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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Top 10 Guitar Solos

When I decided to make this week's countdown on my ten favorite guitar solos, I had no idea about the heftiness of the task ahead of me. The preliminary list included nearly 60 songs, and the process of whittling those down to just ten was arduous at best. Before we jump into the list, I want to make a few clarifications. Firstly, these are my top ten favorite guitar solos, meaning this list will probably look different from other lists you've seen. Sure, songs like "Crazy Train" and "Purple Haze" have legendary solos that other artists aspire to match, but those have been analyzed and broken down repeatedly. I didn't want this post to just be a rehash of every other guitar solo countdown you've seen before, so nothing made the list solely based on status. While I took this into account, the list was more or less created based on which guitar solos I enjoy most. This means that I considered everything from how the solo sounds aesthetically, how difficult it was to write and compose, and how it fits into the song, among other points. Also, I limited the list to one song per artist. So without further ado, I present my top ten favorite guitar solos.

10. Grizzly Bear - "Fine For Now"

Solo starts at 4:25

Grizzly Bear is a band not particularly known for its instrumental brilliance, but rather its vocal harmonies and sweeping flourishes of sound. But on this track from 2009's Veckatimest, the group decides to finish with a bang. Guitarist/vocalist Daniel Rossen steps into the spotlight with a flurry of quickly-strummed high notes, accentuated by Christopher Bear's sweeping crash cymbals. In fact, the drums here play as big a part as the guitars by flying around the track and generating a sense of chaos.

9. System of a Down - "Lonely Day"

Solo starts at 1:35

I am by no means a metal head, but SOAD's unique blend of aggressive lyrics, heavy drums, and hypnotizing harmonies has always drawn me in. "Hypnotize" is my favorite SOAD song, thanks to the reasons above, but it's "Lonely Day"'s guitar solo that impresses me most out of their discography. What makes it stand out to me is not only its amazing technical ability (it's a monster of a solo), but that it achieves something very rare in rock music, especially metal: a sad-toned guitar solo that still sounds great. Most solos are either gloriously triumphant-sounding or just to show off, but on "Lonely Day" guitarist Daron Malakian plays in such a way that the solo perfectly complements the song's dreary, hopeless feeling, while still managing to blow you away.

8. Foo Fighters - "Best of You"

Solo starts at 2:00

For a long time, "Best of You" was my favorite song. While it remains in my remarkably nonvolatile top 5, it has dropped behind by the likes of The Joy Formidable, Brand New, and Radiohead (twice).So while sentimental value & personal taste may (probably) be clouding my judgement on this one just a bit, I still feel that "Best of You" deserves a spot on this list. Sure, there's nothing too complicated here, just various power chords being played repeatedly in long strings, really quickly. But, yet again, it's the role of the solo in the song that helps it gain a spot on my top 10. "Best of You," and most Foo Fighters songs in general, relies on raw energy and power to gets its message across and give the listener a pleasurable listening experience. This fast-paced, upbeat solo plays into that idea well, despite not being the most technically or intellectually challenging solo around. And, besides, when it's all said and done, this solo flat-out rocks. And isn't that what Foo Fighters are for?

7. Pavement - "Gold Soundz"

Solo starts at 1:17

I wrote in detail about this song, and particularly its guitar solo, at length in my look back at Pavement's classic Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. And, since pageviews are my friend, I won't go into too much detail here, other than to say the brilliance here is that this guitar solo actually features three different guitar parts overlaying each other, weaving in and out of the mix. One riff will step to the foreground before eagerly making way for another to take center stage. Click the blue text here or above when I referenced the previous article to visit it & read more about "Gold Soundz" and the album as a whole, one of my prouder pieces of writing thus far.

6. Led Zeppelin - "Stairway to Heaven"

Solo starts at 5:50

Yeah, remember when I said that no solo would make the list because of how famous it is? That rule still stands. Though it's truly iconic and is often recognized as one of the greatest of all time, that's not why Jimmy Page's solo on the equally legendary "Stairway to Heaven" made it in my top 10. It made my top 10 because it's a truly amazing piece, and definitely one of my favorites to listen too. "Stairway" is known for its slow build-up, and Page's guitar outburst is the climax of the song. It's only fitting that one of the best songs ever by one of the best bands ever contains one of the best guitar solos (you guessed it) ever. (Lesser songs and less famous solos ranked higher, but  remember, these are my favorites, not the world's favorites. Take it with a grain of salt.)

