think of Freddie Mercury. After all, the Queen frontman can carry a high tune like no other. But there was another all-time great singer that came a generation before him and that was the incomparable Brian Wilson of the 60s American band, The Beach Boys. Rock Band 3 featured a live performance of one of their most recognizable songs, "Good Vibrations," and it quickly became one of the toughest songs for Rock Band singers to perform.

Wilson hits some amazingly high, yet awkward, tones throughout the song. The fact that it's a live performance doesn't make things easier, as Wilson's pitch fluctuates frequently. Rock Band 4 users, unfortunately, won't get to try out Good Vibrations or any of the series' other on-disc tracks just yet. But Harmonix has assured fans that this is on the agenda, so look for Good Vibrations to haunt singers again sometime in the future.

Bass: "Panic Attack" by Dream Theater

Dream Theater has always been had some cult appeal and that's something that only grew with the rise of the rhythm game. As both Rock Band and Guitar Hero progressed, Dream Theater songs were always considered a treat, because of their catchy beats, powerful riffs, and dynamic sounds. Their RB/GH offerings showed off everything the band was capable of producing, with long, memorable ballads that were just as capable of captivating the ears as they were of melting the face.

"Panic Attack" is among the best of the Dream Theater offerings, but it's a brutal endeavor for bass players, kicking off with fast hammer-on sequences and only getting tougher from there. A case can be made for its difficulty for the four-player band as a whole, but the bass player basically works from start to finish on this track. The bass player deserves the most props on this particular track, especially since that opening riff is so memorable.

Drums: "This is Exile" by Whitechapel

Death metal is often the source of some of the most intense drumming across all of the Rock Band series. It's fast, it's bass-heavy, and it never takes a break. "This is Exile" from Whitechapel is no different, with tom and cymbal notes coming in quickly and furiously.

Whitechapel's headbanging track is a demanding piece of work, starting off with some of the most demanding drum patterns in the game, with only a small reprieve given at about the 90 second mark. Things only intensify from there and don't let up until the song ends at four minutes. Given that drumming, unlike guitar/bass and vocals, requires great physical endurance, perfecting this song is not only a testament to a player's rhythm tracking skills, but also an indication that they're in pretty great shape.

Guitar: "Snow (Hey Oh)" by The Red Hot Chili Peppers

One wouldn't expect a Red Hot Chili Peppers track to be so difficult, but this cut from the band's Stadium Arcadium album offered some surprising curveballs. The biggest one being that it's a pain in the neck from the very start. It establishes a pattern of 1-2-3-2-3 and two hammer-ons across different scales and continues that pattern without stopping for the entirety of the song. The pattern is extremely awkward and, more than that, it's rough on the fingers and joints. This is more of a test of endurance than anything else, as well as a test of memorization, as it's players strumming more or less the same pattern throughout.

There are other Rock Band tracks that have similarly difficult tracks, with "The Impression That I Get" from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones immediately coming to mind. But "Snow (Hey Oh)" was one of the first RB entries to create difficulty by repeating awkward patterns and remains one of the most widely remembered of those tracks. The Red Hot Chili Peppers license has lapsed and the band's camp has shown no interest in getting back on the Rock Band train, so don't look for "Snow (Hey Oh) or any other RHCP songs to come to Rock Band 4, but the memories of this song will be present in a couple of decades when arthritis kicks in.

Full Band: "B.Y.O.B." by System of a Down

It's been hard to find good modern day rock bands with a mass mainstream appeal, but System of a Down filled that need in the 00s. "B.Y.O.B." remains one of the band's most recognized songs -- a raw outcry against the pattern of war, who wages them, and who fights them. And as a theme like that would indicate, it's straight-up "in your face" rock across all corners.

Guitar and bass deal with fast and heavy riffs, littered with quick strums and hammer-ons. Meanwhile, the drummer must focus on wailing for the full length of the track, never taking a break. When the song breaks down, it's a feat of endurance for everyone involved, with the only relief really coming at the very end of the song. Unfortunately, like the RHCP, licensing issues are preventing System of a Down songs from hitting Rock Band 4. Hopefully, it's something that can be sorted out in the future, because this song is too good to be left off the playlist.

Full Band: "Green Grass and High Tides" as made famous by The Outlaws

No list of challenging songs would be complete without one of the most difficult songs to come out of the original Rock Band. "Green Grass and High Tides" was a ten-minute marathon and a brutally difficult song to play, regardless of the instrument of choice. Harmonix has a knack of picking this kind of song as their cherry on top of the rock sundae, as this particular track is reminiscent of "Free Bird" from Lynyrd Skynyrd, the final song from Guitar Hero 2. It starts off innocently enough, but the latter half of the song only gets faster and more intense until it fully tests everyone's limits.

Again, because it's an on-disc track, there's no timetable for when "Green Grass and High Tides" will challenge players again, but with Harmonix already on the case, that time will hopefully come sometime soon.

Any challenging tracks that we missed? Let us know in the comments and join the conversation.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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