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12 Best Examples Of 12-Bar Blues Songs

Written by Dan Farrant

Last updated

Ever found yourself tapping your foot to a catchy tune, feeling that irresistible pull to the rhythm that seems to seep into your bones? Now, imagine if that tune is steeped in history, bursting with raw emotion, and effortlessly blending simplicity with profound depth. Welcome to the world of the 12 Bar Blues.

This iconic musical format is the backbone of many well-loved songs and has given us some of the most remarkable melodies of all time. From Elvis to Clapton, this simple little chord sequence is found in all sorts of genres of music—not just Blues.

And in this post, we’re going to take a look at some 12-bar blues examples to help you understand how the form works, sounds, and feels. Let’s get started!

1. “Johnny B. Goode” By Chuck Berry

Kicking off our list is the explosive “Johnny B. Goode” by none other than the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry. Released in 1958, this iconic track is not only one of the greatest 12-bar blues songs, but it’s also widely acknowledged as one of the most influential songs in the history of rock music.

The song tells the semi-autobiographical tale of a country boy from the Deep South who plays the guitar “just like a ringing a bell,” painting an inspiring portrait of a talented yet humble musician trying to make it big.

This song has since been covered by countless artists, proving its timeless appeal and the enduring power of the 12 Bar Blues form. It was even featured in the films Home Alone and Back to the Future!

Related: What is 12 bar blues form?

2. “Hound Dog” By Elvis Presley

Another legendary 12-bar blues song that deserves a spot on this list is from the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. “Hound Dog,” released in 1956, is another defining track of the 12-bar blues genre.

Driven by Presley’s energetic and infectious vocal performance, “Hound Dog” is a classic example of 12-bar blues in popular music, with its characteristic I-IV-V progression coming to the fore. The song’s rhythm is accentuated by the driving bass line, clapping and punctuated by the iconic, foot-tapping drumming.

Originally written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, it was Presley’s cover that truly skyrocketed this tune to international fame. “Hound Dog” remains one of Elvis’s most loved and recognizable songs. It showcases not just his extraordinary vocal talent but also his ability to take a song and make it uniquely his own.

3. “I Got You (I Feel Good)” By James Brown

The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, stamps his indelible mark on our list with “I Got You (I Feel Good),” a bona fide 12-bar blues masterpiece. Released in 1965, this song became one of Brown’s signature tracks, catapulting him to international stardom.

“I Got You (I Feel Good)” is an exhilarating demonstration of Brown’s dynamic vocal style. The song is structured around the 12-bar blues progression, and its brass-driven arrangement carries an undeniable groove that exemplifies Brown’s contribution to the evolution of soul and funk music.

The song has had enduring popularity and impact, featuring in numerous films, commercials, and covers. It continues to be an anthem of feel-good vibes and is a testament to James Brown’s ability to electrify audiences with his powerful voice and unrivaled stage presence.

4. “The Thrill Is Gone” By B.B. King

When it comes to blues, few names resonate as powerfully as B.B. King and his heartbreaking yet soulful rendition of “The Thrill is Gone” certainly secures his place in our list.

Released in 1970, this song has become one of the most enduring anthems of the blues genre, showcasing King’s soul-piercing voice and the virtuosic command of his beloved guitar, Lucille.

“The Thrill Is Gone” is a masterclass in 12-bar blues, its slow-burning, melancholic rhythm reflecting the lament of lost love that the lyrics convey. King’s emotive vocal delivery is accompanied by Lucille’s mournful wails, a testimony to his ability to make his guitar “weep and moan” like a few others.

This song has been covered by various artists from different genres, highlighting its universal appeal. B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” remains a touchstone of the blues, a poignant reminder of the emotional depth and raw humanity that 12-bar blues can encapsulate.

5. “Rock Around The Clock” By Bill Haley & His Comets

Released in 1954, “Rock Around the Clock,” performed by Bill Haley & His Comets, is a pivotal track in the history of 12-bar blues and rock ‘n’ roll. This high-octane number played a significant role in introducing the raw energy of rock and roll to mainstream audiences worldwide.

Haley’s enthusiastic vocals, coupled with the infectious guitar riffs and driving rhythm section, encapsulate the exuberance of a new musical era that was dawning. “Rock Around the Clock” isn’t just a classic 12-bar blues song; it’s an anthem that marked the birth of a new youth culture.

It was prominently featured in the film Blackboard Jungle and has been covered by numerous artists since its release. This track, with its irresistible dance-inducing rhythm, remains a timeless piece in the annals of popular music.

6. “Stuck In The Middle With You” By Stealers Wheel

Dipping into the realm of folk rock with a bluesy twist, “Stuck In The Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel is a classic 12-bar blues track that’s sure to get your foot tapping. Released in 1972, this song combines a catchy tune with sardonic lyrics that depict an awkward social situation.

Adhering to the 12-bar blues form, the song stands out with its unique blend of acoustic guitar, harmonica, and a distinctive bass line that provides a solid rhythmic backbone. Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan’s laid-back vocal delivery adds to the song’s overall charm.

