Acoustic songs have the peculiarity that they are often accompanied only by very few instruments. In the foreground is the voice of the musician, who usually accompanies himself with the guitar. The listener is captivated by the voice alone.
For many artists, this is an obstacle to recording an acoustic song. Many singers feel “naked” and do not want to rely only on their own voice. During a live performance, any mistake, no matter how small, is immediately noticeable.
Acoustic songs are mainly about love, pain, and very intimate topics, often based on personal experiences. The singer-songwriter shows himself vulnerable, and it’s this fact that turns listeners into fans. You can identify with the artist and know that other people have to overcome problems too.
Our playlist of the best acoustic songs features many well-known artists such as Johnny Cash, who released one of the most popular acoustic songs with his version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”. Guitar fans all over the world play this song up and down. From classics such as “Wish You Were Here” (Pink Floyd), “Suzanne” (Leonard Cohen) to “Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zeppelin) and new songs such as “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, our tracklist of the 100 best acoustic songs of all time offers variety for every music lover.
(At the end of the article, we’ve put together a Spotify playlist for you with all the songs listed here.)
Best Acoustic Songs:
01. Johnny Cash – Hurt
Topping the list of the 20 best acoustic songs of all time is none other than Johnny Cash. In 2002, he reperformed the song Hurt for his album American IV: The Man Comes Around. The original was written in 1994 by Trent Reznor, lead singer of the band Nine Inch Nails, who first felt Cash’s rewrite was an “invasion of his privacy”.
But later Reznor added that the cover was a great honor for him.
The Cover version by Cash clearly exceeded the popularity of the original and was able to hold a total of six weeks in the German single charts in 2003. Hurt was to be Johnny Cash’s last hit. He died a few months after its release.
02. Don McLean – American Pie
The song with probably the greatest Performeration possibilities is the 1971 masterpiece American Pie by Don McLean. The nostalgic homage to the Music of the 1950s reached the number one spot on the U.S. singles chart a year later in 1972, as well as number two in the U.K.
The inspiration for the eight-and-a-half-minute ballad was the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. Richardson, Jr. died in 1959. McLean dedicated the title to the former.
The countless allusions in the song’s lyrics are still the subject of speculative Performerations and the underlying myth for the years of continued success. Don McLean still keeps a low profile on his most famous song.
03. Ed Sheeran – Castle on the Hill
On the list of the best acoustic songs of all time, of course, must not be the probably currently worldwide most successful singer-songwriter are missing. Starting with performances on the streets of London and in smaller clubs, the once shy Brit became a superstar in no time at all.
With songs like A-Team, Lego House, Sing, and I See Fire, the red-haired fuzz head sang his way into the hearts of his fans.
After a year-long, media hiatus, Ed Sheeran released a new album on 6. January 2017 Castle on the Hill, along with Shape of You, as the lead single to his third studio album % (Divide). In the fast-paced hit, Sheeran sings about his youth with family and friends in Suffolk, England.
And with success: Castle on the Hill received 41 times platinum worldwide. The hit single thus sold more than 6.8 million copies.
04. Eagles – Hotel California
The Californian band Eagles released the guitar-lesson classic Hotel California in 1976 on the fifth album of the same name. The hit advanced over the years to become the most popular song in the world’s most successful title in rock history.
The acoustic unplugged version appeared on the live album Hell Freezes Over Live in 1994.
The ambiguity of the lyrics led to various attempts at Performeration. Some see in the classic the description of a hippie cult of psychiatry from which you can not escape. For yet others, the lyrics are a metaphor for Drug addiction.
Don Felder, who co-wrote the song’s lyrics with Glenn Frey and Don Henley, wrote in his autobiography, “Hotel California was always what people wanted to see in it.”What is certain: The title refers to no existing Hotel California, as the band made clear several times.
For their creative influence on the world of music, Don Henley and Glenn Frey were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2000.
05. Oasis – Wonderwall
Some love him, some hate him. But there’s one thing no one can say about the hit Pop rock band deny: As an absolute campfire classic, it has already helped one or two pubescent guitar beginners to land the girl of their dreams.
Written by Noel Gallagher and released in 1995, the song reached number two in the UK singles chart and stayed in the charts for 84 weeks. Besides the numerous scandals surrounding brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher, Oasis is also known as by far the most successful band in the Britpop genre. To date, the group has sold more than 80 million records.
After quarrels with his brother Liam, Noel Gallagher announced in the summer of 2009 the exit from the band. While Liam formed the band Beady Eye with the remaining members, Noel started a solo career with the project Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.
