Songs Every Garage Band Should Know

11 Nov

The garage band is an American institution.   It is impossible to know just how many bands started out as a group of friends practicing in their garages, playing songs they liked–and could figure out. The music was usually basic rock and roll:  three or four chords, a strong back beat, guitar, bass, drums, and sometimes an organ or keys.  The garage sound spans from Chuck Berry and Elvis to the Stones, Kinks, and Beatles, through Warren Zevon and the Ramones to the Strokes and White Stripes. Perhaps the Granddaddy of all garage bands was Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Not only did they practice in the Holly’s garage, they recorded some of their first demos there. The rest is history.

Whether a bunch of stoned teenagers or middle-aged middle managers trying to blow off steam, a garage band should be able to rock out the neighborhood 4th of July cook out, your Aunt Sophie’s fifth (and surely last) divorce party, and any bar in town that has even the slightest whiff of stale beer. The songs don’t require exquisite musicianship but they do have to sound like fun.  The following set list would make any band practicing next to a Ford Taurus garage rock Kings:

Louie, Louie (by  the Kingsmen)

Three chords, sometimes indecipherable lyrics, and a never-fail connection with drunkeness thanks to Animal House make this a garage icon.  This song–that you can dance and drink to–will be a hit anyway, anyhow, anywhere.

Wild Thing (by The Troggs)

Another example of roots rock simplicity at its finest.  Guitar crunch, dramatic pauses, and potential crowd response put this on the list. 

Johnny B. Goode (by Chuck Berry)

Altough unable to be quantified, this song must have been played in more garages and barrooms than any other song in the history of rock.  It defines Chuck Berry’s rhythm and blues style.  Guitar players cut their teeth as beginners and then show their chops by playing lead to this one.

Heartbreak Hotel (by Elvis Presley)

No garage band set list would be complete without a nod to the King.   This will get everyone fired up, especially if the singer can do that hip thing and sneer at the same time.

Satisfaction (by the Rolling Stones)

It’s got the quintessential garage feel, a classic guitar lick, and a frustrated. pissed off narrator.  It doesn’t get more “garage” than that.

Pretty Woman (by Roy Orbison)

This song can work in a variety ways.  If the singer has some pipes, it can be done as a homage to the great Roy Orbison.  More likely, it can be dirtied up and done as a straight rock and roller, ala Van Halen (but please without those DLR squeals).  Either way, it will pack some punch.  Just make sure the singer isn’t checking out your date while he’s singing it.   

Wipeout (by the Surfaris)

Every band should be able to play an instrumental.  Surf music will get the crowd doing “the swim” and partying like its 1969–the time of free love. 

Allison (by Elvis Costello)

Even a garage band should know a slow song.  This one is from ’78.  When it’s dark and late, nothing sets the mood better than lost love and fading dreams. 

I Walk the Line (by Johnny Cash)

This will hit the mark with nose-ringed punks, as well as country fans who have a lawn mower replica of Dale Jr.’s #88 Impala in their own garage.  It will prove to some that you don’t need a Stetson to play or enjoy country music.

I Wanna Be Sedated (by the Ramones)

This will hit the mark with cowboy-hatted hillbillies, as well as alternative fans who have a Toyota Prius in their garage and a motorcycle leather in their closet.  It will prove to some that you don’t need to a habit to play or enjoy punk rock.

Get Back (by the Beatles)

The early Beatles were a prototypical garage and bar band, pumping out the Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins covers that tore the roof off the Cavern Club in Berlin.  They progressed from there, but on their last album returned to those pure, rock and roll roots.  This is also great to play if your ex-wife is in the room or the rhythm guitar player’s chick is trying to break up the band. 

And The Hangover’s Ultimate Garage Rock Song:  Werewolves of London (by Warren Zevon)


9 Responses to “Songs Every Garage Band Should Know”

  1. george in the sticks November 12, 2008 at 11:58 pm #

    Excellent work Hangover. There’s few things more enjoyable than watching a man (men) enjoy their work. The world’s a poorer place without Warren. An even better clip than Johnny Rotten.

  2. aaron, of course November 19, 2008 at 10:51 am #

    Great list! Every one of those songs made me smile, and all brought back a memory. Werewolves was my dorm’s theme song in H.S. We’d call to each other across campus like a bunch of losers, and Allison is one of the most beautiful songs ever written (in my humble opinion). Great list.

  3. magnostic November 20, 2008 at 7:53 am #

    great Zevon clip, though I would have to give the edge to “Lawyers, Guns and Money” as a garage band staple. And throw in something from the Blues Brothers too.

  4. Rob November 26, 2008 at 10:08 am #

    Y’know, as far as Beatles covers and garage bands, I respect your choice of ‘Get Back’. But, garage bands would do well not to forget the early Beatles. Let’s take a look, for instance, at “It Won’t Be Long”, which is the greatest opening track on any record, ever. Garage bands live and die on how immediate they can be. This one does it good. 🙂

    Thanks for the list!

  5. ZUrlocker January 3, 2009 at 5:34 pm #

    Hey, nice posting. I can’t say I agree with every choice here, but it’s a darn fine list. I might have dropped the Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon in favor of AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” The Sex Pistols “Pretty Vacant” and something by The Who or The Clash, but that’s just me.

    I’ll post a link to this from my site.
    Thanks again for the great post!

  6. Richard Salit February 13, 2009 at 7:02 am #

    I’m not the biggest Skynyrd fan bu Sweet Home Alabama or Free Bird are pretty popular. I’d also have to with an Allman Brothers song like Whipping Post. Jumping Jack Flash is another song every guitar player learns at some point.


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