Classic Songs about the GuitarOctober 5, 2016
Ever wonder what inspires a songwriter to put the pen to paper? If you’ve made your own attempt at it, you know that writing a song doesn’t always follow a straight-forward, cookie-cutter process. While some singers take inspiration from the places they’ve been and the places they plan to go, others will turn to the relationships in their lives and the heartache they’ve experienced. Others still find inspiration in their lifestyle, with the biggest muse being their instrument.
Granted, there aren’t many songs about the drums or the piccolo. But there are plenty of songwriters who have decided to sing about their guitar. The following list highlights three of the most popular songs about the six-string instrument itself.
John Denver — “This Old Guitar”
Before his tragic death in an airplane crash, John Denver led a prolific career spanning over 300 songs and 25 studio albums. The American performer earned critical acclaim and commercial success with iconic folk-country songs like “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, “Rocky Mountain High”, and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”. Though “This Old Guitar” is not as familiar to those who aren’t intimately familiar with his discography, the song is a haunting yet beautiful example of how a guitarist can sing a love song to his instrument. The old guitar in question was his very first, a 1910 Gibson that his grandmother had given to him, which he had lost for several years. Upon their reunion, Denver felt compelled to write a song about what it had meant to him.
Neil Young – “This Old Guitar”
The Canadian icon has a legendary discography behind him, both as a solo artist and as a member of the supergroup, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, with such contributions to folk rock as the albums, Harvest and Déjà Vu. Though his singles “Heart of Gold”, “Old Man”, “Southern Man”, and “Helpless” get the most radio play on classic rock stations, today we turn to a recent recording. Track number 8 on his 27th studio album, Prairie Wind, details his career with his famous ‘53 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, Old Black. The Les Paul, which he acquired in 1969, has seen better days, as nearly 55 years of touring comes with plenty of wear and tear. Despite its poor condition, subsequent repairs, and other modifications, Young continues to record and tour with Old Black, which explains why he devoted an entire song to the Gibson.
The Talking Heads — “Electric Guitar”
While Denver and Young produced sentimental odes to their Gibsons, The Talking Head’s song proves that the relationship between a guitarist and his instrument can be a difficult one. On the aptly named 1979 album, Fear of Music¸ David Byrne recites in his signature discordant style to “never listen to electric guitar”. That, combined with the lyric, “someone control electric guitar”, and one could suppose Byrne was raising questions about both the power a musician can wield and the censorship they endure to stay signed on a major record label. In typical Talking Heads’ fashion, the song is far from the ballads of Denver and Young.
Whether you see instrument through adoring eyes or eyes of mistrust, chances are you feel pretty strongly about your Gibson, Fender, or Taylor. Your feelings might be negative, especially if it’s failing to produce the sounds that you want. Not all of us have the connections or money that Young does in order to keep a damaged Gibson alive. For the vast majority of us, it’s simply easier (and cheaper) to visit a music store and replace the older model. When wear and tear is starting to affect the quality of your notes, check out yourlocal music store, Long & McQuade for help. With a location in most major Canadian cities, and an extensive online store, they’re an excellent source for brand new, well-made instruments from a variety of manufacturers. Check out Long-mcquade.com for your instruments’ accessories, too, making sure you have enough strings, picks, and pedals to match your brand new model.
With a gleaming Les Paul or Fender Strat in your hands, you might just find the inspiration to pen your very own ode to the instrument. Whether it’s a critical look at your old one or a love-struck melody about the new, when the emotions are strong enough, you won’t have any trouble writing about it. It may not have the audience that Denver’s, Young’s, or the Talking Head’s did, but that’s never stopped you before.