06. The Beatles / Paul McCartney – Blackbird
Old McCartney had a farm: The Beatles song about the discrimination of an African-American woman in the USA was written and composed by Paul McCartney on his farm in Scotland. In McCartney’s case, the muse was Johann Sebastian Bach, whose piece Bourrée in E minor inspired him to write Blackbird.
Like almost every Beatles hit, Blackbird has the copyright of Lennon/McCartney, the creative partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Without the involvement of the other Beatles members, McCartney recorded the track on 11. June 1968 in Studio 2 of the legendary Abbey Road Studios on. Blackbird was also the first song that Paul McCartney played in a solo performance without the Beatles.
07. Bob Seger – Night Moves
Bob Seger spent six months working on his coming-of-age hit, Night Moves. The story about youthful love and the memory of it in adult life appeared in 1976 on the album of the same name on Capitol Records.
The title is largely autobiographical and describes Bob Seger’s own experiences in the early 1960s.
The dark-haired Italian beauty Seger sings about is named Rene Andretti, according to the “Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings”. She began a romantic relationship with the talented musician but ended up breaking his heart.
As a single, Night Moves rose to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was Seger’s first hit single after Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man. The title made him known throughout the nation.
08. Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
Also recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, Pink Floyd’s hit single Wish You Were Here. Released in 1975 on the album of the same name.
The song offers room for various Performerations, but the main deals with the decline of former Pink Floyd singer and guitarist Syd Barrett. Roger Waters, who wrote the song, said it was also about the alienation of self and the desire to be oneself again.
A special feature of the song’s intro is the guitar playing of David Gilmour recorded over a car radio in the parking lot of Abbey Road Studios. He played the intro on a 12-string acoustic guitar in studio quality. This recording was re-recorded from the radio via a car-mounted microphone.
Wish You Were Here is number 324 on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest songs of all-time list.
09. Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
Along with Hallelujah, Suzanne is the Canadian singer-songwriter’s best-known work. Sung and published in 1966 by folk singer Judy Collins, the song appeared a year later on Cohen’s debut album “Songs of Leonard Cohen”.
The song deals with Cohen’s platonic and spiritual relationship with dancer Suzanne Vidal, whom the singer met in a Montreal jazz club. At the time, Vidal was involved with a friend of Cohen, the sculptor Armand Vaillancourt. Cohen visited Vidal frequently and recorded intellectual exchanges with her in writing.
The written lines first became the poem Suzanne Brings You Down, which later became the song.
Suzanne, together with Hallelujah, is probably one of the most covered songs by Leonard Cohen. Countless musicians feel inspired by the titles of the poet and songwriter.
10. Marc Cohn – Walking in Memphis
Marc Cohn made his international breakthrough with Walking in Memphis. The single, released in 1991, made it to number 15 in the U.S. and number 25 in the German single charts.
To keep his creative juices flowing and stock up on new inspiration, Cohn headed to Memphis, Tennessee in 1985. The singer later described the experiences he had in the manageable Southern town as a “spiritual awakening”.
The song describes a musical and cultural tour of the 650.000 inhabitants large city. Started with Elvis Presley as a tour guide from Union Avenue to the gates of Graceland. Cohn makes use of other terms and personalities important to Memphis and the Southern states in general.
Including Beale Street, W. C. Handy, and Reverend Al Green.
That Marc Cohn is not only kissed by the muse, but also by luck, shows an incident from 8. August 2005. On the way home from a concert, the tour bus was stopped by an armed fugitive. The criminal fired at the bus, with one bullet hitting the windshield, grazing the bus driver and ultimately lodging in Cohn’s head.
The bullet did not penetrate the skull bone, so Cohn was only slightly injured.
11. Nirvana – Where Did You Sleep Last Night
The song, also known as In The Pines and Black Girl, is not an original by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Where Did You Sleep Last Night is an Appalachian folk song from the 1870s.
The tune has been used by countless bands and solo artists, but probably the most memorable version is by Nirvana.
The song was recorded in early 1990, adapted from the 1944 version by U.S. blues singer Leadbelly. The most impressive performance of Where Did You Sleep Last Night, was the MTV Unplugged concert in November 1993. The track appeared in this form on the accompanying CD, as well as the B-side of Pennyroyal Tea.
Nirvana disbanded in 2004 after the death of singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain. The band’s musical legacy is managed by Cobain’s widow Courtney Love and band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselić.
