So here’s my sure-to-be-controversial top ten list of guitar solos. (“Wot? No Angus Young?”) I numbered these 1 – 10 but it’s probably pretty arbitrary depending on the day. The difference from 1 – 10 isn’t leaps and bounds. They are all genius.
In personal preference I lean more towards the bluesy/melodic and less toward the “how-many-notes-per-second-I-can-shred.” This post gave me the opportunity to do something I’d never done before which is listen to these all back-to-back. Awesome! (Pictured: Larry Carlton.)
- Free Bird. Lynryd Skynyrd. Guitarists Allen Collins, Gary Rossington – “If I leave here tomorrow,” Collins’ girlfriend said during an argument, “would you still remember me?” I listed this as number one because it’s literally impossible for me to listen to it and not get excited. As noted in my post on this song, if I’m driving and I’m near home, I will keep driving till it’s over. Is the song a cliche of ’70s? Maybe. Don’t care. Love it to death. Not written – as is sometimes believed – for Duane Allman, but later dedicated to him by the band as they used to follow him around the South and watch him wherever he played. Listen to it here.
- Crossroads. Cream. Guitarist Eric Clapton. Two solos but I’ll go with the first one. What can I say? Every guitarist can either play this or knows it or would like to play it. Rock “experts” who say it’s a bunch of blues cliches are missing the point. It’s the phrasing. It’s incendiary and has a tight structure. Even Eddie Van Halen who couldn’t play blues if his life depended on it learned this solo. Cream version here.
- Hotel California. Eagles. Guitarists Don Felder, Joe Walsh. I consider this the absolute perfect rock song. Prior to its release, not an Eagles fan. After it, yes. Joe Walsh added balls to a band that was sorely lacking in them. The intertwined solos are perfect and I do not know how they could possibly be improved upon. Listen to it here.
- Red House, Jimi Hendrix. Maybe the best blues song ever. Jimi is known for his psychedelia but he was a master bluesman. The intro solo is phenomenal and I spent hours and hours learning it, forty years after it came out. Thanks YouTube guy. You can listen to it here.
- Money. Pink Floyd. Guitarist, David Gilmour. His solo has three distinct sections: the first one sets the tone and would be fine and funky by itself. The second one switches over to a close, “dry” sound and the third one just soars off into the stratosphere. I know a lot of people prefer “Comfortably Numb.” But this is the one for me. Listen to it here.
- In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. Allman Brothers Band. Guitarists, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts. Although both solos are terrific, I’m thinking specifically of Duane’s solo here that comes in at about 7:47 on their At Fillmore East album. This is what made him such a master. Total passion, pure tone – the works. And the end of the solo is orgasmic. He admitted to thinking of Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” here. Dickey, great as he is, plays. But Duane soars. Listen to it here.
- Highway Star. Deep Purple. Guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore. As the title would have it, a terrific song for driving. Blackmore was classically trained and supposedly his solo is based on some Bach sequence. I don’t care if it’s based on The Three Stooges theme song. Some commenter on YouTube said, “If I ever decide to commit suicide by driving my car 150 mph straight into a wall, this is the song I’m gonna go with.” Damn straight. Listen to it here.
- Sultans of Swing. Dire Straits. Guitarist, Mark Knopfler. Both solos are terrific but I’m going with the first one because I just learned it! And I will tell you that it is not only a terrific solo but he is amazingly creative in his approach. Given that particular set of chords I wouldn’t have thought of this solo in a million years. Unusual bends, country-like sounds, sliding chords, arpeggiated chords. Just well thought out and exciting. All in a minor key. Listen to it here.
- Stairway to Heaven. Led Zeppelin. Guitarist, Jimmy Page. A lot of people think this is the greatest rock solo of all time. Page nailed this in, I think, three takes. Just improvised it. What makes a solo great, in part, is how well it fits the song. You can sing it. Listen to it here.
- Kid Charlemagne. Steely Dan. Guitarist, Larry Carlton. There could be a top ten list of just Steely Dan guitar solos. Walter Becker is a good guitarist but they always had the cream of the crop session guys who stepped up to the plate. There’s two solos, both outstanding. I’m going with the one at fadeout that starts at about 3:50. Again, perfect, jazzy solo by studio whiz Larry Carlton. (“Mr. 335” for his preferred guitar). And to prove that a solo doesn’t have to be long to be awesome, this one clocks in at about 40 seconds.
Honorable Mention: 25 or 6 to 4,” Chicago, (Terry Kath, guitarist), “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” Derek and the Dominos, (Eric Clapton, guitarist); Aqualung, Jethro Tull, (Martin Barre, guitarist), “Sweet Jane intro,” Lou Reed (Steve Hunter/Dick Wagner, guitarists); “Texas Flood, ” Stevie Ray Vaughn; “Rock Around the Clock,” Bill Haley and the Comets (Danny Cedrone guitarist); Reelin’ In The Years,” Steely Dan (Elliot Randall, guitarist. Jimmy Page’s favorite solo.)
So that’s my list. Comments, alternate lists more than welcomed.