What are the best acoustic guitar songs ever?
We like a lively debate, here at Dawsons, and one of the most heated we’ve had recently has been over the question ‘what are the best acoustic guitar songs ever?’ (Lights the blue touch paper, and retires to a safe distance…). As a subject, it is something of a ‘minefield’. For a start, what would classify as an acoustic guitar song? Does it have to feature only acoustic guitar and vocals? And that is before even considering which songs, from the entire history of music, should be considered the very best? We never shy away from a challenge, here, so here are the ten best acoustic guitar songs EVER. Well, as we see it anyhow. You might think they’re just ‘good acoustic guitar songs’, but hey-ho. ‘Each to his own’, said the man as he kissed the horse… 😉
In no particular order, Dawsons Music ‘s ten best acoustic guitar songs, ever!
Firstly, to clarify, we decided that we’d define ‘acoustic guitar song’ as a song that features an acoustic guitar part as a central, prominent element.
The Beatles – Blackbird
It was a fairly safe bet that The Beatles would feature in this list, somewhere. This Paul McCartney penned number is a master-class in understated acoustic songwriting, its fragile subject underpinned by a beautiful, and equally fragile acoustic guitar part. Macca used a number of acoustic guitars over the years, but on this track it was a MartinD28, though when playing it live, it was generally on his Epiphone Texan (both left handed, of course).
Bob Marley and the Wailers – Redemption Song
Redemption Song was the final song on Bob Marley’s final album Uprising. Suffering with cancer at the time of its composition, Redemption Song was a contrast to anything else he had previously recorded. Featuring just an acoustic guitar and his vocal, it appears to deal with themes connected to his own sense of mortality.
Pink Floyd – Wish you were here
Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ is, like much of the album it features on (also called Wish You Were Here) about former member Syd Barret’s breakdown. Beginning with an acoustic guitar, apparently being played through a radio, it expands into an epic that has seen it named as one of the greatest songs of all time. The shimmering, 12-string sound most likely came from Dave Gilmour’s Martin D12-28 (a 12-string Martin D28).
Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In The Wind
There are innumerable Bob Dylan tracks that could have featured in this list, but ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ is arguably his most well known acoustic guitar song. Described as a ‘protest’ song, this track appeared on his 1963 album the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, before his controversial (for some) decision to ‘go electric’.
Jeff Buckley – Lover, You Should’ve Come Over
This beautiful track was taken from Jeff Buckley’s only completed studio album, Grace. Thought to be about the ending of his relationship with Rebecca Moore, this song centres on a delicate acoustic guitar part, and manages to be intimate, fragile, epic, beautiful and melancholy simultaneously.
Nirvana – Where Did You Sleep Last Night
Whilst not exactly renowned for acoustic guitar songs, Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged album is easily on a par with any album the Seattle band ever recorded. This track, a traditional American folk song made famous by blues legend Leadbelly, was a highlight of the Album, closing it with typical Nirvana ferocity. And, when Kurt Cobain lets rip with his trademark wolverine howl towards the track’s end, I dare you not to have hairs standing up on the back of your neck…
Massive Attack – Teardrop
Well, it features a prominent acoustic guitar part, what’s your problem? Okay, I may be stretching things a little, but when a track is this good, do you blame me? ‘Teardrop’s fragile acoustic guitar lines and sparse beats, slowly build into a dense, complex climax, at which point everything other than the beats drop away, and you feel as if you’re falling into space. A magnificent acoustic guitar track from Bristol’s finest.
Johnny Cash – Hurt
Another track from an artist who has recorded so many classic acoustic guitar songs that there was no shortage of choice. Surprisingly, perhaps, we’ve picked his 2002 cover of the Nine Inch Nails track ‘Hurt’. But, rarely has Cash had such raw emotional power, giving the song a harrowing, yet beautiful quality that will make you celebrate his life and mourn his loss all the more. Johnny also had a penchant for Martin acoustic guitars, but was also known to play a Gibson J-200.
Led Zeppelin – Rain Song
Again, a classic acoustic guitar track from a band known for more ‘amplified’ work, shall we say. Legend has it that this track was a response to George Harrison saying the band didn’t play any ballads. ‘The Rain Song’s lush, dreamy acoustic texture seems ample response (though stops some way short of being a ballad…)
Radiohead – High and Dry
One of Radiohead’s rare acoustic moments, taken from the band’s 1995 album The Bends, the minimal acoustic intro leads into a beautiful slice of acoustic rock. Interestingly, the track was initially recorded for debut album, Pablo Honey, but dismissed by the band, as they felt it sounded like Rod Stewart (!).
And there we are. Ten of, what we feel, are the best acoustic guitar songs ever recorded. What do you think? Any we’ve missed? Don’t agree? Feel free to post a comment here, or on the Dawsons Music Facebook page.
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.