I remember taking drum lessons when I was 10 years old. I desperately wanted to learn how to play the drums, but I had a difficult time wrapping my head around certain theoretical concepts. This wasn’t the component I was even interested in. When I received an iPod Nano as a birthday gift two years later, I realized what it truly was that I wanted to learn. I had purchased songs by AFI, Rise Against, and Blink-182 for my new high-tech device, and I wanted to learn how to play them on my drum kit.
At my drum lessons, we primarily played marching music and elementary jazz. I’m still grateful for the fundamental training I received through those lessons, but I never really had the opportunity to play the music I wanted that early in my life. But that’s when the Rock Band series, now 13 years old, was at its cultural zenith. You could walk into any of your friends’ houses and see Rock Band instruments haphazardly strewn across the floor or lazily piled in a living room corner. When I had started teaching myself how to play drums for songs I downloaded from iTunes, I understood that playing in expert mode for Rock Band drums was as identical as you could get to playing real drums without a proper kit.
Now, as someone who’s played drums, guitar, bass, and other instruments for a decent chunk of my life, I admit that some Rock Band songs are simply cruel. Whereas some songs are challenging but still enjoyable, others are exceptionally unfair. But that’s part of the joy of them. There’s a reason that a group of friends trying to get through nearly any death metal song in the Rock Band franchise usually results in a laughing fit.
So, we decided to take a deep dive into all four Rock Band titles (and a little DLC) to see what the most difficult songs from the series are. We’ve also supplied some easier alternatives for each song, but if you’re feeling up to the challenge, then dust off those plastic instruments and plug in your seventh-gen gaming consoles.
10. Aerosmith – “Train Kept a Rollin’” from Rock Band (Guitar)
Aerosmith’s “Train Kept a Rollin’” from the original Rock Band is easily one of the most difficult songs for a guitarist in the game. As plenty of classic rock is, this track is brimming with showy guitar solos, and hitting every note is far from a minor accomplishment. Although Aerosmith would get their very own Guitar Hero game, it was Rock Band that gave them love first.
Try This Instead: For an easier classic guitar song to play, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock N’ Roll” is available in Rock Band 3.
09. Abnormality – “Visions” from Rock Band 2 (Bass)
The bassline in Abnormality’s “Visions” is restless. Its high-speed walk-ups and walk-downs are difficult to keep up with, and “Visions” is less of a song and more of a musical adrenaline rush. Rock Band 2 does a great job of projecting that chaos into a video game, as it’s even more difficult to play in real life. Abnormality is a death metal band after all, and what is a death metal band without agonizingly difficult songs?
Try This Instead: Lacuna Coil aren’t exactly a death metal band, but “Our Truth” from Rock Band 2 is a much easier alternative for those who still want to play metal without destroying their fingertips.
08. The Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations (Live)” from Rock Band 3 (Vocals)
Brian Wilson’s exquisite, masterful vocals are nearly irreplicable. It’s almost cruel to expect gamers to match Wilson’s (and the other Beach Boys’) range in Rock Band 3, but Harmonix put players to the test with a live version of “Good Vibrations”. Not only are you tasked with singing Brian Wilson’s part but also Carl Wilson’s. The Beach Boys were known for their clean (and painfully challenging) harmonies, and asking amateur gamers to compete with that is almost unfair.
Try This Instead: “Good Vibrations” is the only song by The Beach Boys in the entire Rock Band canon, but you can always try singing easier songs from their ‘60s contemporaries in The Beatles: Rock Band.
07. Dream Theater – “Panic Attack” from Rock Band 2 (Drums)
Drummer Mike Portnoy is famous for his work in the prog-metal band Dream Theater, and it’s why “Panic Attack” is one of the most difficult songs for a drummer in Rock Band 2. There are even several sections in a 5/8 time signature, which can be confusing for both musicians and non-musicians alike. Dream Theater formed while its members were studying at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and that virtuosity shines through in their music.
Try This Instead: For something that’s less of a metal full-body workout but still prog-minded, Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” is still a relatively challenging option in the original Rock Band.