12. The Rolling Stones – Wild Horses
The song Wild Horses, penned by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, was released on the Rolling Stones album Sticky Fingers in 1971. A year earlier, the song appeared on the album Burrito Deluxe by the Flying Burrito Brothers, with whose lead singer Gram Parsons Richards had become friends.
He wanted to give the Burrito Brothers a chance to release the song before the Rolling Stones did.
The ballad, which Keith Richards says is about not wanting to be on the road, a million miles away from where you want to be, is one of the Rolling Stones’ most impressive songs. The single reached #28 on the Billboard Hot 100.
13. Metallica – Nothing Else Matters
The album responsible for the upheaval of the Metal band standing Black Album (Metallica), produced the song Nothing Else Matters. The very personal title of James Hetfield would almost not have become a Metallica classic if drummer and bandmate Lars Ulrich had not discovered the recording by chance on a demo tape.
The latter persuaded Hetfield to release the song. With complete success:
The Black Album and Nothing Else Matters helped Metallica go mainstream and achieve massive commercial success. The track made it to number two on the German singles chart and stayed there for 40 weeks.
The intro, which is an arpeggio in open E minor (for which the left gripping hand is not needed) was created because Hetfield wrote the intro during a phone call. Due to the fact that Hetfield held the phone in his left hand, he decided on the key.
14. John Lennon – Working Class Hero
The socially critical title of John Lennon deals with the way from the working class to the middle class. The “machine”, as Lennon calls it.
Working Class Hero appeared in 1970 on the album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, the first solo album by Lennon after the breakup of the Beatles. It stayed in the Top 100 for 18 weeks, reaching #8 on the album charts in the UK and #6 in the US. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was particularly successful in the Netherlands.
There the album made it for seven weeks at number one.
John Lennon died on 8. December 1980 by gunfire outside his Manhattan apartment. The death shooter Mark David Chapman had a copy of the book Double Fantasy signed by Lennon still hours before.
15. Neil Young – Heart of Gold
Heart of Gold is the Godfather of Grunge’s only number one hit, and thus also his most commercially successful track. Released in 1972 on his album Harvest, Young showed his soulful side.
Uncharacteristic of the critical and uncomfortable singer-songwriter, Heart of Gold did not contain a political message, nor are the lyrics particularly profound.
This song was written in a series with other acoustic songs, which Neil Young wrote because of back surgery. Unable to stand and thus play his beloved electric guitar, he switched to the acoustic version, which he could play while sitting down.
The song was covered by greats like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and many others.
16. John Mayer – Free fallin’
The cover of Tom Petty’s most famous hit was sung by heartthrob John Mayer live at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. The resulting live album “Where the Light Is” was released on 1. July 2008 published.
Free Fallin’ was so well received that it was re-released as a single.
The album, which was also released as a concert film, received consistently good reviews, as reflected in its strong chart positions. In the U.S., “Where the Light Is” reached #5 on the Billboard 200 album chart and sold more than 250.000 times.
17. Bob Dylan – Desolation Row
First released in 1965 on the studio album “Highway 61 Revisited,” Desolation Row is one of Dylan’s longest songs, at eleven minutes in length.
The content of the title is the subject of much speculation and opinion. The connection of the lyrics with the lynchings of Duluth 1920 is the most common Performeration. Dylan’s father, who lived not far from the scene of the crime, told him about the events.
Highway 61 Revisited landed at #4 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
18. Coldplay – Everglow
Everglow appeared on the band’s seventh studio album, “A Head Full of Dreams,” in 2015. The recording features verses sung by Gwyneth Paltrow, ex-wife of frontman Chris Martin.
Due to technical problems at the Glastonbury Festival, Martin was forced to perform the song solo. The band liked this version of Everglow so much that they released a simpler version as a single.
19. CCR – Have You Ever Seen The Rain
The song, written by John Fogerty, was released as a single in 1971 from the album Pendulum.
The hit was especially successful in Canada, where it reached number one on the RPM 100 singles chart. In the U.S., Have You Ever Seen The Rain reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100.
20. Fleetwood Mac – Landslide
In short, the song is about a young woman who wants to fight her way out of an addiction. First released in 1975, on the Fleetwood Mac album, it was released 23 years later as a single from the live album The Dance.
Along with classics like The Chain, this is one of the band’s most successful songs.
The single reached #51 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and achieved gold status with over 500.000 copies sold. The live version was used for the 1998 movie Jack Frost.
