Truth be told, you could throw a dart at Saul ‘Slash’ Hudson’s back catalogue and odds are you’d hit a song with a kick-ass guitar solo on it. Over his 30-plus years in the business, the guitarist has stuck mainly to the tried-and-tested kit of a Les Paul and throbbing Marshall amp, yet has the fingers and heart and mind to forge a sound as recognisable as his own iconic silhouette.
With Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver, through his solo work with his Snakepit and Conspirators, via his long list of guest slots as must-hire axeman to the stars, Slash is responsible for some of the sleaziest, sexiest, coolest guitar moments in modern rock ‘n’ roll.
So here's ten of his solos that we think really put the top hat on it.
10. Michael Jackson - Give In To Me (Dangerous, 1991)
Slash’s ‘Special Guitar Contribution’ to this louring UK No.2 hit for Jacko enhances the song’s bitter, love-burned theme. Guitarists Bill Bottrell and Jim Mitchell lay down the rhythm parts here, with Slash’s unmistakeable tone kicking in around 1.30, as he adds his voice to the riff and kicks things up an emotional notch. His characteristically soaring and lyrical solo adds weight to the song’s hypnotically insistent minor-key riff, mainly just three chords.
The single’s B-side was Beat It, featuring Eddie Van Halen’s genre-mashing solo from a decade before. Both superstar players lean on some of their stock-in-trade phrases and moves on slickly produced pop hits, and show us exactly how it’s done.
9. Velvet Revolver - Fall To Pieces (Contraband, 2004)
This beautiful big ballad’s gentle intro and structure hark back to Sweet Child O’ Mine, and Fall To Pieces sees Slash key into some period, Paul Kossoff-style tones during his brief, fat guitar break. He’s always been able to lay waste to the fretboard, but one of his major strengths remains that he always/usually plays for the song. This is him bridled, playing his part for the team, and really delivering.
8. Lenny Kravitz - Always On The Run (Mama Said,1991)
“Slash!” Lenny Kravitz says, announcing the guitarist’s moment in the spotlight on this funky, 70s-inflected monster. The two stars had been to high school together and Slash had already contributed a screaming lo-fi salvo to Mama Said’s opening track Fields Of Joy. But when he started noodling around on this riff in the studio, Kravitz’s canny ears pricked up, and the two took it on and ran with it.
Slash’s fiery mid-song fretwork complements the grinding groove, adds melodic interest, and stays true to the psych/soul period they’re vibing off. Tastefully, the song’s taken out not by more fretboard face-meltage, but rather those slinky retro horns.
7. Velvet Revolver - Slither (Contraband)
The Velvets’ 2007 LP Libertad was itself packed with cool guitar moments (the punky Let It Roll, Get Out The Door’s short-‘n’-sweet talk box interlude), but Contraband really does have them in spades.
Slash’s work on their strident first single is a doozy: the crunchy trademark riff is the kind that Slash seems to be able to knock off more or less in his sleep (his iPhone’s constantly full of them, recorded on tour buses and hotels across the world).
His urgent instrumental here is funked up with wah-wah, rich in bluesy melody and delivered with punky attitude. It fits the track beautifully too – machine-tooled fretwork that gets in, does exactly what it needs to do, and gets out again.
6. Slash feat. Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators - Anastasia – (Apocalyptic Love, 2012)
Anastasia’s signature guitar motif is quite unusual for Slash – a Bach-like neo-classical arpeggio you might associate more with Yngwie and his ilk. Yet while Slash’s technique has inspired of millions of players he’s not clinical about these things. He brings warmth to the fiddly line on his Les Paul, and when it repeats at the three-minute mark he’s off into more familiar, blues-based territory, lyrically outlining the song’s chords, bending soulfully then giving it some serious shred.
Myles Kennedy’s vocal on here is extraordinary and so are the Conspirators, but the last two minutes (a whole third of the song) is given over to the guitarist, as he explores the Spanish-tinged scale (for the nerds, the phrygian dominant) from which the song derives much of its flavour. A showcase in dynamics, expression, and quality widdle.
