Steppenwolf was formed in 1967 in Los Angeles, California. The group has one of the longest careers in rock and roll history. During the late 1960s, the world was in a constant state of turmoil; Steppenwolf’s music helped lend a voice to people’s emotions. Much of the group’s longevity and success is attributed to its frontman John Kay, who grew up in the tumultuous atmosphere of WWII in West Germany. Steppenwolf heard little rock and roll music and didn’t understand the lyrics because he only spoke German. However, it was the energy that created the desire to perform in his own band. In 1958, his family immigrated to Toronto, Canada. Eleven years later, Kay, alongside guitarist Michael Monarch, bassist Rushton Moreve, keyboardist Goldy McJohn, and drummer Jerry Edmonton, formed Steppenwolf. One of the things that made them famous in the 60s as they crossed over many genres and became a mainstay in both underground and pop charts.
Moreover, the group maintained a tough exterior image but recorded powerful songs that challenged social norms. Much like their first album recorded in 1968 in four days, Steppenwolf’s sound was supercharged and straight to the point. During their early albums, there were several lineup changes. However, the group permanently moved on, recording hit after hit. As John Kay said, “Steppenwolf was always a work in progress.” Even though the group was still prevalent in the 70, the members could no longer deal with the crazy touring and recording schedule and broke up in 1972. However, the group still wasn’t done. They did a farewell tour in 1974, but Kay brought back several members from earlier lineups and recorded three more albums the same year. Additionally, as Kay began his solo career, he discovered several former bandmates were performing under the name Steppenwolf, prompting him to take legal action. Steppenwolf started a new incarnation in 1980, calling themselves John Kay and Steppenwolf. During this time, the group worked diligently to re-establish the group’s name. Over forty years after the band started, they are still performing. However, they are recording without a major label. These are the top 10 Steppenwolf Songs of all time.
10. Berry Rides Again
The music in this song certainly evokes legend Chuck Berry. However, it is also distinctly Steppenwolf. The electric guitar riffs shine mixed with simple drum beats. Many of the guitar solos and piano chords are straight out of Berry’s playbook. Overall, it’s a rollicking song full of catchy rhythm.
9. Hey Lawdy Mama
This song has a gritty blues vibe rounded out by the smokiness of Kay’s voice. Housed between the traditional rock and roll drum links and smooth guitar riffs are fanciful lyrics about a night to remember.
8. Sookie, Sookie
An early influence of Steppenwolf was Deep Purple which is threaded into this song. Tambourine made an appearance on many songs during the sixties and plays a supporting role in keeping the song’s rhythm moving forward. Sookie, Sookie, is a blend of heavier rock songs and twists of the folkier sounds of the decade.
7. Hoochie Coochie Man
Muddy Waters originally sang this song over classic blues rhythm and guitars. Steppenwolf added some heavier rock elements with a more serious electric guitar, and Kay’s voice was slightly darker but kept the original song virtually intact.
6. It’s Never Too Late
This song is acid rock at its best, pulling from the folk genre. It’s another fusion composition from Steppenwolf, drawing from the best of multiple genres. Additionally, the lyrics in the song evoke songs sung by Dylan. Utilizing drum elevations in different parts of the music gives it a depth and range that kept it from fading into the annals of rock and roll history.
Although many of the group’s songs were rock anthems that helped define a generation, this song is more of leave your heart on the floor type of song. Kay’s voice works well with the dreamy lyrics about wanting to effect change in the world. Portions of the song are well-executed guitar riffs that partially run over the vocals but help bring the message of the song front and center, being a big part of the change happening during the 60s. You can also hear personal journey’s in the lyrics that encourage you to always be a seeker in life.
4. Don’t Step On The Grass, Sam
Marijuana was a large part of the Bohemian counterculture of the 1960s. Among other protests of tenacious issues in Vietnam, the group also wanted the freedom to smoke weed. Instead of the song coming across as a peaceful protest, it’s an anthem that uses rock to help people encourage social change. Yet, in the middle of the song is a more peaceful litany that sounds much like The Grateful Dead. Additionally, it throws the subject in the government’s face by declaring wrong or right. Those who chose to would continue to smoke it as they pleased.
3. The Pusher
1969’s Easy Rider made this song famous. It’s a more insidious look at the consequences of drugs and falling victim to someone who only cares about profits and not what will happen to the person who partakes. Although many guitar riffs are traditional blues, it also sounds like a psychedelic song with a reverse message.
2. Magic Carpet Ride
The opening of the song is a near cacophony of instruments that segues into a bright beat. Parts of the song are an invocation to relax and just take it easy against a liturgical rhythm. However, most of the music is an unforgettable beat that made this song one of Steppenwolf’s most iconic songs.
1. Born to be Wild
Even if you’re unfamiliar with most of Steppenwolf’s catalog, this is a song you’ve probably heard this song. It’s been used in multiple movies and TV shows, including The Wonder Years, The Simpsons, Speechless and Dr. Doolittle 2, and another track on the Easy Rider soundtrack. It’s also a song that has become synonymous with the motorcycle-riding counterculture.