Top 10 Stevie Ray Vaughan Songs
Stevie Ray Vaughan had been leading his own band, Double Trouble, for a few years before the Dallas-born guitarist's big break came. What he did next defined his status as a new-generation blues rebel.
Most people first heard Vaughan on David Bowie's smash 1983 album Let's Dance, but that didn't relegate Vaughan to permanent sideman status so much as inspire him to push his own career further. Rather than continuing with the accompanying tour, he instead focused on his own Texas Flood project, which also became a respectable hit.
As the '80s continued, Vaughan overcame personal issues to release a string of albums highlighting his blues, R&B and Jimi Hendrix influences. He also recorded the Top 10 Family Style album with his brother Jimmie Vaughan of Fabulous Thunderbirds fame, before Stevie Ray's career was cut short when he died in a helicopter crash. Vaughan was just 35.
In the years since that Aug. 27, 1990 tragedy, Vaughan's stature has only grown. Subsequent accolades included well-deserved induction as part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015. We can’t offer a shiny trophy atop a fancy display case in Cleveland, of course. So, we'll simply shower praise instead on these Top 10 Stevie Ray Vaughan Songs.
This blistering instrumental kicks off our list of Top 10 Stevie Ray Vaughan Songs, just as it did 1984’s Couldn’t Stand the Weather. It showcases all of Stevie’s fleet-fingered finesse in under two minutes, along with a rock-solid Double Trouble rhythm section in bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton that always supported him so well.
Stevie Ray fulfilled a lifelong wish when he finally got to record an album with big brother Jimmie Vaughan as part of Family Style. Released just one month after SRV’s tragic death, songs like "Hard to Be" gained a greater resonance than anyone could have possibly imagined.
A No. 1 rock radio hit, "Crossfire" led the charge to increasing mainstream success for Stevie Ray Vaughan’s fourth album. And, like other highlights such as "Tightrope" and "Riviera Paradise," it alluded to the guitarist’s successful emergence from rehab after years of substance abuse – and the hopeful outlook for what lay ahead.
Before you question the inclusion of a Jimi Hendrix cover in our list of Top 10 Stevie Ray Vaughan songs, consider the significance of any guitarist daring to tackle – never mind conquering – a Hendrix original. With this alternately note-perfect and frankly improved rendition, Vaughan proved himself to be on equal footing with his instrument’s ultimate master.
This rare acoustic number wrapped up 1991’s posthumous The Sky is Crying collection (and, by extension, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s recording career) with a poignant set of lyrics that felt almost prescient in light of the bluesman’s passing a couple of years earlier. But "Life by the Drop" was the best kind of smile-through-your-tears musical epitaph, thanks to the naked beauty of Vaughan’s syncopated guitar strums.
This driving opener from Vaughan’s debut Texas Flood introduced thousands of fans to the future of blues guitar in two-and-a-half stellar minutes. Here was Stevie Ray’s trademarked, twangy guitar tone, agile fretboard gymnastics (with just a hint of the wilder pyrotechnics he was capable of), to go with his distinctive vocal stylings. Not just a blueprint, but a “bluesprint,” if you will.
This prized old nugget composed by Hank Ballard was given a shot in the arm by SRV and the newly expanded Double Trouble, featuring pianist Reese Wynans tickling the ivories for all they were worth. It may not show the full range of Vaughan’s daunting technique (not by a long shot) but "Look at Little Sister" places the spotlight on the great man’s underrated voice and emotive powers as an interpreter – always in the service of the blues.
Arguably Stevie Ray’s go-to number for “cooling things down a notch” in concert, "Cold Shot" supplanted eye-popping six-string fireworks with calculated restraint, in what amounts to masterful display of tension and release. The tune also successfully conveys the feel of a dwindling love affair that numerous tequila shots couldn't possibly re-inflame, leaving the protagonist sulking instead.
Another playful blues stunner from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s eye-opening debut, "Pride and Joy" flips the coin on the disillusion of "Cold Shot" (and the fundamental downcast nature of the blues itself) by showing that Stevie’s music could be the ultimate pick-me-up. Also his debut single, the second-to-last selection in our list of Top 10 Stevie Ray Vaughan Songs also introduced many a listener to our hero – and to the classic Texas shuffle, as well – on its way into the Billboard Top 20.
As difficult as it is to firmly state such claims and then stand by them for more than a few minutes, Soul to Soul's "Change It" may be the quintessential SRV track. Check out its bouncy rhythmic shuffle, Stevie Ray’s stinging lead breaks, and lovable marble-mouthed vocal delivery. In this way, "Change It" covers all of the main ingredients that made Stevie Ray Vaughan such a rare, fresh, and, to this day, inimitable talent.