Most beginner guitar players believe that famous songs are complicated for playing and complex in general and that it is the main reason for the popularity.
But you would be surprised to know how many songs are as simple as it gets. Some of the most popular songs have only three chords. Here we’ll go through one of the most popular three-chord songs.
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Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
One of the most popular southern rock bands, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and their most recognizable song. You probably heard Sweet Home Alabama at one point in your life and believed that the song is rather complex.
However, this song has only three chords. The three chords in the song are C, D, and G, all major chords. The same thing works for intro, chorus, and verse.
There is the only difference is that the order of the chord might change place. Other than that, it’s all the same until the end.
Ring Of Fire – Johnny Cash
Everyone knows Johnny Cash. The Man in Black was one of the most recognizable songwriters of all time. However, he was never famous for his guitar playing.
The song Ring of Fire was written by his wife, June Carter, as a way of showing her love for Johnny Cash. The song was initially recorded by June’s sister Anita, but the song never became a hit until Johnny Cash recorded his own version adding trumpets.
While it is one of his most popular recordings, the song is still a three-chord piece. The chords of the song are C, D, and G. Of course, all major chords. While the chords are the same as in Sweet Home Alabama, there are no other similarities between the two.
if you liking this list so far make sure to check my other list 30 Famous & Easy 2 Chord Guitar Songs For Beginners – Tabs Included
Mr. Tambourine Man – Bob Dylan
Not only that Bob Dylan is one of the greatest musicians of all time, but he was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
There are so many songs that were covered over the years. Among the most popular covers are All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix, and Knocking On The Heavens Door by well… almost everyone.
It will probably remain a mystery what was the real meaning and inspiration for this song, but one thing is certain – it is quite an easy song to play. Like all the other songs on the list, there are only three chords. G, A, and D are the chords for the song, and they are played throughout the entire song.
Rock Around The Clock – Bill Haley And His Comets
Bill Haley And His Comets were a rock and roll band that started playing in the ’50s. The band was one of the pioneers of the genre and Bill Haley who was a country musician change the style to something that eventually became rock and roll.
Bill Haley And His Comets were energetic, performing always with matching outfits. Because of their behavior, they were considered revolutionary almost as the Beatles were a decade later.
Their song Rock Around The Clock became the most selling single in the history of rock and roll. The song was written by Max C. Freedman and James E. Myers and is another one on the list of three-chord songs.
The chords that were used in the song are E7, D7, and A7, however, you could still play the song using only major versions of those chords.
The Guns Of Brixton – The Clash
The original wave of British punk rock or post-punk started with the Clash. The band incorporated genres like ska, funk, punk, reggae, and rock, creating a unique style that made them one of the most influential bands in the genre.
The song was written by Paul Simonon, and he even sang the song on the record. The song was inspired by his childhood and growing up in Brixton, a district in South London.
The Guns of Brixton has a strong reggae influence, and it was the first song that Simonon composed. By the time of “The London Calling” album, Simonon has learned to play the guitar so he could contribute more to the songwriting.
Since Paul Simonon played the bass guitar in the Clash, he did so on the recording as well. Interestingly, during the live performances, he would switch with Joe Strummer, and he would take on the guitar, while Joe played bass for the song.
The song has a simple progression and the chords are F#m, Bm, and G.
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Walk Of Life – Dire Straits
Another British rock band on the list, Dire Straits, has an interesting entry for the list. The band originated in 1977 in London, by one and only Mark Knopfler. Everyone that started playing the guitar knows Sultans of Swing and how complex and incredible Knopfler’s guitar can be.
However, this is not the song that earned him a place on the list. The song Walk of Life, from 1985 album Brothers in Arms is a song that has only three chords. But don’t let this fool you. Even though it is a three-chord song, Mark Knopfler’s unique fingerpicking technique will make this song rather hard for beginners.
Of course, if they want to play it properly and try to mimic his fingerpicking pattern. The chords that are used in the song are E, A, and B, and then you will need to practice his technique before you master this seemingly easy song.
Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
Even though the song wasn’t written by Elvis Presley, nor his recording was the first, he is the one that we’ll think of whenever we hear Hound Dog.
Initially, the song was recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952, and it has been recorded over 250 times since! The most recognizable version of the song came four years later which earned Elvis his place in the greatest songs of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
The song is a simple twelve-bar blues and has three chords; C, G7, and F. Furthermore, not only that the song is one of the most popular in history, but it is also one of the best selling singles in history.
There are so many artists that recorded their own version since. Of course, if you plan on playing this song, you should undoubtedly practice that Elvis moves as well.
In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins
Phil Collins, an English drummer, and songwriter recorded this song as his solo debut. In the Air, Tonight might be the signature song of Phil Collins, which instantly became a hit.
Not only that the song is incredibly emotional and relatable, but it is also simple and powerful at the same time. The main inspiration for the song was the pain he felt when he divorced his first wife, which also lead to the break-up of his band Genesis.
The song is in the form of a monologue, with the macabre theme and probably the most recognizable drum break in history. Interestingly, the break is on the list of greatest drumming moments. The main theme of the song is emotion and pain after the breakup.
However, chords for the song are rather simple. The three-chord song has Dm, C, and B, throughout the entire song.
if you feel like those songs are a bit too hard for you, you can check out my other list 35 Easy Guitar Songs Without Barre Chords/Capo – Tabs Included
Working Class Hero – John Lennon
The first album John Lennon released after the break-up of the Beatles was John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Working Class Hero is one of the songs from the album and was released as a single with Imagine on the A-side.
