Today I’d like to talk about music. On a whim. It’s one of those posts that’s not really about stupidity at all. Specifically I’d like to write about guitars and specifically, specifically I’d like to nominate 10 of my favourite guitar moments in all of music. If you’re not that in to this kind of thing then by all means look away. I should like to add that these 10 are not just all about guitar solos. If there’s one thing that’s stupid about guitar driven music it’s got to be guitar solos. Until the modern guitar solo came along musicians (in particular male musicians) would have no other avenue for their manliness than to pull out their todgers and wave them in your face. Clearly the camera would have panned away when Lonnie Donegan and Hank Marvin did this sort of thing at the Royal Variety Performance every year, as the Queen was discreetly distracted with the offer of a raspberry ripple in her royal box.
So, the bulk of over-the-top guitar solos are just laughable but it really all depends on the moment and the guitarist. So I’ve tried to avoid the OTT, in your face, heavy metal guitar hysteria (almost) and tried instead to single out some less obvious choices in the hope this may serve as a mediocre, yet very cheap, education for those in the dark. I expect many of you will prefer to remain in the dark and spend your time doing something else. Fine by me. To be fair I’ve also narrowed it down to 10 different guitarists. D’you get it?
In no particular order and therefore without number.
Robbie Robertson, The Band. ‘Unfaithful Servant’ (Rock of Ages). Robbie Robertson was part of Dylan’s backing band during his all-conquering world tour of 1966 and Dylan described him as being ‘a mathematical guitarist’, whatever that actually means (presumably his gifts went beyond being able to count how many guitars he had). We’ll forget the fact he wrote almost all The Band’s songs and focus on the fact that his guitar work with them was always good, often brilliant and never outstayed its welcome. Through several verses of southern horns and Rick Danko’s prematurely sad voice you just don’t have a clue what’s coming and then Robertson breaks in with a mind-blowingly fiddly solo (3.13) which requires several rewinds just to take it all in. It itches rather than scratches and once it’s done you realise just how perfectly it fits within the context of the rest of the song. A master craftsman in anyone’s book. (Also try his solo on ‘Sign Language’ by Eric Clapton, a man who can’t be on this list because he spent most of the 70’s not bothering)
Wayne Perkins, with The Wailers. ‘Concrete Jungle’ (Catch A Fire). Chris Blackwell must be given a hell of a lot of credit for Bob Marley and The Wailers’ success. He brought them over here and he paid for them to record Catch A Fire but most importantly it was he who suggested they made their rootsy reggae more quaffable to a western audience and in this case that meant hiring Wayne Perkins, a good ol’ boy from Birmingham, Alabama. Subtle and sinuous at first, his stamp on one of the Wailers greatest songs is his gorgeous solo (2.50) which slides and peels and climbs along until it just melts back into the smokey groove. Truly brilliant, whether you agree with the white man intrusion or not. (Also try his chunkier effort on ‘Hand of Fate’ by The Rolling Stones)
Lowell George, backing Jackson Browne. ‘Your Bright Baby Blues’ (The Pretender). Poor, fat, dead Lowell. He never really understood how good he was. Or maybe he did but didn’t care enough not to kill himself with indulgence. He was a slide player of enormous talent and summoned up many, many highlights but I’ve decided to include his pop up cameo solo (3.16) on this west coast singer-songwriter standard. Like a guitar ninja Lowell just kicks in from nowhere, which makes the whole thing even more delicious. I particularly like the slightly frantic finish, as if he didn’t really want to leave the table. Or perhaps he couldn’t get away fast enough. (Also try the very funky outro to ‘Two Trains’ and the desperate ‘Long Distance Love’, both with Little Feat)
Ritchie Blackmore, Deep Purple. ‘Highway Star’ (Made in Japan). Someone should have told them not to start with their best but hey ho. Great as the rest of this live album may be it never quite matches the opening statement: a frenzy of inspired noodling and riffing with a peak form band behind it. It’s not just about the virtuoso solo (which pre-dated hair rock by the best part of a decade, but wasn’t responsible for it) but really almost every note Blackmore plays and the way he plays it. If anything the highlights are the opening flurry and the ferocious wall of sound he helps create (3.15) at the end of the organ solo. Yes, the organ solo, it’s just one of those songs I’m afraid. Worth it though. (Also try Blackmore rejuvenated on ‘Tarot Woman’ from Rainbow Rising)
