The slide guitar has been around since the early days of country music. Thanks to artists like Duane Allman and Ry Cooder, the instrument has become an essential part of blues, rock, jazz, and many other genres. Indeed, slide guitar can add soul and grit to any song, whether you’re playing it on acoustic or electric guitar. If you’re looking to learn how to play slide guitar, or if you just want to explore some of the best slide guitar songs ever written, this list should help.
What is a slide guitar?
A slide guitar is a guitar technique played by placing an object against the strings while playing to create glissando effects and deep vibratos that make the music emotionally expressive. It typically involves playing the guitar in the traditional position (flat against the body) using a tubular “slide” fitted on one of the guitarist’s fingers. The slide may be a metal or glass tube, such as the neck of a bottle.
When a musician plays slide guitar, it creates a unique sound due to its very different timbre compared to other forms of guitar playing. This gives musicians a unique tone, which may give them an edge during recording sessions, especially if they’re in a genre where there are already too many guitars cluttering up a mix.
The technique was first popularized by African-American blues artists, such as Robert Johnson and Son House, who used modified tubes and bottles. More recently, playing styles have diversified, with many other materials, including flat objects like spoons, garden trowels, and even chains being used to play slides.
10 Best Slide Guitar Songs of All Time
These top 10 best slide guitar songs contain some of the most memorable solos in blues, rock, and country music history. They show off the instrumental virtuosity of their performers and exhibit just how expressive the electric slide guitar can be when played by an artist who knows how to use it to his or her advantage.
1. The Allman Brothers Band – Statesboro Blues
No list of top slide guitar songs would be complete without one from The Allman Brothers Band. The original version was recorded in 1928 by Blind Willie McTell, but The Allman Brothers Band’s interpretation helped propel it on to Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and gave us the definitive slide version.
In Statesboro Blues, Duane Allman creates a powerful, hypnotic melody using his slide. It is a blues-based song with a bit of old country flavor. The guitar riffs here really give a nice groove feel, something that you’ll agree with and makes for some of the best slide guitar songs ever recorded.
2. Steve Miller Band – The Joker
The Joker by Steve Miller is one of the most popular blues-rock slide guitar songs. It’s an easy acoustic guitar song too. The song, which he wrote on an acoustic guitar while watching TV, was Miller’s first hit when it was released in 1973. The Joker went to No. 1 on the Billboard chart and remains Miller’s signature tune today. The single’s success played a significant role in making Miller one of the most successful recording artists of the ’70s.
It also helped that the song contained a slide guitar solo (played by lead guitarist Boz Scaggs) that caught many listeners’ ears — including George Harrison’s. Harrison listened to Miller’s first two albums when he wrote Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth). He later said that The Joker inspired him to use a slide guitar on his tune.
3. Eric Clapton – Running On Faith
Eric Clapton is one of the best living guitarists in the world today. Running On Faith was part of his Journeyman album, which won him a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 1990. The title track on that album was another hit for Clapton, winning another Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.
Running On Faith starts with a slow, haunting riff and builds to an intense solo performance. Clapton’s bluesy vocals are accompanied by a beautiful melody and arrangement purposefully kept simple.
4. Foghat – Slow Ride
With Slow Ride released in 1975, Foghat created a solid gold rock n’ roll classic with its laid-back groove and instantly recognizable riffs. The song became a greasy, sleazy tour de force of ’70s arena rock thanks to Dave Peverett’s gritty vocal performance.
Slow Ride’s musical vibe is primarily derived from merging three unique musical performances. The trashy, bluesy rhythm guitar, the grooving bass line with unforgettable slap and pop passages, and the classic slide guitar performance that ties it all together.
5. Led Zeppelin – In My Time of Dying
In My Time of Dying is one of the best-known slide guitar songs. This is because it’s one of the two songs featuring slide guitar on Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti album released in 1975. The other, Boogie with Stu, is a cover of an old blues tune by Ike Turner that isn’t quite as well-known.