This political song is about the differences between social classes, and a story about growing up in the working class. He said during an interview that he believes that the song is revolutionary.
If you ever heard the song, you realized how simple it is. The song has only Lennon playing the guitar and singing.
The chord progression is simple as well, A minor and G minor with D major at one point during the chorus. But simplicity was always something that the Beatles were experts in. Most of their songs are quite simple but offer a powerful message and emotion.
Englishman In New York – Sting
Sting began his music career in the Police and continue delivering hits even after the band broke up. On his second solo album, Sting recorded one of his more popular songs.
Englishman In New York quickly rose on the charts and he played it live on almost every solo concert since. The Englishman from the song is an eccentric English writer and actor, Quentin Crisp.
Sting got the idea for a song after talking to him before Crisped moved to New York.
Sting released another recording of the song for his album Symphonicities. The song has a recognizable rhythm and, of course, three chords; E Minor, A Major, and B Minor. The chord progression repeats through all parts of the song.
Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry
Probably the most popular rock and roll song ever by guitar virtuoso Chuck Berry. The song is about a country boy that is illiterate but can play guitar like no one.
Chuck Berry also admitted that the song is partly autobiographical. While the song has three chords, E, D, and A (all three chords are major), the most exciting part of the song is his intro and guitar solo.
If you watched Back to the Future, you remember how great this song is. Chuck Berry also wrote four other songs featuring the same character, as well as an instrumental track called Concerto in B. Goode that lasts almost 20 minutes.
If want to learn more easy songs you can check out my list Top 30 Easy Songs Without Chords For Beginners – Tabs Included
La Bamba – Ritchie Valens
While La Bamba is a Mexican folk song, we all know another version better. Ritchie Valens was a pioneer of the Rock and Roll and everyone was shocked when he died in a plane crash at the age of 17.
Even though his musical career lasted eight months, he left one of the most popular and known rock and roll songs ever.
We will always feel sad when we remember “The Day the Music Died.” Ritchie Valens’ version of the song offers a traditional vibe with rock drive, and of course, three chords.
The chords are G, C, and F. Richie was having doubts if he should mix rock and roll with his heritage but eventually, he decided to record his version. Luckily for us.
This song got him to several Halls of Fame, as well as first place on charts.
Pride And Joy – Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble
One of the greatest guitar players that ever lived, Stevie Ray Vaughan, used traditional blues songs that he filled with his incredible guitar playing.
However, Pride and Joy is one of the originals that he wrote for his girlfriend. The song is a standard Texas shuffle in standard 4/4 tempo. It is played quite fast and it is in the key of E.
Besides, Stevie Ray Vaughan usually played the guitar that is tuned half a step lower (so the song is actually in Eb). There are three chords in the whole song, E, A, and B. Or more accurately, Eb, Ab, and Bb because of the tuning.
However you choose to play the song, in whatever tuning you love playing, you will have a hard time playing this song the way that SRV played it.
Twist And Shout – The Beatles
Everyone thinks of the Beatles and the impact they had on the music is immeasurable. While we already mentioned Lennon, it would be a shame not to mention the rest of the band.
While there are many songs by the Beatles that use only three chords we had to choose only one. Twist and Shout is one of the songs that earned them fame and that started the famous Beatlemania.
While the song has simple D, G, A chord progression, there is nothing simple about the avalanche they started with their music. There are so many musicians today that started their music path thanks to the four gentlemen from Liverpool.
If these songs are not challenging enough for you, then you can check more advanced ones on my list 50 Intermediate/Advanced Acoustic Guitar Songs – Tabs Included
The Trooper – Iron Maiden
Famous English heavy metal band from London created a big impact in the world when they released their first album. Not only did they stayed active for over forty years, but they kept recording incredible music as well.
One of their most popular songs that launched a brand of beer is called The Trooper. Even though the song is over thirty years old, its popularity remained.
The song is about the Battle of Balaclava and the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. There are so many fantastic things about this song. From harmonizing galloping riffs by two guitarists Adrian Smith and Dave Murray to mind-blowing solos and Bruce Dickinson’s unique vocals.
But what is unbelievable is that the song has only three chords. Or more precisely three riffs. Em, D and C are the only three chords in the song, yet the song is everything but monotonous. Finally, if you ever watched their live performance, you undoubtedly remember Bruce waving Union Jack during the performance.
There are so many songs that use only three chords and sometimes even less! For beginner guitar players this might seem unbelievable, but the music doesn’t have to be complex and impossible to play to be good.
All of the bands and artists we mentioned here are legends and they used as little as needed to send a message or show some emotion.
Furthermore, the basis of so many blues songs (the 12-bar blues) has only three chords and the most popular rock and roll rhythm will use almost the same thing with a different tempo. B.B. King once said that if you can play one note with enough passion and sincerity that it will be enough for a song. And in the end, it all comes to that.
Of course, many songs will have four chords or even more. Some of the popular songs are incredibly difficult for even more experienced guitar players which doesn’t make them any less good. There is a certain charm in simplicity, but also in complexity as well.
In the end, you should find something that suits you the best and pursue that goal. For experienced players, there will be no problem to play difficult and complex songs.
But for beginners, these three-chord songs might be incredibly inspiring and a great wind in their sails that will motivate them and keep them practicing and playing.
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