Best. Campfire. Ever.
May 18, 2011 6:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to build a better campfire song repetoire. What are your favorite songs to hear / sing along to at a campfire?

I'm one of the people at the campfire who's expected to strum a few tunes on the guitar, but I can never think of enough songs on the spot and never get around to preparing in advance. I plan to take your suggestions and put together a book for myself with chords and lyrics. Here are a few of the songs I usually play:

Me and Bobby McGee
Hey Jude
Let it Be
Big Yellow Taxi
Chelsea Hotel
Down on the Corner

You can see a theme here, but I'll be thrilled to hear some titles that are not 60s/70s folk/rock as well. The only constraint is that the songs must be playable on a guitar.
posted by kitcat to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (40 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Rise Up Singing is great for this. It has lyrics and guitar chords for hundred of songs.
posted by bryghtrose at 6:18 PM on May 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

If you don't have a copy of the 'Rise Up Singing' songbook, you should definitely get one.

It has chords and lyrics to hundreds of folksy, old-timey and campfirey songs.
posted by gnutron at 6:18 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Hotel California" and "Under the Bridge" are fun campfire singalongs. To be fair, I've only sung them acapella, but the guitar part on these songs is pretty recognizable and probably easy to simplify.

There's always SpongeBob's "Campfire Song Song." ;)
posted by ElectricBlue at 6:18 PM on May 18, 2011

posted by gnutron at 6:19 PM on May 18, 2011

I'm one tough Gazookus which hates all Palookas
Wot ain't on the up and square.
I biffs 'em and buffs 'em and always out roughs 'em
But none of 'em gets nowhere.
If anyone dares to risk my Fisk it's Boff and it's Wham understand
So keep good behavior that's your one life saver
with Popeye the Sailor man!

(toot toot!)

Help Me Rhonda
posted by ian1977 at 6:19 PM on May 18, 2011

Response by poster: I do have Rise Up Singing, but find I don't know a lot of the songs in it. Suggestions?
posted by kitcat at 6:22 PM on May 18, 2011

Cancion del Mariachi, if you're feeling sassy. Have tequila on hand.
posted by Addlepated at 6:51 PM on May 18, 2011

Also, Margaritaville, Ghost Riders in the Sky, Man of Constant Sorrow, Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother, and most songs by The Eagles.

This Land is Your Land, Puff the Magic Dragon, Octopus's Garden, Yellow Submarine, If I Had a Hammer, and Streets of Laredo are songs that people probably remember from their childhoods and can sing along to.
posted by Addlepated at 6:58 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Plastic Jesus.
posted by pecanpies at 6:58 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Man, I spent a lot of time singing at campfires as a child. Here are some of my favorites that are in Rise Up Singing:

Big Rock Candy Mountain
Do Re Mi (the Woody Guthrie song - might only be amusing if you're from CA)
Haul Away Joe (sea shanties are AWESOME for singalongs - I think RUS has a sea section)
Little Boxes
Mail Myself to You
Precious Friend
Sailing Up, Sailing Down
Union Maid
Wabash Cannonball
We Shall Overcome
Which Side Are You On

(I was obviously raised by a bunch of pinkos.)
posted by elsietheeel at 6:58 PM on May 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Wow, lots of those songs are available on this site!
posted by Addlepated at 7:00 PM on May 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

Don McClean - American Pie
James Taylor - Sweet Baby James
Cat Stevens - Wild World
Neil Young - Heart of Gold
These artists have many other songs that would work well around a campfire, in that, they're very familiar and are playable on a guitar.
posted by kbar1 at 7:01 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, if you do Streets of Laredo you have to do it as sung by The Smothers Brothers.

Although Marty Robbins has some good songs for campfires too. Big Iron, El Paso, Cool Water...

