With the ever-growing popularity of musical genres, it is no surprise that the blues is one of the most sought-after genres of music. Here are the 10 best blues songs of all time.
Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings
As a huge fan of Robert Johnson, I was ecstatic to finally see his complete recordings released on CD. This is an essential collection for any fan of the blues. The sound quality is excellent, and it’s great to have all of his recordings in one place.
The only downside is that there are no liner notes included. It would have been nice to have some information about the recordings, such as when and where they were made. Nonetheless, this is a must-have for any fan of Robert Johnson or the blues.
Muddy Waters: The Anthology
Muddy Waters is the definitive collection of the essential recordings of the man who defined Chicago blues. It contains all of his Chess sides, which represent the core of his output and influence, as well as many unissued tracks and alternate takes. The set spans his entire recording career from 1947 to 1973, and features such classics as “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” “I’m Ready,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Got My Mojo Working,” “Mannish Boy,” and many others.
The sound quality is excellent throughout, and the annotations are informative. This is an essential purchase for anyone interested in the history of the blues.
Howlin’ Wolf: The Chess Box
If you’re a fan of Howlin’ Wolf, and especially if you don’t already own most or all of his Chess recordings, then The Chess Box is an essential purchase. It contains all of the tracks from his first four albums for the label, as well as a handful of singles and alternate takes. That’s a lot of material, and it’s all presented in chronological order, so you can hear Howlin’ Wolf’s development as a recording artist.
The early tracks on The Chess Box are among the best examples of Chicago blues. “Smokestack Lightning” is one of the most famous blues songs of all time, and it’s easy to see why after hearing Howlin’ Wolf’s primal performance. His voice is deep and guttural, and he wails on the harmonica with a ferocity that few other artists can match. “Spoonful” is another timeless classic, and it’s followed by a series of excellent original compositions like “I Ain’t Superstitious,” “Evil,” and “Built for Comfort.”
Howlin’ Wolf was always at his best when he was playing the blues, and The Chess Box showcases his incredible talent in that regard. If you’re a fan of the genre, or if you’re just looking for a great introduction to Howlin’ Wolf’s music, then this collection is definitely worth checking out.
B.B. King: The Definitive Collection
B.B. King: The Definitive Collection is a great compilation of B.B. King’s best work. The collection spans four discs and includes many of his classic songs like “The Thrill Is Gone,” “Rock Me Baby,” and “Sweet Little Angel.” If you’re a fan of B.B. King, this is a must-have collection.
John Lee Hooker: The Ultimate Collection
John Lee Hooker is a giant of the blues, and this collection brings together some of his finest work. The set spans Hooker’s entire career, from his early recordings in the 1940s through to his final album in 1998. Along the way, Hooker blazes a trail through the history of the blues, experimenting with different styles and approaches.
The result is a stunning collection of music that showcases Hooker’s incredible talent. There are electrifying performances, intimate ballads, and everything in between. This is the ultimate John Lee Hooker collection, and it is essential listening for any fan of the blues.
Lightning Hopkins: The Classic Arhoolie Recordings
Lightning Hopkins was one of the great country bluesmen of the postwar era, a singer and guitarist with a deep, expressive voice and a gift for writing poetic, often tragic songs about the hardscrabble life he knew so well. The Classic Arhoolie Recordings collects Hopkins’ best work for the legendary folk label, including such classics as “Mojo Hand,” “Buddy Brown’s Blues,” “T-Model Blues,” and ” Automobile Blues.” It’s an essential collection of one of the finest bluesmen of his generation.
T-Bone Walker: The Complete Imperial Recordings
In 1950, T-Bone Walker recorded some of the best music of his career for the Imperial label. This collection assembles all of those recordings in one place for the first time, and the results are nothing short of stunning.
Walker’s guitar playing is at its peak here, as is his singing. The material is mostly up-tempo blues, with a few slower numbers thrown in for good measure. Highlights include “Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just As Bad),” “T-Bone Shuffle,” and “Cold, Cold Feeling.”
This is essential listening for any fan of electric blues guitar, and it’s also a great introduction to the work of one of the genre’s true masters.
