Table of Contents
- 1. Viola Lee Blues – Grateful Dead
- 2. Red House – Jimi Hendrix
- 3. Tutti Frutti – Little Richard
- 4. Ball and Biscuit – The White Stripes
- 5. Rock Me Baby – Johnny Winter
- 6. The Thrill is Gone – B.B. King
- 7. Have You Ever Loved a Woman – Derek and the Dominos
- 8. I Got You – James Brown
- 9. Sweet Home Chicago – Robert Johnson
- 10. Hoochie Coochie Man – Muddy Waters
- 11. Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley & His Comets
- 12. Blue and Lonesome – The Rolling Stones
- 13. Move It on Over – George Thorogood
- 14. Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
- 15. Strange Brew – Cream
- 16. Kansas City – Wilbert Harrison
- 17. Can’t Buy Me Love – The Beatles
- 18. Tush – ZZ Top
- 19. Boom Boom – John Lee Hooker, Jr.
- 20. Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
- 21. Give Me One Reason – Tracy Chapman
- 22. Pride and Joy – Stevie Ray Vaughan
- 23. Crossroads – Eric Clapton
- 24. All Your Love – John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers
- 25. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2
- 26. Mustang Sally – Buddy Guy
- 27. Call Me the Breeze – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- 28. Directly from My Heart to You – Frank Zappa
- 29. Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry
- 30. Rock and Roll – Led Zeppelin
- 31. The Jack – AC/DC
- 32. Rave On – Buddy Holly
The 12-bar blues songs is one of the most iconic and recognizable forms of music in history, with its roots in African American musical traditions dating back to the early 20th century. The 12-bar blues form consists of three lines of four bars each, with a basic chord progression of I-IV-V, and has been used as the foundation for countless classic songs in blues, rock, and popular music. In this article, we’ll be exploring the top 32 best 12-bar blues songs, from some of the genre’s most legendary artists.
The list includes classics like Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man,” B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning,” as well as more recent hits like The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy” and Gary Clark Jr.’s “Bright Lights.” We’ll take a closer look at each song, exploring the history and significance of the artist, the lyrics and melody, and what makes each song a standout in the 12-bar blues tradition. Whether you’re a longtime fan of blues music or a newcomer to the genre, this list is sure to have something for everyone and showcase the enduring power of the 12-bar blues form.
1. Viola Lee Blues – Grateful Dead
“Viola Lee Blues” is a classic example of the 12-bar blues form and has been performed by many artists over the years, including the Grateful Dead. The song features a driving rhythm and infectious melody that are sure to get any listener’s foot tapping. With its simple but effective chord progression and catchy lyrics, “Viola Lee Blues” is a testament to the enduring power of the blues as a musical form. The Grateful Dead’s version of the song is a masterful interpretation of the classic, showcasing the band’s improvisational prowess and ability to make even the most well-worn songs feel fresh and new.
2. Red House – Jimi Hendrix
“Red House” is a blues classic written and performed by the legendary Jimi Hendrix. The song features Hendrix’s trademark guitar style, with his fluid, expressive playing and soulful vocals. The lyrics tell the story of a man who’s lost his woman and is seeking solace in the titular “red house,” a place where he can let his troubles fade away. With its slow, smoky groove and haunting melody, “Red House” is a standout track in Hendrix’s catalog and a testament to his enduring influence as a blues and rock musician.
3. Tutti Frutti – Little Richard
“Tutti Frutti” is a classic rock and roll song written and originally performed by the legendary Little Richard. With its driving beat and infectious energy, the song quickly became a hit and helped to establish Little Richard as a major force in the music world. Featuring Richard’s signature vocal style and raucous piano playing, “Tutti Frutti” is a true rock and roll classic that has stood the test of time. Its catchy melody and upbeat rhythm are guaranteed to get any listener dancing, making it a must-listen for fans of rock, blues, and pop music alike.
