10 Acoustic Rock Songs You Should Know

With so many classic acoustic rock songs out there, it's hard to know where to start. Here are 10 acoustic rock songs you should know.

With this list, I present to you a collection of what I deem the Top 10 greatest acoustic rock songs of all time. Limited to ten choices, this list is far from comprehensive—how could it be?—and features what I consider highlights, with selections that are the most meaningful to me personally. If they’re not already in your listening rotation, be sure to add them.

10. “Pink Moon” – Nick Drake

Known for his incredible fingerpicking technique, penchant for alternate tunings, and withdrawn personality, English singer/songwriter Nick Drake released just three albums before passing away in 1974 at the age of 26 after an ongoing battle with depression. The product of the songwriter’s desire to create a stripped-down record of solo guitar and vocals, Pink Moon is a departure from his first two albums, which were arranged mostly for a full band. Played on a guitar tuned C G C F C E, lowest note to highest, the title track is the only one on the record to feature another instrument (piano).

9. “Crazy on You” – Heart

Starting off with one of the most memorable intros of the ’70s, which features absolute acoustic shredding by songwriter-vocalist-guitarist Nancy Wilson, “Crazy on You” is a triumphant mixture of acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and vocals fueled by a driving rock edge. With impressive guitar work performed by a woman in a male-dominated genre—a rarity at the time it was released in 1976—the song is also an early touchstone of female guitarist achievement.

ADVERTISEMENT

8. “Avalon Blues” – Mississippi John Hurt

Written by one of the most extraordinarily talented acoustic players of the Delta blues genre and perhaps of all time, “Avalon Blues” might not technically be a “rock” song—but it’s hard to argue with its place in the evolution of the genre. On this track, Hurt makes an orchestra out of a single instrument, his picking hand scaffolding a bass line and treble voice with just four fingers at a breakneck—or at least rather challenging to imitate—speed.

7. “New Slang” – The Shins

The most recent song on this list, the Shins’ 2001 single off the band’s debut album, Oh, Inverted World, was rocketed into the pop culture limelight when it was featured on the soundtrack of the 2004 film Garden State. The acoustic ballad makes use of just the I, IV, V, and vi chords in the key of C major, running on a combination of the classic progression and frontman James Russell Mercer’s intricate lyrical imagery.

6. “Exit Music (For a Film)” – Radiohead

Originally written for the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film, Romeo + Juliet, “Exit Music (For a Film)” was later released on Radiohead’s seminal 1997 album, OK Computer. The progressive alternative rock group’s hits feature an array of acoustic and electric tracks, but this one stands out with its surreal lyrics, subdued vocal, and textures furnished by acoustic guitar and synths. I also enjoy jazz pianist Brad Mehldau’s interpretation of the tune.

ADVERTISEMENT

5. “Astral Weeks” – Van Morrison

After the release of Van Morrison’s 1967 debut record, Blowin’ Your Mind!, and its hit single “Brown Eyed Girl,” audiences and record executives alike expected more of the same from the songwriter on his second full-length album, Astral Weeks. What was delivered instead was an eight-track, stream-of-consciousness blend of folk, rock, jazz, and blues. The album’s backing session musicians were not provided with any lead sheets, and for the title track, flautist John Payne entered the booth never having heard the song before.

4. “Midnight Rider” – The Allman Brothers Band

Described in Gregg Allman’s autobiography as “the song I’m most proud of in my career,” “Midnight Rider” was the second single from the Allman Brothers’ second studio album, Idlewild South (sharing a disc with its B-side, “Whipping Post”). Carried by Duane Allman’s acoustic guitar and Gregg’s vibrant vocals, the song didn’t have chart success until it was re-released on Gregg’s debut solo album a couple years later. It was also famously covered by Joe Cocker, reggae artist Paul Davidson, and Willie Nelson.

3. “Blackbird” – The Beatles

ADVERTISEMENT

A staple in the folk-rock compendium, “Blackbird” was famously written by Paul McCartney after he was introduced to a certain fingerpicking technique by Scottish folk singer Donovan. Featured on the Beatles’ self-titled 1968 record, or the “White Album,” the tune is one of the few songs by the group that features just solo guitar and voice—with the exception of the background birdsong samples—and though it might sound complicated to play, it’s actually a great song to learn for beginners.

