Learn Easy Classic Tracks from Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Eight Others

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Folk rock and its near-partner country rock have been a facet of popular music since the mid Sixties, evident in the music of every decade ever since. Here, we present you with a selection of 10 rockers written in a folk/country vein.

As with our previous lessons, we’ve simplified the chords somewhat for easier playing.

“Handle with Care”—The Traveling Wilburys

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988)

The all-star Traveling Wilburys consisted of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. “Handle with Care” is the first track from their 1988 debut album and was written by the entire group. Harrison sings the verses, while Orbison sings the bridge in his distinctive operatic style, before Dylan and Petty come in with their gritty folk voices for the section beginning with “Everybody’s got somebody to lean on.”

Harrison began writing the song while in a garden near Bob Dylan’s studio, where he spotted a box in the garage labeled “Handle with Care.” The song is presented as a man’s account of his experiences that he relates to his newfound love, requesting “handle me with care.”

INTRO

| D C | G/B G |

VERSE
| D C | G/B G |

| D C | G/B G |

| C | G/B Em |

| C D | G | second time: | C | D |

BRIDGE

| G B7 | C D |

| G B7 | C D |

| G B7 | C D |

| G | G |

MIDDLE

| C | C |

| G | G |

| C | C |

| D | D |

[BREAK]

“The Weight”—The Band
Music from Big Pink
(1968)

First released on the Band’s debut album, Music from Big Pink, “The Weight” is one of their best-known songs, though it was never a hit, peaking at just Number 63 in the U.S. The song has since become a popular staple of Sixties-era music that has been performed by a diverse range of artists, including the Staple Singers, the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band and Garth Brooks.

The song’s narrator tells of arriving in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and the odd characters he meets, each of whom tries to place a burden on him. He has himself come with a responsibility of his own: Miss Fanny has asked him “to give her regards to everyone,” which is, ironically, the very act that has put him in the position of being asked by others for his help. According to the Band’s drummer and singer, Levon Helm, the characters in the song are based on people that members of the group knew.

This sounds in the key of A, but you can play it with easier chords if you capo at the second fret and use the chords indicated.

Capo 2nd fret

VERSE

| G | Bm | C | G | (4 times)

CHORUS

| G D | C | G D | C |

| G D | C | C | C | C |

| G D/F# | Em D | C |

[BREAK]

“Lay Lady Lay”—Bob Dylan
Nashville Skyline
(1969)

Dylan originally wrote “Lay Lady Lay” for the soundtrack of the movie Midnight Cowboy but failed to present it in time for inclusion. He released the song as a single in July 1969, and it quickly became a hit, peaking at Number 7 on the Billboard charts.

Dylan sings the song in a lower register and with a warmer voice than he used on his earlier tunes. Though he attributed this to having quit smoking, he can be heard using a similar vocal style on bootlegs of unreleased recordings from the early Sixties.

Drummer Kenny Buttrey had difficulty coming up with a drum part for the song. Dylan suggested bongos, and producer Bob Johnson suggested a cowbell. Buttrey used both instruments together, playing them on the verses and switching over to drums on the choruses and middle eight. Reportedly, just one mic was used on the drums and was positioned over the cowbell and bongo, which is why the drums sound distant, as they were off-mic.

VERSE

| A | C#m | G | Bm |

BRIDGE

| E | F#m | A | A |

MIDDLE EIGHT

| C#m | C#m | E F#m | A |

| C#m | C#m | A | A |

| C#m | C#m | E F#m | A |

| C#m | C#m | Bm | Bm |

OUTRO

| A | Bm | C#m | D |

| A |

[BREAK]


“Pink Houses”—John Mellencamp
Uh-Huh
(1983)

Mellencamp was inspired to write this Reagan-era classic when he was driving along an overpass heading home to Bloomington, Indiana, and spotted a black man sitting outside his pink house with a cat in his arms. “He waved, and I waved back,” Mellencamp said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “That's how ‘Pink Houses’ started.”

The song’s “Ain’t that America” refrain has made “Pink Houses” the song of choice for numerous U.S. presidential candidates, including Senator John Edwards in 2004 and Senator John McCain in 2008. In 2010, the National Organization for Marriage used the song at events opposing same-sex marriage but stopped doing so after Mellencamp requested that the group “find music from a source more in harmony with your views.”

INTRO

| G | C G | (four times)

VERSE

| G | G |

| G | G |

| G | G |

| F C | G | G |

| G | G |

| G | G |

| F | C |

| G | G |

CHORUS

| C | G |

| C | G |

| C | D | D |

| C | C |

BREAK BETWEEN VERSES

| G | C G |

| G | C G |

INSTRUMENTAL BREAK (four times)

| F | C |

| G | G |

[BREAK]

“I’m a Loser”—The Beatles
Beatles for Sale
(1964)

”Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown," John Lennon sings in "I'm a Loser," which is fitting, as the song is itself a mask: its boy-loses-girl contrivance is really a cover for the fact that fame and success were not enough to alleviate his deep insecurities.

Lennon wrote the song during the group’s 1964 tour while on a flight and frequently referred to it as "me in my Dylan period." However, McCartney recalls that he and Lennon were also listening to a lot of George Jones and Buck Owen songs that were "all about sadness." The truth of the song's influence may be somewhere in between. The Beatles recorded the song in eight takes, with no overdubs.

