Pop songs dominate the radio airwaves with their sensible formulas that always touch a soft spot. Whether they are feel-good songs or songs of heartache, people can always seem to relate to them.
As a genre, pop is a pretty broad term. However, if you’ve ever wanted to learn some for yourself, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the best pop songs to learn on guitar. These will include some modern hits as well as timeless classics.
Table of Contents
“All Of Me” by John Legend
John Legend’s popular song All Of Me remains to be one of the most famous songs in his catalog. Fans of this song love the lyrical aspect of this tender love song.
While this song features the piano quite prominently, you can easily adapt it to the guitar. Even if you don’t have the same voice as John, this makes a perfect ode to someone you love.
“Let’s Dance” by David Bowie
When it comes to pop music, no list would ever be complete without mentioning David Bowie. This man had done more for music than most artists could ever hope to accomplish.
As an artist, Bowie frequently reinvented himself (and, at times, his persona) to stay current with the times. The result allowed him to have many hits throughout the decades of his career.
The song Let’s Dance is an excellent pop song through and through. Plus, it has some killer guitar work by Stevie Ray Vaughan.
In a way, Bowie helped to set a precedent for having virtuosic guitar work involved in the pop setting. You’ll see this trend continue with some of the other songs on this list.
“Whip It” by DEVO
Are you looking to bust a move on the dance floor? You have to have Whip It playing at least for a little bit!
This song has it all. You’ll find zany lyrics, catchy guitar lines, and spooky-sounding synth lines.
Plus, this song has an easy-to-remember chorus that everyone can bust out in a group. After all, when the whip needs cracking, you best do it “good”!
DEVO was an absolute powerhouse during their heyday as a band. They showed that you could have an actual band and still create absolutely infectious pop songs.
Don’t write off this group just because they wear those funny-looking red helmets. You’d be missing out on some excellent pop music that really bends the line of music genres.
You might not know it, but Mark Mothersbaugh, one of the founding members, has had his music throughout pop culture. He composed scores for Rugrats, Beakman’s World, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and many more.
“Beat It” by Michael Jackson
Tired of whipping it? Why not try to apply the beat down instead?
Michael Jackson’s Beat It is an iconic song within the pop music catalog. What more would you expect from the King of Pop himself?
Perhaps the catchiest aspect of Beat It is the signature guitar line that plays throughout the song.
In a way, it’s almost reminiscent of the aforementioned Whip It. Maybe he took inspiration from it, as it was released 2 years prior to Beat It.
There’s just something about this circular type of riff that hits the soul in the right way. Of course, this is only augmented with some killer lead guitar work over the top.
Believe it or not, it was Eddie Van Halen who played lead guitar on this song. He actually did it for free to do a favor for producer Quincy Jones.
“Purple Rain” by Prince
If we are to mention the King of Pop, it is only right to also mention Prince. Where MJ liked to stay within the lines, Prince’s creativity and lyrical content had no borders.
As a song, Purple Rain hit the #2 spot on the pop charts in the United States. It really helped to propel Prince into the mainstream spotlight, giving him much-deserved attention.
Prince actually wrote this song after being inspired by Bob Seger’s music. He followed the same touring path as Seger and was astonished by how people connected with some of his songs.
Of course, the song also played an important role in Prince’s film of the same title. It even became a smash hit during concerts, with fans connecting to it much as they did with Seger’s music.
You could say that the result of this song was a mission accomplished.
“Love On The Weekend” by John Mayer
John Mayer’s 2016 album The Search For Everything has songs of every variety of flavors. In fact, this album is a perfect example of Mayer’s pop sensibilities and his diversity.
Mayer isn’t completely straight-up pop on this album. His excellent musicianship is also on display throughout every track on the album.
Love On The Weekend is one of his more quaint country-style songs on the tracklist. It tells the tale of a romance where each person can only see each other on the weekend.
Despite its simple subject content, it’s a story that many people can likely relate to. Everyone’s weeks are full of the busy bustling schedule filled with work and errands.
It isn’t until the weekend that people are usually free to get away and do as they please. This song seems to capture that situation quite well both lyrically and musically.
“My Girl” by The Temptations
As you explore The Temptations band history, you could say that My Girl is a song that might be considered an “oldie but goodie” by today’s standards. However, My Girl was a serious chart-topper upon release, hitting #1 in the US, and #2 in the UK.
