No two genres utilize the harmonica quite like the blues and rock music. For this list, rock legends like Led Zeppelin and The Doors are featured alongside blues pioneers like Little Waler and Bonnie Raitt.
For edgy, rock n’ roll harmonica riffs and soaring folk harmonica instrumentation, check out this compilation of some of the best harmonica songs.
Table of Contents
- Love Me Do – The Beatles
- Heart of Gold – Neil Young
- Long Train Running – The Doobie Brothers and Tom Johnston
- The Wizard – Black Sabbath
- Parchman Farm – John Mayall and the Blues Breakers
- Midnight Rambler – The Rolling Stones
- Whammer Jammer – The J. Geils Band
- My Babe – Little Walter
- Mr. Tambourine Man – Bob Dylan
- Keep on Smiling – Wet Willie
- On the Road Again – Canned Heat
- Good Morning Little Schoolgirl – The Grateful Dead
- Piano Man – Billy Joel
- Roadhouse Blues – The Doors
- Train, Train – Blackfoot
- Dirty Old Town – The Pogues
- Whoopin’ the Blues – Sonny Terry
- When the Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin
- Mary Jane’s Last Dance – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- For Once in My Life – Stevie Wonder
- Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters
- The Promised Land – Bruce Springsteen
- On the Road Again – Willie Nelson
- Hey Baby – Bruce Channel
- Work Song – The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
- Harvest Moon – Neil Young
- Groovin’ – The Young Rascals
- Christo Redemptor – Charlie Musselwhite
- Inside Looking Out – Grand Funk Railroad
- I’m a Man – The Yardbirds
- Traintime – Cream
- Absolutely Sweet Marie – Bob Dylan
- He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother – The Hollies
- Runaway – Bonnie Raitt
- Oh Girl – The Chi-Lites
- Man with a Harmonica (from Once Upon a Time in the West) – Ennio Morricone
Love Me Do – The Beatles
This hit from The Beatles, written by band leader Paul McCartney, is instantly recognizable due to the harmonica riff at the beginning of the song. Bandmate John Lennon added in harmonica after the song was written. Paul was only 16 years old when he wrote ‘Love Me Do’ about his girlfriend at the time, Iris Caldwell.
Heart of Gold – Neil Young
At 1:13 minutes, songwriter Neil Young dives into a memorable, yearning harmonica solo. ‘Heart of Gold’ is one of Young’s most popular songs. It appears on his 1971 album, Harvest. He wrote the tune after experiencing a severe back injury that kept him from playing electric guitar. While recording Harvest, he opted for an acoustic so he could play on the album.
Related: See more songs with gold in the title.
Long Train Running – The Doobie Brothers and Tom Johnston
Lead singer and guitarist Tom Johnston wrote ‘Long Train Running,’ and the band performed at their shows for about three years before ever even recording it. Johnston prefers to write the music first when he’s songwriting, often tackling the lyrics towards the end in a stream-of-consciousness manner. At 1:28 minutes, he rips into a funky harmonica solo.
Related: Here are the best songs about trains.
The Wizard – Black Sabbath
Opening with haunting solo harmonica, Black Sabbath’s ‘The Wizard’ is as much an instrumental masterpiece as a memorable vocal performance. The song draws on imagery and symbolism of a powerful sorcerer, and many believe this popular tune was actually written as a metaphorical ode to the band’s dealer. At 3:14 minutes, the harmonica breaks from its repeated riff and provides an off-kilter solo.
Related: Check out more magical songs.
Parchman Farm – John Mayall and the Blues Breakers
“I’m sitting over here on Parchman Farm. Ain’t never done no man no harm.” This upbeat blues tune has rockin’ harmonica layered throughout it. Though he’s not prominent on this song, blues guitarist Eric Clapton actually played with John Mayall and the Blues Breakers for some time in the mid-’60s. ‘Parchman Farm’ appears on their album, Steppin’ Out: An Introduction to John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.
