Acoustic guitars were invented some time in the medieval period, most likely by some bro-turd knight who wanted to ruin parties or something. Since then, there have been many awful and universally loved acoustic-based songs white people can't help but clap off-rhythm to. From Bob Dylan's "Blowin in the Wind" to Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" to Metallica's "Whiskey In The Jar," every generation has a host of perfectly terrible jams suited for steel-string-butt-head boxes known as the acoustic guitars. Even millennials couldn't resist surfing the acoustic wave, probably because the pension, affordable housing and debt-free waves have become whirlpools of despair. But acoustic guitar music will never die. That's why we put together a definitive list ranking the most terrible acoustic guitar sing-along songs millennials grew up loving. This list has been thoroughly vetted by a white dude in midwestern Canada, so you know it's right. As such, here are the criteria used to make this list:
- Primarily acoustic
- Terrible but you know and will sing the words if given a chance
- They will never die because of millennial nostalgia.
This list consists of karaoke staples, campfire sing-a-longs, and your garden variety coffee shop soundtracks—aka songs you hear in the places millennials thrive. These acoustic songs are everything. We know all the words, and they form a chunk of our collective existence, along with a bunch of Simpsons quotes and inaccurate memories of how good Dunkaroos actually taste.
18. Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee - "Despacito"
An instant classic. The original, non-Justin Bieber version of "Despacito" is the new age "Macarena" or "La Bamba." The relatively low ranking here is only due to the fact that the song is so new, but this one will no doubt inspire future generations of English speakers to butcher the lyrics. The Spanish title translates into English as "Slowly," and the song is about a romantic sexual relationship. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee are poets. As if it couldn't get any better, of course Justin Bieber was featured on a later version of "Despacito," and no wedding reception will ever be the same.
17. Train - "Hey, Soul Sister"
"Hey, Soul Sister" is what would happen if a laundry detergent commercial gained sentience and picked up a guitar. This song is a strong contender for being both utterly terrible and infectious. It's the plague of adult contemporary music. Is this anyone's favourite song, aside from the members of the band Train? Never underestimate the power of a ukulele and cloying lyrics like, "My heart is bound to beat/ Right out my untrimmed chest." Apparently, this 2009 soccer mom theme song was the most played song on Australian radio at one time. We're pretty sure "Hey, Soul Sister" was actually produced by Big Ukulele, which was trying to indoctrinate suburban children into their very chill army.
16. Jack Johnson - "Better Together"
You probably haven't thought about Jack Johnson since the late 2000s, but he's still very much a thing. In the time it took you to forget about him, his music got a pass from even the most emotionally cold emo heads. You can't be sad all the time, after all, and "Better Together" scratches the sappy love song itch. At the very least, Jack Johnson's smooth, rhythmic delivery let us imagine living the surf life, eating banana pancakes and generally not being miserable. His guitar-slap picking and chill persona let us pretend. Incidentally, the family-friendly "Better Together" is now likely just part of the soundtrack playing over a soulless loudspeaker at the store to accompany your errands. It's nice to remember your dreams though.
15. Norah Jones - "Don't Know Why"
It's the song we all wish we could sweetly sing but cannot because we're not Norah Jones. "Don't Know Why" is the final boss of the acoustic genre. With maudlin lyrics like, "My heart is drenched in wine/ But you'll be on my mind/ Forever," suburban parents are powerless to the majesty of "Don't Know Why." Coffee shop open-mic nights aren't official until someone plays a finger-picked arrangement on a nylon stringed guitar. Written by songwriter and guitarist Jesse Harris, this one requires expert-level skill to perform and will go down as one of the all-time greats.
14. Barenaked Ladies - "If I Had $1000000"
BNL is everything to Canadians. Speaking as a Canadian, this entry is 100 percent biased. I could have sworn "If I Had $1000000" was our national anthem during my childhood. It was everywhere in the early 2000s, even after being released in the 90s. Barenaked Ladies were Canada's de facto Prime Ministers of adult contemporary music. They've produced many solid acoustic wonders, such as "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," "Pinch Me," "One Week," and their entire discography prior to the sad departure of Steven Page from the band in 2009. BNL continue to be great, but there is a hole in hearts not even a million bucks could fill.
13. Sublime - "What I Got"
"What I Got" is the theme song for people who really like weed, but aren't chill about it at all. It is the theme song for people who totally used to skate, bro. This is the theme song for people who are still pretty good at hacky sack and haven't gotten around to getting rid of the bongo they never use. This applies to most of Sublime's dope-ass discography. Singer Brad Nowell taught us all you need is a dog and some marijuana cigarettes and life is good. If you are a twenty-something who was into surfing or, more likely, the idea of surfing, the 1996 Sublime album is guaranteed to be nearby in a ratty CD binder along with some worn out tab sheets. Hell yeah.