4. Ball and Biscuit – The White Stripes
“Ball and Biscuit” is a blues-influenced rock song by the American duo The White Stripes, featuring heavy guitar riffs and raw, gritty vocals. The song has been hailed as one of the band’s greatest tracks, showcasing Jack White’s virtuoso guitar skills and Meg White’s powerful drumming. With its 12-bar blues structure and extended instrumental solos, “Ball and Biscuit” is a standout track on the White Stripes’ album “Elephant”, and a testament to the band’s ability to infuse classic blues sounds with modern rock sensibilities. The song has become a fan favorite and is considered a modern classic in the blues rock genre.
5. Rock Me Baby – Johnny Winter
“Rock Me Baby” is a blues standard first recorded by B.B. King in 1964, and has since been covered by countless artists, including Johnny Winter. Winter’s version of the song is a standout, featuring his signature guitar playing style and soulful vocals. The song’s infectious rhythm and catchy lyrics have made it a crowd favorite and a mainstay in blues rock. Winter’s version is a masterful reinterpretation of the classic blues song, adding his own unique touch and showcasing his exceptional guitar skills. “Rock Me Baby” is a testament to the enduring power and influence of the blues on rock music.
6. The Thrill is Gone – B.B. King
“The Thrill is Gone” is a blues standard originally written and recorded by Roy Hawkins in 1951, but it is best known for B.B. King’s version. The song was released in 1969 and became one of King’s signature tunes. It features a smooth, jazzy melody and King’s emotive vocals, with his signature blues guitar playing style. The lyrics describe the end of a relationship, where the excitement and passion have faded away, leaving only the memory of what was. The song is a testament to King’s influence on blues music and his ability to express deep emotion through his guitar playing and singing.
7. Have You Ever Loved a Woman – Derek and the Dominos
“Have You Ever Loved a Woman” is a classic blues song written by Billy Myles that has been covered by many legendary artists, including Derek and the Dominos. The song features the soulful voice of Eric Clapton, accompanied by a beautiful guitar riff that oozes with emotion. The song’s lyrics express the pain and longing of lost love, with Clapton’s passionate vocals driving home the emotional message. The band’s arrangement is sparse and allows Clapton’s guitar work to take center stage, showcasing his mastery of the blues guitar. This rendition of “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” is a standout track from Derek and the Dominos’ iconic album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.”
8. I Got You – James Brown
“I Got You (I Feel Good)” is a classic soul and funk song recorded by James Brown in 1964. The song’s signature horns and Brown’s electrifying vocals make it one of the most recognizable songs in music history. The song’s upbeat tempo and catchy lyrics have made it a staple in movies, television shows, and commercials. The song was a commercial success, reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and becoming one of Brown’s most popular and enduring hits. It has been covered by many artists and continues to be a favorite among fans of funk and soul music.
9. Sweet Home Chicago – Robert Johnson
“Sweet Home Chicago” is a timeless blues classic written by legendary bluesman Robert Johnson. The song has been covered by many blues and rock artists, including Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, and The Blues Brothers. The song features Johnson’s iconic slide guitar work and a catchy chorus that has become a staple of the blues genre. The lyrics tell the story of a man who wants to go back to Chicago, a city where he has found happiness, and is full of friends and good times. With its upbeat tempo and catchy melody, “Sweet Home Chicago” is a quintessential blues song that has stood the test of time.
10. Hoochie Coochie Man – Muddy Waters
“Hoochie Coochie Man” is a classic blues song by Muddy Waters, released in 1954. The song features Waters’ signature raspy vocals and gritty guitar playing, backed by a powerful rhythm section. The lyrics tell the story of a mysterious man with supernatural powers who can bring good luck and help others with their problems. The song has been covered by numerous artists, including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Steppenwolf, among others. “Hoochie Coochie Man” is widely regarded as one of the greatest blues songs of all time and a cornerstone of Muddy Waters’ legendary career.
11. Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley & His Comets
“Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets is a classic rock and roll song that was released in 1954. It is often considered to be one of the first rock and roll songs to achieve significant commercial success and helped to launch the rock and roll genre into the mainstream. The song’s driving beat and catchy melody, along with its memorable lyrics, make it an enduring classic of early rock and roll. “Rock Around the Clock” has been covered by many artists over the years and has been featured in numerous movies and TV shows, cementing its place in popular culture.
