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Top 10 Best Songs to Play in a Bar With a Classic Rock Cover Band

Steve Witschel has been an online music writer for seven years.

Songs to play at a bar with a classic rock cover band

Songs to play at a bar with a classic rock cover band

Good Bar Songs to Play With a Cover Band

I've been playing music in bands for 30 years—original and cover. While both involve live performance, the approach in presentation varies considerably.

Original bands tend to play venues that are designed for showcasing the artist as the main attraction. The object of the gig is to acquire new fans while pleasing existing fans (if any). You want to gather e-mail info, sell merchandise, including CDs, and meet new people. In short, it's a promotional tool.

Cover bands, on the other hand, have a different approach. You'll find just about every one of them playing at a venue that serves alcohol. The performer's primary objective is to make sure that the bar gets folks to come in, stay and spend their money. From the band's point of view, the best way to accomplish this mission is to play songs that please the masses—by picking tunes that most everybody knows and have proven to work well time and time again.

This list is by no means official . . . but based on my experience, I think it's a fairly accurate representation of the songs you'll hear most often in any nightclub with a live cover band in any city in this country.

10. "American Girl" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Featured in several feature films and covered by over two dozen major artists, including Pearl Jam, Gin Blossoms, Matchbox Twenty, Def Leppard, and Taylor Swift, Tom Petty's 1976 upbeat classic from his debut album still holds up as a great party tune.

9. "Play That Funky Music" by Wild Cherry

The only one-hit-wonder band in the Top 10, "Wild Cherry" hit #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart on September 18, 1976, with this early disco-era song. Singer/songwriter Robert Parissi was inspired by the Ohio Players hit "Fire" and came up with the similar riff and groove. Today, it is THE most popular dance/disco song that you will hear being played by a live band.

8. "Summer of '69" by Bryan Adams

"Summer of '69" was released as a single internationally in June 1985 and charted on the Billboard Hot 100 where it peaked at #5. Regarding the song's seemingly double entendre theme, Adams has stated that the song was about sex but also making love in the summertime. People of all ages sing along to this tune, even if they're not aware that they're doing it.

7. "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison

From Wikipedia:

"Brown Eyed Girl" has remained a popular classic pop song that continues to be played regularly on many radio stations and is featured on the top ten list as one of the most played songs by DJs. It has been covered by hundreds of bands over the years and has earned many awards for Morrison. Ever since its release in 1967, it has been widely considered one of the greatest songs ever written.

6. "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond

Although it was released back in 1969, Neil Diamond's platinum-selling hit has become a cover band staple. Some years ago, bar patrons came up with a way to participate, chanting "so good, so good, so good" in the chorus after the lyric is sung, and the trend spread like wildfire. Nowadays, if the song isn't already a part of the band's setlist, someone will inevitably request it.

5. "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield

Not many actors have been able to successfully juggle both a TV and music career, but Rick Springfield is an exception. Although he had been playing music for most of his life, Springfield broke out as a star as an actor on ABC's daytime soap opera General Hospital in 1981.

That same year, he released this single about unrequited love (or lust) which held the #1 spot on Billboard's Hot 100 chart for two weeks, and also won him a Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Performance. If there are girls in the crowd, this song will get them dancing on tables, or quite often, dancing on stage.

4. "Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi

It was the second single off of Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi's third studio album. It was their second consecutive #1 hit. But most importantly, it was this song that took the band from opening act status to certifiable mega-rockstars. With its sing-along chorus and catchy guitar riff, "Livin' on a Prayer" is THE song that today defines '80s hair bands.

3. "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns N' Roses

It starts with one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in the history of rock and roll. It's a ballad—yet it rocks. And chances are, you know every lyric and find yourself helplessly playing air guitar during Slash's iconic solo. This was the only #1 hit for Guns N' Roses, and it also enjoyed major airplay on MTV in the fall and winter of 1988. When a cover band wants a crowd to stick around, this is the song they play.

2. "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd

It's a given to experience when working in a cover band. Somebody almost always yells out "FREEBIRD!" from the back of the room. But it's this Skynyrd song that gets the most requests and play. Written and released in 1974 as a tongue-in-cheek response to Neil Young's "Southern Man" and "Alabama," "Sweet Home Alabama" reached #8 on the U.S. charts and remains the band's most enduring hit song. If you play in a cover band, you play this song. Period.

1. "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey

I've heard some emcees say, "There are two types of people in this world—Journey fans . . . and liars." This is the granddaddy of 'em all. From the very first piano chord, you know where you are. You've heard the song on the radio, at parties, on TV shows . . . and you know the words. This is the go-to song when a band wants to get people jumping up and down and singing along. I can honestly say, after playing this song hundreds and hundreds of times, that I still love it.


PaigSr from State of Confusion on October 20, 2014:

Thanks for the music. The one thing I might add is a poll to find out the readers favorite. The down side of this is picking just one.

Mark from Alabama,USA on October 17, 2013:

Awesome hub, being a musician myself for 30 years I agree.

Great List

tastiger04 on July 24, 2013:

Great list! I agree with you on these....thanks for sharing :)