Places 21-105 of the best acoustic songs of all time:
Each song is linked to its music video via the title.
|21.||Wake Me Up When September Ends||Green Day||2004|
|22.||Cosmic Love||Florence + The Machine||2009|
|24.||Love Of My Life||Queen||1975|
|26.||When I’m Small||Phantogram||2010|
|28.||Babe I’m Gonna Leave You||Led Zeppelin||1969|
|29.||Everlong (Acoustic Version)||Foo Fighters||1997|
|31.||Not Your Fault||AWOLNATION||2011|
|33.||Going To California||Led Zeppelin||1971|
|34.||Pale Blue Eyes||The Velvet Underground||1969|
|35.||Wild Horses||The Rolling Stones||1971|
|36.||Bright Lights||Gary Clark, Jr,||2012|
|37.||Touch, Peel And Stand||Days Of The New||1997|
|39.||I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire||The Ink Spots||1995|
|40.||Let Her Go||Passenger||2012|
|41.||Sleepwalking||This Wild Life||2014|
|42.||Layla (Unplugged)||Eric Clapton||1970|
|43.||Crazy Little Thing Called Love||Queen||1980|
|44.||Head Over Feet||Alanis Morissette||1995|
|45.||Every Rose Has Its Thorn||Poison||1988|
|46.||Patience||Guns N’ Roses||1988|
|47.||Fake Plastic Trees||Radiohead||1995|
|48.||Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want||The Smiths||1986|
|49.||Dueling Banjos||Eric Weissberg||1972|
|50.||Clarity||Zedd featuring Foxes||2012||—|
|51.||Billie Jean||Chris Cornell||2006|
|52.||Waiting ‘Round to Die||Townes Van Zandt||1968|
|53.||The A Team||Ed Sheeran||2011|
|55.||Free Bird||Lynyrd Skynyrd||1973|
|56.||To Be With You||Mr. Big||1991|
|59.||Here Without You||3 Doors Down||2002|
|60.||A Case Of You||Joni Mitchell||1971|
|62.||Thinking Out Loud||Ed Sheeran||2014|
|63.||Heart of Gold||Neil Young||1972|
|64.||Pink Moon||Nick Drake||1972|
|65.||Maggie May||Rod Stewart||1971|
|66.||Stairway to Heaven||Led Zeppelin||1971|
|67.||Iris||The Goo Goo Dolls||1998|
|68.||More Than Words||Extreme||1990|
|69.||Banana Pancakes||Jack Johnson||2005|
|70.||Yellow Ledbetter||Pearl Jam||2000|
|71.||San Francisco Bay Blues||Eric Clapton||1992|
|72.||The Boxer||Simon And Garfunkel||1970|
|74.||May You Never||John Martyn||1973|
|75.||Crash Into Me||Dave Matthews Band||1996|
|76.||Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)||Green Day||1997|
|77.||I’m Yours||Jason Mraz||2008|
|78.||Trouble||Ray La Montagne||2004||—|
|79.||Don’t Follow||Alice In Chains||1994|
|80.||Soldier of Fortune||Deep Purple||1974|
|81.||The Scientist (acoustic)||Coldplay||2002|
|82.||Jack & Diane||John Mellencamp||1982|
|83.||Under The Bridge||Red Hot Chili Peppers||1991|
|85.||Needle And The Damage Done||Neil Young||1972|
|87.||Here Comes The Sun||The Beatles||1969|
|88.||The River (acoustic)||Bruce Springsteen||1980|
|89.||I Won’t Give Up||Jason Mraz||2012|
|90.||Dust In The Wind||Kansas||1977|
|91.||Redemption Song||Bob Marley||1980|
|93.||When You Say Nothing At All||Ronan Keating||1999|
|94.||Life’s A Long Song||Jethro Tull||1992|
|95.||Journeyman (Acoustic Version)||Iron Maiden||2003||—|
|96.||Night Train To Munich||Al Stewart||1995|
|97.||Two Steps Behind (Acoustic Version)||Def Leppard||1993|
|98.||Hyper Oz||Chelsea Wolfe||2012|
|99.||From The Beginning||Emerson Lake and Palmer||1972||—|
|100.||Lady In Black||Uriah Heep||1970|
|101.||Over the Hills and Far Away||Led Zeppelin||1973|
|102.||Both Sides Now||Joni Mitchell||2000|
|104.||Shape Of You||Ed Sheeran||2017|
|105.||Tears In Heaven||Eric Clapton||1992|
Acoustic Songs Spotify Playlist:
This was it, the list of the 105 best and most successful acoustic songs of all time. From classics of the 60s and 70s to performers from this century, everything was there. Of course, the list could go on forever with good music, but with these 105 songs, you can already create a brilliant all-time classic playlist!