Top 80s Songs for Acoustic Guitar

Use Guitar Tab to Learn Songs From the 1980s That Sound Great on Acoustic

midsection of person playing acoustic guitar

Photo by Rafa Elias/Getty Images

The following songs have been selected to provide beginner acoustic guitarists with popular music from the 1980s. 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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Heart of the Matter (Don Henley)

end of the innocence

Album: The End of Innocence, 1989
Level of difficulty: Beginner

This song should translate well to "single acoustic guitar and voice". As with many of the songs here, the key to making "Heart of the Matter" sound good will be to focus on the lyrics/melody, the chords, and the key riff from the original recording, and forget the rest. Don't worry about emulating the original strumming pattern for the verses. You'll need to know how to play the B minor chord, additionally keeping F# in the bass (2nd fret on the 6th string).

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Every Rose Has Its Thorn (Poison)

Open Up And Say Ahh

Album: Open Up And Say... Ahh!, 1988
Level of difficulty: Beginner

This one is very straightforward. Start by playing a slightly different variation on the G chord—your second finger on the third fret of the sixth string, first finger on the second fret of the fifth string, third finger on the third fret of the second string, and fourth finger on the third fret of the first string. Now, when the song switches to C (it's actually Cadd9), all you need to do is move your first and second fingers over a string—so your second finger is on the third fret of the fifth string, and your first finger is on the second fret of the fourth string. You've just learned to play most of "Every Rose Has It's Thorn".

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Do You Really Want To Hurt Me (Culture Club)

Kissing to be Clever

Album: Kissing to Be Clever, 1982
Level of difficulty: Advanced Beginner

We are going to take the chords, lyrics, and melody for this Culture Club classic and throw away the rest to adapt it to the acoustic guitar. Many of the chords in this one are straightforward, but there is a brief key change to deal with in the instrumental break which introduces some different chords. Feel free to skip that section entirely if it's too challenging. For the strumming pattern—think light reggae. Strum "down UP down UP" with a small emphasis on the upstrokes.

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End of the Line (Traveling Wilburys)

Traveling Wilburys

Album: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, 1988
Level of difficulty: Beginner

This is a classic three-chord song perfect for beginners. Once you've tackled and are comfortable with the D major, A major and G major verse/chorus structure, you can try your hand at the only slightly tricky chord-based intro and outro. This one should be a lot of fun to play, and not difficult to master.

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Handle With Care (Travelling Wilburys)

Album: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, 1989
Level of difficulty: Beginner

This one should be nice and easy to play on acoustic guitar, especially if you stick to strumming the basic chords. There is a second guitar part that involves a picking pattern over the same basic chord shapes—try that after you've memorized the chord shapes and progression.

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Wanted Dead Or Alive (Bon Jovi)

slippery when wet

Album: Slippery When Wet, 1986
Level of difficulty: Advanced Beginner/Intermediate

This song can be as difficult as you want it to be. Although you really should learn the acoustic guitar-based intro, you can get away with simply strumming chords for the rest of the song. If you want to replicate the original acoustic guitar part, go right ahead, but be aware it's a little bit tricky, and not for absolute beginners.

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Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper)

she's so unusual

Album: She's So Unusual, 1983
Level of difficulty: Beginner

The chords are pretty straightforward in this one, although you'll need to be able to play F major. To simplify the strumming, do quick downstrums only—three times for the first chord in the sequence then five times for the second chord in the sequence (then repeat). For example, at the beginning of the verse, strum D minor three times using downstrokes, followed by C major five times. The guitar tab for this song mimics what was originally played on a keyboard. If playing a full D minor to C major at the beginning of the verse sounds strange to you, consider replacing the chords here with the third riff from the top of the tab (still the same chords—just fewer notes).

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Patience (Guns n' Roses)


Album: Lies, 1988
Level of difficulty: Beginner

Forget about the details of the picking pattern in the original recording—there are numerous acoustic guitars playing different patterns at once, and they are frankly haphazard anyways. Just focus on playing the simple, slow chord changes. The guitar tab includes the acoustic solo tab, which shouldn't be too tricky for guitarists with a little more experience.

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Jack and Diane (John Cougar)

American Fool

Album: American Fool, 1982
Level of difficulty: Advanced Beginner

There are several interesting guitar riffs throughout Jack & Diane—mostly during the verse. Pay attention to the rhythm here—it may take some practice to get right. Although the original version of the song contains both electric and acoustic guitars, "Jack and Diane" translates nicely to an acoustic-only environment. Although nothing in this song is extremely tricky, the guitar riffs during the verse may be too tough for absolute beginners.

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I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (U2)

The Joshua Tree

Album: The Joshua Tree, 1987
Level of difficulty: Beginner

The chords here represent a very simplified version of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (the original guitar part played by Edge is much more intricate). The version represented in the tab above is meant to be strummed. Taking this approach, the song is simple to play (only three chords). Try using a quick downstrum-only pattern when strumming this song.

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Closer to Fine (Indigo Girls)

Indigo Girls

Album: Indigo Girls, 1989
Level of difficulty: Beginner

This big late-'80s hit for the Indigo Girls is a great song to play in situations with a couple of singers and a single guitarist. The chords are easy, although it may take absolute beginners a little while to get their chord changes up to speed. In order to play along with the recording of this one, you'll need a capo, placed at the second fret.