There’s an interesting moment in the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster when drummer Lars Ulrich explains that there won’t be any guitar solos on the St. Anger album because he doesn’t want the record to sound “dated”. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett responds quite reasonably that a Metallica record with zero guitar solos is immediately dated; an anomaly tied to the exact time it was created (roughly 2001 – 2003). Lars got his wish, but Kirk can rest easy knowing he was exactly right. Master of Puppets is timeless; St. Anger is a nu-metal time capsule with gaping holes where the solos should be.
However, the spirit of what Lars was expressing is true: throwing obligatory guitar solos into songs can be silly. So what makes a solo enhance a song rather than just extend it? Obviously, we’re veering pretty far into subjective what-makes-music-good territory, so I’ll just list ten different solos that are important to me and you can add yours in the comments. Whether you like balls-out shredding or careful melodic phrasing, there’s something for you after the jump… unless your favorite guitar player is Jimmy Page, because that was my only rule: no Jimmy Page. This isn’t a Guitar World Magazine article.
10. Red Hot Chili Peppers – “I Could Have Lied”
John Frusciante invests every lead he plays with otherworldly emotion, but this one just oozes pain and regret. Try not to weep. Incidentally, check out his solo albums for a trip into his fractured consciousness.
Guitar solo begins at 1:58.
9. Stone Temple Pilots – “Lady Picture Show”
The end of this solo sounds like being caught in one of those magical Skittles rainstorms.
Guitar solo begins at 2:21.
8. Mastodon – “Hearts Alive”
I think the beginning’s fingerpicked! Either way, it’s a monster emerging from the churning depths.
Guitar solo begins at 3:52.
7. Rush – “Limelight”
My friend Rob claims this is his favorite solo of all time. It contains a bizarre arrangement of notes and squeals that in the hands of a lesser guitarist than Alex Lifeson would sound arbitrary.
Guitar solo begins at 2:38.
6. Thin Lizzy – “Cowboy Song”
Pretty much every Thin Lizzy song has impeccably crafted, memorable guitar leads, but Cowboy Song boasts frontman Phil Lynott’s hearty cry of “Heeyah go!” to usher in the solo.
Guitar solo begins at 2:24.
5. Television – “Marquee Moon”
This long, meandering solo seems like it could sputter out at anytime, but by the end manages to interact with the rhythm of the song in a tight, powerful way.
Guitar solo begins at 4:51.
4. Megadeth – “Hangar 18”
An eastern-tinged doozy from shred icon Marty Friedman. The riff underneath is no joke, either.
Guitar solo begins at 2:25.
3. Blue Oyster Cult – “Don’t Fear the Reaper”
Come on baby…
Guitar solo starts at 2:44.
2. Metallica – “Unforgiven III”
Dig the extended bent note at the beginning. You’ve still got it, Kirk.
Guitar solo starts at 5:34.
1. The Misfits – “We Are 138”
Mike from Choicegrinds reminded me that this solo consists of two notes. As far as I know, it’s the only Misfits song with any lead guitar at all. Probably for the best.
Guitar solo starts at 0:58. Blink and you’ll miss it.