A few years ago, the editors of Guitar World magazine compiled what we feel is the ultimate guide to the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time.
The list, which has been quoted by countless artists, websites and publications around the world, starts with Richie Sambora's work on Bon Jovi's “Wanted Dead or Alive” (Number 100) and builds to a truly epic finish with Jimmy Page's solo on "Stairway to Heaven" (Number 1).
To quote our "Stairway to Heaven" story that ran with the list, "If Jimmy Page is the Steven Spielberg of guitarists, then 'Stairway' is his Close Encounters."
We've kicked off a summer blockbuster of our own — a no-holds-barred six-string shootout. We're pitting Guitar World's top 64 guitar solos against each other in an NCAA-style, 64-team single-elimination tournament. Every day, we will ask you to cast your vote in a different guitar-solo matchup as dictated by the 64-team-style bracket.
You can vote only once per matchup. The voting for each matchup ends as soon as the next matchup is posted (Basically, that's one poll per day during the first round of elimination, including weekends and holidays).
In some cases, genre will clash against genre; a thrash solo might compete against a Southern rock solo, for instance. But let's get real: They're all guitar solos, played on guitars, by guitarists, most of them in some subset of the umbrella genre of rock. When choosing, it might have to come down to, "Which solo is more original and creative? Which is more iconic? or Which one kicks a larger, more impressive assemblage of asses?"
Today, we see two classics from the early 1970s go head to head. Martin Barre's guitar solo on Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" (25) faces Elliott Randall's guitar work on Steely Dan's "Reelin' in the Years" (40). Get busy! You'll find the poll at the bottom of the story.
Winner: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (78.45 percent)
Loser: "Bulls on Parade" (21.55 percent)
Round 1, Day 16: "Aqualung" Vs. "Reelin' in the Years"
Soloist: Martin Barre
Album: Jethro Tull—Aqualung (Chrysalis, 1971)
“Aqualung was a difficult and very tense album to record, but at the end of the day it was important,” says Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre. “Ian wrote the riff and verses to the song ‘Aqualung,’ but he felt it needed a new section for the guitar break. I said, ‘Why don’t we just play the verse chords in half-time for the first part of the solo, then pick it back up for the rest of the solo?’ It was a simple solution that really worked.”
“While I was playing the solo, which was really going well, Jimmy Page walked into the control room and started waving. I thought, ‘Should I wave back and mess up the solo or should I just grin and carry on?’ Being a professional to the end, I just grinned.”
40. "Reelin' in the Years"
Soloist: Elliott Randall
Album: Steely Dan—Can’t Buy a Thrill (MCA, 1972)
While recording Steely Dan’s 1972 debut, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen knew they had a great track for “Reelin’ in the Years”—if they could only come up with the appropriate guitar solo to jumpstart the tune. So they put in a call to Elliott Randall, with whom they had worked in the backing band for Jay and the Americans, and who’d had played on many of the duo’s early, pre-Steely Dan demos.
“They were having trouble finding the right ‘flavor’ solo for ‘Reelin,’ and asked me to give it a go,” recalls Randall. “Most of the song was already complete, so I had the good fortune of having a very clear picture of what the solo was laying on top of. They played it for me without much dialogue about what I should play. It just wasn’t necessary because we did it in one take and nothing was written. Jeff Baxter played the harmony parts, but my entire lead—intro/answers/solo/end solo—was one continuous take played through a very simple setup: my old Strat, the same one I’ve been using since 1965, plugged directly into an Ampeg SVT amp, and miked with a single AKG 414. The whole solo just came to me, and I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to play it.”
Winner: "Reelin' in the Years" (57.05 percent)
Loser: "Aqualung" (42.95 percent)