As the world loses one of its greatest ever rhythm guitarists in AC/DC's Malcolm Young, we look at the best strummers ever - Joe Strummer included.
With the death of Malcolm Young, rock lost one of its finest rhythm guitarists, one of that blessed fretboard champions who make strumming along in time with the drummer sound like the art of the impossible. The very best rhythm players are the real pace-setters and creative engines of their bands – the lead guitarists just whack a load of extraneous window dressing on top of their genius and collect all the sex. So here, in no particular order, are thirteen of the best rhythm guitarists in rock history, the people laying down the perfect plastering job for some soloing Michelangelo to paint his sonic Last Supper over. Or something.
Lennon’s chordal inventions upped the stakes of rock’n’roll and formed the bedrock of modern guitar music as we know it. John’s guitar twisted, shouted and, arguably, invented punk at least as early as ‘Taxman’.
One of the first guitarists to rock as much as he rolled, Keef took roots R&B and reconfigured it for the post-Beatnik generation of counter-culture rebels and astral travellers.
Funk became disco with the effortless upswing of Nile Rodgers’ plectrum and pop music has been worshiping his wonder-wrist ever since.
AC/DC were/are a band made almost entirely of riff, much of it built around powerchords that Young appeared to have forged in the pits of Mount Doom.
Weaving together punk and reggae was an intricate craft that few have achieved without sounding like pie-munching pub rockers. Strummer made it look a sweaty breeze, and inspired a generation.
After thirty years of sounding like Thor started a band on guitars made of tectonic plate, Hetfield’s thunderchugs define Metallica, any vast swathes of the metal landscape too. See also: Izzy Stradlin.
If Hetfield is the rhythm guitar Thor, The Wedding Present’s David Gedge is its Flash, speed-strumming through ‘Kennedy’ and ‘Brassneck’ like his life depends on it and, from the off, setting the indie pop pulse at ‘frantic’.
Albert Hammond Jr
A spiritual descendant of Gedge, Albert’s stark, smart and edgy slashes of modish guitar drove the compulsive energy of The Strokes and rejuvenated new wave pop for the 21st Century New York scene.
And Hammond begat Barat, who did exactly the same for UK indie rock, his swerving and spiraling chord rampages encapsulating the stylish/demonically unhinged essence of The Libs. See also: Alex Turner.
If the devil has all the best tunes, Pixies’ Black Francis is on rhythm. Savage, melodic, schizophrenic and willing to ditch a time signature in a second if there’s a juicy hook worth chasing, Francis’ Biblical Mex-grunge mania smashed the pillars and broke the walls of what a rhythm guitarist was capable of.
You’re more likely to find her fondling a cigfiddle, e-bow or autoharp in a crow’s feather headpiece these days, but when PJ Harvey picks up a Rickenbacker and stabs out a garage riff like ‘Dress’, ‘50ft Queenie’ or ‘Rid Of Me’, her strum-und-drang is a formidable force of nature.
Now try doing all of the above while scissor-kicking and swinging your arm around like it’s been dislocated in a freak Swingball accident. Townshend can.
Hynde’s sparkling, sultry riffs with The Pretenders were the brass in the pocket of new wave, and that she carried them offwith such a casual insouciance was nothing short of inspiration.