And if you can yodel, Cattle Call is awesome.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:03 PM on May 18, 2011

Colours by Donovan.
posted by shortyJBot at 7:05 PM on May 18, 2011

Leaving on A Jet Plane is a hit where I'm from.
Seconding American Pie.
Blackbird, by the Beatles
Wagon Wheel - seriously the best ever! (
You and I by Ingrid Michaelson is not your time period but also great for one person and a guitar (
posted by hepta at 7:12 PM on May 18, 2011

Sorry - bad link above for Sweet Baby James - try this one - as if you don't already know the song!
posted by kbar1 at 7:15 PM on May 18, 2011

I grew up singing Indigo Girls (Closer to Fine) around the campfire. It pairs nicely with your Big Yellow Taxi number, and it's easy to teach friends the harmony if you don't want to sing solo!
posted by juliaem at 7:36 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a friend who adapted Tori Amos songs for guitar - simple melodic ones worked well, like "China" and "Leather".

generally, any pop tune with a clear melodic line should work - the first part of "bohemian Rhapsody" or "My Melancholy blues" by Queen, or "If I had a million dollars" by the Bare Naked Ladies, or "Superman" by Crash Test Dummies. On the faster side, I like "Home for a Rest" by the Spirit of the West - this guy has already adapted it for guitar.

anything ever sung by Peter, Paul and Mary would play well - like Leaving on a Jet plane, or Lemon Tree, etc, etc.

When you said campfire songs, I immediately thought of songs like "Fire's burning" and "Land of the Silver Birch".
posted by jb at 8:03 PM on May 18, 2011

The Simon & Garfunkle songbook is your friend.
posted by auto-correct at 8:30 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Re: 'Rise Up Singing' - I find that the more I listen to old-timey folk, blues and bluegrass, the more songs I know in the songbook. Every so often I'll page through it and recognize a song from a Doc Watson album that I've been humming for the last month.

I've gone through my copy with a highlighter to mark the songs I know. I bet there's at least 20 songs that you know in that book.
posted by gnutron at 9:02 PM on May 18, 2011

Abdul Abulbul Amir

posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:13 PM on May 18, 2011

Belle & Sebastian - Get Me Away from Here I'm Dying
Neutral Milk Hotel - King of Carrot Flowers pt 1
Postal Service - Such Great Heights (listen to Iron & Wine covering)
Death Cab for Cutie - I Will Follow You Into the Dark (seconding)
The Decemberists - Sons & Daughters
Guided by Voices - My Valuable Hunting Knife
The Mountain Goats - Jam Eater Blues
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 9:15 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gunther Anderson has a ton of simple tabs, sortable by artist or song title
posted by timsteil at 9:27 PM on May 18, 2011

This guy posts his versions of the songs in Rise Up Singing and he refers to the page numbers for easy reference.

My favorite camp songs are:
Old Settler Song (aka Acres of Clams) and Mountain Dew
posted by vespabelle at 10:05 PM on May 18, 2011

I first heard Bruce Springsteen's Atlantic City as a late night sinaglong. It works.

Billy Bragg - New England

Rise Against - Swing Life Away
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:12 PM on May 18, 2011

End the night with Taps. I love Taps.
posted by chiefthe at 12:39 AM on May 19, 2011

Loudon Wainwright III -- Dead Skunk In The Middle Of The Road. Eight year old boys will pretend to be you for WEEKS if you sing this, because you will have become the coolest adult they ever met. The blood and the guts, they're gonna make you swoon, baby.

The Poozies -- The Widow, a rollicking demonophilic Celtic tune about an adventurous woman who outlasted the Devil in a contest of the boudoir. It's got a simple chord structure and a repeating chorus that makes it friendly for the fireside, as long as the impressionables are sleeping.

The Kinks -- Lola. It's an easy chart, easy to harmonize, and fun. You can put Weird Al's Yoda lyrics in it if you would rather sublimate a tale of uncommon sexual awakening into a tale about embracing the power of the Force.