Midnight Rambler – The Rolling Stones
The live version of ‘Midnight Rambler’ features a lot of harmonica swagger, with background riffs soaring before the song even starts. A wailing harmonica can be heard over the electric guitar when the band breaks into the song. From the Stones’ 1969 Let it Bleed album, Jagger sings about a creepy stalker trailing his next casualty in this song.
Related: Keep an eye on this stalker songs list.
Whammer Jammer – The J. Geils Band
Wild harmonica riffs set the tone for this live recording of ‘Whammer Jammer. Part blues, part rock, this song is the most popular tune of the band’s 1972 live album Full House. You may think this song is actually a cover since its songwriting credit goes to “Juke Joint Jimmy.” But that’s simply an alias for The J. Geils Band.
My Babe – Little Walter
This classic blues standard shows off Littler Walter’s gospel-tinged voice and smooth harmonica abilities. With a walking bass line and simple background percussion, ‘My Babe’ is an ode to that special lady in the bluesman’s life. Stick around for the 1:05 mark and listen to Little Walter wail on the harmonica.
Mr. Tambourine Man – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s iconic harmonica and acoustic guitar combo gave rise to a slew of musicians who redefined the genre in the ’60s folk movement. Dylan’s pioneering work is apparent in his popular tune ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’ He lays simple harmonica work over his strumming guitar right off the bat before seamlessly gliding into the first verse. Dylan’s inspiration for the song came from Bruce Langhorne, a musician who wielded a huge tambourine and recorded with him at the studio.
Keep on Smiling – Wet Willie
This feel-good rock/blues tune opens up at 2:20 minutes with an uplifting, soulful harmonica solo. Wet Willie scored their first top 40 hit with ‘Keep on Smiling.’ Despite ultimately having two other hits songs, this tune remains their most popular song among fans. The lyrics and tone of the song remind listeners to enjoy life despite the hard breaks and create good times with others.
Related: You’ll be sure to smile with these songs about being happy.
On the Road Again – Canned Heat
Low harmonica with lots of attitude is sprinkled throughout this blues-tinged track by Canned Heat. In sharp contrast to Willie Nelson’s easy-listening country classic, Canned Heat creates a psychedelic feel with their own 1968 song, ‘On the Road Again.’ This popular track appears on their album, Boogie with Canned Heat.
Related: Hit the asphalt with this road trip songs playlist.
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl – The Grateful Dead
At just 0:15 seconds, The Grateful Dead brings in blues harmonica to the forefront of this mid-tempo track. This traditional blues tune was originally recorded for Bluebird Records by Sonny Boy Williamson in 1937. Since then, blues greats from Muddy Waters to Lightnin’ Hopkins. Phil Lesh provides heavy bravado for his dynamic vocal performance of ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.’
Piano Man – Billy Joel
“Sing us a song; you’re the piano man.” Billy Joel’s infectious ‘Piano Man’ has been a bar band setlist requirement since its release in 1973. The memorable harmonica melody at the song’s start gets listeners singing along immediately. Appearing on Joel’s album Piano Man, the tune actually tells the story of his days as a piano lounge player in the early ’70s.
Related: Head over to the best songs about getting away.
Roadhouse Blues – The Doors
Layered harmonica with a spirited performance immediately set the tone of The Doors’ ‘Roadhouse Blues.’ While one harmonica stays in the pocket with the rhythm, another takes the lead and soars over blues-rock instrumentation. Jim Morrison came up with this blues standard at one of the band’s jam sessions. Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian sat in on harmonica for the recording.
Train, Train – Blackfoot
“Lord, take me on out of this town.” The sorrowful harmonica that morphs into an imitation of the fast-paced beat to come opens Blackfoot’s ‘Train, Train.’ The harmonica, along with the other instrumentation, evokes a train-like feel to the song. The tune was originally written by “Shorty” Medlocke, a blues and bluegrass musician.
Dirty Old Town – The Pogues
Mournful harmonica opens this Pogue’s classic. ‘Dirty Old Town’ makes you feel like you are wandering through a deserted seaside Irish port town. During an instrumental break in the song, several violins take a solo all together, giving the song a traditional but empowered feel. This folk number is a cover of Ewan MacColl’s song, originally written in 1949. It refers to Salford, a small industrial area of Lancashire, England, where MacColl grew up.
