Top 11 Southern Rock Songs

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Rock Cellar Magazine

Top 11 Southern Rock Songs

Frank Mastropolo

“Rock was born in the South, so saying ‘Southern Rock’ is like saying ‘Rock Rock.'”

—Duane Allman

  1. “Hold on Loosely” by 38 Special

“Hold on Loosely” was a No. 27 hit in 1981 for 38 Special. While the band is from Jacksonville, Florida, the song was written by Survivor’s Jim Peterik and 38 Special’s Don Barnes and Jeff Carlisi at Peterik’s home in Illinois.

“That first night, Jeff and Don are at my house in La Grange, Illinois and we’re sitting around the kitchen table,” Peterik recalled in Songfacts. “Writing sessions are always like blind dates: It’s like making love without the foreplay. Suddenly you’re sitting there face to face, and you’re thinking, OK, what do we do now? Am I going to embarrass myself? What if my ideas suck? So we’re sitting there nervously, just making small talk, and all of the sudden Jeff says, “I’ve got this lick,” and he starts with the opening lick of what became “Hold on Loosely.” I go, “That’s really neat,” and Don says, “I’ve got this title, “Hold On Loosely,” and I go, “Yeah, but don’t let go.”

“I immediately saw a story, and it was really my own story. I said, “Jeff, play that riff.” He plays the riff, and I start singing: “You see it all around you, good loving gone bad.” It just started coming. I turned on the tape recorder and said, “Guys, I think we have something here.” We got the stalk of the song in the next two days, then I fine-tuned it in the next two or three weeks. I flew down to Jacksonville where the band was rehearsing and basically worked out the song with them down there.”

“‘Hold On Loosely’ was a simple view into personal relationships and how it’s important to accept each other as they are,” Barnes said in Broadway World. “So many have commented on it as great advice. Combine that with an intense guitar track and it was a formula for success. In my opinion, that’s what has kept it popular all these years.”

  1. “Keep on Smilin'” by Wet Willie

Wet Willie formed in Mobile, Alabama, in 1969 and moved to Macon, Georgia, where they recorded their biggest hit, “Keep on Smilin’.” The tune, written by the entire band, reached No. 10 in 1974. Singer Jimmy Hall credits producer Tom Dowd for much of the record’s success.

“He listens really intently and stands in the room while you’re rehearsing, closes his eyes, absorbs all the sound and thinks about ideas,” Hall said about Dowd in American Songwriter.

Guitarist Ricky Hirsch was the first to contribute. “Ricky came to me with a guitar riff,” said Hall. “He said, Listen to this riff, it’s pretty catchy, what do you think? Being raised in the Gulf Coast down in Mobile, we loved the beaches, it felt like a sunny breeze on a beach.”

Once its lyrics were written, Dowd suggested a crucial addition. “Tom came to us and said it needs one idea. ‘You have a solo, but you don’t have a bridge,’ he said. ‘Let’s take that fourth verse and do this. Just give me a downbeat hit into the bass drum.’ And the band hit it: Just hanging out — boom — At the local bar — boom — Are you a farmer — boom — Are you a star — boom. ‘After that line, give me the full chorus and we’re going to ride it home with a vamp to the end.'”

“We tried it,” Hall said, “and it was just perfect.”

  1. “Tuff Enuff” by the Fabulous Thunderbirds

“Tuff Enuff” by the Texas-based Fabulous Thunderbirds reached No. 10 in 1986. Dave Edmonds produced the song, which became the band’s biggest hit. “Tuff Enuff” has appeared in a number of TV shows and movies including Ron Howard’s Gung Ho. “People were just ready for it,” singer Kim Wilson told Classic Rock Music Writer. “And there were a lot of key things that happened. Dave Edmonds producing for one and then the song ‘Tuff Enuff’ being in a few movies, it had a long shelf life. The song was still going a year later after it started going.”

Wilson, who wrote “Tuff Enuff,” told the Batavia Daily News, “When we had a hit record, that really changed things.”

Wilson said fans expected the band to stick with the style that brought them early success. ‘I realized that you live and die by the hit record. I mean, I had a couple of hits. But thank God I didn’t have too many where I have to play them until I was 100. You know what I mean? Because I want to go off in a lot of different directions.”

  1. “Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers

Howard and David Bellamy were born in Darby, Florida. The story of the Bellamy Brothers‘ 1976 No. 1 hit “Let Your Love Flow” begins with its writer, Larry E. Williams, who was one of Neil Diamond’s roadies.