Who can deny the musicality of this song? It features a bass line played by James Jamerson, accented by some signature arpeggiated guitar lines throughout.
And really, this is truly a song that can part the clouds and make the sun shine brightly. It’s bound to be stuck in your head if you hear it just one time.
You could say that this song’s effectiveness is due to the great songwriting abilities of Smokey Robinson. Although he wasn’t in the group, he and Ronald White gave the song to The Temptations.
It turns out that this duo was actually writing this backstage on tour. The Temptations heard it and convinced the duo to let them record the song.
The rest is, as you could say, history. My Girl is forever one of the greatest pop songs ever written.
“Down Under” by Men At Work
Speaking of smash-hit chart-topping pop songs…Men At Work’s Down Under is another classic pop song that will remain one of the best.
The group is actually from Australia, where the song takes its title and lyrics from. Despite its fun atmospheric feel, the song is actually about how the country sold out and became overdeveloped.
Ironically, this song had taken a role as a bit of a patriotic theme song for Australians. Perhaps nobody really paid much attention to those demeaning lyrics, after all.
You’ll hear many Australian terms in this song, which might have been a foreign concept before its release. So, remember to tip your hat to Men At Work when you’re chomping down a Vegemite sandwich.
Down Under reached the #1 spot in the US, the UK, and Australia. In Australia, this song actually held the #1 position for 9 straight weeks.
Since then, Down Under has been featured in many TV shows and films. It still enjoys quite a bit of air time on radio stations as well.
Really though, between the synthy musicality and the catchy chorus, this song is hard to deny. This is one of the rare songs from the 1980s that still holds up quite well today.
“Kids” by MGMT
Around 2008, MGMT took the music world by storm. Their first release Oracular Spectacular was loaded with hits, with Kids being one of them.
What’s ironic is that MGMT mockingly made an album of pop music as a joke. The idea was that it would sell better than any sort of educated effort at composition could make.
Perhaps they were right, as this was one of their better-selling albums. Unfortunately, their formula quickly wore off, with the band cooling off as fast as they rose.
Despite this, Kids, and Oracular Spectacular in general, is still an excellent spin. It is a snapshot of how pop music was evolving in the early 2000s.
“You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift
Love her or hate her, you have to give credit where credit is due. Taylor Swift has been able to be successful in nearly every single year of her career.
This, in turn, has spawned legions of die-hard fans who hold her music close to their hearts. At the end of the day, that is any musician’s goal.
Taylor Swift often gets a bit of a bad rap for writing breakup songs. However, You Belong With Me is actually quite the opposite.
Interestingly enough, the song was inspired by an incident Taylor overheard involving a man on his cell phone. His girlfriend was yelling at him for having to hang up, while he incessantly apologized.
What resulted from this occasion was the spark of inspiration Taylor needed for a song. She used this event as a basis for her lyrics but gave it a nice twist.
You Belong With Me is literally saying how she would be a much better partner than the one he’s with. Any guy who’s been in those shoes probably wouldn’t turn down at least one date with Taylor.
“Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People
Foster The People has an interesting story. Originally, the group was the solo project of Mark Foster, who was primarily writing commercial jungles.
Eventually, Mark found that his compositions were too much for commercials and formed a band. Their first release was the song Pumped Up Kicks, released in 2011.
It is not often that a group’s debut single ends up being a smash hit. In fact, this reached all the way to #3 in the US.
Lyrically, the song has very serious subject matter. You might innocently write it off, thinking it's about those old shoes from the 1990s.
In reality, this song touches on the impact of gun violence, particularly among children. There was a time when people were actually killed for the shoes they were wearing.
This sort of stuff might still happen on occasion, and really, it’s quite a shame. It’s songs like these that force us to have serious conversations aiming for a solution.
“What Goes Around… Comes Around” by Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake is one of the only people to come from the boyband era and make their own careers. In fact, it could be argued that he is far more successful now than in that era.
Whatever your opinion might be, you have to hand it to Justin. He’s proved that he actually has an artistic vision far beyond what you might expect from him.
The song What Goes Around… Comes Around is a perfect example of this. This track, released in 2006, hit #1 in the US, and #4 in the UK.
Lyrically, this song really spells out the subject matter of infidelity. Justin does not hold back in his delivery, or the words that he sings.
