Echoing last year’s call for discussion about great guitar riffs, this year music journalist Simon Reynolds has called for odes to the riff’s slightly-uncool sibling: the guitar solo. Naturally, you’re all welcome to join the festivities. Unlike the Great Internet Riff War of 2010, it’s a bit of a struggle at first to get people to expound upon how awesome guitar solos are. Consider that entire musical movements have arisen time and again—punk and post-punk, just to name two—that make a point of rejecting the soloing convention. While a lot can be said over the technique’s indulgent, sometimes stodgy nature, I honestly believe that a lot of the grumbling about solos is due to the fact that not everyone can pull them off well.
Really, think about it: a great riff can be just one catchy measure of music repeated for a full minute. A great solo is supposed to be an individual expression, and those by their nature have to be idiosyncratic and nuanced. They require a baseline amount of talent and/or imagination, and furthermore they are often improvised. Factoring all that in mind, even an oft-cited classic solo can have a bar or two that simply does not work for the listener. I for one can rattle off numerous riffs I consider classic, but my list of comparable solos would be much shorter.
Regardless, I’ve never been one to call for the head of the guitar solo on a platter. Having heard Pink Floyd a little too often on classic rock radio isn’t enough to make me want to deny an essential vocabulary element from genres such as blues, heavy metal, and even folk music. Additionally, solos are a handy compositional technique to liven up a song arrangement—the presence of that breakneck riff in Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” might satiate most hungers for six-string mania, but the whole affair would be a little less interesting without that “Fast” Eddie Clark speed freakout after Lemmy shouts out “And don’t forget the joker!”