Blues music has been incredibly influential over the years, paving the way for the rock n’ roll revolution.
This list doesn’t only include some of the biggest names in blues history – BB King, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf; it also includes some of the lesser known stars.
Carry on reading to be taken on a journey through the blues era, with my list of the 55 best blues songs!
1. “The Thrill Is Gone” by BB King
This slow minor-key blues song was written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951.
In 1970, it became a major hit for B.B. King, with his rendition helping to make the song a blues standard.
His version differed from both the original song and King’s previous material, and it quickly became his signature song.
It earned him a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and a Grammy Hall of Fame!
2. “Me and the Devil Blues” by Robert Johnson
“Me and the Devil Blues”, recorded by Robert Johnson in 1937, is one of the best blues songs of all time!
It tells the story of the singer waking up one morning to the devil knocking on the door, telling him that “it’s time to go”.
Johnson recorded the song, among his many others, in a warehouse in Dallas that served as a makeshift recording studio.
Sadly, it was his final recording session.
3. “Evil” by Howlin’ Wolf
“Evil” is a Chicago blues song written by Willie Dixon, recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1954.
When he re-recorded it in 1969, “Evil” became Wolf’s final charting single, reaching number 43 on the Billboard R&B chart.
Wolf achieves a coarse, emotional performance with his strained singing, lapsing into falsetto.
The lyrics caution about the “evil” that takes place in a man’s home when he is away, ending with “you better watch your happy home”.
4. “Boogie Chillen’” by John Lee Hooker
The lyrics of this blues song are partly autobiographical, and was John Lee Hooker’s debut record release.
In 1949, it became the first electric blues song to reach number one in the R&B records chart, becoming influential.
“Boogie Chillen'” is described by critic Bill Dahl as “blues as primitive as anything then on the market; Hooker’s dark, ruminative vocals were backed only by his own ringing, heavily amplified guitar and insistently pounding foot”.
5. “Cross Road Blues” by Robert Johnson
What makes this song so interesting is the many different levels of meaning that listeners have interpreted.
The blues song has been used to perpetuate the myth of Johnson selling his soul to the Devil in exchange for his musical ability; however, music historians believe that Johnson’s verses do not support the idea.
The official video ends with the words “No Robert Johnson, no rock and roll” and we totally agree, whatever the meaning!
6. “Match Box Blues” by Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blind Lemon Jefferson wrote and recorded the song “Match Box Blues” in 1927 for Okeh Records in Atlanta, Georgia.
Jefferson recorded the song twice more in April 1927 for Paramount Records, and it truly is a classic blues song.
Sadly Jefferson died of heart trouble at the young age of 36, but the song has been famously covered since by The Beatles in his honor.
7. “Got My Mojo Working” by Muddy Waters
This classic blues song was originally written by Preston “Red” Foster in 1956.
In 1957, Muddy Waters adapted the song with some different lyrics and a new arrangement.
It was a feature of his performances throughout his career, with a live version in 1960 identified as the most popular.
Waters’ rendition has received several awards and, as a blues standard, it has been recorded by numerous artists.
It is said by many to be one of the best blues songs of all time!
8. “I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James
This famous blues song was first recorded by Etta James in 1967, and quickly became regarded as a blues and soul classic.
Critic Dave Marsh put the song in his book “The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made”.
Regarding the fact that Etta James had recorded the song during a break from heroin addiction, Marsh writes, “the song provides a great metaphor for her drug addiction and intensifies the story.”
9. “Baby, Please Don’t Go” by Big Joe Williams
“Baby, Please Don’t Go” is seen to have established Williams’ recording career and as one of the best blues songs of all time, popularized in 1935.
It is a likely adaptation of “Long John”, an old folk theme which dates back to slavery in the US.
Big Joe Williams used the imprisonment theme for his recording of this blues song with the lyrics expressing a prisoner’s anxiety about his lover leaving before he returns home.
10. “Sweet Home Chicago” by Robert Johnson
“Sweet Home Chicago” is a blues standard, first recorded by Robert Johnson in 1936.
The narrator of the song pleads for a woman to go with him back to “that land of California, to my sweet home Chicago”.
In 2012, the Obama’s hosted a celebration of blues music in the East Room of the White House, crediting this song.
11. “How Long, How Long Blues” by Leroy Carr
“How Long, How Long Blues” is a blues song recorded by duo Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell in 1928 – their biggest hit.
It became an early blues standard and its melody inspired many later songs.
