19 Best Steel Guitar Songs

“Tear Stained Eye” by Son Volt

“Tear Stained Eye” by Son Volt

Son Volt was formed in the mid-1990s following the dissolution of the group, Uncle Tupelo. Half of the group formed the band, Wilco, while others went to Son Volt.

While Uncle Tupelo is considered the forefather of alt-country, Son Volt continued in that direction. Their songs had a hint of country aesthetics, without sounding like country to an annoying degree.

The song, Tear Stained Eye, from their debut album, is a great example of this. Eric Heywood’s pedal steel gives it the country flavoring, enhancing the song overall.

Songs can be like a dish of food, with certain instruments sometimes acting as ingredients. The steel guitar can definitely ruin a track if there’s too much, but that’s not happening here.

“I Fall To Pieces” by Linda Ronstadt

“I Fall To Pieces” by Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt is for sure one of the most accomplished female singers to emerge from the late 1960s. While she has sung songs in many genres, country music is generally considered to be her home.

As is customary with many country artists, Linda was no stranger to performing covers of famous songs. Her version of Patsy Cline’s I Fall To Pieces can be found on her 3rd album.

This recording is actually a live take, showing the prowess of Ronstadt’s performing powers, and her backing band. You’ll hear Sneaky Pete Kleinow on this track, who is notable for composing the theme song for Gumby. 

“Fire On The Mountain” by Marshall Tucker Band

“Fire On The Mountain” by Marshall Tucker Band

The Marshall Tucker Band was a tour de force as far as southern-rock-tinged country music goes. They were quite diverse in their musical approach, which helped to give them an identifiable sound.

Their song, Fire On The Mountain is a classic within the band’s repertoire. Mind you, this isn’t to be confused with the Grateful Dead tune of the same name.

This version features some excellent steel guitar work by Toy Caldwell, giving it a distinct Western flavor. It would eventually become the band’s first breakthrough hit.

“Forever” by Pete Drake

“Forever” by Pete Drake

Did you think that the talking guitar originated with Frampton in his hit song, Do You Feel Like We Do? Well, you’d be surprised to find out that Pete Drake first used it on the track, Forever, back in 1964. 

This cover of The Little Dippers song finds Pete Drake utilizing the effect to sing the song’s lyrics. A group of backup singers echoes Drake’s vocalizations in a classic call-and-response compositional technique. 

It just goes to show that some experimentation can truly provide cutting-edge results. Who would have thought the steel guitar would be such an influential instrument in this regard?

“Crying Steel Guitar” by Tammy Wynette

“Crying Steel Guitar” by Tammy Wynette

Tammy Wynette is one of the biggest names in the history of classic country music. She helped to set a precedent for what was possible for a female to accomplish in the world of country.

Her 12th album features a song called, Crying Steel Guitar. As you might expect, this song features some lush, orchestral steel guitar parts playing throughout. 

This song has an ethereal quality to it, partially due to the blending of stringed instruments with the steel guitar. 

“Steel Guitar Rag” by Bob Wills

“Steel Guitar Rag” by Bob Wills

Every instrument seems to have its notable piece to showcase a level of skill. The guitar has Van Halen’s Eruption, and the saxophone might consider Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee.

What would a steel guitar player choose to play to showcase their skills? The song, Steel Guitar Rag, might be a viable candidate.

This track was originally written by steel guitar phenom, Leon McAuliffe. He played it with Bob Wills, with whom he recorded the first version.

“Slowly” by Webb Pierce

“Slowly” by Webb Pierce

By now, you’re probably well aware that you almost cannot escape the reach of the steel guitar in country music. But where did all of this start, and how did this Hawaiian instrument find its way into the genre? 

To answer that, you’ll have to look to the classic Webb Pierce song, Slowly. This track is the first instance of a steel guitar being used in the genre.

It’s quite obvious that this song from 1954 would prove to become incredibly influential. Almost every country song since would go on to incorporate the instrument as a regular mainstay of the genre’s sound. 

“Out On The Weekend” by Neil Young

“Out On The Weekend” by Neil Young

Neil Young was on a straight-line trajectory to the top of the music industry in the late 1960s. His first few solo records proved to be extreme successes, showing Young had viability in a solo career.

When Harvest came out, it provided songs that showed Young writing with a sense of maturity. This album would produce some of his biggest hits, all of which have that soulful folk sound.

The track, Out On The Weekend, comes from this album and features a steel guitar to great effect. This steel guitar provides a melodramatic backdrop, enhancing the emotion of the singing and harmonica.

“Tangerine” by Led Zeppelin

“Tangerine” by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin is another one of those groups that you wouldn’t typically associate with the steel guitar. Page had proven to be a competent slide player, so it only made sense for him to play steel guitar.

You can hear him employing the steel guitar throughout the track, Tangerine. In true Jimmy Page fashion, a wah pedal was connected to the steel guitar to provide a distinct sound. 

Top Steel Guitar Songs, Final Thoughts

Nobody could have predicted that this Hawaiian instrument would creep its way into various genres of music. It’s clear that, while it has a home in country music, it can be utilized just as well in rock. 

One has to wonder whether the steel guitar will find its way into other genres that aren’t considered traditional. Can you imagine what funk, rap, punk, or metal songs would sound like with a touch of a steel guitar? 

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