Slash might've said it best: "There's no lying with the acoustic guitar. There's something very pure, and very humbling, about it. The Beatles' 10 best acoustic songs. But strip away all the muck of multi-layered overdubs, rack effects and endless symphonies of tracks, and you separate the dodgers hiding behind studio wizardry and the artists who know a great song only needs six strings and a melody.
Here are 25 of hard-rock's best acoustic rockers. Some are pure acoustic jams, others only start out out that way before ascending into grand opuses. But what makes these songs iconic is their elemental simplicity. In other words, all you need to bring them to life is an acoustic guitar and a little feeling. And from the looks of these rockers, some gaudy jewelry helps. Note that these songs are not presented in any particular order. Led Zeppelin III was largely an unplugged affair, but Stairway to Heaven, from the band's follow-up, wins the prize for acoustic guitar excellence.
Jimmy Page's delicately fingerpicked arpeggios made the song Zeppelin's-and-rock's-definitive acoustic moment. Over the years, Stairway to Heaven has dominated countless 'greatest rock song ever' lists, thanks to its spellbinding mix of lyrical mysticism, compositional and production genius and instrumental virtuosity. But its most celebrated moment remains Page's unaccompanied intro: whether heard on a radio or played by some pimply kid in a guitar store, all it takes is those first few acoustic guitar notes and you can instantly name that tune.
Tom Scholz's soaring leads recorded with an early version of his Rockman amp unit and crunchy, multi-tracked electric guitar rhythms have more than a little to do with More Than a Feeling becoming one of classic rock's most enduring anthems. But it is the song's lilting, arpeggiated acoustic intro that puts fans in the mood. Working as something of a one-man band in his basement, Scholz, one of music's first DIY dudes, played all the guitar parts on Feeling. For the arpeggiated intro and verses, he used a Yamaha string; the more fully strummed choruses called for a Guild D When Vicci Livgren overheard her husband, Kansas guitarist Kerry, practicing finger exercises on his acoustic one day, she told him she heard a song there and suggested he add some lyrics.
He listened, and the result was Dust in the Wind. A departure from Kansas' characteristic prog-rock bombast, "Dust in the Wind" was a stark, plaintive meditation on the meaning of life. While many assume that the track features a string acoustic, the rich unplugged sound is actually the result of multiple six-strings a few in Nashville tuning , played by Livgren and co-guitarist Rich Williams. The song became Kansas' only Top single, charting at Number Six in One might assume this rebel yell, released during the tumultuous summer of , would rage with the sound of electric guitars.
Not so: with the exception of an electric bass, played by Keith Richards, the track is percent acoustic. Preparing a demo for the song, Richards mic'd two acoustics and recorded them into a cheap Phillips mono cassette recorder. The guitarist was so enamored of the resulting distortion the machine had no limiters, causing the signal to overload he decided to go au naturale and ditch the electrics.
By , Pete Townshend was known as much for smashing guitars as for playing them. But on the Who's ground breaking Tommy, he demonstrated some astonishing six-string skills. And with an acoustic in his hands check out It's a Boy for some deft blues-meets-flamenco work , he was unstoppable. Although electrics bolster the verses and choruses of the album's centerpiece, Pinball Wizard, a Gibson J acoustic is the dominant instrument throughout.
Townshend's furiously strummed barre chords which he deemed 'mock baroque' , heard in the intro and breakdown section, provide the kind of power and majesty befitting a genuine rock opera. As the first band signed to Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label, Bad Company, led by former Free singer Paul Rodgers and former Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs, followed their bosses' lead and specialized in sweaty, swaggering blues rock.
Taking another lesson from the Zepmen, Ralphs juxtaposed chiming acoustics with explosive power chords on this Top 10 smash, to wondrous effect. The bright, jangly acoustics lend a relaxed, down-home country vibe to the verses, while the electric guitars in the chorus scream with big, brash British rock. Presumably, quite a few people felt like doing the nasty after hearing this cut. As a member of the proto-punk glam-rockers the New York Dolls, and later with his own band, the Heartbreakers, Johnny Thunders knew how to dish out rough-and ragged three-chord rock.
And with a Les Paul Junior slung well below his waist, he had 'cool' written all over him. So it came as a surprise when Thunders, on his debut solo album, issued this poetic acoustic ballad. Tempering his patented pounding style, the singer-songwriter lays out his junkie lifestyle with unflinching candor, practically caressing his guitar strings in the process. Melancholic and remorseful, the song has come to serve as an elegy of sorts for the troubled Thunders, who died of an apparent drug overdose in The song's title, it should be noted, was lifted from a line spoken in an episode of the '50s TV sitcom The Honeymooners.
Punk rock, indeed. By , Rush had firmly established themselves as fine purveyors of glorious minute sci-fi opuses that could fill entire album sides. But on this, their fifth studio release, the Canadian prog trio demonstrated their ability to be hooky, concise and, with Closer to the Heart, radio-friendly. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the song's gentle, ringing string acoustic guitar intro is that it was written by bassist Geddy Lee, rather than guitarist Alex Lifeson.
The same figure is later repeated after a particularly ripping electric guitar solo-only this time the string acoustic is smartly doubled by a six-string electric. When it comes to Rush, of course, the contributions of drummer extraordinaire Neil Peart can never be overlooked.
Here, he adds plenty of bells and whistles throughout. Pick up a Martin acoustic, pluck octave harmonics at the 12th fret essentially comprising an Em chord and voila! And with good reason-this simple move is Steve Howe's signature opening line to Roundabout, Yes's breakthrough hit. Make it past Howe's harmonic-heavy unaccompanied intro, and you just might have a chance at mastering this intricate prog-rock masterpiece, in which acoustics and electrics, played in classical, jazzy and rocking splendor, weave in, out and 'roundabout'.