“We did not write that song,” Howard Bellamy told Classic Bands. “A roadie for Neil Diamond wrote ‘Let Your Love Flow,’ which was our first song. We’ve written about every other thing. We befriended Neil’s band when we were out in Los Angeles.

“Neil Diamond’s drummer brought this song over — Dennis St. Johns. He said, “It sounds like something you guys would do.” We freaked over the song immediately.

“No one was as excited as we were. We just thought it was the best thing we’d heard at the time. And the rest is history. Still to this day, it’s been hard to top that song. It was like a rocket launch. It took off so fast on the charts. It’s been on everything from The Sopranos to several movies. You name it. The song, I think, will be around forever.”

  1. “Jackie Blue” by Ozark Mountain Daredevils

Ozark Mountain Daredevils are from Springfield, Missouri. “You kind of had to be a daredevil to have long hair in the Ozarks,” bassist Mike “Supe” Granda told Classic Rock. “So that’s how we got our name. Luckily it wasn’t too much of a problem for us, because we hung out in a pack. We were a longhaired rock ‘n’ roll band, but we weren’t crazy like, say Black Oak Arkansas. Our music was mellower, and so were we.”

“Jackie Blue” was aNo. 3 hit in 1975. Ozarks drummer Larry Lee brought the song to the group. “He said he wrote it about a guy we knew,” said Granda. “Every night, this guy would go out to the nightclub with a wad of money and a pocket full of blow and he’d be out there chasing women.

“So we played this song for about a year. After we recorded the song we went to LA to mix it, and A&M said: You’ve recorded a number one song, but Jackie needs to be a girl. So Larry took Steve Cash, our lyricist, into the other room, and three or four hours later they came out and Jackie was a girl. Larry laid his vocals down, and it flipped all of us out.

“We’d been hearing this song about a guy for a year and a half, and all of a sudden it was about a girl. But it sounded great.”

  1. “Heard It in a Love Song” by the Marshall Tucker Band

“Heard It in a Love Song” was written by Marshall Tucker Band guitarist Toy Caldwell and became a Top 20 hit in 1977. Singer Doug Gray told the Morning Call that he didn’t like the song at first.

“Well, it was kind of strange. I put off singing that song for a year because, here I was thinking to myself, “That’s just too simple of a song for Marshall Tucker to put out there,” with all these other complex songs that we’ve got out. I went to everybody and I just said, ‘Look man, I just don’t want to sing this song. I just don’t think it’s up to par.’ And it took a year. I used every excuse in the book — Oh, ‘I’m gonna be gone, I’m sick, I don’t feel good,’ you know?

“So it finally got to the point where the record was coming out. So they said, ‘OK, we got the track. You got to come put the vocal on it.’ I put the vocal on it, they put the thing out, and four weeks later it was starting to chart.

“Even though I didn’t want to sing that song — I thought it was too soft of a song. But yet, every night, people want to hear it. And if we didn’t do it, they’d beat us up.”

  1. ” Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by Elvin Bishop

Elvin Bishop was born in Glendale, California, and moved with his family to Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the age of 10. Bishop explained in Songfacts that he tried to sing his biggest hit, 1975’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” before turning over the vocals to Mickey Thomas.

“We had a guy right there, Mickey Thomas, who has the most amazing voice — he can sing a page out of the phone book and move people. And my voice is very plain. It’s better suited for blues. It’s been good for me, because it’s made my songwriting strong, because to really get over with a voice like mine, which is not a thrill in itself — the quality of the voice — you have to have a strong story and really good words to capture people’s imagination. And that tune, I gave it a try.

“We cut a track, it was a really nice track. I tried singing it, and I said, ‘That’s not buttering my biscuit, my vocal on this. Why don’t we give Mickey a shot at this?’ And the producer said, ‘Well, that’s big of you.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t think so. It’s just common sense, you know?’ And Mickey just tore it up.”

  1. “Cheap Sunglasses” by ZZ Top

“Cheap Sunglasses” was a 1979 single by ZZ Top. Dusty Hill of the Houston, Texas trio told Spin how the song came about. “We wrote that song when we used to tour in cars. And every gas station in the world had a cardboard display of the cheapest and ugliest sunglasses you could imagine. I have bought a thousand pair of them.

“The hip trip for us was to throw them into the audience as an offering. We ran out and we couldn’t get any more. We had to take a bad rap from an optometrist who said, ‘Don’t wear ZZ Top’s cheap sunglasses. They’re bad for your eyes.'”

