Classic rock/pop songs that play well on a single acoustic guitar?
March 11, 2011 11:58 PM   Subscribe

Calling all guitar players: Looking for popular songs that can easily be played and sung by a single person with an acoustic guitar without losing too much. Basically, the kind of songs you can put in a set list where people's reactions are to immediately say, "Hey, I really like that song," followed immediately by "and hey, that sounds pretty close to the original too!" Also, very important: Any song should be playable by a *mediocre* guitar player.

To give some examples of what I'm looking for: You've Got to Hide Your Love Away by the Beatles and Me and Julio by Paul Simon are absolutely perfect. You've Got to Hide Your Love Away has that little hook that is instantly recognizable, but also completely acoustic and very easy to play (Dsus4 - D - Dsus2 - D). The Hey Ya acoustic cover on youtube is also very good.

I've seen this post, which is somewhat close, but the suggestions there veer toward what people think high school students would like, rather than the classics that I'm looking for.

Other suggestions?
posted by kingjoeshmoe to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
Brown-Eyed Girl is great for this reason. All Along the Watchtower (not the Jimi Hendrix cover) and Blowing in the Wind work well, too.
posted by wayland at 12:32 AM on March 12, 2011

James Taylor's whole catalog would work. And some Neil Young. And Cat Stevens.
posted by amyms at 12:35 AM on March 12, 2011

Dammit, refresh killed me.

Bob Seger - Turn the Page

Coldplay - The Scientist

Working Class Hero - John Lennon

Colin Hay - Overkill and Beautiful World

Pretty much anything from Tom Petty or Cat Stevens (seconded).
posted by Sphinx at 12:40 AM on March 12, 2011

Best answer: Oasis - Wonderwall
posted by keep it under cover at 12:41 AM on March 12, 2011

Oh how we love to break out the guitar and sing Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel songs after a bottle of wine or two!

Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard - FTW!

(50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Kodachrome, ... it's all good!)
posted by jbenben at 12:42 AM on March 12, 2011

Damn! Didn't read below the jump.

You already had my answer. Well, great minds...
posted by jbenben at 12:44 AM on March 12, 2011

It might help to know more about what "mediocre" means. Is that strumming chords only, or simple finger-picking patterns? Just open chords, or barre-chords too?

I know an arrangement of VU's Sunday Morning that is simply D/Em/G/A and a folky-strum. MeMail me if you want to know more.
posted by K.P. at 12:50 AM on March 12, 2011

Nice one jbenben on Kodachrome.

I was gonna recommend The Boxer or America, but I was wondering if today's students could even visualize what was meant by lines like "Cathy I'm lost I said though I knew she was sleeping" or "I am just a poor boy: Though my story's seldom told"

Shit, I feel extra old now.
posted by Sphinx at 12:59 AM on March 12, 2011

Response by poster: Mediocre means simple finger picking, the occasional barre chord, and the occasional simple riff. I can play Blackbird, for example (who can't?). Anything that requires speedy picking will probably not be so good.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 1:00 AM on March 12, 2011

Best answer: Here. That's a great book, and there are a bunch along the same lines.
posted by fire&wings at 1:52 AM on March 12, 2011

I taught myself how to play guitar by learning Nirvana songs. They're so easy, the structure is virtually the same for every song, and they're really not that hard to sing. Check out their Unplugged album for some songs, some of which aren't written by them. Bust out Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam and remind them that the Vaselines reworked a Christian song. Polly is easy too.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 2:13 AM on March 12, 2011

"Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd.
posted by Daily Alice at 3:33 AM on March 12, 2011

Sweet Jane by the Velvet Underground is super easy and recognizable.
posted by tetralix at 5:03 AM on March 12, 2011

Here Comes The Sun.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:13 AM on March 12, 2011

City of New Orleans - Arlo Guthrie
posted by carmicha at 5:52 AM on March 12, 2011

Anything by Neutral Milk Hotel. (Not sure if they're "classic" enough for you.)
posted by King Bee at 6:13 AM on March 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Almost anything off of "August and Everything After" by Counting Crows.

Suggestion: get a 3-ring binder; print off single-page or facing-page copies of the songs you find (monospace font only, such as Courier); compile a Campfire Songbook that you can pull out anytime.
posted by skypieces at 6:23 AM on March 12, 2011

I lean heavily on John Prine. Angel from Montgomery, The Accident, Dear Abby, Great Compromise
posted by Acton at 6:46 AM on March 12, 2011

if you like the Avett Brothers and have a capo you can play almost all of their wonderful songs. They seem particularly amenable to very simple chord progressions.

Fisherman's Blues - Waterboys (and many others)

Take it Easy - Eagles

Father and Son - Cat Stevens
posted by any major dude at 7:07 AM on March 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Nirvana. I have always been a big fan of acoustic Nirvana. A lot of songs can be played using E, Em, G, C, C7, Cm, D, and Dm. Especially as a change of pace, I've had success using those as cover songs when I used play at bars.

Probably one of my more recent favorites is Walk Hard from the Dewey Cox movie. It's fairly easy and just a fun song to play. The opening notes are recognizable and it's easy to get the crowd singing along and having fun, if they recognize it.

