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Trace Billie Joe Armstrong's roots and revisit an Eddie Van Halen rarity with this week's essential guitar tracks

The Green Day singer, Billie Joe Armstrong, is seen during a concert at La Riviera in Madrid on October 30, 2019 in Madrid, Spain.
(Image credit: Ricardo Rubio/Europa Press via Getty Images)

Wait, it's December already? Yes, this really quite terrible year is finally coming to a close, but it's doing so with a proverbial bang, and a boatload of new guitar releases.

This week, we've got Billy Joe Armstrong paying tribute to one of his foremost early influences, a dose of early-'00s nostalgia courtesy of KennyHoopla, and a thrilling gem from the Eddie Van Halen archives.

And that's your intro. Dive into our choice picks below…

Billie Joe Armstrong – Police on My Back

Billie Joe Armstrong’s latest side project traces its roots to the start of the coronavirus lockdown back in March, when the Green Day frontman, backed by his sons, shared a cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ I Think We’re Alone Now.

The pop-punk trailblazer promised he’d release a new cover every week, and as a result of the last six months or so, we’ve now been treated to an entire album worth of BJA reworks of classic songs.

Among the record’s highlights is Police on My Back, taken from The Clash’s 1980 album Sandinista!. As you’d expect, Armstrong injects a little pop-punk DNA while preserving the track's unforgettable melody. (SR)

David Garfield/Eddie Van Halen – If 6 Was 9

In the wake of his passing, it was said by many that the loss of Eddie Van Halen was the greatest blow to the guitar universe since the death of Jimi Hendrix 50 years earlier. 

Given their mutual status as titanic figures who changed how the electric guitar was played and perceived, it definitely makes sense, and makes it all the more sweet to hear one of those world-changing guitarists pay homage to the other.

Hailing from from keyboardist David Garfield’s new EP, and opening with an absolutely ridiculous solo – packed to the brim with the dive bombs, light-speed tapping and deliriously fun attitude we all know and love from Eddie – this spin on the Hendrix classic is one of those great lost studio treasures where you hear an artist who’s so musically well-defined just let loose and have fun. 

If you’re here to have your face and brain melted with fretboard pyrotechnics, you’ll get that and then some. More importantly though, If 6 Was 9 shows – in the midst of all those blink-and-you-miss-them runs – just how much the man loved guitar and pushing himself in new and different ways every time he picked it up. (JM)

Alpha Male Tea Party – Bonfire Disaster Movie

Just when we thought we’d heard all that is good and guitar-y in 2020, the UK’s premier purveyors of sledgehammer instrumental riffage have made a triumphant return with a surprise new album, Infinity Stare, which lands tomorrow.

Bonfire Disaster Movie is emblematic of the trio’s increasingly refined approach to The Art of the Riff. Guitarist Tom Peters lets loose with a multitude of octave-embiggened stabs, before making way for a (never thought we’d type this sentence) surprisingly sexy ring mod/bass synth middle eight – a palate cleanser of sorts for the return of the track’s monolithic main hook.

In short, it’s a blistering display of massive guitar sounds and tight arrangements, and guaranteed to deliver a Merry Riffmas indeed. (MAB)

KennyHoopla – ESTELLA// (Feat. Travis Barker)

To anyone who might opine that pop punk is dead, we’d be quick to show them the latest effort from Cleveland singer-songwriter and rapper KennyHoopla.

He’s recruited Blink-182 backbone and all-round guest favorite Travis Barker to deliver the rhythm section of his new track ESTELLA//. It’s feel-good, super-melodic, and it’s got as authentic a pop-punk instrumental as a track can possibly possess. The guitars underpin it all, with four-chord powerchord lines, palm-muting and infectious leads among the highlights. 

Side note: we love how certain parts of the music video look as though they were taken from the early 2000s. Nice touch. (SR) 

Brian Ray – Got A New Thing

Got A New Thing – the new single from longtime Paul McCartney guitarist Brian Ray – is definitely a tune his boss’d be proud of. 

Featuring Weezer’s Scott Shriner on bass and fellow Macca bandmate Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums, this power-pop gem oozes McCartney’s influence – the pitch-perfect harmonies, playful-and-hooky riffs, a simple chorus that lodges itself into your head by the second listen.

Ray is no mere impressionist though, and his raucous vocals and surprisingly powerful lyrics (Ray says the song is about “justice for the victims of sexual assault. It imagines the corrupt abuser being taken away in handcuffs and the victims going on to a new life, a ‘New Thing’, if you will”) give this tune a long leg up over the scores of McCartney imitators out there. (JM)

Dre DiMura - Died in Dallas

You might remember Dre DiMura as the intrepid guitarist behind the blindfolded performance of Eric Johnson’s Cliffs of Dover, and this new single is similarly adventurous.

Died in Dallas sees the guitarist team up with Periphery frontman Spencer Sotelo for a pop-punk extravaganza that runs the gamut, from trap breakdowns to a neoclassical middle section and some insane shred runs. Ace. (MAB)

Within The Ruins – Devil In Me

With their sixth studio album Black Heart, Massachusetts four-piece Within The Ruins deliver a savage and unrelenting volley of groundshaking riffs, furious drumming lines and intense guttural screams.

While the album boasts quality metalcore goodness from start to finish, sixth track Devil In Me is a particular highlight. It’s pretty much got it all; brutality, virtuosity, time signature shifting and a selection of thoughtfully constructed melodies.

In just three-and-a-half minutes, it takes you on one hell of a sonic journey. (SR)

Matt Sweeney & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Make Worry for Me

A fantastic merging of the musical minds that first took place in 2005 with the album Superwolf, Matt Sweeney & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy have joined forces again for a stellar new single.

With Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (Will Oldham) handling vocals, Sweeney paints a stirring musical backdrop, with a hypnotizing riff that touches on the heaviness of grunge, the folk/Americana tradition and the ready-to-pounce feral aggression of punk.

Sweeney’s brief-but-climatic solo is similarly eclectic, incorporating a touch of psychedelia that serves as the perfect final seasoning for the beautifully surreal, welcome return of this duo. (JM)