As I wrote in Issue 117: 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 Pink Floyd’s “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 identifying Artist/Guitarist “Song” (Album).
Kevin Ayers / Steve Hillage “Shouting in a Bucket Blues” (Bananamour)
Kevin Ayers (along with Daevid Allen, Mike Ratledge, and Robert Wyatt) was a founding member of Soft Machine. Both Ayers and Allen soon left to pursue other musical experiences. Ayers had a prolific solo career, and his early band, The Whole World, featured a very young (pre-Tubular Bells) Mike Oldfield on both guitar and bass. Ayers had a knack for finding great guitarists and Steve Hillage was one of them. Hillage was an important member of Allen’s British/French band, Gong. He went on to have numerous solo albums as well as a stint as a producer, including working with Simple Minds and other new wave/punk bands. I really like the atypical tone and flow of his licks throughout this track. (Solos are at 1:15, 2:29, and 3:14)
City Boy / Mike Slamer “Dear Jean” (Young Men Gone West)
City Boy was a criminally underappreciated band – smart pop/rock with a sense of humor and great songs. The two primary songwriters and vocalists, Lol Mason and Steve Broughton, had known each other since the age of seven. The band had one minor hit with the song “5705,” from their fourth album, Book Early. This track is from the previous release. The lyrics cleverly tell the story of a young boy smitten with his teacher. Mike Slamer’s guitar solos dance around the rhythm section. (Solos start at 1:44 & 4:25)
Ethos / Wil Sharpe “Longdancer” (Ethos: ardour)
This track was previously noted in the Issue 105 article about American prog bands, but I think the solo is worthy of another listen. (Solo starts at 4:00)
IQ / Mike Holmes “The Province” (Frequency)
IQ is my current favorite band, and Mike Holmes is my favorite guitarist currently performing. There will be a feature article on them in the future. IQ has been around since the early 1980s. Frequency, recorded between 2007 and 2009, was their first album with a new keyboard player and drummer. This long track is Grade A progressive rock with an exceptional solo at the end. (Solo starts at 10:15, and he hits an unexpected but very cool note at 11:24)
Marillion / Steve Rothery “Easter” (Season’s End)
Marillion is one of the premier bands to emerge from the New Wave of British Progressive Rock in the early 1980s, and they are still performing and recording. Their original vocalist, Fish (real name Derek Dick), was obviously influenced by Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. This track is from their fifth album, the first with new vocalist Steve Hogarth. Guitarist Rothery is a very expressive player. (Solo fades in at 2:27)
New Tony Williams Lifetime / Allan Holdsworth “Fred” (Believe It)
Combonation / Steve Dudas “A Place in Your Life” (Combonation)
Jazz drummer Tony Williams made his mark at the age of 17 playing with Miles Davis. The original Tony Williams Lifetime featured John McLaughlin on guitar, Larry Young on organ, and, for a time, Jack Bruce on bass. In the mid-1970s, after the breakup of that unit, he recruited Allan Holdsworth on guitar, Tony Newton on bass, and keyboardist Alan Pasqua for the new band. Believe It is a solid fusion effort, and “Fred” features Holdsworth at his best. (Solo starts at 3:40)
As a side note, in 1984 there was a forgettable band called Combonation, whose album was produced by Ted Templeman (Doobie Brothers, Montrose, Van Halen). Warner Brothers was probably hoping that the band might be another Van Halen, but they never caught on. I was working in a record store when one of the employees put on this album. My jaw dropped when, during the song “A Place in Your Life,” guitarist Steve Dudas’s solo included ten seconds lifted almost note for note from Holdsworth’s “Fred” solo. The solo begins innocently enough at 2:20, with the theft occurring from 2:35 to 2:45. Compare that to what happens at 4:21 in the Williams/Holdsworth cut.
Pallas / Niall Mathewson “Rise & Fall” (The Sentinel)
Pallas is another of the British bands that got started in the early 1980s. This cut is an epic prog opus (with lyrics and a spoken word section that, unfortunately, invite derision as pretentious). However, the solo at the end is worth the wait, but the fadeout leaves you wondering why it didn’t go on longer. I’d love to have been in the studio during the session to find out – maybe Mathewson hit some bad notes toward the end. (Solo starts at 9:20)
Pekka / Mike Oldfield “The Consequences of Head Bending” (The Mathematician’s Air Display)
Pekka Pohjola was a Finnish bassist and keyboard player who also played the violin. He was a member of the Finnish rock group Wigwam, which featured British ex-pat Jim Pembroke on lead vocals. Pekka’s second solo album featured a number of great musicians, including guitarists Georg Wadenius (Blood, Sweat & Tears) and Mike Oldfield, with percussionist Pierre Moerlen (Gong). Oldfield lights up this rambling piece with a solo every bit as incandescent (albeit with a totally different tone) as Robert Fripp’s solo on “Baby’s on Fire,” which was noted in my first guitar solo article in Issue 117. (Solo begins at 10:02, after a comparatively aimless effort by Wadenius)
Duke Robillard “Duke’s Mood” (Too Hot to Handle / Rockin’ Blues / Plays Blues: The Rounder Years)
This one is available on no fewer than three different albums (two of which are compilations). Michael John “Duke” Robillard founded the band Roomful of Blues back in 1967. He’s played with Robert Gordon and was Jimmie Vaughan’s replacement in the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Robillard is a guitarist adept at many styles. “Duke’s Mood” was recorded with his band The Pleasure Kings in December 1984. Robillard solos through the entire track.
Thin Lizzy / Scott Gorham & Brian Robertson “Cowboy Song” (Jailbreak)
This is probably the best-known band of the lot, and this cut is on their biggest album, Jailbreak, but it’s so good I had to include it. If you’ve never heard this track, written by bassist/vocalist Phil Lynott and drummer Brian Downey, you’re in for a treat. The lyrics might be a bit clichéd, but dear Lord, the track rocks! I think both solos are by Robertson, but I’m not sure.
(Solos start at 2:28 & 4:21)
(Bonus Hard-to-Find Entry)
Kevin Ayers / Ollie Halsall “Blue” (Yes We Have No Mañanas/so get your mañanas today)
Peter John “Ollie” Halsall was an original member of Patto, and played with The Rutles and Vivian Stanshall (Bonzo Dog Band). He was also Allan Holdsworth’s replacement in the short-lived hard rock band Tempest. Guitarists Alvin Lee, Rick Nielsen, Holdsworth, and Andy Partridge (XTC) have cited him as an influence. Halsall played with Ayers on eleven albums over nearly two decades. This track from 1976 features lovely choral backing and a soaring solo from Halsall. On the album’s back cover notes for the song, Ayers wrote: “With special thanks to Ollie Halsall for amazing guitaring, isn’t it?”
(Unfortunately, the copyright holder has blocked YouTube from playing this track. It might be available on one of the streaming services, but not Amazon Music. It’s well worth searching for.)
Header image of Marillion courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Lrheath.