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AUGUST 3, 2013 3:40PM

greatest harmonica solo rock/blues/pop songs of all time

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hi all summers here & the time is right for dancing in the streets. or listenin to that summer music. have been gettin a big dose lately here in denver. cherry crk arts festival, highlands ranch music nite, and just went to red rocks last sunday nite to see rodriguo and gabriella play stellar flamenco. ooh yeah! they tore it down and burned it up! it rained that day but cleared up that nite, and then yours truly danced up a storm!

also just saw a documentary on the ps3 sony store on rihanna. oh yeah I got tickets! and p!nk is comin to town too, got tickets for that also! instead of goin thru a midlife crisis decided to just dance a lot! 

I started playing the harmonica in my early 20s, roughly senior yr of college, and have had various miniadventures looking for bands, sometimes auditioning, and playing with guitarists, and years ago at various open stage nites at bars, clubs, coffeeshops. there are often guitarists and street musicians at downtown denver, and many are willing to play. have met and played with some wild characters over the yrs.

the sig other was on vac for 6wks a few wks ago & I had a chance to go downtown & play a bit with two different musicians in the same nite. after rollerblading downtown. yowza! another time I was rollerblading home in the evening & heard a blues band playing. it was raging house party in a nice section of town, & they had a great and standout harmonica player. I sat in somebody's lawn in the dark & listened to the juicy notes fill and waft through the air and people went by walking their dogs & looking at me sideways with curiosity.  

there is a special "acstatic" microphone that goes really well with harmonicas because of its distinct harmonics and can be heard in many famous songs, think the "harmonicist" in that band had one. yrs ago another player at an open stage nite at a bar on 38th ave offered to sell me one for something like $50 but I never did follow up on that. he said he played & toured with smokin joe walsh! holy cow!

strangely, I realized belatedly after starting playing harmonica that some of my favorite rock & pop songs heard in my teens had harmonica on them. had picked up on the sound as cool/neat sounding in younger yrs but didnt identify it further in my youth. its distinctive and yeah many people recognize the sound but might not realize that its actually a harmonica laying it out. I retroactively started listening to songs with my new "harmonica ear" and made mental note of my favorite songs that used it and found a new dimension to appreciate in old classics & favorites.

it sometime sounds fairly close to an electric guitar wail. in fact I tend to think it usually goes much better with acoustic guitar because of the distinctive harmonics of the harmonica then dont clash with the "nearby" harmonics of the acoustic guitar. a pattern often in songs with both electric guitar & harmonica: the two trade off, such that one "backs off" while the other plays. also because of its sometimes strong and dominating voice, the harmonica rarely plays at the same time as a vocalist; in this way its similar to brass sections [horn, saxaphone, etc]. it took me many yrs to figure out this "musical/jam ettiquete" sometimes by [sometimes embarrassing] fumbling & trial and error.

hope you enjoy this list & the music. it would be cool to hyperlink all these songs but that would be super tricky because theres no single good site for that [itunes? a small miracle if they're all there]. most of these all have huge raging harmonica parts & solos, and if not that at least a distinct harmonica voice at some pt, that really show off the diverse possibilities of the instrument. these are roughly in reverse order to my all time most favorite, and also the relative prominence of the harmonica parts, from minor fills to raging blowouts. there are some amazing virtuoso players in here. 


  • desire - U2
  • smoking in the boys room - motley crue
  • runaway - bonnie raitt
  • train - blackfoot
  • missionary man - eurythmics
  • life is a highway - tom cochrane
  • the heart of rock & roll - huey lewis & the news
  • roadhouse blues - the doors
  • I feel for you - chaka khan
  • sneakin sally through the alley - robert palmer
  • when the levee breaks - led zeppelin 
  • what I like about you - romantics
  • school/long way home - supertramp
  • hook/runaround - blues traveller
  • gimme shelter - rolling stones
  • whammer jammer - j.geils band
  • suicide blonde - INXS
  • long train running - doobie brothers
  • middle of the road - chrissie hynde and the pretenders
  • nobody's fault but mine - led zeppelin  


Comprehensive list of harmonica solos, wikipedia 



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Runaway. Runaround. Long train running. Train. The highway. The road. Am I seeing a theme here? There are some great tunes in this list. Some are among my own faves.

I'm old enough to remember Del Shannon's original version of Runaway from the 60s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S13mP_pfEc
Some good ones there vzn but there should be at least one Dylan tune. Maybe Just Like a Woman?

