It is entirely a matter of taste as to which are the best Blues songs. However it is possible to speculate as to the most influential songs.
It can be argued that Blues music bought about a greater awareness of the plight of African Americans, as new audiences became interested in its origins and originators.
I clearly remember as an adoring fan of Muddy Waters; Howlin Wolf and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, feeling outrage at the early 60’s news reports that a whole people were subjected to such terrible discrimination. The anti establishment feelings so typical of my generation, and empathy with subjugated Black Americans, would manifest itself in the aggressive British interpretation of their Blues music.
The adoption of Blues music by young British musicians, and their successful introduction of that music to white America, inspired a whole generation of white American musicians to rediscover the music and popularize it. This brought recognition to the Black musicians that had created it.
It is the ten songs that had the greatest influence on the “discovery” of Blues that I am presenting here.
Blues music was introduced into Britain after the war. Records came in through the sea ports, and well informed successful Jazz band leaders financed visiting Black artists to visit and play on their shows. Inevitably, their performance influenced the young British musicians who, were looking for something different from the pre war dance band scene.
Written and recorded by Howling Wolf.
Smokestack Lightening is based on a driving riff and has no chord changes. Released in Britain in 1964 by Pye Records, it reached the Top 50. In 1999, the song was given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award
Written and recorded by John Lee Hooker, the first American blues artist to do a club tour of Britain. Boom Boom was released as a single in 1961.
Boom Boom is a classic example of Hookers unique timing and chord structure.
The Animals recorded “Boom Boom” for their 1964 UK debut album “The Animals”. Their rendition generally follows John Lee Hooker’s version, except it conforms to a 12 bar sequence.
Worried Life Blues
The first song written and recorded by Maceo Merriweather in 1941
Inspired by “Someday Baby Blues,” recorded by Sleepy John Estes in 1935, however “Worried Life Blues” has gone on to become a Blues “standard” and has reputedly been covered by more artists than any other blues song.
I Got My Mojo Working
Written by Preston Foster and popularized by Muddy Waters. Possibly the most influential of the Blues artists to visit the UK. Covers of this were made by many artists but of special importance were Alexis Korner, a pioneer and possibly the first British Blues band with Blues Incorporated, & Manfred Mann, a highly successful commercial band. Both versions were released in 1964, in itself a testament to the impact of Waters original.
Baby Please Don’t Go
By Big Joe Williams, and covered by “Them” becoming the first “hit” record by Van Morrison in 1964. It became the weekly signature tune for the hugely influential television show “Ready Steady Go”. The “B” side of the single featured the now-legendary “Gloria”. It became a top ten hit in the UK, and launched “Them” and Van Morrisson to world fame.
Hoochie Coochie Man
Written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Muddy Waters in 1957 but covered by almost every blues artist since! The verse and intro are played over “stops” that were to become a feature of many blues recordings. The first cover version was released in 1962 by Alexis Korner on his album “R&B from the Marquee”
Written and recorded by Robert Johnson in 1937 and largely unnoticed until Cream released their version in 1968. The song ranked #10 in the worlds greatest solo’s, contributed greatly to the world wide fame of the band and to Eric Clapton in particular.
This success bought Robert Johnson’s small but remarkable catalogue of songs to the attention of the music world and has earn’t him the acclaim he so richly deserves.
Sweet home Chicago
Robert Johnson 1937. This song has become the Blues “anthem”.
The list of artists who have covered the song is immense, including Magic Sam, Buddy Guy, Freddie King, Status Quo, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Blues Band, and the 1980 Blues Brothers movie.
Everybody Needs Somebody to Love
Written and recorded by Solomon Burke in 1964, For many years it was the opener for the Rolling Stones live shows. They released a live version of the song on their 1965 E.P. “Got Live if you want it”. The Rolling Stones were to become the most successful Rock band of all time, and they have been fundamental to the wider awareness and appreciation of the early Blues artists. They took there name from a Muddy Waters song “Rolling Stone”. The songs riff was “borrowed” for the first “Small Faces” hit single “What You Gonna Do About It” also in 1965. The successful “soul” artist, Wilson Pickett covered the song and it entered the US charts in 1967. This song also features in the 1980 “Blues Brothers movie” The song, as are several of those mentioned, is ranked on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
A twelve-bar blues written by Jerry Leiber and originally recorded by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in 1952. In 1965 she toured Europe as a part of the American Folk and Blues festival that had become an annual event and had become so influential to the emergence of British Blues. The 1956 remake by Elvis was his second #1 hit and is possibly the first blues song to become a #1 hit record.