Songs in the Key of Rage

Find the most furious songs with our taxonomy of angry music — and then contribute your own.

Musicians have long known that the best thing you can do with anger is let it out in screams, in public. Use our handy guide to find the best song for your particular shade of rage, hook up to our Spotify playlist and get it all out.

Plus: Want to make this list even stronger? Tell us about your own favorites, and we’ll compile them for sharing with the Anxy community.

By Josie Thaddeus-Johns

1972

Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain”
Cause:
“You”
Flavor: Seething resentment
Listen to when: You need to point a finger (without seeming to).

“You’re so vain / I bet you think this song is about you.” Has a more paradoxical accusation ever been leveled in pop music history? Understandably, Simon has remained schtum on exactly who the song is really about (though the second verse was later revealed to be about Warren Beatty). Luring the listener into a false sense of security, the mumbling, soft-rock bass begins as a seemingly admiring portrait of the lover she’s addressing, only to culminate in a finger-jabbing chorus that is a throaty punch at narcissists everywhere.

— 
1977

Sex Pistols, “God Save The Queen”
Cause:
Disillusion with the establishment
Flavor: Snarling resentment
Listen to when: You just flipped off a cop with a tattooed middle finger.

Strikes, unemployment, energy crises: The 1970s were not good for the UK’s working class. The Sex Pistols’ best-known song, whose refrain of “no future” became emblematic of the nihilism of the punk movement, is an attack on the treatment of the working class and a cutting rewrite of Britain’s national anthem. Its cult status for the angry and disenfranchised is only increased by rumors that it was falsely denied the number one spot in the British charts — the music industry’s own faked moon landing.

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1977

Heart, “Barracuda”
Cause:
False friends
Flavor: Accusatory annoyance
Listen to when: Deleting contacts from your phone address book.

It’s difficult to know how to deal with rumors. When a radio promoter insinuated a relationship between Heart frontwoman Ann Wilson and her bandmate sister Nancy, she decided she’d had enough of the recording industry bullshit. She wrote this engine-pumping heavy bass riff, and from then on she would stare into the crowd at concerts, take her hand off the heavy metal strings for a second’s silence, and narrow her eyes at all those potential snakes: “Oooooh, Barracuda!”

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1980

Pat Benatar, “Hell is For Children”
Cause:
Child abuse
Flavor: Righteous pain
Listen to when: You just tuned your air guitar

Glam rock shoulder-pad aficionado Pat Benatar wrote this song after reading a series of articles in the New York Times about child abuse, according to her guitarist and husband Neil Giraldo. As the chorus breaks down into the tautological “Hell is for… Hell,” Benatar’s vocals burn with anguish for those who are too young to be able to help themselves.

— 
1991

Rage Against The Machine, “Killing In The Name”
Cause:
The military-industrial complex
Flavor: Unadulterated, righteous rage
Listen to when: Your hair finally grew out long enough to swoosh in a circle.

It has been deemed scientifically impossible not to headbang to this song’s bell-toll guitar vrooms. However, its true strength lies in the lyrics, which calmly whisper the truth about the brutality and racism that have marked America’s police force for decades. The band’s name says it all: If you believe in something, stand up and mosh for it. Plus, its authority-questioning expletives have provided a release valve against countless bad bosses.


1995

Alanis Morissette, “You Oughta Know”
Cause:
The ex’s new girlfriend
Flavor: Recriminating, bitter outrage
Listen to when:
You somehow find yourself stalking your ex on Facebook at 3 a.m.

With gushing power chords, Morissette’s messy ire sweeps into her ex’s perfect new life like a storm. Her fervent embodiment of pure bunny-boiler rage is a master class in all the ways you’re not supposed to act after your ex gets a new partner. She repeats promises he made, asks him to compare his new flame’s sexual prowess with hers (“Would she go down on you in a theater?”), and hollers her rage at being exchanged for a new model. The frenzied violence is seething in her faux-innocent reminder that, despite promising to love her until death, he appears to still be breathing.

— 
1998

Catatonia, “Road Rage”
Cause:
Endless arguments
Flavor: Exhausted fury
Listen to when:
Your eyerolls are at risk of becoming permanent.

This song is the embodiment of those burning, it’s-3a.m.-but-no-one’s-going-to-sleep-any-time-soon arguments, where you’ve seen red so many times that your vision is now blurry with pulsing vermillion. The tapped alveolar “r” of Cerys Matthews’ extremely Welsh enunciation on the word “rage” says she’s so tired of arguing with her lover, she can’t even get the words out straight.

1999

Kelis, “Caught Out There”
Cause:
Cheating ex
Flavor: Destructive, fiery wrath
Listen to when:
You need to shout.

