The 8 Ball 6.07.14: Top 8 Guitar Solos
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 06.07.2014
From Slash's work in "Sweet Child O' Mine" and Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Texas Flood" to Jimmy Page in "Stairway to Heaven," Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption" and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 guitar solos of all-time!
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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Top 8 Guitar Solos
Hello happy readers; welcome to another edition of the 411 Music Zone 8 Ball! Last week we kicked off our look at the top sixteen guitar solos of all-time and we're finishing it off this week. It was exceedingly difficult to narrow the list, it is worth saying, and many truly great solos didn't make it on. I'm sure there will be a lot of...we'll call it "healthy debate" over my choices and that's great! We all have our favorites, after all. So without further ado, let's get to it!
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"
The First Eight
16. Prince - "Purple Rain"
15. Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple) - "Highway Star"
14. Kirk Hammett - "One"
13. Randy Rhoads - "Mr. Crowley"
12. Brian May - "Bohemian Rhapsody"
11. Eric Clapton - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
10. Don Felder & Joe Walsh - "Hotel California"
9. Chuck Berry - "Johnny B. Goode"
#8: Slash - "Sweet Child O' Mine"
The great irony of "Sweet Child O' Mine" is the fact that while it is undoubtedly one of the all-time great guitar solos, Slash didn't initially like it. The guitar god has always been very open about the fact that he was just messing around when the riff for the song came about and that it somehow became a song after everyone picked up on it. Specifically, he has said, "I hated it forever!" But he eventually grew to appreciate the song and whether you think the overall song is sappy or not, you can't deny the power of Slash's solo. Many times a solo consists of a guitarist just unleashing at maximum ferocity from start to finish but her you can hear the progression. It's like a story all of its own with a build, some rises and falls until it hits its fevered climax and resolution. The song stood out during the hair metal era because while everyone was just letting loose with hyperspeed-style shredding, Slash keeps his work relatively restrained and it's all the better for it all the way up until the climax when he just goes for broke. It's a lesson for aspiring guitar impresarios on how to truly do a solo for maximum impact.
#7: Stevie Ray Vaughan - "Texas Flood"
Blues music was largely in a lull by the time that Stevie Ray Vaughn rolled around in the early 1980s. It's safe to say that he helped to bring it back and "Texas Flood," off the 1983 album of the same name, is a landmark song from the blues rock genre. Vaughn and Double Trouble recorded the album in Los Angeles in November of 1982 when they were offered seventy-two hours of free recording time. They were hoping to just make a demo but by the end of it they had finished their debut album. This is an LP that perfectly captures Vaughn's essence and on "Texas Flood" you have some of the most soulful guitar work I think I have ever heard. There are a few solos in here, but it's particularly the one about two minutes and forty seconds in which perfectly captures the essence of the blues and how you don't need to be metal or hard rock to deliver chillingly perfect solo work. The way Vaughn bends the notes in this are just breath-taking and then he comes right back and moves the sound along faster than you can even mentally keep up. It's one of those solos where you find yourself holding your breath wondering what's going to come next; that's a sign of guitar brilliance right there.
#6: Jimi Hendrix - "All Along the Watchtower"
Jimi Hendrix is one of the most revered guitarists in history for a very good reason. The icon of 1960s rock was able to do things with a guitar that other people hadn't even dreamed of, much less accomplished. And while there were very, very many songs that could have placed on the list, for my money his best solo game during his cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." It's often been said that Hendrix's version is one of the few times that a cover song eclipsed the original and as much as I'm a Bob Dylan fanboy I have to agree. And during Hendrix's solo he did things that were so utterly inventive that they influenced the state of rock and roll for years to come. Hendrix's work here runs the gamut from technically impressive riffing to the moments where he practically makes the guitar vocalize on its own with his bends. The rapid-fire picks are blistering; it is quite simply a marvel of instrumental work. Even Dylan himself began to play the song Hendrix's way after this psychedelic smash and rock music would never be the same.