12. Blue and Lonesome – The Rolling Stones
“Blue and Lonesome” is a blues song by English rock band The Rolling Stones, released in 2016. The track features the band’s classic blues sound, with raw vocals, soulful guitar work, and a driving rhythm section. The lyrics express the pain of heartbreak and the depths of loneliness, with lead singer Mick Jagger’s gritty vocals conveying a sense of deep emotional turmoil. “Blue and Lonesome” is a testament to The Rolling Stones’ enduring love and respect for the blues, and the song’s authenticity and emotional power make it a standout track on the album of the same name. The track showcases the band’s ability to breathe new life into a classic genre and continue to push the boundaries of rock music.
13. Move It on Over – George Thorogood
“Move It on Over” is a classic blues rock song by American musician George Thorogood, released in 1978. The track features Thorogood’s signature guitar style, with a driving rhythm and electrifying solos that perfectly capture the spirit of the genre. The lyrics tell the story of a man who’s been locked out of his house and seeks refuge in his doghouse, with the catchy chorus featuring the iconic refrain “Move it on over.” The song has become a fan favorite and a staple of Thorogood’s live shows, with its timeless sound and message of resilience and perseverance resonating with audiences around the world. “Move It on Over” is a true masterpiece of blues rock that continues to inspire generations of music fans.
14. Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
“Folsom Prison Blues” is a classic country song by Johnny Cash. The song tells the story of a man who has committed a crime and is serving time in Folsom State Prison. Cash’s deep voice and simple guitar riff create a haunting, melancholic atmosphere that perfectly captures the despair and hopelessness of life in prison. The lyrics are full of vivid imagery and poignant lines that have become iconic in American music. “Folsom Prison Blues” is not only a great song, but also an important piece of cultural history that reflects the experiences and struggles of working-class Americans in the mid-20th century.
15. Strange Brew – Cream
“Strange Brew” is a classic rock song by the British band Cream, which was formed in 1966 and consisted of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker. The song was released in 1967 as a single and later appeared on the band’s second studio album, “Disraeli Gears.” The song features Clapton’s distinctive guitar work and Bruce’s vocals, with lyrics that evoke a sense of mystery and the supernatural. The title “Strange Brew” refers to a potion or concoction that has an unusual or magical effect, and the lyrics suggest that the narrator is under the spell of a mysterious woman.
16. Kansas City – Wilbert Harrison
“Kansas City” is a rhythm and blues song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and originally recorded by Wilbert Harrison in 1959. The song has a driving beat and catchy melody, with lyrics that celebrate the vibrant music scene of the city of Kansas City, Missouri. Harrison’s smooth vocals are backed by a lively horn section and a bouncing piano riff that create a lively and infectious sound. The song was a huge hit upon its release, reaching the top of the charts and becoming a rock and roll standard that has been covered by countless artists over the years. “Kansas City” is a timeless classic that captures the spirit of 1950s rock and roll and continues to be a favorite among music fans of all generations.
17. Can’t Buy Me Love – The Beatles
“Can’t Buy Me Love” is a classic rock and roll song by the iconic British band, The Beatles. Written by Paul McCartney, the song was released in 1964 as a single and later appeared on the album “A Hard Day’s Night”. The song features a lively and catchy melody with a strong beat, as well as McCartney’s dynamic vocals and signature bass playing. The lyrics express the idea that true love cannot be bought with money or material possessions, and the song’s upbeat and optimistic tone made it an instant hit. “Can’t Buy Me Love” is a timeless classic that continues to be loved and celebrated by music fans all over the world.
18. Tush – ZZ Top
“Tush” is a blues rock song by the legendary American rock band ZZ Top. Released in 1975, the song features the band’s trademark raw and gritty sound, with driving guitar riffs and infectious rhythms. The lyrics are playful and suggestive, with references to a woman’s “tush” and the narrator’s desire to be close to her. The song’s catchy chorus and simple yet powerful instrumentation make it a fan favorite, and it has been featured in numerous films, television shows, and commercials over the years. “Tush” is a classic example of ZZ Top’s blues-infused rock sound and remains a beloved hit among rock fans of all ages.
