The Real Reason These Classic Rock Hits Were Never Performed Live

Music is subjective. No one agrees on what constitutes "good" music, even within specific genres. And even legendary musicians have produced work that falls flat with their most dedicated fans. In fact, most musicians have produced work that even they don't think too highly of. Add in band dynamics, where several strong creative personalities collaborate on each and every composition, and it's easy to see why some songs get played less in concert than others.

It's not unusual for some songs to drop off of setlists after a while, only to reappear years or even decades later. It's a little less usual for there to be hit songs that a band has never played live. After all, a recognizable and popular tune is why people come to your concerts, and not playing the songs your audience wants to hear seems like a bad idea if you're in the business of, you know, playing songs that people want to hear. But the right to hate one of your own songs is a fundamental one, and sometimes a band knows they hate a song even as they're mastering it for release. Here is the real reason these classic rock hits were never performed live in their entirety.

Tomorrow Never Knows, The Beatles

It's true that there are actually a lot of Beatles songs the band never played live, for the simple reason that The Beatles stopped touring altogether after August 29, 1966, Rolling Stone reports. But their album "Revolver" was released on August 5, 1966, and their record label began releasing music to radio a few weeks earlier. And as reported by Rolling Stone, the band was still doing live gigs after its release. As noted by Slate, this is not only one of their most famous songs but a song that had a powerful impact on our conception of what pop music could be. And yet the band never once played it in concert.

Listening to the song, it's easy to see why: It would literally be impossible to recreate the song in a live performance. While Ringo Starr was probably capable of replicating the drumbeat he lays down for this song — despite its subtle complexity — the rest of the song is built from a variety of studio techniques, many of which were the result of in-the-moment experimentation. Indeed, countless sound effects in the song were literally added by hitting play on various tape machines at the right moment. And the technical limitations of the time meant that the band would never be able to get exactly the same sound each time, making it a nightmare of a song to try and play every night on different stages and sound systems.

Hey Hey What Can I Do, Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin's 1970 song "Hey Hey What Can I Do" is an outlier in a few ways. For one, as noted by author Nigel Williamson in "The Rough Guide to Led Zeppelin," it's the only non-album song the band ever released. This worked out well since it hit the Top 20 on the Billboard charts. But despite the song's popularity, it quickly became a rarity that was difficult to find, according to the Society of Rock.

One reason it wasn't played live is the fact that it's an unusual song for the band in a lot of ways. It was specifically written to be the B-side of "The Immigrant Song," which features one of the most famous hard rock guitar riffs of all time. And there's zero electronic instrumentation in the song — it's all acoustic guitars and drums. In 1970, Zeppelin was known as a loud, heavy rock band, so this song wasn't going to be their go-to choice. Another thing that sets the song apart is its country music flavor. As reported by Classic Rock History, many Led Zeppelin fans were confused and unhappy about the song's country twang and soft-rock arrangement, so including it in live setlists would have been a risk in front of a crowd cheering for hard rock.

The song was difficult to obtain legally until it was finally included on CD in the Zeppelin boxed set in 1990, per Rock and Roll Garage. Nevertheless, its continued popularity is a testament to Zeppelin's songwriting chops.

Fixxxer, Metallica

The song "Fixxxer" was a slow burn hit for Metallica. Released as the final song on what many regard as a mediocre album, the song is an unusually slinky groove for a band usually known for speed-metal riffs and arena rock anthems. And as noted by Ultimate Guitar, the song features one of the catchiest ear-worm choruses the band has ever come up with. Over the years, it's become one of the more popular "obscure" songs in their catalog, which is why it's a crime that every Metallica fan who attends their concerts wondering "Will they play 'Fixxxer'?" ends the evening consistently disappointed. As Loudwire reports, the band has never once played it live.

One reason the band has never played it live is likely the complex mix — many fans theorize that the song is just too difficult to replicate live. Indeed, Decibel Magazine says the song's use of studio tricks — including hard-panned guitar pieces and complex mixing on James Hetfield's lead vocal — means it's probably the sort of song that would be impossible to get right in a live environment. The fact that it comes from one of the band's most reviled records — Louder ranks it 12th out of their 13 releases— doesn't exactly help its chances.

Rocket Ride, Kiss

Kiss dominated the 1970s music charts. By 1977, the band was at its absolute peak, with six hit albums and one smash live album (1975's "Alive!") in its wake. As noted by Ultimate Classic Rock, "Alive II" was a double album that was the band's eighth release in just four years and marked the end of their meteoric rise as people began to grow tired of their glam-rock schtick.

