The 8 Ball 5.31.14: Top 16 Guitar Solos (#16 - 9)
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 05.31.2014
From Eric Clapton's work in "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and Randy Rhoads' "Mr. Crowley" solo to Prince's "Purple Rain," Kirk Hammett in Metallica's "One" and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas begins his look at the top 16 guitar solos with #16 through 9!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Hello boys and girls! Welcome, once again, to the Music Zone 8-Ball! This week we've been inspired by a YouTube video that went viral of a banjo cover of Slayer's classic "Raining Blood." The cover is absolutely stunning in its quality and it got me back to a topic that I've wanted to do for a while but kept losing track of: guitar solos. There's nothing that pushes a rock song from great to unforgettable quite like an awesome solo; they are the make or break moments of many a rock song. There are so many great ones that we can't just do eight, so this will be expanded to a two-parter as we look at the sixteen greatest solos in history.
Caveat: Pretty straight-forward this one; if it was a guitar solo it was eligible! Now keep in mind that by "solo" we mean an instrumental without vocals; there are some solos that are actually duets. In terms of ranking, I considered the technical aspects of the solo, how well it fit within the song, its influence on guitar work in popular music, its ability to evoke emotions and of course, personal preference. And as usual I tried to limit my selections to one per artist on the list.
Just Missing The Cut
Randy Rhoads - "Crazy Train"
Tom Morello - "Killing in the Name..."
Eric Clapton & Duane Allman - "Layla"
Slash - "November Rain"
Johnny Greenwood - "Paranoid Android"
#16: Prince - "Purple Rain"
Prince is one of the great examples of how underrated pop music can be when it comes to guitar work. Certainly these days the genre leans far more on electronica and hip-hop beats than it does any sort of rock element but some of the all-time great guitarists have toiled within the genre and the Purple One is one of the more underrated guitarists of all-time. He was always incorporating rock elements into his pop music and "Purple Rain" is one of the shining examples of that, a track that is pure pop balladry distilled right down to its purest form but which spares time for one of the all-time great guitar solos without question. It doesn't quite get the credit of rock numbers because it doesn't have the same level of hyperspeed or pounding aggression, but damn if the man didn't make that guitar cry. The mournful sounds of Prince's Hohner MADCAT (bought for just $200 at a local Minneapolis guitar shop, by the way) perfectly echo the tone of the song, meaning that while it isn't as flashy as some of the other all-time greats it earns its spot by virtue of not only its technical merits, but how perfectly it fits within its song.
Speaking of underrated guitarists, Ritchie Blackmore is commonly left off of lists of the greatest guitarists. And perhaps he doesn't rank amount the highest of all echelons with a guitar (in truth, I left him off my own list) but I think as a guitarist he gets lost in the shuffle and that's not fair to him. Deep Purple is one of the great influential acts of the classic rock era and Blackmore really knew how to take control of a song. A perfect example of that is "Highway Star," the opener to 1972's Machine Head. There's no other way to say it than this: Ritchmore's solo in the latter half of the song absolutely kills it. This is the kind of thing that makes me gape, a sustained delivery that builds and builds until you don't think it's impossible to go any further. And yet, Ritchmore takes control and drives it right home. Ironically this track almost didn't get recorded due to complaints about excessive noise in the Swiss ballroom that they were recording; they ended up recording it in the Rolling Stones' famous mobile recording studio and the rest is glorious guitar solo history.
#14: Kirk Hammett - "One"
C'mon, you can't talk about great guitar solos without paying service to Kirk Hammett's absolutely incendiary work on "One." I'll be honest; a lot of extended guitar solos bore me, especially when they occur at the end of songs. I'm a very lyrically-inclined person and it's always tempting once the vocals are done for me to zone out and just ignore whatever's coming next. On "One," that's flat-out impossible. Kirk Hammett was fairly frustrated with his recording experience for ...And Justice For All, feeling that they were rushed and left him exhausted with twenty-hour recording sessions. He even re-recorded the second half of the second solo but still says he was never completely satisfied with it, remarking, "I guess I did a good enough job, though." That's an understatement. This song is a guitar solo wet dream, with four separate solos that are all fantastic but of course it's the final one that really takes over. Hammett follows up the "machine gun" guitar work and Hetfield's final lyrics with licks so fast that it's difficult to even mentally follow along. It's unreal work and really goes to show why the group is one of the best metal bands out there when they're at the top of their game.
