Top 10 Big Screen Guitar Moments
Yes, there are great concert films, such as Stop Making Sense, Monterey Pop, The Last Waltz and Rust Never Sleeps.
There are also great documentaries on musicians, including Don’t Look Down (Dylan), Truth or Dare (Madonna) and Gimme Shelter (The Rolling Stones). And, finally, there are films with great rock soundtracks, such as Help!, The Wall and Quadrophenia.
Perhaps someday we’ll pump out a list on those categories for ya. But for now, let’s talk about some great guitar moments in Hollywood feature films.
10: La Bamba (1987) - Brian Setzer, Marshall Crenshaw In this rags-to-riches-to-airplane-crash story—starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens—the guitar excitement comes mostly from guest stars, namely Marshall Crenshaw as Buddy Holly, and Brian Setzer as Eddie Cochran (he of the “Summertime Blues” fame).
2: This Is Spinal Tap (1984) – Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) When Nigel sits down to discuss his guitar playing with documentary filmmaker Marti DiBergi (Rob Reiner), the results are not only achingly funny but also poignant for rock journalists who have nodded along to the (occasional) BS of their interview subjects.
1: Jailhouse Rock (1957) – Elvis Presley While doing time for taking out his mama’s assailant, the King works on his guitar chops and, miraculously, becomes a singing sensation. This B&W pic is short on plot but heavy on rock ‘n’ roll, featuring clutch numbers like ”Baby, I Don’t Care,” “Don’t Leave Me Now” and, of course, the classic title track.
3: Crossroads (1986) – Steve Vai, Ry Cooder Steve Vai, playing Satan incarnate, cuts heads with Ralph Macchio, but Macchio can’t pull it off. In fact, he can’t even fake it. Had Ry Cooder, who was overdubbing Macchio’s licks just offstage, simply jumped in against Vai, well, now that would have made one heckuva scene.
4: The Blues Brothers (1980) – Steve Cropper Amazingly, this film never allows the uber-personalities of its stars to detract from the euphoria of the music, which amounts to an unapologetic homage to rhythm and blues. R&B genius Steve Cropper and longtime bassist Duck Dunn get plenty of breathing room as part of the house band.
5: Backbeat (1994) – Thurston Moore Backbeat’s allstar band—Dave Grohl (drums), Mike Mills (bass), Dave Pirner (vocals), Greg Dulli (vocals), and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore (guitar)—turn what could have been a blasé Beatlemania-like soundtrack into an edgy, modern rock celebration of the original mop tops.
6: Purple Rain (1984) – Prince Not only did the royal one win an Oscar for his fantastic score—which, incidentally, sounds just as good as it did in ’84—he also proved himself to be a guitarist heavily influenced by the twin towers of Jimi Hendrix and Curtis Mayfield on tunes like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry.”
7: The Buddy Holly Story (1978) – Gary Busey Not that Busey is a shredder or anything, but in this flick, the actor did a spot-on job portraying Holly as a player, singer and personality. Busey won tons of acclaim for his work, and the film helped refocus attention on Holly’s epic rock ‘n’ roll groundwork.
8: Singles (1992) – Jerry Cantrell Have you forgotten how huge grunge was? In addition to spawning a freakish faux-flannel high-fashion fad, the movement yielded this “romantic comedy,” set against the backdrop of early Nineties Seattle. Scenesters will appreciate the cameos by grunge pioneers—the Pearl Jam and Soundgarden dudes show up—as well as a live performance of “Would?” by Alice in Chains.
9: Human Highway (1982) – Neil Young This way useless piece of rock-star indulgence, written and directed by Neil Young, proves his Hollyweird ambition was completely misguided. Fortunately, he finds time during this sci-fi satire to pull off a long and wildly discordant version of his own “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” with—that’s right—Devo as his backing band.