I’ve written before on the marvel that is rock (music, not the stuff mountains are made of) and it really is a never-ending source of wonder to me. I was reminded of this watching Perihelion, a live concert by Deep Purple, recorded in 2003, and here was what astounded me.
The ages of the audience ranged from fifteen to about seventy, and they were all rocking! A large part of the allure of rock music is the lead guitar, that most wonderfully used or terribly abused instrument which, in the hands of Paul Gilbert or Dave Sharman, is a noise-maker such as you would find at a football match.
All their solos consist of pentatonic scales played as fast as is humanly possible. Yet they are, and should be compared with the greats, because they fulfil the same function. The band largely revolves around them. So I thought I’d bring something to the table; something a little different and, of course, opinionated.
Last week I mentioned a few guitarists that I thought warranted honourable mention and unleashed a torrent of varying opinions, so I’ve decided to compile a list, if you will, of what I consider to be some of the greatest guitar solos ever. One of them, and it will surprise many because of the band from which it emanated, is Tony Hicks. Who? That’s right, Tony Hicks, from the Hollies, for The Air That I Breathe. Understated, short, and leaving you wanting more.
Also a pretty good song.
While we’re on light pop, how about Guitar Man, by James Griffiths, of Bread? These solos are perfect in their execution and masterful in the surprise element. They are, in that sense, perfect solos.
In September 1970, Jon Lord and the London Philharmonic, under the baton of Malcolm Arnold, produced an orchestral masterpiece entitled Gemini Suite, with Jon Lord, Iain Paice, Roger Glover, Albert Lee on guitar and Yvonne Elliman and Tony Ashton on vocals.
Albert Lee’s solo on this suite is one of the most versatile and technically perfect I have ever heard. Albert Lee was a country guitarist, so I have no idea why Jon Lord chose him, but it was an inspired choice. As you may have gathered from my previous article, I value melody above every other consideration when it comes to solos, no matter the instrument.
This solo has the most sublime skill and difficulty, allied to gorgeous melody: the perfect solo.
Brian May was mentioned and he is one of my favourite guitarists, even though I feel Queen was a four album band. On their first, eponymous album is a song, The Night Comes Down, which has one of the most perfect solos I’ve ever heard.
And who can forget Bohemian Rhapsody? The guitar solo is a rhapsody in its own right, and adds the touch of perfection needed to finish the perfect song.
Wishbone Ash have produced one perfect album, in my opinion, and that album is Argus. There are five standout solos on one album, and that is rare indeed. Sometime World begins with a heartbreakingly beautiful solo by Ted Turner and reminds me more than a little of Hank Marvin, just more melodic.
Andy Powell takes over in the second half, which is far more upbeat, while remaining stylish and melodic.
Then The King Will Come, where Ted Turner plays a spine-tingling wah-wah solo, followed by Leaf and Stream, in which Ted Turner does the Hank Marvin thing again.
Finally there’s Throw Down the Sword, where a dual guitar solo ends the piece in utter perfection, leaving you gasping for more.
There is, of course, another perfect solo, Voodoo Chile (A Slight Return) by Stevie Ray Vaughn. As an aside, Leon Economides, on his show Dinosaur Days, was going on holiday and he got someone to sit in for him, an Indian lady who announced Voodoo Chilli by Jimi Hendrix. Anyway, back to the point. I think Stevie Ray Vaughn does this song better than Jimi Hendrix, and that’s saying a lot.
As to Jimi Hendrix, two perfect solos spring to mind: Rainy Day and All Along the Watchtower. How good was Jimi Hendrix really? It’s hard to tell, but my wife, who knows very little about rock, knows Jimi Hendrix. Stevie ray Vaughn may have done it better, but Jimi did it first.
And you cannot mention great guitarists without mentioning Mark Knopfler. It was in 1979 that I heard Sultans of Swing, and I was blown away by the artistry of the piece. Bob Dylan with some truly original guitar playing. I thought the album Communique was boring, but the song remains a classic.
Then there was Brothers in Arms, and I thought it was David Gilmour. I realised then what Donald Fagan of Steely Dan had realised long before: the boy could play! It was goose-bump material.
Phil Keaggy, largely unknown outside Christian circles , is one of the all-time greats and his voice matches his skill on guitar. On a live album How The West Was One, he performs a song entitled Time, which has some brilliant skatting, sublime guitar playing and question and answer phrasing with the organist which is breath-taking in its execution and musicality.
On his solo album The Master and the musician, he does a song, Follow me up, with a solo comparable to any I’ve heard by anyone. In fact, the entire album is filled with guitar mastery, but this is a solo, and what a solo!
To return to simple solos from simple songs: the solo from Something, by George Harrison, is gorgeous. So simple a beginner can play it, but he wrote it, and it’s perfect.
How about the technical genius of Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Howe, Trevor Rabin, Skunk Baxter, Mick Box, Ritchie Blackmore.
I defy anyone to play a better guitar solo than Terry Kath does on 25 or 6 to 4, or Eric Clapton on White Room, than Skunk Baxter does on Mr Parker’s Band, or Mick Box does on I’ll Keep on Trying, or Steve Howe does on South Side of the Sky.
Allan Morse is perfection personified on the Ghosts of Autumn as is Allan Holdsworth on The 4:15 Bradford Executive. How do you improve on Jump or the Ice Cream Man, by Eddie van Halen? A Whole Lotta Love and Stairway to Heaven display totally different kinds of artistry, but artistry is what it is.
This very limited list ignores people like Scott Henderson, Warren Haynes, Joe Walsh, BB King, Joe Satriani, Steve Morse and far too many to mention. This is a small sampling of my favourites, and I’ve hardly scratched the surface.
This is one of the beauties of Rock, that it can bring us such an endless variety of different kinds of enjoyment. And I’m not for a moment saying the people who like Ingwe Malmsteen are wrong: I don’t enjoy his playing, that’s all.
And finally, someone I haven’t mentioned and left for last: Doug Derryberry. Who? That’s right, you’ve most likely never heard of him. He was a session guitarist who now plays for Bruce Hornsby and is the best unknown guitarist I’ve ever heard.
Bruce Hornsby wrote a song, Fortunate Son, and you would go a long way to hear a better song, or a better guitar solo. I don’t know if this falls under the category of rock, but Bruce Hornsby plays so many diverse styles, that it’s hard to pin him down.
The album is Here Come the Noisemakers and I suggest you give it a listen. It’s one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard and Bruce Hornsby is one of the finest pianists and composers I’ve ever heard. And Doug Derryberry is a monster!
Best for last.
Kansas brought out a live album, Two for the Show in 1977 and the live version of The Wall has the greatest guitar solo I’ve ever heard, within the context of a song. Kerry Livgren is the guitarist. If you haven’t heard it, go out and get it, or ask Auntie Internet to help out.
You won’t regret it.
And I’ve hardly scratched the surface.