12. Taylor Swift - "You Belong with Me"
If you're looking for the perfect soundtrack for calculated jealousy and coveting someone else's love interest, look no further than Taylor Swift. The 2008 video for "You Belong with Me" paints a world in which the power of music can help defeat evil twins. This one isn't strictly acoustic, but it definitely became a mainstay campfire song. It will always stand as the song that inspired Kanye to act a fool, though admittedly almost anything can accomplish this. To recap: "You Belong with Me" beat Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring on it)" at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards for Best Female Video, and thus Kanye's infamous "Imma let you finish" speech was born, spilling over into a years-long and public hatred between the West family, the Beyhive, and the Swifties. The legacy of "You Belong with Me" will live in memes and celebrity-feud lore until the end of time.
11. Shania Twain - "You're Still the One"
Shania Twain is the bedrock of Canadian culture. Remember how huge she was in pop culture for a decade starting in the late 90s? If you forgot, please know she is still everything. Twain made it big before Drake, Bieber, and The Weeknd were a thing. Many of us fondly remember those years in music because Canada didn't have much to brag about. This was before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's jawline became our most valuable export. We weren't cool, but Twain made us feel like we had a chance. That alone is enough to put her face on our goofy-looking Canadian money. "You're Still the One" propelled her 1997 Come on Over album, a glorious work of art, into the stratosphere of country pop. Heck, the modern sound of country music probably wouldn't be the same without Twain's revolutionary path. The Grammy-winning "You're Still the One" is sweet like maple syrup drizzled over public healthcare.
10. Rise Against - "Swing Life Away"
If you had a few anarchy badges sewed to your backpack, briefly rocked a faux hawk or emo bangs, and listened to Black Flag just enough to say you know about punk, there's a good chance you can play "Swing Life Away" on guitar. The jaunty, feel-good 2004 ballad by Rise Against paints a world in which anyone can be happy with very few material possessions as long as they have a good attitude and a song in their hearts. The mid-thirties and younger crowd now knows the lyrics of "Swing Life Away" are pure lies. A few questions for singer Tim McIlrath: Who can afford a front porch with a swinging bench in this economy "on minimum wage"? Who is packing their bags to "settle down where palm trees grow"? Beachfront property? Is this a sick joke? Either way, "Swing Life Away" is a catchy song.
9. Dixie Chicks - "Not Ready To Make Nice"
Remember when the president of the United States was George W. Bush, and everyone thought politics couldn't get any more absurd than the Dixie Chicks protesting him? This was a huge deal back then. Country radio stations across the south stopped playing Dixie Chicks because lead singer Natalie Maines said she was "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas" at a 2003 concert in protest of the invasion of Iraq. Instead of apologizing, the group released "Not Ready To Make Nice" in 2006. Given our current reality, it's funny to think that this was the biggest dustup between a president and an artist of that era. Anyway, "Not Ready To Make Nice" is a fantastic acoustic song.
8. Matchbox Twenty - "3AM"
The two-chord intro to Matchbox Twenty's "3 AM" unlocks a time portal to 1996 when singer Rob Thomas was the peak of acoustic culture. The song combines alt-rock grunge and roots twang in that oh-so-sweet Matchbox Twenty way. From "Push" to "If You're Gone" and "Unwell"—the group had commercial radio cornered, and "3 AM " was their first big hit. Whenever a clock strikes 3 a.m., there is a fraternity banging this song out and screaming "I must be lonely" in unison.
7. OutKast - "Hey Ya!"
Another hit song that isn't purely acoustic, but I'll bet you a Tamagotchi and a stick of frosted lip gloss you've seen a white guy at a party do an acoustic version of "Hey Ya!" circa early 2000s. This song was everywhere, finding crossover play on hip-hop, pop radio and inside minivans. "Hey Ya!" exploded with the rising popularity of iTunes, becoming the first song to go platinum via downloads. It's a sing-along song written by a non-threatening rap duo, OutKast, and it has clapping parts, so of course white people love the hell out of it. Hilariously, because of "Hey Ya!", people started shaking their polaroid pictures to get them to develop quicker, as per the lyrics, even though that's not how polaroid film works, you dummies. Consisting of only about four chords and a call-out-and-response part for the fellas and ladies, this one is an acoustic legend.
6. Kid Rock ft. Sheryl Crow - "Picture"
The Sheryl Crow feature on Kid Rock's "Picture" elevates the country hit to god tier liver-damage music and locks it in as one of the best duet karaoke jams. Kid Rock exploded into the mainstream when "Picture" came out in 2001. He was emerging from his hard-rock hip-hop image and into his sad-southern-tough-guy era. Prior to "Picture," Kid Rock's persona was what would happen if Eminem, Fred Durst, and a carny had a baby with some truck nuts. Metalheads liked Kid Rock, but he also got a pass from hillbilly types who enjoy hip-hop via "Bawitdaba" and the lesser known Grits Sandwiches For Breakfast album. After "Picture" though, one of his highest charting songs, the Kid went on to work with country musicians like Miranda Lambert, who probably does not "bawitdaba da bang da bang diggy diggy diggy." "Picture" is not a song you play at the start of a party; it's the one you play right before you're crying on a bathroom floor and pouring your heart out to a stranger.