#13: Randy Rhoads - "Mr. Crowley"
Randy Rhoads is one of the great guitarists that were gone too soon. It's nearly impossible to talk about Rhoads as a performer without talking about the 1982 plane crash that took his life, if only because it cut short the life of a man who had so much ahead of him (and not just professionally). But I'm not going to touch on that overly long; instead I'd rather look at his music and Rhoads packed a hell of a lot of good into the time that he had. The young guitarist said that he considered the solo on "Mr. Crowley" his most memorable one and it's really hard to disagree with him. There are two great solos on this track from Rhoads and they're both equally mind-blowing; the first comes in the middle of the track and is sheer technique put to a blistering rapid-fire pace. The second one is a more melodic style of solo but it's no less stunning; this was the touch of a twenty-four year old who had already mastered the art of the guitar to a level that very, very few people have managed with much more time.
#12: Brian May - "Bohemian Rhapsody"
There are few guitar solos more memorable than that of Brian May's in "Bohemian Rhapsody." The celebrated guitarist for the band accomplished a rare feat with this solo; it not only stands out from the rest of the song, it also manages to fit perfectly in at the same time. It kicks off a drastic tonal shift in the song from the operatic quality into a full-on rock number, a transition that could have been incredibly jarring. But May accomplishes it in such a way that it just smoothly slides you right into that last portion. The solo work here adds a deeply uplifting element to the final part of the extensive length of the song, allowing the time to fly by without making it feel nearly as long as it could have felt. And it even fits in smoothly with the downward-trailing denouement. May said that the entire song was recorded on 16-track and that when they were done recording they looked at the tape and it was almost completely transparent because the oxide had been rubbed off from all the work. And thus, an iconic guitar solo was very close to being lost. Luckily fate intervened and we have it for posterity.
#11: Eric Clapton - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is a Beatles song and certainly one of their greats, but it wasn't any of the Fab Four who provided the iconic guitar solo. For this White Album track, the George Harrison had made several passes at the solo but hadn't managed to find the right feel. A fateful car ride with Eric Clapton led to the guitar god being asked to take a shot at it and the results were spectacular. This is Jimi Hendrix-level playing right here, with epic swells and bends that raise the song from great to brilliant. Clapton was actually reluctant to help out; as Harrison told it, he was concerned that the other members of the band wouldn't like him coming in and getting involved and only after he said "Well, damn, it's my song, and I'd like you to come down" did Clapton agree. The results created the kind of song that truly resonates through the ages because Clapton really did make his guitar sound like it was weeping.
#10: Don Felder & Joe Walsh - "Hotel California"
Joe Walsh is generally given credit for the amazing guitar work in "Hotel California" and don't get me wrong; he's damned good and contributes to the solo. But the majority of the guitar work in the solo belongs to Don Felder. Felder wrote the song's music and played the harmonies on the instrument demo of the song, as well as performing the primary guitar work in this extended solo. Felder recalled that when he was recording it he had to call home to listen to the demo over the phone to figure out how the track went. Frankly that isn't surprising; it's an incredibly intricate track and his work on it is just a little bit underrated because the Eagles don't have the hard rock pedigree that a lot of the most famous solos have. The dueling interplay between Felder and Walsh is fantastic; it's like listening to two voices singing together when that chemistry is just right. Something magical happens and the evocative sound here is truly timeless. It definitely deserves its ranking among the best solos of all-time, even if it's technically a duet.
#9: Chuck Berry - "Johnny B. Goode"
You have to give props to the guitar solo that really sort of started it all. Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" may just contain the first true guitar solo, at least in the history of rock and roll. The genre was still in an incredibly nascent stage when this song was released and it's fair to say that Berry set the bar for just about every solo that would come along for a while afterward; it still certainly stands tall among the greats. Often times the prototypical example of something pales in comparison to its predecessors simply because it is the first, and those that come after are able to build on that and refine, improve. It's a very, very scant few who have managed to actually improve on Berry's essential solo work here, a rocking number in which you can literally hear all the different ancestors of rock and roll merging into one. Rock guitar was basically defined by Berry and his solo work here defined what was capable for instrumental moments in music. Everyone who has shredded since owes Berry a debt.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
For this week's Music Video-A-G-Go, here is the video that inspired this list: Rob Scallon's banjo cover of "Raining Blood." Enjoy:
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.