The keyword here is “favorite.” I’m not saying these are the best guitar solos ever written. That would be ridiculous. These are just the ones that move me the most. I’ve been caught numerous times playing air guitar to most of these. So it goes.
I usually appreciate solos more for their emotional impact than their technicality. Rapid-fire finger tapping is impressive, but it doesn’t always equal great in my book. The best solos get stuck in my head like a bad pop song. And they’re fun to whistle.
I apologize, but the “Stairway” has been denied. Also, sorry (not sorry) if there are too many solos from the ‘90s. It was a magical time for music with guitars.
I picked 11 solos because that’s the number they deserve to be cranked to. I think context helps, but if you want to be a lazy bum and skip ahead, I’ve posted the time each one starts. Have at it!
Aerosmith—“Livin’ on the Edge” (1993)
There are a LOT of solos I could have picked from Brad Whitford or Joe Perry. Both of them shred like nobody’s business. But, “Livin’ on the Edge” always struck a nerve with me. It’s packed with raw emotion and insightful lyrics inspired by the 1992 L.A. riots. Perry did an amazing job at conveying that sense of despair through long bendy notes, and a little slide action for good measure. It’s not fast or flashy. Plus, he looked damn cool playing it on those railroad tracks in the music video (even if it looks fake as hell today). I swear that train is going to hit him every time! It’s a fun solo to try to fake if you know almost nothing about playing guitar (like me). [2:18]
Alice In Chains—“Them Bones” (1992)
Equal parts metal and grunge, the opener from Dirt blasts you in the face the second you hit play. With the solo for “Them Bones,” Jerry Cantrell kept things short and sweet. He has a distinct tone that really makes him stand out. Despite its length, it’s quite creative and packs one hell of a punch. I love how upbeat the notes are, and how they soar over the sludgy, nasty riffs that the song is laced with. I can never seem to get enough of it. I’ve been known to hold the “rewind” button after this one because the worst part about it is when it ends. [1:16]
Collective Soul—“Shine” (1994)
Ah yes, the first single/smash hit from Collective Soul. “Shine” often seems too long for its own good, and radio has played it to the point that I rarely put it on voluntarily. Still, whenever it plays, I look forward to the solo. It’s the ideal amount of impressive noodling and adds a nice shot of adrenaline to the song before switching back to the mellow verse. They don’t always get down like this, but Ross Childress ripped it up good and hard on this one. [2:46]
Rush—“Working Man” (1974)
Alex Lifeson never gets proper credit. I get it, Neil Peart was one of the greatest drummers who ever lived. But one shouldn’t ignore the amazing skills of this melodic axe-man. Rush’s “Working Man,” from their eponymous debut, has been melting my brain for 25 years. It has to be my favorite long-form solo. Alex tears it up for about three minutes during this staple of ‘70s rock. I always say I’m not going to put my ear right next to the speaker, but I do every time. I admire how hard it is to pigeonhole him. His style and influences are all over the place, just like the notes in this legendary solo. Seeing Rush end with this on their final tour was absolutely mind-blowing. [2:10]
Candlebox—“Far Behind” (1993)
This song has become part of my DNA. Taken from Candlebox’s self-titled debut, “Far Behind” is all about the build-up. There’s so much sorrow in this weighty ballad, and the bluesy leads match the lyrics superbly. For this era, it’s a very clean tone. Peter Klett sounds inspired by guys like Slash and Joe Perry. I love how it transitions into the heaviest part of the song right after the solo. It’s great writing. It adds value to the composition, instead of just saying, “Look what I can do!” My fingers can’t help but tap along with my invisible guitar every time I hear it. Also, I’m not crying. Okay, maybe I am. [3:14]
Metallica—“The Unforgiven” (1991)
Again, there are many I could have picked from either Kirk Hammett or James Hetfield, but I had to go with “The Unforgiven.” There’s so much soul behind it. It makes sense considering Hammett wrote it (and most solos on The Black Album) while going through a divorce. This song doesn’t have anything to do with that, but the solo fits the mood so well. It comes blazing in after the calmest part of the song and keeps escalating until it feels like Kirk has left his body and the planet. The way it keeps pace with the drums pushes it to another level. I still get goosebumps whenever I hear it. Seeing it performed live will always be an unforgettable experience, and I appreciate that Hammett plays it a little differently each time. [3:46]