You’re sat around the campfire with your friends. Everyone is fed and watered, the kids (if you have them) are tucked up in bed, there’s only one thing missing. A good old fashioned sing-along.
We put our heads together and compiled a list of our favorite songs for the occasion.
Ready to learn these tunes? Enjoy.
Best Campfire Songs for Guitar
Catch the Wind by Donovan
“In the chilly hours and minutes of uncertainty, I want to be in the warm hold of your loving mind”
This romantic ditty from folk 60’s sensation Donovan is an absolute treat and works perfectly round the campfire. Some wrote Donovan off as a Dylan wannabe back in the 60s, but this song puts him firmly in the land of the untouchables. Nice work sir.
Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show
“I made it down the coast in seventeen hours, pickin’ me a bouquet of dogwood flowers”
This little treasure oozes old country blues and sounds particularly great if played on a blues acoustic guitar. Written by master songwriter Bob Dylan, it’s got a lot of oldy-worldy charm going on. If you were to only learn one tune from this list, choose this one. Your fellow campers will love it.
Sugar Mountain by Neil Young
“Oh to live on sugar mountain, with the barkers and the colour balloons, you can’t be 20 on sugar mountain, though you feelin’ like you’re leaving there too soon”
From Neil Young’s Buffalo Springfield period in the 1960s, this acoustic number is beautifully nostalgic, evoking images from his youth. Reflective, poignant, and all about the passing of time and growing up – all perfect themes to bring up at a campfire. The chorus is immediately familiar, even if you’ve never heard it. A cracker of a song.
Country Honk by The Rolling Stones
“I met a Divorcee in New York City”
No campfire is complete without a Rolling Stones number. This one is a countrified version of ‘Honky Tonk Women’ from album Let it Bleed. It’s super easy to play, and anyone with half a clue will recognize the lyrics.
No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley
“I remember, when we used to sit, in the government yard in Trench Town”
This Marley classic has a soft rock steady beat that goes down really well. With a chorus that’s almost made to be sung along to, it’s a dynamite track to unleash on your fellow camp-dwellers. It finishes on a brilliant crescendo with the “Everything’s gonna be alright” which everyone will want to join in on.
Stand By Me – Ben E. King
“When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we’ll see”
This little number was made for playing under the stars. If people don’t sing along to the chorus ‘and darling, darling, stand by me’ then you may as well call it a night and go to bed early.
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight by Bob Dylan
“Close your eyes, close the door, you don’t have to worry anymore. I’ll be your baby tonight”
This romantic little ditty from Dylan includes gorgeous references to the moon, essential in any rustic campfire song (“that big ole moon is gonna shine like a spoon”) and encourages wanton abandon (“kick your shoes off, do not fear, bring that bottle over here”). A superb choice.
Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison
“Hey where did we go, days when the rains came, down in the hollow, playing a new game”
This one is a bit of a victim of its own success (overplayed at weddings), but it remains a terrific number to play around the burning embers. You’re almost guaranteed that everyone knows it and sings along, young folk and old. The ‘sha la la la la ti da’ line will be a delight for your audience to sing along, especially if they’ve been on the scrumpy.
Lady Midnight by Leonard Cohen
“I asked her to hold me, said lady unfold me, but she scorned me I was dead, and I could never return”
It’s good to mix well-known numbers (like the previous one) with one that almost no one will know, but a decent one nonetheless. Lady Midnight, from master songwriter Cohen’s second album, was recorded while living in exile on a Greek Island. It’s a gentle, swaying ballad that’s a joy to play and has a lovely chorus.
Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty
“She’s a good girl, crazy about Elvis, loves horses and her boyfriend too”
As chorus’s go, this has to be up there with the best. The verses build themselves up perfectly, to unleash the ‘and I’m free, freeeeeee fallin” chorus. If your happy campers don’t join in on the chorus on this one, you’re better off vacating and finding a more deserving audience.
Good People by Jack Johnson
“Where did all the good people go, I’ve been changing channels on the tv show”
Love him or hate him, Jack Johnson makes incredible catchy songs. The stuff that crowds of people tend to love. That’s good news for you if you’re planning on playing a campfire gig. As far as good acoustic guitar tracks, he’s contributed his fair share. With a catchy middle eight and solid chorus, ‘Good People’ is a winner. Just try singing the ‘boob tube’ line with a straight face and you’ll have done well.
Wonderwall by Oasis
“Today was gonna be the day but they didn’t throw it back to you”
Where would a list of modern campfire anthems be without Wonderwall? Reluctantly, we added it (not because it’s a bad song, we actually quite like it – just that every best campfire song list on the interweb includes it). It’s a sure-fire crowd pleaser that you may as well throw in the mix though. Plus, it will make your audience more tolerant of more obscure songs like Lady Midnight (see above).
Sing by Travis
“If you sing, sing, sing. For the love you bring, won’t mean a thing. Unless you sing, sing, sing”
With a perfect banjo playing in the background (if you have a banjo, definitely have them accompany on this one) this jangly guitar hit from 1990’s indie stars Travis is a perfect blend of slightly obscure (that’s a good thing, sometimes) and instantly likable revelry. Also, it incites people to sing, sing, sing in the chorus, which is never a bad thing (depending on your company).
High and Dry by Radiohead
“Don’t leave me high, don’t leave me dry”
Radiohead are one of the most respected bands of the last 20 years. And rightly so. They have contributed massively to the canvas of modern music. That’s why we had to pick one of their numbers. Their number High and Dry was a no brainer really. For Radiohead, it’s quite palatable and quite sing-alongable to.
Yellow by Coldplay
“You know I love you so”
The song that catapulted Coldplay to worldwide renown, Yellow is another modern classic to add to your set list. There are a few Coldplay numbers that are worthy of inclusion, but Yellow has to be pretty high up there. It’s almost their most famous track too, so even your grandma will have a sing-along.
Man on the Moon by R.E.M
“Let’s play Twister let’s play Risk…yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
This quirky pop song is going to go down well. It’s rather tricky to play, so make sure you’ve practiced it before you go belting it out. But once you’ve got the chorus licked (that’s the tricky bit) then you’ve got one helluva number to entertain people with.
I Will Follow You Into The Dark by Death Cab for Cutie
“If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks, then I will follow you into the dark”
Another tricky one to play well, Death Cab for Cutie’s ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark” is an indie song of almost hymn-like proportions. The lyrics are pretty morbid, but the sentiment is spot on.
Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol
“If I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world”
What a great lyric for a campfire. It works particularly well with two guitars (one playing the lead bit and the other the rhythm) but it can be played fine on one guitar too.
With Or Without You by U2
“I can’t live, without or without you”
This had to go on the list because it’s an absolute gem. It satisfies everything a good guitar campfire song needs to be: catchy, familiar and you can sing along to it. It’s a slower number too, to mix things up.
Country Roads – John Denver
John Denver’s classic is a must for any campfire gathering.
I mean who in their right mind isn’t going to enjoy a bit of ‘west virginia, mountain mama’! In fact I’d be surprised if you got past the first verse without people joining in!
Here’s a great cover by Michael Liebler
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.