Saturday, February 15, 2003

On the Matter of Guitar Solos.

Image Hosted by A few posts ago, I thought it might be a good idea if I made a list of my favorite guitar solos. I think the time has come.

Let me preface this by stating that these are MY favorite guitar solos. This is not a list in which I would purport to tell you that these are the all time best guitar solos, or these are the best guitarists, or anything like that. These are simply solos, in mostly mainstream pop/rock songs, that have caused a sensation on Planet Dave. Solos that give me goosebumps and I know full well that I may be the only person on Earth to get them from them. Many, many great, even legendary guitarists will not be represented here- many of whom I revere, but have just had the misfortune of not playing a solo that pushed all the right buttons in my brain.

Also, to those of you who are younger than, oh, 25 or so... there was a time, kids, when the lead guitar player of your favorite music group actually had a sound. A signature sound, unique and personal, totally unlike any other guitarist's. One could not under any circumstances (unless deaf or very, very high) mistake a Mick Ronson solo for a Jimmy Page solo, for example. Guitarists back then often took a lead role, even singing lead vocals on occasion. Today's lead guitarists, eager to avoid the taint of being associated with the genre that killed off the lead guitarists– 80s spandex hair metal, with a LOT of help from Punk Rock, Tom Verlaine notwithstanding– took to hiding in the background, determined to be as UN-flamboyant and undistinctive as possible. Otherwise excellent players such as Peter Buck of R.E.M., Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard, and Stone Temple Pilots' Dean Dileo preferred to crank out their riffs from relative anonymity, creating a tone and texture that frankly just doesn't sound unique to anything or anyone. I'm not saying this is bad, I'm just saying that this is the way it is. And I know that I'm omitting probably 300 other lead guitarists from the 3000 anonymous bands that play what passes for Rock and Roll these days. I apologize in advance, so don't come to me with "But what about Joe Blow from Whatever 87? He fucking rawks, man!" I don't want to hear it. OK. Here goes, in no particular order:

Robert Fripp, The Night Watch, from Starless and Bible Black.
Fripp's cerebral playing, at least in 1974 when this was recorded, was a combination of iciness, harshness, and distortion that was very beautiful in a strange way. Fripp is probably my favorite guitarist, a rare 70s legend that is still making vital music today. Other Fripp solos I love are found on the Roches' Hammond Song from their debut album, and Losing True from their third, and Bowie's "Heroes" and Fashion.

Frank Zappa, Muffin Man, from Bongo Fury.
Zappa recorded many, many outstanding solos, but this one pushed the right buttons for me. Honorable mentions include "Black Napkins" from Zoot Allures and the title cut from "Apostrophe (')".

Dave Gilmour, Time, from Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon
This one gives me chills every time I hear it. Gilmour's howling, echo-laden solo on Time is an amazing thing. I stopped caring about Floyd after Wish You Were Here, but I can always listen to Dark Side and its predecessor Echoes.

Chris Goss, V.H.V., from the Masters of Reality's Sunrise on the Sufferbus
Masters of Reality (actually pretty much Chris Goss and session musicians these days) made some intelligent hard rock in the late 80s and 90s, just not enough of it and much of it has been unavailable in the USA. This cut is a harsh, bluesy, Cream-inspired song (probably in no small part due to Ginger Baker's presence on drums), and when Goss rips into his solo at first he skips along with the odd, staggered blues beat until all of a sudden he steps on a pedal (or something) and sprays out nasty sheets of noise that struggle against the beat, finally culminating with a finger trill that goes back into the heavy main riff. This description doesn't do it justice, believe me.

Bill Nelson, Crying to the Sky, from Be-Bop Deluxe's Sunburst Finish
Even though Nelson spent most of the 80s and 90s playing synths, in his Be-Bop days he played some excellent guitar riffs and solos. he has recently returned to playing guitar, so hopefully there will be more to come...anyway, this grandose, stately song coasts along with a sad melody and regretful lyrics until Nelson cuts loose suddenly with a cascading series of notes that culminate in several howling, sustain-laden held-out notes. It's a beautiful, majestic solo, very Hendrix-inspired, and is one of the finest moments on an excellent, overlooked record.

