snap judgement saturday

(With apologies to Dr. Berube, whose “Arbitrary but Fun Friday” schtick I am mercilessly appropriating.)

Your snap-judgment question for the weekend is:

What is the best guitar solo in a rock song that is not by someone who’s last name is Hendrix, Page or Clapton?

My answer: Kim Thayil’s amazing breakdown in the middle of Soundgarden’s “Like Suicide”, from 1994’s “Superunknown”. 

The action starts at about 4 minutes 30 seconds in, but it’s worth listening from the top to let the effect build: the song starts as a slow dirge, with a simple three-note guitar lick woven in and out of Chris Cornell doing his usual Dio-cum-Plant vocal gymnastics… and then Thayil lets loose with a minute-long facemelter that’s part primal scream, part requiem and part epitaph.  For my money, it was Soundgarden’s high point as a band, and thus the de facto high-water mark for the entire “Seattle sound.”  (Cobain offed himself barely a month later, and it was all downhill from there.)  These days, I’m not much of a fan of guitar wank for its own sake, but this is still the one solo that I’ll cue up the track just to hear.

Your turn.  Go.  For the sake of the discussion, you can pick your own definition of “rock,” and you should consider yourself granted extremely wide latitude for a definition of “guitar solo” — assemblages of guitar samples could well qualify.  Links to audio appreciated, but not necessary.  And remember: no Jimi, no Jimmy, no Eric.

Crossposted from:


Okay, I can respect your choice.

Because this has been on my mind a lot recently (as you may have seen my introspective/retrospective reviews last month), I'm going to ask you to listen critically to Terry Kath's guitar solo in Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4". He gives you a hint around 1:14, but just goes into four style shifts back-to-back at the 2:00 mark, and then never really stops, even as the rest of the group comes back in:

After a fashion, I am cheating here. Terry Kath was Jimi Hendrix's favorite guitarist, and Jimi went out of his way to catch every live Chicago show he could.

Appropriately enough, I'm posting this around 25 or 6 to 4. Or maybe 31 or 2.
Not that you asked me, but that's pretty choice.
Eric Johnson, "Cliffs of Dover".

I will accept if you think that Malmsteen-esque instrumental guitar wankery is a different class than "guitar solo", though.
Any of two dozen things by Ritchie Blackmore, who has been playing rings around Clapton since the late '60s. There's tons of vintage Purple on YouTube... I'll dig up something choice for you later.
And, uh, dude. "Eruption". AKA the solo that launched a thousand hair bands.
Beat me to it. Running With The Devil is also toe-tapping good.
Yeah, see, as guitar virtuosity goes, I don't think EC even belongs in the same conversation with most of the guys mentioned in these comments.
Pretty much anything at all by Vernon Reid. Not sure that's what you're looking for, though -- Reid never went for the two-minute-long solo guitar masturbation thing, he'd get it done in maybe fifteen seconds. Some faves:

Someone Like You (personal favorite, can't find a vid)
Middle Man
...and of course the one everyone knows, Cult of Personality
The little bit he does in "Known Unknown" right as the organ solo finishes just fucking kills me every time. It's a tiny solo but it's got so much gravity.
Sheer fannishness makes me want to say Brian May, but I just can't pick one.
(I can't make it through that Soundgarden song to get to the 4 minute mark, and can't easily find a way to skip to it. It's definitely not my taste in music)

Mark Knopfler, Sultans Of Swing, from about 4:50 in through to 6:00
Just watch his left hand! Everything from 4:50 onwards is just guitar wanking, but it's good. I find it funny how far down the neck he plays at 8:30

From the same concert, Private Investigations is also good fun from 4:00 onwards but more as a group effort than a solo; they build a good "sound picture".
I'll ++ Knopfler. he has a smooth sweet style that's hard to match. Good choice.
You've made me realize how little conscious attention I pay to guitars relative to other instruments. I hear them, I enjoy them, I see what they're doing for the overall structure of the music, but I focus on other stuff. I can think of some of my favorite banjo solos, violin solos, drum solos, cello solos, kora solos, digeridoo solos... but I have to search my brain to think of guitar solos I really remember as guitar solos. (and mostly, what I come up with are acoustic, not rock)

Anyway, after some thinking, I think I'd have to go with some of the solos I saw Luther Allison do live at a show Katy and I went to at HoB in New Orleans circa 1995, that I don't know if I can find online.
BTW, I am the same regarding electric guitars vs. other instruments. I tend to automatically nice the electric guitar sound way into the back, and if I intend to listen to it, I have to consciously hold onto it so I don't miss it entirely. (Not the same for acoustic guitars, incidentally.)
Alas, my chosen isntrument has made me tend to focus on the background bass player. "Oooo, listen to what he's doing! Betcha no one even notices!" :)
Nah, see. That doesn't happen to me. I hear the kinds of things you hear (and it makes my bass player sick that I hear those things before and clearer than he does). And I hear what horn players hear. And what singers hear. And what drummers and percussionists hear. And what string players hear. The more I play music, the more I hear. *EXCEPT* electric guitar. For example, I've played two of the tracks that people have recommended in this post, including one that I already know really well. While consciously thinking about guitar solos and whether or not they're good, I've actually missed both of them *while typing about not hearing them*. [Edited for redundancy. And redundancy.] It's a little bizarre how specific and strong my ability to tune them out is.

Edited at 2010-10-02 02:19 pm (UTC)
I agree, acoustic guitar is very different, that's why acoustic guitar bits kept sneaking in when I was trying to remember electric/rock solos.
Well, it's gonna be something by Richard Thompson. Let's see... because it's readily available for consumption, I'll single out "Put It There, Pal" from his Austin City Limits gig a few years back. The action starts around 4:30 and keeps on going till 8:00, but of course you're best advised to listen from the beginning.