5. Guns N’ Roses - November Rain (Use Your Illusion I, 1991)
Ridiculously overblown, utterly bombastic and completely wonderful, this nine-minute melodrama really does seem like a blast from a long-gone past. It’s got room for two superb moments from him, and these days it’s hard to separate the song from that video. In the grunge era only he could get away with striding out of a wedding at a dust-blown chapel then playing an unplugged Les Paul to an empty desert while dressed in biker jacket, boots, jeans and leather chaps. And he does.
The mid-song interlude is melodic - all sustained, creamy notes, beautiful phrasing and classy restraint. Later, when Axl Rose’s wedding has taken something of a turn for the worse and morphed into a funeral, the guitar takes the song out with hugely dramatic, unconventional lines that are as articulate as they are tricky. All the while standing on Axl’s grand piano.
4. Guns N’ Roses - Estranged (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)
Lurking on Use Your Illusion II, surely this melancholy and ambitious tune is one of GN’R’s best. The irresistibly catchy lead motif aside, Slash’s work is low-key for much of the nine-minute runtime, but matches and enhances the mood in engrossing style.
There’s some smart, cleanish chord work midway through (lesser players may have spoiled this with unnecessary lead); at six minutes he captures the longing and the regret with soulful, almost romantic lead work, and later textural, reversed lines take him into a more familiar, bluesy section.
Great interplay between singer and guitarist here, all in the service of the song – further proof of the big musical brain at work beneath the equally impressive ‘do.
3. Guns N’ Roses - Out Ta Get Me (Appetite For Destruction, 1987)
In the 80s most of the players gracing guitar mag covers were done up to the nines, hair teased and caked in make-up, brandishing dayglo guitars with enough pointy bits to skewer any fan who went too close (often this was not a problem). So when Slash and Izzy Stradlin showed up, in their retro denims, bandanas and strapped to gorgeous vintage six-strings, they were a total breath of fresh if musty air. And then there was the music.
Much of the brute force of G N’R’s debut is down to the utter conviction of the guitar parts. You could choose any track on here, but by the time track four rolled around those of us who were teenagers back then were truly sold. After two minutes of Out Ta Get Me’s so-simple-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that-well-you-didn’t riff, Slash noodles effortlessly and musically over the verse before Rose yells ‘Let me see you try!’
The guitarist – almost as if being goaded on – leans into the chorus with newfound gusto further up the neck, and we’re into a breathless variation on that ‘simple’ riff. It’s the kind of excitement only great rock ‘n’ roll can give you.
2. Guns N’ Roses - Sweet Child O’ Mine (Appetite For Destruction)
Of course, Sweet Child O’ Mine’s main guitar hook is itself a classic – an elegant, name-that-tune-in-one figure that’s deceptively hard to play cleanly (just ask anyone who’s worked in a guitar shop over these past 30 years). Slash’s sweet, simple guitar lines between chorus and verse add to the song’s loveliness, and both there and in the highly melodic mid-song instrumental his flutey tone is a pleasing counterpoint to Rose’s powerfully unique rasp.
In his main solo, Slash shows he’s so much more than a blues scale merchant, adding spice with the more exotic harmonic minor scale (abused by so many shredders, but used with judgement and finesse here). As the "Where do we go" section evolves, he accompanies Rose into the song’s shattering climax, wailing along with his wah-wah, doing his bit to seal the band’s place in rock history.
1. Guns N’ Roses - Paradise City (Appetite For Destruction)
It had to be, didn’t it? The shimmering, chorused picked chords of the intro. Slash’s sing-able opening lead salvo. That crunching, chromatic verse riff and the enormodome-filling chorus. It’s all set up and trundling along beautifully. Then, at 04:50, wham – the band kick off in double time and all hell breaks loose.
With Adler, McKagan and Stradlin thundering beneath them Rose and Slash both go for it, the guitarist absolutely hammering his axe, going all out with bends, lightning bursts of speed with that big tone, showing us every trick in his arsenal before collecting himself for the big, tasty blues finish. The video showed the band at Donington and at Giants Stadium supporting Aerosmith – by now the Roxy was never really going to be big enough to hold them again.