Sometimes all you need to make a classic is a little bit of mandolin.
5. “The Battle of Evermore” (Led Zeppelin, 1971)
This might be the epitome of mandolin rock. What’s most impressive, I think, is that it’s the vocals that elevates the mandolin, turning some kind of play on an English country song into a a bonafide Zeppelin groove.
4. “Ripple” (Grateful Dead, 1970)
Measured in quantity, the mandolin is a small feature in this beloved Dead track (originally released as the B-side to “Truckin'”). Along with the playful guitars, simple drums, Jerry Garcia’s voice, and the ending choir sing-a-long, it’s part of a whole that’s bigger than the parts.
3. “Maggie May” (Rod Stewart, 1971)
Ray Jackson’s mandolin was an add-on to this pop hit, Stewart’s first big hit as a solo act. The mandolin compliments the album’s guitar preface, as well as Ron Wood’s 12-strong intro, not to mention the way it finds a musical hook to take us back to a more innocent time of youth.
2. “St. Teresa” (Joan Osborne, 1995)
Mandolin is not just for the early 70s! No, it was also a feature of the cafe sounds of the singer-songwriter mid-90s, the Gen x reboot of the early 70s. The first track off of Joan Osborne’s debut album is proof of that, as well as her creative string play.
1. “Losing My Religion” (R.E.M., 1991)
This is the pinnacle of Gen X mandolin. Perhaps that’s not saying much. But it’s a foundational part of this massive hit, the song that finished R.E.M.’s transformation from a “college rock” band into a popular, mainstream act. The feeling it provides the song is as important as the cryptic imagery of the video.