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Top 10 Most Famous Harmonica Songs

Updated: Jul 13

Since it was invented over 200 years ago, the harmonica has always been part of popular music. Songs with harmonica have been played by bands, orchestras and singer-songwriters to add something special to their music. But what are the most famous harmonica songs of all time? And what are the stories behind them? In this run-down we'll give you our top ten plus links to free lessons on every song.

1. Heart of Gold (Neil Young)

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Heart of Gold was written partly as a result of a back injury. Unable to stand for long periods of time, Neil Young could not play his electric guitar properly and so returned to his acoustic guitar, which he could play sitting down. The acoustic guitar inspired him to write this song.

2. The River (Bruce Springsteen)

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Bruce Springsteen wrote The River as a tribute to his sister and his brother-in-law. Springsteen, affectionately known as The Boss, played a Hohner Marine Band for this huge hit.

3. Long Train Runnin’ (Doobie Brothers)

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The working title of Long Train Running was 'Rosie Pig Moseley'. The band performed it live for about three years before recording it. Lead singer Tom Johnston played the iconic solo on a blues harp in the key of C.

4. Man with a Harmonica (Once Upon a Time in the West)

Click for free lesson on 'Man with a Harmonica'

Amazingly, Clint Eastwood turned down the role of the harmonica player in the film 'Once Upon a Time in the West'. The harmonica part was recorded on a chromatic harmonica, but but the instrument shown in the film is a diatonic harmonica that looks a lot like a Hohner Marine Band. It is in fact possible to play a version of the motif on various types of harmonica.

5. Piano Man (Billy Joel)

Click for free lesson on Piano Man

The song Piano Man is based on Billy Joel's real-life experiences as a lounge musician in L.A. in the early 1970's, which makes sense when you listen to the lyrics. Billy Joel often uses a Hohner Special 20 to play this song.

6. Love Me Do (The Beatles)

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Love Me Do was written prior to the existence of the Beatles as a band. Paul McCartney wrote it about his girlfriend when he was just 16 years old. John Lennon played the harmonica solo, which divides opinion. Some think it was a chromatic harmonica but others think he played a diatonic. It's actually most likely to be an Echo Super Vamper, which is no longer sold today.

7. Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan)

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Dylan’s apparent inspiration for this song came from Bruce Langhorne, a musician friend who played a huge tambourine. But some people believe Mr. Tambourine Man is a tribute to the drug LSD. Dylan plays Hohner harmonicas, and even has his own Hohner model, the Bob Dylan Signature.

8. Roadhouse Blues (The Doors)

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Alice Cooper claims that he was the inspiration for the line "Woke up this morning and I got myself a beer" in the song Roadhouse Blues. We do know for sure that John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful played harmonica for the recording.

9. The Jean Genie (David Bowie)

Click for free lesson on The Jean Genie

The Jean Genie features a distinctive blues vamp on harmonica which David Bowie played himself. The song apparently started as an improvised jam. A rock 'n' roll legend, Bowie could have been a 'Sir' but he turned down a knighthood from the Queen.

10. Dirty Old Town (The Pogues)

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Although often played by Irish bands such as the Pogues and the Dubliners, Dirty Old Town was actually written by Ewan MacColl about the English town of Salford.

What are your favourite harmonica songs? Let me know in the comments!

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