Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Greatest Guitar Solos Ever Recorded

Just click on the artist and song title to hear it.

  When you're a guitar player in a rock band, especially if you're just starting out, there's no finer moment in the song than when it's time for your solo. It's that special time when the singer finally shuts up and it's your chance to grab some of the spotlight and show the boys and girls what you're made of. It's your moment in the sun. Your time to shine. The moment when all of that study, noodling and practice finally pays off. If you're good enough, other guitarists will take notice, regular people will stop what they're doing and listen in, and members of the opposite sex will decide that they do in fact want to sleep with you.
     This list of guitar solos is by no means comprehensive. Your favorite dusty old blues guy or jazz fusion dude that nobody's ever heard of isn't here. It isn't a list of the all-time greatest guitarists either, which is why guys like Jimi Hendrix, Steve Vai, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, Eric Clapton, and many other well-known monster players are conspicuously absent. I'm not denying that any one of them is immensely talented, but their entire careers are, for the most part, one long guitar solo. Players like them have become legends more for their sheer ability than for inventing a perfect little instrumental break to fit within a song. But one need not be a virtuoso to lay down a heroic guitar solo. All you really need is a little bit of taste, some creativity, and a whole lotta confidence. Greatness is purely subjective anyway. I could've compiled a list entitled The Greatest Vegetables Ever Grown and someone would invariably say "How could you not put artichokes on this list??? Artichokes are some of the tastiest, most wonderful vegetables that the good Lord ever had the divine wisdom to place upon this earth and you're a idiot for not including them!!" Still other may whine that "I'm appalled that you didn't include Joe Blow's solo in "Blow Me" by Joe Blow and the Blowhards! Joe can play circles around any one of these so-called "greats" that you've mentioned and the only reason that nobody's ever heard of him is because people are fucking stupid and blah, blah, blah!!"
   First of all, I'm not saying that to some folks artichokes are delicious. I just don't care for them. Second of all, there wasn't enough room to name the post Guys Who Play In Bands Whose Music Is Readily Accessible to the General Public That In My Personal Opinion Are Especially Talented At Composing An Artistically and Emotionally Satisfying Guitar Solo, so I just went with the above. So....without further ado and in no particular order:


Andy Summers - The Police "Driven To Tears"
   This song is pretty much standard Sting & Co. fare: Tighter than a squirrel's ass snare drum? Check. Dub Reggae vs. White Funk vs. Spiky-Haired New Wave? Check. Wry social commentary? Check. That is until the lead break when the normally stoic Summers clicks off his delay pedal, kicks in the overdrive and unleashes a visceral, howling, atonal freakout. What makes it even better is that immediately following Andy's schizophrenic episode, the song picks right up where it left off like it never happened. Genius!

Brian May - Queen "We Will Rock You"
   Handclaps, foot stomping and stupid lyrics until the solo comes in and we're treated to Professor May's impeccable tone, touch and taste. No one plays with more controlled authority than this man. Armed with a homemade solid body and a cranked AC-30, he manages to kick this song down the hallway and out the door quite nicely. Too bad you almost always have to sit through "We Are The Champions" immediately after. Science!

Dave Mustaine - Megadeth "Holy Wars: The Punishment Due"
   Sure, Marty Friedman, Mustaine's hired gun for this particular iteration of Megadeth, plays really fast and can do all that string-skipping, sweep-picking, shred-weenie shit, but Dave's dirty, snarling, feedback laden solo near the end is true, unbridled metal rage. It's a shame that he's more well known as the guy who got kicked out of Metallica for being a druggie fuckup (and since he "found Jesus" a few years ago, spewing neo-conservative diarrhea out of his mouth) instead of the seriously badass guitarist that he actually is. Underrated!

