There are dozens of lists of great guitar solos on the internet. Stairway to Heaven, All Along the Watchtower, Comfortably Numb…the usual suspects. Indisputable.
Here are some other equally great solos, perhaps overlooked. Some well-known players, some not so much (and unfairly so). They are worth hunting down and checking out if you play guitar or love guitar solos.
- Inca Roads – Frank Zappa- One Size Fits All
Zappa is a great guitar player. The problem is there is just too much material of his out there, and much of it is odd and not for everyone. Despite great musicians and musical complexity, his lyrics and song structure often distract rather than enhance a proper evaluation of his playing.
One Size Fits All (along with Apostrophe) may be one of his most accessible albums. A great song collection with a terrific band, this four-minute recorded live solo of hammer-ons and pull-offs through a half on wah-wah shows what he could do when he would “shut up and play his guitar.” Superb.
- Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape – Bill Nelson/Be Bop Deluxe – Live in the Air Age
Bill Nelson is one of the forgotten shredders of the late British Invasion. Using an ES-335 and two major seven chords, Nelson gives a clinic through this four-minute solo. Doing right finger tapping before Van Halen and string skipping before Eric Johnson, he kills it with his tone and vibrato – although he does run out of steam at the end of this solo. His harmonic range, a step beyond the pentatonic riffs of his Island mates, was a natural precursor of what was to come with the lead guitar in the eighties.
- Poem 58 – Terry Kath/Chicago – Chicago Transit Authority
Jimi Hendrix allegedly said Kath could play “better than me,” and a listen to this two-chord jam might shed some light on what Hendrix saw. He is all over the place here with his heavily overdriven tone. Melodic, dynamic, and lightning-fast – an exceedingly indulgent solo that is an excellent bookend to 25 or 6 to 4.
- Spiral – Larry Carlton/Crusaders – Those Southern Knights
Carlton’s fame is tied to his excellent studio work (Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Hill Street Blues) as a session guy; many forget he was a member of the Crusaders for many years. Spiral is one of the few solos where he stretches out during his studio heyday. All the Carlton trademarks are here. The tone bends, and the vibrato is all anchored by melodic lines. Carlton’s fluid playing over complicated changes with arpeggios was his trademark. This solo very much falls into the description for any Carlton solo, “tasty!”
- Have You Heard – Pat Metheny/Pat Metheny Group – The Road to You Live
Metheny is a legend, but like Zappa, has so much material, and much of it straight-ahead jazz (and inaccessible to rock fans) – so where to start? I say right here. This CD provides an excellent overview of his playing both a supporting and front and center role within the context of some of the best Pat Metheny Group Songs.
This solo is remarkable in many ways; pay particular attention to the dizzying open-string chromatic runs in the middle of the song. Amazing.
- Why Does Love Get to Be So Sad – Eric Clapton/Derek and the Dominoes- In Concert
Clapton is at his absolute finest. After an opening call and response between Clapton’s wah-wah and Jim Gordon’s drums, Clapton takes us through riff after riff against minor chords in the first break. Then, he wraps it up with the significant seven-chord finale that offers extreme tastiness as the band backs off, slows down, and lets Clapton have the spotlight. Back when Clapton was still kind of God.
- Monmouth College Fight Song – Robben Ford/Yellowjackets – Casino Nights Live at Montreux
Robben Ford and his band, the Yellowjackets, made some of the most melodic and engaging jazz music of the late seventies. Ford’s blues-based jazz was then, as it is now, one-of-kind. This solo captured live at the Montreux Jazz Festival is Ford as the absolute peak of his blues/jazz hybrid period playing effortlessly over half a dozen changes. The expanded edition of this CD is terrific, with formally unavailable performances by Carlton, Feiten, and Ford.
- Jungle Fever – Buzz Feiten/ Neil Larsen – Jungle Fever
Buzz Feiten may be more famous for his tuning system than his guitar playing. This is a real shame as he was one of the most exciting and melodic soloists in the seventies and eighties when he played with Hammond Organ Master Neil Larsen in Full Moon and later Larson/Feiten. This available-on-import-only CD is a must-have for anyone who loves that era of jazz/rock fusion. Sudden Samba is a classic. George Benson recorded Windsong. Both songs are on this CD—also, great solos from the late Micheal Brecker.
The solo on Jungle Fever is powerful in the way he introduces the guitar in the breaks and then builds the solo to the impossible riff at 5:31. The rhythm section of Willie Weeks and Andy Newmark is spectacular. Just one of many great solos on this overlooked gem of a record.
- I’m Home – Steve Lukather/ Greg Mathieson Project – Baked Super Live
Another import-only CD, but W-A-Y is worth the effort to track down. A young and enthusiastic Steve Lukather, filling in for the recently departed Larry Carlton, has much to prove and does just that throughout this excellent CD. The late Jeff Porcaro lays down mile-deep grooves (drummers! great CD) over Mathieson’s memorable compositions.
Lukather plays brilliant rhythm, adds atmospheric swells, and kicks it up about three notches when the time comes to create a guitar climax on this highly melodic song. The slow build showcases the signature style that would be so prevalent in the eighties on tracks he played for Lionel Ritchie, The Tubes, Boz Scaggs, and so many others.
- How Do Those Fools Survive – Skunk Baxter/Doobie Brothers – Minute by Minute
Skunk is already on many great solo lists for his great solos with Steely Dan, like My Old School and Ricki Don’t Lose That Number. (I love Night by Night). Here the future defense contractor analyst (google it, bizarre and true) takes his plugged straight-in board guitar through the fade out and blows octaves, blues, chromaticism, melody, and a terrifically entertaining solo.