The 10 Best Guitar Solos
Back when girls were chicks, men were dudes, and Frank Zappa still played the guitar, someone asked him why he did. Frank responded thusly, "The guitar is the only instrument with which you can be truly obscene." Of course this is a paraphrase of a rumor of something that Frank Zappa probably never said or even thought, but it's a nice quote so I've included it in my article. Later Frank decided that guitar solos were passe and when his son, Dweezil, put out an album with many a fast and foolish guitar solo on it, Frank reportedly said, "Gee, I don't like this album very much."
So, what are the ten greatest rock and roll guitar solos of all time, and why don't you list them in descending order of greatness? Well, I'm sad to say that neither Frank or Dweezil make the list. Jerry Garcia's not here either, see "country wankin', page 4". This is rock, my friend, not Romper Room.
10. Amboy Dukes, "Baby Please Don't Go"
Ted Nugent in 1968 was indeed an avante axe-smith to be reckoned with. Here the motor city madman takes a boring blues standard and turns it into a psychedelic feedback-feuled ride to some nameless distant planet where the sheep are goats and Rapunzel gets a haircut. This solo makes me laugh at myself for ever having tried to make heads or tails of anything. Then the confusion wears off and I'm finally able to remember my middle name (it's Bob).
9. Thirteenth Floor Elevators, "Street Song"
I have no idea who is playing what in this song. There must be only two guitars but it sounds like infinity plus one. Fuzz-delay-reverb-space-non-stop-jam-solo-from-heaven. Listening to this song played loudly through earphones is like floating through a silly-sized ocean of azure jello full of lots of fruit chunks that are all very glad to meet you. A tangerine slice calls out your name and smiles knowingly as you realize where the Butthole Surfers got their sound.
8. Dinosaur Jr., "Sludgefeast"
When somebody asked J. Masics (guitarist o' Dinosaur Jr.) why he played his guitar so loud, J. said, "The guitar is such a whimpy instrument, I hate it. Playing loud is the only way I can even tolerate the sound of the guitar." Dude. J. does play as if he and his instrument are battling for control of the known universe. If someone asked me for a definition of 'ballsy', I would play them this solo. No corny heavy metal arpeggios, no psychedelic effects, only massive distortion, the occasional wah-wah, and tons o' rock. You don't stop.
7. Jimi Hendrix, "Voodoo Child"
I suppose this is "The Wasteland" of rock solos. I think Satan probably had a hand in this one; it's too super-human for any single mortal man to have created alone. Jimi sings, "I'll stand up next to a mountain. Chop it down with the edge of my hand", and then he proceeds to do just that. Evil is a powerful thing, my friend. Beware.
6. Led Zeppelin, "The Rover"
Jimmy Page is the master composer/arranger/genius/godhead of rock. He rarely takes a standard solo, per se, but when he does, he blows many a proficient guitar meister right out of the water. This solo is just one guitar, no overdubs. It's short, subtle, and, in a word, perfect. Page plays exactly what the ear wants to hear, and always with a sloppy precision that defies description. There is nothing superfluous, nothing extractable. This is one of the few truly organic rock guitar solos.
5. Meat Puppets, "Oh, Me"
This solo captures a random moment of pure genius. In "Oh, Me", Meat Puppets guitarist Curt Kirkwood sings, "I don't have to think. I only have to do it. The results are always perfect, but that's old news." What Curt proceeds to do with his guitar in the following moments is, in the words of Ezra Pound, "to [gather] from the air a live tradition". During the solo, Curt mutters "lets get way out there, boys," and off the band rides to planets unknown. There are plenty of improvisational guitarists who are willing to go as far out on a musical limb as Master Kirkwood, but none of them have ever been able to consistently gather and reel in the golden eggs that Curt plucks while he's out on said limb.
4. Neil Young, "Southern Man"
Neil Young is arguably the least proficient guitarist on this entire list. Why, then, is he at number four? Because the ability to rock is not taught in school. Rock and roll is in Neil Young, and shall out! Here is fuzz. Here is fury. Young's fretboard is a harem of wild, insatiable women, and his fingers are having one hell of an orgy. Here is music yearning like a god in pain. If this solo doesn't make you want to carpe diem till you drop, then you are a dullard indeed.
3. Husker Du, "Indecision Time"
Forget spiked hair and the Sex Pistols, Satan and speed, Black Flag and the Decline of Western Civilization, Nazi Skinheads and date rape. Bob Mould's solo on Indecision Time is punk rock. Say no more.
2. Eno, "Baby's on Fire"
Robert Fripp is probably the most technically proficient guitarist on this list. Luckily, he also knows how to rock. A healthy combination of fretboard wizardry and temporary insanity make this Fripp solo (off of Brian Eno's first album) a monster indeed. Mixed obscenely loudly over Eno's cheezy seventies keyboards, Fripp's guitar sounds like some rabid mechanical beast. The words 'sear' and 'singe' come to mind. This solo simply baffles the mind. It is literally awesome.
1. The Velvet Underground, "I heard Her Call my Name"
In 1968 Lou Reed decided to test the limits of rock and roll. White Light/ White Heat is arguably the most raunchy album in the history of the world. And the most raunchy bit of grime on this disk of sludge is the second solo of "I Heard Her Call My Name". This solo is inimitable. It is as if Reed's amplifier and guitar take over and start playing him. There is more feedback and fuzz in one second of this solo than there is on an entire Metallica album. This solo makes me physically sick when I hear it. Its sheer massiveness frightens me. This solo defines the outer limits of rock music. Anything more is just noise. Anything less is just a light. This is the greatest rock and roll guitar solo of all time. Go and do likewise, my friend.
That is all. Until next time, use the word 'rock' no less than sixteen times in everything you write, rock, and don't forget to rock.