Carr’s blues were “expressive and evocative”, although his vocals have also been described as emotionally detached, with clear diction.
In 1988, the song was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame for “Classics of Blues Recordings – Singles or Album Tracks”.
12. “Stormy Monday” by Bobby “Blue” Bland
“Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad)”, often referred to as “Stormy Monday”, is a song written and recorded by American blues electric guitar pioneer T-Bone Walker.
In 1961, Bobby “Blue” Bland further popularized it, giving the song an appearance in the pop record charts.
The song is included in the Grammy, Rock and Roll, and Blues Foundation halls of fame as well as the US Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
13. “Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker
Although this song quickly became a blues standard, music critic Charles Shaar Murray calls it “the greatest pop song [John Lee Hooker] ever wrote”.
The song is one of Hooker’s most identifiable songs and is described to be “among the tunes that every band on the [early 1960s UK] R&B circuit simply had to play”.
The song uses “a stop-time hook that opens up for one of the genre’s most memorable guitar riffs”.
14. “Born Under a Bad Sign” by Albert King
This 1967 blues song is often coined “a timeless staple of the blues”, and also had strong crossover appeal to the rock audience.
The lyrics describe “hard luck and trouble” angered by “wine and women”.
In 1988, Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame.
For the Foundation, Jim O’Neal called it “one of the signature hits of Albert King that started to win the left-handed string-bender”.
15. “Wang Dang Doodle” by Koko Taylor
“Wang Dang Doodle” is a blues song written by Willie Dixon and first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960.
In 1965, Dixon and Leonard Chess persuaded Koko Taylor to record it for Checker Records.
Koko Taylor’s rendition quickly became a hit, reaching number thirteen on the Billboard R&B chart and number 58 on the pop chart.
“Wang Dang Doodle” became a blues standard and has been recorded by many different artists over the years!
16. “Statesboro Blues” by Blind Willie McTell
“Statesboro Blues” is a blues song written by Blind Willie McTell, who recorded it in 1928.
The title refers to the town of Statesboro, Georgia.
Despite McTell being born in Thomson, Georgia, in an interview he called Statesboro “my real home.”
The eight sides he recorded for his album “Victor”, including “Statesboro Blues”, have been described as “superb examples of storytelling in music, coupled with dazzling guitar work.”
17. “Catfish Blues” by Robert Petway
David “Honeyboy” Edwards (a follower of Petway’s), when asked if Petway wrote this blues song, replied, “He just made that song up and used to play it at them old country dances. He just made it up and kept it in his head.”
Interestingly, there is only one known picture of Petway, a publicity photo from 1941.
18. “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” by Muddy Waters
“Rollin’ and Tumblin'” is a blues standard first recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern in 1929.
Coined a “great Delta blues classic”, it has been interpreted by hundreds of Delta and Chicago blues artists, including several recordings by Muddy Waters.
Rock musicians usually follow Waters’ versions, with the Cream rendition being likely the best known.
In 2022, Muddy Waters’ version was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in the “Classics of Blues Recording – Singles” category.
19. “Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton
Thornton’s recording of this classic blues song is credited with “helping to spur the evolution of black R&B into rock music”.
Professor Stephen J. Whitefield regards it as a marker of “the success of race-mixing in music a year before the desegregation of public schools was mandated”.
According to music professor Maureen Mahon, Thornton’s version is “important [to the] beginning of rock-and-roll, especially in its use of the guitar as the key instrument”.
20. “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” by Bessie Smith
When Bessie Smith’s recording of this popular blues song was released on Friday September the 13th, 1929 (in New York), the lyrics turned out to be oddly fateful.
The stock market had reached an all-time high two week previously, only to go into its biggest decline in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 two weeks later, signaling the beginning of the ten-year Great Depression.
21. “Hellhound on My Trail” by Robert Johnson
This hit was inspired by earlier blues songs, with blues historian Ted Gioia describing it as one of Johnson’s “best known and most admired performances – many would say it is his greatest”.
In 1983, Robert Johnson’s “Hell Hound on My Trail” was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame as a “Classic of Blues Recording”.
Jim O’Neal of the Foundation described it as “among the deepest and darkest of Robert Johnson’s legendary blues masterworks.”
22. “I’m Tore Down” by Freddie King
“I’m Tore Down” is a blues song first recorded in 1961 by Freddie King, one of the blues classics.
Pianist Sonny Thompson, who played on several of Freddie King’s early songs, is credited as the songwriter.
