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February 5, 2009 |

By TK Burton | Music | February 5, 2009 |

Hello, Freaks.

I suggested we discuss favorite guitar solos because, quite honestly, where would American music be today without the electric guitar pushing its way to the forefront in the 1950s? Most of us should be thankful for Les Paul, who actually invented the electric guitar and worked with Gibson guitars to make it become a reality. He is also responsible for the solid body guitar, and actually saved the electric guitar from extinction in the mid-’60s.

The early ’60s were a rough time for Mr. Paul. He was going through a divorce and was not concerned with his Gibson relationship because there was still time on his contract with Gibson. As his contract neared its end, Fender approached him to endorse one of their guitars. Les didn’t want to turn his back on Gibson, so he approached the president of Gibson about renewing his deal. He was shocked to learn that Gibson was going to discontinue manufacture of electric guitars because kids were starting to follow Bob Dylan and other folkies. Obviously, acoustic guitar sales were up.

After some insane amount of time on the phone (about 20 hours, according to Les Paul’s autobiography), Paul was able to continue his relationship with Gibson, and the mid-to-late sixties rock scene blew up, fronted by the electric guitar.

There were no real rules to picking these solos. Mostly, these are our favorites; these solos fit their respective songs and add to the song, giving the music and lyrics an extra “oomph.” If you were expecting a list of THE GREATEST GUITAR SOLOS OF ALL TIME, I suggest you go over to Rolling Stone and search their archives. I’m sure they’ve beaten that topic to death, and have all the solos by Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix on that list. I’m sure Clapton has one in the top 5. This is not that list.

chuckberry.jpgSong: “Johnny B. Goode”
Artist: Chuck Berry
Album: Johnny B. Goode

“Favorite Guitar Solos” were the words, and they acted as the lynch pin in the overhead trapdoor of the guitar solo hopper, the pin was pulled, and instantly I was buried alive. So many licks, so many turn-arounds, sinewy, intertwining, angular, and incendiary, all at once, they all canceled out and I heard only the wind of my soul.

And Chuck Berry.

So I started where it started. He wasn’t the first Rocker, but he set the standard. He influenced everyone who influenced everyone. Call it clich├ęd, but “Johnny B. Goode” is one of, if not the greatest guitar intros of all time. I know it’s not a solo, technically, but at 12 full bars…it fucking counts. No one before Chuck could tell you, definitively, that it was time to rock, right fucking now. Get out there and shake your ass and have a good time. Now, goddammit!

keithrichards.jpgSong: “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Album: Sticky Fingers

The Stones have openly held Chuck in high regard. Their first few records had many a Chuck Berry cover, and they were good for what they were. You know, developing the dirty side of the British invasion and all. But, in my opinion, it wasn’t until 1971 when they opened “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” with that nasty guitar that they had truly learned from Chuck. The opener for “Calling” isn’t gleeful like “JBG”, but it does the same kind of thing and to the same level. It tells you that it’s time to RAUNCH. Like fucking now, man.

So, back them up and listen to the same guitar intro played through the filter of two different eras. Rock and Roll is alive and well in both.

dreamtheater.jpgSong: “The Spirit Carries On”
Artist: Dream Theater
Album: Metropolis, Pt. II: Scenes From A Memory

When I told Jez of my intention to include this solo on the list, his response to listening to the song was: “I thought they were going to be more cold and technical sounding.” To be fair, they really can be. Dream Theater is among the most musically accomplished collection of players around today; each member is a true virtuoso of his instrument and an expert composer. Their songs are not just chords and melodies, they are heavy, complex arrangements with changing keys and shifting time signatures and a lot—a lot—of soloing and instrumentals. It doesn’t necessarily make them inaccessible to the casual music listener; just a little harder to discover.

The guitar solo in “The Spirit Carries On” is certainly an expertly composed and performed piece of music. It is also absolutely beautiful. This album, a concept album which tells the story of a man’s attempts to discover the meaning of a vivid and recurring dream, might be my favorite ever. While it has quite enough lengthy solos and instrumental masturbation to satisfy DT’s hardcore fans, it also tells a truly effective story and displays a range of emotion that is rarely found in heavy rock music. The story builds to an emotional climax in this song, as the narrator finds the answer he’s been seeking through the last 60 minutes of revelation and music. The 90-second solo is a gorgeous movement that flows perfectly into gospel-choir backed peak that follows. Despite the tendencies of the band, this solo is not musical masturbation, but an expression of emotion through notes rather than words. It’s what a solo should be.

refreshments.jpgSong: “Preacher’s Daughter”
Artist: The Refreshments
Album: The Bottle and Fresh Horses

The Refreshments never got the praise that they deserved. I mean, damn, could those fellas write a catchy song. Fizzy, Fuzzy Big and Buzzy was (is), for me anyway, one of those albums that I could put on at any time, on any day and sing every lyric from start to finish. Some of those lyrics are laugh-out-loud funny. To put it simply, The Refreshments were just plain Southwestern-flavored fun.

“Preacher’s Daughter,” from their less-successful follow-up album, is a hell of a fun song. It’s a bouncy, meaty slice of desert rock pie. It’s infectious. It feels like sunshine with a side of hand-claps. The solo is nothing musically impressive; it’s not shreddingly fast or technically remarkable. Yet it’s one of my favorites, because (like the song and the band) it’s just a lot of fun. It’s happy. The way the notes bounce upward on the octaves in its first half makes me want to jump up and down like a little girl on a sugar high. Even when that excitement ebbs a little after the first 20 seconds, the final ten maintain a nice, think Les Paul sound, backed up with some tambourine and hand-clapping that carries the solo through to its wah-wah-y conclusion. When it’s over, I feel like I need to catch my breath and have a drink. Which is probably what they were going for, being The Refreshments, and all*. Good times.

