What are the best campfire guitar tunes?
February 25, 2004 5:53 AM   Subscribe

Guitarists: Sitting around a campfire (or a dorm room) with some beers and an acoustic guitar, what's your favorite song to play? Fans of guitars: What are some of the best songs you've heard done on a solo acoustic? (there's more inside, kids)

Sure, there's the old classics such as Over the Hills and Far Away or Melissa, but I'm looking for songs you don't normally hear done on a single acoustic guitar. Last night I was playing the chords to The Who's Won't Get Fooled, a song I generally think of being turned up to 11 on a Marshall stack, with Pete doing the windmill on his Strat. It adapted rather nicely to a single naked guitar. Ditto for U2's Beautiful Day and The Monkee's Pleasant Valley Sunday.

Nothing too complex, please, I'm just a hack.
posted by bondcliff to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Great question. As a fellow hack, I always freeze up in these situations.

Any gram parsons, but especially "grievous angel," "streets of baltimore" (not actually GP) or "sin city"

neil young, "needle and the damage done," "mellow my mind" (the worse you sing, the more authentic you sound)

radiohead, "creep"

townes van zandt, "pancho & lefty," "to live is fly," "white freightliner"

beatles "taxman" (you get a lot out of 1 riff)

There are SO many good answers to this question. I hope this is a long, long thread.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:12 AM on February 25, 2004

sorry, didn't pick up on "songs you don't normally hear done on a single acoustic guitar" -- arguably the nut of the question. I'll go away now.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:14 AM on February 25, 2004

"Norwegian Wood" played with astonishing, punk-like ferocity.
"Heroin" played as temple music.

Different guitarists, same effect: me, stunned, awed.
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:22 AM on February 25, 2004

Depends on your voice, what you can sing. Petty, Pretenders, Peter Gabriel all make for interesting campfire/dormroom acoustic covers IF YOU CAN SING THEM. Etc. Too many answers to this question really.
posted by cortex at 6:32 AM on February 25, 2004

Response by poster: No no, Flanders, don't go away. Those are all good suggestions, the ones I know anyway. I love playing Needle and the Damage Done. An easy song to play, but a hard song to play properly.

A couple of my favorites:

REM: Driver 8

Beatles: Help

U2: Sunday Bloody Sunday
posted by bondcliff at 6:35 AM on February 25, 2004

How about Little Wing ? I *really* like those chords and you don't need a strat + overdrive + tons of talent to make it at least sound interesting.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 6:41 AM on February 25, 2004

Victoria Williams - Crazy Mary (But do it the Pearl Jam way)
Violet Femmes - Kiss Off
posted by seanyboy at 6:53 AM on February 25, 2004

It's hard to beat Damage Done, not too hard tp play but it impresses the heck out of those who don't know better.

On preview I guess this doesn't meet the 'not often heard' criteria.
posted by cedar at 6:58 AM on February 25, 2004

Jack Johnson is fun too, Mud Football sounds great around a fire.
posted by cedar at 7:01 AM on February 25, 2004

Some early Madonna songs are surprisingly adaptable to a solo acoustic rendering. John Wesley Harding recorded a nice "Like a Prayer," and I have a friend who does a killer "Crazy For You" (don't think they've recorded it, though). I've always felt "Borderline" would work well, too.
posted by staggernation at 7:02 AM on February 25, 2004

Sunflower Suit by Buffalo tom is one I've had fun with.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:12 AM on February 25, 2004

staggernation: There is also an incredible live Michael Hedges cover of "Lucky Star" out there on the P2P networks.
posted by crunchburger at 7:17 AM on February 25, 2004

Lucinda Williams. . .Something About What Happens When We Talk is a fave .. .due to the fact it's a travellin' song. . .and it has private meanings for me.

Well I cain't stay around
Cause I'm headin' back South
My only regret now. . .
Is I never kissed .. your mouth. . .

I mean who can't relate?
posted by Danf at 7:21 AM on February 25, 2004

My hubby regularly favors us with stuff from Mermaid Avenue, some Rush, some Elliot Smith, plus plenty of blues songs.

