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.