My Top Ten Guitar Solos of All Time – Part Deux

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.

42 thoughts on “My Top Ten Guitar Solos of All Time – Part Deux

  1. Hallelujah!

    Yes, these are pretty damn tasty. There are so many great guitarists out there from which to choose, and I know it’s tough. When I try to winnow down to the best, I usually end up lost in enjoying the songs such that I end up increasing the pool before ending up at a final (for now) list. A personal fave is Rory Gallagher’s “Million Miles Away” live on the ‘74 Irish Tour album. I can listen to that man forever…

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  2. These are really great, Jim. 25 or 6 to 4 and the Terry Kath solo are just amazing. Reelin’ In the Years is the ultimate Steely Dan rocker, and it’s in large part because of the solo.

    And SRV? Just a crazy good guitar player. And Prince – you’re so right. In fact, I had never fully appreciated him as a guitarist until his out-of-this-world solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

    As for Santana, I think most of his brilliance is his beautiful tone. Nobody sounds like him.

    Last but not least, the Allmans. I always love when they played double-lead guitar. It’s like harmony singing!

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    1. I was originally going to post ‘Jessica’ but it’s pretty much ALL solo. And then I wondered why I was overlooking ‘Blue Sky.’ I am going to go for a spin in the automobile and crank this list up to 11!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great List.
    SRV Little Wing and Jimi Red House @ San Diego Sports Arena 1969. Cut from Hendrix in the West
    Thanks

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    1. By “shows” do you mean live shows where they might tend to get self-indulgent? Or do you mean that you don’t care for solos in songs because you think they are just showing off and add no value to the song?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Both. There’s nothing like a good riff. The time of the solo heroes is slowly running out anyway. For me was Jimi Hendrix one of the few who didn’t had to show off his virtuosity, but was able to express something. His solos were neither extremely fast nor particularly clean. They were rough and unpredictable, that’s why they were so good. Hendrix made his guitar speak. And if you can do that, you can still play guitar solos today with a clear conscience.

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        1. I agree with your last statement and what you say about Hendrix. And I agree that there is no need for self-indulgent 20-minute solos of any kind. (Although that said, jazzers do it all the time.) Bonham was notorious for 30=minute drum solos. But if you’re suggesting that solos in general don’t enhance songs and are mere showing off,, I heartily disagree. A great solo enhances a song in a way that it’s difficult to do otherwise., be it guitar, sax, piano, drums, or whatever. I’d maintain that the two sets of guitar songs I posted would be poorer minus those solos. Greatly poorer. And of course, “Free Bird” is practically all solo. But it’s exciting.

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        2. Licks are part of rock music, but if you overdo it, you quickly come across as boastful. The top performances of the top soloists are particularly admired by guitar teachers and specialist magazines. The average music listener, on the other hand, doesn’t find it particularly exciting to watch a guitarist masturbate.

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        3. I don’t consider a beautiful solo by an accomplished musician masturbating whether guitar or not. They may come across to you as boastful. But a lot of us see it as beautiful and exciting. By your definition, all jazz is masturbation.

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        4. The connection between male mastrubation and guitar solos doesn’t comes from me. I don’t think of jazz in this term, but on the guitar solo of Jimi Page in “Heartbreaker” for example, that yodels in the pentatonic form, or on Alvin Lee’s appearance in Woodstock. Johnny Winter, on the other hand, wasn’t just a cock who got the blues out of his pants, he was a dramatic signal, a strange presence.

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        5. Yes, I understand in those instances. Let me put you to the test. Do you know the songs on that Spotify list I posted? If so, would you qualify any of those as that? Or if you don’t know them, would you give them a listen? It will cost you one hour of your time. I’d be curious to see if you think those solos are crucial parts of the song and enhance them? Or fit your other description. No judgment here either way, just wondering.

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        6. But you’re the type of person who rejects all guitar solos as masturbatory. You might be better suited on another blog.

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        7. No problem, you can go anytime. Talking about music means for me also dealing with views that are outside of my own comfort zone.

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        8. And cherrypicking songs that buttress your argument and have nothing to do with any of the songs I posted. But keep patting yourself on the back.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. All those do it for me. The only band that I dont listen to out of your choices is ‘Chicago’. I know in the day they were happening just never stuck with them. A few other people I know dig that early stuff. That cut has always cooked.
    I have a few of “CB’s Fave Solos” in the bank. One of the same artists above but different cut. Shorter solo.
    I’m heading for a workout. I might take this list with me to push me through the hard parts. Good stuff.

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  5. All very tasty solos – and another reminder to me that Chicago are worth exploring. I got into Santana’s non-Abraxas stuff last year. A pile of stuff had been sitting waiting for some attention… and checked it out. I still need to spend some time with Steely Dan and Allman Brothers Band, though.

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    1. Chicago’s first two or three albums are great. There’s some exploratory weird stuff (it was the ’60s) but much of it was top-notch. If you’re going to check out the ABB, no better place to start than At Fillmore East. If that is not your cup of tea, then they may not be for you. However, I recently got Tony over in UK into it against all odds.

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        1. I have that one and Peach (?) added to my list. I’ll delve into Brothers and Sisters first (I may have listened to that previously on Spotify or the likes, as it’s familiar.

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        2. Excellent! An endurance test! Listen, I really like Earthless and they’re no strangers to 20+ minute tunes.

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    2. Hi,
      My two cents worth 🤠
      Some other Allman Brothers shows from radio to look for is Live at A&R studios 8-26-71 which has a ferocious take of You Don’t Love Me/ Soul Serenade. 2 months before he left us. For Post Duane look up Allmans @ Cow Palace 12-31-73 for a terrific set of Dicky in the zone meshing perfectly with Chuck Leavell and Gregg. Standouts include Southbound, Rambling Man and especially Jessica. Cow Palace is easily available online through gray market sources or go to Wolfgang’s vault.

      Regarding Santana. They played the final shows at the Fillmore West in 1970 which was filmed by Bill Graham and originally released as a 3 album box set Fillmore: The Last Days. This was the Neil Schon/ Carlos lineup. A little jazzy but still one of the best showcases of sheer power of that band on In A Silent Way and Incident at Neshabur. Lots of great stuff from other bands but outside this topic.

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      1. Very, very interesting. Long-time readers of this blog know I am an ABB zealot. And I worship at the altar of Carlos. I will most definitely either listen to or invest in these. For the record, I have the Fillmore East box set which is pretty comprehensive.

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  6. One more. Johnny Winter’s take on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited off of Captured Live Give it a spin and wrap your head around some killer slide by Johnny and a relative unknown Floyd Radford. This is hard rock blues at it’s best. The whole album smokes.

    Liked by 1 person

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