By Ted Slowik
Every great song can be played on any instrument. From accordion to zither, a good musician can use any instrument to breathe life into a good tune.
In the realm of rock music, you no doubt have favorite songs. Most likely these are recordings of electric versions. Chances are your favorite artist has performed and quite possibly recorded those great songs acoustically at some point.
If we narrow the discussion to guitar performances it's easy to come up with numerous examples. Consider this 2009 Foo Fighters hit "Times Like These." The electric version rocks out, but for a 2010 greatest hits compilation the band released this lovely acoustic version.
Artists have been performing excellent acoustic versions of rock hits for decades. In 1979, for the "Secret Policeman's Ball" benefit concert, Pete Townshend famously performed this acoustic version of the rock classic "Won't Get Fooled Again" from The Who's 1971 album "Who's Next." Obviously it's not a note-for-note replication of the synthesizer-laden popular recording. But the acoustic treatment follows the basic structure of the tune.
One has to understand that before The Who ever cranked up the amps to record "Won't Get Fooled Again," Townshend strummed it acoustically as he wrote it. Songwriting and recording is like any creative process. This article about Edward Hopper's creative process includes numerous early drawings and sketches for "Nighthawks" and other famous works. Similarly, a song's definitive version may end up being a recording of an amplified band. But a great song can be interpreted an infinite number of ways, many of them acoustically.
I'm a big Beatles fan, and when the "Anthology" releases came out I enjoyed hearing acoustic demos of many of their hits. Even the loudest guitarists can make it sound good acoustically, like Stevie Ray Vaughan did on MTV's "Unplugged" in 1990. You can even find footage of Jimi Hendrix performing acoustically and it sounds great!
The takeaway is this: you don't need a loud band or fancy effects and gimmicks to make great music.