While the electric guitar has come to be recognized as a symbol of power and bravado in genres like rock and blues, its counterpart, the acoustic guitar, offers its own breadth of stylistic symbolism. The natural tone and wooden frame give the instrument a poignantly human feel.
Many songs have an acoustic guitar for a raw feel. Electrified rockers like Guns N’ Roses chose the softer instrument for trendsetting singles. Artists like Bob Dylan are synonymous with the steel-string axe.
Read on for a comprehensive list of modern music’s best acoustic guitar songs.
Ooh La La – The Faces
“I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.” A relatable song capturing the hardships of youth and tough lessons learned while growing up, The Faces’ ‘Ooh La La’ was released on their last studio album recorded together. The song’s honesty and relatability have helped the track stay relevant in pop culture despite changing generations. It has been used in several films and shows, including the 2004 movie Without a Paddle and the 2003 BBC series Grass.
Related: Rock out to the most popular rock songs of all time.
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
Often known for their experimental work on guitar and in the studio, Pink Floyd uses classic acoustic guitar chord progressions with vocals at the forefront of production while lamenting their former bandmate Syd Barrett. Struggling with mental health issues for most of his life, Barrett ultimately had to leave the band. His presence haunts much of Pink Floyd’s work but none in such a palpable way as their epic-style track, ‘Wish You Were Here.’
Related: Check out these songs for missing someone.
Stop This Train – John Mayer
Released on his 2006 album Continuum, many of the tracks on this particular John Mayer project have a sense of mourning about them. Using a train in motion as a metaphor for unwanted aging and deeply intimate acoustic guitar underlying poetic lines, the songwriter confesses, “I’m so scared of getting older. I’m only good at being young.”
Related: Listen to more songs with train in the title.
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan
“Mama, take this badge off of me. I can’t use it anymore.” Often cited as a war protest song, Bob Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ was originally written for a ’70s outlaw film, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Over the years, the stripped-down acoustic track has been covered many times by artists like Guns N’ Roses. Dylan’s raw, open-ended lyrics are a big reason people use the song as a symbol for fighting through adversity and remembering the deceased.
Related: Find this song on our list of popular funeral songs.
Heart of Gold – Neil Young
The acoustic guitar song ‘Heart of Gold’ appears on Neil Young’s signature album, Harvest. While writing music for the project, he suffered a back injury that caused him to write on an acoustic guitar because electric guitars were too heavy at the time. This instrumental change gives the Harvest album an overall haunting, folksy vibe. While Young was well-known for writing in unique musical keys, which gave his music an emotionally stirring quality, he wrote this single in the easy-to-copy key of E minor.
Related: Here’s our shiny list of songs with the word gold in them.
Wake Me Up – Avicci
Written with R&B/pop singer Aloe Blacc, Avicci’s ‘Wake Me Up’ represented a totally new kind of music his fans weren’t used to; however, they ultimately embraced the change. Though Avicci has long been known for his EDM stylings, he fused bluegrass, country, and folk along with his electronic work for the tune. Though the song is heavily instrumental, with key parts like the hook section containing no vocals, it still managed to climb high on the charts.
Related: Rise and shine! Here are some good songs to wake up to.
Pink Moon – Nick Drake
Songwriter Nick Drake’s single ‘Pink Moon’ appears on his ’72 album by the same name. He was inspired to write the whimsical tune while reading a dictionary of folklore terminology. The entire album features three elements, Drake’s voice, piano work, and acoustic guitar playing. During the recording of the secretive album (a perfect situation for the mythical theme of the project), the only other person aware he was working on anything was his producer, John Wood.
Related: Here are some more songs with moon in the lyrics.
I Will Follow You Into the Dark – Death Cab for Cutie
“If there’s no one beside you while your soul embarks, I’ll follow you into the dark.” A romantically spooky tune that works its way into your spirit, ‘I Will Follow You Into the Dark’ has been used in quite a few suspense and drama-filled movies because of its gothic lyrics and soulful acoustic work. Band leader Ben Gibbard wrote the memorable song while working alone in a Seattle studio. The song came to him so quickly that he didn’t even need the lunch he had packed. He went home early, knowing he had created something special.