  1. “Gimme Three Steps” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins of Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote “Gimme Three Steps” after Van Zant escaped a real-life shooting at the W.T. West Tavern in Jacksonville, Florida. Guitarist Gary Rossington explained on the Lynyrd Skynyrd History site how the 1973 tune came about.

“Me, I never danced in my whole life. We always played so people could dance. I never been able to. But anyway, this girl came over and wanted Ronnie to dance, because he was old, you know? So they went out and started twisting and doing the Monkey. This guy came in and said, ‘Hey, that’s my girl. You better get. What are you doing dancin’ with her?’ And Ronnie went, ‘Hey, I’m just having fun.’

“Anyway, this guy was gonna whip Ronnie for dancin’ with his girlfriend. They were in a little fight and the only reason the girl was dancing with Ronnie was because she was fighting with her boyfriend. Then the guy pulled a gun and said he was gonna blow Ronnie’s brains, you know? And Ronnie said, ‘Please just let me leave. I don’t know the girl. I don’t want to see her again.’

“And he turned around and he said, ‘If you’re gonna shoot me, you’re gonna have to shoot me in the ass or the elbows.’ And we started walking out, er, Allen and me saw Ronnie walking so we started to walk. We got to the car and we wrote it in the car driving back to the house.”

  1. “Melissa” by the Allman Brothers Band

Gregg Allman wrote “Melissa” years before the Allman Brothers Band formed. “I wrote that song in 1967 in a place called the Evergreen Hotel in Pensacola, Florida,” Allman recalled in the San Luis Obispo (CA) Tribune. “By that time I got so sick of playing other people’s material that I just sat down and said, ‘Okay, here we go. One, two, three — we’re going to try to write songs.’ And about 200 songs later — much garbage to take out — I wrote this song called ‘Melissa.'”

The song was released in 1972 as part of the Eat a Peach album. Allman explained how he came by the song’s title, which was once “Delilah,” in his book My Cross to Bear.

“It was my turn to get the coffee and juice for everyone, and I went to this 24-hour grocery store, one of the few in town. There were two people at the cash registers, but only one other customer besides myself. She was an older Spanish lady, wearing the colorful shawls, with her hair all stacked up on her head.

“And she had what seemed to be her granddaughter with her, who was at the age when kids discover they have legs that will run. She was jumping and dancing; she looked like a little puppet. I went around getting my stuff, and at one point she was the next aisle over, and I heard her little feet run all the way down the aisle. And the woman said, ‘No, wait, Melissa. Come back — don’t run away, Melissa!’ I went, ‘Sweet Melissa.’

“I could’ve gone over there and kissed that woman. As a matter of fact, we came down and met each other at the end of the aisle, and I looked at her and said, ‘Thank you so much.’ She probably went straight home and said, ‘I met a crazy man at the fucking grocery’.”

  1. “Uneasy Rider” by the Charlie Daniels Band

“Uneasy Rider” is the Charlie Daniels Band‘s tale of a longhaired driver’s stop to fix a flat tire during a cross-country trip. The title is a play on the film Easy Rider, which also portrayed a fateful trip across the US. The song was a Top 10 hit in 1973.

Daniels explained in Songfacts that the fictitious story came about while producing a live album for the Youngbloods. He traveled with the band to a three-day rock festival in the Deep South.

“I think it was the Youngbloods and the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane, and I don’t know who else. But you know what I’m talking about, one of those extravaganza-type things. And all these people were there at the motel. Of course, one of them stayed at the same motel we were staying at.

“And they were these longhaired hippie-type people, and the movie Easy Rider had not been out very long. Here we were sitting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with all these longhaired people, and I think a lot of them had the impression that if they were to get two blocks away, that somebody was going to run out with a pair of shears and cut their hair and threaten their life.

“I was born in the South, and to me this attitude was just kind of funny, you know. And that’s where the idea came from. I just took a guy and put him in a fictitious situation, and extricated him. But of course there’s no truth to it other than just being around people that kind of had the attitude, a fear of redneck bars. Of course, I don’t go to redneck bars either.”


Frank Mastropolo is the author of What’s Your Rock IQ? 60s & 70s Trivia Quiz Book, Vol. 1  and Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever.


  • Steve says:

    What about “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Freebird” Wow!

  • Scott Keithley says:

    No free bird or sweet home r a huge omission, southern rock, ROCK, Elvin Bishop, please

  • Don says:

    While there are several songs I agree with here, obviously you are way off course to have CDB at number one for a southern rock top 11…. Def should have Freebird or Sweet Home Alabama there!