Keith Richards - The Rolling Stones "Sympathy For The Devil"
  It sounds as if Keef is truly attempting to summon The Dark One with this piercing, treble shriek. It's probably no coincidence that this is the song they were playing when a Hell's Angel stabbed that guy at Altamont. I don't know what kind of guitar/amp setup he's got here, but once he slithers from his coffin and starts to chop, slice and stab his way through the solo section of this song, it sounds like he's grown claws and is using a hypodermic needle for a pick. Evil!

Kurt Cobain - Nirvana "Verse Chorus Verse" (a.k.a. "Sappy")
   Anti-hero. Anti-guitarist. Slacker. Whatever. Good playing is good playing, and by all accounts Kurt grew up listening to enough standard-issue rock music to know what constitutes a proper guitar solo: a solid melodic statement that fits within the song's context and has a definite beginning, middle and end. This is one of those rare moments where the archetypal bright-boy-who-doesn't-apply-himself sounded as if he actually gave a shit, and comes off like a kid playing a high school talent show with his band, trying to impress a girl. Inspiring!

Neil Young - Crazy Horse "Cinnamon Girl"
   It's one note, people. ONE NOTE! But it's played with such fierce conviction that it's hard to imagine anything else fitting as well here. Once again, it serves the song like a good guitar solo should. It's also worth noting that Brother Neil was serving up raw, dropped-D sludge like this when all those early 90s grunge brats were still pooping in their diapers. Classic!

Jimmy Page - Led Zeppelin "Fool In The Rain"
    There's no question that Jimmy Page is one of the greatest guitarists to ever drag a Les Paul on the floor, and there are better examples of his skill, but this particular solo is so reckless, so fearless and so brazenly sloppy that it deserved to be included here. Jimmy starts off strong but then he mumbles, he meanders, and seems to run out of ideas about halfway through. Suddenly, he starts playing so blindingly fast and pulls off such outrageous phrases, it's like he's some drunken, stumbling savant who's just discovered he can do trigonometry. Finally, at a point when most guys would've said "Fuck it, can we start over?" Jimmy soldiers on to the bitter end and more or less lands on his feet by the time the vocal comes back in. Whew! Nobody else could get away with such beautifully ham-fisted playing, and if they tried you'd probably say "Who is this guy? He sucks!" Cheeky!

Prince - Prince and the Revolution "When Doves Cry"
   This greasy little sex dwarf has been quietly ripping up the fretboard for ages, and has only recently been getting props for it. Of course "Let's Go Crazy" has him channeling Hendrix (or is it "ripping off "?....either way) with feedback and fuzz-wah flash, but at the very beginning of this track we get 15 seconds of His Royal Purple Badness simply manhandling his guitar like he's just caught Appolonia and Shelia E. in bed with Morris Day. Hot!

George Harrison - The Beatles "Strawberry Fields Forever"
   When a Beatles song needed a guitar solo, George more often than not drew from his roots (The Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, I (heart) Rock 'n Roll school of revved-up country licks) or just had Paul or his good friend and wife-coveter Eric Clapton do it. A few trips to India and an indeterminate amount of mind-altering substances later, and the quiet, introspective Beatle had the wherewithal to dose us with this little gem. The guitar is buried deep in the George Martin haze for most of the song, until after the last "chorus" when this raga-induced, sounds-backwards-but-isn't hit of blotter kicks in. You can almost see George perched atop a giant mushroom, his turban-covered head veiled in a cloud of hash smoke, while his guitar twists and melts in his hands....Woah...Wait, where was I? Anyway.....After that the track gets really weird. Transcendental!
Honorable Mention: The infectiously goofball slide part in "My Sweet Lord" is pure joy. It's more of a hook than a proper solo, however.

Dave Davies - The Kinks "All Day and All Of The Night"
    Over a decade before rock and roll would give birth to the inbred bastard child known as punk rock, there was still plenty of adolescent rage and frustration to go around. Songs about political inequality and what clueless assholes your parents are would come later. Back then the themes were more along the lines of "Oh my God, I'm so fucking horny, I can't even think straight!" On this track Dave (the mean Davies brother) is the perfect sonic embodiment of raging, snotty teen angst. He's got a cheap guitar and an amp with a busted speaker and he's not afraid to use it. When the lead break comes he just turns up and goes for it. Timeless!

