The 13 Best Campfire Songs (Without Being Kitschy…)

Hey good people! My name is Alon, I am 27 and I play mainly the guitar, piano and harmonica. In the last few years, I traveled through four different continents with my guitar while teaching music. Currently, I am based in sunny Tel Aviv, Israel. The GuitarHippies mission: To get you to enjoy your musical journeys to the fullest. Cheers! Do you wish to play the music that you love, smoothly and confidently? Join 6000+ successful students:

A night full of stars, a couple of friends and a campfire that’s warming you up in the middle of the gathering. Add a guitar to this mix and you are getting the recipe for a very fun night, whether if you’re down at the beach, out in the forest or any other place that makes for a fun wilderness getaway. So for you ladies and gentlemen, here is the list of my 12 best campfire songs, without being kitschy…

These songs all make for great jams, and I left out all the songs that would usually make it to lists like this, so Time Of Your Life is clearly not gonna make an appearance here tonight fellas…

The criteria I had in mind when picking out the following songs for our campfire was finding songs that are:

  • Generally LOVED by the public and especially young people like us. This means a lot of people will gleefully kick in with the lyrics here…
  • Are fun to play on the guitar and not too complex to memorize and add to your repertoire. (this one kicked out Bohemian Rhapsody…)
  • Haven’t been played in all of the previous campfires on our planet (ummm Wonderwall).

* While I was making the list with the idea of you guys/girls having those songs memorized, you can always create a DIY chord book with these songs, and also with more songs that are harder to memorize. I have a couple of books myself that are always with me when I’m out with the guitar.

Let’s go, songs are listed in no particular order. If you have any questions about how to play those songs beyond the chord sheets, so YouTube some quick lessons. For every song I have featured the original album version, the chord sheets from Ultimate Guitar, and also an “oh-so inspiring” YouTube cover for you to take a big sip of creativity before you play it yourself. I have dug on YouTube for hours for those gems, and it was well worth my time so I hope you enjoy it as well.

*Originally posted in May 14, updated May 17.

The 13 Best Campfire Songs (Without Being Kitschy…) 

best campfire songs3

Otis Redding – Sittin’ on The Dock of The Bay

An all time soul classic straight from the San Francisco bay, or shall I say ‘frisco… Make sure you get some whistling practice time before you approach that solo, although most chances are that either way, you are going to get some help from the crowd on that solo. (:

Chord Sheets ♦ The Original Album Version (1968)

Duan & Only – (Sitting' On) The Dock of the bay (cover) by Otis Redding, performed at The Shed

The Steve Miller Band – The Joker

Warning: explicit lyrics. Just kiddin’, you’re gonna have fun here. The Joker is such a great sing along since way back in 1973…  The bass line is pretty simple and takes everything up a notch so I recommend learning it. (as you can see in the video below)

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This cover is truly awesome so I highly recommend watching it.

Chord Sheets ♦ The Original Album Version (1973)

The Joker (Steve Miller Band) Acoustic Cover by Sure Thing

Jimi Hendrix – Hey Joe

Sick lyrics, and a pretty easy progression to stick to that runs through the whole song (C-G-D-A-E), and if you throw in some of the actual riffs you make the whole experience even more legit… “I’m going wayyy down south, way down to Mexico”

This cover shows a lot of the riffs that you can incorporate.

Chord Sheets ♦ The Original Version (1966)

Hey Joe – Jimi Hendrix – Cover – Callum Williams

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Proud Mary

Big wheels keep on rollin’… This one never gets old. Don’t forget to add that one tiny and super familiar riff at the end of the chorus… The common key is D which might be too high for most of us so a capo might be needed.

This YouTube cover can get a bit weird, but I liked it. It also features some nice loop pedal action.

Chord Sheets ♦ The Original Version Live from 1969

Proud Mary – CCR (Cover) with Boss Loop Pedal

Neil Young –  Heart of Gold

I’ve been to Hollywood and I’ve been to Redwood but I still haven’t successfully nailed that harmonica solo while playing guitar at the same time. But hey, you can always just whistle it instead…

This cool YouTube cover shows a fun band with a great singer in a Utah bar, I really enjoyed it and I hope you will too.

