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General Interest

15 GUITAR SOLOS TO REMEMBER

Today is Inauguration Day, when history is being made with the swearing in of America’s first black president. That’s nice. Now let’s talk guitar solos! We’ll pretend that having a black president is no big deal, like it ought to be if you’ve ever read the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution with all that all-men-are-created-equal and equal-protection-under-the-law stuff and that whole Civil Rights deal. Should be a no-brainer, right? Besides, I’ve said plenty about all that for the time being, so let’s move on to something equally important to all Americans: Great Guitar Solos! There’s been a lot of them and the selections here might not be yours, but they’re mine. Unlike men, not all guitar solos are created equal, so in no particular order, here are my favorites:

1. Nowhere Man, by the Beatles, guitar solo by George Harrison: A fifteen second gem of a solo that perfectly complements the song’s melody in ringing counterpoint, matching the tempo, feel and mood of the song and a perfect illustration of Harrison’s brilliant, concise and melodic style. No lead guitarist ever served his material better.

2. All Along the Watch Tower, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, guitar solo by Jimi Hendrix: This Bob Dylan song is Dylan’s favorite cover version of one of his songs and contains a solo where Jimi seems to turn his guitar inside out with some otherworldly effects, yet somehow complements the song superbly and renders it faithfully. With every hearing there’s more to enjoy, another nuance revealed. While Hendrix performed a whole bunch of unforgettable guitar solos, this one stands out, right up there with the bird sounds on “Purple Haze” and the dangerous wah-wah wail of “Voodoo Child: Slight Return.”

3. Reeling In The Years, by Steely Dan, guitar solo by Elliot Randall: From the sweet but urgent opening notes, veteran studio guitar slinger Elliot Randall grabs the listener by the throat and compels close attention throughout the song, right through his two beautiful solos, one in the middle and the other in the extended fade out. He gives us beautiful, melodic and breakneck playing that threatens to careen out of control but never does, masterfully propelling the song and making it one of Steely Dan’s best and biggest hits. Not being a member of the band, Mr. Randall was paid only his standard studio fee.

4. Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zeppelin, guitar solo by Jimmy Page: In an otherwise fairly bizarre and typically overblown Zeppelin opus (what the hell is “a bustle in a hedgerow,” anyway?), Jimmy Page rips out a seriously beautiful and superbly constructed scorcher of a guitar solo, the main reason that song has become one of the most played in classic rock history. Incidentally, what’s Jimmy Page’s favorite guitar solo? Elliot Randall’s on “Reeling In The Years.”

5. Sunshine Of Your Love, by Cream, guitar solo by Eric Clapton: Eric Clapton, the guitar player’s guitar player, rips out a real beaut, starting off with a little moaning vibrato before building to a flurry of sweet rapid fire notes that propels the song to another level. The first of many, many memorable Clapton solos. By the way, his guitar playing earned him the right to needing only the one name; Clapton, just like Elvis, Jimi and Janis.

6. Rock Around The Clock, by Bill Haley and The Comets, guitar solo by Danny Cedrone: The first wild rock & roll guitar solo, Danny Cedrone let loose with a stinging flurry of notes that sent this seminal rock song into overdrive. Cedrone was a studio musician who had worked with Haley before, most notably on the song “Rocket 88,” considered by many to be the first rock & roll song, as well as another rock standard from that pioneering era, “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” Unfortunately for Danny he died in a fall down some stairs in June of 1954 and never lived to see his groundbreaking work immortalized forever in The Guitar God Pantheon

7. Blue Skies, by The Allman Brothers, guitar solos by Dickie Betts and Duane Allman: Two of the best guitar players who ever lived happened to be in the same band and between the two of them have produced some of the most electrifying and identifiable lead and slide guitar solos ever recorded, dozens of them. There would have been more had not Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash shortly after the recording of this gem, a double solo masterpiece that starts with some of their trademark hot and sweet guitar harmonies before they alternate on beautiful and melodic individual solos that build to masterful climaxes to make the hair on your neck stand at attention before returning to the sweet dual harmonies and the rest of this great song written by Betts.

8. Pride And Joy, by Stevie Ray Vaughn And Double Trouble, guitar solo by Stevie Ray Vauhn: From its electrifying opening notes, this song promises to hit you where your live and it lives up to its promise. One of Vaughn’s biggest hits, the guitar solo is a fiery combination of traditional blues licks and pure pyrotechnic virtuosity. Stevie Ray is another yet guitar great who died too young but he left us with more than enough scorch marks to remember him always.

