Best acoustic song of all-time

Having already spent too long musing over what the British public might choose as The Nation’s Favourite Beatles Number One tomorrow night (that’s something else worth watching on TV this week, repeated on Sunday afternoon), how about this for a teaser: What’s the best acoustic song of all time?

I’ve given it some thought and am curious to learn how you might vote. You get to choose one from a list of 50. Impossible, I know, so to make it easier please choose ten from the list (which is still difficult, particularly as you only really get to choose nine, because I should hope you could never omit ‘Wish You Were Here’).

If that leaves you feeling tetchy, do add another ten that did not feature in the list, to soothe your mind. There are so many notable omissions. Where’s Pete Seger? Shouldn’t Crosby, Stills and Nash be there?

I certainly need more Joni (‘Both Sides Now’), more Neil Young (‘Old Man’), much more Dylan (‘Blowin’ In the Wind’, ‘Masters of War’, ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’), at least one more from Cat Stevens (‘Father and Son’?), something of Donovan’s (‘Catch the Wind’) – and probably a good dozen more besides.

Richard Thompson’s ‘Dimming of the Day’, covered by David at the Royal Festival Hall in 2001 of course, for one; ‘The Sound of Silence’ by Simon and Garfunkel; ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ by Bill Withers; James Taylor’s ‘Fire and Rain’; America’s ‘A Horse With No Name’; ‘Stuck In the Middle With You’ by Stealers Wheel; Supertramp’s ‘Give a Little Bit’; ‘California Dreaming’ by The Mamas and Papas…

From more recent years, I’d like to throw in: ‘No Rain’ by Blind Melon; The Lemonheads’ ‘Ride With Me’; ‘Hey There Delilah’ by Plain White T’s; ‘Billy Davey’s Daughter’ by Stereophonics; The Verve’s ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’; ‘Why Does It Always Rain On Me?’ by Travis; Jack Bugg’s ‘Broken’… There are so many.

Some of these mightn’t be ‘acoustic’ enough for some of you, perhaps.

Anyway, here are my preferred ten from an impressive list of 50 and, should you need inspiration, here are 40 acoustic rock songs as chosen by Planet Rock listeners, who, as you can see, have exquisite taste.

The Beatles – Yesterday
Eric Clapton – Tears In Heaven
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’
The Kinks – Lola
John Lennon – Working Class Hero
Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
Cat Stevens – Wild World
Neil Young – The Needle and the Damage Done

Do also let us know which of the many chart-topping Beatles hits you think will come out on top in the Nation’s Favourite poll. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t wish to bet money on the outcome.

(Thanks for the idea and for reminding me of so many truly beautiful acoustic songs, Paul.)

Author: FEd

Features Editor of David Gilmour's official blog, The Blog ('Features' previously being its rather naff title), affectionately - or lazily - shortened to 'FEd'.

92 thoughts on “Best acoustic song of all-time”

  1. Neil Young – The Needle and the Damage Done

    Such a great song, I wish it was a little longer.

    I don’t have the time to name ten, however a great little tune I heard this morning in the car was “Lotta Love” by Neil Young.

  2. Well I always hear to songs, so they’re all acoustic (from the Greek ακούω for hear) to me… 😉

    Anyway here is my best of songs based on an acoustic guitar, but without ranking:

    Neil Young – Needle And The Damage Done
    The Beatles – Here Comes The Sun
    Extreme – More Than Words
    Eric Clapton – Layla (Unplugged)
    Eagles – Hotel California (Unplugged)
    Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

    I missed this which is really good IMHO:

    Motorhead – The Ace Of Spades (acoustic version)

  3. I have to give this a great deal more thought than I’m giving it now but a quick ‘stab’ … not sure any of these made the lists or whether some of them technically qualify as acoustic:

    Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — Teach Your Children
    Animals — House of the Rising Sun
    Steve Miller Band — The Joker
    Moody Blues – Nights in White Satin
    Led Zeppelin – Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
    Eagles – Hotel California
    Eric Clapton – Tears in Heaven
    Rolling Stones – Wild Horses
    Bob Dylan – You’re a Big Girl Now
    Barclay James Harvest – Poor Man’s Moody Blues
    Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird

    Great Blog topic …

  4. It’s way too difficult to pick 10 acoustic songs… I think it’s hard even to define a list of acoustic songs. After all, surely most songs have at some point had an alternative acoustic version…

    Talking of which… How about “Echoes” acoustic from Abbey Road? 🙂

  5. The first song that appears in my mind is A Pillow of Winds. The second, maybe Blackbird? and Nick Drake’ s Pink Moon of course…

  6. Hi Fed

    In no particular order but love these songs:

    The Boxer – Simon and Garfunkel
    Fire and Rain – James Taylor
    Polly – Nirvana
    Chestnut Mare – The Byrds
    Wonderwall – Oasis
    Dust in the Wind – Kansas
    Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
    Working Class Hero – John Lennon
    Redemption Song – Bob Marley
    Blackbird – Beatles
    As Tears Go By – Rolling Stones

    George

  7. Others I like:

    I forgot this

    Janis Ian – Watercolors
    Don McLean – Empty Chairs
    Shinedown – Simple Man [cover]
    Lee Clayton – A Little Cocaine
    Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones
    Joan Armatrading – Love and Affection
    Beatles – Rocky Racoon (please don’t laugh)
    Bobbie Gentry – Ode to Billy Joe
    Cat Stevens – How Can I Tell You
    David Bowie – Lady Grinning Soul
    Manga Carta – Two Old Friends
    Magna Carta – Old Man (in homage to our Veterans)
    Tracy Chapman – The Promise
    Blue October – Calling You (Acoustic)

    Admit it, thisthis is a great cover.

    Apologies for all the links – I know FEd will redact if there are too many.

    That’s all she wrote for now but will be back to pick my 10 or so from the list and attempt the daunting task of choosing my favourite Beatles song – hah!

  8. One to remember The Fallen, today.

    “Did you really believe that this war would end wars?”

    Will we one day learn from our mistakes?

    1. An incredibly tender anti-war song, turned into a rock-gospel number by Joss Stone and Jeff Beck last year to mixed reviews (I’m putting it mildly, I thought it was bloody awful).

      If of interest to anyone, here is the songwriter discussing how readily music publishers often allow other artists to cover their songs, allowing them to make so many changes the original song is barely recognisable; in this case, by changing words and leaving out verses, as well as the up-tempo arrangement, they turned a gentle song with a clear anti-war message into one that many felt sentimentalised, if not outright glorified, the First World War.

      Eric Bogle: I don’t like Joss Stone’s cover of No Man’s Land, but I won’t sue

  9. Here my short selection:

    Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
    Tears In Heaven – Eric Clapton – Unplugged Version
    Nothing Else Matters – Metallica
    Where Did You Sleep Last Night – Nirvana Unplugged Version

  10. My offerings FEd would be :-

    Guitar Man – Bread (First 7″ vinyl I bought)
    Breathe – David Gilmour (Studio Acoustic)
    Space Oddity – David Bowie
    John I’m Only Dancing – David Bowie
    American Pie – Don McLean
    Vincent – Don McLean
    If You Leave Me Now – Chicago (A must for the slow section during my clubbing days)!
    My Sweet Lord – George Harrison
    Holding Back the Years – Simply Red (Acoustic version)

    Last if not least for now the mighty Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin

    JC

      1. ‘My Sweet Lord’ is one of my all-time favourites JC and I adored George Harrison.

        I still haven’t dissected the full 50 — it’s virtually impossible to choose and today my mood dictates that I would certainly have selected others in place of some being proposed and there are so many missing. It goes without saying that ‘Wish You Were Here’ is there.

