13 Great Rock Flute Solos

jethrotullWhere did the flute go in Rock music? In the Sixties and Seventies, Rock was awash in flutes, including the ones made from silver and brass. I can’t tell you exactly why the flute went out of fashion as a Rock instrument, but I suspect the general decline in the quality of musicianship between the 60s/70s and today is the main culprit. If virtuosity on guitars is no longer considered to be a significant asset, then I suppose the ability to play the flute would be of even less value.

I think this is a great loss. The light, breathy tones of the flute could provide a perfect textural counterpoint to power chords. But the flute can also swing, and deliver a lively, jazzy spring to any song. For this list, I looked at all flute parts, not just solos, and I looked desperately for songs post-1980, and I found very few. And as always, the list is completely subjective, do let me know what your fave Rock flute songs are in the comments.

13. Beastie Boys – Sure Shot

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Leave it to the Beasties to buck the trend of their contemporaries. Included here only because it’s one of the few post-80s tracks with any flute at all.

12. The Association – Along Comes Mary

A very flute-friendly band, their #1 hit “Windy” was flute-full. Included here only because I think it’s one of the greatest songs ever written, seriously.

11. Focus – Hocus Pocus

Forget about the flute, let’s just be thankful yodelling never really caught on in Rock. Included here because it’s just so seventilicious.

10. Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die

The flute was often used by 60s/70s bands as a way to support their baffling preoccupation with medieval themes. See “Stairway To Heaven”.

9. Guess Who – Undun

You just knew something special was happening when the lead singer pulled a flute out of his jeans and started playing it in earnest.

8. Rare Earth – Born To Wander

Back in the day, people didn’t recoil or make strange faces when they heard the flute intro to this song, because to them, it actually made a groovy riff that much groovier.

7. Donovan – There Is a Mountain

First it had a meaning, then it had no meaning, then it did.

6. Boz Scaggs – Lowdown

A transition song for the transition year 1976. Check it out now, funk soul-brother, disco was knocking on the door.

5. Eric Burdon and War – Spill The Wine

Here the flute provides a counter melody that brilliantly helps describe the scene on that crazy field of tall grass as if it were another voice.

4. The Mamas and the Papas – California Dreamin’

The perfect wedding of form and content, no matter how many times I hear it, the flute sends me into a reverie, although not necessarily about California.

3. Beatles – You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away

Maybe the Beatles’ first “grown-up” song, the flute signaled that these lads were about to take this rock & roll thing to some new places.

2. Canned Heat – Going Up The Country

Forget the dreary medievalism or contemplative thoughtfulness. Here the flute stands for pure, unfettered freedom and joy.

1. Anything By Jethro Tull

I know it’s cheating, but come on, they were a flute-rock band. Ian Anderson is now generally acknowledged as being one of the best flutists on the planet, be it classical or jazz or the rare rock species.

Honorable Mentions:

Moody Blues Nights in White Satin, Beatles Fool On The Hill, King Crimson I Talk To The Wind, Cardigans Sick and Tired, Marvin Gaye Stubborn Kind of Fellow, Marshall Tucker Heard It In A Love Song, Oasis Gas Panic, Rolling Stones Ruby Tuesday, The Style Council How She Threw It All Away, Manfred Mann The Mighty Quinn, Men at Work Down Under, St. Etienne Nothing Can Stop Us, Beach Boys Feel Flows, David Bowie Moonage Daydream, Chicago Color My World, Donovan Sunny Goodge Street, Nicolette Larson Lotta Love, The National So Far Around The Bend, Van Morrison Moondance, Grand Funk Railroad I’m Your Captain, Van McCoy Do The Hustle, Carl Douglas Kung Fu Fighting, Heart Love Alive, Genesis Firth of Fifth, Emerson Lake and Palmer C’est La Vie, Albert Hammond It Never Rains In Southern California.

Which ones did I miss?