Related: This song features on our playlist of the best campfire guitar songs.
Wild Horses – The Rolling Stones
“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.” This was the only line kept of Keith Richard’s song ‘Wild Horses’ once bandmate Mick Jagger got ahold of it and began a re-writing process. For Richards, the tune was about his tortured emotions while having to leave his young son to go on tour. Jagger’s editing work gave the song new meaning with a romantic twist. He worked on the lyrics while his relationship with girlfriend Marianne Faithfull was falling apart.
Related: Saddle up and listen to these songs about riding horses.
Redemption Song – Bob Marley
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.” Reggae icon Bob Marley released his deeply philosophical tune ‘Redemption Song,’ his last single before passing in ’81. The track is meant as a final take on exactly what his music stands for, which in his words is “freedom and redemption.” The thought-provoking song was inspired by activist Marcus Garvey who emphasized freeing one’s mind even if the body has technically been emancipated.
Related: Enjoy your freedom with these songs about being wild and free.
America – Simon & Garfunkel
Songwriting duo Simon & Garfunkel put poetry to music once again with their ’68 folk tune ‘America.’ Decorated by light saxophone and organ, complementing more prominent vocal lines and acoustic guitar, the nostalgic tune reflects a forgotten America. Founded on ideals of strength, beauty, and wisdom, the singers search for the version of “America” they grew up with during a week-long road trip which ultimately inspired the song.
Related: Head over to our list of songs with America in the title.
Over the Hills and Far Away – Led Zeppelin
A softer Led Zeppelin track, ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ was written by band songwriter Robert Plant after being inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic book, The Hobbit. Though the song does contain electric guitar overlays, Plant’s opening acoustic guitar solo and later twelve-string guitar solo make this single one of the band’s most notable releases.
Related: Find more great songs about books and reading.
Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles
A list of acoustic songs isn’t complete without this Beatles song! George Harrison was visiting Eric Clapton in the late ’60s when the two spent an afternoon out in Clapton’s garden due to bright, sunny weather. Harrison was decompressing after helping manage much of the band’s ever-expanding business responsibilities. While relaxing with Clapton, he picked up one of his acoustic guitars and began playing. Inspired by the warm, soothing weather, he wrote ‘Here Comes the Sun’ while picking the guitar.
Related: Feel the heat from this playlist of sun songs.
Hotel California – The Eagles
A song criticizing society’s many vices, The Eagles band member Don Felder never thought their strange tune ‘Hotel California’ had hit potential. The band originally named the track ‘Mexican Reggae’ due to its syncopated beat and lazy groove. The song was featured on their album by the same name, becoming one of their best-selling projects. After its release, it won a Grammy award for Record of the Year.
Related: Travel to our playlist of songs with California in them.
Fire and Rain – James Taylor
While some bands occasionally go acoustic and strike gold with a stripped-down single, guitarist James Taylor’s repertoire is an acoustic lover’s gold mine. One of his most popular tracks, ‘Fire and Rain,’ discusses the different ways people often think the world may end. When Taylor wrote the chart-topper later in life, he reflected on his career, which had seen many personal ups and downs.
Related: Grab your umbrella! Here are the best songs about the rain.
A Horse With No Name – America
Folk-rock song ‘A Horse With No Name’ is one of the ’70s most recognizable acoustic-based singles. Languid in nature, the moody song draws readers into unforgiving conditions and desert scenery as the band communicates, “The heat was hot, and the ground was dry, but the air was full of sound.” Released in ’72, the single was America’s most popular tune, and it knocked Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’ out of the top spot on the charts.
Related: This song is on our list of simple songs on guitar for beginners.
Sweet Thing – Van Morrison
Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison is known for romantic hits like ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and ‘Into the Mystic.’ He keeps that loving feeling going with his ’68 track ‘Sweet Thing.’ Titled a term of endearment for his lover, Morrison uses the song as a way to communicate the intense emotions and feelings one has when falling in love. Morrison has confessed in previous interviews the charming track isn’t about anyone in particular.
