You know there’s bass, guitar and drums in almost every rock song. Throw in a tambourine, a keyboard and some other random percussion instruments and you’ve got a band! But, don’t forget about the lowly easy-to-pack harmonica – you too can buy a harp for under $50 and impress your friends! Here’s a list of songs to try to duplicate – don’t blame us if your results don’t match these superstars!
10 “Cryin’” by Aerosmith
This song was propelled by a huge music video featuring young stars Alicia Silverstone, Stephen Dorff and Josh Holloway in 1993. Steven Tyler rocks the harmonica solo, and the song helped propel Get A Grip to become the Aerosmith‘s best-selling studio album worldwide, racking up over 20 million in sales. Fun fact: Silverstone went on to star in several of the band’s videos, and in this video is credited with bringing navel piercing into mainstream culture.
09 “Roadhouse Blues” by The Doors
The harmonica part in this song acts as almost another vocal, and interestingly was not performed by a member of the Doors, but by John Sebastian, founder of the The Lovin’ Spoonful. Sebastian’s father was a noted classical harmonica player, but Sebastian was interested in using the harp to play the blues. He played an integral part in developing the folk rock movement in Greenwich Village. Fun fact: Sebastian recorded the Doors song using the pseudonym G. Pugliese, to avoid problems with his own recording contract.
08 “The River” by Bruce Springsteen
“The River” begins with Bruce Springsteen’s haunting harmonica, which is featured several times during the song. The title track of Springsteen’s only double album became an international hit, although it wasn’t released as a single in the U.S. Fun fact: This blue-collar ballad was written for Springsteen’s sister and brother-in-law, who had lost his construction job during the recession.
07 “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Tom Petty famously played the harmonica on two songs that won MTV’s Video Music Award for Best Male Video – “You Don’t Know How It Feels” (1995) and this song, which took home the prize in 1994. Fun fact: The video features Petty as a morgue assistant who takes home a beautiful dead woman (played by Kim Basinger).
06 “Long Train Runnin’” by The Doobie Brothers
Lead singer Tom Johnston wrote this song, played rhythm guitar and also performed the harmonica lead on what has become one of the Doobie Brothers biggest hits. The song had just been a loose musical jam for the band for many years, and Johnston considered it “a bar song without a lot of merit.” Producer Ted Templeman convinced him to write words for the melody and the rest is history. Fun fact: Templeman discovered Van Halen and produced six of their records. He can be heard on the song “Unchained,” saying “Come on Dave, gimme a break!”
05 “Piano Man” by Billy Joel
Now one of Billy Joel’s signature songs, “Piano Man” was also his first single and first major hit in 1974. The song reflects Joel’s real life experiences working as a lounge musician in LA, while trying to escape an onerous contract in New York City. All of the characters mentioned in the song (John, the friend who buys him drinks, Paul, the real estate novelist, Dave in the Navy, the waitress and the manager) are based on real-life people that Joel encountered. Fun fact: In 2016, the Library of Congress selected “Piano Man” for preservation in the National Recording Registry for its “cultural, historic, or artistic significance.”
04 “Tangled up in Blue” by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s use of the harmonica is well-known and a feature in many of his songs. He was influenced by legends like Jimmy Reed, Wayne Raney and Little Walter. Dylan started using a harmonica rack as a necessity while performing solo in small venues. “I got the approach from Woody Guthrie … it really gave a coffee house performer more variety to be able to keep the rhythm on guitar while playing the harp.” Fun fact: Dylan has continually revised the lyrics to the song, many times even using a third-person perspective.
03 “Love Me Do” by The Beatles
“Love Me Do” was the Beatles’ first single, and probably is the most well-known example of them using the harmonica. John Lennon performed the bluesy solos and is credited as a co-writer, although he admitted that Paul McCartney had written the song well before the formation of the Beatles. Fun fact: The song was first recorded as an EMI Artist Test in June of 1962 with Pete Best on drums. The version was thought to be lost for many years, but was later found and put on the Anthology 1 release.
02 “School” by Supertramp
The unmistakable lonely wail of the harmonica that begins this song goes on for almost 45 seconds before the song actually starts. Performed by lead/backing vocalist Rick Davies, the solo is immediately recognizable and helped Supertramp break through to a U.S. audience. Fun fact: Davies is the only original member of Supertramp, but has not toured since a multiple myeloma diagnosis in 2015.
01 “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young
Neil Young wrote this song when he returned to acoustic guitar after suffering back issues that prevented him for standing for long periods of time and holding an electric guitar. Young’s harmonica parts define the song and are complemented by backing vocals from James Taylor and Linda Ronstad. Fun fact: Unbelievably, “Heart of Gold” is Neil Young’s only #1 single in the U.S.