When Federal records released “I’m Tore Down” as a single in 1961, it reached number five on Billboard’s Hot R&B Sides singles chart and soared into blues lovers’ hearts.
23. “Help Me” by Sonny Boy Williamson II
“Help Me” is a blues standard first recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson II in 1963.
It quickly became a well-loved hit and reached number 24 in the Billboard R&B chart.
In 1987, it was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in the “Classic of Blues Recordings” category.
It’s featured on many Sonny Boy Williamson greatest hits albums including His Best, and was later included on the 1966 Williamson compilation More Folk Blues.
24. “Shave ‘Em Dry” by Lucille Bogan
Perhaps the most significant version of this blues song was recorded by Lucille Bogan in 1935, whose original recording appears to be a cleaned up version.
Despite its success, Bogan’s record company did not renew her contract in 1935!
There were two takes of “Shave ‘Em Dry”, and the unexpurgated, unclean take has explicit sexual references, often sung in after-hours adult clubs.
It’s an example of dirty blues, and has divided opinions for years.
25. “Dust My Broom” by Elmore James
Elmore James recorded the blues song “Dust My Broom” in 1951, and “made it the classic as we know it”, according to blues historian Gerard Herzhaft.
James’ adaptation of this old classic has been coined one of the most famous blues guitar riffs and has inspired many rock performers.
It has even been inducted into the Blues Foundation Blues Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, and the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
26. “Texas Flood” by Stevie Ray Vaughan
“Texas Flood” is a blues song originally recorded by Larry Davis in 1958, and later released by Stevie Ray Vaughan.
According to Clifford Antone, Stevie Ray Vaughan was introduced to “Texas Flood” by Angela Strehli at a Texas club, where the three of them worked out the song.
Drummer Chris Layton recalled that Albert King brought Larry Davis to the club several times, where Vaughan was attracted to the “intriguing guitar parts”.
27. “Voodoo Chile” by Jimi Hendrix
“Voodoo Chile” is based on the Muddy Waters blues song “Rollin’ Stone”, but with original lyrics and music.
At 15 minutes, it is Hendrix’s longest studio recording and features additional musicians in what has been described as a studio jam.
Music critic Charles Shaar Murray describes the blues song as “virtually a chronological guided tour of blues styles”.
Lyrically, he adds, the song is “part of a long, long line of supernatural brag songs”.
28. “Big Chief” by Professor Longhair
“Big Chief” was composed by Earl King in the 1960s, and it became a hit in New Orleans for Professor Longhair in 1964.
King wrote the song while attending school, and recalled the tune during a recording session with Longhair.
Longhair originally wanted to record the song with a small ensemble, but Wardell Quezergue, King, and Smokey Johnson convinced him to include an eleven- or fifteen-piece horn ensemble on the 1964 recording.
29. “I’m a Man” by Bo Diddley
“I’m a Man” is a 1955 rhythm and blues song written and recorded by Bo Diddley.
Unlike his self-titled “Bo Diddley” that was recorded the same day, “I’m a Man” does not use the classic Bo Diddley beat.
It is said to be inspired by Muddy Waters’ 1954 song “Hoochie Coochie Man”.
The single became a two-sided hit and reached number one on the Billboard R&B chart.
30. “Bright Lights, Big City” by Jimmy Reed
“Bright Lights, Big City” is a classic blues song which was first recorded by bluesman Jimmy Reed in 1961.
Said to be “an integral part of the standard blues repertoire”, the blues song has appealed to a variety of artists from different genres, who have recorded their interpretations of the song.
It got included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”, proving its significance.
31. “Spoonful” by Howlin’ Wolf
“Spoonful” is a blues song written by Willie Dixon and first recorded in 1960 by Howlin’ Wolf.
A “stark and haunting work”, it is one of Dixon’s best known and most interpreted songs.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed Howlin’ Wolf’s version as one of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”.
The song was later inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame “Classics of Blues Recordings” category in 2010.
32. “The Seventh Son” by Willie Dixon
“The Seventh Son” is a rhythm and blues song written by Willie Dixon, and it has since been covered by many other musicians.
The song refers to the seventh son of a seventh son of folklore, which Dixon referenced previously in his “Hoochie Coochie Man”.
Dixon took the idea, from southern folklore, that the seventh son of a family would be uniquely gifted.
33. “I Just Want to Make Love to You” by Muddy Waters
This 1954 blues song, written by Willie Dixon, was first recorded by Muddy Waters.
