6 Great Overlooked Guitar Solos

by TW on March 23, 2010

What makes a guitar solo great? A great guitar solo makes great songs even better. Great solos build tension, heighten musical drama and expand melodic and harmonic ideas. The very best guitar solos are like mini compositions and can stand on their own, outside the song, but we’d never want them to. Think of your favorite guitar solo and how each note plays in your head as you hear it and how empty that song would be without the solo. There are numerous lists of the greatest rock guitar solos, and they usually end on the same “Stairway To Heaven” and “Free Bird” note. Great solos for sure, but what about those that fall through the cracks? Once you get past the pundits’ and the critics’ list of greatest rock guitar solos, here are six of the best that rarely get mentioned.

1. Joe Walsh, “White Man/Black Man” (The James Gang, Thirds) – An incredible outpouring of emotion and tone. Walsh builds a solo like a circular stairway that climbs higher and higher, revealing greater glories with each step. The most underrated solo of all time and my personal favorite.

2. Ken Hensley, “Weep In Silence” (Uriah Heep, High And Mighty) – On this little-known song from the mid-70s, Heep keyboardist Ken Hensley takes the guitar reigns and unleashes a flurry of notes of the most gutsy, blues that had to see tears flowing from his axe.

3. Allan Holdsworth, “In The Dead Of Night” (U.K., U.K.) – Holdsworth’s herculean fretboard stretches and silk-smooth legato playing make this guitar cameo sound almost like a violin.

4. Elliott Randall/Denny Dias (Steely Dan, The Royal Scam), “Green Earrings” – I can’t confirm who actually plays the solo on “Green Earrings,” but I know it’s not Larry Carlton. Whether it’s Randall or Dias, I love how the first few notes emerge like bells underneath Bernard Purdie’s sizzling drum lick.

5. David Gilmour, “Fat Old Sun” (Pink Floyd, Atom Heart Mother) – Gilmour gets due credit for his mind-blowing lines on “Comfortably Numb,” “Time” and “Money,” but I’ve always dug this sleepy solo that carries “Fat Old Sun” off into the clouds. It’s not about the number of notes or the speed, just pure feeling and playing what’s right for the song.

6. Rod Price, “Stone Blue” (Foghat, Stone Blue) – The underrated slide master lays down the solo of his life, with a bruising lyricism and urgency that never lets up. Price’s phrasing is flawless and his steely tone could shatter glass.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Patrick April 1, 2010 at 9:28 pm

As good as Holdsworth’s solo is on “In the Dead of Night”, and it is awesome, Eddie Jobson’s piercing violin on songs like Ceasar’s Palace blues completely dominates. I’ll never forget the sight of a backlit Jobson ravaging his acrylic violin — frayed strings flailing from the bow.

To go back to the eponymous first album, the lilting play of his bow draws a solemn ache from the resolving middle section of “By the Light of Day”. Then, just to throw an exclamation point on the matter, he walks over to the keyboards and frenetically runs the range for “Presto Vivace and Reprise”.

Ostensibly, they opened for Jethro Tull in 1980, but UK were being promoted separately. Sitting just 10 rows back, dead center of the stage, we were pummeled by the most powerful bass I’ve ever experienced when they opened with Alaska. I swear, I could feel the joints in my skull vibrating against each other. After an outrageous set from the trio of Jobson, John Wetton and Terry Bozzio (Holdsworth having departed before the second album was recorded), Tull was something of a letdown, one not aided by the fact that they were touring the rather disappointing album, “Stormwatch”.

TW April 13, 2010 at 9:12 am

You’re dead on about Jobson and his violin playing – incredible musician. You mention the 1980 show with U.K. opening for Jethro Tull, and it sounds like they stole the show. In an interesting twist, Jobson would join Jethro Tull for the next album, A, a record that still divides Tull fans to the day. I agree Stormwatch isn’t up to par with the LPs that preceded it, Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses, but songs like “North Sea Oil” and “Old Ghosts” have grown on me and I like the record much more now than I used to.

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