Thursday, December 4, 2008

Doin' it on yer own...

Solos…they’re as much a part of rock n roll (jazz, big band or, heck, even country) as sex and drugs. But are they worth it? Well, some would scream a resounding YES and others would shrug and say, Eh, whatever… I’ve found myself in both camps over the years. At one point I (braggingly) made the comment that I didn’t listen to any bands that soloed. That was a stupid thing to brag about and it wasn’t even accurate, but “back in the day” the aesthetic was so fed up with musical overindulgence that any single notes beneath the 5th fret were stopped at the gate and forcibly turned back the way they came. This was sometime in the 90s. I can’t remember when exactly, but I’ll blame ’94 (you know, the year Kurt died).

These days, with classic rock now (un)surprisingly hip again, solos are widely acceptable, provided they’re tasteful – defined as: a burst of feedback, a few well executed runs along the fret board, a coupling of notes that are basically just a picked out chord – it all qualifies, it’s all good, it’s whatever gets you from the second chorus to the third verse or takes you out of the bridge or finishes the song up or whatever.

Your wankers like Yngwie J. Malmsteen will still meet with a certain amount of derision amongst the “indie” crowds, though folks do tend to smile (with nostalgia) about Vai or Satriani, and I’m sure more than one corduroy wearing, coffee indulging, Pavement reissue purchasing thirty-something has a tattered cassette of Surfing With the Alien that they can’t let themselves drop (of course they never actually listen to it either…liars).

I believe the main concern here, at least in my book, is this: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Often with these longhaired chops-cats it seems that technique, prowess and how many notes you can weld into one measure takes importance over things like melody, structure and downright common sense (aka listenability). I mean guys, I’m SO glad you can do that stuff, but really, please, three notes per second is absolutely acceptable, even laudable, and probably more than Jandek can do (who?).

I admit I once denied Zeppelin like Peter to Christ and there were times when I would scoff my silly middle school years when I actually owned a Yardbirds album. But today I proudly sport my AC/DC t’s (and keychain) and will probably listen to Houses of the Holy over Daydream Nation if given the choice (and so would Thurston).

Overall, rock soloing standards like Page, Clapton and Hendrix are again back in good standing and given their dues by folks below the 50-something mark who “get it.” (Honestly, I’m not sure that Hendrix ever fell out of vogue, the man is unparalleled and, much like the Doors, seems to span inter-generational borders.) Perhaps this is because so many alterno-rock legends began name dropping folks like Rush and Cheap Trick and it made us realize, “Hey wait a minute…,” or maybe That 70’s Show (oh, that wily Hyde) tricked enough of us into thinking it was cool until it finally was again or maybe, just maybe, it was always cool and we were just idiots.

Be that as it may, the solo debate, as in yea or nay, is one not often refuted these days. You could possibly argue that it’s a necessary evil, something that’s expected of you now and then to prove you’re a legit rock act or so you can nod back to where you came from. But my guess is that folks who don’t have solos can’t play them, and those who can choose to do so tastefully.

Having said all of that, I present you (and ask for your) top 5 all time favorite guitar solos, in order and bulleted for my enjoyment.

• U2 – 11 O’Clock Tick Tock: You want a live take of this one, especially from their ’82-‘83-era heyday. The Edge takes Bono’s already impassioned vocals to new heights. Twenty-plus years later it never, ever fails to give me emotional chills.

• Shudder to Think – Red House (Funeral at the Movies version): A song that builds in stages, this solo is the climax; heartfelt, precise, it’s a work of beauty in and of itself.

• The Smiths – Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before: Simplicity at its best, this three-note ride out takes one of the Smiths’ most “melancholy-bouncy” songs and sends it into the beyond. I can picture JM turning and looking off to an uncertain future every time.

• Def Leppard – Photograph: Any longhaired guitar wanker can riff off a bunch of notes like a gunslinger, and often they do to the detriment of the song. What’s fantastic about this solo (and many of DL’s solos) is that it’s well written, meticulously scripted and perfectly executed. Rock-n-crunkin’-roll!

• Life Without Buildings – 14 Days: Life Without Buildings’ jerky post punk sound was a sum of its parts, more about rhythm and beat than showcasing any one member. But when a solo is called for, it’s delivered quirky and methodic and like nothing you’ve heard before or probably will again. (Psst, and they could even do it live!)

1 comment:

msp said...

i used to be very anti-solo as well but honestly, it's all over all kinds of music. "there are no rules even the rule about no rules."

i do sometimes hate bands that come to nashville, and being in such a guitar heavy town, they feel the need to put in the Obligatory Solo TM into their otherwise perfect pop song. it's very disappointing because it feels like they're saying, "i know you silly nashvillians want this, you demand proof of my musical pedigree, so here are the writs!"

whither the snowflake!