Here in this article, we’ll go through the best mandolin songs of all time. I’ve selected some of the most famous and recognizable songs that feature the mandolin as a main or a secondary instrument. These songs are based on or composed around the mandolin and have that particular double string sound that makes them so distinguishable.

My name is Anthony and I’ve been producing folk, rock, and soundtrack music for several years now. I love the mandolin and use it every time I can, as it adds a natural and acoustic feel to my tracks.

Quick Look: Best Mandolin Songs Of All Time

#1 Best Mandolin Song Overall: Battle of Evermore


The songs I present here come in different genres and styles, from folk to rock, and always with that unique mandolin sound that we all love and cherish.

What Makes a Great Mandolin Song?

There are many different songs made with the mandolin, but what makes it a great song? Well, it’s the same as with any other good song: a unique and recognizable melody with great instrumentation and overall quality.

A bluegrass musician playing a mandolin

I personally believe that a great song must have a perfect balance between something new and unique and something familiar and recognizable.

Types of Mandolin Music

The acoustic properties of the mandolin make it a perfect match for folk, bluegrass, blues, and classical music, among many others. There is no limit to how you can use this instrument, as you can fit it in almost any genre or style you want to.


The mandolin is perfect for folk, as this musical style uses many traditional and acoustic instruments. One of the most famous mandolin players, David Grisman, helped to make this instrument even more popular in folk communities. His modern ’60s folk style made its way into popular culture through collaboration with the Grateful Dead.


The mandolin is essential for the bluegrass genre. The main difference between country and bluegrass is the use of traditional American instruments like banjo, fiddle, double bass, and the aforementioned mandolin. This instrument fits right in, and it adds some unique and beautiful harmonics to this musical genre.


It’s not that common to find the mandolin in rock songs, but over the years many famous and hit songs in this particular genre have been made with the mandolin. Many of those songs can be categorized as folk-rock or are unique enough to form a genre of their own, as they mix different sounds and ideas.


The classical genre is the hometown of the mandolin, as it was built to accompany an orchestra. The mandolin was frequently used to add some more definition to the pizzicato technique during the Italian baroque period. The mandolin later evolved and expanded into many different styles of music, especially with the resurgence of modern bluegrass and folk.

Although not so commonly used in classical music nowadays, the mandolin can certainly be found in mandolin concertos and other pieces written for this unique instrument.

10 Best Mandolin Songs

Here I’ll introduce some of my favorite songs made with the mandolin. Sometimes it’s difficult to choose the best ones, as music is certainly subjective when it comes to personal preference.

A close up hands hipster man playing mandolin instrument

In this list, I’ve selected a mix of some of the most renowned and famous songs made with the mandolin along with my personal favorites.

1. Led Zeppelin – Going To California

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Music type: Rock, folk
  • Artist: Led Zeppelin
  • Year released: 1971

The Going To California is folk song made by famous Led Zeppelin. It’s a unique and peaceful track recorded with acoustic instruments and some vocals. The mandolin is played by the bassist and keyboard player of the band, John Paul Jones, whose folkloric influences are felt throughout this piece.

In a pure ’60s hippie-styled folk, this song has a simple story about the personal experience of the band members in California, where they had their first encounter with an earthquake. Later on, this song was rewritten to include a personal story of Robert Plant’s family life.

Timeless and graceful, this beautiful track is one of my favorite ballads made by this band. They were able to blend iconic rock and folk songs perfectly in their album Led Zeppelin IV.

2. Rod Stewart – Maggie May

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Music type: Folk, rock
  • Artist: Rod Stewart
  • Year released: 1971

Maggie May is one of the most recognizable songs with the mandolin. You can hear this classic on the radio almost every day, even though it was recorded almost 50 years ago.

It was inspired by an old English folk song about a boy who had an encounter with a street worker. Although it’s not so politically correct by today’s standards, we must remember that the song was composed and recorded during the rebellious ’70s when almost every song questioned the status quo of the period.

This folk track has a catchy verse and chorus played with several acoustic instruments. With simple but effective vocals by Rod Stewart, this song made its way into the top charts all over the world.

The second part of this song centers around a catchy mandolin riff that has become quite iconic throughout the years.

3. Styx – Boat on the River

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Music type: Folk
  • Artist: Styx
  • Year released: 1979

Boat On The River is a hit song composed and recorded by American band Styx. It never charted in their native USA, but later on became a cult classic in European countries like Germany, Holland, and Switzerland, where the folkloric sensibilities of the song found a place and got the recognition it deserved.

