From the May/June 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Maurice Tani
There are a number of songs with titles similar to “I’m Sitting on Top of the World,” perhaps the most famous of which is the country-blues number first recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks in 1930 and subsequently covered by a long list of musicians from Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys to the Grateful Dead to Jack White. In this lesson, I’ll be covering a song that predates that example by a good five years.
This instance of “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” was written by Ray Henderson and lyricists Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young and published in 1925. Al Jolson’s recording from that same year was the first major hit version of the song, but many other notable interpretations have been made over the years. My favorite version is Aretha Franklin’s swinging arrangement from 1962.
To keep things accessible to players of all levels, this arrangement is taken at a relaxed tempo, using a handful of open and first-position chords—C, F, A7, D7, G7—along with a couple more sophisticated but easy-to-play shapes, F#dim7 and Bb9.
To play “I’m Sitting on Top of the World,” I use a common fingerpicking pattern with an alternating bass, but you could also try strumming it with a pick, or, for that old-timey sound, using palm muting and a low G on the C chord. Both approaches are shown here in the notation. Choose whichever works best for you, or mix and match the techniques. Note that I also like to include walk-ups (or walk-downs) on the bass strings here and there; these are shown with down-stemmed notes in the notation.
As always, learn this arrangement as written, but my intent is that you will use this as a launching point for the song—so play around with it to find a tempo and rhythm that feels good to you.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.