Top 10 Allman Brothers Band Songs
When I speak of Southern rock, I’m talking primarily about The Allman Brothers Band—that amazing mix of rock, blues, and jazz from a group that was formed in Florida and then relocated to Macon, GA. Their music played in my high school cafeteria decades ago; and to this day almost nothing plays more on my iPod/iPhone than music from their first five albums:
The Allman Brothers Band (1969)
Idlewild South (1970)
Live at Fillmore East (1971)
Eat a Peach (1972)
Brothers and Sisters (1973)
At the heart of their success was raw talent. When will you ever find two better lead guitarists than Duane Allman (named by Rolling Stone as the #2 greatest rock guitarist of all time—behind only Jimi Hendrix) and Dickey Betts (named #58 on that list). Add to that the gritty voice of Duane’s younger brother, Gregg; a pair of incredible drummers, Butch Trucks and “Jaimoe” Johanson; and the dynamic bass guitar of Berry Oakley . . . and you’ve got Southern rock!
The group must have stood out in 1969 Macon, GA. Not only were they a bunch of longhairs walking around, but they were integrated. In Georgia. At the end of the ’60s.
Tragedy struck the group hard and early. On October 29, 1971, Duane—famous not only for his music with ABB but also for working with other great musicians (e.g., Eric Clapton was stuck on how to open his new song “Layla,” and called on Duane Allman, who came up with the opening lick, one of the most famous in rock history)—was killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon. Then, one year and thirteen days later (November 11, 1972), Oakley was killed while riding his motorcycle. They died within four blocks of each other; both were 24.
Here are my 10 favorite songs of the group. Note that I didn’t say these are their 10 best songs. Just my 10 favorite. At least, this morning. It’s hard to leave off some of my other favorites—”Southbound,” “Wasted Words,” and “Done Somebody Wrong” come to mind—but I’m trying to stick with just 10. So . . .
#10 – “You Don’t Love Me”
The song, almost twenty minutes long, is from the “Live at Fillmore East” album—named by Rolling Stone as rock’s greatest live album ever. If you love great guitarists, just sit back and soak it in. At 16:16, you can hear someone in the audience yell, “Play all night!”
But this is why “You Don’t Love Me” makes my list: near the end, at 18:19, Duane breaks into the melody of “Joy to the World.” Nineteen minutes of bluesy rock, and then a powerful lead guitar points in an unmistakeable direction. What did Duane intend by this? Anything?
I don’t care. You can’t be too careful if you’re trying to avoid God’s story. There are hints, clues, and echoes everywhere. Including March, 1971, at Fillmore East in NYC. Often, my favorite Christian music isn’t “Christian music.”
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#9 – “Statesboro Blue”
Incredible blues, soaring guitars, a different drummer out of each stereo speaker, a whiskey voice. What a start to the “Fillmore East” album!
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#8 – “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”
This instrumental piece was composed by Betts, who wrote it in honor of a woman he was seeing, but who named it instead for a woman whose name appeared on a tombstone at the Rose Hill Cemetery, where the band often went to relax and where Duane and Oakley are now buried.
It’s a great place to hear each of the musicians, including Gregg on organ.
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#7 – “Revival”
It’s gospel meeting time for the Allman Brothers. “People can you feel it? Love is everywhere!” When the whole group starts singing, you’ll really think the church choir is preaching! Hand-clapping, short bursts of solos—everything but an altar call at the end.
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#6 – “Midnight Rider”
Like the previous song, this first appeared on “Idlewild South,” an album so named because their house in Macon had so many friends coming and going through it that it was like Idlewild airport in NYC (later renamed JFK).
Be sure you don’t think of Willie or Waylon when you hear this, since they covered it (as did Joe Cocker, Bob Seger, Alison Krauss, Stephen Stills, Hank Williams Jr., etc.)—it was written by Gregg. Great man-on-the-run music:
I’ve got one more silver dollar,
But I’m not gonna let ’em catch me, no …
Not gonna let ’em catch
The midnight rider.
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#5 – “Ramblin’ Man”
This country-rock song by Betts is the only top ten single the band ever had. It reached #2, surpassed at the time only by Cher’s “Half-Breed” (ironically, since she and Gregg later married). This is the one I really hear in my mind as I remember eating in the school cafeteria my senior year (’73-’74) of high school. “Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man . . . .”
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#4 – “Melissa”
Still a gold standard. Here’s Gregg’s explanation of where his inspiration came: “I was pretty lonely, and I dreamed up this perfect woman for me—you know, the perfect mate. So I wrote the song, but I didn’t have a name for her. I was in the grocery store—a place that I don’t go very often—and there was this cute little girl running away from her mother down the aisle, and her mother was yelling, ‘Melissa, come back here.’ So I thought, ‘That’d do it.’ So I named it ‘Melissa.'”
Think how poorly that song might have fared if that little girl’s name had been monosyllabic.
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#3 – “Whipping Post”
On their first album, it’s a five-minute song. But the recording from Fillmore East is almost an album itself: 23:04. Duane introduces the song by saying, “We got a little number from our first album we’re gonna do for ya,” and a fan responds by yelling, “Whipping Post!” That became a familiar scream at concerts in the early ’70s even with other bands, as fans influenced by the “Fillmore East” album would just scream out, “Whipping Post!” (Later, it became more popular to scream, “Freebird!” from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song.)
The song has gritty vocals, dualing guitars, rockin’ rhythms. One of the most influential rock songs of all time.
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#2 – “Jessica”
You just won’t find a better instrumental rock song than this piece by Betts, named after his daughter, Jessica. It’s from the “Brothers and Sisters” album, and by then, following the deaths of Duane and Oakley, the band had been joined by Chuck Leavell and Les Dudek.
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#1 – “Blue Sky”
Remember: this is my list. I wouldn’t try to defend this as their best song. Just my favorite (today). It’s a pick-me-up that just fits a morning play list for someone with two granddaughters in North Carolina.
Good ol’ Sunday mornin’ bells are ringin’ everywhere
Goin’ to Carolina … won’t be long til I’ll be there
You’re my blue sky … you’re my sunny day
Lord, you know it makes me high when you turn your love my way
turn your love my way
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Well, what do you think? What ABB songs go on your favorites list? How about your #1?