- Wendell Gee – R.E.M.
Wendell Gee is the last song on R.E.M.’s third album, Fables of the Reconstruction. The song wraps up the album with several highlights; the voice-cracking chorus, the rich bassline, and of course, the banjo. Coming in at the close of the second chorus and lasting for the rest of the song, it completes the track, giving it that final touch. Lead guitarist Peter Buck stated that the song wouldn’t be what it is without the banjo solo.
- Old Man – Neil Young
Perhaps Neil Young’s most well-known song, “Old Man” appears on the album Harvest. This is a classic sad Neil song that features James Taylor on six-string banjo, giving the song its unique character. Taylor’s banjo during each chorus alongside Neil’s vocals help to turn the song into an emotional masterpiece.
- Trains – Porcupine Tree
Porcupine Tree, headed by songwriter Steven Wilson, began as a joke band, purely for the members to have fun. When they realized that their music was marketable, they began to transition from a joke band to serious musicians. “Trains” appears on their album In Absentia and features a slow buildup, starting with acoustic and progressing to electric. At the end of the buildup, when the song seems over, a banjo solo begins. The sequence is unexpected and could ruin the song for some, but in my opinion it adds an interesting outro to an already great song.
- The Chain – Fleetwood Mac
When Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac, the style and direction of the band changed dramatically. The two Americans added their styles to what the Brits had–Buckingham taking over lead guitar and Nicks offering her intense vocals. The second album released after this change in members, Rumours, features “The Chain.” Unlike the other tracks on this list, the banjo is the first instrument heard. The song is a concoction of three different incomplete tunes that the band decided to blend together. Along with the bass drum, the banjo helps to give a mysterious-sounding opening, leaving the listener wondering where the song will go.
- Casimir Pulaski Day – Sufjan Stevens
Stevens released the second album of his fifty-state project in 2005 titled Illinois, which contains “Casimir Pulaski Day.” It is a quiet song and features a slow progression of instruments including horns and, you guessed it: the banjo. Much like “Old Man,” this is an example of a song that is great by itself, but is given additional character due to Steven’s banjo.
- Squeeze Box – The Who
Squeeze box is a slang term for the accordion which is played by Pete Townshend in the song. However, this song makes the list because of the banjo solo at the end of the track. The Who By Numbers was their seventh studio album and was released in 1975. The track is laced with sexual innuendos in Roger Daltrey’s vocals, and despite its simplicity, it manages to stay unpredictable and different due to the background accordion and banjo solo.
- Sexx Laws – Beck
If there were a single song to encapsulate Beck’s unique sound, it would have to be “Sexx Laws.” Appearing on Midnight Vultures, one needn’t look further than the album cover to conclude, “this is going to be weird.” The opening track will confirm this suspicion; it has a blend of countless styles. The song begins with a brass intro before it is met with funky electronics and jazz piano. Before you can get used to this interesting mix of sounds, a country-sounding banjo solo takes over, giving the song a new direction. The unexpected solo alongside the sweeping electronics is classic Beck and assists in giving the song its overall theme of all or nothing.
- Take It Easy – The Eagles
- Pretty Boy Floyd – The Byrds
- Honky Cat – Elton John
- High Water – Bob Dylan