A little while ago, I posted my Top Ten Gee-tar solos of all time. But you didn’t really think I had only ten, did you? Of course, you didn’t. I also did a post once on What I Listen For in a Guitar Solo. Put those two together and, well, there you have it. Two entire – and with this one, three – posts. Let it be said when the history is written that ME may not know much but he can count. Here we go: (I will post YouTube videos as I can but all songs will be in the inevitable Spotify list.)
Guitar great Leslie West died a few days before Christmas 2020. By his own admission, he was not a fast player. But he was an excellent emotional player with his solos full of thick, heavy sustain, wild bends, and terrific feel. If I can sing along with a solo – and it’s a good melody – it is well on the way to being great.
When Leslie died I mentioned a song I’ve featured before, Jack Bruce’s “Theme for an Imaginary Western.” This is a melancholic minor-key tune and West’s solos are things of perfect beauty. I’ve only just learned how to play the first one so I’m trying to get it just right before I get to the second one. Classic stuff. Enjoy.
Chicago was – and still is – one of my very favorite bands. Have they largely squandered their musicianship by releasing a bunch of Peter Cetera-inspired dogshit that your grandmother would find embarrassing to listen to? Yes they have.
But in the early days, boy, nobody rocked or swung in quite the way Chicago did. Much of that is attributable to the late, great guitarist Terry Kath. (Pictured above.) He could sing, play, write – he was the whole package. And not only is “25 or 6 to 4” a great song, but his 1 minute (and then some) solo at 2:00 is still a monumental fucking feat. I am going to learn it someday and I literally never get tired of itit. I love when the wah kicks in
For me, the epitome of the type of guitar I enjoy listening to (or even on occasion playing) is embodied in just about every song Steely Dan ever did. Many of their songs are based on jazz harmonies and jazz chords. Consequently, any of the players on these tunes had to know their instrument really well. Add to that the fact that Mr. Steely and Mr. Dan were notorious perfectionists. So crappy guitar solos did not get past them.
Session guitarist Elliott Randall was an old chum of Becker and Fagen’s from back east. His buddy Jeff Baxter invited him down to the sessions for the Dan debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill. If you’re wondering how Randall wound up playing all the lead guitar on “Reelin’ In the Years” when they had greats like Denny Dias and Jeff “Skunk” himself, I think it all comes down to who can come up with the best solo.
There are actually three guitar breaks in this tune – the intro, the solo, and the outro. They are all fantastic and perfect for the song. Famously, Jimmy Page has called this solo one of his favorites and in a video interview, gave it a “12 out of 10.” (If Pagey gave me a 3 out of 10 on a solo I played I’d be over the moon.) Playing a great solo on a Dan album became a game-changer and put several guitarists on the map:
When Jethro Tull released Aqualung, being good Catholic boys we all dug the way they – as the British say – took the piss out of organized religion. But that aside, we knew a great album when we heard it.
And although I wasn’t playing guitar at the time (started at 12 years old, played for a year, picked it up again as a 20-year old), I always knew a great guitar solo when I heard one. Martin Barre played it and he tells a tale yet again involving the ubiquitous Monsieur Page:
“While I was playing the solo, which was really going well, Jimmy Page walked into the control room and started waving. I thought, ‘Should I wave back and mess up the solo or should I just grin and carry on?’ Being a professional to the end, I just grinned.”
What can you say about Prince except that – to quote him – he was a sexy motherfucker. Prince could do it all- write, sing, perform. And play guitar. We all already know how Prince not only blew all the white boys away playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” live. But then he throws the fucking guitar up in the air and it goes – where? One of guys on stage said he was there and to this day doesn’t know where it went.
But that’s not the song I want to feature. Until I went back to do a Prince post I’d forgotten about the tune “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” It’s not only a great R&B tune but it also has a killer solo at the end. For you musicians, at about 3:03 Prince just runs up and down a scale at top speed. I can play this solo too but not quite up to speed. (No YouTube alas, because Prince’s people are stupid about this.)
Lou Reed’s live Rock ‘n Roll Animal is quite simply one of the best live albums ever. It brims with a fierce energy, fueled in part by the great team of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner.
I believe it’s Hunter here who takes on the lion’s share in the “Intro/Sweet Jane.” In his typically snotty review, Robert Christgau said that he could “do without the showboating of Steve Hunter” proving once again that the “Dean of Rock Critics” doesn’t know shit:
Three words – Stevie Ray Vaughn. Well, where do you start with SRV? Which solo do you feature? I did a whole series on him not too long ago. But I am not going to have two whole posts on great guitaring and not feature the mighty, mighty bluesman from Dallas, Texas. Especially since the last I heard, well, it’s floodin’ down in Texas:
Carlos Santana has never at any point in time been out of my Top 5 players. I mean, how many notes from his guitar do you have to hear to know it’s him? There are so many great tunes. I was going to go with “Europa” but instead, I am going to feature “Toussaint L’Ouverture” from way back when he and Neil Schon were playing together. The first solo you hear later in the tune is Carlos (warmer) and then Schon comes squalling in. Fantastic!
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume you’ve heard of one James Marshall Hendrix. I featured him on the first post but well, he’s pretty, pretty, pretty good. What do I feature here? “Voodoo Chile?” “Foxey Lady?” Sure. I could go with either. Envelope, please. And the award goes to – “All Along the Watchtower.”
Speaking of guitar duos, Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, right? Can I get an amen? A hallelujah? Winklepedia: “The song was written and sung by guitarist Dickey Betts, who penned it about his girlfriend (and later wife), Sandy “Bluesky” Wabegijig.
The track is also notable as one of guitarist Duane Allman’s final recorded performances with the group. The band’s two guitarists alternate playing the song’s lead: Allman’s solo beginning 1:07 in, Betts joining in a shared melody line at 2:28, followed by Betts’s solo at 2:37. The song is notably more country-inspired than many songs in the band’s catalog.”
One day I swear I’ll do that series on Jeff Beck. Just need to work my way into it. But for now, I will leave you with his great solos from his collaboration with Rod Stewart. I did this one not too long ago but I’ve been playing this a lot and so, “Let Me Love You” from Truth.
While this is a standard blues, Beck’s solos are unusual, idiosyncratic even in the choices of notes he makes. There’s an opening solo and then the main one comes later at about 1:35:
Apologies to EVH, Brian May, and Jeff Healey. Next time.