The 25 Greatest Acoustic Songs in Hard Rock
"FEEL LIKE MAKIN' LOVE," BAD COMPANY
Straight Shooter (1975)
As the first band signed to Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label, Bad Company, led by former Free singer Paul Rodgers and former Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs, followed their bosses' lead and specialized in sweaty, swaggering blues rock. Taking another lesson from the Zepmen, Ralphs juxtaposed chiming acoustics with explosive power chords on this Top 10 smash, to wondrous effect. The bright, jangly acoustics lend a relaxed, down-home country vibe to the verses, while the electric guitars in the chorus scream with big, brash British rock. Presumably, quite a few people felt like doing the nasty after hearing this cut.
"YOU CAN'T PUT YOUR ARMS AROUND A MEMORY," JOHNNY THUNDERS
So Alone (1978)
As a member of the proto-punk glam-rockers the New York Dolls, and later with his own band, the Heartbreakers, Johnny Thunders knew how to dish out rough-and ragged three-chord rock. And with a Les Paul Junior slung well below his waist, he had "cool" written all over him. So it came as a surprise when Thunders, on his debut solo album, issued this poetic acoustic ballad. Tempering his patented pounding style, the singer-songwriter lays out his junkie lifestyle with unflinching candor, practically caressing his guitar strings in the process. Melancholic and remorseful, the song has come to serve as an elegy of sorts for the troubled Thunders, who died of an apparent drug overdose in 1991. (The song's title, it should be noted, was lifted from a line spoken in an episode of the Fifties TV sitcom The Honeymooners. Punk rock, indeed.)
"CLOSER TO THE HEART," RUSH
A Farewell to Kings (1977)
By 1977, Rush had firmly established themselves as fine purveyors of glorious 20-minute sci-fi opuses that could fill entire album sides. But on this, their fifth studio release, the Canadian prog trio demonstrated their ability to be hooky, concise and, with "Closer to the Heart," radio-friendly. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the song's gentle, ringing 12-string acoustic guitar intro is that it was written by bassist Geddy Lee, rather than guitarist Alex Lifeson. The same figure is later repeated after a particularly ripping electric guitar solo-only this time the 12-string acoustic is smartly doubled by a six-string electric. When it comes to Rush, of course, the contributions of drummer extraordinaire Neil Peart can never be overlooked. Here, he adds plenty of bells and whistles throughout. Okay ... they're actually chimes.
Pick up a Martin 00-8 acoustic, pluck octave harmonics at the 12th fret (essentially comprising an Em chord) and voila!-you'll have a whole room of guitar dudes sitting up and taking notice. And with good reason-this simple move is Steve Howe's signature opening line to "Roundabout," Yes' breakthrough 1971 hit. Make it past Howe's harmonic-heavy unaccompanied intro, and you just might have a chance at mastering this intricate prog-rock masterpiece, in which acoustics and electrics, played in classical, jazzy and rocking splendor, weave in, out and "roundabout." As for the lyrics, this is prog—you're on your own there.
"DEE," RANDY RHOADS
Blizzard of Ozz (1980)
With his inventive, neoclassical spin on Eddie Van Halen's already established bag of tricks, Randy Rhoads became the new heavy metal guitar king after fans heard his work on Ozzy Osbourne's 1980 solo debut, Blizzard of Ozz. But while electrified Ozz rockers like "Crazy Train" and "I Don't Know" wowed the metal masses, it was the solo classical piece "Dee" that was Rhoads' true masterpiece. Rhoads grew up in a musical family—his mother, Delores, runs a music school in North Hollywood, California—so it was only fitting that "Dee," all 49 seconds of it, paid tribute to the woman who inspired and nurtured his dreams. Fingerpicked on a nylon-strong acoustic, the piece is by turns playful, melancholy, heartbreaking and hopeful. Tragically, Rhoads was killed in a 1982 plane crash, at the age of 25. Five years later, Ozzy Osbourne included an extended, studio outtake version of "Dee" on his album Tribute, reminding us all of Rhoads' immense and largely untapped talent.