Friday, October 11, 2013

Solos and Outros

Those of you who follow me on twitter or who know me in real life know that I have very eclectic tastes in music. My MP3 player is schizophrenic, to say the least, ranging from modern classical works to electronic trance to death metal to swing jazz. But I'm not gonna lie to you. At heart, I'm a rocker. The first two records (yes, I'm that old) I bought as a kid were KTEL's The Rock Album and Black Sabbath's Master of Reality. I could have bought an Earth, Wind, and Fire LP just as well and been fully satisfied, but, as fate would have it, I was corrupted enlightened by a bevy of rock musicians, at least one of whom (Tony Iommi) I was privileged to talk to on the phone and thank for making those teenage years a little more bearable. By the way, Iommi is a gentleman's gentleman. Would love to meet him in person and sit down and just talk life and music with him for a while. But I digress.

If you gather a group of old rockers together in a room, given enough time, the conversation will quickly turn to "who is the best guitar player (insert state of being here: alive, dead, undead)?". Those of us who have gone through what is surely going to explode into a full-blown brawl have wisely learned to turn the conversation to a question that's a little (very little) less likely to progress to fisticuffs. That question is: "What are your favorite guitar solos or outros?" Thus, we avoid the contentious debate on who is "best" and turn the discussion toward "which is best for you?" So, in an effort to facilitate future conversations and in the name of peace among middle-aged rockers, I present my five current favorite guitar solos. I reserve the right to change my mind and excuse it as early-onset alzheimer's. I also make no apologies. These five solos may not be the best in the world, these five (actually there are seven) guitarists may not be the best guitarists in the world (in fact a couple of my all-time favorite guitar players are absent from this list), but they are my current top five. When I really want to blow the tubes, these are the solos and outros that I crank up. I present them in no particular order:

Glen Tipton and K.K. Downing - Judas Priest: Turbo Lover

Yes, this solo has two soloists. It's difficult enough to separate these heavy metal conjoined twins when they are playing rhythm guitar. The "solo" to Turbo Lover must be seen as one solo between two guitarists. Definitely the least technically savvy of the five solos, there is something about K.K. Downing's melodic interludes contrasting against Glen Tipton's raw animalistic power that propels this dual-solo into the highest ranks for me. This is a bare-bones, headbanging solo of ripping simplicity. Beware of the official music video version of the song, which is stripped of Downing's beautiful (and equally simple) intro to the solo. If you'd like to see the song live, I recommend this video.

Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson - Night Ranger: Don't Tell Me You Love Me

Another dual-solo. The best description of Gillis and Watson's co-masterpiece is "face melting". For the longest time, I thought that this was a solo by a single guitarist. It took a while for me to figure out that the strange (and utterly cool) warbling in the middle of the solo was actually Brad Gillis signing off and letting Jeff Watson take over. Now, from what I can gather, both guitarists claim to be the lead guitarist for Night Ranger, but with Brad Gillis continuing to tour with the band and Watson having left the band just a little embittered, only Gillis can claim that role now. But I prefer going back to a happier time when both of these geniuses (geniui?) were shredding together. Can't we all just get along? After all, this solo wouldn't be as great without both players.

Buck Dharma - Blue Oyster Cult: Veteran of the Psychic Wars (Live)

Buck Dharma may be one of the most under-rated guitarists of all time. The problem, I think, is that most people haven't seen him play live. His studio albums are, of course, great. But his true prowess can only be seen in a live performance. The video I've linked above shows the song Veteran of the Psychic Wars being played live in Hollywood in 1981.This solo is so incredibly complex that it's hard to know where to begin in praising it. It begins innocuously enough, then slowly sneaks its way into a jaw-dropping fireworks display of total heavy metal awesomeness. I love the way he occasionally strums (if you can call killing your guitar "strumming") above his pickups to get more "bite" into the sound. I wonder how many boxes of bandaids he had to go through to soak up the blood that must have been streaming from his fingertips by the end of the concert. Talk about a guy giving it his all. This is the only solo for which I would reserve the word "Epic". It truly is a long journey through Buck Dharma's breadth of talent. And then, at the end, the mad calliope of shredding stops and drops into the lilting melodic outro, Dharma, being who he is, then humbly, and literally, steps out of the spotlight to let his band-mates steer, as if in zero-gravity, the rocket he has launched into space.

Zakk Wylde - Ozzy Osbourne: Mister Crowley (Live)

Purists will, no doubt, point out that this solo was written and created by the immortal Randy Rhoades. And, while I would argue that Randy Rhoades is/was one of the greatest guitarists of all time (sorry, had to get the plug in), I am stunned by the feat that Zakk Wylde pulls off here, something I thought impossible: Wylde not only stays faithful and true to Rhoades' original solo, he actually makes it better. Yes, I said it! Better! Don't believe me? Watch the video. Now, if you want to start another argument, get in the middle of a bunch of old rockers and ask "Who was the best guitar player for Ozzy Osbourne?" then step out of the way! I think that the proper answer is "all of them". From Tony Iommi to Randy Rhodes to Brad Gillis to Jake E. Lee to Zakk Wylde to whomever else is the guitarist-du-jour for the metal madman, Ozzy seems to always be able to get the most incredible showboaters out there. But watch and listen carefully to the live performance of these various guitar players, especially when they play each other's work, and it becomes apparent that Zakk Wylde seems to be able to trump them all. I could just have well put Wylde's rendition of Bark at the Moon as the contender here, but I have to defer to Rhoade's greatness. Still, I never thought a guitar player would be able to out-Rhoades Rhoades, but Wylde has done it here. Try listening to the song with the visuals off if you need further convincing. Your ears will tell you that it's true: this is one of the greatest solos of all time.

Tony Iommi - Heaven & Hell: I (live)

While I am a fan of early Black Sabbath, I feel that Tony Iommi really hit the height of his career during the time that Ronnie James Dio sang for the band, whether during their first stint together, reunited for the Dehumanizer album, or in their last incarnation, before Dio's death, as Heaven & Hell. "I" is one of his more obscure offerings, or was until Heaven & Hell released their Live at Radio City Music Hall DVD. This solo made even the most hardened of hardcore Sabbath fans look at each other afterward and ask "What just happened? I think I was just hit by a planet." Dio's "Whoa!" at the end of the song is really the only appropriate response to the outro, which shows Iommi's prowess as a technical guitar player of astounding ability. No more muddy bass-amp fuzziness. This solo can't be hidden under a wall of distortion. It is pure guitar playing at the highest level, something that any professional guitar player would be proud of.  If the other solos on this list are "face melting" and "epic," this solo, along with the outro, will rip your head off. "Whoa," indeed.


  1. What about Neil Young "Like a Hurricane"? :)

    1. That's another great one! I limited myself to 5, though, for no reason whatsoever, so I had to keep it to 5. Believe me, it was hard having to cut Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," but it had to be done.

      And I still think that Buck Dharma is the most under-rated guitar player alive. Not my favorite, mind you. In fact, many of my favorites didn't make the cut for my favorite solo list, though their body of work, taken as a whole, is better than several of the guitarists I list here. Ritchie Blackmoor, for example, or John Petrucci, are both incredible, probably better than most of the guitarists in this list.

      But not Tony Iommi. That guy just rules.