Part 1 in a series.
Up first, we go back to 1974 and “Brighton Rock,” the lead track on Queen’s third album, Sheer Heart Attack. The band’s first two releases had been relentlessly self-conscious in their forays into fantasy (check out “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” off Queen II for an illustration).
But SHA opens with a boot to the teeth, highlighted by a Brian May solo that I guess is an example of what William Miller in Almost Famous meant by “incendiary.” Just … damn. I was a 14 year-old kid locked away in my bedroom in the back of the house, torn between wanting to crank it to 11 and not wanting my grandfather to come back banging on my door and yelling at me to “turn that racket down.” I fear I erred on the side of 11.
I wasn’t an expert on guitarists by any stretch, but I remember wondering, for the longest time, why everybody talked about Page and Clapton and Beck but never May. Eventually the world caught on: sweet hell, Brian May is god – always was, always will be.
The festivities kick in at around the 1:45 mark.
My other selection is a bit counter-intuitive, perhaps. While a lot of us regard U2 as one of the greatest bands in history, almost nobody argues that The Edge is one of rock’s greatest guitarists (despite the fact that he more or less invented the sound of the 1980s). He just wasn’t a conventional player – and by that, I mean “Blues Rock soloist” – in an era that was still very much infatuated with the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo school of song structure.
He’s nonetheless responsible for one of the most magical solo turns I think I have ever heard. It comes from the band’s Sydney performance on the ZooTV tour. “Love is Blindness” is an achingly beautiful song to begin with, but here Edge takes us … somewhere else. His solo isn’t complicated, but its emotive charge hits me like few pieces of music I know.
You may know the scene – after the second verse Edge begins the solo and a young woman comes up out of the crowd where she is embraced by Bono (as MacPhisto). They dance as Edge plays, and the moment nearly moves me to tears each time I hear it.
These are my two favorite guitar solos. I look forward to hearing what everyone else likes.
Up next: Michael Smith of Fiction 8.