Whoopin’ the Blues – Sonny Terry
Howling, upbeat harmonica accompanied by Sonny Terry’s whooping vocals are present throughout this vintage blues song. A blues musician in the style of the Piedmont genre, Terry captured the bouncing nature in conjunction with other Piedmont-style artists like Blind Blake. Terry was known for his unique, energetic vocal performances, often imitating the sounds of trains and animals along with hollers and vocal runs.
When the Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin
Combining all the macho elements of both rock and blues music, Led Zeppelin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’ is full of attitude. Wailing harmonica accompanies layered electric guitars and a heavy drumbeat for the first 1:25 minutes. Robert Plant’s haunting vocals tell the story of a tragic Mississippi flood in 1927. Blues icon Memphis Minnie originally wrote the lyrics shortly after the flood happened.
Related: If you’re having a hard time, listen to these songs about tragedy.
Mary Jane’s Last Dance – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Along with the memorable guitar riff in ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance,’ Tom Petty added a languid harmonica melody heard for the first time at the1:30 minute mark that sticks in a listener’s brain long after the song is over. One of the band’s most popular songs, the title references marijuana and the complicated relationship one can have with it.
Related: Here’s some more great songs about a girl’s name.
For Once in My Life – Stevie Wonder
This uplifting tune gives way to a cheerful electric harmonica solo at the 1:30 minute mark. Stevie Wonder’s feel-good ‘For Once in My Life’ is a happy-go-lucky, empowering anthem about finally finding that perfect soulmate. The popular tune was originally written by Ron Miller and Orlando Murden, two Motown songwriters in the 1960s.
Related: Live it up with the best songs about living life.
Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters
After a paired-down introduction featuring only Muddy Waters’ baritone voice and a lone electric guitar, at 0:35 seconds, the song breaks into one of the most iconic blues riffs of all time, featuring both harmonica and guitar. A song praising masculinity, it’s a re-worked Bo Diddley tune that Muddy Waters recorded first. But after its release and subsequent popularity, countless other blues artists like Buddy Guy have gone on to cover the tune.
Related: This song features on the Goodfellas soundtrack.
The Promised Land – Bruce Springsteen
“Blow away the dreams that tear you apart.” Music legend Bruce Springsteen blasts harmonica throughout ‘The Promised Land.’ He wrote the tune in honor of one of his main influences, Chuck Berry. Though the song keeps an uplifting production, the lyrics tackle feelings of loneliness and the harsh realities of life. It is featured on his 1978 album, Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
On the Road Again – Willie Nelson
A happy tune perfectly suited for troubadours and travelers, Willie Nelson’s ‘On The Road Again’ captures the road warrior lifestyle with its honest lyrics and boom-chuck rhythm. Background harmonica, meant to round out Nelson’s classic country sound (and an instrument popular in the traveling musician community), can be heard towards the 0:48 seconds mark.
Related: Travel over to our playlist of songs about roads.
Hey Baby – Bruce Channel
This 1962 hit features prominent cheerful harmonica throughout the track. ‘Hey Baby’ was written by songwriters Margaret Cobb and Bruce Channel, and popular musician Delbert McClinton was brought in to play harmonica during the recording. While on the road, McClinton ran into John Lennon and taught him a bit of harmonica, which he quickly put to use in ‘Love Me Do.’ ‘Hey Baby’ is featured in the hit ’80s film Dirty Dancing.
Related: You can hear this song on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
Work Song – The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Originally written and released in 1960 by Nat Adderly, this instrumental cover by Paul Butterfield Blues Band is harmonica-driven from start to finish. Guitar, drums, and bass stay in the pocket except for an occasional eclectic guitar solo. ‘Work Song’ was released on the band’s October 1966 album East West.
Harvest Moon – Neil Young
Known for writing his songs in various alternate tunings, Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’ opens up with dreamy instrumentation and lyrics referencing a dream-like state. Also known to base a lot of his work on the moon’s phases, Young also references “a full moon rising” in the lyrics. Towards the end of the song, at the 3:42 minute mark, Young glides into a lovely harmonica solo.
