It’s time for the very first countdown of 2012. To kick off the new year, we thought we’d share our pick of the 50 greatest guitar solos ever.
We’ve also recruited the assistance of a few, y’know, actual musicians, ranging from Tribes to Two Door Cinema Club. Check out loads of their suggestions after the jump.
The Yardbirds – ‘Mister You’re A Better Man Than I’
Jeff Beck builds the solo perfectly, it starts low and ends high, which is exactly what a guitar solo should do in that sort of song. Every note is so pure… it’s really a goose bump solo. I think we drew the same sort of emotional playing out of Steve Hunter for his solo on ‘I Am Made Of You’, the opening track on my new album ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’. It’s the best solo I’ve ever heard Steve do, and actually right now it IS my favorite guitar solo.
The Beatles – ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’
When we first started playing we decided we didn’t want to be a band that had guitar solos – to not be a band with the kind of ego some solos represent – although the fact that none of us could play well enough probably had more to do with it. On the new record, a couple of them slipped in there and I’ve enjoyed them. I also have a new respect for how difficult they are to pull off!
I always loved the part in The Beatles’ ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ for it’s sense of fun and melody. The guitar playing throughout that song is as near to perfect in a pop song as you could ever find. I also saw Neil Young a couple of years ago at Hammersmith Apollo and have never seen anyone play guitar like him. Also, a special mention to The Strokes for writing guitar solos at the right time when we were the right age to memorise them and sing along to every note.
The Butthole Surfers – ‘Pepper’
I’ve always loved Paul Leary’s guitar style. Ever since I started playing guitar, I’ve been heavily influenced by the way he controls feedback. He’s one of the most original and inventive guitarists since Hendrix. This solo on ‘Pepper’ is a great example of how he pulls the note into the harmonic, you can hear similarities in a lot of the guitars in The Big Pink. I can’t help it.
King Crimson – ‘Elephant Talk’
I find guitar solos cringe worthy at the best of times. They tend to be the part in the song when I roll my eyes and yawn. They’re an age old institution and there are even schools dedicated to their study. This is why I’ve chosen Adrien Belew and his guitar work in ‘Elephant Talk’, because he makes his guitar sound nothing like a “guitar”.
It’s more an animal running wild in the smart glassy foyer of the New York Hilton. It sounds like a fireworks display in a jungle. Amidst the architectural funk of ’80s Crim, you can hear seagulls, lion roars and what Belew imagines to be ‘Elephant Talk’. It’s inventive stuff, to say nothing of his band mates contributions, and just when you think the soloing is over, there’s another one thrown in. Bargain!
Blur – ‘Coffee And TV’
Earth-moving, weirdly an almost onomatopoeic sound. It conveys song and sentiment so articulately, but speaks richer than words. It is angry, confused and beautiful – as is best art, as are the best solos.
The Velvet Underground – ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’
My favorite guitar solo is Lou Reed’s on ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’. It’s absolutely blistering and extremely emotive. I’m not really a fan of overly virtuosic shredding, but I think guys like Neil Young and Lou Reed are infinitely better than Eric Clapton because when they solo it feels more raw and expressionistic and less masturbatory.
The Eagles – ‘Hotel California’
For BEST EVER, I have to take into account melody as well as craft, and no solo quite succeeds like the one in ‘Hotel California’ by The Eagles. The best mark of a good solo is one that you SING along to. I was a kid in diapers running around the house singing this solo, and to this day it blows me away. (Plus if i didn’t select The Eagles, my dad would have strong words for us both).
I found it absolutely impossible to chose just one favorite guitar solo, so here is a three-way tie from songs in my head today.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘One Rainy Wish’
The interplay between the vocal and the guitar line through out this song is classic genius, and beyond this world. I have always loved it and always will.
Television – ‘Ain’t That Nothin”
The way the two guitar lines work together makes me feel like I’m floating in a hot air balloon. Beautiful soaring solo, as well.
Concentrick – ‘Sacred Texts’
Rad, elegant, lean and just generally bad-ass guitar work from Tim Green.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘The Wind Cries Mary’
There is something beautifully understated in this solo and we think thats when you find Hendrix at his best. He had a great sense of melody when it came to his guitar solo’s which is the reason they will last forever.
Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Cherub Rock’
It screams along an edge of chaos and noise while still being beautifully melodic. No showing off on this one, no shredding, just really inventive, expressive playing that sounding like it came from another dimension.
The Beatles – ‘The End’
Not the longest, the most technical, the most obscurely brilliant or the most sing-alongable (though it gets closest on the last count perhaps), John, Paul and George’s three-way guitar solo at the end of Abbey Road is the last musical conversation between three musical mavericks who, for roughly 18 and a half bars, put aside their personal differences and diverging musical directions to lay down a rock’n’roll guitar solo for the ages.
Chuck Berry – ‘Johnny B. Goode’
In addition to the fast, funny rhymes, the storytelling and wordplay, Chuck ‘plays the guitar just like ringing a bell’. Berry’s guitar style, much imitated by Keith Richards and Wilko Johnson and millions of others, is like a souped-up, simplified version of T-Bone Walker’s earlier blues guitar style. However, unlike other guitarists who learned from Walker, such as BB.King or Buddy Guy, Berry never sounds all that convincing when playing ballads or slow blues numbers.
Talking Heads – ‘The Great Curve’
Adrian Belew’s guitar playing on ‘Remain In Light’ is a thing of animalistic beauty, it’s part pure agitation part technical tour de force. His solo on ‘The Great Curve’, with it’s dizzying washes of distortion, show him at his pioneering best. The solo shows him as a brilliant manipulator of guitar effects, it barely sounds like a guitar, but then the Talking Heads barely sound human. It’s so brutal in it’s economy, it almost seems like a moment of sanity within all the vocal and lyrical schizophrenia.
ZZ Top – ‘I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide’
Being from Texas, we have to pick ZZ Top’s song ‘I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide.’ Billy Gibbons is a great guitarist. He was also friends with Jimi Hendrix, who called him the best up and coming guitarist – plus they wore ponchos.
Yo La Tengo – ‘Deeper Into Movies’
It was pretty difficult for me to pick my favorite guitar solo in the YLT catalog. Generally speaking, Ira plays two kinds: the premeditated-sounding, melodic, tidily well-constructed ones (a la ‘Stockholm Syndrome’) and the all out volcanic, noise eruptions (‘Decora)’. My pick from ‘Deeper Into Movies’ sort of bridges the gap between the two. Opening with a squeal of feedback, the line heroically claws its way to the front of a mix dominated by walls of churning rhythm guitar. It is a moment that seems at once totally off-the-cuff and elaborately conceived.
Built To Spill – ‘Carry The Zero’
This has been my favorite since the first time I heard it. It’s long and stately, takes its time, is as expressive as any vocal melody and contains some of the sweetest feedback ever recorded. It’s the payoff to a beautifully enigmatic song. I have no idea what Doug Martsch is singing about, but it doesn’t matter. The words sound perfect, and when he lays into the solo, it all makes sense.