INTRO

| Am | D | Am | D |

| Am | F D |

VERSE

| G | D | F | G |

| G | D | F | G | (repeat)

CHORUS

| Am | D | Am | D |

| G | Em | Am | F D |

SOLO
| G | D | F | G |

| G | D | F | G |

| Am | D | Am | D |

| G | Em | Am | F D |

[BREAK]

“Heart of Gold”—Neil Young
Harvest
(1971)

Neil Young’s only U.S. Number 1 hit, “Heart of Gold” is one of a series of acoustic songs he wrote while sidelined with a back injury. Unable to stand for long periods, Young spent much of his time sitting down and playing his acoustic guitar, which was more conducive to being played in a seated position than an electric guitar.

“Heart of Gold” was recorded in Nashville during the initial session for Harvest and features James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt on backup vocals. The song gave Young mainstream popularity, which he soon rejected.

“This song put me in the middle of the road,” he wrote in the liner notes of his 1977 compilation album, Decade. “Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.”

INTRO

| Em | D Em |

| Em | D Em |

| Em C | D G | Em C | D G |

| Em C | D G | Em | D Em |

VERSE

| Em C | D G | Em C | D G |

| Em C | D G |

| Em | G | C | C G |

| Em | G | C | C G |

MIDDLE

| Em | D Em | Em | D Em |

| Em | D Em | Em | G |

| C | C G | G |

[BREAK]

“California Dreamin’”—The Mamas & the Papas
If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
(1966)

Written in 1963 by John Phillips and Michelle Phillips, “California Dreamin’” is a classic of the Sixties folk-rock era. While living in New York City, John Phillips had a dream in which he heard the song. He woke up Michelle, his wife, and asked her to help him finish it. At the time, the couple were members of the folk group the New Journeymen, which would eventually evolve into the Mamas & the Papas with the addition of Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot, both from the folk group the Mugwumps.

The song offers a snapshot of the couple’s hardships while living through a cold New York winter and dreaming of warm California weather. The line “stopped into a church” was a contribution from Michelle, who liked to visit churches, and it was inspired by the couple’s visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. John had bad memories of parochial school and disliked the line, but he kept it in, as he could think of nothing better. He mitigates any religious overtones by noting, “I pretend to pray.” He’s only there to get a little warmth, anyway.

Capo your guitar on the fourth fret for this one.

| Am G | F G | E7sus4 | E7 F |

| C E7 | Am F | E7sus4 | E |

| Am G | F G | E7sus4 | E |

| Am G | F G | E7sus4 | E |

CODA
| Am G | F G | Am G | F G |

| Am G | F G | Am G | F G |

| Fmaj7 | Fmaj7 | Am |

[BREAK]

“Don’t Do Me Like That”—Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Damn the Torpedoes
(1979)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’s first Top 10 hit, “Don’t Do Me Like That” reached Number 10 on the Billboard charts. Petty, the song’s writer, considered giving the song to the J. Geils Band because he thought it sounded so much like the group. The song was not considered for inclusion on Damn the Torpedoes until produce Jimmy Iovine replayed it for the group late in the sessions and convinced them to include it, sensing it would be a hit.

This is a straightforward rocker that can be played with a handful of simple chords.

VERSE

| G | F | C | D

| G | F | C | D

CHORUS

| G | F | Em | C D |

| G | F | Em | C D |

MIDDLE EIGHT

| G7 | C | G7 | C |

| G7 | C | Cm | D | D |

[BREAK]

“Rocky Raccoon”—The Beatles
The Beatles
(1968)

Paul McCartney wrote the song while the Beatles were in India on a lengthy meditation retreat. He composed it while sitting on the roof of the ashram with Lennon and Donovan. It was originally titled “Rocky Sassoon,” but he changed the name to make the character sound more like a frontiersman, as Raccoon reminded him of Davy Crockett, who wore a coonskin hat.

The line “The doctor came in stinking of gin” was based on an actual experience. In 1966, McCartney had a moped accident in which he chipped a front tooth and badly cut his lip. The doctor who sewed him up smelled of gin and reportedly did a bad job, resulting in a lump that remained on McCartney’s lip for some time afterward.

INTRO

| Am7 | Am7 |

| Am7 | Am7 | D | D7 |

| G | G7 | C | G |

| Am | Am | D | D |

| G7 | G7 | C | G |

VERSE & CHORUS

| Am7 | Am7 | D | D7 |

| G | G7 | C | G |

[BREAK]

“For What It’s Worth”—Buffalo Springfield
Buffalo Springfield
(1967)

Stephen Stills was inspired to write this song after the Sunset Strip riots in November 1966. Residents along the Strip were bothered by late-night traffic congestion that resulted from young people attending clubs in the area. In response, the city passed ordinances against loitering along with a 10 p.m. curfew. In protest, about 1,000 demonstrators held a rally that eventually led to a confrontation with the police that continued the next night and sporadically over the next months.

According to Stills, the song got its name after he presented it to Atlantic Record executive Ahmet Ertegun, who signed the group, saying “I have this song here, for what it’s worth, if you want it.”

VERSE
| E | A |E | A | (repeat)

CHORUS

| E D | A C |

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