Taj Mahal -- Cakewalk Into Town, or Fishin' Blues, if you're at the lake.
posted by Sallyfur at 1:24 AM on May 19, 2011

Every good party I've ever been to has ended with people singing Crowded House songs. Everyone knows Don't Dream It's Over and Weather With You.
posted by indienial at 3:07 AM on May 19, 2011

I was in the same boat as you a couple of years ago. Here are a few of my favorite that my friends and I love to sing:
City of New Orleans - Steve Goodman
Angel from Montgomery - John Prine
Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
Mamas Don't let your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys - Willie and Waylon
Leroy Brown - Jim Croce
Margaritaville - Jimmy Buffet
Mrs. Robinson - Simon & Garfunkel
Outfit - Drive-By Truckers
Paradise - John Prine
The Accident - John Prine
The Boxer - Simon & Garfunkel
The Gambler - Kenny Rogers (with Muppets!)
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - Bob Dylan
Valentine - The Old 97's

Singing 'round a campfire is a wonderful thing. Enjoy!
posted by Acton at 5:45 AM on May 19, 2011

Donovan's "Happiness Runs." (My summer camp used it as a camp song when I was eleven, and I always thought it was a traditional "camp song" until I was 38.)

Cat Stevens, "If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out." Or anything off "Tea For The Tillerman." Or anything from the "Harold and Maude" soundtrack.

Nick Drake's "Pink Moon."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:05 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Recent campfire sing-a-longs I've been at have ended up with either the Magnetic Fields (Papa Was a Rodeo, Absolutely Cuckoo), They Might Be Giants (Anna Ng, New York City) or Weezer (pretty much anything).
posted by linettasky at 8:41 AM on May 19, 2011

Kiss (Prince) , A Little Help From My Friends (Joe Cocker), I Can't Help Falling In Love With You (Elvis) are good ones.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:19 AM on May 19, 2011

Rolling Stones - Sweet Virginia
Social Distortion - Story of My Life and/or Ball and Chain (Easy to sing and super easy to play)
Dirty Old Town - traditional but best by the Pogues
Free Fallin' - Tom Petty
Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash (or I Walk the Line - easy to play and easy to sing (though maybe more difficult to sing well))
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:20 AM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: I do have Rise Up Singing, but find I don't know a lot of the songs in it. Suggestions?

So many of these songs are so fantastic that they deserve to be learned.
YouTube is great for this. Looks like a user named matthewvaughan recorded a bunch of them in succession (warning: looks like he talks a lot before each one; some people just can't seem to record a song without an spoken intro).

I recommend pretty much all of the songs in the Struggles and Freedom chapters. Singing them makes you a better citizen, IMO.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:29 AM on May 19, 2011

Also, keep in mind that nearly every rock song ever written started out with someone strumming an acoustic guitar. If you can identify the chord progressions, you can play it on a guitar and make it work.

The wonderful thing about voice singing with an acoustic guitar backing is how great it sounds compared to other music combinations. It's very forgiving and generally works.

"Blackbird" and "Yellow Submarine" were mentioned earlier, but seriously any Beatles song works.

The only constraint is that the songs must be playable on a guitar.

I'd add that "Creep" by Radiohead is the most "playable-on-a-guitar" song ever, for better or (usually) worse.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:38 AM on May 19, 2011

Back in the day, my girl scout leader was very fond of Soul Asylum's Runaway Train. It works surprisingly well as a campfire song.
posted by cinco at 1:30 PM on May 19, 2011

The best ever (no, really - I still remember it 10 years on, and these campers were at their own campfire, not mine) was Zombie by the Cranberries. It was in the middle of Queensland wildness, one guitar, one voice, eerie and beautiful.
posted by b33j at 8:53 PM on May 19, 2011

"Four Strong Winds" - Ian & Sylvia
"Someday Soon" - Judy Collins
"Ribbon of Darkness" - Gordon Lightfoot
"Dear Abby" - John Prine
"God May Forgive You" - Iris Dement

My own favorite from Rise Up Singing is "Waltzing With Bears." Here are the lyrics and a straightforward banjo rendition.
posted by Iridic at 8:25 AM on May 20, 2011

Dust in the Wind by Kansas.

Windowpane by Opeth. It's not a classic, but try playing it around a campfire after all the well-known favorites have been played out. I guarantee your audience will be mesmerized.
posted by Demogorgon at 1:32 PM on May 20, 2011

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