Romeo and Juliet – Dire Straits
Centered around a broken relationship, Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler uses Shakespeare’s most famous play, Romeo and Juliet, as the song’s key metaphor. With lines like “How can you look at me as if I was just another one of your deals,” many have speculated over the years the six-minute single is about Knopfler’s former relationship with fellow musician Holly Vincent, who he felt was using him for his music industry contacts.
Related: See more of the best songs that tell a story.
Never Going Back Again – Fleetwood Mac
“You don’t know what it means to win. Come down and see me again.” Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Never Going Back Again’ was one of many tunes Lindsey Buckingham wrote after his breakup with fellow bandmate Stevie Nicks. For production, he used a fingerstyle playing technique to create softer tones. He has described the lyrics as being “sweet” in nature. At the time, he was on the rebound with another woman, so he hadn’t processed his heavier emotions from the Nicks breakup (these emotions are more evident in songs such as ‘Go Your Own Way’).
Angie – The Rolling Stones
Though listeners first thought The Rolling Stones’ tune ‘Angie’ was written about someone specific, songwriter and Stones guitarist Keith Richards would later reveal the true meaning. While he was in Switzerland at a clinic trying to detox from drug addiction, the name “Angie” randomly came to mind. From there, he constructed the song, which would ultimately be about his attempts at sobriety.
Related: Roll call! Here are more songs with women’s names in them.
Over the Hill – John Martyn
Appearing on his ’73 album Solid Air, John Martyn’s ‘Over the Hill’ is acoustic mastery. Aside from his acoustic guitar skills at the song’s forefront, it also features other acoustic-based instruments you don’t always find in commercial music, including the autoharp, mandolin, and violin.
American Pie – Don McLean
Songwriter Don McLean was a young paperboy working his route when he discovered a life-changing front-page newspaper headline: musicians Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens had tragically died in a plane crash. Famously known as “the day the music died,” McLean repeats this line in ‘American Pie’ as he reflects on his “early rock n’ roll generation” struggling with lost innocence and societal disillusionment.
Related: Check out our list of songs to say goodbye.
Patience – Guns N’ Roses
Rock band Guns N’ Roses would release one single from their second album, G N R Lies, in 1988. Frontman Axl Rose got in touch with his softer side for the release of ‘Patience,’ a tender all-acoustic ballad focusing on trying to make an ailing relationship work. The single release produced a wave effect, with many masculinity-focused bands taking on a more “sensitive rocker” approach with their work.
Related: Get excited for the best songs about anticipation.
Space Oddity – David Bowie
Often thought to be a song about America’s first successful trip to the moon in 1969, David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ was written after he was deeply inspired by director Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus, the film 2001: A Space Oddity. The song is another installment in the life of Bowie’s fictional character, Major Tom, an astronaut who blasts off into space and goes on many adventures in the cosmos.
Related: Explore the stars with these songs about space travel.
Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell
This 1970 folk classic was written after songwriter Joni Mitchell took an enlightening trip to Hawaii. Once she experienced the island’s unbridled wildness, her focus shifted to a more environmentalist approach to her songwriting. Over the years, many groups fighting industrialization have used the song to symbolize their cause.
Related: We’re happy to share our list of songs about greed and selfishness.
High and Dry – Radiohead
Frontman Thom Yorke never wanted ‘High and Dry’ to appear on their album The Bends because he hated the tune. But Radiohead’s label had other plans because of its perceived commercial appeal. The tune gently mocks the vanity of society, especially male-associated machismo.
Skinny Love – Bon Iver
Indie songster and Bon Iver founder Justin Vernon spent several months in remote Wisconsin working on songs for his album For Emma, Forever Ago. Among the untouched, rugged landscape he was surrounded by came the haunting tune ‘Skinny Love.’ The mournful track tells the story of a relationship gone wrong because two lovers got together for the wrong reasons. The songwriter has mentioned in interviews the term “skinny love” is what happens when a relationship can’t be nourished.
