Pop music can be an ideal reservoir of songs to draw from when you’re looking to build your repertoire. The biggest reason for this is that pop music is incredibly familiar, largely due to mainstream media and commercial success.
After all, pop music consists of the sounds and styles that happen to be popular at the current time. Keep that brief definition in mind as we cover some of the biggest pop hits of the last 60 years.
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“Imagine” by John Lennon
John Lennon’s iconic track, Imagine, remains as incredibly relevant today as it was upon its release. Few songs even compare when attempting to provide a similar message within a song.
Imagine challenges everything that someone born within a modern society might have been programmed to believe. Instead, John Lennon questions you to consider the possibilities, even if they seem impossible.
As long as the machine of the world keeps churning, Imagine will likely always be worth learning. Hopefully, someday, the leaders of the world take the song’s message to heart.
“Stand By Me” by Ben E. King
If you want a song that will have people dancing and singing along, learn Ben E. King’s Stand By Me. I know it sounds bizarre, but I’ve seen that very thing happen with my own eyes during a performance.
And really, there isn’t anything to dislike about this track. The song’s signature bass line is an open invitation to the ears, and everyone has grown up hearing the song.
You will have to be a little creative in adapting the song to the guitar. But, you can easily incorporate the bass line with strummed chords to great effect.
“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones were essentially the other side of the coin for the British Invasion of the 1960s. This group relied on its blues background (which was incredibly popular in the UK) in comparison to The Beatles.
Throughout the band’s legendary career, The Rolling Stones have produced innumerable hits, each recognizable and memorable in their own right. One of the most iconic is their song, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.
Absolute beginners will have no problems playing the song’s signature riff. It is primarily played with only 1 string.
“Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley
Uptempo songs are always nice to play when an audience just wants to have a good time. Heck, you might even rely on these tracks for when you’re essentially just background music at an establishment.
But once in a while, you’ll get an audience that is dialed into every breath and nose scratch you make. If you have an audience hanging on your every word, it’s time to pull out the song, Hallelujah.
Jeff Buckley’s version is perhaps more suitable for the guitar (primarily because he used a guitar for the recording). You’ll be surprised at how many people know this song, making it ripe for establishing a deeper audience connection.
“Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” by Green Day
Some songs seem to never disappear after their release. No matter where you go, you can never seem to escape the grasp of their sound.
Then, suddenly, the song goes slightly dormant, like a virus encapsulated in prehistoric ice. Of course, you know that, eventually, that virus becomes valid again, and never truly goes away.
A similar thing could be thought of with Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life). It was everywhere in the 1990s, and now it’s primarily used for memorable ceremonies.
“The Weight” by The Band
The Band is one of those groups that was extremely important, but not as big as the biggest stars. Instead, they rode that fine line between superstardom and cult following.
That’s not such a bad place to be if you’re an artist or a band continually touring on the road. It likely guarantees that you’ll get paid and still be able to go to the grocery store unnoticed.
Of course, when you release a song like The Weight, that might become a little more difficult. It’s essentially the song for which The Band is known best, and is a popular cover selection for today’s musicians.
“Yesterday” by The Beatles
The Beatles should not be overlooked if you’re really looking to add some pop songs to your repertoire. As far as pop groups go, The Beatles are perhaps the most successful group in all of modern history.
Much of what pop music became was directly influenced by The Beatles in one way or another. Each song is akin to taking a masterclass in composition and songwriting.
One song that will teach you some lessons is Yesterday, which is nostalgia in musical form. The guitar part perfectly complements the sweeping vocals throughout, making it ideal for singer-songwriters.
“Sex And Candy” by Marcy Playground
You don’t have to be too observant to realize that sex does indeed sell when it comes to marketing. That might be part of the reason why Marcy Playground’s Sex And Candy became such a big hit.
By just having that simple word in the title, the mind becomes instantly curious about the song’s subject. Of course, there’s more than just a risqué title here with this song.
Sex And Candy follows a fairly simple chord progression that is repeated throughout the song. Be sure to emphasize the musical breaks that give the vocals the spotlight before the signature chorus comes in.
“American Pie” by Don McLean
Storytelling and songwriting seem to go together like cheese and pizza. One of the most iconic storytelling-type of songs to add to your repertoire is American Pie.
Unless you’ve been a hermit, you have probably heard the signature chorus of American Pie at some point. In many ways, American Pie is one of the most American songs at its most foundational root.
The song gives a nod to the musical styles of years past while putting a slightly modern spin on things. Just do be forewarned that this song could test an audience’s patience if they aren’t into it.
“I’m Looking Through You” by The Beatles
While it’s nice to cover the hits, sometimes it's a gift to an audience to play something more obscure. With The Beatles, there isn’t too much that is considered obscure amongst audiences, largely due to their obvious widespread success.
If you’re looking to change things up, consider learning I’m Looking Through You, which comes from Rubber Soul. This is a very simple song that will require a capo on the 1st fret for convenience.
The track opens up with a signature melody, with the primary part of the song consisting of standard chords. This song doesn’t have much in the way of vocal harmonies, making it perfect for solo performers.
“Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley
Even though it was released nearly 15 years ago, Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy remains a timeless classic. The track blends modern musical elements with compositional techniques of years past.
Of course, the result is a song that can’t exactly be pinpointed as to which decade it really came from. Its funky soul sound is incredibly infectious and could have just as easily come out in the early 1970s.
The song is relatively easy to adapt to the guitar, but do be mindful of your rhythm. You’ll want to play minimally and with intention to help provide that smooth funk sound.
“Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Do you want to see just how simple a song could actually be and still become a famous hit? Learn Bad Moon Rising and you will likely feel like you got smacked in the face with a shovel.
Yes, it’s true, Bad Moon Rising is insanely easy to play, and will probably only take you minutes to learn. It’s recommended that you play the song using barre chords to minimize hand movements.
Every musician at some point has considered their original music to be too simplistic for an audience to enjoy. Stop judging yourself and use Bad Moon Rising as a reminder that simplicity can be golden.