Full disclosure: I am not a musician – I play no instrument (I can whistle pretty well, though). I did play the drums (in high school and college), and I’ve tried taking piano lessons, but… I am in awe of those who can conceive of a sequence of notes and then move their fingers over strings or keys or air holes to make those notes happen. And singing while you’re doing that – get outta here!
I suppose it’s possible that a guitarist might listen to the following selections and say, “I’m not that impressed.” Not having a musician’s perspective, all I can say is that these do it for me, and are among my favorite rock guitar solos of all time. Some are “over the top” frenzied, but others are (to my ears) melodic, well constructed contributions to the song. I’ve chosen to leave out obvious choices that are well known (David Gilmour’s solo on “Comfortably Numb,” for example). My hope is that many of you will come to appreciate some guitarists who might have flown under your radar. Entries are listed in alphabetical order as follows: Group/Guitarist ”Song Title” Album Title.
Camel / Andy Latimer “Ice” (I Can See Your House from Here)
Just to be clear, we’re not talking about Frampton’s Camel. This Camel is a British progressive rock band that’s been active since the early 1970s (with a number of personnel changes and an occasional break). I will do an article on them at some point. Original member Andy Latimer, whose expressive guitar work (and flute playing) has been the one constant throughout the band’s history, provides a beautiful extended solo on this track from their 1978 album. The quiet beginning gives way to a haunting electric lead that dissolves at the end into contemplative acoustic playing.
Colosseum II / Gary Moore “Am I” (Electric Savage)
Probably the best-known name in this list is Gary Moore, who played in Skid Row and Thin Lizzy. He put out solo albums and also worked with Greg Lake and Andrew Lloyd Webber (!). Colosseum II was a fusion band that evolved from the more jazz/rock-oriented Colosseum, featuring Jon Hiseman on drums. This cut is mellower than most of the others on the album, and Moore’s solo is exquisite. (Solo begins at 1:38)
The Dictators / Ross the Boss “Next Big Thing” (The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!)
Sometimes credited with starting American punk rock, The Dictators also had a great sense of humor, which is fully evident on this cut (as well as the album cover). The lineup was Adny (yes, Adny) Shernoff on vocals and bass, Handsome Dick Manitoba on vocals, Ross the Boss (Friedman/Funichello) on lead guitar, Scott “Top Ten” Kempner playing rhythm guitar, and drummer Stu Boy King. The album was produced by Blue Öyster Cult producers Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman. A subsequent lineup substituted bassist Mark Mendoza (who went on to join Jay Jay French’s band Twisted Sister!) and drummer Richie Teeter. Ross the Boss later formed heavy metal band Manowar. This track has a great hard rock riff. (Solo starts at 2:42 – at 3:05 it sounds like he’s hacking at the guitar with an axe)
Eno / Robert Fripp “Baby’s on Fire” (Here Come the Warm Jets)
An original member of Roxy Music, Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno (that’s his full name) recorded his first solo album in 1973 after leaving the band. He had previously collaborated with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp on an instrumental album called No Pussyfooting. Fripp is capable of playing solos with exquisite beauty as well as searing, angular tones. This is one of the latter – an incendiary solo befitting the title of the track. Don’t try to make sense of the lyrics – I once read that Eno often chose words for their sound rather than meaning. (Solo begins at 1:25)
The Posies / Jon Auer “Flood of Sunshine” (Dear 23)
The Posies are considered a “power pop” band. 1990’s Dear 23, their first album for Geffen/DGC Records, is an amalgam of folk, pop, and hard rock influences with very literate lyrics (when’s the last time you heard “nonesuch nomenclature” used to rhyme in a pop song?).
“Flood of Sunshine” starts with moody organ and acoustic guitar, and features a two-part, over-the-top, rising and falling solo toward the end. (I recommend listening to the whole track, but if you absolutely must skip to the solos, there’s a short one at 3:30 and an extended killer at 4:15 that takes a brief break before screaming back toward the end of the song)
Sadistic Mika Band / Masayoshi Takanaka “Black Ship (Fourth June)” (Black Ship)
I’m betting you don’t know the name, but if you were in audio/video stores in the early 1980s when LaserDiscs were the big thing, you might have seen a Japanese rock concert video used as a demo. That was Masayoshi Takanaka’s Rainbow Goblins Story. Before his solo career, he played lead guitar for the Sadistic Mika Band (that’s Takanaka in the shades rocking the white scarf on the album’s back cover). The third part of the title track to their album Black Ship has some searing guitar work. The studio version sounds better and is a little cleaner, but this live take is pretty faithful. (The solo runs through the whole video)
Al Stewart / Tim Renwick “Apple Cider Reconstitution” (Modern Times)
Al Stewart hit the big time with Year of the Cat, but I prefer Modern Times, the album that preceded it. Tim Renwick played the electric leads on both and put on a clinic for tasteful, well-constructed guitar solos on Modern Times. Nearly every track features gorgeous playing. Renwick was a member of Sutherland Brothers & Quiver, and has been part of the touring bands of Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, and Roger Waters, among others. (Solo is at 3:00 and there’s nice accompaniment through the end of the song)
Strange Advance / Simon Brierly “Home of the Brave” (2wo)
Strange Advance was a 1980s Canadian new wave act that had gold records in their home country. Their biggest single was “We Run.” I wish I could be certain about name of the guitarist doing this solo, but there are no fewer than seven of them listed on the album cover, including likely candidates Earl Slick (Bowie and others) and Domenic Troiano (James Gang/the Guess Who). However, Simon Brierly is the only one credited with lead guitar, so I’m going with him. This is one of my favorite screaming, over-the-top solos. (It starts at 4:42)
Unitopia / Matt Williams “Angeliqua” (The Garden)
Australian prog rock band Unitopia featured strong musicianship and impassioned vocals. Musical influences came from many places, including jazz, world music, and hard rock. This track covers quite a range, opening with atmospheric sounds and Middle Eastern-sounding vocals before launching into a very cool heavy riff, only to drop down into light, poppy vocals. There’s even a chaotic free-jazz freakout with organ and saxophone near the end, but the guitar solo that ends the piece transcends it all. (It starts at 8:40)
(Bonus play – here’s a guy playing along with the track, re-creating that solo)
Wishbone Ash / Andy Powell & Ted Turner “Sometime World” (Argus)
For my money, Wishbone Ash was one of the best, if not the best twin lead guitar outfit in all of rock (I know, I know – The Allman Bros., The Yardbirds, Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner with Lou Reed, – I said it’s my money). Their third album, 1972’s Argus, is far and away their best effort, and they got a lot of airplay with the track “Blowin’ Free.” Every cut shines. The two solos in “Sometime World” are quite different. Ted Turner plays an ethereal, very pretty solo in the first part of the song, and Andy Powell takes over to drive it home over a cooking rhythm section on the extended second half. Tasty! (Solos at 1:03 and 3:35/4:46 – dig the staccato run at 6:17)
Header image of Gary Moore courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/livepict.com.