Lindsey Buckingham. ‘Right Place to Fade’ (Gift of Screws). After Keith Richards, Buckingham is my next favourite guitar player of all time. His work with Fleetwood Mac is almost all brilliant and he is a producer of considerable ability. He has also offered some excellent solo material from which I have selected this because it’s the kind of multi layered guitar overload that can only be pulled off by a veteran, someone who’s seen more and done more than your average musician. Capable of intricate picking as well as power this is as good a place to branch out as any. (Also try the extended solo at the end of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Gypsy’)
Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin. ‘Custard Pie’ (Physical Graffiti). I still feel a bit rotten for not shoving Zeppelin into my 70’s top 10, whenever that was, so to say sorry I’ll include this fabulous ensemble effort. It never gets a mention in Zeppelin lists and I don’t understand why because it has everything they had to offer. There’s non of the self indulgent flab of some of their ‘epic’ efforts and it has far more groove and grind than their blues workouts. In short it’s just a great rock n roll song, about how sex is like custard pie. Catchy riff, push and pull, great harp playing, a guitar solo of rare economy (but no less effective for it) and the ever present world class drumming adds up to almost their finest moment. (Jimmy Page is up there with the best, so better that you trawl around for yourself. Just the album above has more ideas than most other guitarists could think of in 10 lifetimes)
Graham Coxon, Blur. ‘Trimm Trabb’ (13). If you needed any proof of the anger that by now must have been pulsing through Coxon’s veins then this must be it. It took me a while to get Blur and this album is the one to keep IMHO. What starts out as a pulsing, woozy throb suddenly explodes thanks to a savage blast of guitar overload (2.13) which may stand as Coxon’s last great moment with Blur, certainly in terms of sheer power. (Rather than suggest other Coxon work I will guide you towards his contemporary, the possibly more naturally gifted Bernard Butler, especially on Suede’s first 2 albums)
John Martyn. ‘Johnny Too Bad’ (Grace and Danger). This is not typical of John Martyn’s greatest moments, those with his echoplex workouts and jazzy structures (they’re not bad things, by the way). What makes this special is that it’s him tearing away from the romantic and demonstrating what a dangerous, swivel eyed bastard he really was. If you read enough about him you’ll learn that by this stage of his life he had been torn up by a failed marriage (his fault) and was dipping heavily into a booze and drug habit that had long been in control of his life anyway. Despite that his songwriting skills and playing remained astonishingly vibrant and although this is a cover of a reggae hit he makes it all his own and even chucks in a terrific and reasonably conventional guitar break midway through. Just because he’s John Martyn and he can. The rest is a prickly barrage of paranoid, staccato rhythm and that’s not a bad thing either. (Also try ‘Small Hours’ from One World and once you’ve done that you may just end up buying a load more anyway)
Gustavo Santaolalla. ‘Iguazu’ (The Insider soundtrack). No, I’m not trying to show off. This really is rather splendid and as atmospheric as anything else on this list. I can’t really describe it properly so it’s best to recommend that you start by watching ‘The Insider’ (which is also superb) and then guess or just look it up on Youtube. (You don’t need me to tell you that the world of soundtracks is well worth exploring, so why not start here? Anything by Ry Cooder would work well)
Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones. ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?’ (Sticky Fingers). And where better to finish off than with my all time guitar hero. I could write a list of dozens just with his work but today, right now, it’s this which is sticking to me. The swagger, the crunch, the lift and lull, the woozy bends and fuzzy lunges, the sheer rock and roll attitude of his intro and subsequent sluggish, yet persuasive, momentum are everything that this kind of music should be. The second half of the song, when it breaks down into a Latin samba kind of thing is good, but the first 163 seconds are really all you need to know about the best band there ever was. And while it’s not their finest song it also tells you everything you’ll ever need to know about Keith Richards (Also try pretty much anything they recorded from 1968 to 1978, plus lots before that and a few bits after).
So there you have it, a few things to fill an empty hour or so. It’ll be different tomorrow but who cares. And if you think it’s a load of rubbish then you’re very welcome to your opinion.
G B Hewitt. 12.08.2017