Saturday, December 30, 2017

Top One or Two Hundred Whatevers, Part Three: Guitar Solos

This just another group of ten, with no attempt at being comprehensive. Just ten I immediately think of, or that are playing in my head at any given time.

But it’s better that way. This isn’t something I should have to think too hard about.

Oh, and the number of artists is ludicrously low. My mind is usually all over the place, but in this case these solos have gotten all the way into the lizard part of my brain. I’ll do another post if I make it back out to the monkey part.


Supposedly punks because of their intensity, they actually know how to play their instruments. Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd are both great guitar players.

There’s all kinds of loveliness on their second album, but it’s the first one that shook the world.

“See No Evil”:
The first guitar bangs out a primitive rhythm in a low register. The next one plays a repeating pattern that can only be described as snarling, this time in a higher register. Then Tom Verlaine chokes out - in yet a higher register - the words What I want, I want now! so you know these guys really mean business.
But it’s not quite fast enough to let the soloist just coast. It’s setting a level of intensity that will have to be heightened or it will all be for nothing. But Richard Lloyd's solo finds exactly the right space by going up yet another register, but not too high. Not yet. He plays a simple riff but builds the notes and the speed until there’s nowhere else to go, at which point he ends it with a descent (or is it an ascent?) into supremely controlled chaos.

“Marquee Moon”:
Nine minutes long, with dueling guitar solos taking up the middle, this one reminds me of climbing a mountain. Slow at first, but gradually increasing the intensity until it’s at a fever pitch.
It climaxes with a rush to the top of the mountain where you can feel the wide open space and even hear some (prehistoric?) birds. (You always risk sounding like an idiot when writing about rock and roll, don’t you?)
It was the song playing when a life change occurred. Friend and then Roommate Mike was moving to Europe.
While we shared an apartment, he and I would stay up all night drinking, talking and listening to music. On the day he left, I put this album on as he was getting ready. I picked it because we both loved it, and knew it would be the last one we’d listen to together.
He was all packed and waiting for the ride when this song came on, and it really felt like we were climbing that mountain. At the end, Mike put on his wings and jumped off the top, and I stayed behind because that’s what I do.
After the climax, it starts all over again. On the original vinyl, Tom Verlaine gets out a couple of lines of the verse before it fades out at 10:08, leaving you with the feeling that it continues on forever while you (but most likely me) have to head back down the mountain to face real life again, or perhaps the cemetery that they mention earlier in the song.

Crosby Stills Nash and Young: 

Yeah, who would have thought?

“Carry On” (Live Version):
In theory, this long live version of a pretty tight studio song should suck. But I’ve got it basically memorized. Sloppy, self-indulgent but brilliant nonetheless. The singing doesn’t even try to match the polished harmonies on the original, but that is more than made up for by the passion. Again, dueling guitars - this time courtesy of primal Neil Young and fluid Stephen Stills - that are worthy of the Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead and Eric Clapton. Who said more isn’t better?

Eric Clapton: 

And speaking of this idiot, I like to recall the time when he could do no wrong (music-wise, that is):

“Let it Rain”
It helps that this is a very pretty song with a chord progression that just encourages a guitar hero to go nuts. But on the studio version, Eric manages to balance control, passion and invention. I used to love when it came on the radio when my Led Zeppelin-loving friends were around.

Yeah, I know that it’s been spliced together from several performances but as a piece of recorded art it’s astounding. There are so many shifts of phrasing, tone and angle of attack that it simply can’t be absorbed all at one time. You have to pick the part to pay attention to or risk exhaustion.

Who knew Cream could do a perfect pop song?  But here it is. Beautifully vague but evocative lyrics, emotional singing, George Harrison’s lovely guitar and then Eric's solo. In terms of compression, emotion and technique this might be his best.

“Sitting on Top of the World”
From Goodbye this is an overlooked masterpiece. It’s rough and raw with at least two changes in tone. But he is all over it. Intense as hell.

Stephen Stills:

“Go Back Home”
From the first Stephen Stills record, but it’s Eric Clapton who solos on this. Apparently recorded in the middle of his heroin addiction, he didn’t even remember doing it.
It starts off slow and easy but then halfway through Clapton jumps in and there is just no turning back. Another example of him improving a song without completely taking it over.

And as long as we’re talking about guitarists who are all over someone else’s record….

Derek and the Dominos:

“Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad?”
This is really all about Duane, and I must add that it’s not just the solo, but also the frantic pace of the damned thing. And then there are his fills that only tighten the screws further. So the bar is set very high when it’s time for the solo. And Duane doesn’t let us down. He matches the blistering pace and then some.
Clapton does his level best to keep up (and without Duane his would have been a perfectly good solo) but he may as well just be playing rhythm. And in a way, he kind of is.

And that’s it for now.

Okay, I know I left a lot out but since I limited myself to ten, my conscience is clear.

Like the first two One or Two Hundreds which were about voices and melodies and emotions, these guitar players provide the same thing without saying a word.

But I’m sure you can think of a zillion records I left out.

Come at me, bro!

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