Although many people associate the mandolin with bluegrass and country music, this instrument is versatile for various music genres, including rock.
Let's look at some of the best rock songs with mandolin instrumentation you should add to your playlist.
“Little Ghost” by The White Stripes
Song Year: 2005
First up on this list of rock songs with mandolin music is The White Stripes' “Little Ghost.” It has a folksy, upbeat vibe that contrasts with lyrics about loving an unseen woman and not wanting to let her go. Vocalist and guitarist Jack White’s mandolin skills are as smooth as his usual guitar riffs.
It was featured on The White Stripes' album Get Behind Me Satan, which ranked third on the US Billboard 200 and UK Album charts.
“Copperhead Road” by Steve Earle
Song Year: 1988
One of the best rock songs with mandolin music that incorporates a country vibe is Steve Earle's “Copperhead Road.” It ranked tenth on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
The song tells the story of a man whose father and grandfather were active in bootlegging moonshine. After returning from the Vietnam War, he decides to sell weed on the same road and not get caught.
Its upbeat tempo, especially halfway through the song, enhances the anecdotal style of the song.
“Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” by The Smiths
Song Year: 1984
Songs about yearning, hope, and other personal desires resonate with many people. Despite its short length, this song by The Smiths encapsulates this feeling perfectly. It’s a nice change of pace from rock songs replicating the country genre.
With only two verses, this song has a striking mandolin solo halfway through the track and trails off towards the end, making it feel slightly somber and bittersweet.
Nevertheless, it's a great tune to listen to when writing down your feelings in a book on a gloomy, rainy day.
“Mandolin Rain” by Bruce Hornsby and The Range
Song Year: 1986
What better way to talk about mandolin rock songs than with the instrument being part of its name? Co-written by Bruce Hornsby and his brother John, with David Mansfield on mandolin, the lyrics reflect the feeling of missing someone you’ve known for a short time to a sad song you hear on the radio.
This song ranked fourth on Billboard's Hot 100 in the summer of 1987. It also topped the Adult Contemporary Chart for three weeks.
“I Will Dare” by The Replacements
Song Year: 1984
Frontman Paul Westerberg has described this song as an answer to U2's “I Will Follow,” a partial love song, and the band's ambition. Besides writing the song and performing its lead vocals, Westerberg also plays the mandolin.
Although it didn't rank on national charts, many college radio stations played it and increased its popularity.
“Dream of the Archer” by Heart
Song Year: 1977
If there's one song that will make you want to wander through a forest in search of a spirit, Heart's “Dream of the Archer” is one song that's done justice through its melodic mandolins provided by Nancy Wilson. It has a mystic and hypnotic vibe, emphasized by Ann Wilson's vocals.
“Thinking Allowed” by Skyclad
Song Year: 1993
If you prefer listening to rock songs with a little edge about embracing your beliefs, Skyclad's “Thinking Allowed” is one hard bop you shouldn't skip when browsing for songs online.
Although this has the standard guitar riffs as most folk metal bands have, it incorporates mandolin strumming towards its beginning and end.
Its fast-paced rhythm is one reason that I love listening to this song whenever I’m in the mood for something different.
“It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons
Song Year: 2010
Sometimes, the most inspirational songs manifest from personal hardships. Although Imagine Dragons' lead singer Dan Reynolds wrote this song while dealing with depression, the overall theme of this song is hope.
Many people can relate to this song's lyrics about following their path and staying true to themselves, no matter what twists and turns they may face. I love listening to this whenever I feel upset.
“If You Belonged to Me” by The Traveling Wilburys
Song Year: 1990
There are many rock songs where the singer laments how the person they love would be happier with them instead of someone they claim makes them feel miserable. I can see this song resonate with anyone who feels invisible when seeking love.
Bob Dylan's vocals and harmonica skills work well with George Harrison's mandolin instrumentation and give the song a folk-like tone that's catchy and rhythmic.
“Holiday Inn” by Elton John
Song Year: 1971
The best part of this Elton John song that showcases Davey Johnstone's mandolin performance is the solo near the end.
The song's lyrics highlight the perspective of a traveling performer. Interestingly, the album release version of this song cut out a third verse where the narrator complains about the titular Holiday Inn, from its broken TV to its late room service.
“Rag Mama Rag” by The Band
Song Year: 1969
One takeaway I get when listening to The Band's “Rag Mama Rag” is how its roots rock blends the style of folk, blues, and ragtime music perfectly to create a hectic yet catchy tune about a guy trying to get his girl back home.
Although The Band didn't think this song was revolutionary while writing and recording it, it's become a fan favorite among avid music lovers.
“Human Wheels” by John Mellencamp
Song Year: 1993
A core motif of this song revolves around the circle of life, comparing life and time to a spinning wheel. It's a simple yet effective message that resonates with many people dealing with loss.
John Mellencamp's inspiration for this rock song's lyrics comes from a poem written by songwriter George Green after his grandfather's passing.
“Friend of the Devil” by Grateful Dead
Song Year: 1970
The contrast between the upbeat tempo and lyrics about being stuck in a life of crime makes “Friend of the Devil” one of the catchiest rock songs with mandolin music. The narrator wants a normal life, but he’s in too deep with his past mistakes.
Many artists have made covers of this classic song over the years, including Lyle Lovett, Mumford & Sons, and Counting Crows.
“Ho Hey” by The Lumineers
Song Year: 2012
When listening to this song, you can't help but smile and bop your head along with its beat. It has a simple melody about unrequited feelings of love, but it has plenty of heart. Even its title draws your attention as if it’s shouting at you.
It ranked in the top ten of Billboard’s Hot Rock & Alternative chart and topped a few international charts.
“Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.
Song Year: 1991
Deemed one of the most iconic songs of the 1900s, it has an iconic usage of the mandolin that helped it rank fourth on Billboard‘s Hot 100 for about four months.
Despite its title, the song's lyrics are more related to the fear and frustration of losing control, especially when seeking love.
“St. Teresa” by Joan Osborne
Song Year: 1995
This song is about a woman who Joan Osborne once knew, struggling to find work because of drug addiction and making the best of her situation as she pushes forward.
Osborne grew up in a Catholic home, so it's no wonder she chose a religious title for her song representing someone she revered.
“Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” by Blue Rodeo
Song Year: 1993
Blue Rodeo's “Hasn't Hit Me Yet” is your staple song about the end of a loveless relationship and the lingering feeling of being alone. The mandolin gives it an upbeat tempo that contrasts the bittersweet country-style lyrics. It’s one of Blue Rodeo’s standout singles showcased on their Five Days in July album.
“Maggie May” by Rod Stewart
Song Year: 1971
“Maggie May” is one of Rod Stewart‘s most personal songs based on events in his life. The lyrics reflect the narrator's conflicting feelings about having a sexual relationship with an older woman, an experience Stewart shared a decade before writing this song.
“Locust Street” by The Black Crowes
Song Year: 2008
Chris Robinson's vocals and Luther Dickinson's mandolin performance keep me returning to this track whenever I browse my playlist.
A central theme of this song revolves around the struggles of life and how it isn't always easy to bounce back. It also gives me a nostalgic feeling as I look back on my dreams.
Top Songs With Mandolin, Final Thoughts
As you can see, many iconic rock songs with mandolin instrumentation have resonated with avid music lovers for several decades.
This versatile instrument helps artists give their songs extra substance when blending the sounds of different fusion genres as they develop a signature style.
We hope you enjoyed our selection of songs and helped you discover your new favorites.