At the beginning of one of her early hits, Kelis explicitly calls out in solidarity to Jojo, Alanis, Pink, and all the other women who aren’t on this list but still need to scream: “I hate you / so much right now!” The stripped-down production by the Neptunes is a low-key canvas for the rainbow-haired vocalist’s angry scribbles. Because sometimes anger is so simple that digging up a teeth-baring, bubble-bursting scream from those emotional depths expresses all there is to say.

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2000

DMX, “Party Up”
Cause:
Other weak rappers
Flavor: The aggression before the storm
Listen to when:
That argument is just unavoidable.

The noughties hip-hop trumpets on this swaggering party tune have pro-wrestler macho vibes, ready for your alter ego to walk into a ring, chest-pumping at the audience. DMX raps about that moment before you see red, before you “lose your mind…go all out…act a fool.” His lyrics are direct and in-your-face, and just like your pro-wrestler alter ego, DMX wants to fight everyone.

— 
2001

Eminem, “The Way I Am”
Cause:
The haters
Flavor: Aggressive irritation
Listen to when:
Everyone is the worst.

The most exacting part of this song is when Slim patiently explains, by way of elimination, exactly which finger he would like to stick to the media (not the thumb, not the pinky…). When he’s not playing “This Little Piggy,” Eminem loads these verses with sarcastic fury at people who give him attention, people who don’t give him attention, and people who give him the wrong attention. Basically whoever you are, Eminem is angry at you. Extremely relatable.

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2006

Kanye West, “Stronger”
Cause:
His own mistakes
Flavor: Kanye own-brand frustration
Listen to when:
You’re ready to channel your anger into effort.

In some ways, it’s easy to be angry at other people, situations, and systems. But when you know your anger is entirely your own fault, the hot rage can push inwards and intersect with other emotions, like guilt and shame. When you’re as much of a perfectionist as Kanye — the Guardian reported that he recorded over 50 versions of the song — inadequacy takes on a new meaning.

— 
2007

Beyoncé, “Irreplaceable”
Cause:
Cheating ex (yes, again)
Flavor: Cold, businesslike wrath
Listen to when:
Pettiness is evolving into white-hot serenity.

Beyoncé’s anger, like everything else about her, is utterly aspirational. There has been a mix-up, you see: Her ex is simply confused, not realizing that she is a queen and he was simply a replaceable piece of puzzle. Bey’s matter-of-fact attitude to kicking her lover out is the precursor to all that fire on Lemonade, where the messy truth of betrayal gets a greater airing. Cool and composed, “Irreplaceable” is the pinnacle of sharp and dismissive.

— 
2008

Pink, “So What”
Cause:
Low-life ex-husband
Flavor: Defiant animosity
Listen to when:
You’re feeling petty.

This yah-boo-sucks playground anthem from pop princess Pink is jokingly vengeful, a tongue poked out in the face of a break-up she won’t let affect her. It’s flippant but desperate, fitting the singer’s persona of class joker among the noughties’ red carpet favorites. Because girls who start fights make the best friends.

2011

Immortal Technique, “Rich Man’s World”
Cause:
Inequality in America
Flavor: Bitter, satirical animosity
Listen to when:
In the current political climate? Every day.

Spoken from the point of view of a fat-cat billionaire and sampling Abba’s “Money Money Money,” this song came out at the same time that the Occupy protests were spreading across global capitals. Simultaneously enraged and enraging, it’s an unapologetic interplay between two varieties of macho ego: one rich, white, and drenched in privilege; the other the boastful lyrical staple of rap music, where overblown claims are par for the course.

— 
2015

Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar, “Bad Blood”
Cause:
Loss of a friendship
Flavor: Stormy sadness
Listen to when:
You’ve got problems and you don’t think you can solve them.

Never underestimate how devastating the breakdown of a friendship can be. Unlike in a romantic relationship, there’s no rulebook to play by, even though it can be just as hurtful. The stark, slow beats of Swift’s “Bad Blood” bring a melodramatic menace to a social bust-up with its sing-song chorus: “Now we got problems / And I don’t think we can solve them”. Meanwhile, Lamar’s virtuosic verses recall military pomp — “It was my season for battle wounds / Battle scars, body bumped, bruised” — reminding us that betrayal doesn’t only come from a lover.

Josie Thaddeus-Johns is a British writer who currently lives in Berlin. She regularly contributes to the Guardian, Broadly, Crack Magazine, and The Creators Project, and makes amazing Tumblrs.

This story is taken from Issue №1 of Anxy. Take a look now, or sign up to receive our weekly newsletter with exclusive new stories.

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