Here's one you might like. It's Solo Le Pido a Dios (The Only Thing I Ask of God) by Mercedes Sosa and although it's in Spanish, it's subtitled and there's a Dylanesque harmonica solo in the middle. Here's the link:

Great list - and perhaps you might consider adding Bruce Springsteen's "The Promised Land"?
...and the beginning of Springsteen's "Thunder Road" [to my mind, that beginning, hesitant piano/harmonica duel expression is....
and Neil Young's harmonica in "Heart of Gold"....
Also, Zep's "When The Levee Breaks" wouldn't amount to a the sound mountain that it is without Plant's harmonica...
Paul Butterfield Blues Band is somethin' you should check out..........
thx all, the comments are Readers Choice awards, consider them added =)
SK-- I included "when the levee breaks"...!
yeah I admit I havent heard all the others that you guys are mentioning & am sure there are others worthy of the list. this is defn a personal favorite list, not meant to be comprehensive...
for some reason I was never all that in to dylan. more like folk music to me. but incredibly influential as a musician. sort of a musicians musician.
found all these songs on the radio in yrs past, but for some reason I dont recall any butterfield on the radio [maybe before my time]
I liked springsteen, but dont recall any of his songs with a harmonica. maybe gotta look those up again to see if I can remember em.
re DR the road, trains, highway, etc... yeah for some reason harmonicas seem to show up on songs about trains. but maybe its also a theme in rock/blues songs.
thx again all
the harmonica begins Springsteen's "Thunder Road", and sets the tone, as well as the pace [a nervous heartbeat, in my ears].
The reason you're not into Dylan on harmonica is because he's a lousy player. Jagger's a good player.

Try "For Once In My Life." You can't leave Stevie Wonder off this list - he's the most incredible harp player I've ever seen live.
Roger Daltry, at the end of Baba O'Reiley....
good post...
fyi stevie wonder did the harmonica on the chaka khan song. agreed he's a super player & his name came up a lot as I worked on this list. he plays the chromatic harmonica which is a special variation with a bar that allows sharps/flats. it seems many/most harmonica players do not use chromatic harps [as in this list], not sure exactly why.
yeah I wanted to track down the names of all the harp players on these songs but its quite tricky!
as for dylan, just not really ever into his music, cant exactly explain/articulate why. it seems like "pre-rock&roll" to me.
That I can explain, particularly if you're a musician.

Any normal harp will only do blues in one key. A chromatic will do two keys, a half step apart. You can get any note on a chromatic but not any trill, plus note bending is harder.

Think of the solo at the beginning of Love Me Do. Those notes show you what falls on a harp, which adjacent note pairs. Chromatic doesn't do the right pairs in most keys.
Actually, on my previous example, they may not play note pairs. If they did, they'd play in thirds.
hi all, here is a neat new synthetic harmonica song Id say [how else to describe it?], I enjoyed it. found it on the radio.
1st heard it as I was driving away in my last visit to an old car I had for 19 yrs, leaving it unlocked in a safeway parking lot in idaho springs & the key & title in the glove box for the tow truck driver to pick up. they gave me $175. 200K miles and a blown rod going up I70 to the eisenhower tunnel. @#$% oil leak. had just replaced the oil pump a few months ago. does this sound like the lyrics to a blues song yet?

anyway theres this new wild song playing on pop stations called "down the road" by a group of djs called "ctc". it has some wild harmonica synth-mix. neat how old the sound lives on, newly reblended. down the road by C2C
SK, huh??? I just relistened to Baba O'Reilly last nite [rock band download!] & didnt hear any harmonica at the end. theres a violin at the end & some synth going thru the whole song. maybe you're thinking of something else?
as a kid I always thought "thunder road" and "born to run" were lyrically and musically somewhat similar. also that line in "thunder road", "hey you aint a beauty but eh you're all right" is one of the worst things any guy could say to a girl, even at a young age, dumbstruck by females, I was smart enough to figure that out... alas relistening to it yeah the harmonica just doesnt do it for me, but I must admit I really like some springsteen songs and the interplay with the clarence clemons saxaphone.
hey K just another reason to idolize you, you like harmonica too? damnnnnnnnn girl.
yeah Im a CCR/john fogerty fan.
ok I heard keep on chooglin for the 1st time on youtube just now. pretty impressive stuff.
Run thru the jungle-- yeah thats some good harmonica on there, forgot about that one. a little more understated. nice. thx! maybe the omission served a very valuable purpose, having you post it =)
oh yeah, another crazy story. years ago I was at another open stage nite at a coffee shop. a harmonica player showed up with this huge bag of harmonicas. outgunned! utterly! I chatted with him briefly for some tips afterwards. some guy from the crowd who heard him play then walked up to him and said, "hey, nice playing, your sound reminds me of that old band Hot Tuna, heave you ever heard of them?". the harmonicist said, "oh! I PLAYED THE HARMONICA IN THAT BAND!" hahaha =)
hey K as always a lady of many surprises & talents! hadnt heard about your drumming. sounds hot to me!
had to look up chooglin!
haha K I noticed that same defn & thought of you when I read it =)
think what they really mean is just "BJ with tongue out" =)
as always thx for sharing =)
hi all ya dropin harmonica luvers! heres another great song that just popped up recently, am enjoyin it & the video is hot
ke$sha/pitbull Timber