The Guitar Solo: More Than (Just) A Feeling

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Guitar solos. Form of artistic self expression taking things to new heights with a melodic interpretation of the essence of the song or self-obsessed fretboard wankery?

Well, it depends really. For every Steve Vai inspired million-notes-a-second widdle fest there can be a heartfelt, beautifully structured guitar solo which encapsulates the song in a matter of 8 bars.

As with most things, it’s all about the song and what the song requires. I can’t deny I’m partial to a bit of Hotel California by The Eagles or Freebird by Lynryd Skynyrd. With these songs you know what you’re getting ie. 70’s West Coast Country Rock or Deep South Boogie Rock. Either way, you know that the overblown guitar duelling is de rigueur for the situation and you can sit back, relax and enjoy the unashamed pomposity of the performances.

People like the big guitar solos and they also like to hear the solos as they know them on the records. I know this only too well from my experience, in a former life, as a lead guitarist in a band. While it was good to learn these well known solos as a form of musical education, I did feel rather tied down by having to perform them note for note. In fact, at one point I got so sick of doing Stairway to Heaven I announced before one 6th form gig (it may even have been the pyrotechnic debacle gig as mentioned in a previous blog…) that I would not be playing it. I still have the 100+ named petition to make me change my mind.

There are loads of ‘Top 100 Guitar Solos’ lists out there with all the same songs on there. While I can’t deny Allman and Clapton’s efforts on Layla and Eddie Van Halen’s tour de force on Micheal Jackson’s Beat It aren’t good solos, I wanted to go off the beaten track a little. So here are 3 of my favourite solos which would probably struggle to make any of the usual lists.

Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young and Crazy Horse

As this classic Neil Young song comes out of the middle eight propelled towards an impending solo with the words ‘you see your baby loves to dance, yeah, yeah, yeah…’ old Shakey raises a middle finger to convention and delivers an ecstatic one note solo. The simple question is this: a million notes with no feeling or one note with all your heart and soul poured into it?

Coffee and TV – Blur

Graham Coxon is one of the most underrated and inventive guitarists of our time (he also spent his childhood a stone’s throw from here and still supports Derby County). The song pootles along nicely for the first few minutes until the guitar break. It’s almost an anti-solo with Coxon wringing dischordant squeals on the edge of feedback from the neck of his Fender. Perfect.

Just – Radiohead

The ‘solo’, as such, doesn’t actually appear until the end, but the use of guitars all the way through is a thing of beauty. A wonderfully deceptive intro on the acoustic guitar gives way to Jonny Greenwood’s searing, ascending octaves. Things settle down somewhat as the verses and choruses follow, but the whole thing builds into a frenzy of mashed guitar and angst. There’s another brief respite near the end as a couple of hung dominant seventh chords let the dust momentarily settle, before Greenwood launches into a final blistering attack on the senses. Oh, and the video is the best video ever made. No argument.

 

Leon Wilson

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