Clapton, Lifeson, Santana and More: 10 of The Greatest Guitar Solos Ever

by Peter Wendel
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Ritchie Blackmore [photo source: Wikipedia]

You all said you enjoyed my first list of solos, but you said it was way too short. I completely agree.

The hardest part about putting together the first list was chiseling it down to just 10 solos. It was a painful editing process, like deciding which of your children you love the most.

The obvious solution was to assemble another list (or better yet, a series of lists). The deeper I dive into this, the more gems I run across. Not to mention the fact that many of you have made worthy suggestions on SongMango’s Facebook page (see post from November 21st). As you have clearly pointed out, there’s no shortage of top-notch solos out there.

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Carlos Santana [photo source: Wikipedia]

No self-respecting rock writer can ignore virtuosos like Ritchie Blackmore, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana and Alex Lifeson – all of whom deserve a seat at the table. And now they have one in this next list of greatest solos of all time.

This is a star-studded list with soaring solos from some of our favorite players, but not unexpectedly, I had to cut more meat off the bone. Among other notables, I had to leave out Duane Allman’s high-flying solo at the end of Wilson Pickett’s cover of “Hey Jude” – the solo that caught the attention of Eric Clapton and resulted in Duane playing on Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. Another one that didn’t make this list is Elliott Randall’s work in Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years” – a solo that Jimmy Page has called his personal favorite.

I guess that means another list is already in the works. In the meantime, enjoy this one – and don’t forget to jack up the volume.

BLUE SKY
Duane Allman & Dickey Betts 
The Allman Brothers Band

Duane Allman and Dickey Betts team up to lay down one of the greatest dual-lead passages in rock history. It’s guitar playing like this that made the Allman Brothers legends. Duane’s perfectly paced solo comes first with Dickey joining in at 1:21 for a brief shared melody line, and then at 1:30, Dickey serves up a sweet solo of his own. Betts remains one of rock’s most underrated players. I guess that’s what happens when the guy standing next to you onstage happens to be Duane Allman. You can get overshadowded.

BOLD AS LOVE
Jimi Hendrix
The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Jimi played guitar like nobody else – at least nobody from this planet. His alien-esque soloing skills are on vivid display in “Bold As Love,” soaring across the skies and then plunging headlong into the darkness (following Mitch Mitchell’s drum break). This is masterful work from the Great One, hovering in the same rarified air as “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”

CAUSE WE’VE ENDED AS LOVERS
Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck

Although Jeff Beck didn’t get as much glory as either Clapton or Page, he may have the most raw talent of the Big Three that played in The Yardbirds. “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” captures Beck’s huge emotional range, one minute making his guitar weep for all who have loved and lost and the next making it breathe fire with defiant gun-slinging play.

FREE BIRD
Allen Collins & Gary Rossington
Lynyrd Skynyrd

What song is it you wanna hear? Collins and Rossington bring the heat in what has become the most recognizable dual-lead guitar solo in rock history. They push each other higher and higher into the heavens until their guitars explode into blistering whiskey-stoked mayhem. And the way the duo drops it back into the slot at 3:18 is a testament to the precision of the Skynyrd guitarists. During a 1975 concert, frontman Ronnie Van Zant dedicated “Free Bird” to both Duane Allman and ABB bassist Berry Oakley, saying, “they’re both free birds.” Duane died in October of 1971. Berry would die one year later. They were both 24.

INCIDENT AT NESHABUR
Carlos Santana
Santana

From Santana’s 1970 masterpiece, Abraxas, “Incident At Neshabur” mixes the band’s signature Latin sound with modal jazz lines that lead back to Miles Davis and John Coltrane. This loosely constructed instrumental tests the bounds of Santana’s improvisational skills as it stretches out and explores. His guitar whisks you off to far-away mystical places in the sun.

JOHNNY B. GOODE
Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry

Rock-n-roll music summed up in a 17-second intro solo. Thanks Chuck, for making it all possible. We salute you!

LIMELIGHT
Alex Lifeson 
Rush

Great solos come from the heart, and Lifeson’s brilliant work in “Limelight” is no exception. He makes you feel it in your bones. Here Alex describes his most memorable solo: “I love the elasticity of the solo. It’s a very emotional piece of music for me to play. The song is about loneliness and isolation, and I think the solo reflects that.” Enough said.

NO NO NO
Ritchie Blackmore 
Deep Purple

“No No No” features back-to-back solos from the legendary Deep Purple guitarist. The first one is an early example of the “sustained slide” style that would become Blackmore’s signature. Ritchie is a hugely gifted (and often under-appreciated) player.

SULTANS OF SWING
Mark Knopfler
Dire Straits

Here’s the Dire Straits frontman at his best as he unwinds a fluid and savory solo that showcases his rich, full-bodied tone and melodic tendencies.

WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS
Eric Clapton
The Beatles

George Harrison invited his friend Eric Clapton to play lead guitar on his ballad, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – a forlorn song that reflected the discord within The Beatles in the late-’60s as the band came apart. Brilliantly toned and melodic in structure, Clapton’s solos howl and moan like a dark storm forming on the horizon. Here’s Eric’s solo from the middle of the song (the one at the end ain’t bad either).

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach Mountain Jam, The All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at PWendel@SongMango.com.

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