Chord Sheets ♦ The Original Version as performed live in 1971

Heart of Gold (Neil Young cover) – Mike Massé, Jeff & Dave Hall, Sterling Cottam

Elton John – Tiny Dancer

One of those rare occasions where a song gets ultra popular more than 30 years after it’s original release thanks to one epic movie scene. Tiny Dancer is of course more of a piano song, but it works nicely on the guitar even though the chord progression is a bit harder to memorize. The effort is well worth it though. I am also warning you about the falsetto in the chorus…

Rocket Man” is another Elton John classic that is fun to play and will make everyone around the campfire happy. Jason Mraz gave us an excellent showcase of an acoustic guitar cover for it.

Dave Grohl is in charge of this funny cover below. John Frusciante also takes his turns on it on some occasional concerts.

Chord Sheets ♦ The Original Album Version (1971)

Dave Grohl Tiny Dancer


 

guitarist learn harmonica

Add a harmonica to any of these songs and you get one freakin’ special performance. Read more inside

 

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Old Crow Medicine Show – Wagon Wheel

Some say it’s overdone, but for most people out there it’s still a favorite. You can tell because if you’re playing it at an open mic, you are most likely going to get the whole bar dancing with you… The chords are simple and a harmonica can be a truly uplifting companion here.

Some do not know it, but Wagon Wheel was originally written (but never released) by Bob Dylan in 1964.

Chord Sheets ♦ The Original Version (2004)

Wagon Wheel, Take 2

The Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Simple and slow, yet still fun to join in to. Try and see.

This very lively cover below shows just how much percussion instruments and harmony singing can add to any random jam!

Chord Sheets ♦ The Original Version (1969) played live from a recent show.

You Can't Always Get What You Want cover

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Soul To Squeeze

One of the best RHCP songs that probably did not get enough recognition. The Chili Peppers are definitely giving us some of their good time here with the funky rhythm guitar and fun, optimistic lyrics.

The cover below is definitely not very impressive music-wise, but it just left me with a huge smile on my face from how funny and cute this girl is. The part I liked the most is how she struggles (but still makes it) with the tongue-twisting C part – starts at about 2:00. Enjoy!

Chord Sheets ♦ The Original Album Version (2004)

Soul To Squeeze Red Hot Chili Peppers ~ Ukulele cover by Indi Sugar 🙂

Sublime – What I Got

This one is easy on the chords (there’s only 2 of ’em) but though on the lyrics. Major props if you’ve got all of them down in your memory, and even more if you can shoot them fast enough without fumbling your tongue. This one’s kinda rap. A campfire classic.

Chord Sheets ♦ The Original Album Version (1996)

What i Got – Sublime Acoustic Cover

Janis Joplin – Me And Bobby McGee

The ultimate hippie anthem is still relevant in 2015. The singing is not very simple, and you might wanna skip that one tone jump that starts on the second verse if you want your vocal cords intact… Listen closely to the original if you want to get the acoustic strums right, there are some cool changes of rhythm that make Bobby McGee special over other G-C-D songs.

Did you know? Me And Bobby McGee was released in 1971, one year after the death of Janis Joplin. It soon became the second song in history to top the US charts after the artist has passed away, second only to the first song in our list – Sittin’ on The Dock of The Bay.

Chord Sheets ♦ The Original Album Version (1971)

Sheryl Crow & Kris Kristofferson – "Me and Bobby McGee" – presented by Willie Nelson

Bob Dylan – Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright

This one is my personal favorite to play on the acoustic guitar and my favorite Dylan tune as well. It makes for one of the best fingerstyle training sessions that I know of and it can definitely make a girl fall in love with you (played slow enough…). A capo on the 4th or 5th fret is pretty much mandatory when you play it on C, unless your name is Johnny Cash or Leonard Cohen…

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You might notice that it’s the second time that these two guys appear on this list in the cover section. They have a lot more awesome performances so I suggest checking them out for some inspiration on what you can do with the guitar. Look up “Josh Turner” on YouTube.

Chord Sheets ♦ The Original Album Version (1962)

Don't Think Twice, It's Alright

The Doobie Brothers – Long Train Runnin’

Can’t be mistaken starting from the first second of the hammer-ons filled intro, super fun to play! The harmonica solo here is awesome and made an appearance in my top harmonica solos list as well.