5. The Strokes - "The Modern Age"

Solo starts at 1:45

The second track on this New York band's debut smash Is This It utilizes eastern influences in its guitar part. The solo starts off unassumingly enough before launching into a full-fledged guitar onslaught. One of the common (yet few) criticisms of The Strokes is that their instrumentals and song structures are too simple. But, after the technically brilliant guitar work on "The Modern Age," that argument gets thrown out the window. The solo catches you off guard, and that's what makes it so much more enjoyable.

4. Dinosaur Jr. - "Watch the Corners"

Solos start at 2:27, 3:25

One of the hardest decisions I had to make when composing this list was choosing between this and "Feel the Pain," in order to follow the one-song-per-artist rule. Thus, I wanted give a quick nod to "Feel the Pain"'s joyful burst of guitar majesty before diving into "Watch the Corners." This track from Dino Jr.'s most recent release, 2012's I Bet on Sky, contains not one but two lengthy, eardrum-exploding, wailing guitar solos. J Mascis has been impressing fans with his skills ever since the group's 1985 debut. Now on their tenth studio album, Dinosaur Jr. brings the good yet again, and this is most noticable in the dual solos in "Watch the Corners." The song is a wash of muddy, low-toned power chords over Mascis' famous droning vocal style. Not only are the technical and aesthetic aspects here astounding, but the production is as well. The way the higher notes are distorted to almost a shriek is tremendously rewarding. The first solo makes way for a short acoustic reprieve, and though technically not a "solo," Mascis free-forms during the final chorus as well before finishing the song with a blazing part. Dinosaur Jr. hasn't lost its sound over its nearly three-decade-spanning career, and that's very apparent on "Watch the Corners."

3. The Joy Formidable - "Maw Maw Song"

Solo starts at 3:49

The Joy Formidable are a band that thrive most when the step back and let the instrumentals take over and ride out the end of the track. Though songs like "Whirring" and "Austere" do it even better, those boisterous, alt-rock freakouts are just as much about the drum parts as the guitar lines, which largely consist of power chords, not really qualifying them as "solos" persay. That is not the case, however, on "Maw Maw Song." The focus here is clearly on frontwoman Ritzy Bryan's magnificient talents as almost half the track is devoted to this epic solo. While the beginning is still great listening and impressive, the real attention-grabbing stuff that makes you recognize Bryan's ability starts about a minute in the solo (around the 4:45 mark in the above video.) This Welsh group's album The Big Roar (not not containing this track, from this year's Wolf's Law) perfectly summarizes their sound, and "Maw Maw" shows you why.

2. Brand New - "Limousine"

Solo starts at 5:42

The solo in this song, like so many others in this list, represents the culmination of all the emotions built up earlier in the track. However, where earlier efforts have been grand, joyful excursions, "Limousine" is a tragic one. A true story about a young girl who was killed by a drunk driver, the 2006 track takes the perspective of several people involved in the wreck, including the drunk driver and the victim's mother. It contains several parts and emotions, varying from sorrow to guilt to fury. The build up to the solo contains a repeated refrain of " I love you so much," with the number preceding the lyric continuing to go up until 7, victim Kate Flynn's age when she was killed. With each repetition, singer Jesse Lacey sounds more desperate and devastated. The final time is the most chaotic of all, with horns blaring as Lacey screams "I can't take it" before the guitar solo is unleashed. It truly is an extremely powerful song, and though the solo doesn't come until the end of the track, I wholeheartedly recommend you watch the entire video to feel the song's full effect.

Rest in peace, Katie Flynn.

1. Radiohead - "Paranoid Android"

Solos start at 3:04, 5:38

What more is there to say? Well, if you haven't read my full-length track-by-track review of OK Computer, I'll tell you pretty much all you need to know. "Paranoid Android" is yet another track with shifting movements, of which the guitar solos are the most energetic and frantic. Jonny Greenwood is a genius on the guitar, and shows it all off on this song. Cool sound effects added post-production are scattered throughout the 1997 record, and the guitar solos here employ them well. Indie rock's "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Paranoid Android" relies on its schizophrenia and Greenwood's performance contributes outstandingly. A true work of art, the solos in "Paranoid Android" are my favorite of all time.

Well, that about does it. A lot of work went into crafting this list and I appreciate anyone who's read this far. Hopefully you enjoyed my list, and maybe learned a thing or two. Feel free to post your own top 10's in the comments below, and thanks for reading.

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