Harmonica in rock is not outlandish; and probably the brightest examples are shown in these videos, ranging from rock ballads and singer-songwriter acoustic rock to virtuoso harmonica pieces and blues-rock. Let’s start.

1. Cryin’

One of Aerosmith’s most memorable songs. This song is about a roller-coaster relationship that seemed great at first but then turned a lot worse. It can also be seen as a metaphor for Steven Tyler’s drug use. (The song was released in 1993 and went gold in the United States for selling 600,000 copies). It features him playing harmonica that starts after the chorus and is played over an A major progression on an A harmonica, using mostly chords in the high register.

2. Whammer Jammer

A song by Magic Dick and J Geils band, the idea for which appeared in 1971 as a harmonica instrumental for a band that later was recorded during a live show. As Magic Dick says, this song happened to be a combination of his influences: Sonny Boy, Little Walter and James Cotton. It’s a 12-bar song that consists of unique short riffs that are repeated within different parts of the song. Everything is tongue-blocking except the bends on high notes. It starts off with a like riff that uses 2 and 3 blow. The notable and challenging part is the -56 and 56 trill that’s played by shaking the head. This song is also known as a so-called “harmonica standard” and a must-know for every blues harmonica player.

3. Heart of Gold

A song by Neil Young that’s listed in the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” by Billboard. The song was a result of Neil’s back injury, during which he couldn’t play an electric guitar, so he turned to his acoustic guitar. Notably, Bob Dylan disliked this song, despite the fact that he respected Neil Young, because he heard himself in it, saying “if it sounds like me, it should as well be me”. The song is played on G harmonica in first position.

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4. Shape of My Heart

A song by Sting about a card player who gambles to figure out some kind of mystical logic in luck. The song is co-written with a guitar player, Dominic Miller, who brought that guitar riff. It features Larry Adler on harmonica, who also collaborated with composers like George Gershwin, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Darius Milhaud, many of whom composed for him. The harmonica plays a solo on a bridge, with modulation. This song is often sampled; you can hear it in many other music works.

5. Long Train Running

The song by Doobie brothers that was untitled for a long time before it was recorded. Early on, it was just a jam where the lead singer used to make up nonsensical lyrics while performing it and the song used to have different names, such as Osborne and Parliament. The harmonica playing in this is just a 2nd position bluesy playing. Roughly, the song is great for its opening riff and catchy lyrics and melody.

6. Roadhouse Blues

Written by Jim Morrison, it’s a dark song filled with the philosophy of nihilism. It features ex-Lovin’ Spoonful frontman John Sebastian on harmonica (appearing under the pseudonym G. Puglese), either out of loyalty to his recording contract or to avoid affiliation with The Doors after an infamous Miami controversy. Harmonica lines mostly fill the gaps between vocals.

Of course there are plenty more rock songs that could belong on this list right? Leave your comments below…


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