Greatest Guitar Solos, Ranked

A very necessary addendum to the A.V. Club’s Favorite Guitar Solos

Because it’s Friday and it feels like it might be a (mercifully) slow news day, I was able to read up on the AV Club’s ‘Favorite Guitar Solos.’ As usual, their roundtable contributions amounted to an interesting, eclectic list that somehow still managed to lean heavily on Klosterman-style dad rock worship. While that classic rock sensibility irks me to no end, guitar solos are and have always been incredibly silly; so there’s really no reasonable elbow room for the sort of teenage music snob pretentiousness that I foster to this day as a 31 year old man.

That said, I’ve created a ranking of the greatest guitar solos of all time using a very specific, scientific even, set of criteria detailed below in a handful of easy to follow bullet points:

  1. At no point should the listener be able to imagine the player closing his/her eyes while performing the solo.*
  2. At no point should should the performance intimate that he or she is having a ‘spiritual’ experience.*
  3. The performance should conjure up something other than a person stroking his dong.*
  4. The quality and enjoyment of the performance lean heavily on how loud it’s played.
  5. It’s gotta rule.

*None of these rules apply to Prince, for extremely obvious reasons that I won’t belabor in this medium.com blog post.

10. “Plateau” by The Meat Puppets

You might think that guitarist Kirk Kirkwood is closing his eyes and having a peyote fueled epiphany on this track but you’d be wrong, he’s just baked and in squinting in the glare of the desert sun.

9. “Political Song For Michael Jackson to Sing” by The Minutemen

Most Minutemen solos sound similar which is fine because they all rule. This one edged out the competition by introducing itself in the lyrics, always a smart move.

8. “Hocus Pocus” by Focus

Guitar solos are usually about putting the ‘axe man’ at the center of attention. This song is far too egalitarian for that, giving everyone, even the gotdamn flautist, a chance to get in on the action.

7. “Teenage Wildlife” by David Bowie

This is a wonderful song complemented with a handful of perfect, fluttering solos by Robert Fripp. I’ve been told that Pete Townshend also played on this track, nobody’s perfect.

6. “Secret Agent Man (And Now The Truth Can Be Told Version)” by DEVO

This cover rules and the video is a masterpiece. At around 3:11 in, Bob Mothersbaugh delivers the meanest, most dismissive solo in rock history all while looking like @dril.

5. “Born Under Punches” by Talking Heads

The first guitar solo I ever unironically enjoyed was Adrian Belew’s heavily processed plonking on this song. This gets bonus points for being so obviously a collaboration between Belew’s nimble fingering and Eno’s mind melting tape manipulations, subverting the very idea of a “solo.”

4. “The Great Curve” by Talking Heads

While the Niles Rodgers gone art school chicken grease rhythm that charges out of gate is great enough to match to Adrian Belew’s barn burning blasts of feedback.

3. “It” by Prince

For a musician famed for his excessive talents, Prince’s best stuff is the lean, mean work of a guy working shit out on his own terms. To that end, “It” is the loneliest sex song ever written. It’s a raw, almost unhinged vocal performance slathered and harmonized over a spare drum machine beat that pauses only for a brief spare, haunting solo… and some keyboard presets Prince was clearly enamored with at the time.

2. “Three Chains ‘O’ Gold” by Prince & The New Power Generation

At the polar opposite of ‘It’ is this sweeping, multipart eight minute mess. Despite the symphonic filigree that decorates nearly every minute of the song (including a spoken word bit by… Kristie Alley!), the impenetrable lyrics and his fiery guitar that lacerates the entire performance highlights the intense loneliness of the man at the center of it all. As a whole it’s certainly not the masterpiece the man was clearly striving for, but each solo has a melodic sensibility that’s as unique to him as his elastic vox.

1.Purple Rain (whole goddamned album) by Prince & The Revolution

While Prince still had a decade’s worth of masterpieces tucked away under his lace cravat, none of them can really touch Purple Rain. Every track is a masterpiece, even “Computer Blue,” a song so good it didn’t need a second verse. Beyond the breadth of genres mastered, this is above all else Prince’s only through and through Guitar God record, almost every track has a equine grade Cialis solo to prove it. If I absolutely had to pick one solo, I might lean towards the solo that rounds out the title track because if it went on forever people would still be swaying their lighters to it 33 years later. That said, you’d be hard pressed to find a more Olympian denouement to a song than the screaming solo that ends “Let’s Go Crazy” or a more fleet footed, emotionally devastating one than the one that opens “When Doves Cry.”