The slide is an incredible tool for the guitar that gives the instrument an unbelievable vocal quality to its tone. By gliding up and down the neck, lines full of glissando are created, taking advantage of microtones along the way.
Take a listen to some of these classic songs that feature a slide guitar. You’ll find that its unmistakable tone allows the slide guitar to be easily identified in each song.
“The Joker” by Steve Miller Band
The Steve Miller Band is known for a number of songs, but, The Joker might be their most famous. This song is extremely well-known for a number of musical factors that allow for immediate recognition.
For some, it would be the classic bass line that carries the entire track along. Others might enjoy the slide guitar that plays through the song in a conversational and vocal way.
The Joker has a signature slide guitar solo that oozes the sound and style of traditional tropical music styles. You could easily mistake this for the sound of a lap steel guitar.
“What Is And What Should Never Be” by Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin continues to be one of the most enduring rock groups to spawn from the late 1960s. For nearly an entire decade, Led Zeppelin dominated the charts in popularity, and rightfully so.
When people think of Jimmy Page, the slide guitar isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. However, a portion of the band’s popular catalog does feature a slide guitar to a prominent degree.
The song, What Is And What Should Never Be, is one of the band’s best slide guitar tracks. Page gives a thoughtful and melodic ride with the slide, eventually building the song’s energy to a peak.
“Running On Faith” by Eric Clapton
The 1990s were an interesting time for the guitarist who was once referred to as “God”. Though he had moderate success in the 80s, nobody could have planned what was in store for him.
When the Unplugged album dropped in 1992, it became a smash hit, ultimately propelling Clapton to the spotlight once again. This was no small thing, as Clapton was likely still processing the death of his son just a year prior.
On the album are a few songs featuring Clapton with a slide, and Running On Faith is one of them. This track’s composition is based on the slide, and also features an excellent, sprawling solo at the end.
“Statesboro Blues” by Allman Brothers Band
As far as slide guitar players are concerned, Duane Allman is generally considered one of the greatest. His brand of slide guitar spawned an entire movement within the southern rock subgenre.
For discovering the slide technique by accident, Duane possessed a skill few could ever hope to achieve. One of the classic Allman Brothers Band songs with prominent slide is Statesboro Blues.
The version from the At Fillmore East features Duane employing some classic blues slide vocabulary. This song is definitely one that any aspiring slide guitar player needs to know how to play!
“In My Time Of Dying” by Led Zeppelin
Speaking of blues-inspired slide guitar playing, mention must be made of Zeppelin’s In My Time Of Dying. This is actually a cover of a staple blues repertoire song originally recorded by Blind Willie Johnson.
Led Zeppelin’s version finds Page employing the blues box patterns inherent in the open-A tuning. He crawls the slide up the neck, giving the song a feeling of inner agony.
This version is quite unique in the sense that Led Zeppelin really made the song their own. The end of the track busts into classic Zeppelin riff-rock territory, propelled by Bonzo’s drumming.
“Midnight In Harlem” by Tedeschi Trucks Band
Despite there being perhaps more guitarists than ever before, slide players are a little hard to find. One person that has made a career of playing slide is Derek Trucks, who started out as a child prodigy.
Of course, when your uncle plays drums in the Allman Brothers Band, you’re bound to be around the right influences. When watching Trucks in his teenage years, it's clear he had the right mentors for slide guitar.
Trucks now plays with his wife in the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which is an absolute powerhouse of a group. The song, Midnight In Harlem, is one of the band’s most iconic, featuring an expressive and melodic Trucks throughout.
“Bad To The Bone” by George Thorogood & The Destroyers
Who do you think of when asked to consider the sound of barroom blues rock? There’s a good chance that George Thorogood & The Destroyers might be your first thought.
The blues saw a resurgence in popularity during the late 70s and 1980s. George Thorogood was one of the prominent names, with Bad To The Bone being his most iconic.
And really, blues rock doesn’t give more attitude than it does with this song. The track’s signature riff, the slide guitar, and the saxophone solos really did help concrete its place in history.
“When The Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin’s 4th album contains the booming track, When The Levee Breaks, as a bookend. This track is often mentioned when talking about reverb, specifically with John Bonham’s drums.
His drumming definitely does provide a wide sound to the track, but Page’s slide guitar steals the show. It is Page’s slide work that makes When The Levee Breaks such a haunting song.
The song uses the slide in a riff-rock fashion only Zeppelin could do. It bubbles upward with tension, and eventually overflows just as the rain would flood a levee.
“Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Free Bird really is just one of those songs that will forever be immortalized in the history of rock music. No guitar player playing on stage can escape life without hearing the joking request for Free Bird.
As you might expect with a song pushing the time length it does, there’s quite a bit going on here. You’ll find the song’s signature slide part at the beginning of the song, introducing the melody.
If you’re a guitarist, this is one of those songs that you’ll want to know. Nobody would expect you to actually be able to play the song upon request.
“Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh
Joe Walsh has definitely created a reputation for himself in the world of rock music. From his time in the James Gang to Eagles, and beyond, his contributions remain ever important.
His solo career produced a number of hits, with Rocky Mountain Way being one that features prominent slide playing. This song has a thrilling development built upon pulsating bass line.
Walsh has admitted to often being drunk on stage. It’s almost hard to imagine playing precise slide techniques at his level while being completely inebriated.
“Handle With Care” by The Traveling Wilburys
If you’re only familiar with rock music on the basis of radio, your radar might have missed The Traveling Wilburys. This is despite the fact that every member is a music legend in their own respect.
The song, Handle With Care, features some of George Harrison’s signature slide playing. He’s the primary singer during this song, as it was essentially supposed to be on one of his solo albums.
In fact, it was really this song that made everyone agree to continue collaborating. It would eventually result in 2 albums.
“Dust My Broom” by Elmore James
Elmore James was one of the greatest slide players of his day. It’s safe to say that James has inspired a good many of the most famous slide players you can name.
One of his most iconic tracks is Dust My Broom, which has become standard repertoire for blues players. The song has murky origins but is generally credited to Robert Johnson.
However, it really was the Elmore James version that everyone came to know and love. This has some heavily overdriven slide tones that are quite raw in taste for having come from the early 1950s.
“One Way Out” by Allman Brothers Band
Mention has already been made of Greg Allman’s legendary status and contributions within the southern rock community. However, if you needed another example of Duane’s playing, be sure to check out the song, One Way Out.
This classic Allman Brothers Band song takes on a standard blues progression through some bouncy riffs. Duane employs the slide to play the higher octave of the layered riff being played by the band.
He then takes the song to new heights during the second guitar solo section, all while remaining quite melodic. It’s songs like this that really make the album, At Fillmore East, such a classic.