9. Hound Dog, by Elvis Presley, guitar solo by Scotty Moore: This was the first #1 national hit for Elvis and the first best-selling song written by the prolific songwriting team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, and the first time Presley himself produced one of his records. It took 31 takes for Elvis to get the spontaneous-sounding version we all know and love. The Scotty Moore solo is a classic example of 1950’s hollow-body electric guitar gritty treble attack, timeless and perfect for the song.

10. Johny B. Goode, by Chuck Berry, guitar solo by Chuck Berry: From one of the men who wrote the soundtrack to the 1950’s, “Johnny B. Goode” contains perhaps THE rock & roll guitar solo, one of the most imitated and influential riffs ever invented and one that every rock & roll guitarist worth his salt knows by heart plus a hundred variations on the theme. Songwriters and guitarists have been recreating that song for two generations, and the main reason is that signature Chuck Berry guitar solo. Where would Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones be without his powerful influence?

11. Eight Miles High, by the Byrds, guitar solo by Roger McGuinn: The Byrds, best known for their jangly folk rock, soaring vocal harmonies designed by David Crosby and making rock & roll hits out of Bob Dylan songs, broke their mold with “Eight Miles High.” A trippy, very 60’s sounding song, McGuinn played free form jazz riffs on his 12-string electric Rickenbacker guitar, all at once nearly atonal and out of control while being precise, disciplined and majestic as the solo leads right back to the opening lyric.

12. Mississippi Queen, by Mountain, guitar solo by Leslie West: Leslie West, a mountain of a man in who’s hands his Gibson Les Paul guitar looked like a toy, had one of the purest ringing tones and finest senses of melody of any rock & roll guitar soloist. Never a speed demon, West wrung the most juice out each note in what he called his “two-fingered style.” The solo on “Mississippi Queen” is classic Leslie West, dripping with emotion and demanding our attention.

13. Proud Mary, by Credence Clearwater Revival, guitar solo by John Fogerty: Not a classic take-no-prisoners blazing solo, this one is more in the George Harrison school filtered though a Mississippi swamp, a flowing and melodic piece, low key but engaging and compelling, constructed perfectly for the material.

14. Purple Rain, by Prince, guitar solo by Prince: Prince has always been a supremely gifted songwriter, singer, showman, producer, arranger and a consummate musician, often playing all of the instruments on his recordings. He best instrument, however, has always been the guitar and he rates up there with the very best. Listen to his outstanding work on “Purple Rain,” his axe crying and screaming and pleading along with the lyrics, that George Jetson-looking guitar as emotional an instrument as his voice; technically and tonally impeccable while being achingly emotional. Another inspired match of material and solo.

15. The End, by The Beatles, guitar solos by Paul McCartney, George Harrison and John Lennon: In a departure from their usual studio line-up and precise arrangements, the Beatles let fly on this one, the last song they ever recorded together. After a drum solo by Ringo Starr, Paul (usually the bass player but an accomplished guitarist himself) started the round robin, followed by George, then John, then once around again for an exciting, heart pounding, powerfully rocking sequence that stops abruptly for a piano part topped with their gorgeous harmonies singing their final line as a band, very appropriately: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”, followed by Harrison’s beautiful guitar coda and a big finish for the biggest rock & roll band of them all.

Fittingly this list ends with The End, although there’s so many more great guitarists and great solos to be mentioned, milestones by which rock and roll fans measure their lives. We can all sing and play air guitar right along with our favorites, just like we can all sing the lyrics to songs we haven’t heard in years. I’m sure I left out a lot of classics and I’ll kick myself tomorrow for not including them, like Keith Richard’s groundbreaking work on “Honky Tonk Woman.” Okay, make that 16 Guitar Solos to Remember. Maybe some of you are kicking me already for omitting some obvious favorites. 

What are some of your all-time great guitar solos? The absolutely essential rock & roll guitar solos I forgot? Leave a comment on this page, it will become a permanent part of the web site. I never edit or delete any comments people are thoughtful enough to make. Meanwhile, let’s all kick back and watch history being made when Barack Obama takes the oath of office today as the 44th President of the United States, and about damned time. Maybe turn the sound down and crank up Jimi’s beautifully sonic version of “The Star Spangled Banner” for that little extra kick. See you tomorrow.

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