Related: Hear this song on our list of the best 2000s songs.
Harvest Moon – Neil Young
Whistful romance surrounds Neil Young’s folksy tune ‘Harvest Moon.’ The singer was known for his slight obsession with the lunar calendar. For this song, he uses the flooding light of a full moon to accentuate the love between two people dancing under it. ‘Harvest Moon’ is often considered a follow-up single to his 1972 breakout album Harvest.
Related: Grab your partner and enjoy these slow dance songs.
Lover, Lover, Lover – Leonard Cohen
When the Yom Kippur war broke out in Israel in the early 1970s, Leonard Cohen traveled to the country to help in any way he could. A friend and fellow musician he met up with put him to work with his band singing for troops. While over there, he wrote ‘Lover, Lover, Lover,’ also referred to as ‘Lover Come Back to Me.’ It’s a melancholy yet romantic tune that tugs at the heartstrings of anyone with military ties who has to be away from their loved ones for long periods.
Wild World – Cat Stevens
Reggae artist Jimmy Cliff released a rendition of Cat Stevens’ ‘Wild World’ in the UK mere months before Stevens’ original version would debut in America. The uplifting, flowy tune finds Stevens attempting to make sense of the crazy world he was navigating at the start of the 1970s. He has previously remarked that many of the lyrics deal with him trying to get back home.
Good Riddance (The Time of Your Life) – Green Day
Songwriter and Green Day frontman Billy Joe Armstrong has long paired guitar power chords with emotionally raw lyrics. But he traded his electric guitar for an acoustic with their smash hit ‘Good Riddance (The Time of Your Life).’ Armstrong wrote the song when he was younger and had difficulty coping with a serious girlfriend leaving him to move to another country.
Related: Here are the best songs about time passing.
Blackbird – The Beatles
Frontman Paul McCartney had a heavy hand in writing one of the Beatles’ later singles, ‘Blackbird.’ While learning about transcendental meditation in India, he woke up one morning to a blackbird singing on his patio. He was moved by her song and began composing lyrics and melodies to go along with her call. The song’s story morphed into a message about the hardships of black people in America during the civil rights movement taking place throughout the ’60s.
Related: Fly over to our list of songs about a bird.
Wonderwall – Oasis
Though Brit rock brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher had early success with heavier singles like ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol,’ Noel’s songwriting talent with ballads would be what would make their group international superstars. ‘Wonderwall’ was the first of the series of hit ballads the band would release. For decades fans debated as to what the intimate song really meant. The Oasis songwriter finally broke his silence during an interview and confessed it’s a tune about someone coming to save you from yourself.
Related: Sing along with these fun songs to sing.
Better Together – Jack Johnson
Making an appearance on the TV show Gavin and Stacey, Jack Johnson’s acoustic tune ‘Better Together’ has become a song that represents universal love. He had his wife in mind when he began writing the romantic tune. From there, he broadened the approach to make it more relatable to everyone. It’s commonly used for wedding ceremonies and anniversary celebrations.
Related: Listen to more popular Jack Johnson songs.
Losing My Religion – R.E.M.
90s rock sensation R.E.M. scored their biggest hit with their temperamental song ‘Losing My Religion.’ Their label wasn’t too happy about releasing it as a single at first due to the song’s minor key. On top of that, many listeners misinterpreted the song due to its title. ‘Losing My Religion’ isn’t a call to abandon organized religion, as many thought. It’s an old southern saying songwriter and band leader Michael Stipe grew up hearing which means someone is losing their patience.
Related: This song is on our list of the best songs in C major.
First Day of My Life – Bright Eyes
Songwriter Conor Oberst wrote about new beginnings with his romantic Bright Eyes tune ‘First Day of My Life.’ The alluring song represents all types of relationships, including romantic ones, that pull you out of a “nightmare.” Oberst’s poetic, philosophical lyrics have become a band staple. The popular single has become a go-to wedding song for newly married couples.
Related: Have you found your soulmate? Here are some songs about finding the one.