What are your favourite songs to play on the guitar?
July 27, 2013 11:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to expand the repertoire of songs I can play by myself, just me and a guitar and I'd like to know, what are your best songs to play without any accompaniment.

Obviously there's a huge amount of guitar music out there, and most singer songwriter stuff can be covered pretty well, but I really want to know what are the gems that you've found: anything you keep coming back to playing again and again, songs that you wouldn't expect to work well but do or music that you think really suits a guitar sound.

I'm at a reasonable level at guitar (can play any normalish chord, can play a solo, can strum, pick or fingerpick) and I'm happy to challenge myself if the finished piece is worthwhile.

Thanks in advance.
posted by Ned G to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Here are just a few of mine, ones I come back to time and time again because they're fun to play. They're pretty Beatles-centric, as you'll see. These are all songs I love to play, but they reflect my own tastes, so, you know. Most are finger-picky but some strumming too.

Blackbird (Beatles)
Because (Beatles)
Dear Prudence (Beatles)
Norwegian Wood (Beatles)
59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) (Simon & Garfunkel)
Bookends (Simon & Garfunkel)
Jesus, Etc. (Wilco)
Omaha (Counting Crows)
Lake of Fire (Nirvana cover of Meat Puppets)
posted by ORthey at 11:42 AM on July 27, 2013

I don't play guitar, but my friend Scary Harry always gets requests for Friendly Neighborhood Narco Agent. Also, Water Song by Hot Tuna.
posted by workerant at 11:50 AM on July 27, 2013

I'm a better guitarist than singer, so like a song that has some fun guitar riffs as well as being playable solo. Looking through my list, here are some fun ones:

Ziggy Stardust
Here Comes the Sun
The Wind - Cat Stevens
Working at the Car Wash Blues - Jim Croce (I love a lot of JC songs - really fun stories)
Sunny Afternoon - the kinks
Redemption song - Bob Marley
I Love You - G. Love and Special Sauce

I've got chord/lyric charts for all of these if you PM me.

I heard someone do a nice arrangement of Lucy in the Sky with diamonds recently - that would be a fun one to work out.
posted by ianhattwick at 11:59 AM on July 27, 2013

Needle & The Damage Done (Neil Young)
All Apologies (Nirvana)
The Stone (Dave Matthews)
American Music (Violent femmes)
posted by mannequito at 12:06 PM on July 27, 2013

If by "just me and guitar", you mean singing and guitar, I've found that Nick Lowe's song You Make Me is always well received.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:13 PM on July 27, 2013

I come back to Van Ronk's Cocaine Blues whenever I get cocky and start to forget how intricacy informs the fingers and disengages the rational part of the brain.

Right now I'm working on the subtle melody embedded in Ashokan Farewell (see the Jay Unger/Molly Mason rendition for insight):


I also like to work on any of Clapton's several Broomsy tunes, just to stay humble.
Walking Blues, for one example, is simple, and elegant, but powerful.
Keys to the Highway keeps my feet moving, as well as my fingers.

The Boxer is something I like to do because of its beauty,
and any version of The Last Thing on My Mind, for its harmony.

Hot Tuna's "Keep on Truckin'" is a great exercise, and fun.
So is "Hesitation Blues" although I just sit in slack-jawed wonder when Cassidy's bass riffs begin to fall off his fingers and onto his fingerboard.

When I'm in the mood to just let my fingers roll in accompaniment, I like any of several Gospels. "Uncloudy Day" is one that's tight and fun.

"When the Roll is Called up Yonder" also comes to mind. I liked Cooders version best--his slower tempo brings out the nice structure, lets the riffs flow.

I play with an old-time fiddler's group here in Southern Oregon. Being a guitarist, I don't fiddle, but they challenge me all the time with stuff that's been carried forward from a century or so ago: You can sometimes hear the echos, ghosts I guess, of bagpipes and penny-whistles trying to rise up over the fiddlers.
posted by mule98J at 12:25 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you learn Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant, you'll have your pick of Thanksgiving dinner invitations for years, for saving everyone attending from at least 23 minutes of awkward holiday conversation. If you learn Don Mclean's American Pie, you'll be welcomed into lots of other kinds of gatherings, with many gray haired people. If you learn Wes Montgomery's Bumpin' on Sunset, you'll gather small groups of quiet, rapt listeners at will. If you learn anything by either Herb Ellis or Freddie Green, you'll gather angels at will. If you master some Joe Pass or Roy Buchanan (father of the Telecaster "pinch harmonic") tunes, perhaps some child of a greater God will sign up with you for lessons.
posted by paulsc at 12:34 PM on July 27, 2013

Here Comes The Sun
Crossing Muddy Waters by John Hiatt
No Surprises by Radiohead works surprisingly well on solo guitar
Angel by Sarah Maclachlan
Besamé Mucho
Could You Love Me One More Time (Ricky Skaggs version)
Jamaica Say You Will by Jackson Browne
John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic
Six O'Clock News by John Prine
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:43 PM on July 27, 2013

The crowd goes wild when I play this one: One Meatball (I tend to play it a little faster than Josh does)

A little man walked up and down, he found an eating place in town.
He read the menu through and through to see what fifteen cents could do:

One meatball, one meatball, he couldn't bought but one meatball.

He told the waiter near at hand the simple dinner he had planned.
The guests were startled, one and all, to hear that waiter oddly call:

"One meatball, one meatball, This here gent wants one meatball."

The little man felt ill at ease, "Some bread, Son, if you please."
The waiter hollered down the hall "Ya gets no bread with one meatball!"

One meatball, one meatball, "Ya gets no bread with one meatball!"

The little man felt very bad, one meatball was all he had,
And in his dreams he hears the call, "Ya gets no bread with one meatball!"

One meatball, one meatball, "Ya gets no bread with one meatball!"
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:11 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Crazy Love - Poco
posted by fairmettle at 9:31 PM on July 27, 2013

These are the books I'm always coming back to : The Beatles complete chord songbook, The oasis complete chord songbook, the various songbooks by Almir Chediak (seem pretty hard to find these days, but they're gold). The one song that I've been playing recently and stands out : My lovely horse, by Neil Hannon.
posted by nicolin at 1:32 PM on July 28, 2013

One thing I like to do to stretch myself a bit is to take a song and add the sung line as atop melody... so playing the chords and the melody at the same time. Obviously not all songs really work well for this, but there's quite a few and if you make some compromises on the chord positions and/or melody you can do it.

So they don't sound that hard to play, but to plan them out and to execute them well actually takes a bit of musicianship and playing skill. I've got a recording of The Rose on the site here where I do that, others I do are the opening from For The Love of God by Steve Vai, and also Right Here Waiting for you by Richard Marx (oh dear).

I do that mainly as I can't sing at all, so if anyone is to recognize what I play it seems the best way.
posted by Admira at 10:20 PM on July 28, 2013

Here's a ton of simple songs/chords for acoustic guitar. Odds are you'll find plenty of new faves
posted by timsteil at 10:57 PM on July 28, 2013

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