What are the 20 Most Essential Blues Songs?


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16. “Born Under A Bad Sign” by Albert King (1967)

A song so popular and enduring that even Homer Simpson has covered it, Albert King’s big-band blues number was an unlikely hit from the best soul label in America, thanks to his brassy vocals and the sturdy Stax funk of Booker T & the MGs. Even as King details a life of bad luck, it becomes clear he’s talking about something larger than himself, possibly the life of the blues or the fate of black people in America.


17. “Voodoo Chile” by Jimi Hendrix (1968)

The bulk of this epic jam showcases Hendrix making love to (or with?) his guitar, but the heart of the song is the interplay between Hendrix and the Experience. As the band deconstruct the blues riff, he turns blues mythology (“the night I was born/  Lord, I swear the moon turned a fire red”) into hippie psychedelia.


18. “La Grange” by ZZ Top (1973)

Long before the beards and ’33 Ford coupe, this Houston trio wrote some of the gnarliest Lone Star blues rock imaginable, and this hit from Tres Hombres remains a highlight in their catalog. Billy Gibbons’ guitar sounds like an idling hot rod riff that speeds off in search of the best little whorehouse in Texas.


19. “All Night Long” by Junior Kimbrough (1992)

Kimbrough was a blues veteran by the time rock critic Robert Palmer produced his debut album in the early 1990s, bringing the last blues subculture to a mainstream audience. Defined by its hypnotic riff and the barely contained rhythm section, “All Night Long” sounds like a slice of a much longer jam, one that could conceivably go on till morning. 


20. White Stripes: “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground” (2001)

This opening track from the Stripes’ millennial breakthrough album pares rock down to its barest, bluesiest essentials: a pounding beat, a messy riff, and some hot-and-bothered vocals. When Jack White sings, “Every breath that is in your lungs is a tiny little gift to me,” he could be talking about a lover or the century of blues artists who came before him.

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