This may sound odd, coming from a guitarist, but it’s true: upward of 90% of all guitar solos ever recorded are unnecessary, add nothing to the song and in many cases actually detract from the music.
Alas, guitar solos (and their purveyors: guitarists) can be loosely analogous to commercials flogged by ad agencies. Many of them are created for the singular purpose of gratifying their creators and (ostensibly) to demo their virtuosity.
Rarely does it happen that a guitar solo can be a building block to a song. Most of them are pure wankfests.
Statistically, the spectrum of axe-wanking breaks out into roughly three buckets: Amazing, Obligatory and Regrettable.
Counter-intuitively, those pillars of guitar-ism rarely get a solo into that 5% sliver of greatness. These legends have names like Page, Hendrix, Satriani, Beck, et al but their work matters most to 1) themselves and 2) other guitar players. Sure, they’re prolific and technically adept. But a lot of their songs are simply “guitar solo containers”. Rarely is it that one hears an amazing song, made more amazing by a killer guitar solo, that happened to be emitted by one of the “masters.
More often a great song is intruded upon by a dose of wank, which is tolerated, appreciated or possibly celebrated, because of the undisputed greatness of the guitar soloist in question. The blasphemous truth: if the solo wasn’t there, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference one way or another.
There is probably a Paredo Principle at work here, even among individual guitarists. I’ll criticize my own body of work as an example so I don’t sound like an accusatory curmudgeon:
I’ve probably recorded about 50 songs in my “career” (and I use that term loosely), out of those songs maybe 30 of them have guitar solos. Of those 30, maybe 20 were performed by another guitarist, leaving 10 guitar solos that I’ve recorded. Of those 10, I honestly feel like I actually “nailed it” in one of them and I feel like it actually adds something to the song (“Pick U Up” on the first tPH record). Another eight (being generous to myself) are just kind of “there”. They don’t detract from the song, they just adequately fill in the [insert guitar solo here] space. And then there’s a stink-job on “Have a Parkdale Hookers Christmas Time” which is probably a disservice to artist and listener alike.
Now that we’re almost done the next Parkdale Hookers record, what will happen to my batting average? Well, out of 8 songs there are guitar solos in 4 of them. You win half the battles by not fighting them. Of those four, I am hoping that there are zero that are impaired by the solo. The rest are probably obligatory, just because they’re hard driving, kick-ass guitar rock that just scream SOLO!, but in reality, you could put anything in there and drunken people in bars will still air-guitar to it and my 5-year old will do the devil-horns and bob her head furiously. It isn’t the guitar solo that’s doing the work there, it’s the rest of the song.
So what are the all time greatest guitar solos ever? I’ll run those down in another post, but trust me: none of the sacred cows make the list. You’d be surprised.