  Yeah, the song's a piece of pretentious, over-produced garbage, recorded by the same guys (mostly) who in the 70s were famous 36 minute songs with titles like "Siberian Khatru" and "The Revealing Science of God". But hey, everyone was doin' it, man. By the time the 80s rolled around, every aging rocker was desperately trying to stay relevant by "updating" their sound, cutting their hair, and augmenting their wardrobes with neon muscle shirts and shoulder pads. Virtuoso guitarist Steve Howe would have none of it however, and bailed out to form a group called Asia with some of his prog rock buddies who promptly recorded an album's worth of......pretentious, over-produced garbage. To fill the void, in stumbles South African guitarist Trevor Rabin who almost saves the song with some gritty rhythm tracks and a mean, vertigo-inducing solo which has to hold the title for the most heavily processed guitar tone ever committed to tape. Highbrow!

Saturday, September 25, 2010


   My father was, among other things, a musician, an artist and an intellectual. I grew up with him and my mom in a relatively well-adjusted home with lots of plants, books, shag carpeting, macrame, wicker furniture and a guitar in the corner of most every room. My dad's band used to rehearse in our basement, and we had a big stereo with tons of records. Parties and get-togethers would almost always end with late night jam sessions in the room full of guitars, amps and other gear we used to refer to as "the den". So it's safe to say that music was woven into the fiber of my existence since birth, enjoyed by all of us in our house on a daily basis. As I grew up, the idea of me becoming a musician didn't even seem like a conscious decision....It was an inevitability.
   By age 15 I had morphed into a shaggy-haired stoner kid who played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons, read pretty much any book I could get my hands on, and took up the bass guitar simply because I lacked the patience and dexterity for a six-string. I learned to play it by listening to all the readily available rock records by all the usual suspects of the era: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, etc. I found that the instrument suited my personality perfectly. I was a shy kid who preferred to not draw too much attention to himself, so with my bass I could blend into the background, play my part anonymously and be content.
   One day, a good friend who was a bit older than me introduced me to something known as Progressive Rock. Here, the bass guitar played a more prominant role. This was music that was heady, yet aggressive, challenging to play, and demanding to listen to. It was miles ahead, I thought, of the blues based stomp-and-shuffle I had cut my teeth on and wasn't brainlessly macho like the heavy metal that many of my other friends were into. I was hooked, and dove in head first.
   Fast forward a few years and my father and I are on the hour and a half long drive to southern Massachusetts to visit my grandmother. I talked him into letting me put one of my cassettes in the deck.  After a song or two I asked him for his opinion of this strange, beautiful music I had been immersing myself in with it's odd time signatures, complex riffery, and shameless psychedelisisms.

"Bombastic pomposity." he said.

I was floored! How could he, as a fellow musician, simply scoff at this music's devine complexities? It was creative, required skill to perform, and was technically advanced. These were all qualities he urged me towards as a player. Besides, wasn't his beloved Cream nothing if not bombastic? Wasn't Mahavishnu Orchestra more than a little bit pompous? I was confused, bewildered, and quite frankly, somewhat offended.
   It would be years before I would become artistically evolved enough to grasp the dry wit of my father's comment, and I would go on to embrace many diverse styles of music as I grew older (I still don't listen to much of the jazz he attempted to force feed me, but I'm sure he'd be pleased to learn that I just recently downloaded Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew". He was right...Miles is amazing.). Thus began a long conversation in my mind about music's failings and merits that continues to this day. So in an attempt to entertain and achieve a catharsis of sorts, I begin this blog and dedicate it to my dearly departed father, who always encouraged me to be critical, analytical, knowledgeable, and have a good time doing it.

Be forewarned....Like him, I occasionally use 4-letter words when deemed appropriate.