Supposedly, this song was inspired by his friend, who found out his partner (Elisha Cuthbert) was cheating. Except, he found out from a newspaper as she didn’t tell him directly.
Despite this, you can tell that Justin takes this to heart with this song. In his music video, featuring Scarlett Johansson, he actually broke a finger during a fight scene.
This music video even won accolades, which helped to propel this song to the top of the chart.
“Ghost Town” by Adam Lambert
As far as modern pop songs go, Ghost Town has all of the elements you’ll typically find. Lush, reverbed lyrics coupled with a lonely guitar start out this track, playing into the title’s spookiness.
Of course, this then turns into a sort of electronic dance track somewhat reminiscent of an upbeat Depeche Mode. Playing further into the spookiness is a whistle as if taken from a Western film.
You might be wondering how you’d even go about playing something like this on guitar. Well, you’d be surprised what you can do with some chords and a bit of creativity.
“I’ve Just Seen A Face” by The Beatles
Pop music has quite the debt of recognition to owe to The Beatles. Music, in general, is split up into two periods: before The Beatles, and after The Beatles.
Without the Fab 4, much of the integral pop sensibilities we take for granted today would just not be. The Beatles literally tried everything while still remaining true to their sound.
Take the song I’ve Just Seen A Face, for instance. This song is quite obviously inspired by Bob Dylan’s early work.
In fact, you could think of this song as a Beatles rendition of a folk song. It has elements of folk, but it is still so much The Beatles.
Many people write off this group because of its popularity. However, any smart musician would study the group’s composition and production work.
You’ll find an endless supply of jaw-dropping realizations that you can apply to your own music. Even if you don’t, your ear is already trained to recognize the things that were groundbreaking for The Beatles.
If you trace certain compositional techniques to the root, many times it will end up with this group. For that, we must give proper acknowledgment.
“Hello” by Adele
When it comes to modern pop music, Adele is consistently reaching the top of the charts. In fact, you could say that she has been blowing the roof off of these charts.
Release after release, Adele proves that she cannot be stopped as an artist. Even if she does take a break, she’s bound to come back with even more firepower.
A perfect example of this is her song Hello. It was released in 2015 and was her first single after taking a break of 3 years.
Where do you think this song charted? You guessed it, #1 for both the US and the UK.
In fact, this song broke many release records. For instance, within its first week, the song was downloaded over 1 million times.
On top of that, her music video broke a record for most views in a 24-hour period with 27.7 million. Only Taylor Swift managed to break that record, nearly doubling the number of views.
Plus, Adele has entries in the Guinness Book Of World Records regarding the album sales this song is featured on. There aren’t too many people who can say that.
Even if you don’t care for her that much, or think her songs are basic, you can’t deny her power. The song Hello proved to be quite the powerhouse of a release.
“Photograph” by Ed Sheeran
Another modern pop icon in recent years is Ed Sheeran. This English redhead has stolen the hearts of many fans around the world and continues to enjoy success.
One of his most famous songs is the track Photograph. It reached the Top 10 of the pop charts in the US upon its release in 2014.
This song was actually co-written in collaboration with Johnny McDaid, the guitarist from Snow Patrol. Supposedly, the duo was in a hotel room and McDaid had a loop of a piano playing.
During this time, Sheeran was putting together a Lego version of a Star Wars X-Wing. After a few hours passed, a melody caught on and the duo formulated the song.
“Royals” by Lorde
The New Zealand artist Lorde hit a universal grand slam with the song Royals in 2013. Interestingly enough, she was only 16 at the time of this song’s release.
This song’s musicality is extremely catchy. You have excellent harmonies, a great chorus, and an infectious groove.
Quite honestly, this song was very much ahead of its time upon its release. Many pop releases following this take quite a bit of inspiration from this song.
If you can find someone to do harmonies with, Royals makes a great song to play on the guitar. You won’t have to do much at all but light chordal work and maybe a rhythmic loop emulating the snaps.
“Neon” by John Mayer
We’ve already mentioned John Mayer once in this list. However, to really get a great taste of John’s musicality, you must check out Neon.
This song is actually found on his first release, which, honestly, is very much a pop record. However, if you attempt to play Neon, you’ll find it’s actually quite difficult.
With this song, Mayer showed he had a bit of a trick up his sleeve. It’s a big part of the reason he ended up playing so many big guitar festivals (much to everyone’s dismay).