06. Primus – “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” from Rock Band 3 (Bass)
Just as Brian Wilson is famous for his vocal work and Mike Portnoy is known for his drumming, Les Claypool is famous for his impressive, mind-boggling basslines. Playing it in Rock Band 3 is hard, but playing it on an actual bass is significantly harder. Claypool combines tapping and strumming on “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver”, two techniques rarely heard on a bass guitar. This is the most difficult song for Rock Band bassists for good reason.
Try This Instead: There are very few bands that sound even remotely like Primus, but if you want an easier but still iconic bassline, there’s always Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away” in Rock Band 2.
05. Queen – “Bohemian Rhapsody” from Rock Band 4 (Vocals)
Everyone already knows that Freddie Mercury was a unique talent. His vocal range was virtuosic, and his stage presence was equally commanding. It’s no surprise then that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is as difficult to sing in real life as it is in Rock Band 4. Matching Mercury’s excellent performance is no small task. If it wasn’t hard enough, it’s also six minutes, requiring you to keep up your vocal chops for quite a while.
Try This Instead: “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a Queen classic, but so is “Another One Bites the Dust”, a much easier tune to sing that’s part of the Rock Band DLC.
04. Judas Priest – “Painkiller” from Rock Band 2 (Drums)
For a song titled “Painkiller”, it sure loves to cause pain itself. If you’re playing drums on this track, this is actually a calf workout disguised as a video game. The kick drum seldom stops, so you’re forced to rapidly stomp the bass pedal nearly the whole time. If you’re wondering if “Painkiller” is as difficult to play in real life, it certainly is. Your kick leg will undoubtedly be sore whether you’re playing an actual drum-kit or its Rock Band counterpart.
Try This Instead: No Rock Band 2 player is always in the mood to play “Painkiller”, but if you’re looking for a much easier Judas Priest classic, “Breaking the Law (Live)” is a DLC alternative.
03. The Outlaws – “Green Grass and High Tides” from Rock Band (Guitar)
This 10-minute Southern rock odyssey from the 1970s band The Outlaws is rightfully placed in the Impossible Songs guitar section of Rock Band. Matters start out relatively calm with soothing guitar arpeggios interrupted by big, bombastic hits. It transitions to a much quicker tempo, and what was once a song eventually becomes a guitar solo trade-off of sorts. Playing the song, and solos, note for note on an actual guitar is a triumphant act, as there are many, many blazingly difficult solos. Just making it to the end of the song is quite the feat.
Try This Instead: If you’re looking for a much shorter, slightly easier Southern rock tune from Rock Band, try Mountain’s riff-heavy “Mississippi Queen”.
02. Nine Inch Nails – “The Perfect Drug” from Rock Band (Drums)
This one-off Nine Inch Nails single from David Lynch’s 1997 film Lost Highway is primarily built of glitched-out drum machine sequences. But that didn’t stop the people at Harmonix Music Systems from adapting its synth-heavy approach for a Rock Band DLC pack. This infamously difficult Rock Band song is particularly excruciating on drums. Its foreboding outro feels more like a welcome respite instead of the eerie omen it’s typically known as. This song is nearly impossible to play on an acoustic drum set, but Rock Band reimagines it in that context wonderfully.
Try This Instead: Those who want an easier track to play in the Rock Band series from Trent Reznor and Co. can play “The Hand That Feeds” from the original Rock Band.
01. DragonForce – “Operation Ground and Pound” from Rock Band 4 (Guitar)
DragonForce are a band that have become nearly synonymous with the Guitar Hero franchise, but many Rock Band fans may not know that they get some representation in the series’ latest installment, Rock Band 4. Guitar Hero III’s “Through the Fire and the Flames” has notoriously earned its status as the hardest song in the Guitar Hero games. It only makes sense that “Operation Ground and Pound”, another DragonForce song, would be the most difficult song in the Rock Band games. This seven-minute epic is bursting with difficult guitar licks and solos because that’s exactly what a DragonForce song is. If you’re playing this in real life, then you’ll need plenty of patience and maybe some Band-Aids from all the blisters.
Try This Instead: Most metal songs aren’t going to be easy, but Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” from Rock Band is a much calmer option when compared to “Operation Ground and Pound”.