The pressure was beginning to get to the band, and bickering began to hinder the group. Notably, guitarist Ace Frehley only contributed to one of the studio tracks on the album, "Rocket Ride," with the band bringing in replacement Bob Kulick to take over guitar on the other songs. And Frehley shut out bassist Gene Simmons from the recording sessions, handling the bass part himself, according to Kissmonster.

"Rocket Ride" is considered the standout on "Alive II," and was a hit, reaching #39 on the Billboard in 1978. But as confirmed by Ultimate Classic Rock, the band has never once played it live. And the reasons for its omission are pretty clear: For one, the band had plenty of bigger hits to play on tour. In addition, the band's overall lack of involvement with the tune makes it feel very much like a Frehley solo song, which makes it an obvious choice to skip, especially after Frehley left the band in 1982.

Home Tonight, Aerosmith

Someone will claim that Aerosmith has, in fact, played "Home Tonight" in concert at some point. And they'll be half right: According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the band has often used snippets of this 1976 song (from their album "Rocks") as an introduction to other songs, and it is often woven into other songs like "Dream On." But the group has never played the song in its entirety at a live show.

It's a shame because the song has come to be regarded as one of the band's best. As noted by Ultimate Classic Rock, it was a Top 40 hit for the band, and it stands out as a surprisingly emotional ballad in the midst of Aerosmith's harder, rock-oriented hits. There are two probably reasons for its omission; one is the fact that Aerosmith already has a signature power ballad with its megahit "Dream On," which overshadows the simpler and more traditional "Home Tonight." The other is the song's vulnerable and emotional tone, which doesn't fit with the aggressive and innuendo-soaked mood of the rest of the band's material. Finally, Ultimate Classic Rock notes that the song features some of Steven Tyler's most athletic shrieking and suggests that the vocal performance might simply be too strenuous to repeat night after night on the road.

Hide Your Love, The Rolling Stones

"Goat's Head Soup" was The Rolling Stones' 13th album and enjoys a split reputation. For some, it was the last in a line of incredible albums, beginning with 1968's "Beggar's Banquet." But as noted by author Ian Rusten in "The Rolling Stones in Concert, 1962-1982," many music critics regard the album as a step down from their previous work — one that marks the end of their Golden Age. One reason for this assessment is the inclusion of "mediocre" songs like "Hide Your Love."

The fact that the song's writer, Mick Jagger himself, didn't think much of the song initially explains why the band has never played it live. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Jagger considered "Hide Your Love" to be a "throwaway song" at first. And Record Collector Magazine claims there's a good reason for this: The song came about because Jagger was "banging away" at a piano in-between sessions and was encouraged to flesh it out on the spot, giving the song a loose, live feeling.

Coupled with the fact that "Goat's Head Soup" contained the massive hit "Angie" as well as the instant-classic "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)," it's easy to see why the band didn't think there was any reason to include this perfectly nice blues number in their setlists.

Nervous Shakedown, AC/DC

By 1983, AC/DC was both one of the biggest-selling hard rock acts in the world and a band on a steep decline. Per AllMusic, critic Steve Huey said the album they released that year, "Flick of the Switch," was "underdeveloped and unmemorable," and it's often cited as the band's worst album. As noted by Ultimate Classic Rock, the album remains one of the band's lowest-selling, just barely achieving platinum status years after its release.

Despite these shortcomings, the album did produce some charting singles, most notably "Nervous Shakedown," which has become increasingly loved over the years. According to Official Charts, the song made it to #35 on the U.K. singles charts, and the band thought highly enough of the song to film a music video for it. And yet the band has never played the song live — not even on the tour they launched to support "Flick of the Switch"!

In an interview with music critic Martin Popoff, collector and podcaster Mark Cicchini notes that the song was out of step with what was playing on FM radio at the time and lacked the pop sheen of hits like "You Shook Me All Night Long." It's well-known that the band actually rehearsed the song several times for the '83 tour, but ultimately never officially played it, suggesting that they were well aware that the song wouldn't measure up to their previous work.

I Wish You Peace, The Eagles

As anyone who has ever been in a band or watched a documentary about a band knows, bands are volatile collections of psyches and personalities. Like any group of people who find themselves spending almost all of their time together, things can get a little sour. And no one knows that better than the Eagles, who literally called their comeback album "Hell Freezes Over" in reference to the unlikely odds of its existence, per Ultimate Classic Rock.

The Eagles have been touring regularly ever since, but there's one song from one of their biggest albums that they've notably never played live: "I Wish You Peace," from "One of These Nights." The song was co-written by founding member Bernie Leadon and his girlfriend, Patti Davis — the daughter of Ronald Reagan. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Leadon pushed to include the song on the album because he hadn't written much and was keen to have a contribution

The problem? The rest of the band hated the song. Music journalist John Beaudin reports that drummer Don Henley referred to the song as "smarmy cocktail music," and Leadon had to threaten the band to get it recorded in the first place. Which kind of explains why the Eagles never played it live — especially after Leadon left the band in 1975.