Chord Sheets ♦ The Original Album Version (1973)

King & Jones – 'Long Train Running' – Doobie Brothers – Acoustic Cover

A quick lesson I made where you can learn how to play a couple of those songs: 6 Classic Campfire Songs w/ Just 4 Chords

6 Classic Guitar Campfire Songs w/ 4 Chords

That’s it. So this is my take on the best campfire songs, but not only campfire, these songs will also work great for just about any other low keyed gatherings such as a hangout at a friend’s house or so. Give those songs a try, they are a joy to play.

Peace and have fun on your journeys.

Oh, one more thing before we’re done, ALL of these songs take a huge leap forward if you add a harmonica, or some cheap & portable percussion instruments, so if you really want to give people kicks with the music, check out those other posts:

best singing tips (2)

If you feel like working on your singing before the next campfire – click here for some very precious tips.

Photos are thanks to unityinmarin.org, theclymb.com, websterart.com.

* Originally posted on May 15.

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14 comments for “The 13 Best Campfire Songs (Without Being Kitschy…)

  1. Joe
    August 15, 2017 at 1:00 AM

    Sweet Caroline and California Dreaming have been home runs for me!

    • Alon Cooper
      August 18, 2017 at 3:10 PM

      Awesome songs indeed. Especially if you got some friends who can do harmonies on California Dreaming.

  2. Joey Henderley
    August 3, 2017 at 4:25 AM

    damn, this first guy with the Otis Redding cover really blew me out of the water, NICE.

  3. Sian
    August 1, 2017 at 4:29 AM

    “I can play the guitar like a motherfuckin riot”

    Berilliantoooo song.

    Why aren’t Dispatch on the list?

    • Alon Cooper
      August 3, 2017 at 4:57 AM

      I love Dispatch. The General, Hey, Flying Horses and actually a ton of their songs are definitely excellent campfire songs that aren’t catchy.

  4. Jamie
    July 19, 2017 at 2:10 AM

    Don’t think twice is my fave, my friends love it. Which key do you usually play it on?

    • Alon Cooper
      July 20, 2017 at 5:07 AM

      Depends on the day and my how my voice is, but usually I do a capo on either 4 or 6 and play it in the key of C, which really means either E (capo on 4) – like how it was played originally, or F# (capo on 6). Another option I like is playing without a capo in the key of G – sounds pretty different.

      • Jamie
        August 3, 2017 at 4:24 AM

        Thanks. I also do it with the capo on 4 usually, I love playing with capo, sounds much more interesting.

  5. Joel Beacon
    June 20, 2017 at 2:12 AM

    omg Josh Turner, the best covers channel on youtube. What about some Eagles tho?

    Another thing – which website’s your favorite for chord sheets?

    • Alon Cooper
      June 22, 2017 at 5:04 AM

      Hey Joel. Yeah, Josh Turner is one of my favorite youtube subscriptions as well.

      I LOVE The Eagles and debated getting them in here, but obviously Hotel California is not here since this list said “no kitsch”, and amongst the others it was hard to choose, but if I were to make the list again then “Take It Easy” might be representing. It’s super hard to sing it though – they’re all gifted singers as well.

      I like Ultimate Guitar the best, but you have to be careful and pick the version that has the most 5 star ratings or else you might get some wrong chords.

  6. Naomi
    May 2, 2017 at 4:28 AM

    I’m so glad some people still appreciate Janis Joplin these days. Also there’s some great covers of her runnin around on Youtube.

    Great list, I’d add even another Dylan song, he always seem to work great in any campfire.

    • Alon Cooper
      May 4, 2017 at 3:25 AM

      I’m glad you liked it Naomi.

      Yeah, Janis Joplin was something special. I’d definitely put “Piece of My Heart” here if it wasn’t that incredibly hard to sing, but nonetheless still one of the biggest classics I know.

  7. Michelle at CampsiteBistro.com
    April 12, 2016 at 8:03 PM

    Hi Alon, this is an awesome list. Nothing cheesy and some unexpected but oh so appropriate songs. I would have never thought about Tiny Dancer. Thanks for sharing!

    • Alon
      April 16, 2016 at 7:32 AM

      Thanks Michelle! Tiny Dancer definitely makes a solid conversion into the guitar.

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