the lost art of the great guitar solo
Some say that the most important part of rock and roll music is the guitar solo. They are wrong. Others say that the most important part of ALL music is the guitar solo. Wrong again. The guitar solo is the most important part of life, more important than Jesus, elements and Love. So it saddens me greatly that today’s rockers can’t solo for shit. The tragic fact is, most guitar solos today sound like this to me:
Pretty shitty, huh? Sounded like I just made a bunch of beeps and farts with my mouth, didn’t it? In fact, can’t that exact solo be heard on the latest albums from Sleater-Kinney, Spoon, Belle & Sebastian, the Mountain Goats, and The Arcade Fire?
Unfortunately, guitar soloing in rock today has gotten so bad that you had to sit there thinking about the answer to that question for hours on end, playing and replaying that recording of me making beeps and farts alongside every album in your miserable collection of mopey English-major indie rock.
Believe it or not, there was a time when in order to be a guitar player in a band, you had to be able to play a sweet solo. Even the most mediocre guitarists of yesteryear would at least take the time to create a cool-sounding solo, such as this finely crafted gem from the Guess Who’s “Hand Me Down World.”
Just listen to the buttery tone and inventive use of countermelody. Well, you actually can't listen to the buttery tone because we couldn’t get the rights to the actual song. And you can't hear the countermelody, because you can't hear the melody it counters. But even with those constraints, this solo rocks about a million times harder than the one you heard above. And that's just a basic solo. What if you want to incorporate some more advanced techniques into your solos? Well, Mr. Richard Blackmore did just that in his classic 1972 solo break in the Deep Purple hit "Highway Star." If you listen to this solo, you will marvel at Ritchie Blackmore’s incorporation of recurring motifs, chordal movement and other techniques that wouldn’t be out of place in the oeuvre of J.S. Bach. The “Highway Star” solo is balls-out awesome to the max, and I present it to you here as it was meant to be heard—in its entirety (it was actually meant to be heard played on the guitar, but due to clearance issues I had to sing it).
After the golden era of Blackmore, Hendrix, Clapton and Page, people thought the guitar solo had been taken about as far as it could go. Then came Eddie Van Halen, who dropped a certain little gem on the world by the name of “Eruption,” in which you can hear some of the firsts uses of now-staple rock techniques such as two-handed tapping and artificial harmonics. I could go on and on about the importance of “Eruption,” but I feel that this classic speaks for itself, even when, due to clearance issues, I am forced to make the sound of it with my mouth:
Before any discussion of the guitar solo can be complete, a mention must be made of Slayer’s Kerry King. Mr. King took the heavy metal guitar solo out of the realm of simple, tonal harmony and into the uncharted territory of diminished and augmented scales, as well as full-on atonality. Who can forget his unforgettable solo in “Angel of Death”?
Well, I think that’s how it goes. I guess that sounded pretty shitty actually. I couldn’t find my Slayer CD when I was trying to put together this article, so I guess the answer to the question of “Who can forget” the solo would be “me.” Very sorry. Just remember to practice your scales and play with attitude, “baditude” and, most importantly, RADITUDE. I leave you with a little something that was taught to me by the legendary Mr. B. B. King, a little trick for getting the audience on your side: