The harmonica, or the harp as it is referred to by some people, is widely viewed as an extra instrument that takes the backseat to other more important instruments. Because of that, it does not often have the opportunity to be used as a solo performer in a song. However, this pocket-sized instrument can be an important one and can elicit quite a reaction from your audience. Some of the most popular musicians and bands of the age have discovered this and have incorporated the harmonica into their songs. In this post, we will see the best songs with harmonica ever.
The Beatles – Love Me Do
The Beetles are certainly one of the most iconic and revered bands of all time. Most of their music incorporates the guitar and other instruments, so you might not think much about the role of the harp in any of their music. The later part of the band's career certainly did not feature much harmonica; however, if you go back to the earliest recordings from the group, you will certainly find the harmonica playing a large role in their music.
Love Me Do, the 1962 debut single of the band has the harmonica playing quite an important role and is one of the most famous songs with the harmonica in them.
Some years before the band started to explore into territories previously unheard of musically with their hit albums, they were the big deal in England. And the song that propelled them to such popularity in their native England had the harmonica as the centerpiece.
Listening to Love Me Do today shows that it is quite different from the songs that marked to the second spell of their run. However, at the time of its release, it was a hit song. This deceptively simple song was catchy and unforgettable. Certainly, it is one of the best songs that feature the harmonica.
Heart of Gold by Neil Young
The next best or most famous song that features the harmonica is Heart of Gold by Neil Young. This song holds the distinction of being one of the best songs from Neil Young, and interestingly, it is the only number 1 single in the US by Neil, which comes as a huge surprise.
The song comes with quite a history. It was written by Young when he made his return to the acoustic guitar. Earlier, he suffered from back problems that did not allow him to stand for extended periods. He returned to the acoustic guitar because this issue did not let him handle his preferred electric guitar.
There are cool songs that feature the harmonica, and then you have this masterpiece from Neil. This hit song is one of those songs that stand out and are always referenced when talking about folk-rock songs. While Heart of Gold was not the first song to be used with the acoustic guitar, it certainly is one of the best forms of combination of the two. The harmonica perfectly complements the guitar in this hit and evokes plenty of emotions in the listener.
His harmonica parts define the song and vocal are provided by James Taylor and Linda Ronstad.
Isn't She Lovely by Stevie Wonder
Stevie is certainly one of the most recognizable musicians of his time. He is also easily one of the most talented. He plays a lot of instruments, and the impressive thing is that he plays all of them at an incredibly expert level. Therefore, it isn't too surprising to discover that the harmonica is one of the instruments that he handles with impressive ease.
This musical genius spent all of his time growing up in the studio, learning a vast array of instruments, and he must have also learned how to play the harmonica while growing up. Anyway, whether he learned to play at a young age or much later in his life is subject to debate. But what isn't controversial is his performance in Isn't She Lovely.
In this song, it is easy to see the talent of this prodigy shine through. He not only impresses with his sheer vocal ability, but he also uses instruments to elevate this song to a hit. Where his voice couldn't reach, he complimented it with the harmonica.
If you are looking for an exceptional harmonica performance, check out this song and the videos that show him playing the instrument. Isn't She Lovely is really a highlight of this genius' discography.
Down Home Shakedown
What defines Blues music? Well, some would say the guitar is the pillar of this genre. However, some people will include the harmonica as one of the pillars of this genre. Regardless of what you might think, Down Home Shakedown from Big Mama Thornton is certainly proof of the impressive way a harmonica can affect the genre.
The harmonica is a powerful instrument that can stir up and show emotions that you never knew could be conveyed in music, and this hit song from Big Mama Thornton is evidence of that.
This song is one of the best pieces of evidence of the talent of the musician and the sheer versatility of the instrument. Her live performance shows just how impressive the whole thing is and Down Home Shakedown has the singer take on different comers and reveals just how impressive the potential of this instrument is. You should check out the video.
Mr. Tambourine Man
Bod Dylan is renowned for many things, especially the lyrical quality of his music (with these winning some of the highest recognition), but in Mr. Tambourine Man, he makes a case for the harmonica being one of the best musical instruments known to man. Many images of Dylan have his guitar in hand and harmonica strung on his neck.
He has quite a number of songs that feature him on the harmonica, all of which can be listed on this list of the best songs with harmonica, but we have decided to go with this track first. It is arguably the most popular from the singer and appears in many lists as one of the best songs from the talented musician.
Neil Young perfected the use of harmonica in folk music, but Bob Dylan can be said to have inspired his use of the harmonica. This musical genius got his break from the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960 era. For most of his career, Dylan could certainly have gotten away with just the lyrical quality of his songs, but whenever he decided to use an instrument, he surely made it count.
Although Mr. Tambourine Man has an instrument in the title, the focus of the song is actually the harmonica, with Dylan showing just how good and close he is with the harmonica. Similar to Isn't She Lovely from Wonder that we have discussed on this list, this song certainly elevates the vocal performance of the singer.
The Beetles have already made an appearance on this list with Love Me Do, however, we believe that this list should also contain a hit from a similarly iconic band – The Rolling Stones. Unlike Love Me Do that is one of the earliest records from The Beetles, Midnight Rambler comes after The Rolling Stones had already achieved superstardom.
By the time this hit came around, The Rolling Stones were already a band that was on the lips of almost everyone around the globe. Although the band played more in stadiums at this point, they proved that they could still do the magic in a local juke joint. The band might have been super popular, but they still had connections to the Blues genre. This was mainly down to Mick's ability to play the harp with such grace and skill.
Midnight Rambler is the band's greatest example of this ability. In the hit, Mick plays the harmonica with incredible skill. He takes the listener on a journey of the instrument, starting and whetting the ears with some lower tones, then taking it up several notches till all you can think of is the sound of the harmonica. As he does this, his swagger, remains, of course. The whole performance and song is quite mesmerizing and will have you in awe.
Looking for a song where the harmonica part is almost identical to a human voice? Then look no further than Roadhouse Blues. The part played with the harmonica in this joint is like a voice and evokes different emotions in anyone listening. This song by the Doors is one of the most popular ones from the band. Interestingly, though, the harmonica part was not actually performed by a member of the band.
The harmonica part was played by John Sebastian. Jim of The Doors wasn't an instrumentalist, which meant that he left the instruments to the other members of the band while he was on vocals. Therefore, in Roadhouse Blues when the group required the harmonica in the track, they looked for the best harmonica player that they knew – John Sebastian.
Sebastian created The Lovin' Spoonful. His prowess with the harmonica is no surprise as his dad was a relatively popular Blues harmonica player. John wasn't interested in toeing the Blues path and he opted to use his skills in building folk Rock. Anyway, we are glad that he took this path because it guided him to playing the harmonica on this hit. It remains one of the best songs from The Doors.
Long Train Runnin
The beginning of this song doesn't have any harmonica parts or any indication of what might come after. But at 90 seconds into the song, your ears are treated to one of the most impressive displays of harmonica playing ever. This 1973 song by The Doobie Brothers has the lead vocalist showing that he is not only impressive with his voice but can also be absolutely glorious on the harmonica. His part tears the bounds on the song and takes the whole song up a different level.
Tom Johnston wrote the song, he played the rhythm guitar, and of course, handled the harmonica part. This song without a doubt is one of the biggest songs from the band and will remain one of the best performances from a lead singer playing an instrument. So, have a listen to it and feel the magic of the harmonica playing.
Just like Mr. Tambourine Man from Bob Dylan, no one would mistake the singer for a harmonica player. The name of the song as well, ‘Piano Man' gives it away that Billy Joel plays the piano. But like so many other talented musicians, he shows his musical range on this hit song. The harmonica doesn't play a very big role in the song, however, it is so interwoven into the music that playing it without the harmonica certainly doesn't feel complete.
The song tells about the singers' experience as a lounge musician in Los Angeles while in a contract he hates in NYC. Every single character in the song is based on a real person. The harmonica adds so much to this already great song.
Interestingly, this song was added to the National Recording Registry in 2016.
Tangled Up in Blue
Bob Dylan makes another appearance on this list, which certainly is no surprise – google a picture of Dylan and you'll likely have him with a harmonica. Many of his songs and hits feature this instrument. Inspired by those that came before him like Wayne Raney, Bob found the harmonica to be his best friend when playing solo in small places.
This song is one of the most interesting ones from the musician and was revised so many times before its final release. If you are looking for one of Bob's best performances on a harmonica, then you certainly should listen to this jam.
Best Songs with Harmonica, Final Thoughts
So there you have the best songs with harmonica. These songs are very famous and still make people giddy with nostalgia and excitement when played today.