You really would be surprised what rock songs use a flute within the music. After all, the airy sounds of a flute are not associated with crashing cymbals or distorted power chords.
When learning about what rock songs use a flute, you will find that bands use it to add an eerie vibe to their music, give songs a melancholic feel or capture a distinct sound that represents a region.
Flutes have been used across the rock spectrum. More often than not, they are played by prominent members of the main band, showcasing another side to their rock star persona.
Over the years, this classic woodwind instrument has been used in all types of music. From eclectic prog rock bands in the 1970s to mainstream modern metal, you will still find a flute popping up now and again. But just what rock songs use a flute?
The 10 best rock songs that use a flute
1. Jethro Tull – Living In the Past
Just one mention of a flute, rock music, and Jethro Tull automatically springs to mind. The British rock icons gained recognition for several unique traits including their regular use of a flute in their music. No song in their catalog showcases this better than 1969’s “Living In The Past.” In this song, frontman Ian Anderson uses the flute to play the main riff and instrumental sections – effectively replacing the guitar. The whispy rasps of the flute are great at setting the scene of blissful days of yesteryear, backed up by Anderson’s crafted tales. It all blends in an ode to living in the hippie leads of the 1960s. It was a showcase of just what the band was ready to drop for the next few decades to come.
2. Beastie Boys – Sure Shot
Not every flute use has to be an original part. It was the mantra The Beastie Boys had in mind when laying down their 1994 single “Sure Shot”. Sure Shot’s main hook is a looped flute sample played repeatedly on top of a percussive bassline. The sample is from “Howlin For Judy,” – a 1970 song performed by jazz musician Jeremy Steig. However, the New York trio has looped it into a funky riff that serves as a perfect platform for the group to spit lyrics for the next three minutes. The song was a modest hit reaching the charts in The Netherlands and the UK but failed to hit the same success as the previous single “Sabotage.”
3. Focus – Hocus Pocus
Perhaps no other song is quite as bonkers as the 1973 song “Hocus Pocus” by Dutch prog-rockers Focus. By far the band’s most iconic hit, the song has quite literally anything and everything in it. This includes a mini flute solo halfway into the 6-minute album version of the song. That comes in alongside yodeling,, scatting, and an organ solo. Frontman Thijs Van Leer performs all of this in a breathless performance. It all interlocks alongside rapid-fire surf-rock drums from Pierre Van Der Linden and some ferocious licks and solos from guitarist Jan Akkerman. It was a surprise hit for the band, reaching 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and in the top 20 in Australia, Canada, and the UK. It’s a true listening experience to behold.
4. Genesis – Dusk
Before Phil Collins took complete control of Genesis, the band often utilized original frontman Peter Gabriel to bring in some unusual instrumentation. A great example of this is their 1970 song “Dusk” from their second album Trespass. A completely acoustic piece, Dusk is an atmospheric piece using Gabriel on the flute to change the song’s tone. Straddling the line between soothing melody and brooding doom, the flute in between verses adds a sense of melancholy to a song that also feels like it would be perfect for use at the beach. This juxtaposition makes early Genesis records a treat and a stark difference from what the band would later become.
6. Midlake – Winter Dies
Modern bands have also used flutes to craft a sense of foreboding into their music. A great example comes from American indie band Midlake who utilized this in “Winter Dies” from their 2010 album The Courage of Others. In the song, frontman Tim Smith plays the flute initially to add some emotion to the music. However, the flute becomes much more prominent in the second half, echoing the bass riff as the songs build to a rousing end. It’s a track that excels with multiple parts coming together to create a track that always gets the ears hearing something new after each listen.
7. Linkin Park – Nobody’s Listening
Meteora saw Linkin Park branch out more musically in 2003, and no song sounded more unique on the album than “Nobody’s Listening.” Utilizing a Japanese shakuhachi flute as the main melodic riff, it gets looped and manipulated by Joseph Hahn to create a song that is much more hip-hop based than anything else on the album. It’s enhanced by Mike Shinoda, dropping some of his sharpest lyrics on the album throughout the verses and the bridge. The use draws on Shinoda’s ancestry and showcases how musically diverse the band could be when given control of the reigns.
8. Eluveitie – Inis Mona
Folk metal bands bring interesting instruments to the table; few do this better than Eluveitie. The Swiss band utilizes many different styles in their songs, but their 2008 single “Inis Mona” brings it all together in a great song. The song opens with a huge melodic riff played by several instruments, such as bagpipes, Celtic drums, and a flute. They sync perfectly between the choruses and verses, creating a unique sound that harks to regional tribes of yesteryear. It shows just what rock songs use a flute in almost any genre imaginable.
9. Black Sabbath – “Solitude”
Is there anything that Tony Iommi can’t play? What rock song uses a flute and still claims to be the founder of heavy metal? Well, Black Sabbath did just that in “Solitude” – the penultimate track on their 1971 album Master of Reality. Iommi takes center stage on the track playing guitar, flute, and piano. The soft drones of the flute echoing Ozzy’s vocals create a sense of isolation in a tune where everything feels subdued – a nod to the isolated vibe of the song. It’s yet further proof of the musical genius of Iommi and how he uses any instrument to create a piece that is unique to anything, past or present.
10. Chicago – Colour My World
You won’t find many songs that feature a flute solo. However, Chicago managed to do just that in their 1970 track “Colour My World.” Included on the band’s self-titled album, the song is a gentle piece about two people together. It has a steady piano melody and rhythm before breaking into a minute-long, almost soul-soothing flute solo. Performed by Walter Parazaider, it is an excellent finale to a song that proves that rock songs can be devastatingly beautiful in some instances when they use a flute.
11. Heart – Crazy On You
When rock songs use a flute in a hit, you know it will be memorable. That happened when Heart released their 1976 song “Crazy On You.” The song has multiple highlights, including the iconic acoustic intro, a huge main riff, and the subtle flute whistles from Ann Wilson in the verse. It all adds to Heart’s best song instrumentally – no far cry for a band of their caliber. The song was a massive hit reaching number 35 on the Billboard 100 and number 2 in The Netherlands. It cemented the band’s place as one of the biggest acts of the 1970s.
As you can see, plenty of bands have used flutes in songs over the years. Whether beefing up the sound, acting as a main hook, or being the showcase instrument, there’s always a unique sound to any song using the instrument.
With iconic acts such as Heart, Jethro Tull, and even Black Sabbath using them in their music, there’s proof that it can bring success to the right act. Even modern acts such as The Beastie Boys and Linkin Park have used it in their tracks to add an edge to some of their songs. It’s why it is easy to know and discover just what rock songs use a flute.