To go with the classics, there is always Rocking in the Free World by Neil Young, Fortunate Son by CCR, Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed, and to go with a classic Stairway to Heaven. It took me a little practice, but Stairway is not that hard to play once you get the patterns down. After the intro, you can get away with just playing the chords, which are fairly straightforward.
posted by Nackt at 7:47 AM on March 12, 2011

Blister in the Sun by the Violent Femmes has one of the most recognizable acoustic guitar riffs out there.
posted by davey_darling at 9:19 AM on March 12, 2011

Prince's Kiss is ridiculously awesome on acoustic guitar--I transpose to G-C-D. Steve Miller's Joker is a big hit around the campfire, as is Me and Bobby McGee. Stand by Me and I Can See Clearly Now are recent favorotes, too.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:33 AM on March 12, 2011

Freebird and Gimme Three Steps are much fun.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:34 AM on March 12, 2011

I'm a big fan of this version of What's Going On by Marvin Gaye.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 9:45 AM on March 12, 2011

Any song that is vocally driven will meet these requirements. You just play the chords to the rythmn of the song and no one will really notice. As you get better you can complicate the existing parts.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:14 AM on March 12, 2011

What would catch the most attention would be a pop song that can be reworked as an acoustic strummer. The nice thing there is it puts focus on the lyrics that people would normally gloss over and has that "oh hey! I wasn't expecting that!" factor.

Madonna's "Borderline" strikes me as a great example of a song you could do this with that would be a MILLION time hipper than just another version of "Last Dance With Mary Jane."
posted by sourwookie at 11:26 AM on March 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Really, Bob Dylan didn't appear on this list yet? Because his older catalog is basically exactly what you're looking for.
posted by General Malaise at 11:46 AM on March 12, 2011

Wagon Wheel is fun.

how about:

Hey Joe
Wish You Were Here
Norwegian Wood
Cinnamon Girl
posted by and for no one at 12:33 PM on March 12, 2011

Rainbow Connection?
posted by greatgefilte at 12:36 PM on March 12, 2011

Traffic's Feelin' Alright is a good one, only two chords!
posted by tommasz at 4:48 PM on March 12, 2011

Get The Beatles Complete Chord Songbook.
It's really awsome, has all of their songs with tab.
I just flipped through it till I found the songs with the least number of changes.

You'll be the hero of the beach in no time!
posted by Ignorance at 7:45 PM on March 12, 2011

As far as Beatles stuff, I like playing I'm Only Sleeping. The whole feel of the rhythm matches up with the strumming pattern on the acoustic, so it translates very well onto just one guitar. (Plus it's fun to stop everything and play those little bass figures with palm muting.) The same is true for Karma Police and Yo La Tengo's Stockholm Syndrome (though not sure how many people would recognize that one--it's clearly a classic, but I don't think it charted or anything).
posted by abcde at 1:31 AM on March 13, 2011

Back in my open-mic days, I saw a guy do a medley of Pink Floyd's more acoustic-y songs, i.e Wish You Were Here, Mother, etc., since they're all in G.
At the time I thought it was cheesy as hell, but I ended up copping the idea. I bookended it with Pigs on the Wing parts 1 and 2, and threw in Dark Globe by Syd Barrett in the middle. Always got a great reception.
posted by aquanaut at 11:20 AM on March 13, 2011

Best answer: Keeping with my previous idea of doing songs out of their normal element I can totally hear powerful acoustic renditions of Cyndi Lauper's "Money Changes Everything" and Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." But as someone who has to spend a lot of time in bars please stay away from the James Taylor/Buffet/Fogerty tropes.

Old school jazz standards work really well also. A simple, plaintive version of "Ain't Misbehavin" or "Just One Of Those Things" can be prime panty-peeler.
posted by sourwookie at 1:51 PM on March 13, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses all! Best answers go to the ones I'm thinking of giving a go at first, but I plan to revisit this page for new ideas going forward. Also one to sourwookie for inspiring me to attempt (and likely fail) to get my own pop song arrangement.

Bonus points to Obscure Reference and And for no one, who picked two songs (Here Comes the Sun and Norwegian Wood) that, although I didn't mention it, are also ones I know how to play and really like (yes, I'm a Beatles fan).

MrMoonPie, I'm very curious about your acoustic version of Kiss. Do you do any special riffs/hooks to get it close to the original, or do you just fake it with strumming chords?
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 2:23 PM on March 13, 2011

Nah, just strumming. I'm kind of a beginner still.
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:37 PM on March 13, 2011

Dry the Rain by the Beta Band -- nothing but constant slow and steady strumming ( E - A - Am ) with a bunch of simple bar chords up and down the fretboard.
posted by astrochimp at 9:28 PM on March 13, 2011

If I Needed Someone can be played with 7th fret capo similar to Here Comes the Sun. You can also play In My Life with 7th fret capo, although that's a whole step down from the key it was recorded in. 9th fret capo can be a little awkward on an acoustic, though.
posted by and for no one at 9:56 PM on March 13, 2011

I learned Doll Parts by Hole in about 3 minutes a few days ago, and I'm exactly mediocre.
posted by antiquark at 3:05 AM on March 15, 2011

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