After @Twang’s magnificent thread on guitar albums (how’s Doolittle in your ears, brother?) and the recent Night In with Led Zeppelin’s BBC Sessions, I though of guitar solos. I do not like much blues rock fret wanking. I like my guitar solos compact, an intricate part of the song, lifting it on to a higher plane. Think of George Harrison in The Beatles and you are there. After some thought, I wrote down my top twenty. Most of them are more than thirty years old. I set aside Jazz guitar for another day.
I know The Afterword loves a list, so here it is:
20. David Gilmour – Blue Jean Bop
Personally, I find Gilmour’s guitar playing dull. Not on Paul McCartney’s Run Devil Run. The sparks fly, the fingers are nimble and he keeps it brief. Perfect.
19. Fred Tackett – Shore Leave
Tom Waits song is remarkable. It captures the excitement of exploring an exotic city but it is underpinned by a tender longing for home. Tackett uses very few notes but he makes your heart ache and sing at the same time.
18. Paul Warren – Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone
The guitar sound associated with The Temptations masterpiece is the Wah-Wah. However, the bluesy figures by a then 17 year old Warren match Denis Edwards irascible, heartbroken vocal much more.
17. Paul Simon – Mrs Robinson
This is acoustic guitar in excelsis. I honestly believe that Simon can play guitar just as well as gods like Townsend and Page. Normally, he just contents himself with melody lines but when he lets rip, he is fluid as Mick Taylor.
16. John McGeoch – Spellbound
McGeoch helped formulate Magazine’s sound. By the time he joined The Banshees he had developed so many extra elements. He could carry the melody, drive the rhythm and add variation and colour all at the same time.
15. Carlos Santana – Samba Pa Ti
This man blends notes together beautifully. Try and listen to this with your mouth closed.
14. Jack White – Little Bird
Jack pushed against his own self-imposed boundaries, creating a scuzz blues. On De Stijl, The White Stripes laid down their manifesto, simple, effective and loud. Little Bird could turn your world upside down.
13. Mick Taylor – Sway
Sway is ragged untidy song until Taylor stamps his class all over the last minute. At the time, he was the best guitarist in the world. He rendered the string section superfluous.
12. Joey Santiago – Vamos
Vamos is basically a bit of Spanish from Frank Black, a kick drum and Santiago making a glorious noise. The longer version on Surfer Rosa multiplies the pleasure.
11. Phil Manzanera – The Thrill Of It All
Manzanera’s guitar is other-worldy, glamorous, artistic and spectacular, never more so than on The Thrill Of It All. Thrill doesn’t cover it.
10. Ry Cooder – Shakespeare Didn’t Quote That
Ry has had an incredible career over fifty years, starting as a mere teenager with Taj Mahal and Captain Beefheart, covering multiple styles. He sounds best amongst friends. Terry Evans and the band are friends and his guitar here is magnificently eloquent.
9. John McKay – Jigsaw Feeling
Punk cleared the decks and talent like McKay filled the void with a new way of playing, provocative, alienated and unnerving. Jigsaw Feeling is effectively one long solo. It drips with venom.
8. Prince – Sign O’ The Times
Prince was the ultimate showman, capable of the most amazing fret-wankery displays. However, he was at his best focused and disciplined. His playing on Sign O’ The Times is as tight as gnat’s chuff. It takes one of his better songs on to a higher plane.
7. Robert Fripp – Baby’s On Fire
David Bowie invited Fripp to play dirty, filthy rock and roll on “Heroes” and Scary Monsters. He knew he was capable of it because of his performance on Eno’s tasteless joke. He squawks and squeals for over two minutes. He doesn’t add to the song, he takes it over. His solo on Baby’s On Fire trumps anything he did for King Crimson.
6. Keith Levene – Poptones
Levene creates a relentless, seemingly endless loop that is as nagging as toothache. It’s not an easy listen. It’s certainly not pop. It may not even be classifiable as a guitar ‘solo’. Whatever. It’s magnificent.
5. John McLoughlin – Right Off
This isn’t Jazz, it’s Rock and it rocks like a bitch. It’s an instrumental, lasting 26 minutes and there’s no trumpet for ten minutes. Released in 1971, a vintage year for Rock Guitar Gods, only Mick Taylor came close.
4. Paul McCartney – Taxman
George Harrison is my perfect lead guitarist, brief, unassuming and always makes the song better. He wrote this song but McCartney delivers the solo, aggressive, pithy and angular. It is the best Beatles guitar solo, so good they reversed it and put it on Tomorrow Never Knows for good measure.
3. Eddie Hazel – Maggot Brain
George Clinton instructed Hazel to play as though his mother had just died. Ten minutes later, Hazel had produced something that goes way beyond blues. Edit out Clinton’s introductory nonsense and I want it played at my funeral.
2. Jimi Hendrix – All Along The Watchtower
Jimi was a magician, an alchemist, a wizard, a God. After he heard this, Dylan said that all his songs are Jimi’s. It’s the kind of performance that can be listened to back-to-back a hundred times and still sound amazing.
1. Larry Carlton – Kid Charlemagne
Becker & Fagen wrote a good song. A really good song with a nice tune and a toe-tapping rhythm. Carlton’s solo is so perfect, the most perfect solo ever, that he transforms it into something extraordinary, something from another world, the world of jazz.