The song reached number four on Billboard magazine’s R&B Best Sellers chart, and has since been covered by many great blues artists.
Backing Waters on vocals are Little Walter on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Otis Spann on piano, Willie Dixon on bass, and Fred Below on drums.
What a high-profile ensemble!
34. “I Can’t Quit You Baby” by Otis Rush
This great blues song, written by Willie Dixon, was first recorded by Chicago blues artist Otis Rush in 1956.
Its lyrics are about the consequences of an adulterous relationship, which is difficult to end.
It was Rush’s first recording, and it quickly became a record chart hit as well as a blues standard.
Many believe that this is the track that kick-started Otis Rush’s career, making him the star he is today.
35. “Smokestack Lightning” by Howlin’ Wolf
Recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1956, this blues song became one of his most popular and influential.
It is based on earlier blues songs, and numerous artists later interpreted it.
Howlin’ Wolf said the song was inspired by watching trains in the night: “We used to sit out in the country and see the trains go by, watch the sparks come out of the smokestack. That was smokestack lightning.”
36. “Hoochie Coochie Man” by Muddy Waters
This blues standard was written by Willie Dixon and was first recorded by Muddy Waters in 1954.
The unique song, like many of Waters’ others, references folk magic elements and makes use of a stop-time musical arrangement.
It became one of Waters’ most identifiable songs and helped secure Dixon’s role as Chess Records’ chief songwriter.
The song is a classic of Chicago blues and one of Waters’ first recordings with a full backing band.
37. “It Hurts Me Too” by Elmore James
Several versions of “It Hurts Me Too” were recorded in the 1940/50s, and, when Elmore James recorded it in 1957, he supplied some of the lyrics.
James’ 1957 Chief version did not appear in the charts but, after he recorded the song again in late 1962, it became a hit.
When it was released in 1965, two years after James’ death, the blues song reached number 25 on the Hot R&B Singles chart.
38. “All Your Love” by Otis Rush
All Your Love” is a blues standard written and recorded by Chicago blues guitarist Otis Rush in 1958.
It is the best-known of all of his compositions, with versions by several blues and other artists.
According to Rush it was an impromptu song “apparently dashed off … in the car en route to Cobra’s West Roosevelt Road studios”.
In 2010, the blues song was finally inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame.
39. “Pride and Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughan
This blues song is by Texas singer/guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and his backup band Double Trouble.
It was released as Vaughan’s first single and has become one of his most-loved songs.
According to Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton, Vaughan wrote it for a new girlfriend at the time; ironically, a later fight with her inspired his hit “I’m Cryin'”.
Vaughan’s song reached number 20 on Billboard magazine’s Mainstream Rock chart – a loved crossover hit.
40. “Dimples” by John Lee Hooker
This blues song was written and recorded by John Lee Hooker in 1956 as an ensemble piece, with Hooker accompanied by Jimmy Reed’s backup band.
It became Hooker’s first record to appear in the British record charts, but not for 8 years after its release!
Coined a “genuine Hooker classic” by music critic Bill Dahl, it is one of his best-known songs, with interpretations by artists of varying genres.
41. “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream
Cream’s 1966 debut album, “Fresh Cream”, was a mix of updated blues numbers and pop-oriented rock songs.
Inspired by recent developments in rock music, the group began pursuing a more overtly psychedelic direction, which plunged them into the blues world.
Music writers Covach and Boone describe the riff as blues-derived, which uses a minor blues pentatonic scale.
42. “Red House” by Jimi Hendrix
This blues song was written by Jimi Hendrix and was recorded in 1966 by the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Hendrix developed the song prior to forming the Experience and was inspired by earlier blues songs.
The song was a fixture of Hendrix concerts throughout his career and, although the lyrics and basic structure were followed, his performances usually varied from the original recording.
43. “Mannish Boy” by Muddy Waters
First recorded in 1955, this blues song serves as an “answer song” to Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man”.
Despite the song containing sexual boasting, its repetition of “I’m a man, I spell M, A child, N” was understood as political.
Waters had left the South for Chicago: “Growing up in the South, African-Americans [would] never be referred to as a man – but as ‘boy’. In this context, the song [is] an assertion of black manhood.”
44. “Good Morning, School Girl” by John Lee “Sonny Boy Williamson
This blues standard has been identified as an influential part of the blues canon, with pre-war Chicago blues vocalist and harmonica pioneer John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson first recording it in 1937.
