With an electric guitar you get all that lovely mistake-hiding distortion. All the squalling feedback and lovely, comforting effects pedals. Playing an acoustic guitar well is an exercise in precision, clarity, and more often than not, great songwriting. Playing unplugged arrangements can breathe new life into familiar songs, give a unique twist to a cover, and show off a piece of songwriting perfection. We asked you to vote for your favourite acoustic songs, be they covers, originals or alternate arrangements - songs that send shivers down spines and make your fingers itch to learn them.
So, without further ado, here they are: the 30 best acoustic songs of all time, as voted for by MusicRadar users. A testament to what can be achieved with nothing more than a voice and a guitar, Love Of My Life is Queen at their most intimate. Oh Steven, you poor thing. Is this the very saddest of all Smiths songs? Yes, we rather think it is. Short, bittersweet and beguiling, this is miserablism done right. And John drops the f-bomb, which is always exciting. Forget Madonna's ill-advised cover in fact, we apologise for reminding you of it - Don McLean's original take on his acoustic opus will stand for all time as the definitive recording of it.
American Pie's lyrics have been analysed in all manner of quarters, but predictably, the best explanation of the song's meaning came from McLean himself. One of the big Mac's most frequently performed songs, Landslide charts Stevie Nicks' notoriously on-off relationship - both professional and personal - with Lindsey Buckingham, while the man in question delivers dense layers of delicate fingerpicked passages beneath. Billy Corgan and his Smashing Pumpkins pals later delivered a faithful rendition of their own, but none can match the emotionally charged atmosphere of the original.
Its finger-picked minor chords and intertwined, gravely vocal lines are a flawless example of the power of more delicate and tender ends of '90s grunge. Is this the most timeless protest song that ever was? Yes, it probably is, and aside from its prose-worthy lyrics, Bob's Celtic-rooted strumathon is notable for a chord progression that we'd be quite happy to hear looped round until the end of time.
The times may be changin', but it appears our love for the Nobel Prize-winner's social anthem is going nowhere. Although the tune was written by Doyle Bramhall and Barbara Logan, Stevie's heartfelt vocals and soulful embellishments make this ode to a life spent in the shadow of the bottle very much his own.
If you've ever tried to play this song and found that it doesn't sound quite like the original, it may be because Mick Taylor used Nashville tuning on his acoustic when he recorded it. Either that or you're not a very good guitarist - it's probably one of the two. Apparently, sometime Stones ivory tinkler Ian Stewart refused to record the piano part because of his dislike of minor chords.
It's a good job he wasn't in The xx. When Noel Gallagher jotted down the four chords that make up Wonderwall, little did he know that every beginner acoustic guitarist for the rest of time would start out strumming his song. That happened. May You Never is the sound of a tough man with a bruised heart, which is about as complete a description of John Martyn as we can summon.
A complex individual and phenomenal talent capable of infinite emotional depth, Martyn was uniquely qualified to deliver May You Never, a beautifully played piece of world-weary advice from a man who knew a thing or two about making mistakes. Rumour has it that Dust In The Wind started out as a fingerpicking exercise for guitarist Kerry Livgren, before he brought it to the rest of the band and turned it into a prog-folk masterpiece.
Although the recording may sound like a string, its chorus-y tones actually come from Kerry and fellow guitarist Rich Williams playing standard- and Nashville-tuned acoustics at once. Recorded after a period of personal tragedy, Clapton's Unplugged album ended up being one of the most successful of his career.
This stripped-down, rearranged version of Layla is one of the LP's highlights, though it's ironic to recall that it was this laidback performance that beat Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit to the Best Rock Song Grammy in Ah, Thom Yorke, with your concerns about capitalism and your emotive singing, you really are a wonderful human being. And top marks to anyone who can hit those high notes, for you are a better singer than MusicRadar. Going To California is a lovely wistful little jaunt, Jimmy Page merrily plucking his little heart out all the while.
One of the great acoustic storytellers, Taylor uses Fire And Rain as a cathartic ode to the suicide of his childhood friend, as well as his own brushes with drug addiction and fame. Neil Young chalks up his biggest hit to the result of a back injury. Unable to stand for long periods of time and finding his electric guitars too heavy, Young found it easier to play acoustics while seated - Heart Of Gold is one of several gentle acoustic songs he wrote in If it sounds like me, it should as well be me.
Although its glistening, cascading guitar lines seem to float by as gently as a bubbling country stream, the recording of the The Boxer was anything but smooth.
Over hours of studio time in multiple facilities and cities were required to capture the intricate fingerpicked guitar parts played by Paul Simon and session man Fred Carter Jr. While Simon has gone on record as saying that the song is largely autobiographical, Dylan seemed to prefer the first explanation, as he covered The Boxer on his album, Self-Portrait. An uncharacteristic ballad amongst the reggae icon's catalogue, Redemption Song is also something of an anomaly amongst Bob Marley songs as it features no musicians other than Bob himself on guitar and vocals.
Lyrically, the track is at once powerfully political - referencing a speech by Jamaican political leader Marcus Garvey - as well intensely personal, touching on Marley's own mortality as he faced the cancer that would ultimately kill him a year later.
Needle And The Damage done can be counted as a major cornerstone in the great lineage of touching acoustic songs written about the perils of heroin abuse. In this case, Young composed the song after witnessing the drug addiction of his Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten. The recorded version of the song itself, which appeared first on Young's classic '72 album Harvest, comes from a live performance at UCLA's Royce Hall. A fitting epitaph to a mighty career. Instantly iconic upon release and endlessly mangled at open mic nights, Tears In Heaven is rightfully in the top tier of Clapton classics.
From the Spanish-style intro through to the tasteful solos, the only thing wrong with this is, arguably, the bongos. But we can get past that when the guitar playing is this good. The only other sounds on the track are McCartney keeping time by tapping his feet, and some soothing bird chirps that came courtesy of a sound effects collection.
Lyrically, McCartney wrote Blackbird as a response to the growing civil rights tensions in the United States. A year later, on Abbey Road, he damn near left them in the dust with gems like Something and the eternal ode to warm-weather optimism, Here Comes The Sun. At first, The Beatles tried recording the song as a band one version had Lennon playing the organ , but nothing sounded right. Finally, producer George Martin suggested that McCartney perform the song solo on an Epiphone Texan steel-string acoustic.
Afterwards, Martin convinced a reluctant McCartney to allow him to add a string quartet as backing. The success of Yesterday had a profound musical impact on The Beatles, who would soon begin experimenting with different sounds, instruments and varying configurations of the band. Here it is, the top of the acoustic pops as voted for by you, the great MusicRadar readers. And what a classic you chose. It's a towering tribute to a fallen comrade, and one that deservedly sits atop of this particular poll.
MusicRadar The No. New to acoustic? A huge talent that was taken too soon. Buckingham and Nicks: on good terms at last. Time stands still for this Dylan classic. SRV throws his hat into the ring.
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