        ‘Vincent’ is one of my Mother’s absolute favourites and it would’ve made it to my list. Then again, Don McLean could have a category like this all on his own (along with Cat Stevens and Leonard Cohen and others too numerous to mention). Which gets me thinking, doesn’t ‘Hallelujah’ deserve to be on the list? Or ‘So Long Marianne’?

        1. Yes. Hell yes. I deliberately left Leonard Cohen to somebody else, to save my head from going pop. I expect not listing 50 Dylan songs will soon cause sleepless nights.

  11. Been a while since I posted, but had to chime in here.

    FEd, I know you said you weren’t a big Grateful Dead fan… but I was hurt Ripple or Friend of the Devil wasn’t on this list as well. Really great acoustic songs, and staples in the GD catalog.

    1. I’ll be sure to have a listen, Andrew. Please excuse my ignorance, I’m not familiar with many Grateful Dead songs.

  12. FEd, Glad I can help!

    My number 1 – Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd

    I wish The Eagles had left Hotel California alone as it sounds the business electric rather than acoustic.

    Someone I listen to a lot on acoustic guitar is Warren Haynes (Govt Mule, Allman Bros), he sings a beautiful song called Patchwork Quilt, he also covers One by U2 who I would listen to but Warren injects a new life into it..check him out Bloggers.

    1. Wish You Were Here reminds me of High School 20 years ago. It’s one of those songs. I agree one of the best! I missed out on the last Pink Floyd show as my parents wouldn’t let me go, I had to choose between Woodstock 94 or PF. Damn, I wish I knew it was their last show. BUT Gilmour is my fav anyway and he is still going strong, can’t wait for him to come around to NYC.

  13. Acoustic songs… This is a very very difficult question. Well, of course WYWH is in my list, although I sincerely am a little tired of it… As a good Brazilian I cannot let out of my list Sivuca (artist), with the song “Berimbau”, this is magnificent and if you look for it in YouTube you are going to be positively pleased – I guess.

    Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In the Wind, Beatles – Blackbird, Kansas – Dust In the Wind and America – Horse With No Name are probably also in my list. 😉

  14. Obviously Wish You Were Here is the greatest acoustic song of all time. So many of my other favorites are songs that were not originally acoustic but done acoustic on MTV Unplugged.

    Stevie Ray Vaughn- Pride and Joy
    Page and Plant- Nobody’s Fault But Mine
    McCartney- We Can Work It Out
    Clapton- Tears in Heaven and Alberta
    Grateful Dead- Ripple
    Allman Brothers- Southbound (bootleg) and Going Down The Road Feeling Bad
    Gregg Allman- Melissa and Midnight Rider
    David Gilmour- Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Live in Gdansk)

    1. I’m listening to Nirvana on MTV Unplugged as I type this, funnily enough. There have been some tremendous performances on there down the years.

  15. Some of my favourites that have not been mentioned yet (I think):

    – Behind Blue Eyes – The Who
    – Soldier Of Fortune – Deep Purple
    – Private Investigation – Dire Straits
    – Mother – Pink Floyd
    – Is There Anybody Out There – Pink Floyd
    – Sara – Bob Dylan
    – To See A Friend In Tears – James Dean Bradfield
    – My Immortal – Evanescence
    – Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
    – About A Girl – Nirvana