The lead vocals and the mandolins are performed by Tommy Shaw, who recorded and composed this unique and interesting song that was released as a single in 1980. Its simple but elegant arrangements, which include accordion, acoustic guitar, mandolin, and tambourine, have more in common with European folklore than proper American genres, which is why this song was so popular in the Old World.

4. White Stripes – Little Ghost

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Music type: Blues rock, garage rock
  • Artist: White Stripes
  • Year released: 2005

Little Ghost is simple and energetic track that was recorded and published in 2005 by the White Stripes on their fifth studio album Get Behind Me Satan. Although not the hit song of the album, the track has a folky and catchy sound thanks to the several acoustic instruments used, including the mandolin and acoustic guitar.

The album this track is featured on is characterized by changing the lead guitar and melody approach into a more rhythmic style. Several acoustic instruments were used to that effect.

5. Antonio Vivaldi – Concerto for Mandolin in C Major

  • Difficulty: Professional
  • Music type: Classical
  • Artist: Antonio Vivaldi
  • Year released: 1725

The Concerto for Mandolin in C Major is a beautiful piece composed by the virtuoso Antonio Vivaldi in 1725. This piece was often performed side by side with the famous Four Seasons, the most iconic and famous work by this composer. In this concerto, we can hear how the composer interplays the orchestra with the solo instruments, which in this case is the mandolin.

Antonio Vivaldi is probably the most famous composer to use the mandolin in his works. The passionate Italian style blooms in this unique work with elegance and gracefulness, and unique baroque sensibilities are heard throughout this interesting piece of music.

This piece is one of my favorite classical works for the mandolin. It brings a unique peacefulness to my ears. If you want to hear the mandolin in its own original flavor and color, there’s no better place to start than this concerto.

6. Nickel Creek – The Lighthouse’s Tale

  • Difficulty: Professional
  • Music type: Progressive bluegrass
  • Artist: Nickel Creek
  • Year released: 2001

The Lighthouse’s Tale was written and performed by Nickel Creek, a band featuring the famous Chris Thile, who is considered one of the most important mandolin players in the world. This beautiful song, which sometimes comes closer to folk or pop, is about a lighthouse, its keeper, and his fiance.

This sad tale, written from the perspective of the lighthouse, tells the story of how the keeper’s fiance dies in a storm, which makes him jump from the lighthouse in despair. Although a little dark for this musical style, the lyrics have a positive twist at the end about how the lighthouse will withstand any storm and keep guiding the ships, even if it’s empty.

This song grew on me and has become a staple on my playlist. Simple and catchy vocals are accompanied by the virtuoso mandolin parts played by Chris Thile in his early years as a musician.

7. Rod Stewart – Mandolin Wind

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Music type: Country rock/folk
  • Artist: Rod Stewart
  • Year released: 1971

Mandolin Wind is a song on Rod Stewart’s third album Every Picture Tells a Story. This catchy folk-rock song is often compared to Maggie May, as both of those songs feature a mandolin throughout the whole song.

Here Rod Stewart delivers a unique mix of British folk and American rock in a simple but subtle way. This song is acoustic throughout, but at the end, some groovy drums come in for a final glorious chorus.

This old classic never got the attention that Maggie May did, but for many Rod Stewart fans, this song is a unique gem of its own. Mandolin Wind is really unique in the simplest kind of way, which makes it a true masterpiece.

8. R.E.M. – Losing My Religion

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Music type: Folk, rock
  • Artist: R.E.M.
  • Year released: 1991

This song could be compared to Maggie May for how famous it is for its use of the mandolin. Recorded in 1991 by American alternative rock band R.E.M., this song became a huge hit single for the band and propelled them into the mainstream spotlight.

Soon after being released, Losing my Religion became the biggest hit of their career. Charting No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and played frequently on the radio at the time, this song won two Grammys the year after its release.

Losing My Religion is not actually about religion, as many might think. This song is based on a typical trope of pop-rock, a story about one-sided love and platonic frustration. The name Losing my Religion refers to a Southern American expression that means to “lose your temper, become frustrated.”

9. Led Zeppelin – Battle of Evermore

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Music type: Folk
  • Artist: Led Zeppelin
  • Year released: 1971

Battle of Evermore is a beautiful song sung by Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin and Sandy Denny from Fairport Convention. The blend of two lead vocals from the singers of two of the most prolific bands at the time produced this unique folk duet played by acoustic guitar and the mandolin.