2. “Space Oddity” – David Bowie

A Bowie classic, this track was released on the singer/songwriter’s second self-titled studio album, in 1969. The rock legend composed “Space Oddity” for the film Love You till Tuesday and wrote it from the perspective of the fictional character Major Tom—a creative theme carried on by his later use of characters Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and the Thin White Duke.

1. “Wish You Were Here” – Pink Floyd

A melancholic ballad from the album by the same name, “Wish You Were Here” was performed on both six- and 12-string acoustic guitars and sung by guitarist and co-writer David Gilmour. The song is often thought to be dedicated to co-founding member Syd Barrett, who left the band in 1968 due to severe mental health issues—but in interviews, bassist and co-writer Roger Waters has said the lyrics were more directed toward himself and are open to interpretation.

Kate Koenig
Kate Koenig

Kate Koenig is a singer-songwriter, music teacher, and music journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. They have been a regular contributor to Acoustic Guitar since 2017.

31 Comments

Leave a Reply to BradCancel Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Happy to see a Mississippi John Hurt song. Visited Avalon, or rather drove past the sign, and his and other Hurts graves Spring of 2021. . Got a pic of his grave up on Google Maps-pay him a visit if you’re in the area-and in other areas; Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, Mance Lipscomb and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s memorials.

  2. Astral Weeks” – Van Morrison
    Midnight Rider” – The Allman Brothers Band
    Space Oddity” – David Bowie
    these songs never get old, spent so much time
    with this stuff on vinyl, in the 70s still love them now.

  3. Rush

    A Farewell to Kings.. Intro… 12 string acoustic Intro, by far top 3..

    Nothing Else Matters.. Metallica

    Writers, Pollsters… do your homework before posting personal favorites

  4. Blackbird…”a certain fingerpicking technique by Scottish folk singer Donovan.”
    Wrong! Macca did not learn his unusual strumming technique from Donavan…Lennon did though. which he used in several White album tunes. Macca’s unique strumming style in Blackbird was his own creation. He never did learn to fingerpick properly but no one’s complaining.

  5. For real, G&Rs Patience, Clapton’s , Layla (unplugged version), Extreme More Than Words, and as long as we’re straying from rock on this list, a song you’d want to play: You Can Get It From Me, or Blind Indifference, off Stephen Fearings “So Many Miles” acoustic album. What an album!

  6. I’m partial to Stones in their country mode: Wild Horses, Sweet Virginia, Dead Flowers. And then good Dylan acoustic is a book. Literally.

  7. Going to California and the Rain Song. If you have to shoot down someone else, stay home and keep your comments to yourself.

  8. An alternate list of some of my favorites (and also not the be-all or end-all):

    Embryonic Journey by the Airplane (mostly or all Jorma)
    Little Martha by the ABB
    I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song by Jim Croce
    Hey Baby Hey by Big Bill Broonzy (covered by Clapton among others)
    For You Blue by the Beatles
    Louise (Paul Siebel wrote it) as performed by Leo Kottke
    The Boxer
    Here Comes the Sun
    Death Letter Blues by Sun House
    Heart of Gold

  9. For a roots musician who played his own intense combination of blues, folk and gospel, check out the recordings by the original “high lonesome sound” and “favorite” musician of Eric Clapton–the late Roscoe Holcomb playing guitar and banjo: Trouble in Mind, Little Bessie, Omie Wise, Hills of Mexico, etc. There’s also a YouTube video of Roscoe performing on Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest TV show, and another titled “How to Play Guitar Like a Banjo, Roscoe Holcomb Style” by Clayton Hicks.

  10. Wooden Ships demo – Steven Stills – check it out if you haven’t heard it, it will blow your mind; Dear Prudence-beatles; Babe I’m Gonna Leave You and Ramble On – Led Zep; Jethro Tull: Wonder’ring Aloud, Cheap Day Return, Mother Goose and Slipstream – all off of Aqualung; Landslide – Fleetwood Mac; Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chilis;

  11. I would have liked to see Kansas’ Dust in the wind. Hotel California and Stairway to Heaven also are among the most recognised intros