#5: David Gilmour - "Comfortably Numb"
It wouldn't seem right to talk about the all-time great guitar solos without mentioning David Gilmour's work in Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." As we've covered previously, it's one thing to just cut loose and show your skill with a guitar. It's another thing entirely to do so while perfectly fitting into the song in which your solo is placed. I would say that there has never been a better example of a solo fitting a song than Gilmour's solos in this dreamscape of music. Gilmour's expressive playing perfectly encapsulates the moody sense of isolation that pervades the song, providing a counterpart to Roger Water's melancholy vocals. Both solos are amazing but it is the outro one that really takes the cake. With a swell in music, Gilmour takes over the song and doesn't let go. It's chill-inducing in a way that you can't properly describe without feeling it yourself. There's an orchestral feel to the work but that doesn't make it any less of a psychedelic rock classic. And it's very fair to say that "Comfortably Numb" wouldn't be the song that it is without it.
#4: Jimmy Page - "Stairway to Heaven"
It seems a crime to have the solo work in "Stairway to Heaven" all the way down at #4, but believe me when I say that I don't view that as a patch against it at all. Rather, it's a true credit to the work of the three above it. Jimmy Page's guitar work in this absolute rock classic is impossible to deny. I know that it's a song that people are often tired of because of how iconic and how played it gets on radio, but that doesn't take anything away from the work and particularly the solos. Of course it's the end solo that really picks up the honors here but all of Page's guitar work deserves credit; he goes such a progression here that you can scarcely believe they are all in the same song. And yet, it's a very natural progression. By the time you get to the end it's built up to the point that the only thing left for Page do to is cut loose with one of the most famous solos of all-time. It's amazingly-constructed, the sort of solo work that influenced and inspired thousands of other artists to try and follow in Led Zeppelin's wake. The reverb use was hugely influential and the way Page bends his notes is just superb. It's Rock and Roll 101 for a damned good reason.
#3: Allen Collins & Gary Rossington - "Free Bird"
I've said it before and I will say it again: if you don't love the guitar solo that dominates the final half of "Free Bird" then you should check yourself for a pulse, or at question the existence of your soul. It's an aggressive, rousing instance of dual guitar mastery, the kind of thing that just manages to constantly top itself as the seconds and even minutes wear on. And that's part of what's so amazing about it; you can't possibly expect that they're going to take the solo higher and higher and yet they accomplish it. The song didn't originally have such a long outro; it progressively grew as Skynyrd played it in clubs until it became the epic number that we know and deeply love today. Collins handles all of the molten soloing, but Rossington is no less essential with his rhythm work. They combine into a perfect mix of emotional exultation, a triumphant finale to a song that starts off much slower and deeper. I can't believe I have it anywhere but #1 because it is my personal favorite, but even at #3 it is a lofty honor among all the guitar solos ever recorded.
#2: Steve Vai - "For the Love of God"
I don't know how it's possible, but Steve Vai is underrated as a guitarist. I don't mean to say there that he can't be rated lower, but that I don't know how people can possibly not love his work. He's a technical wizard with a guitar who invests as much passion in his sound as he does skill. "For the Love of God" is a perfect example, a track where you truly feel the exultation that the title suggests. It's an inspiring, uplifting number from Vai's 1990 LP Passion and Warfare that talks (yes, I said "talks" about an instrumental track) about how far people will go for the love of their deities. There isn't a single word in the six minute track but you can hear exactly what Vai means you to hear; it's the act of yearning so hard for the touch of your higher power and getting just a glimpse of the divine. I generally get turned off by instrumental tracks because I am so lyrically-inclined; it is hard to hold my interest for a full instrumental song. Vai is one of the rare exceptions and "For the Love of God" particularly so. How someone can't appreciate the work here is insanity to me. This is guitar mastery at one of its finest moments.
#1: Eddie Van Halen - "Eruption"
For pure impressive cutting-loose caliber guitar work, nothing beats Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption." It's one of the absolute classics of hard rock work, an instrumental track that just consists of Van Halen cutting loose for a minute and forty three seconds while you listen with your jaw dropped. The way he works his way around the guitar to where it sounds like nothing you've ever heard before is truly staggering; the entire song is basically a guitar solo with two-handed tapping, whammy bar dips and artificial harmonics all coming together in a fiery rage of performance art. Anyone who has ever said that guitarists aren't artists have either never heard this before or are just flat-out in denial. This is epic guitar work of the highest caliber and hits you exactly like the volcanic smash that its title suggests. There's just nothing else to say.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
For this week's Music Video A-Go-Go, we're going to look at even more solos with a video of one other man's opinion of the top 20 guitar solos of all time! Check it out below:
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.