He was in a band in the late 80s/early 90s and they had to know a lot of covers in order to get gigs. It's fun to hear his acoustic versions of the overproduced songs from that era:
Whisper to a Scream by Icicle Works
Cuts You Up by Peter Murphy
Lips Like Sugar by Echo and the Bunnymen
Don't You Forget About Me by Simple Minds
Plus various U2, Duran Duran, and Tears for Fears covers.

Try to learn at least one kitschy song that everyone knows the words to. If I could play, I'd probably try to figure out some Blondie covers. Heart of Glass would be awesome.
posted by whatnot at 7:31 AM on February 25, 2004

If you're sitting around a dorm room with an acoustic guitar, you need to sing Circles especially if you're hanging around with some skinny blonde girls (click on "skinny blonde girls" at the end to hear the song).
posted by CrunchyFrog at 7:40 AM on February 25, 2004

Waylon Jennings' theme for the Dukes of Hazzard, esp. if you can fingerpick the all-hell-breaks-loose part ("Makin' their wayyyyy...").
posted by COBRA! at 7:42 AM on February 25, 2004

I've never heard it done, but in my head, there's a really well-done acoustic version of KoRn's It's On.
posted by Danelope at 7:52 AM on February 25, 2004

If you don't mind sad songs, Townes' "Tecumseh Valley" will have them bawlin', as will "Darcy Farrow". You know, show your sensitive side.

I recently figured out "Wicked Game" (hint: it's in Bm, and for the riff, you just lift your barre-index-finger from the top string only); if you've got the range to do it, it generally impresses the hell out of people, even though it's easy.
posted by notsnot at 7:57 AM on February 25, 2004

Especially if you can rock that sob quality in your voicing.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:04 AM on February 25, 2004

Molly Hatchet's Flirtin' With Disaster : I arranged it for solo flat-picked 12-string (iow melody, rhythms, percussion, whistles) that I want to record as soon as I get a decent soundhole pickup. I think a basic strumming arrangement would be great for sing-alongs, plus you get to whack the shit out of that open E string. ...and that's always a good thing! ;-P

I'm currently giving the same treatment to The Hollies' Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress, which also has a fairly easy strumming part once you nail the signature opening riff.

While writing this, I got Crocodile Rock stuck in my mind, or even Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting.

No no no, this is it!!! Smoke on the Water ;-P
posted by mischief at 8:11 AM on February 25, 2004

The Beatles always charm: "Blackbird" impresses the hell out of people and the fingerpicking pattern is easy to learn; "When I'm Sixty-Four" makes people smile, and "Revolution" gets people singing along. "Lady Madonna", "Help", and as much of Side 2 of Abbey Road as you can get through before collapsing.

Indigo Girls are great if you hang out with post-flannel crowd: "Closer to Fine" will get people singing, and "Galileo" sounds great. Amy Ray teaches us that "Romeo and Juliet" is a gorgeous song with just a voice and a guitar.

Everyone loves Simon and Garfunkel as well: make them weep with a soulful rendition of "America" then pick up their spirits with "Cecilia" or Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard."

They'll give you props for even attempting "Purple Rain" even if you can't quite pull it off. I've never tried it, but an acoustic version of "Batdance" would probably get some laughs.

Folksy/rocksy tunes: Dylan's "Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues" or "Subterranean Homesick Blues" are both good (though perhaps truncatable). John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery" will etch tears on your listeners' faces, as will John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me."

Then I'd end it with a totally straight-faced rendition of "Bust a Move" by Young MC. But that's just me.
posted by vraxoin at 8:14 AM on February 25, 2004

Evan dando (lemonheads) tends to do a lot of loopy covers solo acoustic, which will be a spark for you..off the top of my head, Metallica, Abba, Misfits, Glen Campbell, oh hell, here's a link to a page with the MP3s available to DL

dando b-sides & live
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:26 AM on February 25, 2004

I always want the acoustic guitar players I know to play Guided by Voices songs, and if I ever get around to taking lessons on the acoustic guitar that we own, I will play a lot of Guided by Voices songs.

