Sunday, February 23, 2014

The 10 Best Guitar Songs

Since I've been doing these top 10 lists about music lately and getting pretty good feedback, I figured I'd keep the series going.

For this one, I am considering the best guitar songs.  By "guitar," I mean "electric guitar" - there are certainly some fantastically-intricate and incredible acoustic guitar songs out there, but you won't see them on this list (Stairway to Heaven, anyone?).  My main criteria is not just guitar solos, but the overall guitars within the song as a whole (although the solo is a big part of it).  Like my list of the 10 Best Songs of Hard Rock, I have taken into consideration how widely known a song is, because no one wants a top 10 list of songs no one has ever heard of, even if they do have kick-ass guitar parts.  Be that as it may, I have not limited myself to only those songs that get a ton of airplay.   

Also, unlike that other list, I have not limited this list to just one style of rock music.  I've considered all possibilities, from the lite rock of the 70's to the most hardcore thrash metal.  You'll notice there are no songs on this list later than 1988.  That's not because I didn't consider songs of the last 25 years.  Instead, it's simply a sad reminder of how guitar-driven music has died a slow and painful death over the last two decades.  

10. Aqualung - Jethro Tull

British prog-rock band Jethro Tull has never been a particularly popular band in the United States, but they've been around since the late 60's and have sold (according to Wikipedia) more than 60 million albums worldwide.  "Aqualung" was the title track from their 1971 album, and it showcases a kick-ass guitar riff from beginning to end, together with a perfectly executed guitar solo in the middle by perennially underrated guitarist Martin Barre.

9. Telegraph Road - Dire Straits 

"Telegraph Road" isn't a Dire Straits song you're likely to hear on the radio, but if you think you've heard the best Mark Knopfler has to dish out in songs like "Sultans of Swing" and "Money for Nothin'," you are sadly mistaken.  "Telegraph Road" is, quite simply, a masterpiece of guitar music. The guitar solo at the end is overlaid with the sounds of a thunderstorm and, if you listen creatively, the solo, itself, plays the role of the flashing lightning.  It's musical and creative brilliance and never fails to give me chills.

8. Pride and Joy - Stevie Ray Vaughan 

Stevie Ray Vaughan was the quintessential guitar musician, and it was difficult to decide which of his masterpieces should be in this list.  Honorable mentions go out to "Texas Flood" and, especially, the live version of "The Sky is Cryin'," found on his Essential Stevie Ray Vaughan compilation.  In the end, however, "Pride and Joy" makes the list because it is his most widely-known song.  It showcases Vaughan at the height of his powers and never ceases to elicit a twist of the volume knob when that tell-tale opening riff roars out of the speakers.  Perhaps no guitarist in history could make his guitar wail like Stevie Ray Vaughan.

7. Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd 

David Gilmour is, quite simply, one of the greatest guitarists of his generation, and his guitar work doesn't get any better than his performance on "Comfortably Numb."  If this list had been strictly about guitar solos, this song would have been easily in the top 3. The solo that closes out this song is simply one of the best of all time.  The song itself, however, despite having some lead riffs, isn't heavily guitar-driven, so #7 was as high as I could place it in good conscience.

6. Bodhisattva - Steely Dan

If you love guitar music, and you've never heard this song, you should YouTube it right this instant.  It's a weird song with odd lyrics, but the guitar work is absolutely brilliant.  Walter Becker is a guitar virtuoso.

5. Do You Feel Like We Do (Live) - Peter Frampton 

When it comes to kick-ass guitar music, it doesn't get much better than Peter Frampton.  His 1976 live album is one of the best-selling live albums of all time and is by far his most successful album. Frampton must be the only artist in history who is known primarily for a live album.  In any case, "Do You Feel Like We Do (Live)" is a classic guitar-driven epic of nearly 14 minutes, including an almost 10-minute guitar solo.  The song hits its peak around the 11th minute and just explodes into a frenzy of pure guitar rapture.  It's an orgasm in music.  

4. One - Metallica 

I was introduced to this song in 1989 by a friend of mine who is now a Presbyterian minister.  He bought the cassette single while we were on a youth group trip in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and we listened to it in the church van.  I was absolutely blown away.  For me, this song is the quintessential heavy metal song.  Kirk Hammett's solos are perfectly executed and the song just kicks so much ass that it's hard to say which part I like best.  Speed metal at its finest.

3. Sweet Child O' Mine - Guns n' Roses

I love Guns n' Roses.  There has simply never been a better hard rock band than Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff, and Stevie.  They were the climax of hard rock music.  Everything before them was leading up to them, and everything since has been a slow, steady decline.  Like Stevie Ray Vaughan above, I had a hard time choosing which song of theirs should be on this list.  "Coma," "Don't Damn Me," and "Civil War" get honorable mentions.  Also like Stevie Ray, I ultimately went with their most popular song.  "Sweet Child O' Mine" is a guitar masterpiece, from the the intro, which is one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in history, to the solo near the end, which demonstrates Slash at his creative and prodigious best.  This was the first song I ever heard by Guns n' Roses, and it's still one of my favorites.

2. Freebird - Lynyrd Skynyrd

If this list was just about guitar solos, "Freebird" would not only be #1, it would be #1 by such a enormous margin that no other song would be anywhere even remotely close to it.  But this list isn't only about guitar solos, so Freebird falls into the #2 spot.  Does anything even need to be said about this song?  If you're not aware of what an epic, timeless guitar solo Allen Collins throws down at the end of this song, you don't like guitar music.  My favorite version of this song is the 13-minute extended live version from the band's Essential Lynyrd Skynyrd collection.  Steve Gaines, who joined the band just a year or so before their fateful 1977 plane crash (in which Gaines, together with lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, died) adds a second guitar to the solo and the effect is just epic guitar euphoria.  Let's also not ignore the slide guitar work in the first part of the song by Gary Rossington.

1. 2112 - Rush

Probably a dark horse winner for many, but not for me.  You may not know much Rush music, and/or you may not like Rush, but if you are not able to recognize "2112" for the astounding, overwhelming, and utterly unmatched guitar masterpiece that it is, you don't know guitar music.  "2112" is the title track from their breakout 1976 album of the same name, and it is a brilliantly-conceived and flawlessly-arranged prog rock epic of more than 20 minutes, taking up the entire front side of the original vinyl album.  Alex Lifeson, undeniably the most underrated guitarist in rock history, weaves together an intricate tapestry of guitar artistry and brilliance, while Geddy Lee adds his trademark virtuoso bass lines, ultimately forming a song that simply represents everything you could ever want from guitar music.  "2112" is the greatest guitar song ever recorded.

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