  • Jim says:

    Can’t You See- Marshall Tucker, Green Grass and High Tides- the Outlaws, Sweet Home Alabama- Skynyrd, Ramblin Man- Allman Brothers, Gator Country- Molly Hatchet, Highway Song- Blackfoot

  • Edward Paredes says:

    Don’t forget about the second song on the second album name of the song is I Need You one the best songs on Second Helping.

  • Pat Stokes says:

    I think this list could be much longer!
    12. Freebird “Sykynrd”
    13. Sweet Home Alabama “Sykynrd”
    14. Highway Song “Blackfoot”
    15. Heard it in a Love Song “MT”
    16. Dixie Chicken “Little Feet”
    17. Ramblin Man “The Allman Bros Band”
    18. Dreams I’ll Never See “Molly Hatchett”
    and on and on

  • Bubba says:

    Zzz top la grange…Tush…,??💥

  • Gary says:

    Ah yes ! EBB. Myself and two girls were hitchhiking back to California from NYC when we, luckily, saw a K.W.semi truck at a restaurant parking lot. Well, on the cab door were the initials EBB-San Francisco. Long story short, we got a ride all the way to the bay area from that truck stop in P.A. from Elvins road manager, Archie (Steve Archer) . They were on tour to promote “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”. Safe to say that was the start of a cool relationship and experience. The band was playing with Wet Willie, Marshall Tucker, and Charlie Daniel’s. Anyway, just thought I’d share that.

  • Edwin Hart says:

    Are you serious? Im so tired of seeing “top”lists for southern rock ,written by shoe salesmen.
    I grew up on the music you take so lightly. Any true southern rock fan knows ZZ Top, Fabulous Thunderbirds and the Everly Brothers are not high on the list of southern rock bands. Hell im surprised you didnt include the Eagles like every other list. If you didnt live, eat,sleep and breath this music ,you shouldnt try to compile a list of the top, 11? I saw all of my heros live numerous times . From the original line ups to every change in members possible. I learned early on how to put myself in a position to meet, have pictures with,autographs,guitar pics, and drum sticks from all the bands through the years.
    I guess today it is easy to hear a song on the radio then google it and write what someone else already wrote.
    If this rag wants a real list of southern rock, not just the top 10 or 11, get back with me. I guarantee one that your readers can appreciate.

  • joe says:

    sho made this list how about free bird in memory of Elizabeth reed whipping post stevie ray vaugh just as a warm up

  • DJ says:

    Whipping pole

  • Pete Walton says:

    This list could unfortunately have been 100 long , but, some interesting facts. I met Don Barnes and tge current 38 Special lineup at the Indianapolis Airport last December. Great down to earth Southern Rock legends.

  • Francesco Landro says:

    Uneasy Rider sounds just like One Piece at a Time by Johnny Cash… who came first.??

  • Cwydler says:

    Jessica – Allman’s

  • Glenn says:

    There is to many to list an give justice all that should be on list

  • Rob says:

    I guess everyone will have a different set of song, but for me, #1 would be Freebird by Skynyrd, followed by Midnight Rider by Allman Brothers .

  • Bob Davidson says:

    Copperhead Road by Steve Earle

  • Bobby Lee says:

    Freebird,LaGrange, Whipping Post, (Any self respecting southern rock fan knows these are the top three)Can’t You See, Sweet Home Alabama, Statesboro Blues, Gimme Three Steps, Ramblin Man, Just Got Paid, Train Train, Hang on Loosely , Keep Your Hands to Yourself. Put the others in any order you want as long as they are in the top 15(I might have missed a few) Also, if you don’t think Z.Z. Top is not a Southern rock band then you either were not there in the beginning of this genre or you have been grossly misinformed.

  • Blud says:

    I do not, repeat, DO NOT agree with this list one bit. Being a musician born and raised in Jacksonville Fl, birth place of Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot I know a thing or two about southern rock. Lynyrd Skynyrd was the band at my high school homecoming dance way before they were famous. Sorry, you failed! Really not even close with this list. But, it was a well written article just not factually correct.

  • Joseph Bolz says:

    See the Yankee problem in America by Clyde Wilson.

  • Tony EVANS says:

    Gorra b more like the incredible blackfoot “fox chase” or jus bout anything they did in early 80s..kenny wayne shepherd too!!. How bot Stevie ray vaughan.. The great skynyrd deserves prob half ov the songs in there repatoire= best f. Rock music comes from down there… cept Paul Rodger. Ov course!! The VOICE

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