Welcome, intrepid wanderer; take a seat. Brew? No, of course not. Last time I tried to send tea over the internet I had to spend a fortune on new components and let me tell you, Oolong and thermal conducting paste don’t taste as good together as you’d think.
Anyway, I digress. Guitar solos! We all love them…. well, guitarists do…. well, the ones that like rock do… well, the ones that like rock with guitar solos do…. well…
Guitar solos! Those that love guitar solos love them. I’ve picked out ten of my favourites from the more, errrr… “accessible” end of my music tastes and split them into two sets of five: The first are those stone cold classics we all know and love, and the second I pulled out of the bag just as a way of prodding you towards the songs that don’t get the limelight in an artist’s catalogue, but are still up there with the best.
Either way, there’s some top fretwork ahead, and as Julius Caesar said, Veni, Vidi, Viddlyviddlyviddly. Strap yourself down, plug in, turn up to 11, then turn back down to something a little more sensible. Let’s rock.
Michael Jackson – Beat It
Knock knock knock knock….. It’s polite of the great Eddie Van Halen to warn us he’s about to blow us away with this scrappy, unconventional, yet overall slick and face-melting solo. As ever the guy that’s responsible for everyone biddly biddly biddly tapping throws a bit in there, but in much more interesting ways than the “Eruption” method that every hack took on and didn’t expand upon. Those harmonics that he hits absolutely scream, and cause many an air guitarist (myself included) to gurn in the ugliest way possible and not care a jot.
Eagles – Hotel California
Ahhh, what a set of little beauties. Each having its own little flavours (I love the little “beebly beeplebooooo…WHIP!” noises at the end of each lick in the second solo.), each as tasty as the last. I’m mostly very not-keen on classic rock for the similarity of the solos a.k.a bumbling about on the pentatonic and not really saying much, but these solos bridge the gap between the vintage rock sensibility of holding back and restraint along with the progressive mentality of vocal, lyrical lines. Solos you can “Jack Black” along to.
Queen – The Show Must Go On
“WOT NO BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY?!” I hear you cry? No. My list. So there. Where Beat It causes gurns of rock eruption from inside one’s very being, The Show Must Go On causes delicious, salty man-tears. Made sadder by Freddie’s illness and eventual death, Brian May hits an emotional nerve with what is bordering on the perfect ballad-style solo, the rhythmic intricacies on that first run building up to a soaring bend. I think as far as doing the most in such a short solo, Brian comes away with the award.
Dire Straits – Sultans of Swing
Ooooh, that spanky, splunky, clucky, in-between position on a strat. I loves it. This whole track is drenched in tasty little licks between the vocal lines. Really sophisticated bits of playing. What grabbed me as a young’un was that really nice mix of country technique, bluesy bends, nice subtle almost-jazzy arpeggios, and then a few rocky/metally widdly bits thrown in there. Variety is the spice of life, and Mark Knopfler could easily have phoned this one in and nobody would have known any better. The whole track is elevated by the flavours he adds in there, and to you, Knopfler, I would raise a glass of nut-brown ale, but I’ve just finished my breakfast so I shall raise my cereal bowl instead. Excelsior!
Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower
Ah, Jimi…. Jimi, Jimi, Jimi, Jimi. What a great he was. A lot of the time I actually admire him more for his rhythm playing than his solos, but by golly did he pull one (or three!) out of the bag here. This Bob Dylan cover, if you read up on the production process, was anything but organic; yet, when listening to all the different parts he added to this solo, he ends up with a masterpiece. In relation to the piece he goes everywhere here, his standard blues rock wailing (love that fuzz-face/Marshall sound!), calms it right down for slinky slide licks (with *that* little “ping” harmonic in the middle), to psychadelic wah-wah vocal phrases, jumping to clean funky, choppy rhythmic licks, tieing right back into the wail. Don’t for one second think I’m knocking the wail. Jimi’s wail can make one or two notes seem like fifty (listen to Fire for a great example of that). Magic.
