Jun 272016

I do—I especially like it when it’s a surprise. A single Courtney Barnett released earlier this year has nice little snippet at about 1:28 in this funny little song about ramen noodles.

Now this is not an epic solo, like Dylan or Neil or even The Hollies pull off —  just a nice little interlude. It reminds of the Replacements throwing in a little harmonica at about 2:12 on “Achin’ To Be.” Just enough, not too much.

So, my burning question: What song contains your favorite harmonica solo?


  18 Responses to “Who Likes a Harmonica Solo?”

  1. cliff sovinsanity

    That’s exactly the reason I always liked the Chrissy Hynde’s harmonica solo in Middle of The Road by The Pretenders. It’s not expected, but it’s effective. The inhale and exhale is seductive.

    On a side note, Courtney Barnett gives me hope.

  2. That Courtney Barnett song was all right. That’s the first time I’ve heard her music. The harmonica solo was so subtle, for me, that I had to listen to it again to get a sense of whether it affected me. It didn’t.

    I like harmonica to set a riff in place, the way Dylan and Young use it – or John Lennon, in those couple of Beatles songs. I like when it’s pumping away in a fast blues song, but I don’t live for the BLUES SOLO, the workout, like that J. Geils Band song, “Whammer Jammer.” The subtle, surprise solo, like in the example…I’m not sure if that typically does it for me either. Not even the melodic Stevie Wonder solos on songs like “Isn’t She Lovely” blow me away.

    The one harmonica workout that I keep coming back to, though, is Roger Daltrey’s live ending on “Baba O’Riley.” I’m as impressed by the fact that he can play harmonica as much as what he’s playing. I always love that song from start to finish, so that helps.

  3. I think Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” is my favorite harmonica solo, but then for all the brilliance of his 70s run, that may be my single favorite Stevie song, so I may be a tad biased.

    Springsteen used to use the harmonica as coloration at the end of “Racing in the Street” in a way that was insanely effective. Also, he and Shankar had what I recall as a crazy cool duet during the Amnesty tour back in 1988 that I loved.

    Otherwise, I feel like the obvious champeen is Bob Dylan’s solo in the middle of Frank Zappa’s “Flakes.”

  4. trigmogigmo

    They may not qualify as “solos” but although I generally don’t take to harmonica in rock, some instances that I do like are:

    – Andy Partridge’s harmonica injections in XTC’s “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead”, and in Thomas Dolby’s “Europa and the Pirate Twins”.

    – Many of Stan Ridgway’s songs featuring harmonica prominently, e.g.
    “The Big Heat”
    “Drive, She Said”
    “Lonely Town”
    “Peg & Pete and Me”
    “A Mission in Life”
    “Don’t Box Me In”

  5. ladymisskirroyale

    Good ones from Stan!

  6. ladymisskirroyale

    The first one that came to mind for me is “Livin’ In the USA” by Steve Miller.

    Harmonica is hard: it can devolve into pretension too easily. I somehow think of it as an instrument that Fred Armison might play in a Portlandia skit.

  7. 2000 Man

    I don’t know what it is about Courtney Barnett, but I haven’t been able to get excited about her. Maybe I’ll like her next album.

    So far as harmonica goes, I like Mick Jagger a lot. He’s gotten really good at it over the years. I like everything from Midnight Rambler to Fancy Man Blues. At least I think it’s a harmonica on Fancy Man Blues. It seems to get pretty bent out of shape. https://youtu.be/pGUhfg3PPb0

  8. cherguevara

    I’ve wanted to own a bass harmonica for years, just because I think they’re cool. Can’t justify the expense, though, especially since I’d probably only use it to harass my kids. They are stupid expensive! I love the buzzy low sound they make.

  9. Middle of the Road is a great example!

  10. Roger sounds like freight train on that song! The live version on The Kids Are Alright soundtrack was my intro to that one . . .

  11. tonyola

    I’ve always liked the harmonica solo in Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home”. Nice and low-key.

  12. saturnismine

    The first thing that came to mind is pretty typical of my mid-70s suburban white boy upbringing: Robert Plant’s turn in “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is pretty melodic but vicious, too.

    I also love Charlie Watts’ claim — I think it’s from the 25×5 video — that you see the “real Mick Jagger” when you hear him play harp. “Midnight Rambler” ain’t half bad!

  13. saturnismine

    So many good ones coming to mind: Keith Relf’s use of the harmonica was for riffs as much as it as for soloing. After the initial burst of guitar on “I Wish You Would,” for example, his harmonica *smokes* it.

    Another of my favorites: John Lennon’s work on Love Me Do, both the opening hook riff, AND the solo, which mimics the melody of the song and then breaks off into some fine honking before they take it back to the top.

    Lennon’s sad sounding soloing on “I’m a Loser” is top notch, too.

  14. saturnismine

    Yeah…you’re absolutely right about Daltrey on Baba. I remember hearing the studio version for the first time *after* seeing the Kids are Alright, and being disappointed to hear that noodling fiddle.

  15. BigSteve

    Yes, I think the harp solo on Stop Breaking Down is one of the highlights of Exile on Main Street.

    Another thing I just thought of isn’t really a solo, but it’s that riff on the harmonica that Johnny Marr plays on Hand in Glove. It really makes the song work.

  16. All great examples — No-no-no Nobody’s Fault But Mine is one of my favorite songs on my favorite Zep album! I don’t know why I like Presence so much — the contrarian in me I guess.

  17. Yep, nicely done. I feel bad I passed out at their concert in the summer of ’79 at the old Met Center and missed it. Stupid teenager thinking I could drink eight Millers before the show.

  18. Pretty obvious one (and maybe uncool), but I love the harmonica solo on “What I Like about You” by the Romantics.

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