A few days ago, I got involved in that most perennial of lowbrow pub debates, one whose pointlessness does not make it any less enjoyable – the weighty question of Which Are the All-Time Great Guitar Solos?
On this occasion my companions were practising musicians (and I use the term “practising” deliberately), but it does not make a lot of difference, because the discussion is always pushed down the same lines by a couple of recognised (though unspoken) sub-clauses:
The solo must be from a (vocal) popular song – and one that everyone knows – none of your alternative stuff – no Brazilians, for example…
OTT categories such as Heavy Metal are normally excluded (or at least subject to drug tests)
The whole thing is so slanted by your age, what you like and everything else that it usually mutates into “What Are Generally Recognised as the All-Time Great Guitar Solos?” – i.e. it’s everyone else on trial here, not me.
As always, we came up with the standard answers:
Probably the solo from “Hotel California”
Probably the solo from Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years”
Probably the solo from that Carpenters’ record that we can’t remember, because we wouldn’t admit to listening to the Carpenters anyway
Probably the solo from Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over”, because it’s instantly recognizable
Probably the instrumental sections from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (which can still get you thrown out of most of the music shops I know)
Probably Dr Brian May’s solo on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (which is getting very close to OTT)
Probably the duet solo from “The Boys Are Back in Town”, though a number of other Thin Lizzy records must be up there too
…and a lot more of the same – supply your own list (fun this, isn’t it?).
It’s very easy to get sidetracked into artists one particularly likes, which is too close to Your Specialist Subject for general comfort, so we have to avoid that (in my case, it would involve people like Robben Ford and Toninho Horta, which would get me blank looks all round). I did, however, put forward a record which I don’t think is in any way a classic, and it certainly wasn’t a hit, and it’s not by a big-name singer, and overall I don’t especially like it (which feels as though all this underselling should make it OK) – it’s Dave Berry’s “My Baby Left Me” from early 1964.
A quick word on Dave Berry – when I was a lad, he had a band called The Cruisers, who were known as the second best band in Sheffield (I think Joe Cocker’s band was regarded as the best), and I once saw them at the Cavern in Liverpool, where, I have to say, I thought they were fairly average. Berry is still around, and still performing, so all the best to him, and I shall be careful what I say (in case he comes to get me), but my view on his band seems to have been shared by the people at Decca Records, because after contributing a couple of so-so B-sides the Cruisers no longer appeared on Dave Berry’s recordings, and instead Decca used some of the best session players in the country at the time (which is a whole other subject). My Baby Left Me is short, an unspectacular cover of Presley’s record, but it includes a little gem of a solo from Jimmy Page, no less, who was 19 at the time it was recorded (swine).
By the standards of the day, this was how to do it – say what you’ve got to say in one chorus – first take, if you please – then pack up your stuff and clear out – the studio’s booked for someone else after 3pm.
It still doesn’t get into anyone else’s list, but if you haven’t heard it, here it is.