“This Love” by Maroon 5
There was a time when you could not turn on a radio without hearing Maroon 5’s This Love. In fact, it was one of the songs that pushed Maroon 5 into being one of the best-known pop bands.
And really, that’s a part of why this song is so great. An actual band is playing all of the parts in this song.
Today’s pop music is oversaturated with artificial sounds, which can sound pretty flat in all reality. An organic approach, as seen here, really pays off.
Unfortunately, commercialism got the best of Maroon 5 and the band never really sounded the same again. Their first album (from which this comes) is still a worthwhile spin if you get the chance.
“When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge
Love is one of the most common themes throughout music. However, When A Man Loves A Woman is hands-down one of the best love songs ever written.
A large part of this has to do with the Wrecking Crew, as this was recorded in Muscle Shoals. The band was regularly working with Percy Sledge (and many others), with this song earning them their first #1 hit.
This track has something that many of today’s pop songs simply do not possess: raw, sheer emotion. Percy’s lyrical delivery against the slow, moody musical backdrop is just so potent.
A funny side note about this track is that the horns on the recording are out of tune. Despite being re-recorded, the label mixed up the tapes and released the original out-of-tune version.
“No Such Thing” by John Mayer
More Mayer? You bet! However, this will be the last mention of John Mayer on this list.
No Such Thing is another track from John Mayer’s first release. It’s a pop song through and through but has such a great message.
The song hints at that feeling you get when you’re older and realize everything you learned was a lie. All too often, we’re taught and prepared to live life in some real world.
However, the real world that we all come to know makes the one we expected to be a complete fantasy. The lyrics of this song capture that exquisitely well.
“Hey Ya” by OutKast
You might be wondering just what in the world OutKast is doing on this list. Aren’t they a rap group?
If you were to listen to their earlier releases, you would definitely be right. Over time, the group began to mix in quite a bit of different musical characteristics.
Don’t take our word for it! Take a listen and you’ll hear some guitar playing throughout this song.
Even some of the group's prior releases feature a full-band format. In this way, OutKast has been able to keep it fresh and create timeless music at the same time.
Eventually, in 2003, OutKast hit it out of the park with this Andre 3000 track. Hey Ya! hit #1 in the US, where it stayed for 9 weeks.
Today, you cannot go anywhere without the possibility of hearing Hey Ya! at least once. It’s often heard on sports broadcasts and occasionally in films and TV shows.
“Africa” by Toto
Like the aforementioned Land Down Under, one of the greatest pop songs of all time is Toto’s Africa. Despite their geographical subject content, these songs have the same sort of formula-winning sound.
As was par for the course in the 1980s, this track is saturated in a synthesizer. However, this isn’t as annoying as many of the decade’s hits.
In fact, this synth is a huge part of the song’s charm, coupled with its catchy chorus. Don’t forget about the guitar!
Many may not realize it, but Toto guitarist Steve Lukather is a very accomplished musician. He has plenty of credits to show for it, including his compositional role in the fictitious band Spinal Tap.
“Maneater” by Hall & Oates
At the height of their career, Hall & Oates were an unstoppable force to be reckoned with in the pop genre. Sure, their image may have dated a bit, but their music is still extremely timeless.
Take for instance the song Maneater. There are probably fewer people who don’t know this song than people who do.
If you’re unfamiliar, this is a song about a woman who uses men to live a luxurious lifestyle. The duo had a helping hand with writing this song as Daryl Hall’s girlfriend, Sara Allen, received a co-writing credit.
Out of their massive catalog of hits, Maneater remains to be one of the most popular. You’ll still hear it quite frequently on the radio as well as in films and TV shows.
Upon its release, Maneater stayed at the #1 position in the US for 4 weeks. It also helped to spark the popularity of the saxophone in pop music.
“(I Ran) So Far Away” by A Flock Of Seagulls
If you were to epitomize the 1980s with one song, what would you choose? A worthy contender would have to be this iconic track by A Flock Of Seagulls.
This song is so 1980s that it was featured prominently with the release of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. And, to listen to it musically, it has everything you’d want in an iconic 1980s song.
Aside from the obvious synth, the guitar with the delay effect is perhaps the song’s most important aspect. It really does give you that feeling of driving off into the distance and running away from it all.
“Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears For Fears
When speaking of smash-hit 1980s songs, one cannot forget this Tears For Fears song. Musically, this has everything that a signature song from the decade should have.
The intro of the song is extremely recognizable as if it's a calling card to your long-lost favorite song. Of course, the simple 2 chord synth part is all that is needed when it's needed most.
Everybody Wants To Rule The World also has some excellent guitar work throughout. In fact, the song has seen a modern resurgence, with guitarists like Mark Lettieri frequently playing it.
In reality, there likely isn’t a soul on earth who doesn’t like this song. And if they were to say they didn’t, it’d likely be a guilty pleasure nonetheless.
“I Want To Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles
Want to know the song that lit the fuse to absolute Beatlemania? It was I Want To Hold Your Hand, which was the first song to make it into the US.
Unsurprisingly, in both the US and the UK, this song was at the #1 spot on the pop charts. Everybody knows about their reception on their first trip to the US.
In fact, it was the Ed Sullivan performances that helped cement the band’s decision to only record music. After all, if everyone is yelling so loud that you can’t hear the music, what’s the point?
There really has not been another instance of this kind of psychotic fandom since. When it happens, the world will surely know about it in an instant.
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
Otis Redding’s smash hit song remains to be just as fresh and potent as it was when it was released. The musicality really does influence a feeling of easy, free relaxation.
It’s very unfortunate that Mr. Redding did not get to see the success this song would give him. Just 3 days after recording the song, he passed away in a plane crash.
This song literally tells the story of how he left his home to go out west to play music. Now, this story is forever cemented into the halls of modern music history.
If you’re unfamiliar with Otis Redding’s work, this song makes a great introduction. He played an important role in the soul music of the 1960s.
“Heart Of Glass” by Blondie
At the tail end of the 1970s, Blondie was propelled into the mainstream spotlight with Heart Of Glass. This track has an unmistakable disco-type feel, which was all the rage around this era.
In fact, you can almost see the countless people dancing and rollerskating with this song in the background. If you were to put that total into a number, what would your guess be?
Even John Lennon was impressed with Heart Of Glass. He actually told Ringo Starr that he should write songs that were similar to it.
Despite this mainstream success, Blondie actually got its start in seedy clubs like CBGBs. Once they found this success, their early fans thought the band phoned it in and sold out.
“Hooked On A Feeling” by Blue Swede
One of the most famous pop songs to emerge from the early 1970s is Hooked On A Feeling. And really, it’s still very popular today.
This song has actually been covered quite a few times, including this Blue Swede version. The song was originally written by Mark James and performed by B.J. Thomas.
Perhaps one of the more comical takes on this song is with David Hasselhoff’s cover. Be sure to check out his music video for the song if you need a good laugh.
Hooked On A Feeling is an excellent love song. Or, at least, it captures the feeling of thinking someone is in love with you.
That feeling can make you feel as if you can move mountains and accomplish anything. At the same time, your head is totally in the clouds despite your feet standing on the ground.
“Imagine” by John Lennon
Nearly every subject under the sun has been written about in music. You also have music for every kind of mood and activity you wish to pursue.
However, one of the most overlooked areas of music is the songs that make you think. Many people are too happy to just live their lives never questioning anything inside or outside of their normal.
John Lennon’s song Imagine really broke the mold. When it was released, it required the world to pause and reflect.
Despite having been released decades ago, Imagine is still an incredibly powerful song. There are very few songs that even come close to conveying the message that is inside of this beautiful song.
In today’s day and age, humanity could stand to pause and listen to the words of Imagine yet again. The questions asked in this song are questions few are brave enough to ask today.
What in this world is worth fighting and killing for? What are the labels we attach to things and why do we hold them so dear?
You might wonder how you’d go about playing this song on guitar, as it is all piano. However, the chords can be adapted to the guitar without any issue.
If you need some extra guidance, check out Lennon’s Acoustic album, released in 2004. It has a demo version of Imagine with John playing an acoustic guitar.
By playing this song for others, you give them an opportunity to reflect on the state of humanity. With any luck, we just might see a little bit of change in the world. But, it has to start with you.
Pop Songs For Guitar, Final Thoughts
As you have seen, pop music has undergone quite the evolution of sound over the last few decades. It has changed into something nearly unrecognizable from its roots in the past.
Regardless, pop music remains to be the primary force of mainstream music. It’s also quite often the first music that a person discovers in their lifetime.
Side note, do you want to learn to play guitar songs the easy way? Learn how here – results are guaranteed!