A night full of stars, a couple of friends and a campfire that's warming you up in the middle of the gathering. Add a guitar to this mix and you are getting the recipe for a very fun night, whether you're down at the beach, out in the forest or any other place that makes for a fun wilderness getaway. So for you ladies and gentlemen, here is the list of the 13 best campfire songs. (without being kitschy…)
These songs all make for great jams, and I left out all the songs that would usually make it to lists like this, so Time Of Your Life is clearly not gonna make an appearance here tonight fellas…
The criteria I had in mind when picking out the following songs for our campfire was finding songs that are:
- Generally LOVED by the public. This means a lot of people will gleefully kick in with the lyrics here…
- Are fun to play on the guitar and not too complex to memorize and add to your repertoire. (this one kicked out Bohemian Rhapsody for it's hard-to-remember, endless chord progression…)
- Haven't been played in all of the previous campfires on our planet (ummm Wonderwall).
* While I was making the list with the idea of you guys/girls having those songs memorized, you can always create a DIY chord book with these songs, and also with more songs that are harder to memorize. I have a couple of books myself that are always with me when I'm out with the guitar, and friends always find it fun to pick out songs from them.
Let's go! The songs are listed in no particular order. If you have any questions about how to play those songs beyond the simple chord sheets performance, look up YouTube for some quick lessons.
For every song I have featured the original album version, the chord sheets from Ultimate Guitar, and also a YouTube cover that I found cool / inspiring – for you to take a big sip of creativity before you play it yourself. I have dug on YouTube for hours for those gems – so I hope you enjoy it as well.
*Originally posted in May 14, updated April '20
This video I made here is newer than the text post and contains some different songs, if you either watch or read, the video will probably give you even better ideas:
The 13 Best Campfire Songs (Without Being Kitschy…)
Otis Redding – Sittin' on The Dock of The Bay
An all time soul classic straight from the San Francisco bay, or shall I say ‘frisco… Make sure you get some whistling practice time before you approach that solo, although most chances are that either way, you are going to get some help from the crowd on it. (:
The Steve Miller Band – The Joker
Warning: explicit lyrics. Just kiddin', you're gonna have fun here. The Joker is such a great sing along since way back in 1973. The bass line is pretty simple and takes everything up a notch so I recommend learning it. (as you can see in the video below)
This cover below is truly awesome – don't miss it.
Jimi Hendrix – Hey Joe
Sick lyrics, and a pretty easy progression to stick to that runs through the whole song (C-G-D-A-E), and if you throw in some of the actual riffs you make the whole experience even more legit… “I'm going wayyy down south, way down to Mexico”
This cover shows a lot of the riffs that you can incorporate.
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Proud Mary
Big wheels keep on rollin'… This one never gets old. Don't forget to add that one tiny and super familiar riff at the end of the chorus… The common key is D – which might be too high for most of us – so a capo might be needed to take it up to the next octave – and then sing one octave below it. (if it's too high, start with a capo on 5 and get it higher until it works for your voice)
This YouTube cover can get a bit weird, but I liked it. It also features some nice loop pedal action.
Neil Young – Heart of Gold
I've been to Hollywood and I've been to Redwood but I still haven't successfully nailed that harmonica solo while playing guitar at the same time. But hey, you can always just whistle it instead… (update: Ok, eventually I did, on the piano & harmonica holder!)
This cool YouTube cover shows a fun band with a great singer in a Utah bar, I really enjoyed it and I hope you will too.
Elton John – Tiny Dancer
One of those rare occasions where a song gets ultra-popular more than 30 years after it's original release thanks to just one epic movie scene. Tiny Dancer is, of course, more of a piano song, but it works nicely on the guitar even though the chord progression is a bit harder to memorize. The effort is well worth it though. I am also warning you about the falsetto in the chorus…
“Rocket Man” is another Elton John classic that is fun to play and will make everyone around the campfire happy. Jason Mraz gave us an outstanding showcase of a heartfelt acoustic guitar cover for it.
Dave Grohl is in charge of this funny cover below. John Frusciante also takes his turns on it on some occasional concerts.
Old Crow Medicine Show – Wagon Wheel
Some say it's overdone, but for most people out there it's still a favorite. You can tell because if you're playing it at a bar, you are most likely going to get the whole place dancing with you… The chords are simple and a harmonica can be an uplifting companion here.
By the way – some do not know it, but Wagon Wheel was originally written (but never released) by Bob Dylan in 1964.
The Rolling Stones – You Can't Always Get What You Want
Simple and slow, yet still fun to join in to. Try it and see for yourself!
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Soul To Squeeze
One of the best RHCP songs that just did not get enough recognition. The Chili Peppers are definitely giving us some of their good time here with the funky rhythm guitar, super groovy bass line, and fun, optimistic lyrics. (well, at least at the end of the song…)
The cover below is not very impressive music-wise, but it just left me with a huge smile on my face from how funny and cute this girl is. The part I liked the most is how she struggles (but still makes it) with the tongue-twisting C part – starts at about 2:00. Enjoy!
Sublime – What I Got
This one is easy on the chords (there's only 2 of them) but tougher on the lyrics. Major props if you've got all of them down in your memory, and even more if you can shoot them fast enough without fumbling your tongue. A cross between rock and rap, and a true campfire classic.
Janis Joplin – Me And Bobby McGee
The ultimate hippie anthem is still relevant and popular today. The singing is not very simple, and you might wanna skip that one tone jump on the second verse if you want your vocal cords intact… (: Listen closely to the original if you want to get the acoustic strums right, there are some cool changes of rhythm that make Bobby McGee special over other G-C-D songs.
A fun fact – Me And Bobby McGee was released in 1971, one year after the death of Janis Joplin. It soon became the second song in history to top the US charts after the artist has passed away, second only to the first song in our list – Sittin' on The Dock of The Bay – which has done the exact same.
Bob Dylan – Don't Think Twice It's Alright
This one is my personal favorite to play on the acoustic guitar and my favorite Dylan tune as well. It makes for one of the best fingerstyle training sessions that I know of and it can definitely make a girl fall in love with you (played slow enough…). A capo on the 4th or 5th fret is pretty much mandatory when you play it on C, unless your name is Johnny Cash or Leonard Cohen and you sing ultra low.
You might notice that it's the second time that these two guys appear on this list in the cover section. They have a lot more awesome performances – so I suggest checking them out for some inspiration on what you can do with the guitar. Look up “Josh Turner” on YouTube. After them, the second cover is my own cover of Don't Think Twice.
And here's my own take on Don't Think Twice:
The Doobie Brothers – Long Train Runnin'
Can't be mistaken starting from the first second of the hammer-ons filled intro, super fun to play! The harmonica solo here is awesome and made an appearance in my top harmonica solos list as well.
That's it. So this is my take on the best campfire songs, but not only for the campfire, since these songs will also work great for just about any other low keyed gatherings such as a hangout at a friend's house or so. Give those songs a try, they are a joy to play.
Peace and have fun on your journeys.
Oh, one more thing before we're done, ALL of these songs take a huge leap forward if you add a harmonica, or some cheap & portable percussion instruments, so if you really want to give people kicks with the music, check out those other posts:
Photos are thanks to unityinmarin.org, theclymb.com, websterart.com.