In most cases, the guitar solo serves as a major component in classic rock and metal songs. Think Comfortably Numb, Bohemian Rhapsody, Free Bird. But there have been cases in which classic tunes in the rock canon have gone solo-less.
Now of course, the majority of first-wave punk rockers cut out guitar solos altogether, a trend that began with the Ramones and continues to this day. But for this list, we’re talking about mostly good old fashioned classic rock and metal from the golden age of the ‘60s through to the ‘90s.
And, of course, it wasn't due to the guitarist in the band not being technically gifted enough to supply a solo, but rather, it just didn’t fit into the song – or the riff was strong enough to carry the load.
Here we present a countdown of the 20 greatest rock songs that don't contain a guitar solo.
20. Helmet – Unsung
Early- to mid-‘90s alt-rock seemed to be an era in which the guitar solo was an afterthought…at best. And one of the top tunes from Helmet’s 1992 classic, Meantime, opted to feature a riff break rather than a traditional solo section.
19. Faith No More – From Out of Nowhere
Although Jim Martin was first and foremost a riff meister, there are a number of Faith No More classics where he offered up memorable solos – Epic, Anne’s Song and Be Aggressive to name a few. But on this high-energy album opener on FNM’s worldwide breakthrough, 1989’s The Real Thing, no solo was required.
18. Mötley Crüe – Wild Side
Hair metal is associated with screaming/shredding six-string showcases – especially when a guitar was placed in the hands of Warren DeMartini, George Lynch or Vinnie Vincent.
So expectedly, Mick Mars’ solos usually serve as an important ingredient in Mötley Crüe tunes. But on one of their most popular tracks, Wild Side, Mr. Mars opted to focus solely on the song’s rapid-fire rhythm.
17. Billy Squier – The Stroke
The tune that helped usher in the “Zep clone” craze of the ‘80s was this swaggering rocker from Billy Squier’s commercial breakthrough, 1981’s Don’t Say No. But instead of featuring a guitar solo towards the end, what sounds like an underwater synth-y strings motif was utilized.
16. Foreigner – Double Vision
The ‘70s was chock full of lead-guitar goodies – usually leaning heavily on outstanding guitar solos. And for the most part, rock radio faves Foreigner gave guitarist Mick Jones room to do his thing mid-song. But this was not the case on the hit title track from their sophomore album, 1978’s Double Vision – which opts for brief sax solos, instead!
15. Metallica – Frantic
Metallica has always been known for ripping guitar solos courtesy of Kirk Hammett. But by the time of their sonically controversial 2003 album, St. Anger, not a single stinking solo could be detected. Case in point, this manic – or perhaps more fittingly, frantic – thrasher, which also served as the album's opener.
14. Queen – Sheer Heart Attack
It’s universally agreed that few rock guitarists are as masterful at constructing guitar solos as Queen’s Brian May – most are so melodic that you can actually sing along with them.
But because this tune served as Queen’s retort to the fast emerging first wave of punk (particularly the Sex Pistols), an extended solo mid-song wouldn’t have fit. In fact, it’s drummer Roger Taylor – who penned the tune – supplying most of the guitar work!
13. Nirvana – Lithium
Although there will never be any confusion between a Kurt Cobain guitar solo and a Yngwie Malmsteen solo, you have to give the late/great leader of Nirvana props – he came up with some of rock’s all-time great guitar parts. But this gem from Nevermind went entirely sans solo.
12. AC/DC – Big Balls
Think “AC/DC,” and for many, images of Angus Young letting his fingers fly on the fretboard of a Gibson SG immediately come to mind. But on this dirty little ditty – in which singer Bon Scott pushes his signature double entendre lyric style to the max – Angus opted to solely join forces with rhythm king Malcolm, and left his guitar solo at the door.
11. Soundgarden – Rusty Cage
Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil could certainly provide a wailing solo when necessitated – just listen to Spoonman or Black Hole Sun. But on the classic album-opener from the band's commercial breakthrough, 1991’s Badmotorfinger, tricky time signatures, surprise musical twists and turns, and some of Chris Cornell’s best – yet admittedly, quite incomprehensible – lyrics left no room for a solo.
10. Jimi Hendrix – Wait Until Tomorrow
A Jimi Hendrix song with no guitar solo? Unfathomable! But it did happen at least once, on this underrated tune from the Experience’s sophomore effort, Axis: Bold as Love. However, Jimi’s stellar and busy rhythm playing throughout (as well as a few drum fills by Mitch Mitchell) makes up for the MIA lead.
9. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Under the Bridge
That John Frusciante is one talented guitarist – especially when you take into consideration the wide variety of styles he has touched upon both as a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and as a solo artist. But on one of the Chili Peppers’ first hit singles, he bypassed a solo and instead focused on those iconic Hendrixian embellishments.
8. Stone Temple Pilots – Interstate Love Song
Featuring one of the best guitar riffs that the ‘90s had to offer – penned by Stone Temple Pilots bassist Robert DeLeo, and not his guitarist brother, Dean – this uptempo rocker helped silence most of the band’s early critics once and for all. And with a riff that great… who needs a solo?
7. Judas Priest – Breaking the Law
The guitar tandem of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing is certainly one of metal’s all-time best – especially when you take into account all the arena-shaking guitar parts they’ve offered throughout the years. But when it came to deciding if a traditional guitar solo was needed for this classic rocker, they opted to let the riff do the talking.
6. Cheap Trick – Surrender
One of the greatest rock 'n' roll anthems of all-time doesn't include a solo! Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen was always more of a rhythm player/songwriter rather than a shredder, and on the studio version of this tune he opts to play it safe and stick solely to bashing out chords. But on the superior live version at Nippon Budokan, he throws in a few fills here and there for your enjoyment.
5. Led Zeppelin – Immigrant Song
Although Jimmy Page offered some of rock’s all-time best guitar solos, to his credit, he always put the importance of songwriting first and foremost. And if a solo was not essential for a tune best known for Robert Plant’s Viking battle cry, off to the land of the ice and snow it would go.
4. Deep Purple – Perfect Strangers
Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar work was such a crucial part of the Deep Purple sound that you would think on the group’s big comeback after being apart for years – the glorious title track from 1984’s Perfect Strangers – they would allot an adequate section for the Man in Black to solo on his Strat. You would have been mistaken.
3. Kiss – Rock and Roll All Nite
Similar to Brian May, Kiss’s Ace Frehley specialized in guitar solos that were so melodic and memorable that you hum along. And one of Ace’s best solos resides within the live version of their party anthem, Rock and Roll All Nite. But on the earlier studio version of the tune, a guitar solo was nowhere to be found.
2. Led Zeppelin – Kashmir
On what is probably Led Zeppelin’s most grandiose composition, Middle Eastern themes are utilized to incredible effect. But similar to the aforementioned Immigrant Song, Jimmy Page had no problem bypassing a guitar solo if a Zep song was impeccable without one.
1. The Rolling Stones – (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
That's right: it may pack one of rock’s all-time great – and most instantly identifiable – guitar riffs, but there's not a solo in sight. The story goes that Keith Richards came up with the riff in the middle of the night, taped it, fell back asleep, and had no memory of it when he listened back the next morning. So, really, we should feel lucky Satisfaction exists at all – and when the riff is this good, who needs a solo?