There is a joke that gets passed around between my friends and fellow music makers that usually starts with an Instagram or Facebook photo of high-quality synthesizers, sequencers, or other non-guitar instruments and a caption that reads, “guitars are dead.” What inevitably follows is a long and laughable string of comments from the legions of rock lovers who must stand up in defense of the all-powerful six-stringed instrument that has been a mainstay in music for as long as any of us can remember. Let’s face it, guitars aren’t dead, and there are not many easier ways to bring an atmospheric edge and organic energy to a song than to use a guitar. While some great examples of guitar-less bands exist, of course – like Ben Folds Five or Radiohead for half of Kid A – most of the world’s groups have at least one guitarist, or to help bring that energy, they hire guitarists for their live show.
That doesn’t change the fact that a lot of guitar playing has been overdone. My favorite guitarists tend to be the ones bending conventions, yet still using my favorite elements of music: melody, rhythm, expression, and noise. While the electric guitar has been around for more than 60 years, I want to address our modern landscape and share my seven favorite guitar solos from recent history (that means a top guitar solo list sans “Stairway to Heaven”, “Crossroads”, or “Hotel California” folks). Here goes:
Blake Mills – “If I’m Unworthy”
When I first heard Blake Mills, I got sucked in to a few hours of watching YouTube and listening to this fantastic musician. I purchased his album Break Mirrors back then but hadn’t heard his new record until a friend showed me this song. I was immediately blown away by the solo section. This is such a dynamic song and there’s a great blues/Beatles-esque vibe to this great solo.
St. Vincent – “Cruel”
Annie Clark is a great example of not being married to conventionality. She does an impeccable job of creating great sounds, while utilizing a beautiful melodic sense. This track has a perfect example of her style of solo. Plus, in the music video, she plays this solo while being locked in the trunk of a car—epic.
Wilco – “Side With The Seeds”
Nels Cline was probably the first guitarist who really taught me what it means to build tension in a solo. Great solos always have tension and release, and he is a master at creating those moments. Sky Blue Sky is my favorite Wilco record (hard to say, I know) thanks in part to his playing.
Sego – “20 Years Tall”
Spencer Petersen is one of my favorite guitarists, and he recently started this project that really epitomizes his unique vibe. The type of angular playing I love is all over this stuff, and besides, you know a solo has to be rad when it starts off with this lyric: “guitars!”
The Killers – “When You Were Young”
The Killers always have such a good rock band vibe and I chose this solo to emphasize that sometimes all you need is a few notes to really bring the feeling. Just watch any live version of this song, and you’ll understand why this solo is great.
Bombay Bicycle Club – “Feel”
This is one of my favorite uses of harmony guitar lines in recent music. Maybe not a guitar “solo” per se, but this song has too many rad melodies to not include it. I really love the old sample they use throughout the song as well.
The Black Keys – “Sinister Kid”
I first saw these two at the Austin City Limits Festival just after Attack and Release, and I’ve been a fan ever since. This solo shows a different side of Dan Auerbach’s playing that I find really cool. It’s always good to hear the slide guitar in recent rock music.
It’s a short list, and I’m likely leaving out some excellent work, but each of these musicians have done what I consider to be an excellent job of breathing new life into the guitar solo and proving that the guitar solo is definitely not dead.
Robert Connolly is the lead guitarist and songwriter for Provo, Utah rockers Fictionist, who released their new self-titled album in October 2014 via Red Owl Records. The album is being heralded as “an impressive, assertive, dark and twisty gem.” (Indie-music.com) Check out the music video for their second single “Lock & Key” below and grab a copy of the album right here.