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Top 10 Allman Brothers Band Songs

2011 April 4
by Mike

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.”
– – –

#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!
– – –

#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.
– – –

#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.
– – –

#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.

– – –

#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 . . . .”
– – –

#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.
– – –

#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.
– – –

#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.
– – –

#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

– – – –

Well, what do you think? What ABB songs go on your favorites list? How about your #1?

32 Responses leave one →
  1. April 4, 2011

    Brilliant move to point out that this is your subjective list. Who can argue with that?

    On my list, “Midnight Rider” is #1. It’s also on my list of “Favorite 10 Songs by Anyone Ever.” So, yeah. I like it.

  2. Gerald Hinson permalink
    April 4, 2011

    You have good taste sir! The Allman Bros were magic. i grew up listening to southern rock and loved Skynyrd, Molly Hatchett and Marshall Tucker as well. But, these guys transcended southern rock. They were a very special band.

  3. S. Kellar permalink
    April 4, 2011

    Mike: You would love our Allman Brothers night. Each year on our annual “Buffalo Brothers Campaign” on the Buffalo River we play the Allman’s loud and proud. The hear it echo off the bluffs is something to experience. We are now well into over 30 years of our outings. The camping started one spring break when Harding asked everyone to “join a spring break campaign” and we chose the Buffalo River as our missionary grounds. My first time was in 1973. Still going strong!!

  4. April 4, 2011

    I think my Allman Bros “collection” is incomplete as I only have Eat A Peach. I thought I was doing great before this post.

  5. April 4, 2011

    Al – Fair enough. Wanna finish out your top 10?

    Yes, indeed, they were, Gerald. I had the same feeling when I heard Gregg Allman’s “Low Country Blues”!

    Steve – Why didn’t Bible majors get invited on that spring break campaign? Sounds wonderful!

    Daddy Dub – “Eat a Peach” is a great start. Next up: “Live from Fillmore East.”

  6. April 4, 2011

    Great post and a great list. The original line-up was before my time (I was about 2 months old when Duane died) but I discovered them in high school. When they regrouped and started recording and touring again in ’89 I was very, very happy. I have seen them live 5 times and their shows are still a wonder to behold. Their latter-day line-up featuring most of the originals along with Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks on guitar is still one of the best touring bands in the world. It would be hard to change your list but I will add some older and newer stuff:

    “Aint Wastin’ Time No More” & “one Way Out” off EAT A PEACH;
    “Seven Turns” & “It Aint Over Yet” off SEVEN TURNS;
    “All Night Train”, “Soulshine”, & “No One To Run With” off WHERE IT ALL BEGINS.

    I have to say that “Blue Sky” is probably my favorite as well. Anyone who can listen to that song and not be in a better mood afterwords needs an antidepressant.

    Now, with all of that said… you really need to see them live :)

  7. April 4, 2011

    This brings back great memories, which began for me with hearing all of this music blasting through my bedroom wall via my big brother’s 8-track player. While I love all of these songs, my personal favorite isn’t on this list. That would be the ABB cover of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “One Way Out” from “Eat a Peach.” Love Gregg’s vocals and the drumming, but I especially love the duel between Dickey Betts and Duane Allman in the middle. D.A’s frantic slide guitar just rocks me down to my white cotton socks.

  8. April 4, 2011

    I can feel the passion in this post Mike – well done!. Go figure – I loved Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Topp and even listened to Marshall Tucker, but just never hit stride with the Allmans. Thanks for the primer.

  9. Bob Anderson permalink
    April 4, 2011

    “Dreams.” Any version. It’s like the man invented the slide guitar. And “One Way Out” – especially from “Eat a Peach.”

  10. David U permalink
    April 4, 2011

    Ramblin Man for me !

  11. April 4, 2011

    In no particular order:

    It’s Not my Cross to Bear
    Revival
    Melissa
    Stormy Monday
    Aint Wastin Time no More
    One Way Out

  12. April 4, 2011

    Odgie – I hear you, but seeing them live now? With Dicky kicked out of the band? And Duane in the grave? That day is done, I’m afraid.

  13. ZOE David permalink
    April 4, 2011

    We already had a strong friendship but this just made the bond unbreakable. My college roommate introduced me to the Allmans — first song I heard was “Statesboro Blues,” and when it got to that slide bar chord Duane does early in the song (I know you know what I’m talking about), I nearly fell in the floor. At which point I picked the needle up from the record (yes, the record), cranked the volume all the way up, and played it again to see if it was really what I heard the first time. My top 5 are a little different than yours, being that I have trouble placing any post-Duane in the top 5 OTHER than Blue Sky. Your choice of Ramblin’ Man is the only one, though, that we need to have a serious discussion about. My 5: 1. Statesboro Blues; 2. Don’t Leave Me Wondering (the blues just don’t get better than this); 3. Dreams (such intricate passion); 4. Whipping Post; 5. IMO Elizabeth Reed. Honorable mentions for me: Blue Sky, Stand Back, Leave My Blues at Home, You Don’t Love Me, Dimples (an eclectic choice, I know, but hey, Duane sings).

  14. April 4, 2011

    ” I have trouble placing any post-Duane in the top 5.”

    You sure said sumpin’ there, ZOE David.

  15. April 4, 2011

    Matt,

    They are certainly not the same band without Dicky and Duane, but Warren and Derek are still two of the best guitarists around. The current incarnation may not be up to the original line-up, they can still blow any contemporary band off the stage.

  16. Erin permalink
    April 5, 2011

    You’re getting a cut from iTunes, aren’t you? :)

  17. April 5, 2011

    “Jessica” – there’s nothing like playing this song on Guitar Hero – esp. while playing w/my daughter, Jessica.