Photo (Jethro Tull) Credit: Sdo216 at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

61 comments to “13 Great Rock Flute Solos”
  1. Pingback: Pilgrim’s Playlist: Paul Simon, The Tragically Hip, Manfred Mann | Rocknuts

  2. By the way. Compared to jazz flutists who are technical geniuses, Ian Anderson self described himself as a “hacker”. Still, as a Tullfreak myself, I always loved his playing. And check out Teddy Osei of the band Osibisa. Please.

  3. Oh yeah, one more.
    Forever Autumn – Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds featuring Justin Hayward.

    I started a Spotify playlist: “Flute Song” and just started adding ones I could think of. This post helped me fill it out a lot!!

  4. Walt Parazader’s Colour My World has to be the most heard flute anything ever. Jimmy Pankow wrote a modern masterpiece (Ballet for a Girl in Buchanon) and Chicago made it a piece of history

  5. And I just realized The Beastie Boys samples the above song, Flute Thing in their 1994 song Flute Loops. Dang, I never heard that one before, but there it is everywhere in that song. Literally one looooong sample!

  6. “Can’t You See”, “Heard it in a Love Song” and ESPECIALLY “Take the Highway” by The Marshall Tucker Band. The last one would top my personal list. Jerry Eubanks was a vital component of the “Spartanburg Sound”.

  7. Lots of good ones suggested here and ones that I had forgotten about…thanks!

    Technically, the solo on the Association’s “Along Comes Mary” is a recorder. For another recorder solo, find John Cougar Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”

    The solo on The Association’s “Windy” may in fact be a piccolo…..not 100% sure on that, but it’s all in the same family……

    Madonna–“Beautiful Stranger” (flutter tonguing solo at the end of the track)

    Stereo MCs–“Connected” (not really a solo, but a riff)

    Big Mountain–“Baby, I Love Your Way”

    Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis–“You Don’t Have To Be a Star To Be In My Show”

    Fleetwoods–“Tragedy” (great low register intro)

    5th Dimension–“The Sailboat Song”

    Allo Allo–“The Polaroid Song” (flute chorale, obviously overdubbed by the soloist, but there’s space containing a flute solo)

    anything by Herbie Mann (for instance, “New Orleans,” “Why Don’t You Do Right?”)

    Judy Collins’ “Wildflowers” album features a lot of flute (“Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” “Albatross” “Michael From Mountains”)

    Edu Lobo–“Hey Jude,” “Sharp Tongue,” “Crystal Illusions” and others (all Brazilian in flavor)

  8. So many great contributions. May I suggest the band “ IF” – the album “ Double Diamond “ – The song “ Another Time Around” exceptional work by a 7 piece band ! They seem to be on the edge of obsurity ( sadly ) YouTube

  9. Ray Thomas of the Moody Blues was the FIRST rock flutist of the time!! Honarable mention? Really should be #1 as Ian Anderson has acknowledged himself!!!

  10. Nicolette Larson’s flute player had the best solo of all time, bar none. Saw it was ranked as an “honorable mention”…probably because it is not “cool” to rank it higher. No chaotic flute throughout like the cheesy Jethro Tull band, the flute solo from “Lotta Love”, which was performed and penned by Neil Young before Nicollete recorded it, is absolute perfection. Anyone that can come up with a better polished performance from the flautist from “Lotta Love” can post their logic here.

  11. Not sure how “Heard it in a love song” just gets an honorable mention, The playing is a more fluid and melodic, and sounds a lot better than most entires on the list. Top 5 for sure, in my book.

  12. Ian Anderson rocks, no doubt, but your comment saying something akin to – most agreed he was the best flutist in so many categories shows your ignorance as to so many categories. I persoanlly don’t like superlatives; they are the worst…

  13. I was watching a doc about the Moody Blues which included an interview with Ian Anderson where he states the flute solo in “Nights in White Satin” is among the greatest in rock history. So there is that.
    But critique aside Lucifer Was is kinda obscure but a fantastic flute driven band. https://youtu.be/IV7ZIxnhbQQ

  14. Did I miss it on the thread… but what about “Angry Eyes” by Loggins and Messina. And don’t you dare say that was not a flute but rather a seashell from Atlantis.

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