Sometimes, a well-executed guitar solo can reach moments of pure transcendence; a run of notes which sound like they were channeled from a higher power.
Then there are solos which are best forgotten.
Fred Durst on Limp Bizkit’s Nevermind (2003)
In 2003, Fred Durst took to going onstage without his band and playing a song, Nevermind, alone in the spotlight. What with Durst’s talents being more in tune with that of a drunken frat boy, it turns out that playing the part of a sensitive singer songwriter was a little beyond him. Each night he’d diligently work his way through the verse, concentration etched on his face before thrashing at his strings and, with an apparently straight face, embarking on the single worst guitar solo in all music. Notes are struck at random, strings are hit by accident, and yet he finishes as if he’d just played the Star Spangled Banner to Woodstock. Full marks for chutzpah, zero marks for skill.
**George Harrison on The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love (1967)
**There were understandable nerves when The Beatles first aired All You Need Is Love. They were performing on the first ever live global satellite link, playing to an estimated audience of 150 million people in 26 countries. They had written a bold song with a big message: all you need is love was as clear as it could be but, in 1967, there was still much that divided the establishment from hippy ideals. Still, those nerves were no excuse for George Harrison’s solo. The thing was just a handful of notes long, but he only made it through two bars before clonking his strings, hitting a duff note and then giving up. Oddly, though Harrison’s live take was used on the subsequent single, both John Lennon and Ringo Starr overdubbed their vocals and drum parts. Harrison, though, left his duff for all to hear.
Jimi Hendrix on Little Miss Strange (1968)
Hendrix had almost no time for songs written by his bassist, Noel Redding. Which didn’t stop Redding from writing them, offering them to him and generally attempting to get his voice heard. As a sop to him, Hendrix allowed him She’s So Fine on the Axis Bold As Love album and Little Miss Strange on Electric Ladyland, both of which stand out like a priest at an orgy. Hendrix fails to cover himself in glory with his solos on both, but it’s particularly on Little Miss Strange that the sound of his utter disinterest drips from his Fender and mopes across the studio floor to the acetate. He’s barely even playing the same song at one stage. Redding could consider himself put in his place.
Angus Young on AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976)
AC/DC’s third album, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap was initially rejected by the band’s US label, Atlantic. Perhaps it was Angus Young’s solo on the title track that convinced them the record simply wasn’t up to scratch. It’s an odd thing that one of the all time greatest AC/DC songs features a solo that ends with a run up the guitar – sometimes in tune, sometimes out of it; sometimes in time, sometimes not – that sounds as if Young has simply run out of ideas. It’s very much the climax of a drunk who clambers into bed with the ambition of Valentino, only to find three seconds later that he’s blurted everything out over the sheets. Live, Young has taken to playing it one-handed. Guess what? Doesn’t help.
Lenny Kravitz on American Woman, 1999
Just because it’s very simple to mock Lenny Kravitz’s songwriting, guitar-playing, lyric-writing, scarves or entire act, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done. When Kravitz covered American Woman for The Spy Who Shagged Me, he perhaps missed the fact its original writers Guess Who had partly intended it as an anti-American political song about the Vietnam draft and urban conditions. Instead, Kravitz filled his version’s video with women in bikinis (including Heather Graham) and performed in front of a giant Stars And Stripes set – hence, duh, women and American. As if that two note concept was not enough, Kravitz ditches the defining moment in the original song – the solo. Guess Who’s version is eerie, effective and instantly memorable, but Kravitz couldn’t play it, saying he couldn’t find the right tone. Instead, he spaffs out a blizzard of notes that have almost nothing to do with the song his backing band are murdering behind him. Good work.
Noel Gallagher on Oasis’ Champagne Supernova (1996)
The lyrics to Oasis’s Champagne Supernova have long been ridiculed – ‘slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball’ is patently arrant nonsense – but Noel Gallagher has admitted that he was “out of it” when he wrote them, while the fact that they became an anthem across the entire summer of 1996 as festival crowds bellowed them from beery fields means that, nonsense or not, they can stand on their own two feet. What’s less commented on is how basic the solo is. Simple can be effective, but here it’s just simple: a solo that stumbles up and down the most basic scale in guitar-playing. So lacking in ambition, guitar teachers use it for beginner students.