Related: Enjoy some cozy autumnal vibes with these fall songs.
Groovin’ – The Young Rascals
“Groovin,’ on a Sunday afternoon.” Harmonica is laced throughout this ’60s pop hit from The Young Rascals. This easy-listening tune was inspired by bandmates Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati after taking a look at their upcoming touring schedule and realizing they’d only be able to catch up with their then-girlfriends on the occasional Sunday.
Related: Listen to some more Sunday music.
Christo Redemptor – Charlie Musselwhite
Behind Chicago-blues style piano, howling harmonica played by Charlie Musselwhite comes in at 0:19 seconds. Originally written by Duke Pearson, this instrumental captures the confident attitude that comes with blues songs in the Chicago style. Smooth electric guitar accompanies the harmonica and occasionally trades off solos in ‘Christo Redemptor.’
Inside Looking Out – Grand Funk Railroad
A high-octane tune featuring traded-off guitar solos between bandmates, lead singer Mark Farner finishes the rockin’ tune with a harmonica solo at 6:36 minutes. ‘Inside Looking Out’ originated in Mississippi as a prison song, and The Animals popularized it in the ’60s when they covered it. Grand Funk Railroad’s version appears on their 1969 album Grand Funk.
Related: Find more songs about prison.
I’m a Man – The Yardbirds
This upbeat blues classic has harmonica fills throughout it. It was originally a Bo Diddley song, and it was inspired by Muddy Waters’ macho-filled ‘Mannish Boy’ blues hit. Guitarists Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton play with The Yardbirds on ‘I’m a Man’ and recorded other music with the band. After releasing the song in 1965, The Yardbirds gained a ton of popularity in Britain, and the song hit number 17 on the US charts.
Traintime – Cream
Opening with harmonica mimicking the rollicking nature of trains, this upbeat tune tells a tried-and-true story of a relationship between two quarreling lovers ending and one of them leaving by train. Blues guitarist headed up this blues-rock band in the ’60s, and ‘Traintime’ was released on the band’s 1966 album, Fresh Cream.
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Absolutely Sweet Marie – Bob Dylan
“Well, your railroad gate, you know I just can’t jump it.” Folk icon Bob Dylan slides into one of his memorable harmonica solos at 3:02 minutes into ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie.’ Released on his famous 1966 Blonde On Blonde album, Dylan uses this song to look back in fond remembrance of a relationship gone bad.
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother – The Hollies
This emotional tune was originally released by producer Kelly Gordon who worked with greats like Glen Campbell and Aretha Franklin. Songwriters Bobby Scott and Bob Russell wrote the tune to tribute to the work Boys Town do for underprivileged youth. The Hollies were so taken by the message in the song they named their 1969 album ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.’ Soft harmonica fills are heard throughout the track.
Related: Grab your bro and enjoy these songs about brotherhood.
Runaway – Bonnie Raitt
Light harmonica fills compliment this bluesy production of Del Shannon’s 1961 number 1 hit ‘Runaway.’ The tune tells the story of a remorseful guy who is reflecting on his girlfriend, who has recently left him. Bonnie Raitt adds her commanding, raspy voice and soft guitar licks for the tune. She featured it on her 1977 album, Sweet Forgiveness.
Related: Run away to our list of the best running away songs.
Oh Girl – The Chi-Lites
A soft, romantic harmonica melody rolls into this easy-listening song at 1:45 minutes. ‘Oh Girl’ was written by Eugene Record, who served as The Chi-Lites lead singer. Though this song has romantic instrumentation and production, the lyrics tell the story of a couple on the verge of breaking up. ‘Oh Girl’ can be heard on the band’s 1972 album A Lonely Man.
Related: Here are some more breaking up songs.
Man with a Harmonica (from Once Upon a Time in the West) – Ennio Morricone
This harmonica-centric instrumental perfectly captures the feel of the old west. The song evokes a haunting, rugged tone with heavy reverb and long, drawn-out notes. Ennio Morricone wrote the foreboding tune for the film by the same name. ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ was released in theaters in 1968.