Top 70s Songs for Acoustic Guitar

The Grateful Dead
Jerry Garcia (left) and Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead, 1972. Michael Putland / Getty Images

The following songs have been selected to provide beginner acoustic guitarists with popular music made in the 1970s. A guideline for the difficulty of each song has been included. The assumption with these guidelines is beginner can play the basic essential open chords plus F major.

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American Pie (Don McLean)

Don McLean
United Artists/Getty Images

Album: American Pie (1971)
Level of difficulty: beginner

This one should be nice and easy for beginners: basic chords with slow chord changes. To make things even easier, the song begins "rubato" (without a constant tempo), in which each chord is strummed once before moving to the next chord. When the song moves into a consistent tempo at the chorus, strum "down up down up" for each chord.

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Father and Son (Cat Stevens)

Cat Stevens
Michael Putland / Getty Images

Album: Tea for the Tillerman (1970)
Level of difficulty: advanced beginner

Ignore the barre chords being shown in the tab - you'll want to play as instructed in the performance notes here. The rest of the song is straightforward, except you'll want to make one other change. In the tab, the second chord of the verse shows "D"; it is actually B minor. The same mistake is repeated in the third line of the tab... you should correct both of these.

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Heart of Gold (Neil Young)

Neil Young performs
Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Album: Harvest (1972)
Level of difficulty: beginner

There was a time when this was one of the first songs everyone learned on acoustic guitar. The chords are basic open chords, and you can get away with slow downstrokes for your strumming pattern. To get started, try playing each chord twice--using downstrokes--when the singing starts. "Heart of Gold" should be very easy to play for all but the absolute beginner.

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Horse With No Name (America)

The band America
Getty Images

Album: America (1971)
Level of difficulty: beginner

"Horse With No Name" contains a bunch of chords you probably haven't seen before - the good news is, despite the fancy chord names, they are simple to play. The strum on the original recording is far too tricky for the beginner guitarist. Simply strum each chord four times using all downstrums and concentrate on your fretting hand.

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Hotel California (The Eagles)

Rock n' Roll Band The Eagles
Frank Driggs Collection/Contributor/Getty Images

Album: Hotel California (1977)
Level of difficulty: beginner

This may not be an absolute-beginner song to learn on guitar, but if you're comfortable with basic barre chords, you should be able to play "Hotel California."

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Lookin' Out My Back Door (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

Creedence Clearwater Revival
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Album: Cosmo's Factory (1970)
Level of difficulty: advanced beginner

The chords here are pretty straightforward - toughest part of playing "Lookin' Out My Back Door" is getting the strumming right. Try matching the shuffle the drummer is playing--heavy downstrums on the second and fourth beat, with much lighter downstrums on beats one and three.

The chords in this tab show the song being played in the key of G - it is actually in Bb on the original recording. To play along with the recording using the chords shown here, you'll need to put your capo on the third fret.

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Squeeze Box (The Who)

English rock band The Who wearing mod clothing, London, circa 1965
The Visualeyes Archive/ Redferns/ Getty Images

Album: Who by Numbers (1975)
Level of difficulty: beginner

The tab here makes things much harder than they need to be. The key to playing "Squeeze Box" well is how you finger the G chord, and how you move back and forth from G to C/G during the verse. Once you've mastered switching between these two chords, you'll be able to learn the rest of the song easily.

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Take Me Home, Country Roads (John Denver)

John Denver performing
Gai Terrell / Redferns / Getty Images

Album: Poems, Prayers and Promises (1971)
Level of difficulty: beginner

Most guitarists will probably want to ignore the fingerpicking pattern in the original recording, and opt to do a straight strum here. You'll need to know an F# minor barre chord, but other than that, this one is pretty simple.

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Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (Gordon Lightfoot)

Gordon Lightfoot
Arnielee/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Album: Summertime Dream (1976)
Level of difficulty: beginner

Although you may not be familiar with an Asus2 chord, it's easy to play--just and E minor shape moved over a string. There are only three more chords, all of which are open and simple. The strum is what might trip up some people - it's in 6/8 time and feels like a waltz. To play "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" along with the recording, you'll need to use a capo on the second fret.

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Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)

Pink Floyd
Keystone Features/Getty Images

Album: Wish You Were Here (1975)
Level of difficulty: beginner

There are probably a few chord shapes you don't know in this tab, but none of them are difficult to play. When getting started, ignore the opening single-note acoustic guitar solo, and focus on the rhythm guitar part.

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Have You Ever Seen the Rain? (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

Creedence Clearwater Revival
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Album: Pendulum (1970)
Level of difficulty: beginner

The chords linked to here don't include the quick song intro - it starts A minor, F major, C major, G major, C major, C major. To make "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" sound best, strum a straight "down up down up" pattern, with a stronger downstroke on the second and fourth beats. Listen to the song, and take your strumming queues from that.

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Take It Easy (The Eagles)

The Eagles
Rachel Kramer/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0 

Album: The Eagles (1972)
Level of difficulty: beginner

Nothing hard about this one - simple chords, and a straight "down up down up" strumming pattern. Although the song is played without a capo, we don't all have the vocal range of Glenn Frey. You may want to experiment using a capo higher up on the neck (perhaps the seventh fret) in order to move the song into a register that's easier to sing.

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Uncle John's Band (Grateful Dead)

The Grateful Dead
Malcolm Lubliner/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Album: Workingman's Dead, 1970
Level of difficulty: beginner

The chords for this Grateful Dead classic are easy to play on acoustic guitar--just simple open chords. The trick to learning "Uncle John's Band" is in the rhythm - the song dips briefly into 3/4 time signature from 4/4, and in general the strumming isn't straightforward. You'll need to listen to the song a few times to get a feel for how and when to strum. Note that Jerry Garcia's lead ​acoustic guitar work isn't covered in this tab.