Willie Dixon: I Am the Blues
Willie Dixon was an American blues musician, songwriter, and producer. He is best known for his work with Chess Records in the 1950s and 1960s, where he wrote and produced songs for artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1980.
Dixon was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 1, 1915. His father, Willard Dixon, was a Baptist minister; his mother, Daisy Bell (née Martin) Dixon, was a piano player. He began playing the violin at age six. He grew up in an musical family; his cousins Robert and Richard Diggs were members of the 5 x 5’s, one of the first vocal groups to record for Chicago’s Chess Records. Dixon was also exposed to a wide range of music by his parents and by the local juke joint scene. He played in brass bands and later on joined the 7 Deacons of Rhythm when he was in high school.
After graduating from high school, Dixon briefly studied agriculture at Alcorn State University before moving to Chicago in 1936 to pursue a career in music. He initially worked as a dishwasher and elevator operator while trying to break into the music business. He eventually found work as a bass player in various clubs around Chicago. In 1937, he began working as a talent scout for Columbia Records. He discovered and signed Big Bill Broonzy and recorded him for the first time in 1938.
In 1941, Dixon began working as an arranger and producer for Bluebird Records. He arranged and produced records for artists such as Jimmy Witherspoon, Jay McShann, Walter Horton, and Memphis Slim. In 1943, he co-wrote “I Can’t Quit You Baby” with Willie acceptable
Dixon moved to Chess Records in 1950, where he served as an A&R man, talent scout, session musician, songwriter, and producer. He wrote or co-wrote some of the most famous blues songs of all time, including “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “I Just Want to Make Love to You”, “Little Red Rooster”, and “Back Door Man”. He also wrote or co-wrote songs that were recorded by rock & roll artists such as Elvis Presley (“My Babe”), Jerry Lee Lewis (“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”), the Rolling Stones (“Little Red Rooster”), Led Zeppelin (“Bring It On Home”), and Cream (“Spoonful”). He produced records for Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Koko Taylor, Chuck Berry, Willie Mae Thornton, and many others.
Dixon’s songs have been covered by artists of all genres, from Bob Dylan to Otis Redding to Lynyrd Skynyrd to Metallica. His songs have been used in movies such as The Blues Brothers, Pulp Fiction, and Platoon. In 1986, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; in 1980, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. He died of heart failure on January 29, 1992 at the age of 76.
Slim Harpo: The Excello Singles Anthology
Slim Harpo was one of the great blues harmonica players, and his work for the Excello label in the late 1950s and early 1960s was some of the best music he ever recorded. This 2-CD set collects all of his singles for the label, including the hits “I’m a King Bee,” “Scratch My Back,” and “Rainin’ in My Heart,” as well as a number of unissued sides. It’s a perfect introduction to Harpo’s work, and an essential purchase for any fan of classic blues harmonica.
Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection
If you want to learn about the music of Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, this 4-CD set is the place to start. It includes every song he recorded for Folkways Records between 1949 and 1955, plus four discs of previously unreleased material. That’s a lot of music, and it’s all presented in chronological order, so you can follow Lead Belly’s development as a musician.
The set begins with the earliest recordings, made in New York City in 1949. These are mostly solo performances, with Lead Belly accompanying himself on guitar or piano. His voice is clear and strong, and his playing is confident and assured. The songs are a mix of traditional folk tunes, blues, and spirituals.
As the 1950s progress, Lead Belly begins working with a variety of different musicians. He records with Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston, and he forms a duo with his wife Martha Promise Ledbetter. The addition of other instruments gives the music a fuller sound, and Lead Belly’s singing becomes more nuanced and expressive.
The final disc in the set features live recordings made at various concerts and clubs in the early 1950s. These performances show Lead Belly at his most relaxed and outgoing, joking with the audience and telling stories between songs. The music is lively and spirited, and it’s a great way to end the collection.
Whether you’re a longtime fan of Lead Belly or just getting started, this set is essential listening. It’s a comprehensive overview of his career, and it’s packed with great music. Highly recommended.