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – songs you may not have listened to by artists you may not have listened to but maybe you have in some of these cases and I really need to think of a snappier dividing title than this but what the hey I’m on a roll let’s see how long I can coherently keep this sentence going before it starts to get irritating oh look it’s started getting irritating okay I’ll stop now.
Van Halen – Unchained
This beauty launches from the pumping, driving rock chorus into two harmonic divebombs that slap you in the face from the get go. A real testament to EVH’s bluesy swagger with the “new” (for the time) twist that made him the icon that launched (for better or worse) the shred phenomenon. The change from the constant drive of the chorus to the punchy, stoppy-starty mid section, which falls straight back into that chorus makes it a killer for me.
Dream Theater – Breaking All Illusions
Oh, Dream Theater – let me count the ways in which I love you. This is an album track from their most recent album, A Dramatic Turn of Events, and, as is usual with Dream Theater, it goes everywhere over a gruelling twelve and a half minutes. John Petrucci’s grasp of light and shade, along with his instinctive note choice make this a beauty. What starts as a flat-out shredfest drops right down into a slow, brooding movement, rising back into a triumphant almost movie theme-esque part, which naturally leads back into a metal riff section is like a song within itself and if I didn’t put Petrucci in here I’d feel like a butcher selling Quorn.
Iron Maiden – Revelations
Now I know you’ve all heard of Iron Maiden (and if you haven’t, I’m afraid you’ll have to leave to a chorus of boos), but this went into the second list because usually whenever someone says Iron Maiden you always get Run-to-the-bloody-Hills *grumble grumble grumble*. If you already know this one, congratulations – I may reconsider sending you that tea I mentioned at the beginning. If not, get a load of Adrian’s solo (the second one in the guitar “duel”) on this bad boy! I’m just relistening it now and that climax always gives me chills. It’s climactic, pacy, well played, got a killer vibrato and really ups the feel of the song. Really nice screaming pinch harmonics and wailing bends, that Van Halen gurn feeling again! If you can, get a hold of Live After Death from 1985 in Long Beach, Adrian rips it up on that with a more aggressive guitar tone and it really brings the whole thing to life.
Harem Scarem – Outside Your Window
If you don’t like AOR, you best skip this one. Harem Scarem are the best rock band you’ve never heard of (though I might be more inclined these days to hand the accolade to Work of Art but that’s another discussion for another day). Pete Lesperance has a really, really cool guitar tone. Chunky and articulated but neither muddy nor icepicky, it totally suits his playing style. Regarding his playing, really interesting note choice and articulation, very vocal sing-songy and rhythmic, lots of a chucka-chucka stop-start phrases, very cool. So hooky you wouldn’t believe it. Even if the fromage of the songs isn’t your cup of tea, I guarantee you’ll at least appreciate this solo in some way or another.
Steve Vai – Windows to the Soul
As you might have noticed by now, I’m a bit of a fan of the old light-and-shade and subtlety tricks, and my earlier choice of Dream Theater outs me as a time signature lover. Who better to roll it all up into one instrumental ballad than Little Stevie Vai himself? This song is all based around an 11/8 groove which throws the accents into really interesting place and starts out with the guitar almost taking on an intimate whisper in the ear before kicking into the main theme. The clincher with Vai is all the tiny little inflections and touches on each note, his sense of timing and feel, his effortless control over the instrument. Any of my fellow guitarist chums out there will agree there are so many ways to play the same note, Vai likes to find out how many there are! Add this into his unique sense of melody and knack for spacious arrangements and you’ve got a stonker. If the finer details aren’t your thing this may not be your bag, but if you like the intricacies without the avant-garde, Steve’s your man.
Well, boys and girls. It has been an emotional one. Thank you for bearing with my stream-of-consciousness (another belting Dream Theater song, if you wondered, which I’m sure you didn’t) blather. I hope it was as enjoyable to read as my procrastination was infuriating. Take it easy.