Look, we all know that shredding until your fingers fall off is the one true purpose of a guitar god, but you can’t have steak for dinner every night. With that being said, when you have some time to kill in one of your slow songs where your frontman/woman isn’t banging on about some sensitive crap, what are you going to do? That’s right, a slow, well-constructed guitar solo.
Here are some of the best…
Pink Floyd, ‘Comfortably Numb’
Here you get two mind-melting guitar solos for the price of one from the master craftsman of, slow, melodic solos, David Gilmour. The first, in a major tonality, soars like an eagle before eventually landing at the second solo, which holds a more pessimistic tone. Both equally as moving, but expressing different emotions.
Prince, ‘Purple Rain’
If there was one aspect of Prince’s career that has been significantly underrated, it’s his guitar playing. He’s not often counted amongst the guitar gods but rightfully should be. His solo in ‘Purple Rain’ demonstrates not only his ability to compose a great song, but also to compose a great solo and play the shit out of it.
The Pixies, ‘Hey’
The simplicity and pain of this solo will always mark it as one of my favourite musical expressions ever. It starts out as a sweet flower blossoming in the inherent dirt in this song but then takes a gnarly turn.
Frank Zappa, ‘Watermelon In Easter Hay’
Appearing on the 1978 show, Joe’s Garage, the rock opera tells the story of a man who has been released from prison only to find music has been outlawed. The released then begins to imagine music and this song is his lament at realising that imaginary songs are only imaginary. This all sounds very weak and contrived but it’s done with a healthy dose of Zappa sardonicism. If you don’t know it yet, please go and find the album.
Dire Straits, ‘Brothers In Arms’
Whenever I hear this song I can’t believe how vulnerable and exposed it is. It almost sounds like Mark Knopfler is playing to a backing track like a street busker or someone who plays cover songs during week nights at a shitty bar. The emotion rings true throughout and it’s all because he knows how to tug at heartstrings with a few just musical guitar phrases.
Led Zeppelin, ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’
No matter how many times you hear this song, it will tear your heart out and cook it to a perfect medium rare. The way Jimmy Page plays with the contrast of fast and slippery lines right up against meaningful sustained notes makes this song one that turns guitar players green with envy.
The Velvet Underground, ‘Pale Blue Eyes’
Not all heroes wear capes and not all great guitar solos have to be athletic feats of shredding. This beautiful collection of tones paints a beautiful picture of everything that’s great about the Velvet Underground. It’s unpolished but supremely musical while riding the line between apathy and deep emotion.
This guitar solo cuts like razorblades through the dreamy, soul exterior for a brief shiny moment. I can’t listen to this without imaging André 3000 alone in his studio at 3am, stoned, playing solo after solo until his fingers found the right collection of phrases.
T. Rex, ‘Life’s A Gas’
A solo is just an embellished melody but sometimes the melody is so well crafted there’s nowhere to improve. So what do you do? Reiterate the melody with a funky guitar tone. This is my favourites example of less is more.
Pearl Jam, ‘Yellow Ledbetter’
Make me cry. Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready is one of those guitar players that comes from the school of Hendrix. You can hear it throughout this whole song but especially throughout the guitar solo. This song has been the mainstay closer of Pearl Jam’s live sets. Maybe it’s because it’s easy to tack on guitar solos to it if they’ve played under time.