Going Solo (part one)
The Guitar solo.
More to the point: The greatest guitar solos.
Yeah, it’s subjective and this is why I have put “Part One” in the title. There are some dandies.
But subjective or not, there are some that simply define the term.
Here is a list of some of those…
“Stairway to Heaven” (Jimmy Page)
The beautifully constructed guitar solo was, believe it or not, improvised.
Page winged it. He had prepared the overall structure of the guitar parts, but not the actual notes. When it came time to record the solo he warmed up and recorded three solos that were all quite different from each other. All three are still on the master tape, but they feel like they picked the best solo. Think so?
Nothing short of iconic.
“Free Bird” (Allen Collins, Gary Rossington)
On the studio version of the song, which appeared on Skynyrd’s debut album, Collins played the entire solo himself on his Gibson Explorer, with Rossington playing rhythm on his Les Paul, “Bernice,” and adding the slide fills on his SG. When they put the solo together, they liked the sound of two guitars. Rossington could have gone out and played it, but they felt Collins was hot.
Allen Collins basically just did it once and then did it once more and it was done.
“Comfortably Numb” (David Gilmour)
Gilmour’s classic guitar solo was cut using a combination of the guitarist’s Hiwatt amps and Yamaha rotating speaker cabinet. But with Gilmour, equipment is secondary to touch. You could give him a ukulele and he’d make it sound like a Stradivarius.
Which doesn’t mean Gilmour didn’t fiddle around in the studio when he laid down the song’s unforgettable lead guitar part.
Gilmour just followed his usual procedure which was to bang out 5 or 6 solos then listen back for the best parts of each while taking notes. From there he created one great composite solo by sliding one fader up, then another fader, jumping from phrase to phrase until it flowed together. And from that you get “Comfortably Numb”.
“All Along the Watchtower” (Jimi Hendrix)
After the basic rhythm tracks were finally completed to Jimi’s satisfaction, he turned his attention to the song’s four distinct solo sections, each of which were recorded separately.
Hendrix was always completely prepared from an extensive amount of homework, so the separate solos were recorded very quickly.
He used a different tone setting for each part and used a cigarette lighter to play the slide section.
“Hotel California” (Don Felder, Joe Walsh)
Credit for the guitar majesty of “Hotel California” is often given to Joe Walsh, who toughened up the Eagles’ laid-back California sound when he joined the band just prior to the Hotel California album’s recording. Actually, the primary guitar heard throughout the solo belongs to Don Felder, who wrote the music for the track and actually conceived and played the solo’s intricate harmonies on his initial, instrumental demo.
“Layla” (Eric Clapton, Duane Allman)
The song was equal parts Eric and Duane, says legendary producer Tom Dowd, who introduced the two guitar titans.
The two had some sort of telepathy going on. Spontaneity and inspiration were the norm.
They loved playing with each other and that is obvious with every note.
“Reelin’ in the Years” (Elliot Randall)
While recording Steely Dan’s 1972 debut, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen knew they had a great track for “Reelin’ in the Years”…if they could only come up with the appropriate guitar solo to jumpstart the tune. So they put in a call to Elliott Randall, with whom they had worked in the backing band for Jay and the Americans, and who had played on many of the duo’s early, pre-Steely Dan demos.
They played it for Randall without much dialogue about what he should play. It just wasn’t necessary because they did it in one take and nothing was written. Jeff Baxter played the harmony parts, but the entire lead was one continuous take played through a very simple setup: an old 1965 Strat, plugged directly into an Ampeg SVT amp, and miked with a single AKG 414. The solo just “came to him”. Wow.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (Eric Clapton)
George Harrison introduced this song originally with just an acoustic guitar and his voice.
It was during the tense “White Album” sessions and was met with intense apathy. Lennon and McCartney were having nothing to do with it, having their own issues at the time.
But George knew it was a good song.
So the next day he was driving into London with Eric Clapton and came up with an idea. He asked Clapton to come in and play the solo.
Clapton was reluctant, saying the other Beatles wouldn’t like it, but Harrison finally prevailed saying that it was HIS song and he could do what he wanted.
It also made the band behave in a friendlier manner. It’s like when you have company, you put on your best face.
Harrison sang it with the acoustic guitar with McCartney on piano, and Eric and Ringo. Later, Paul overdubbed the bass. When they listened back to it Clapton didn’t feel it was “Beatlesy enough.’ So they put the song through the ADT (automatic double track) to wobble it a bit, and the classic solo is there forever.
Well, there you have it. A partial list of the greatest of all time.
Want to go ahead and add a few?