In their heyday, the Allman Brothers Band were pioneers of incredible blues, jazz, and rock fusion. They created a genre of their own. Numerous bands and a number of sound-seeking individuals owe a lot to this posse. While the days of the original lineup are over the group lives on. They are as much of an idea as they are a band. Some of their best tunes lean heavily on the blues, others on jazz, and a few have their roots in country. For this reason, and also the sheer quality of some of their albums, no top 10 list will satisfy all fans. Nevertheless, Blues Rock Review accepts the challenge—let the debate begin.
10. “Little Martha”
“Little Martha” weaves a gentle closure to Eat A Peach—arguably the best Allman Brothers effort, and among the greatest albums of all time. One of Duane Allman’s last contributions, his simple acoustic guitar phrases meld perfectly with Dickey Betts’s sparse accompaniment to create an unforgettable wordless ballad. The tune sounds ancient but remains relevant.
9. “Black Hearted Woman”
From the choppy opening riff to the triumphant, instrumental mini-coda, this gruff rocker displays an early example of the band’s ability to create a lot of carefully constructed sound. The multi-part composition contains a bit of everything: crunching rhythm, throaty vocals, a brief but fiery guitar solo, and even a drum break. For a song that lasts five minutes, its taut delivery makes it feel like a three-minute sprint.
Another instrumental, the immediately-recognizable, electric guitar theme still sounds fresh today. Betts writes and plays with his young daughter in mind; his buoyant licks and carefree groove capture the exuberance of youth as well as any song in memory. The abridged version remains a staple on classic rock radio stations to this day, but listeners may have to dig out Brothers And Sisters to get the full treatment in all its glory.
7. “Come And Go Blues”
“Come And Go Blues” builds around Gregg Allman’s piano and voice, but as is customary with most of the band’s songs, all the members play their parts to the fullest, resulting in a lush sonic treat. The genre veers into country rock territory, as did much of the output in the Betts-driven era. Rollicking and soulful at the same time, the romantic lament tells of a man who “wouldn’t cut you lose, baby if I could.”
6. “Midnight Rider”
An unforgettable acoustic guitar line and hand-beaten percussion serve as the backdrop for this age-old tale of the archetypical rock n’ roll wanderer—the titular “Midnight Rider.” Throw in an ambitious, but concise guitar solo and some visually evocative lyrics and listeners will be sure to remember that, “I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me, no. Not gonna let ‘em catch The Midnight Rider.”
5. “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed”
A song whose origins rival it’s complicated jazz forms, it quickly became a staple of the Allman Brothers’ live repertoire due to its improvisational nature, and the band’s ability to reinvent it each time it was played. Penned by Betts, the live versions helped to establish the tandem of he and Allman as one of the greatest, and most adventurous, guitar duos of all time. While the studio version runs for a comparatively brief seven minutes, live versions exist that extend the instrumental to nearly a half an hour.
4. “Blue Sky”
An oblique love song disguised as an ode to a walk in the country, “Blue Sky” contains some of the group’s best guitar work. Allman begins the instrumental section with his solo, only to be joined by Betts for an incredible unison passage, before allowing Betts to finish the section. The refrain of, “You’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day. Lord you know it makes me high, when you turn your love my way,” is as pure as any musical declaration of love ever written.
The song stays true to its title with an eerily spacey feel, created by a languid tempo and haunting guitars. Gregg Allman steals the show with one of his best vocal performances, singing at full strength, and evoking melancholic dreamlike images. The tune pulls the listener in with this trance-inducing combination and never lets go. It is one of the band’s most enduring and underrated numbers.
2. “Les Brers In A Minor”
“The Brothers” rip through this jazz rock tour of the key of A minor with an intensity only matched by certain versions of the following entry on this list. Starting slowly with only hints of percussion, the change into menacing bongos and bass signal the upcoming intensity. When the song hits its apex, it becomes an angular jazzy scream, courtesy of some of the groups most freely written music. The final return to the main guitar theme nicely bookends their greatest instrumental of a very impressive catalog.
1. “Whipping Post”
“Whipping Post” serves not only as the finale of their debut album, but also as the 23-minute highlight of their legendary Live At The Fillmore East set. Beginning with an iconic rhythm line composed in an odd time signature, it tells a story of hardship and existential sorrow through the twin guises of an unfaithful woman and the ever-looming whipping post to which the singer is bound. The instrumental section lends itself to an infinite amount of improvisation and has contributed to the legacy of Duane Allman as much as any other piece in their catalog. It is the song that best encapsulated the ethos of the Allman Brothers Band, and is also the best place for those unfamiliar with them to jump into their unique interpretation of music.