    Bonus point if I suggest David to play acoustic ‘Sorrow’? 😀

  16. Fearless — Pink Floyd
    Dogs — Pink Floyd
    High Hopes — Pink Floyd
    Suite: Judy Blue Eyes — Crosby, Stills and Nash (Stephen Stills’ masterpiece, IMHO)
    The Dangling Conversation — Simon and Garfunkel
    Street Fighting Man — The Rolling Stones
    Moonlight Mile — The Rolling Stones
    If You Could Read My Mind — Gordon Lightfoot
    Teach Your Children — Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
    Carry On — Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
    Song To The Siren — Tim Buckley
    Desolation Row — Bob Dylan
    There But For Fortune — Joan Baez (written by Phil Ochs)
    Rogaciano El Huapanguero — Linda Ronstadt
    Carmelita — Warren Zevon
    Yellow Ledbetter — Pearl Jam
    Man of the Hour — Pearl Jam
    The Last Chance Texaco — Rickie Lee Jones
    Can’t Find My Way Home — Blind Faith
    Boulder To Birmingham — Emmylou Harris
    Burn — Ray LaMontagne
    Masters of War — Bob Dylan
    Only A Pawn In Their Game — Bob Dylan
    Pleasures Of The Harbor — Phil Ochs
    Here’s To The State of Mississippi — Phil Ochs
    With God On Our Side — Bob Dylan
    Sisters Of Mercy — Leonard Cohen
    Suzanne — Leonard Cohen
    The Partisan — Leonard Cohen
    Famous Blue Raincoat — Leonard Cohen
    Broken Arrow — Buffalo Springfield
    The Sounds of Silence — Simon and Garfunkel
    A Poem On The Underground Wall — Simon and Garfunkel
    America — Simon and Garfunkel
    Old Friends/Bookends — Simon and Garfunkel
    Sam Stone — John Prine
    Hello In There — John Prine
    Angel From Montgomery — Bonnie Raitt (written by John Prine)
    Trampled Rose — Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (written by Kathleen Brennan and Tom Waits)
    Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us — Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (written by Sam Phillips)
    Polly Come Home — Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (written by Gene Clark)
    Wish You Were Here — Pink Floyd
    Blackbird — The Beatles

    I could do this all night … so much music to choose from. Another day maybe.

    Peace ‘n’ love to you all.

  17. From the 50 given:

    The Beatles – Blackbird
    The Beatles – Here Comes The Sun
    Eric Clapton – Layla (Unplugged)
    Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’
    Eagles – Hotel California (Unplugged)
    The Kinks – Lola
    Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi
    Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
    The Rolling Stones – Wild Horses
    Neil Young – Heart Of Gold

    I can’t choose a favourite Beatles song, there are so many I love. As for ten songs not on the list? That’s difficult. I’ll get back to you on that.

    ash

  18. Wow, nice poll!

    I voted WYWH, but these are my favourites from that list:

    Queen – Love of My Life
    Bob Marley – Redemption Long
    Guns n’ Roses – Patience
    Eagles – Hotel California
    The Rolling Stones – Angie
    Extreme – More Than Words
    The Beatles – Yesterday
    The Beatles – Here Comes the Sun

    If you are curious and want to listen to some Italian totally acoustic tracks here are some titles for you:

    Vasco Rossi – Gabri
    Lucio Battisti – Emozioni
    Roberto Vecchioni – Le rose blu
    Negrita – Tutto bene
    Alex Britti – Milano (from MTV unplugged)
    Francesco de Gregori – Pezzi di vetro
    Giorgia – Di sole e d’azzurro (from MTV unplugged)
    Sergio Caputo – Mettimi giù (from “A tu per tu” album)

    (if you like some of these I can provide a lyrics translation)

    ps: sorry for my absence last days, but I was ill and these are incredibly stressful days at work.

    pps: FeD, I don’t know if you know Movember (I’m sure you do). With some friends and colleagues I participate for the second year and I’m growing my mo (I’m really ugly with that, but it’s for a good cause) to change men’s health. We are more than 100 people and we’re first in the “rest of the world” leaderboard for donations received.

    If I can post here my mo space to make other people aware of the problems of prostate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health and physical inactivity and, if they want, make a donation.

    Feel free to donate but, most important, inform yourself!

  19. As I read the blog. “Sugar Mountain” by Neil Young followed by “Fat Old Sun” by Pink Floyd playing on the XM radio.

    George

    1. As it’s Neil’s 70th birthday today, that seems like a very good reason to focus on a few more of his acoustic songs. I don’t think anyone has mentioned ‘Tell Me Why’ yet, or, speaking of MTV Unplugged, ‘Mr Soul’ with such downright dirty harmonica.

