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?"
Winner: "Bohemian Rhapsody" (77.77 percent)
Loser: "Light My Fire" (22.23 percent)
Today's Round 1 Matchup (Day 23):
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" Vs. "Cortez the Killer"
Today, Kurt Cobain's guitar solo on Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (26) squares off against Neil Young's epic solo on "Cortez the Killer" (39). Get busy! You'll find the poll at the very bottom of the story.
26. “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Soloist: Kurt Cobain
Album: Nirvana—Nevermind (Geffen, 1991)
“I was trying to write the ultimate pop song,” explained the late Kurt Cobain. “It’s such a clichéd riff—it’s so close to Boston’s ‘More Than a Feeling’ riff or Richard Berry’s ‘Louie Louie.’ When I came up with the guitar part, Krist [Novoselic, bass] looked at me and said, ‘That’s so ridiculous.’ So I made the band play it for an hour and a half.”
39. "Cortez the Killer"
Soloist: Neil Young
Album: Zuma (Reprise, 1975)
“Cortez the Killer” hails from Zuma, one of Neil Young’s most overlooked albums, often lost in the shuffle of its predecessor, the much-praised Tonight’s the Night, which came out just five months prior. But there’s really a very simple explanation for the song’s high rating. Just take it from Young himself, who once proclaimed that, “ ‘Cortez’ is some of my best guitar playing ever!”
Remarkably, the song’s structure was largely shaped by an accident—a power failure which occurred in the midst of recording a perfect, transcendent take of the song. Rather than recut the tune, Young just plowed forward and later he and producer David Briggs went back and did some creative editing, which required the lopping off of several verses. “They missed a whole verse, a whole section!” Young says. “You can hear the splice on the recording where we stop and start again. It’s a messy edit…incredible! It was a total accident. But that’s how I see my best art, as one magical accident after another. That’s what is so incredible.”
“Cortez the Killer,” about the Spanish explorer who conquered Mexico with bloody success, is also a prime example of Young’s physical style of lead playing.
“I am a naturally very destructive person,” he says. “And that really comes out in my guitar playing. Man, if you think of guitar playing in terms of boxing…well, let’s just say I’m not the kind of guitarist you’d want to play against. I’m just scarred by life. Nothing in particular. No more scarred than anyone else. Only other people often don’t let themselves know how damaged they are, like I do, and deal with it.”
Winner: "Cortez the Killer" (69.33 percent)
Loser: "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (30.67)