  18. April 5, 2011

    I’m with you on finding great Christian art in unusual places. “Here’s to the Halcyon,” by Old 97’s, is all about a guy trying to figure out how to turn his life around.

    http://listen.grooveshark.com/s/Here+s+To+The+Halcyon/2rZLLm?src=5

  19. D. Dallas permalink
    April 5, 2011

    Ah, the greats of the 50’s outshine all the above. But, christian hymns and psalms are my favorites now!

  20. Tina permalink
    April 6, 2011

    My taste in music runs to bands other than the Allmans, but I DO have an Allman tune on my iPod called “Pegasus”, from the Enlightened Rouges album. I heard it on the radio when I was a teenager and was never able to get it out of my mind.

  21. Skip permalink
    April 6, 2011

    Excellent! On the Layla recording I think The Legendary Producer, Tom Dowd, brought Duane and Eric together. History was made! I like the CD Peakin at the Beacon!

  22. Stevie Ray permalink
    April 7, 2011

    Thank you for this … I needed a reminder, and have loved this morning’s check-out drive of your list. I got the 4 CD set called “Dreams,” which is awesome – but it’s too much for my iPod, so I only occasionally get on the PC and hear it. I can’t possibly pick a top 10, but it seems a shame to leave off “Southbound.”

    Thanks, Mike!
    2 Corinthians & the Allman Bros – what a morning!

  23. April 8, 2011

    Ramblin’ Man: Back in the fall, I was in Robert’s Western World in Nashville, and I heard a lead guitarist for the house band totally tear this tune up–in a good way. Guy had more chops than any human ought to have. It was kind of funny; the bass player (who had toured with Johnny Cash), the lead singer/rhythm guitarist and the drummer looked pretty much like longtime Nashville club musicians, but the lead guy was about forty years younger than any of the other three and was dressed like he was playing with Snow Patrol or something. I think he was a hired gun from Montana. But the cat could play some lead. Duane and Gregg would’ve been proud.

  24. April 11, 2011

    First time I heard the Allman Brothers I was 12 years old and have come to the conclusion that,if you dont like their style of music,..you just dont like music. Good music that is.I would love to have a top 10 list but,I cant bring myself to leaving any of the others out of the mix .I konw I.m not alone when I say that they are such a great and perfect group of musicians,that even if their songs had no words at all,they would still be one of the best sounding ,best feeling , good time bands of all time. I only know that from back then to from now on,anyone who picks up a guitar will think of Duane and Dicky. and anybody that walks this earth and loves good music will certainly agree that if Duane was still alive today,he would clear the whole thing up ! Thats just my humble opinion.Gotta go listen to some tunes now. Thanks for letting me spout off.Hope I havent “Done Somebody Wrong”….Peace ;)

  25. Kevin Carey permalink
    August 26, 2012

    I’ve got to meet you brother….I’m an ex-preacher in the wilderness, and I perceive you are one of the few voices who can hear what I mean. ALLMAN BROTHERS ROCK!!!

  26. September 4, 2012

    Kevin – I’d love to have a pot of coffee, an iPod full of ABB songs, and a few hours to visit!

  27. January 5, 2013

    Looking forward to hearing Gregg Allman in Midland, TX, tonight. Opening by Royal Souther Brotherhood, which include’s Gregg’s son Devon.

  28. Joel Elliott permalink
    January 5, 2013

    Another vote for “One Way Out” from the 1971 Fillmore East performance. (Although given its subject matter perhaps I can forgive its omission, at least from your *public* list!) The rawness and savagery of the guitar work are spectacular and also foreshadow Dicky Betts’ emerging role in Duane’s absence. That guitar work, matched with the driving percussion and Gregg’s vocals, brilliantly epitomizes the ABB at an important apex in their history. I’d also place “You Don’t Love Me” near the top of my list, mainly for Duane’s astonishing lead guitar work that is complemented again with that driving percussion that would make any reasonably sensitive Campbellite–practicing or recovering–wanna get up dance.

  29. Bill Hooten permalink
    January 5, 2013

    Have you seen the BBC documentary on “Southern Rock”. I believe that it is available on “youtube” in its entirety. It is a nearly two hour program that looks at the growth, struggle, development and evolution of southern rock. Of course, most of it focuses on the Allman Brothers and Skynyrd. It is a fascination piece to watch. I lived in the Shoals area of Alabama in the early and mid ’70’s, and of course Muscle Shoals was right in the middle of all the southern rock. I can remember Charlies Daniels, Elvin Bishop, AWB, and many others being at the Lauderdale County Coliseum regularly — of course, being a Church of Christ preacher in training, and preaching for local churches, I never went (to my dismay to this day). “Midnight Rider” is, without a doubt, my favorite ABB song, but I really liked a lot of the southern rockers.

  30. james haynes permalink
    July 17, 2014

    this is down right weird – an article by Mike Cope from Pepperdine, church of christ preacher about the Allman Brothers Band. Its like my worlds are colliding as I serve as a minister in Churches of Christ and a life long ABB fan. Here is the deal Mike…

    This will blow you away!

    Did you know Dickey Betts grew up in a Church of Christ (near Bradenton I believe). Now listen to In Memory of Elizabeth Reed and compare that to the chorus of the old CofC song….”Oh Why Not Tonight”, now check the sheet music for Oh Why Not Tonight and look at who wrote the words.

    I have to say you should have included Aint Waistin Time No More….written after the death of Duane…”With the help of God and good friends, Ive come to realize, I still have two strong legs, and even wings to fly….”

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