Best Harmonica Solos
Don’t be fooled by the harmonica. Sure, more musically inclined cowboys used to whip ’em out around the campfire, and cultures from Eastern to Western and everything in between have laced their traditional music with the tiny mouth organ. Its versatility makes it one of the accessible instruments out there, which is why all forms of popular music through the years — from blues to indie rock — have included it. But the songs on our list of the Best Harmonica Solos step aside and let the tiny instrument hog the spotlight.
Like several of the artists on our list of the Best Harmonica Solos, Neil Young came up in the folk scene, where a harmonica was as essential as an acoustic guitar. He stripped down on his only No. 1 album, 1972’s ‘Harvest,’ digging into his country roots. The sublime ‘Heart of Gold,’ his only No. 1 single, features one of rock’s best-known harmonica solos.
The piano man plays a pretty mean harmonica on his breakthrough song, giving the instrument pretty much a starring role. The super-melodic harmonica solo drives the intro, shows up midway to support the bridge and checks in one last time near the end of the song. After he scored his first Top 10 hit a few years later, Billy Joel used the harmonica sparingly on his records.
Harmonica played a big part in Bruce Springsteen’s early career, often serving as the second lead instrument. But by 1978’s ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town,’ the E Street Band were one of the best groups in the world, and Springsteen relied more on their versatility than his harmonica. Yet the dynamic harmonica solo he unleashes on ‘The Promised Land’ is his all-time greatest, particularly when it cozies up to Clarence Clemons‘ heavenly sax halfway through.
We could fill a couple of Best Harmonica Solos lists with just Bob Dylan songs (‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ ‘Desolation Row,’ etc.). But ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ is one of his greatest, erupting relatively briefly at the end of the nearly six-minute song. Following a winding narrative (which sparks 1975’s ‘Blood on the Tracks’), Dylan’s harmonica blows in like a plains-sweeping hurricane.
The mammoth closing song on Led Zeppelin’s classic fourth album sounds like danger approaching from 25 miles away. John Bonham‘s awesome drum stomps signal the impending doom, but don’t discount the haunting harmonica solo, delivered by Robert Plant with equal doses of bluesy sway and ghostly menace.