Wow, check out the Cracked.com level parentheses abuse I got going on up there. Anyway, yeah. The guitar solo. An often employed but not always effective way to boost a song, fill some space if you have nothing better, give your star guitarist his own time, or hope to score a little chick-age for your band.
But after the excessive tapping, shredding, and general wanking of the 80s, most guitarists (especially alt rockers) started taking a step back in terms of soloing. Kurt Cobain is a prime example of this; most of his solos, especially on Nevermind are either the vocal line or a blast of noise. But still, there were guys who saw the value of a good solo as a great addition to a song, a quick flash of technical skill, or an epic jam fest. And they didn’t always show it on the big songs, some of the best work never left the albums.
6. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Easily (1999)
Californication might as well be considered to be John Frusciante’s masterpiece. Not to say that Anthony Kiedis, Chad Smith, and Flea weren’t at the top of their game, but Frusciante’s newly melodic less-is-more way of playing is the driving force behind singles like “Scar Tissue” and “Californication”. And he’s able to show some impressive compositional chops on “Easily”, a mid-album cut that features a great solo about halfway in, and ends with an absolutely joyous 4 guitar solo with one tracked on top of the other. On their own, each of these is an OK enough piece, but the interplay is what makes “Easily” so solid.
5. Pearl Jam – Brain of J. (1998)
The more I look at Yield, the more I consider it a victory lap by Pearl Jam for totally killing their popularity. On Yield, the guys sound more charged and alert than they ever did on their previous album No Code, and no song exemplifies that than album opener “Brain of J”. Mike McCready and Stone Gossard are all over this song, and Gossard starts off with an excellent solo from 2:00 to 2:23, and then keeps it going in the background until the song ends. McCready’s usually the band’s go-to for awesome solos, but songs like “Brain of J” make me wish Stoney got a chance more often.
4. Weezer – Tired of Sex (1996)
Despite his geeky shirts, Buddy Holly glasses, and quirky behavior, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo has always been indebted to classic rock. Songs on their debut album like “Say It Aint So” and “Only in Dreams” showed that Cuomo had a knack for stadium sized solos that were impressive, but nothing that gave you that “Holy shit” feeling. Something that Weezer’s distorted to hell Pinkerton opener “Tired of Sex” delivers in spades. On “Tired of Sex”, Cuomo unleashes a nimble fingered solo that jumps up and down the scale, doubles octaves, and even creates harmonics on the pickups all within 15 seconds.
3. Nine Inch Nails – Ruiner (1994)
The Downward Spiral introduced the world to Nine Inch Nails’ flavor of industrial metal: pulsating drums, hell-bent synths, and dense atmospheres. But guitar was barely used as anything more than an embellishment. Well, “Ruiner” changes that for the better. After almost three minutes of synthetic onslaught, everything cuts out but the bass, which noodles around before an outright sleazy solo starts. Guns N’ Roses wishes they were as decadent as this sounds; the fuzz and distortion are cranked to 10, and it sounds like at any moment it could just keep over dead. It fits the concept of the record so well and sound badass while doing it.
2. Temple of the Dog – Reach Down (1990)
Mr. Mike McCready’s finest work. Hell, just the intro “the sky is opening on you” riff should be the first clue. For the first four and a half minutes, McCready, Gossard, Amnet, Cameron, and Cornell lay down one of the tightest grooves in grunge, but then McCready gets to work, making every noise with his guitar he possibly can. There’s also more than a few technical flourishes, and really the most impressive thing is how flowing the whole thing sounds. Around the nine minute marker, Cornell comes in with an acapella, then McCready spends the rest of the song throwing everything he’s got at the song, finally ending at 11:12 to an in-awe listener.
Part 1 (mostly song)
Part 2 (mostly solo)
1. The Smashing Pumpkins – Starla (1992)
The earlier part of The Smashing Pumpkins’ career (“Gish” to “Siamese Dream”) was filled with alternative rock-defining guitar work. Lines, tones, riffs, dynamics; Billy Corgan fired off any idea he had, and quite a few were great (“Geek USA” and “Rhinoceros” stand out, and “Bury Me” made a convincing case for the #1 spot), but really “Starla” is where the best of everything came together culminating in a five minute solo. To this day, I still haven’t heard anything quite like Corgan’s tone when he solos here, and that’s compliment. For five minutes, Corgan runs through intense riffing, banshee-wail high notes, and guitar effects freakouts while the band makes nothing but sheer noise behind him. That feedback and noise at the end of the track? That’s the sound of a band throwing absolutely everything at you, as “Starla” alone proves Corgan to be one of the most underrated guitarists out there.