*I’m sorry for this joke. I had to.
— Sean

spill.jpgSong: “Carry The Zero”
Artist: Built To Spill
Album: Keep It Like A Secret

I’ve found that people listen to music in different ways — some listen to it as a sum of its parts, others listen to it in pieces, slowly putting the puzzle together. I’m somewhere in between, but really I’m more into vocals than anything else… I see everything else in terms of their connection to the lyrics of the song. That said, when Jez came up with this project, I immediately thought of Built To Spill, whose singer/guitarist/prodigy Doug Martsch is one of the premier talents at the guitar. Picking a song proved to be the hard part, as all of them are ingenious in one fashion or another. However, “Carry The Zero,” off of their fourth album, 1997’s Keep It Like A Secret, jumped out at me.

It’s just a gorgeous song, and like many Built To Spill tracks, each piece fits together snugly and perfectly. Also like most of their songs, there’s more than one solo, and each is distinct from the other. The first one, at around the 1:10 mark, is a drawn out, passionate affair that crescendos and bounces around lazily, flowing perfectly from the drawling vocals. Yet midway through, the lyrics pick up speed, and as a result, the second solo becomes more intense, more stirring, more bracing. At near the 4:05 mark, everything changes — the rhythm, the tempo, pitch, you name it. And as such, the guitar solo matches the change in mood. Built To Spill is one of those bands that remains criminally undiscovered by most folks, and it remains one of my life’s great mysteries.


Song: “Total Trash”
Artist: Sonic Youth
Album: Daydream Nation

The great indie guitar god will always be Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth — of this there is no question in my mind. Again, the dilemma comes down to which song. While I was tempted to go with “Titanium Expose” off of Goo, or the glorious “Chapel Hill” off of Dirty, I couldn’t help but be drawn back to the fascinating “Total Trash,”off off the classic 1988 album Daydream Nation. It’s a seven-and-a-half minute epic that almost feels like a drunken, feedback-laced dreamscape. It’s Sonic Youth at their High Art best, deftly merging rhythm and melody with noise and chaos, and the thread that holds it together is the crazy, weaving, raucous guitar. In many ways, it’s hard to tell when the solo begins or ends, or if it does at all… but somewhere around the 2:35 mark, it slowly begins, a repetitive droning solo that eventually builds up speed and complexity, only to explode and deconstruct itself into a frenzy, a music teacher’s nightmare. It’s certainly not your conventional guitar solo — Hell, I don’t even know if it properly fits the definition.

Anyone who has seen Sonic Youth live knows that Moore’s and Renaldo’s guitars take a beating, and that they change guitars more than you’d think possible. The combination of sheer innovation, the way they mess with the tuning, their astonishing skill and raw energy — all combines to make an unbelievable song. The last two thirds of “Total Trash” is basically an experimentalist guitar solo, and it’s worth every second.

slobberbone.jpgSong: “Josephine”
Artist: Slobberbone
Album: Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today

For the most part, I consider Slobberbone my favorite band, even though they don’t exist as an entity anymore. This almost didn’t happen. I started out with Slippage, what would become their last album, and didn’t get into it until I was tooling around my grandparent’s town in Oklahoma, on about listen 75, after about 18 months with the CD in and out of various players around the house. That’s right. I gave an album 75 tries and it finally clicked. Something about the open Oklahoma sky, the songs on that album, and the trip to the local grocery store just clicked.

Anyway, a couple of years later, I opted to get the other 3 CDs from Slobberbone, and discovered the song, “Josephine” off their third album. I also found out this is a Mulehead cover. You can get it on iTunes. I have to thank the good people on the Drive-By Truckers’ Yahoo Group for getting me into these guys. The song is about a guy who is kind of a loser; because he tells everyone he loves Josephine. Everyone except Josephine. He can’t get the courage up to talk to her. His love and frustration is all over the guitar solo. In the words of Jenn Bryant, who manages the Drive-By Truckers website (and also the Slobberbone one), “The guitar solo in Josephine almost made me pass out.” Indeed.

dinosaurjr.jpgSong: “Thumb”
Artist: Dinosaur Jr.
Album: Whatever’s Cool with Me

I picked up the above CD at a chain store in Oklahoma City over a Christmas break visiting my aunt. I already had Green Mind by Dinosaur Jr., but really only listened to the first 5 or so songs, and wasn’t familiar with “Thumb” on that release. After hearing the live version on this EP, I would go back and re-listen to Green Mind with more vigor.

To me, the solo in this song is probably the most cathartic thing I’ve ever heard. The song starts out with J. Mascis telling the crowd, “Hey, we got another tune for ya.” J. starts the song with the riff, and the drums and bass kick in. The drum part is awesome. I love the rhythm, and when I get a drum set, it’s the first pattern I’m learning.

J plays some melodious notes in the first part of the solo then goes flying sky high. The tune breaks after the solo and J. lays out the main riff of the song. Then the drums and bass kick back in. J., after killing you with the first part of the solo, goes ahead and kicks your carcass, then continues to drag your dead, limp, body around some more.

I’ve played this tune for many a guitar player I’ve met, and they just sit there, silently, staring at the speakers. Most are usually speechless, or say “wow” once the song is done.

So, no, “Eruption” did not make the list. Just the stuff we find compelling.

Pajiba Music

Forget About All That Macho Shit; Learn How to Play Guitar

Our Favorite Guitar Solos / Pajiba Music Writers

Music | February 5, 2009 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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