Top 10 Greatest One-Chord Rock Songs



Musicians are always going on and on about great chord changes and progressions, and there’s a good reason for that. Chord changes play such an integral role in any song’s identity, and a great chord change can turn an average song into a good one, whether the listener is consciously aware of it or not. The good news for every songwriter is that there is a virtually infinite number of ways you can string chords together, and so every songwriter has an opportunity to discover that special magic chord progression, the one that makes the whole world laugh and cry and come at the same time. Nobody’s come up with it yet, but you never know.

Of course there’s much more to a great song than great chord changes. The original Rock & Roll ethos, echoed by different generations of Punk, said the more basic the song the better it was, because complexity was not compatible with the raw emotion of the music. Lou Reed once famously said that “One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.” Lou knew that you can do an awful lot with one chord, and the truth is that one-chord songs are not necessarily simple songs, as you can see in our list below.

Please note this is a layman’s list, because music purists will say that few if any of these songs technically use only one chord. Often times the bass will play the root note of a second chord, usually at the end of a verse or chorus, while the guitar stays on the original chord. Or vice versa. Music theory people call this technique an implied chord change, but I call it picky and taking away all our fun. To be safe, let’s just say these songs all use approximately one chord and get on with it.

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10. Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Run Through The Jungle”

CCR was like the first jam band, these guys could vamp on one chord for hours.

 

9. Harry Nilsson – “Coconut”

Nilsson knew that that using only one chord would heighten the comic weirdness.

 

8. Sly And The Family Stone – “Everyday People”

There are a few other songs in Sly’s catalogue that use only one chord, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” is one that’s pretty close.

 

7. Sonny And Cher – “The Beat Goes On”

The song’s distinctive walking bassline disguises its one lonely chord.

 

6. Joe Cocker – “High Time We Went”

Is that a chord change on the guitar in the chorus? Maybe.

 

5. Bob Marley – “Get Up, Stand Up”

The extra chords in the intro obviously don’t count.

 

4. War – “Low Rider”

A second chord would have ruined the vibe of this gem.

 

3. The Temptations – “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”

A one-chord wonder that’s pretty complex musically.

 

2. Steely Dan – “Show Biz Kids”

This from a band who usually came up with the most amazing chords and chord progressions of all time.

 

1. The Beatles – “Tomorrow Never Knows”

Not just the greatest one-chord song, but probably the most important and influential Rock song of all time. One chord that changed the world.

There are many more one-chord songs. Which ones stick out in your mind? Don’t be afraid if it may not be technically one chord, we are all friends here.

Photo: Steely Dan; Credit: By Kotivalo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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