Despite being identified with Chicago blues, a write-up in the Blues Hall of Fame notes “it was a product of Sonny Boy’s west Tennessee roots and his pre-Chicago ensemble work”.
45. “My Babe” by Little Walter
“My Babe” is a Chicago blues song and a blues standard written by Willie Dixon for Little Walter.
Dixon based it on the traditional gospel song “This Train (Is Bound For Glory)”, recorded by Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
He reworked the arrangement and lyrics, turning it into the blues number we all know and love today.
46. “I’m a King Bee” by Slim Harpo
“I’m a King Bee” is a swamp blues song written and first recorded by Slim Harpo, whose legal name was James Moore, in 1957.
It has been performed and recorded by numerous blues and other artists since, becoming extremely influential to music today.
In 2008, Slim Harpo’s original single received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.
47. “Memphis Blues” by W.C. Handy
This blues song is described by its composer, W. C. Handy, as a “southern rag”.
It wasn’t self-published by Handy until 1912, despite being written in 1909, and has been recorded and released by many other artists over the years.
Subtitled “Mr. Crump”, this old blues song is said to be based on a campaign song written by Handy for Edward Crump, a mayoral candidate in Memphis, Tennessee.
48. “Crazy Blues” by Mamie Smith
“Crazy Blues”, renamed from the originally titled “Harlem Blues”, was by Perry Bradford.
Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds recorded it in 1920, selling an astounding 75,000 within a month of the release!
This song’s amazing claim is that it was the first recording with a blues title by a black artist, making history.
It entered the Grammy Hall of Fame, and later the National Recording Registry of the United States Library of Congress.
49. “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” by Clarence “Pinetop” Smith
“Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” was released in 1929 by Clarence “Pinetop” Smith.
This blues hit is sometimes coined as “the first rock and roll song”, being an early instance of a danceable 12 bar blues with backbeat.
This recording was made in 1928, and its lyrics are almost exclusively instructions to dancers in the audience, as was traditional at the time.
50. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” by Lead Belly
Versions of this song have been recorded by numerous artists in many genres, but it is most often associated with American blues musician Lead Belly.
Another version of the song by English Beat music group the Four Pennies reached the top-twenty in the United Kingdom.
A live rendition by American grunge band Nirvana, based on Lead Belly’s interpretation, was recorded during their MTV Unplugged performance in 1993.
This song was truly an international hit!
51. “Trouble So Hard” by Vera Hall
“Trouble So Hard” was an influential classic blues song, sung by Dock Reed, Henry Reed, and Vera Hall in Alabama.
Many say it was reminiscent in style of the slavery era, when the congregation sang without hymnbooks or musical accompaniment.
The style of singing – the lead singer’s call and the congregation’s increasingly loud and forceful response – had its roots in African religious practice.
52. “Payday” by Mississippi John Hurt
“Payday” is a gentle number from iconic blues performer Mississippi John.
Many believe that its fingerpicking guitar melody is perhaps more akin to folk than blues, however it certainly rocked the blues world.
Throughout his lengthy career, “Payday” was seen to be Mississippi John’s signature number, rounding out his personality and causing us to fall in love.
53. “Ball and Chain” by Big Mama Thornton
This blues song was written and recorded by American blues star Big Mama Thornton.
Despite her recording failing to appear on the record charts, the song is one of Thornton’s best-known, likely due to performances and recordings by Janis Joplin.
The song was recorded by Thornton in 1960, but the hip-swinging hit remained unreleased until 1968!
54. “Still Got the Blues” by Gary Moore
This blues song was written and performed by Northern Irish guitarist Gary Moore.
It was released as a single and reached number 31 on the UK Singles Chart in May 1990, a moderate success.
Moore also filmed a basic music video for the song, performing well in the digital age.
The blues song was covered by Eric Clapton on his 2013 album Old Sock as a tribute to Moore following his death in 2011.
55. “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett
“Mustang Sally” was originally an R&B song written and recorded by Mack Rice in 1965.
It gained enormous popularity when Wilson Pickett covered it the following year, a version that was also released on his 1966 album, The Wicked Pickett.
It has since been covered by many other artists, including John Lee Hooker who recorded an entirely different song with a similar title — “Mustang Sally & GTO.”
Best Blues Songs – Final Thoughts
You’ve reached the end of my list of the 55 best blues songs!
Writing this brought me warmth, serenity, and nostalgia, and I hope it did the same for you.