The song was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Jimmy Page composed the main mandolin base for the song while he was experimenting with the instrument, which was owned by John Paul Jones, the bassist of the band.

This folky song, like many others by Zeppelin, is inspired by J.R.R Tolkien and his fantasy world. The duel vocals are composed as a conversation between the narrator and the town crier, with each part sung by Robert Plant and Sandy Denny respectively.

The song is certainly one of my favorites of all time and could be considered a hymn for ’70s folk-rock music.

10. Grateful Dead – Friend of the Devil

  • Difficulty: Professional
  • Music type: Folk-rock, progressive bluegrass
  • Artist: Grateful Dead
  • Year released: 1970

Here we have a folk-rock classic from the Grateful Dead, recorded in 1970. On this track, the mandolin is played by David Grisman, who’s one of the most famous and prolific mandolin players in the world.

Grisman’s particular style, called Dawg Music, was a mix of gypsy jazz inspired by Django Reinhardt and more modern folk and jazz music. This is what he contributes to this hit song written by Jerry Garcia, John Dawson, and Robert Hunter.

The lyrics of the song are inspired by the adventures of the former manager of the band and his entanglements with women. His common-law wife at the time was Nicky Scully, a shamanic practitioner and a priestess of several cults.

Friend of the Devil is one of the greatest hits made by the Grateful Dead, and numerous bands have covered this song throughout the years. I really enjoy listening to this song, as it transports me to the sweet ’60s and ’70s when the Grateful Dead and their tours around the USA defined the culture of the whole generation.

Best Mandolin Players

It’s difficult to choose the best mandolin players, as each one brings something different to the table. There’s a mandolin master for every genre of music.

close up hands of a man playing mandolin

But even so, here I’ve selected some of the most important ones in my opinion.

Chris Thile

Chris Thile is commonly considered the best mandolin player in the world. His unique blend of classical, jazz, and folk is a product of years of practice, learning, and hard work. Chris Thile is certainly the most versatile mandolin player with a great range of different styles and genres under his belt.

The lead vocalist and a founder of Nickel Creek and many other bluegrass and folk bands, Chris Thile also has a quite prolific solo career, with several hit albums and collaborations with famous artists like Bela Fleck, David Grisman, Dolly Parton, and Jack White.

He’s one of my favorite mandolin players, as he always delivers a unique and fresh performance with interesting melodies and musical ideas.

Tiny Moore

Tine Moore is a swing and jazz mandolin player with a prolific career. His deep knowledge of this instrument made him a cult figure in the mandolin world, and he collaborated with another mandolin legend Jethro Burns on several albums.

Tiny Moore experimented with a different configuration for his mandolin, using a 5-string Paul Bigsby model that had five single strings including an additional low C string. This configuration made his mandolin sound almost like a guitar, creating a deeper and louder sound and tone in the process.

Tiny Moore has a unique and personal style, where every note is selected with great precision and care. His technique creates hand-tailored musical pieces with subtle elegance and refined taste.

David Grisman

David Grisman is an American mandolinist with over 50 albums under his belt. His work spans several decades, with his first albums released in 1966. This artist is hugely inspired by gypsy jazz and Django Reinhardt, and you can hear the influence of the latter in every chord and melody performed by Grisman.

Grisman is a living legend when it comes to the mandolin, as he recorded numerous albums with these instruments. He also played and toured with the Grateful Dead, since Jerry Garcia was a good friend of Grisman. Jerry Garcia was the one who suggested the name Dawg Music for the unique musical style created by David Grisman.

This artist has a certain freshness and relaxed attitude all over his music, and his melodies flow seamlessly into one another. Grisman is a master of the mandolin, and he knows how to use it in the most efficient and artistic way, giving us a beautiful ocean of never-ending musical ideas and bright melodies.

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In Conclusion

I really hope you enjoyed this list of the best mandolin songs of all time. Here we explored some of the best songs I could find that feature the mandolin. After this journey through many different musical styles and genres, you can certainly appreciate how versatile the mandolin is, as it can blend perfectly into several styles of playing.

Rock, folk, pop, country, bluegrass, and classical music are some of the genres that can be embellished by the mandolin, although you could certainly use it in almost any style of music. The natural feel and tone of this instrument can create cozy and warm musical textures for any song if blended correctly and with care.

If you found this article interesting or useful, feel free to leave a comment or share it.

And as always, good luck with your sonic adventures!