I dunno; I don't have words for it. He's been doing this since he was 18, in 1967. His vocabulary is ridiculously wide, and his technique is flawless. Every electric show I've seen him play, he does this. His acoustic work is of the same quality.
I got turned on to Richard Thompson via Radioparadise. That I overlooked this master through all my music wanderings is a true crime.
It's a common one, at least! And hey, if you're a bass player, half the time you get Danny Thompson playing along with him. Bonus.
Angus Young in "For Those About To Rock We Salute You"
All of the guitar in this song knocks my socks off (previous comments in this thread notwithstanding). Simple, powerful, and made entirely of \m/ \m/ \m/

That being said, my vote is for the solo in You Should Me All Night Long.

Criteria: It's simple (and kind of based in blues), and pretty clean. But the big reason is that almost everybody I know can sing it from beginning to end, and does, ala Bohemian Rhapsody in Wayne's World. :)
Okay, this one might make folks cringe. David Gilmour's solo at the end of Another Brick in the Wall Part Two. I'm not one for the wailing fuzzed out crashing, and his clean picking and smooth finger action. Delightful. Just found a truncated version on youtube (guitar starts at 2:20) - but don't have the full bit.
The Allman Brothers - Ramblin' Man. From about 3:00 on. It's not fast, nor is it precisely a solo, but it's an awesome piece of guitar work.

Runner-up: Dick Dale's Misirlou, which is about the most fun you can have with one string.
Leo Kottke. Rock guitar solos are boring.
No has mentioned Vandenberg, 'Burning Heart'? The greatest torchsong of all time? Well then:

(starts around 2:30 and goes for almost exactly 1 minute)

If you prefer the non-electric variety, then Rik Emmett is your man: (Midsummer's Daydream)

Here he is with Steve Morse:

Does the soul some Good. ;-)
whose schtick you're appropriating.

Adrian Belew's two solos in Talking Heads' "The Great Curve" are great stuff. Joey Santiago in "Vamos" (the Surfer Rosa version). Robert Fripp and Belew trading solos in "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part 4".

Edited at 2010-10-02 05:12 pm (UTC)
From the "In Memory Of" department:

Prince going absolutely apeshit during the tribute to George Harrison at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

Allman Brothers "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed", which I could listen to pretty much forever.
Oh man, good choice. Prince is, for my money, one of the most criminally underrated guitarists ever: "When Doves Cry" would probably be my first runner up behind the Soundgarden track.
Oh my god: Tom Petty has turned into Vampire Dennis Hopper.

...meanwhile, Prince, who is all of 8 years younger than Petty, is still apparently 32. Damn.
Oh my god: Tom Petty has turned into Vampire Dennis Hopper.

True story. The man was always a little creepy but now he is downright scary-lookin'. Still plays pretty good music, though he doesn't exactly belong in a discussion of guitar gods.
Top 5 of the moment:

1. Baby's on Fire, Brian Eno, 1974, solo by Robert Fripp. Another example of Brian Eno's genius as a producer-- Fripp has never, ever, played anything nearly this good in King Crimson. And I like King Crimson.

2. Don't Fear the Reaper, Blue Oyster Cult, 1976, solo by Don "Buck Dharma" Roeser. So fantastic that it's become a metal cliche, with the so-gothic harmonic minor runs and tremolo picking.

3. Muffin Man, Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart, 1975, solo by Frank Zappa. A ridiculous, slick, almost trivial song. And then the guitarist spontaneously combusts.

4. A tie-- Maggot Brain, Funkadelic, 1971, solo by Eddie Hazel. Maybe the greatest thing ever done with just a blues scale. Super Stupid, Funkadelic, 1971, solo by Eddie Hazel. Out-Hendrixs Hendrix. They're on the same album, and I could pick either, depending on my mood. So I pick both.

5. Blank Generation, 1977, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, solo by Robert Quine. It's outside, and the rhythm sounds like he's falling down the steps, but it works. My hero. Tax lawyer turned pro musician. :)

(Two bonus tracks just because I feel like it:
Chris Poland, once upon a time from Megadeth, before he got thrown out for doing more drugs than Dave Mustaine, screwing around in a TV studio with unbelievable tone and taste.

Shawn Lane, maybe the most terrifying shredder ever, and totally pigeonholed for that reason, shows he could play slowly and with emotion.)

And I'll complain that nobody has posted Patto's "Money Bag" to the web, anywhere I can find, so I had to leave out Ollie Halsall.
I was figuring you'd have some good suggestions. :)

And lordy -- thank you for reminding me about 'Maggot Brain'. If I recall correctly, we both heard that track for the first time together, wandering through the South Street Tower Records at some point close to closing time...
...and the phrase "doing more drugs than Dave Mustaine" is one that should make even the most stout-hearted among us quail.
...and, oh yeah, how could I forget Steve Vai. Really too many to mention, but I'll suggest all of the instrumental "Frank" (a tribute to Frank Zappa).

And Micheal Franti certainly can bring the goods, although he seems to mostly reserve it for his live shows...but the opening guitar riff on "Yell Fire", while brief, is all that.


Sweet Child O'Mine, or even November Rain.

Re: Uh...Slash?

Slash is an excellent guitarist, but it's funny: I can't remember any of his solos to save my life. Intros, yes, but not the solos -- and I've listened to "Appetite" enough times to have worn out a cassette or two.

Re: Uh...Slash?

Re: Uh...Slash?

And again at 7:00

Re: Uh...Slash?

And starting around 2:30 of this:
Michelle Malone w/the Indigo Girls -