In My Time of Dying has a sound bass-heavy and loud mix, which gives it a dynamic and forceful sound. One of the top surviving guitarists today, Jimmy Page, did the slide work but didn’t mess around with any fancy chords or scales. There is no progressive rock pyrotechnics here. Page plays some simple major and minor chords, with the occasional octave thrown in for good measure.
6. George Harrison – Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
George Harrison’s solo career took off after he left The Beatles, and Give Me Love is an excellent example of why he soared as a solo artist. Fans and music critics agree that Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) is one of Harrison’s most famous songs. It includes a sequence of well-praised slide guitar solos.
Moving away from the sound identifiable with All Things Must Pass and his other co-productions with Phil Spector between 1970–1971, the song also signified a purposeful shift from his prior post-Beatles work.
7. Derek and the Dominos – Layla
The song that first made many listeners aware of Duane Allman and his slide-playing abilities was the Derek & The Dominos version of Layla. It’s a classic example of two guitarists – Allman and Clapton – complementing each other perfectly.
Clapton first heard Duane Allman play on Wilson Pickett’s cover of Hey Jude. He was so impressed that he asked him to be the session guitarist on his upcoming album, which became Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The song Layla features some of Allman’s finest work, including an awe-inspiring solo.
8. Pink Floyd – High Hopes
This final track from The Division Bell album is one of Pink Floyd’s purest rock songs, with a towering solo from David Gilmour. The solo in High Hopes by Pink Floyd is played on a Gibson Les Paul with a slide and is one of the most popular slide guitar solos of all time. High Hopes is the closing track on Pink Floyd’s 14th studio album, The Division Bell, released in 1994.
David Gilmour has said that High Hopes is one of his favorite songs from the entire Pink Floyd catalog. Gilmour co-wrote High Hopes and numerous other songs from The Division Bell with his then-girlfriend Polly Sampson, who wrote the lyrics.
9. Muddy Waters – I Can’t Be Satisfied
I Can’t Be Satisfied is a great blues jam with some killer slide guitar. Muddy Waters used the electric slide guitar in this song released in 1948. It became a success upon release, and his fame in clubs skyrocketed. This song was remade by Buddy Guy in 1966 under the name I Can’t Quit You Baby.
Muddy Waters, who is often called “The Father of Chicago Blues,” has a sound often imitated but never duplicated. His late-1940s blues recordings are fundamental in the genre. It’s said that his electric Chicago blues helped define rock and roll, and this track is a stellar example of the slide guitar he used to achieve that.
10. Elmore James – Dust My Broom
Elmore James is considered the “King of Slide Guitar” that inspired many other notable blues guitarists after him. He earned this title by his skills with bottleneck, the historical term for slide guitar playing, and his emotional expressiveness and ability to transform simple songs into masterpieces.
Dust My Broom is one song where Elmore’s talent with bottleneck shines. He takes a regular 12-bar blues song and turns it into a gorgeous lamentation of lost love. This blues standard is arguably one of the most popular slide guitar songs ever recorded. It is why many think of slide guitar as being synonymous with blues music.
All in all, there are many excellent slide guitar songs out there. Slide guitar can be found all over the musical spectrum. If you’re a fan of any popular music genre, chances are you’ve heard it or been influenced by it, mainly because slide guitar can infuse something new and different into virtually any sound.
If you’re a guitar player and want to hear songs that will help you improve your technique while also showing off your skills, then check out the best slide guitar songs above. They will take a little time to learn but are worth it.
Michaela Jyra Melo is a freelance writer, music obsessive, and professional content creator with a passion for sharing her experiences and knowledge with the world. Michaela is a music lover first and foremost. She's passionate about new music and artists, but she also loves to dig into musical instruments and equipment. Michael studies communication at the University of the Philippines. When she's not writing or listening to new music, she can be found reading on her Kindle or traveling somewhere new with friends.