Steve Hillage, It's All Too Much, from L
I wrote about this one the other day. Hillage could play solos like nobody else, full of dipsy doodle runs full of notes all over the place. This particular solo also features some nice effects.

Phil Manzanera, the title cut from Diamond Head
This song's an instrumental exercise, one of the few times on former Roxy Music guitarist Manzanera's first, Eno-influenced and song-structured solo album that he gets to cut loose and play and he makes the most of it. Again, the texture of Phil's solos back in those days was harsh and abrasive, with lots of drawn-out, sustained notes. This particular cut has a haunting melody that will stick with you.

Zal Cleminson, Anthem, from the Sensational Alex Harvey Band's The Impossible Dream
To dress up in clown makeup onstage in those pre-KISS days, you had to be able to play your instrument, and Clemison certainly could. He didn't get too many chances to stand out in the theatrically oriented Harvey repertoire, but this track gave him an opportunity and he ran with it. Great example of playing against the beat and using dynamics.

Marc Bolan, Have You Seen My Baby (Hold On), from Ringo Starr's Ringo
Bolan played weird, atonal solos that often competed with, rather than complimented the melody and I for one always thought he was extremely underrated as a guitarist. There are several fine solos on almost any T.Rex album you care to name, but curiously this is the solo that I have always considered my favorite. He adds just the right touch to Ringo's fun cover of a Randy Newman song.

Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, Dominance & Submission from Blue Oyster Cult's Secret Treaties
Described by a Creem reviewer once as "faster than a shithouse mouse", Roeser could toss off amazing solos, crammed with multitudes of notes– each one in the proper place, and make it look as effortless as can be. This is one of many excellent solos he performed on the early Blue Oyster Cult albums, and is my favorite (obviously). It makes me sad that the BOC, once the thinking man's metal group, has been reduced to joke status thanks to several lame records late in their career and the asinine SNL cowbell skit. You know the one I'm referring to. I hate it.

Neil Young, the title track from On The Beach A bluesy, haunting solo from a haunted, sad album.

Tom Verlaine, Mary Marie, from Dreamtime
While Verlaine has squandered most of the promise of his Television days, this cut from (arguably) his best (second) solo LP rings and chimes and adds very much to this moody song from a moody album.

Ollie Halsall, on Kevin Ayers' May I, from June 1, 1974
Halsall, who was (if I recall correctly) a session guitarist for the most part here plays an amazing, light, jazzy solo in Ayers' breezy, clever track– adding to the appeal of one of the best live albums ever made in my own humble opinion.

Mick Ronson, White Light/White Heat, from Play Don't Worry
Even though Ronson played many awesome solos for David Bowie and Ian Hunter among others, this Velvet Underground cover from his second solo album boasts a nasty solo that really got in my head and wouldn't leave. If you've never heard either of Ronno's first two solo albums, I reccomend them highly.

Carlos Santana, Song of the Wind, from Caravanserai
The first overtly jazz-ish album Santana ever did, this 5 minute plus track is just an excuse for him to solo, with Neal Schon (pre-Journey) backing him up on rhythm. Santana really stretches out on this cut. He has done many fine records (although not too many in the last 20 years), and Caravanserai remains my favorite thanks to cuts like this one.

The Beatles, The End, from Abbey Road
You may remember these guys. Not only were the Lads genius songwriters and musicians, but the three non-drummers in that group were all excellent guitarists as well, and each had a distinctive sound. On this cut, the penultimate one in McCartney's little Abbey Road song suite, Paul, George, and John, in that order, take turns just cutting loose and playing guitar. It's exhilirating, and I have long wondered whether it was performed live in the studio, with each facing and feeding off of each other, or seperately, as they tended to do back then. Either way, it's an awesome finale to an era.

And appropriately enough, that's the end of my list. I know I have left off several greats. Hendrix, Page, Vai, Rory Gallagher, Ted Nugent (complete jerk but killer guitarist), Eddie Van Halen, Tony Iommi, Vernon Reid, Joe Perry, Billy Gibbons, and many others. Legends all, but they just didn't play a solo on any of their albums that made an impression on me to the extent that the above named did. I'm also sure I forgot many that I would have listed otherwise. That's life. And that's my list. Can you tell me any that you can't get out of your head?