The 25 Greatest Acoustic Songs in Hard Rock
"COULD THIS BE MAGIC?," VAN HALEN
Women and Children First (1980)
Eddie Van Halen gave acoustic-shred fetishists much to chew on in 1979 with "Spanish Fly," a hummingbird-fast flamenco instrumental from Van Halen II. But guitarists of all stripes found a lot to like in the bluesy-and boozy, slightly off-kilter "Could This Be Magic?" The track, which marks the guitarist's first recorded bottleneck moment, finds Eddie's whimsical acoustic slide playing expertly shadowing David Lee Roth's vocal on the verses. The idea to use a slide came from producer Ted Templeman, and while Eddie was initially leery of trying it, he practiced for a few days and, in typical VH style, pulled off the part with aplomb. Another first: "Could This Be Magic?" represents the debut of an outside singer on a Van Halen album. Templeman suggested a different sound for one of the choruses and brought in country Singer Nicolette Larson, who was working in a neighboring studio, to lend vocal support. Listen closely following Eddie's slide so lo to hear Larson and Diamond Dave make sweet harmonized magic.
"WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE," BON JOVI
Slippery When Wet (1986)
The story is legend: Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora ride into the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards, do the acoustic-duo thing on "Wanted Dead or Alive," and before you can say "dreadnought," the Unplugged series is born. The song is no slouch either. On it, Sambora lays down some fancy acoustic finger work, picking out descending arpeggios and bluesy bends as JBJ rolls his fascination with the Old West into a story about the weariness of life on the road. The result was a smash hit, insuring that Bon Jovi would see a million faces and rock them all for many years to come.
"FADE TO BLACK," METALLICA
Ride the Lightning (1984)
Recorded way back in the early days of thrash, "Fade to Black" is rightly acknowledged as the genre's first "power ballad." A seven-minute rumination on despair and suicide, the song is built around singer and guitarist James Hetfield's mournful, arpeggiated acoustic picking, over which Kirk Hammett adds some beautiful and soaring electric leads. Of course, this being Metallica, things remain sweet and mellow for only so long. Midway through, the song builds in intensity, shifting rhythms and adding plenty of heavily distorted six-strings, culminating in an extended and explosive Hammett solo. While hardcore metalheads at the time accused Metallica of selling out by recording a ballad, "Fade to Black" remains one of the group's most well-known and beloved songs, and it is a concert staple to this day. Besides, as Hetfield has said, "Limiting yourself to please your audience is bullshit."
"EVERY ROSE HAS ITS THORN," POISON
Open Up and Say ...Ahh! (1988)
When you think of Eighties power ballads, one song stands head, hair and shoulders above the rest: "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." Penned by singer Bret Michaels after he discovered that his stripper girlfriend had been cheating on him, the 1988 smash hit proved that glam-metal dudes have feelings, too. While the recorded version features a typically histrionic electric guitar solo from Poison's C.C. DeVille, Michaels' lyrical directness, solid song construction and strong acoustic playing rule the day. Michaels has said that "People related to the song because I related to the song," and indeed, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," which hit Number One in 1988, has since become a defining tune of the era. As for that stripper girlfriend, she's now a hedge fund investor.
"PATIENCE," GUNS N' ROSES
GN'R Lies (1988)
Although GN'R Lies features a number of acoustic tracks, including the country-ish, darkly comedic "Used to Love Her" ("but I had to kill her" ... ), it was the lovelorn "Patience," a glacial-paced ballad, that marked the most radical left turn for the normally hard-rocking group, and also gave them one of their biggest hits. The song was recorded in a single take, with guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin and bassist Duff McKagan all on acoustics. Axl Rose, for his part, contributes some fine whistling at the intro. The final two minutes stand as Gn'R's "Kumbaya" moment, with the whole band cooing the song's title in sweet harmony. Then everybody got in a fight, but that's another story.