5. Death Cab For Cutie - "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" (A Cover)
Death Cab For Cutie's "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" has everything a great love song needs: existential panic and the offer of self-sacrifice for a lover. Nothing says I love you like, "someday you will die/ But I'll be close behind and I'll follow you into the dark." The emo hit from 2005 is just religion-ish enough to be a staple at any church youth group event where ever counselors aren't on the lookout for sin. It's filled with enough angst about Catholic schools and spiritual doubt to be almost dangerous. Given how the masterful composition came to be, we assume Satan had a hand in its creation: Writer and singer Ben Gibbard once said he wrote the song "incredibly quickly," and the words came "seemingly came out of nowhere" as if by "spiritual transcendence," as great art does. Also, the chord structure and charming rhythm means "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" properly slaps on a ukulele, lending to its legacy as an acoustic mainstay.
4. John Mayer - "Your Body Is a Wonderland"
You know that feeling when you're filming a pretty woman's face, about to make sweet love and a bunch of guitar picks fall out of your cargo pants? If you know the feeling, you're probably John Mayer singing "Your Body Is a Wonderland." This piece is an acoustic celebration for boinking—a perfect song for any social gathering. Whether you are roasting wieners over an open fire with your family and friends or about to take a trip with a lover to the boneyard, John Mayer's got you covered. With lyrics like, "I love the shape you take when crawling towards the pillowcase" and the oh-so blunt "I'll use my hands," this song is hits like a drunken, warm ear whisper. The 2001 hit combines Mayer's signature breathy singing with deceptively simple-sounding alternating fingerpicking and strumming. Make no mistake though, this is John Mayer barely trying, and anyone who can simultaneously play and sing "Your Body Is a Wonderland" well is certified sex.
3. Green Day - "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)"
This song is not called "Time of Your Life," nor is it called "The Graduation Ceremony Song." Green Day's "Good Riddance" from 1997 stands as the ultimate departure music for a generation. While the lyrics might sound optimistic at first glance—"It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right/ I hope you had the time of your life" goes the chorus—the original intent comes from a dark place in singer Billie Joe Armstrong's heart. An article recapping the MTV Video Music Awards from a September 1998 issue of Billboard magazine quotes Armstrong, who said, "I wrote the song about an ex-girlfriend who moved to Ecuador, and I was really bitter at the time." That's right, this millennial mainstay is actually a sarcastic and scornful slam piece. Honestly, that probably makes it even better as the defacto graduation song. By the time the soaring violins kick in after the first round of the chorus, tears become inevitable. "Good Riddance" is the soundtrack for all things that must end. It will be playing as the universe takes its final spin.
2. Oasis - "Wonderwall"
No house party featuring a white guy wearing a puka shell necklace and holding a guitar was ever the same after the Oasis released "Wonderwall." It is a love song at its core, but it represents many things. It's about discovery and hope, but it could also be about finding the right bus ticket. During a 1996 interview with Rolling Stone, Oasis' Liam Gallagher said, "A wonderwall can be anything… It's just a beautiful word. It's like looking for that bus ticket, and you're trying to fucking find it, that bastard, and you finally find it and you pull it out, 'Fucking mega, that is me wonderwall." The article goes on to say the song was written for Noel's girlfriend at the time, Meg Matthews. Noel added, "Sometimes you don't care about trying to make the lyrics make sense. Fuck, it's only lyrics." If there are two things the Gallagher brothers are known for it's 1) "Wonderwall" and 2) being hostile toward one another and their own work. In spite of its basic chord progression and lyrics, there is nothing is simple about "Wonderwall" just as nothing is simple in life or Oasis. After all, "all the roads we have to walk are winding."
1. Plain White T's - "Hey There Delilah"
Long distance romantic relationships suck. Plain White T's 2006 triumph "Hey There Delilah" sets the misery of separation anxiety to a toe-tapping ballad. Singer Eric Remschneider shifts between optimistic lines like "Don't you worry about the distance/ I'm right there if you get lonely" to the pained chorus "Oh, It's what you do to me." "Hey There Delilah" is an odyssey of emotions and each word reveals a conflict. Take, for instance, "Times Square can't shine as bright as you." On one hand, the line is meant to be a compliment, because Times Square is a visual splendor and so is whoever you are probably dedicating this song to. On the other hand, Times Square is a big empty space surrounded by retail outlets and ads: it's fake. This song is basically just Remschneider's hurt screaming over some the violins. Only the best acoustic jams can manage this level of backhanded praise and self loathing and still make it sound pleasant.
You're probably screaming at this blog right now, but "Hey There Delilah" is scientifically the most horrible sing-along acoustic song for millennials. Why not "Wonderwall"? Indeed, "Wonderwall" is a beloved and annoyingly immortal song. It's a meme. "Hey There Delilah" is the next evolution. The emo lyrics speak to the innate pain in the millennial psyche. Whereas "Wonderwall" is about the other (it addresses "you"), "Hey There Delilah" is about "what you do to me." Millennials are The Me Generation or some shit, right? Delilah probably moved to New York City to try and become an artist or take more post-secondary schooling because there are no other viable options due to of terrible economic circumstances. Meanwhile, Remschneider bitterly sings, "Someday I'll pay the bills with this guitar."
Me too, bro. Me too.
Devin Pacholik got this 100 percent right. Follow him on Twitter.