Don't Damn Me, Guns N' Roses

There was a time when Guns N' Roses was the biggest band in the world. That era peaked with the release of the double-double albums "Use Your Illusion I" and "Use Your Illusion II," which sold 14 million copies combined, per Rolling Stone. In its review of "Use Your Illusion I," Rolling Stone singled out "Don't Damn Me" as the best song on the record, and the fans tend to agree. And yet according to Loudwire, the song is among just four the band has never played live (and one of those is "My World," which no sane person would want to be played live).

The reason is actually pretty straightforward: Lead singer Axl Rose can't manage the song live and couldn't even when he was thirty years younger. In an interview with Slash France, guitarist Slash says the song simply has "too many words," and Axl can't catch his breath when trying to sing it. Listening to the song, it's easy to see how difficult it would be to replicate the rapid-fire delivery he achieves. In fact, you can literally hear where Rose spliced together recordings to create the illusion that he's actually keeping pace with the song. In other words, this song can't be played live, plain and simple.

A Pillow of Winds, Pink Floyd

In 1971, Pink Floyd was not yet the band that would reinvent progressive rock and inspire generations of stoner kids to imagine themselves being sent into a meatgrinder when they attend school. After the mental collapse of founding member Syd Barrett, the band took a long time to find their footing, and their 1971 album "Meddle" is decidedly transitional. The album was a minor hit for the band, hitting #70 on the Billboard charts, and it remains a fan favorite. Yet in "Pink Floyd – Uncensored On the Record," Bob Carruthers notes that one of its most popular songs — the delicate and haunting "A Pillow of Winds" — has never been played live, 

One reason the song is left off all the setlists is its outlier status: As noted by music critic Mark Blake in his book "Comfortably Numb," "A Pillow of Winds" is "disarmingly lightweight and in stark contrast to all the 'Sturm und Drang' acid rock" and "sung by a sleepy-sounding Gilmour." Also, the band has left many of its pre-"Dark Side of the Moon" songs off their concert playlists over the years, so this isn't terribly surprising.

In "Pink Floyd: Song by Song," author Andrew Wild also notes another reason the song is avoided: Parts of the melody and the fretless bass pattern used in "Pillow" were reused a decade later in the smash hit "Hey You" from the band's seminal album "The Wall." Needless to say, playing both songs in the same concert might highlight their similarities a bit too much.

Flash of the Blade, Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden has been around for a long, long time. They formed in 1975 — which was almost fifty years ago if you're keeping track — and have released 17 albums in that period. Their 1984 album "Powerslave" is routinely ranked as one of their best, so it isn't surprising that fans consider every song on that album to be a classic. But it is surprising that Loudwire reports there are three songs from "Powerslave" that have never been played live — and one of them is the fan-favorite "Flash of the Blade."

One reason for this might be the challenge that the song represents. In "Iron Maiden: Album by Album," music critic Martin Popoff says "Flash of the Blade" was inspired by lead singer Bruce Dickinson's love of fencing and features incredibly intricate hammer-on and pull-off guitar playing that was years ahead of its time. Replicating those guitar parts for a song that — great as it is — is the fifth or sixth-best song on the album might not be worth it.

Still, it can't be that hard to play — all-girl tribute band The Iron Maidens routinely rips "Flash of the Blade" at their shows and they don't seem to have any trouble. The more likely explanation is that the band figures fans would rather hear "Two Minutes to Midnight" or "Aces High" off of "Powerslave."

You Can Still Change Your Mind, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Usually, when a band never plays a hit song live, there's some drama behind the story — a falling out, a painful memory, a level of difficulty they can't achieve any longer. But sometimes, even a popular song just doesn't fit in well with the rest of the group's material, which is what happened with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' beautiful 1981 ballad, "You Can Still Change Your Mind."

The album "Hard Promises" was a huge hit for The Heartbreakers, peaking at #5 on the Billboard charts. In "Conversations with Tom Petty," author Paul Zollo's interview with the musician reveals that the song features Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac singing background vocals (she also dueted with Petty on "Insider"). But the fan-favorite song never made it to one of their concerts, and it has nothing to do with the difficulty in getting Nicks to show up to sing her part. As noted by Ultimate Classic Rock, Petty considered the song "very different from what we normally do," implying it was a tough song to slot into a setlist.

Petty echoes this in an interview with Zollo, where he admits he wanted the song to be released as a single but then realized that it was too different from their usual material, saying "it really doesn't have a beat."