19. Boom Boom – John Lee Hooker, Jr.
“Boom Boom” is a classic blues song originally written and performed by John Lee Hooker in 1961, and later covered by his son, John Lee Hooker, Jr. The song features a simple but powerful guitar riff and Hooker’s soulful vocals, which convey a sense of urgency and longing. The lyrics describe a woman who is irresistible and captivating, with a presence that lights up the room. “Boom Boom” has become a staple of the blues genre and has been covered by numerous artists over the years, cementing its status as a timeless classic that continues to inspire and move music fans around the world.
20. Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
“Hound Dog” is a rock and roll classic originally written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and made famous by Elvis Presley. Released in 1956, the song features Presley’s signature vocal style, backed by a lively and energetic rhythm section and a catchy guitar riff. The lyrics describe a woman who has mistreated the narrator and warn her that she will soon face the consequences. The song’s upbeat and playful sound, as well as Presley’s dynamic performance, made it an instant hit and helped to solidify his status as a rock and roll icon. “Hound Dog” remains a beloved classic that continues to inspire and excite music fans of all ages.
21. Give Me One Reason – Tracy Chapman
“Give Me One Reason” is a soulful blues rock song by American singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman. Released in 1995, the song features Chapman’s powerful vocals and a sparse, yet dynamic arrangement of guitar and drums. The lyrics express the plea of a person who is struggling in a relationship and needs a compelling reason to stay. The song’s catchy hook and Chapman’s emotive delivery make it an unforgettable classic. “Give Me One Reason” was a commercial success for Chapman and won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song in 1997, cementing its status as a timeless favorite among music lovers.
22. Pride and Joy – Stevie Ray Vaughan
“Pride and Joy” is a blues rock song by the legendary American guitarist and singer Stevie Ray Vaughan. Released in 1983, the song features Vaughan’s blistering guitar work and soulful vocals, along with a lively and infectious rhythm section. The lyrics describe the narrator’s love for a woman who is his “pride and joy”, with Vaughan’s passionate delivery imbuing the words with a sense of urgency and desire. The song became one of Vaughan’s most popular and enduring hits, and helped to establish him as one of the greatest guitarists of his generation. “Pride and Joy” remains a beloved classic that continues to inspire and thrill music fans around the world.
23. Crossroads – Eric Clapton
“Crossroads” is a classic blues rock song by British guitar virtuoso Eric Clapton. The song is a reworking of Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues,” and it features Clapton’s fiery guitar playing and soulful vocals, along with a driving rhythm section. The song’s lyrics describe the narrator’s search for redemption and the crossroads where he must choose between good and evil. Clapton’s electrifying performance, particularly his famous guitar solo, has made “Crossroads” an iconic classic and helped to establish him as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. The song remains a favorite of blues and rock fans around the world, and its impact on popular music cannot be overstated.
24. All Your Love – John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers
“All Your Love” is a classic blues tune by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, released in 1966. The song features Mayall’s soulful vocals and harmonica playing, accompanied by Eric Clapton’s electrifying guitar work. The track is a perfect example of the British blues movement, which was heavily influenced by American blues but had its own unique sound. The lyrics express the pain and heartbreak of a failed relationship, with Mayall pleading for his lover to return all the love he had given her. With its passionate performance and raw emotion, “All Your Love” is a timeless classic that still resonates with blues fans today.
25. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is a classic rock song by Irish band U2, released in 1987. The track features the powerful vocals of lead singer Bono, along with the band’s signature sound of soaring guitar riffs and anthemic choruses. The lyrics express a sense of longing and spiritual searching, with Bono declaring that despite his travels and experiences, he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. The song’s gospel-influenced sound and themes have made it a beloved classic, with its message of hope and perseverance resonating with audiences worldwide. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is a timeless masterpiece that continues to inspire generations.