Just, please, no Grateful Dead songs. Thanks.
posted by jennyb at 8:28 AM on February 25, 2004

how about:
Heaven - Bryan Adams
Walk On The Ocean - Toad the Wet Sprocket
Just Like Heaven - The Cure
posted by inviolable at 8:31 AM on February 25, 2004

I would say campfire + beers = Jimmie Rodgers. (But you'd better practice your yodeling first.)
posted by Otis at 8:35 AM on February 25, 2004

Let me second the Prince suggestion and add some more: "I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man" (nice and slow, a beautiful song) and even "Kiss," if done with enough chutzpah - talk about a singalong!

Other favorites:
*Anything off Chris Whitley's "Dirt Floor" (once you get the tunings, not actually that hard)
*U2, "Love is Madness" (Cassandra Wilson's version, gorgeous)
*Squeeze, "Tempted"
*Hendrix, "Angel"
*Police, "Roxanne" or "Message in a Bottle" (Surprisingly complex, but playable)
posted by gottabefunky at 8:58 AM on February 25, 2004

Oh yeah, any of Bon Jovi's hits - amazing how many people know all the words.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:58 AM on February 25, 2004

Don't know about guitar, but if there's a piano room and you can play "Linus and Lucy," the Charlie Brown theme song, you'll make friends fast.
posted by GaelFC at 9:39 AM on February 25, 2004

David Bowie is another good option. "Young Americans," "Space Oddity," "Rock 'N' Roll Suicide," "Modern Love," etc.
posted by staggernation at 11:39 AM on February 25, 2004

As a often drunken guitar hack I'd suggest:
Free Fallin' by Tom Petty
Anything by the Violent Femmes (Usually ends in a drunken sing-a-long)
I don't want to grow up by Tom Waits
After Hours by the Velvet Underground
Dancing Queen by ABBA (I shit you not, I once heard Robbie Folks do this on a single acoustic guitar and it rocks. This may also lead to a drunken sing-a-long, but I assume that's the goal)
The Sweater Song by Weezer
Long Black Veil by ?, guess that's a traditional
So Long by The Handsome Family
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:20 PM on February 25, 2004

I'd like to second a lot of the songs listed here, particularly "Me and Julio down by the schoolyard." Reminds me of a specific party when someone played it with excellent results. My friend and I were chilling on a couch in a side room at a party where we didn't know many people. This kid walked in, grabbed a guitar, muttered "like paul simon?" then proceeded to perform a wonderful rendition of it. Not only did it entertain my friend and I, but it also drew a sing-along crowd into the room. His follow-up? A rocking, howling, fingers-bleeding version of "G-L-O-R-I-A"(I can never remember who originally sang that). If you've got a good yelling voice, I'd highly recommend it. After that, he left the party; i never even caught the kid's name.
posted by rorycberger at 4:57 PM on February 25, 2004

"G-L-O-R-I-A"(I can never remember who originally sang that).

The iTunes Music Store lists the band as Them, featuring Van Morrison.
posted by inviolable at 5:08 PM on February 25, 2004

Crazy Train, by Ozzy Osbourne...... but under very special circumstances...

I fell into to the impression somehow, at a rainbow gathering back in - oh, '92 or '93 I'd say, maybe later - that I was a Jew being rounded up for the Holocaust. There was a backdrop too, of a wrathful mountain god, of forces of nature angry at human greed and tresspass, of Koyanasquaatsi everywhere I could see.

George Bush senior had dropped the 82nd Airborne to surround the gathering, to do away with the damned hippie phenomenon. Things looked grim. I went to my tent, resigned, and awaited internment, torture, or worse.

Strangely too me, at the time, nothing at all happened. Hours passed.

I left my tent and wandered downhill and stumbled upon a friend and a fire circle. A friend was there. tentatively, I reestablished my moorings.....

A woman fresh from a NYC plane appeared with a guitar, then two hippy men in their late '50's with mandolins floated in, as on the wind......to be continued.

posted by troutfishing at 6:42 PM on February 25, 2004

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