The violin is often thought of as one of the most beautiful classical instruments, championed in compositions by Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi, and Bach. But in the modern era, it’s found a home in other genres, adding depth and distinct sounds whenever chosen. Rock music is typically known for being driven by drums and guitars today, though violins appear in many of the best rock compositions ever. In this article, we’ll dive into 15 great rock songs that perfectly blended the violin into their music.
1. Kashmir – Led Zeppelin
All four members of Led Zeppelin have called Kashmir their crowning achievement, embodying the sound that they strove for together. A progressive rock gem on one of the best prog rock albums of all time in Physical Graffiti, it used intricately paced drums and an arrangement of string instruments to build up one of the best classic rock songs. It quickly became a staple of their concerts and was played at nearly every appearance by them from its 1975 release onward.
2. The Sound of Silence – Disturbed
Few songs are as impressive as Disturbed’s version of The Sound Of Silence, both from a vocal and instrumental point of view. The song originated as a single by Simon & Garfunkel in 1964 from their album Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. The classic folk track was remixed to further attract radio airplay, dubbing in electric instruments and drums.
Disturbed’s version blended their style of metal with classical elements, turning the song into a building, modern symphony. It’s perhaps the best incorporation of any string instruments in rock music we have today, not just the violin, as they are actually played instead of synthesized into the track electronically.
3. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
Wish You Were Here was the title track of Pink Floyd’s 1975 album and is often considered one of their best songs. A staple of classic rock radio even today, its intro seems to scan through several radio stations that include classical music. But if that were the only violin usage in the track, it wouldn’t be enough for the list. It also includes violin improvisations throughout the record from Stéphane Grappelli that add more intricate complexity to one of their most beloved singles.
4. Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2
Sunday Bloody Sunday was the opening track on U2’s 1983 album War and was one of their most political songs. The lyrics focus on the 1972 event called Bloody Sunday during the Troubles in Northern Ireland when British troops shot and killed unarmed civilian protestors.
A signature track for them, its distinct sound comes from the militaristic snare drum and electric violin used throughout the song and prevalent in the introduction of the track. It also happens to be labeled as one of rock history’s best protest songs and has been covered by over a dozen artists since it was first released.
5. Point of Know Return – Kansas
Kansas became well known for its single Carry On My Wayward Son but seemed to lose popularity during the 1990s. The violin, cello, and viola were prevalent instruments in many of their songs, but the violin was particularly used well in Point Of Know Return. The title track of their 1977 album blended pop and prog-rock elements to develop one of the most high-energy sounds of the decade. But the violin and keyboards were the driving instruments of the song, not guitars or drums, giving the track a distinctive recurring riff.
6. Nights in White Satin – The Moody Blues
Nights In White Satin has found chart success in several decades since it was released in 1967. On separate occasions, it was able to reach number nine on the UK Singles Chart and number two on the Hot 100, eventually earning an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Some critics have called it one of the best singles of the 1960s, blending the earliest elements of progressive music with symphonic rock and backed by a full orchestral arrangement.
7. We Will Not Be Lovers – The Waterboys
The entirety of The Waterboys’ 1988 album Fisherman’s Blues is full of violin arrangements, a trait owed in large part to the band’s traditional Irish and Scottish folk roots. The violins become the dominant part of the song on We Will Not Be Lovers though, truly bringing to life the lyrics of the track and the emotions they’re trying to portray.
8. Broken Heart – Spiritualized
Spiritualized checked the box for every genre on their 1997 album Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. Going from gospel to classical music, the album feels like the perfect addition to any musical studies classroom, but the most emotional song on the introspective album was undeniably Broken Heart. It contained orchestral string arrangements played by the Balanescu Quartet that are sure to pull on your heartstrings, even without the provocative lyrics laid over the top of them.
9. Baba O’Riley – The Who
Baba O’Riley is often cited as one of the greatest rock songs of all time. The violin section in The Who’s version is one of the most iconic uses of the instrument of all time, but it wasn’t originally intended to include the instrument at all. That portion of the track was meant to be played on the harmonica, though I don’t think anyone is going to argue that the change wasn’t an improvement.
10. Hurricane – Bob Dylan
Hurricane was one of Bob Dylan’s best and most epic protest songs, telling the story of a boxer who was falsely imprisoned for murder in 1966. It was the driving force behind his 1976 album Desire rising to the top of the US Billboard Albums chart as well. But it was the fiddle section from Scarlet Rivera that gave the track its catchy tune and perfect pacing, and we all know that “fiddle” is just another name for the violin.
11. Bitter Sweet Symphony – The Verve
Richard Ashcroft based the string arrangement of Bittersweet Symphony on an orchestral version of The Rolling Stones’ song The Last Time. While this got the band into some legal trouble, it remains one of the best uses of violin and orchestral instruments in rock music history. First appearing on their 1997 album Urban Hymns, it eventually became known as one of the defining tracks of the Britpop era and one of the best songs of the 1990s.
12. Vapour Trail – Ride
Vapour Trail was released as the lead single for Ride’s debut album Nowhere and immediately catapulted the shoegaze group to fame. Many have claimed that the intro to it is among the greatest of all time, but the guitar-driven portion of the song isn’t the part we’ll be looking at today. As the track closes, the guitars and drums fade away, leaving only the cello and violin progressions in the song. It served as one of the best track and album finales in rock history just as well as it served as one of the best intros.
13. Eleanor Rigby – The Beatles
Any album from The Beatles is bound to be called legendary or groundbreaking, but Revolver in 1966 has a claim to be one of their best works. Eleanor Rigby was one of the most interesting songs on the album, containing a beautiful double-string quartet arrangement. It was inspired by an old woman whom Paul McCartney used to help with household chores after realizing she lived on her own.
14. Venus in Furs – The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground released their debut album in 1967 and became integral to psychedelic rock. Surprisingly, much of their work seemed counter to the late 1960s counterculture and was devoted to covering the darker themes behind drug abuse and the free love movement. Venus In Furs contains an intense violin section that backs lines about sadomasochism and bondage, placing them well ahead of their time in terms of both music and lyrics.
15. Ocean Avenue – Yellowcard
Yes, even pop-punk and emo music can use the violin. Perhaps the most famous song from Yellowcard, Ocean Avenue was the title track of their 2003 album and talks about their teenage years along the Atlantic Coast. While you might not be able to tell a violin is being played in the song without a close listen, it adds some depth to their sound, and Sean Mackin does a great job incorporating the string instrument.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.