June 22, 1963, little Stevie Wonder first entered the US singles chart. His song, also featuring a young Marvin Gaye on drums, was not only the first live non-studio musical recording to reach No.1 , it also made him the youngest solo performer to ever reach No.1, actually only 12 years old when the song was recorded.
His song provides the theme for today’s blog and playlist, songs that feature the harmonica. Harmonica, also known as the French harp or mouth organ, is a free reed wind instrument used prominently in folk music, jazz, country, classical music, and rock. The most common type of harmonica is the diatonic, though the chromatic is used as well, made most famous by none other than Stevie Wonder. The instrument is played using the mouth, lips, and tongue. Frontiersmen Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid played the instrument.
Songs 1-6 Stevie, including the blog title song “Fingertips” which still holds the record for the youngest solo performer at the age of 13 to have a No. 1 single, 7-18 and 162-182 Stevie guest musician, collaborating with the likes of Chaka Khan, Eurythmics, Paula Abdul, Dion Warwick, Elton John, Sting, Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Snoop Dogg, Jason Derulo, Johnny Mathis, Peter Frampton, John Denver, Carley Simon, Barbra Streisand, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Rod Stewart, Ella Fitzgerald, Gladys Knight, and Frank Sinatra.
Stevie Wonder “Isn’t She Lovely”
Dionne Warwick “That’s What Friends Are For”
Eurythmics “There Must Be An Angel”
Artists with several songs on the list include: The Beatles with “Love Me Do,” “From Me To You,” “Should Have Known Better,” and “Rocky Racoon;” Led Zeppelin with “When the Levee Breaks,” “Bring It On Home,” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine;” Bruce Springsteen with “Thunder Road,” “The River,” “The Promised Land,” “Spare Parts,” as well as the Yardbirds, Creedence Clearwater Revival, J. Geils Band, and Elton John with several songs on the list, and Billy Joel with “Ballad of Billy the Kid,” “Piano Man,” and “Leave a Tender Moment Alone.”
Billy leads us to another prolific artist well versed in the use of harmonica. Billy Joel was my very first concert as a teen. The second time I was him was at his Evening of Questions & Answers Tour in 1996. He referenced the first time he ever saw Bob Dylan perform live. Seeing Bob wearing his neck rack to hold his harmonica a young Billy thought “what’s wrong with his neck?” 😭
Billy has recorded a few of Bob’s songs, including “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Make You Feel My Love,” featuring a bit of harmonica as well.
Another landmark date in harmonica and music history is April 24, 1961, the day Bob Dylan participated in his first professional recording session, playing harmonica on the song “Midnight Special,” with folk singer Harry Belafonte. Bob obviously went on to record many folk and blues songs featuring the harmonica as well using the diatonic harp as his instrument of choice. More than a handful of his songs appear in the playlist, including perhaps my favorite Bob Dylan song “Baby Let Me Follow You Down.” Here is Bob playing “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man,” neck rack and all. It doesn’t look like there’s too much wrong with his neck. 🤣
Other notable popular songs featuring harmonica include Supertramp’s “Take The Long Way Home,” Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” The Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” The Young Rascals’ “Groovin’,” The Carpenters’ “Rainy Days & Mondays,” U2’s “Trip Through Your Wires,” Romantics’ “What I Like About You,” Culture Club’s “Karma Cameleon,” Blues Traveler’s “Run Around,” The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues,” Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Runnin’,” Sting’s “Shape of My Heart,” and Canned Heat’s “On The Road Again.” Grunge and alternative music bands Alice in Chains, Temple Of The Dog, Pearl Jam, Motorhead, Foo Fighters, and Dave Matthews Band as well as metal greats Guns ‘N Roses, Poison, Motley Crue, Great White, and Black Sabbath even made the list.
I can’t recall the recent TV show I was watching, but one of the lines in it was something along the line of “who listens to Supertramp these days?” Well I still do, lol 🤣. Here is a classic Supertramp great from their blockbuster 1979 release Breakfast in America with an unforgettable harmonic intro, “Take The Long Way Home”
Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” a classic harmonic intro, and perhaps one of my favorite Boss songs.
Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” is perhaps one of the more recognizable harmonic songs in pop music of the 70’s. His version is not available on Spotify, as her removed it during COVID as a form of boycott of the Joe Rogan misinformation podcasts.
I loved the Carpenters back in the 70’s. Here with yet another great harmonica intro from the 70’s, “Rainy Days and Mondays”
Flash forward to the 80s with the Pretenders “Middle of the Road”
Huey Lewis offers some Americana harmonica with “Heart of Rock & Roll”
Motley Crue entertains us with a little harmonica amist their metal with their cover of “Smokin’ In The Boys Room”
And what an interesting decade the 80’s were, check out INXS “Suicide Blonde”
Then moving to the 90’s perhaps no one epitomized harmonica in pop music at the end of the 20th Century as Blues Traveler, here with their classic “Run Around”
And perhaps one of the most beautiful songs with significant, haunting harmonica presence is Sting with “Shape of My Heart”
Also featured in the blog is the harmonica great Larry Adler, who started his career as a penniless urchin on Vaudeville, starting his professional career at 14. Included is much of his exceptional Gershwin tribute album “The Glory of Gershwin,” featuring songs by Sting, Elton John, Cher, Kate Bush, Meat Loaf, and Peter Gabriel, among others. Selections from this album round out the playlist. Here the he accompanies Kate Bush on “The Man I Love.”
On to the playlist:
I hope that this music and my blog truly serve as a “revival: a new presentation of something old,” a springboard to return to the music of your youth, or perhaps to find artists you want to discover anew. Rediscover the passion of music in your life.
Live in the moment.
Enjoy the moment.
Love the moment.
Listen to the MUSIC!