As for the lyrics, this is prog - you're on your own there. With his inventive, neoclassical spin on Eddie Van Halen's already established bag of tricks, Randy Rhoads became the new heavy metal guitar king after fans heard his work on Ozzy Osbourne's solo debut, Blizzard of Ozz.
But while electrified Ozz rockers like Crazy Train and I Don't Know wowed the metal masses, it was the solo classical piece Dee that was Rhoads' true masterpiece. Rhoads grew up in a musical family - his mother, Delores, runs a music school in North Hollywood, California - so it was only fitting that "Dee," all 49 seconds of it, paid tribute to the woman who inspired and nurtured his dreams.
Fingerpicked on a nylon-strong acoustic, the piece is by turns playful, melancholy, heartbreaking and hopeful. Tragically, Rhoads was killed in a plane crash, at the age of Five years later, Ozzy Osbourne included an extended, studio outtake version of Dee on his album Tribute, reminding us all of Rhoads' immense and largely untapped talent. But guitarists of all stripes found a lot to like in the bluesy-and boozy, slightly off-kilter Could This Be Magic?
The track, which marks the guitarist's first recorded bottleneck moment, finds Eddie's whimsical acoustic slide playing expertly shadowing David Lee Roth's vocal on the verses. The idea to use a slide came from producer Ted Templeman, and while Eddie was initially leery of trying it, he practiced for a few days and, in typical VH style, pulled off the part with aplomb.
Another first: Could This Be Magic? Templeman suggested a different sound for one of the choruses and brought in country singer Nicolette Larson, who was working in a neighboring studio, to lend vocal support.
Listen closely following Eddie's slide solo to hear Larson and Diamond Dave make sweet harmonized magic. The song is no slouch either. On it, Sambora lays down some fancy acoustic finger work, picking out descending arpeggios and bluesy bends as JBJ rolls his fascination with the Old West into a story about the weariness of life on the road. The result was a smash hit, insuring that Bon Jovi would see a million faces and rock them all for many years to come. Recorded way back in the early days of thrash, Fade to Black is rightly acknowledged as the genre's first 'power ballad'.
A seven-minute rumination on despair and suicide, the song is built around singer and guitarist James Hetfield's mournful, arpeggiated acoustic picking, over which Kirk Hammett adds some beautiful and soaring electric leads. Of course, this being Metallica, things remain sweet and mellow for only so long. Midway through, the song builds in intensity, shifting rhythms and adding plenty of heavily distorted six-strings, culminating in an extended and explosive Hammett solo.
While hardcore metalheads at the time accused Metallica of selling out by recording a ballad, Fade to Black remains one of the group's most well-known and beloved songs, and it is a concert staple to this day.
Besides, as Hetfield has said, "Limiting yourself to please your audience is bullshit. When you think of '80s power ballads, one song stands head, hair and shoulders above the rest: Every Rose Has Its Thorn. Penned by singer Bret Michaels after he discovered that his girlfriend had been cheating on him, the smash hit proved that glam-metal dudes have feelings, too. While the recorded version features a typically histrionic electric guitar solo from Poison's C.
DeVille, Michaels' lyrical directness, solid song construction and strong acoustic playing rule the day. Michaels has said that "People related to the song because I related to the song," and indeed, Every Rose Has Its Thorn, which hit Number One in , has since become a defining tune of the era. As for that girlfriend, she's now a hedge fund investor. The song was recorded in a single take, with guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin and bassist Duff McKagan all on acoustics. Axl Rose, for his part, contributes some fine whistling at the intro.
The final two minutes stand as Gn'R's Kumbaya moment, with the whole band cooing the song's title in sweet harmony. Then everybody got in a fight, but that's another story. It's five minutes long, features just two chords G and A and, with its steel drum ornamentation, sounds like something Jimmy Buffett might have conjured up after a three-day orgy of sponge cake and margaritas. Nonetheless, Jane Says remains one of the L.
Perhaps its durability can be attributed to the fact that it doesn't fit neatly in the group's canon. In place of frenzied, psychedelic metal dispatched with tectonic force, we get a wistful, straightforward acoustic ditty, tailor-made for campfires and backyard cookouts. In the late-'80s, Extreme carved out a niche as the funkiest hard rockers on the block, with a sound that, thanks to guitar hero Nuno Bettencourt, straddled the line between Van Halen shred and Aerosmith strut.
Aside from a couple of finger snaps, the only accompaniment to Cherone and Bettencourt's harmonizing voices was Bettencourt's fingerpicking on a Washburn acoustic and the percussive knocking of his hand against the guitar's top.
The result was a smash hit: More Than Words hit Number One on the Billboard charts in , and led a generation of would-be shred heroes to put down the electric, grab an acoustic, and knock the hell out of it. But it was this soulful acoustic-driven number about the ravages of heroin addiction that put the band over the top-and gave it a Number One song.
For the recording, guitarist Rich Robinson who wrote the music to the song when he was just 15 played a Martin D in open D tuning. Although he capoed the 2nd fret, effectively giving him an open E tuning, there's a certain feel and texture to his sound that fits the wrenching nature of the track. Add in brother Chris Robinson's soulful, yearning vocal, and you have something truly heavenly.
Let's say you're a proggy metal band from Seattle, of all places , best known for releasing a kitchen-sink concept album 's Operation: Mindcrime about government overthrow What do you do for an encore? The song drifts steadily along, adding electrics, voice-overs and swelling orchestration until practically busting at the seams with sound. And yet it ends as it began, with DeGarmo's lone acoustic.