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” (100) and builds to a truly epic finish with Jimmy Page's solo on "Stairway to Heaven" (01).
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."
In June, we kicked off a summer blockbuster of our own — a no-holds-barred six-string shootout. We pitted Guitar World's top 64 guitar solos against each other in an NCAA-style, 64-team single-elimination tournament. Every day, we asked you to cast your vote in a different guitar-solo matchup as dictated by the 64-team-style bracket. Now Round 1 has come and gone, leaving us with 32 guitar solo and 16 (sweet) matchups.
You can vote only once per matchup, and the voting ends as soon as the next matchup is posted (Basically, that's one poll per day).
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's Round 2 Matchup (Matchup 1 of 16)
"Free Bird" Vs. "Surfing with the Alien"
Thanks to everyone who voted during Round 1 of Guitar World's Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time readers poll, which ended Thursday, July 11! Today we're picking up where we left off and kicking off Round 2.
Our inaugural Round 2 matchup features Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" (03) — featuring a guitar solo by Allen Collins (with Gary Rossington) — against "Surfing with the Alien" (30), a classic 1987 track by the birthday boy, Joe Satriani (born July 15, 1956). In Round 1, "Free Bird" knocked off Pink Floyd's "Money," while "Surfing with the Alien" defeated Pantera's "Cemetery Gates."
Get busy! You'll find the poll at the very bottom of the story.
03. “Free Bird”
Soloist: Allen Collins, Gary Rossington
Album: Lynyrd Skynyrd—pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd (MCA, 1973)
“ ‘Free Bird’ was actually one of the first songs we ever wrote,” says guitarist Gary Rossington. “Allen [Collins] had the chords for the pretty part in the beginning, two full years, but Ronnie [Van Zant] kept saying that because there were too many chords he couldn’t find a melody for it. We were just beginning to write and he thought that he had to change with every chord change.
“Then one day we were at rehearsal and Allen started playing those chords, and Ronnie said, ‘Those are pretty. Play them again.’ Allen played it again, and Ronnie said, ‘Okay, I got it.’ And he wrote the lyrics in three or four minutes—the whole damned thing! He came up with a lot of stuff that way, and he never wrote anything down. His motto was, ‘If you can’t remember it, it’s not worth remembering.’
“So we started playing it in clubs, but it was just the slow part. [A demo of this version of the song appears on the Lynyrd Skynyrd box set (MCA, 1991)—GW Ed.] Then Ronnie said, ‘Why don’t you do something at the end of that so I can take a break for a few minutes?’ So I came up with those three chords at the end and Allen played over them, then I soloed and then he soloed…it all evolved out of a jam one night. So, we started playing it that way, but Ronnie kept saying, ‘It’s not long enough. Make it longer.’ Because we were playing three or four sets a night, and he was looking to fill it up. Then one of our roadies told us we should check out this piano part that another roadie, Billy Powell, had come up with as an intro for the song. We did—and he went from being a roadie to a member right then.”
“The whole long jam was Allen Collins, himself,” Rossington says. “He was bad. He was super bad! He was bad-to-the-bone bad. When we put the solo together, we liked the sound of the two guitars, and I could’ve gone out and played it with him. But the way he was doin’ it, he was just so hot! He just did it once and did it again and it was done.”
The resulting track was nine minutes long, and no one’s idea of a classic radio song. “Everybody told us that we were crazy to put the song on our first album, because it was too long,” recalls Rossington. “Our record company begged us not to include it. And when it first came out, they did all kinds of awful radio edits until it got big enough where it didn’t matter any more.”
30. “Surfing with the Alien”
Soloist: Joe Satriani
Album: Surfing with the Alien (Epic, 1987)
“We didn’t know where that song was going until one afternoon when we went to record the melody and I plugged a wah-wah pedal and a Tubedriver into my 100-watt Marshall,” Joe Satriani says. “Then, just on a whim, I said, ‘Let’s try this harmonizer.’ It was one of those Eventide 949s. The sound that came out of the speakers blew us away so much that we recorded the melody and the solo in about a half-hour and sat back and went, ‘Whoa! This is a song, man!’"
[[ When you're done voting, start learning every guitar solo in this poll — and more! Check out a new TAB book from Guitar World and Hal Leonard: 'The 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time: A Treasure Trove of Guitar Leads Transcribed Note-for-Note, Plus Song Notes for More Than 40 of the Best Solos.' It's available now at the Guitar World Online Store for $29.99. ]]
Winner: "Free Bird" (56.93 percent)
Loser: "Surfing with the Alien" (43.07 percent)