      Then there’s this beautiful number: Love And War from Le Noise.

  20. Just noticed the new avatar and profile bannner of The Blog Twitter home page.

    Makes a nice change, bravo!

  21. Truly a shame they eliminated the MTV unplugged series, that Nirvana album was awesome as was Alice in Chains.

      1. The Robert Plant and Jimmy Page Unplugged was another highlight for me, and gave rise to a collaboration that seemed implausible to many. I never thought I’d get the chance to see them playing live together.

  22. Nobody has yet mentioned David’s largely acoustic “comeback”** performance at the South Bank – the deconstructed “Shine On” was a marvel to behold, the first outing for “Smile”, Carolyn sawing away on “Comfy” …. All up there with the very best.

    ** of course he had never gone away as such, but for me this concert started this new and, as it turns out, Golden age.

  23. Definitely have to honor Neil with a place in my top 10. I have looked at the list yet; these were just off the top of my head. I’ll probably have a whole different list once I look at the ranking and think about it for more than a few minutes!

    Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
    Neil Young – Only Love Can Break Your Heart
    Fleetwood Mac – Landslide
    Bob Dylan – Simple Twist of Fate
    Led Zeppelin – Goin to California
    Joni Mitchell – Clouds
    The Band – When I Paint My Masterpiece
    Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
    James Taylor – Fire and Rain
    Daniel Lanois – Still Water

  24. Excellent blog topic. I will put thought into it then blog more.

    Many songs have all ready been mentioned.

    I have always thought that “Imagine” by John Lennon and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles are two thoughtful songs.

    Of course there are numerous songs by David/Pink Floyd that are top of the list or any list there is!

    Take Care, Suzy

  25. ‘Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye’ – Leonard Cohen
    ‘Lying in The Sun’ – Stereophonics
    ‘Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)’ – Wings

  26. Wish You Were Here: PF
    Bron-Y-Aur Stomp: LZ
    Hide Your Love Away: Beatles
    Here Comes The Sun: Beatles
    Heart of Gold: Neil Young
    Like A Rolling Stone: B.Dylan
    Proud Mary: CCR
    Mother and Sister: Liona Boyd and Yo Yo Ma
    Samba Pa Ti: Carlos Santana

    Etc……….. 🙂

    1. Oops, Samba Pa Ti is electric, so I’ll replace that with Harvest Moon by Neil Young instead. 🙂

  27. Nope. All other suggestions pale into insignificance! The acoustic version of ‘Postman Pat’ by David et al on Wider Horizons wins by a country mile…

  28. Have neither the time nor the patience to read through all of these great lists, but has anyone mentioned “Freedom” by Richie Havens? I saw him perform this song in Portland, OR in the early 1990s (just his voice and a beat-up guitar, nothing else). It simultaneously moved me to tears and made me dance.

  29. We might need to add – David Gilmour, Postman Pat 2015 Acoustic Version to the list. 🙂

  30. Every Nick Drake song would be in my list.

    Donovan’s Universal Soldier EP would also be there.

    David’s 2002 gig, albeit not all strictly acoustic, was the best acoustic gig I have ever been to ever.

    Of current music: Bruce Soord, of The Pineapple Thief, has recently added in (as a bonus CD) acoustic versions of songs on that particular album you are buying. They are pretty amazing. So it is great news that he is releasing a solo album at the end of this month.

  31. A few of my favourites:

    Find the Cost of Freedom – CSN&Y
    Lost For Words – PF
    Jitterboogie – Michael Hedges
    She Moved Through the Fair – Davey Graham
    Black Waterside – Bert Jansch

    Plus pretty much anything by the League of Crafty Guitarists.