26. Mustang Sally – Buddy Guy
“Mustang Sally” is a classic R&B and blues song originally written and performed by Mack Rice in 1965, but it was popularized by Wilson Pickett’s version in 1966. In this version, blues legend Buddy Guy delivers a soulful rendition of the song, featuring his signature guitar playing and passionate vocals. The song tells the story of a woman who wants to drive her new Mustang and enjoy the freedom that comes with it, while the narrator pleads for her to come back to him. With its catchy melody, lively rhythm, and dynamic instrumentation, “Mustang Sally” has become a timeless classic that continues to captivate audiences with its irresistible energy.
27. Call Me the Breeze – Lynyrd Skynyrd
“Call Me the Breeze” is a Southern rock classic by Lynyrd Skynyrd, released in 1974. The song features the band’s trademark triple-guitar attack, with a lively and upbeat sound that perfectly captures the spirit of Southern boogie rock. The lyrics tell the story of a carefree wanderer who can’t be tied down, with the chorus featuring the iconic refrain “Call me the breeze, I keep blowin’ down the road.” The song has become a fan favorite, with its catchy melody, dynamic guitar solos, and energetic rhythm making it a staple of classic rock radio. “Call Me the Breeze” is a timeless classic that continues to capture the hearts of music fans around the world.
28. Directly from My Heart to You – Frank Zappa
“Directly from My Heart to You” is a cover song by American musician Frank Zappa, originally written and performed by Little Richard in 1956. Zappa’s version features his signature avant-garde style, with a mix of jazz, rock, and blues influences that create a unique and experimental sound. The song is a soulful ballad that expresses a deep and passionate love, with Zappa’s vocals and guitar work capturing the raw emotion of the lyrics. With its complex arrangement and unconventional approach, “Directly from My Heart to You” is a standout track that showcases Zappa’s musical genius and his ability to create something truly original out of a classic tune.
29. Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry
“Johnny B. Goode” is a seminal rock and roll song by Chuck Berry, released in 1958. The track is a classic example of the genre, featuring Berry’s distinctive guitar style and energetic vocals. The lyrics tell the story of a young musician from a humble background who rises to fame with his guitar playing, with the chorus featuring the iconic refrain “Go, Johnny, go!” The song has become a cultural touchstone, with its upbeat sound and universal message of ambition and perseverance resonating with audiences around the world. “Johnny B. Goode” is a timeless classic that remains one of the most influential and celebrated songs in the history of rock music.
30. Rock and Roll – Led Zeppelin
“Rock and Roll” is a classic rock song by English band Led Zeppelin, released in 1971. The track is a high-energy anthem that perfectly captures the spirit of the genre, with a driving rhythm section, powerful vocals, and electrifying guitar riffs. The lyrics express the pure joy and excitement of rock and roll, with lead singer Robert Plant belting out the iconic refrain “It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled.” The song has become a staple of classic rock radio, with its timeless sound and timeless message of rock and roll rebellion continuing to inspire generations of music fans around the world. “Rock and Roll” is a true masterpiece of the genre that remains as relevant and vital today as it was when it was first released.
31. The Jack – AC/DC
“The Jack” is a classic rock song by Australian band AC/DC, released in 1975. The track features the band’s signature hard rock sound, with a catchy and infectious riff that anchors the song. The lyrics tell the story of a womanizer who falls victim to a sexually transmitted disease, with the chorus featuring the iconic refrain “She’s got the jack.” The song’s playful and raunchy lyrics, along with its hard-hitting sound, have made it a fan favorite and a staple of AC/DC’s live shows. “The Jack” is a classic rock anthem that continues to showcase the band’s raw energy and enduring appeal to fans around the world.
32. Rave On – Buddy Holly
“Rave On” is a classic rock and roll song by American musician Buddy Holly, released in 1958. The track features Holly’s signature vocal style, with a catchy melody and upbeat rhythm that perfectly capture the spirit of the genre. The lyrics express the joys of love and the exuberance of youth, with Holly’s trademark hiccuping vocals adding to the song’s playful and energetic tone. “Rave On” has become a timeless classic, with its irresistible hook and infectious sound making it a favorite among music fans of all ages. The song remains a testament to the enduring appeal of rock and roll and the enduring legacy of Buddy Holly’s music.