This track is perhaps best known for its inclusion in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, which reintroduced it to a new generation of listeners.

7. “Give Me One Reason” By Tracy Chapman

Released in 1995, Tracy Chapman‘s “Give Me One Reason” is a stirring representation of modern blues music. This song beautifully showcases Chapman’s emotive voice and evocative songwriting while also adhering to the classic 12-bar blues format.

Chapman’s soulful delivery of the lyrics—pleading for a reason to stay in a faltering relationship—resonates powerfully against the simple yet compelling backdrop of guitar riffs. The song masterfully uses the 12-bar blues progression, highlighting the form’s ability to carry strong emotions and stories.

“Give Me One Reason” stands as a modern blues classic and earned Chapman a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song. The track’s minimalistic approach and emotional depth have allowed it to stand the test of time, proving that the essence of the 12-bar blues remains relevant in contemporary music.

8. “Sweet Home Chicago” By Robert Johnson

A list of 12-bar blues songs would not be complete without a nod to one of the genre’s pioneering figures, Robert Johnson. His song, “Sweet Home Chicago,” released in 1937, is an enduring classic and a significant cornerstone of the blues tradition.

While many of Johnson’s recordings leaned heavily into the Delta blues style, “Sweet Home Chicago” features the classic 12-bar blues progression with a catchy guitar riff. The song tells a story of longing for home, with each verse carrying a sense of profound nostalgia that is at the heart of many blues songs.

The song’s influence cannot be overstated. It has been covered by numerous artists across multiple genres, from the blues to rock and roll, including legends like Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, and the Blues Brothers.

9. “Pride And Joy” By Stevie Ray Vaughan

The 1983 hit “Pride and Joy,” performed by Stevie Ray Vaughan, is an exemplar of the 12-bar blues style within the realm of blues rock. This track quickly became one of Vaughan’s signature tunes and remains a staple in the repertoire of blues guitarists worldwide.

“Pride and Joy” is a vibrant showcase of Vaughan’s superior guitar skills and soulful vocals. It follows the 12-bar blues progression, with Vaughan adding his distinctive flair through the use of aggressive string bends and rapid-fire fingerpicking.

It not only pays homage to the roots of blues but also infuses it with the raw power of rock. This melding of styles has solidified Vaughan’s status as a legendary figure in blues history and has ensured “Pride and Joy” a place as a perennial favorite among blues enthusiasts.

10. “Mustang Sally” By The Commitments

A fictional band from the eponymous 1991 film, The Commitments delivered a potent rendition of “Mustang Sally” that became a hit in its own right. The song, originally written and performed by Mack Rice in 1965 and popularized by Wilson Pickett a year later, is a classic example of the 12-bar blues.

The Commitments’ cover of “Mustang Sally” showcases their raw energy and musical talent. The song’s engaging rhythm and catchy chorus, coupled with a soulful lead vocal, faithfully follow the 12-bar blues progression while adding a fresh layer of cinematic appeal.

The song tells a playful story about a woman, Sally, who is asked to slow down her new Ford Mustang car. “Mustang Sally” by The Commitments is not just a standout track from a critically acclaimed movie soundtrack. But it’s also a vivid reminder of the enduring appeal of the 12-bar blues in popular culture.

11. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” By U2

This 1987 hit from U2‘s seminal album The Joshua Tree is a compelling blend of rock and gospel with roots in the 12-bar blues. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is a powerful spiritual anthem that showcases the band’s ability to craft deeply emotive and atmospheric music.

While the song doesn’t strictly adhere to the 12-bar blues progression, its essence is unmistakably present. It uses chords I, IV, and V—just like a 12-bar blues—but with a few variations away from the typical form.

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” became one of U2’s most loved songs. It further demonstrates the flexibility and scope of the 12-bar blues form, proving that it can be utilized in a variety of contexts to deliver powerful emotional messages.

12. “Rock And Roll” By Led Zeppelin

Although Led Zeppelin is primarily known as a heavy rock band, “Rock And Roll” exhibits a more bluesy quality that showcases the band’s versatility. The song is built upon the 12-bar blues progression, and they keep to it throughout the entire song.

The blues-inspired quality of Led Zeppelin’s music style shines through in “Rock And Roll,” with its soulful vocal delivery, expressive guitar solos, and the emotive energy that permeates the song.

“Rock And Roll” provides a solid framework that pays homage to the blues genre while still maintaining Led Zeppelin’s signature rock sound. With the unconventional yet creative blending of genres, this 1971 track was dubbed as the “most dynamic hard-rock song” by music critic Robert Christgau.

Summing Up Our List Of Songs That Are 12-Bar Blues

That’s it for our list of 12 bar blues songs. We hope you found it interesting and discovered some new songs that use this timeless chord sequence. It’s been a crucial foundation for a wide range of music across many decades.

From the raw, emotive tunes of blues pioneers like Robert Johnson and B.B. King to the electrifying rock ‘n roll of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, all the way to modern interpretations from Tracy Chapman and U2, the influence and versatility of this simple yet profound structure are evident.

Do you have other songs in mind that you think should be included here? Let us know, and we’ll add them!

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.