  32. Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here, Seamus, Fearless
    David Gilmour: Near the End
    The Beatles: Norwegian Wood, Blackbird
    Zeppelin: Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, Battle of Evermore
    CSN: Helplessly Hoping
    Kansas: Dust in the Wind
    Stevie Nicks: Landslide

    If acoustic/electric is allowed, I’d add Murder and On The Turning Away. 😉

  33. Hi everybody,

    Great lists by the way.

    Some of my favourites would be:

    Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
    The Beatles – Blackbird
    Simon & Garfunkel – Sound of Silence
    Mark Knopfler – Golden Heart
    Eric Clapton – Tears in Heaven

  34. Hi all and Fed,

    Been ill but still here, LOL.

    I’m just going to put one song on here. Some may laugh, some may say yeah, great version. The version of Misty by Ray Stevens. Really love that song, reminds me of summer days fishing at a pond over the fields with my first fishing rod and remembering my childhood days that at the time seemed endless.

    Watched David with Alan. Not being nosey to David and Family but felt so sad when he said he didn’t miss his mum and how they weren’t really there for him. Bless you David. Sincerely, all the money in the world couldn’t cure that kind of sadness. I think we all understand the man more now and so brave to open up like that.

    On a happy note, lovely family life great to see the man so happy in life. Any fish in that river by the way? And get yourself a metal detector David.

    Damian

  35. Wishing all Bloggers (especially the Americans) a wonderful Thanksgiving! While it may seem like the world is crumbling all around us, we have so very much to give thanks- and be grateful- for. We have the most amazing Blog site to ‘escape’ to, the joy and gift of David Gilmour’s music, some of the best ‘virtual’ friends one could ask for, and our very own FEd.

    Thank you so much for making all of this possible.

  36. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the U.S. I am thankful that I woke up this morning!

    Treasure each day and tell at least one person that you love them.

  37. So on Tuesday 24th, due to the articles I write for my local newspaper, I was asked to say a few words on the radio station BBC CWR about the fact that Rihanna was to appear in Coventry during 2016. I did mention that I knew nothing about Rihanna but they still wanted to talk about the old days.

    Now of course David and Pink Floyd were mentioned.

    I do not know how to do it all myself but for those interested it is on catch up.

    The station is BBC CWR. The show is Vic Minett. It started at 10am and I was on for about 5 minutes or so from about 11:15am. So about 1 and a quarter hours into the show.

    Cheers.

    1. Very good. I have found the link for you, Pete: here it is.

      I’ll have a listen to the programmes about the Coventry Blitz, too. I’m currently reading The Secret History of the Blitz by Joshua Levine, which I would recommend to anyone with an interest in contemporary social history.

      1. Thanks Fed!

        Yes, like many cities, we took a bit of a pounding during that time. I really don’t know how my parents lived through it all – maybe the secret history may reveal something. They never spoke that often about it all but when they did reveal snippets it was fascinating.

  38. Hello FEd and all,

    Completely out of topic, but didn’t know where to post it: Andy Jackson is releasing a new record in January called “73 Days at Dea”. Even if it’s half good as “Signal to Noise”, I’m sure it’ll be worthy.

    Don’t know if Andy would like his record to be promoted at David’s blog or even if it’d be the right place to to so, but Andy is a very talented musician on his own that surely deserves more recognition.

  39. Eh up, Roger’s advert just came on Dave Ja Vu. Looks impressive. I was watching Star Trek: The Voyage Home.

    Damian

    1. Yes, folks, we have a TV channel in the UK called ‘Dave’, and ‘Dave Ja Vu’ is a channel that shows repeats of programmes that were on Dave, many of which are repeats from other channels, anyway. Very popular, though.

      1. And many of them just as relevant today as when they were first shown..if not more so.

        Wonder when we passed 13 channels of sh*t?

  40. Classical Gas has to be up there. Norweigan Wood is superb too. Gordon Giltrap’s Heartsong is another.

  41. One of my more recent favourite acoustic songs is Hard as Love by Marillion from their Less is More album.

    The acoustic version surpasses the original version from their Brave album in every way. Well worth a listen.

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