#SNRGTR: Sam's favorite guitar solos

Part 1 in a series.

SNR-GTRI’ll go first. And since it’s my idea, I’ll take the editor’s privilege and cheat a bit by giving you two solos instead of one.

Up first, we go back to 1974 and “Brighton Rock,” the lead track on Queen’s third album, Sheer Heart Attack. The band’s first two releases had been relentlessly self-conscious in their forays into fantasy (check out “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” off Queen II for an illustration).

But SHA opens with a boot to the teeth, highlighted by a Brian May solo that I guess is an example of what William Miller in Almost Famous meant by “incendiary.” Just … damn. I was a 14 year-old kid locked away in my bedroom in the back of the house, torn between wanting to crank it to 11 and not wanting my grandfather to come back banging on my door and yelling at me to “turn that racket down.” I fear I erred on the side of 11.

I wasn’t an expert on guitarists by any stretch, but I remember wondering, for the longest time, why everybody talked about Page and Clapton and Beck but never May. Eventually the world caught on: sweet hell, Brian May is god – always was, always will be.

The festivities kick in at around the 1:45 mark.

My other selection is a bit counter-intuitive, perhaps. While a lot of us regard U2 as one of the greatest bands in history, almost nobody argues that The Edge is one of rock’s greatest guitarists (despite the fact that he more or less invented the sound of the 1980s). He just wasn’t a conventional player – and by that, I mean “Blues Rock soloist” – in an era that was still very much infatuated with the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo school of song structure.

He’s nonetheless responsible for one of the most magical solo turns I think I have ever heard. It comes from the band’s Sydney performance on the ZooTV tour. “Love is Blindness” is an achingly beautiful song to begin with, but here Edge takes us … somewhere else. His solo isn’t complicated, but its emotive charge hits me like few pieces of music I know.

You may know the scene – after the second verse Edge begins the solo and a young woman comes up out of the crowd where she is embraced by Bono (as MacPhisto). They dance as Edge plays, and the moment nearly moves me to tears each time I hear it.

These are my two favorite guitar solos. I look forward to hearing what everyone else likes.


Up next: Michael Smith of Fiction 8.


  • Richard Thompson, ‘Mother Knows Best’ from ‘Rumor and Sigh’ which has his arguably his most popular song ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’. Two solos, and a long outro. Solo #2 @ 1:48 is sick. https://youtu.be/CWjm6XdtEb0

  • Not yet convinced about May, mainly because I was never that into Queen, but I could be persuaded otherwise–by more stuff like this, for example. For the record, I agree about The Edge–a fairly limited range, but what he does with it is often extraordinary. In my post on my favorite guitar solos (from 2010!), I used The Edge’s solo from End of the World. Maybe I should just repost that whole thing, but there were 15, I think, and I should get it down to two or three, or one, if you held a gun to my head.

    And, of course, I agree completely about Thompson, and about half a dozen spring immediately to mind. Two stand out–the outro in Tear Stained Letter, and whatever he does every time he does You Can’t Win. Whatever it is, and it changes each time he does it, it will be great.

  • I have not heard that Queen song! (insert standard complaint about classic rock radio only playing two to three songs from any band)

    I have trouble with guitar solo rankings. I love them, but don’t know enough to know what makes one good and another great. I just love how they fit in the whole sound. But, I will propose a couple anyway: Steve Winwood at the Crossroads Festival playing guitar on Dear Mr. Fantasy. The only time I remember tears coming to eyes during a solo. https://youtu.be/6DYC61HzmtM

    I was pretty impressed with Vince Gill playing Oklahoma Borderline (also at Crossroads but might be different years). https://youtu.be/8-ckXEO9_wM

    • Rankings lead you into all sorts of trouble. This is why we just asked people for their favorites and let them take it from there.

      I’ve never really thought of Winwood as a guitarist. Good choice, though.

  • I’d never heard this Queen track. I didn’t realize that ’80s metal owed such a huge debt to them. Even if there’s multi-tracking and overdubbing involved, it’s an incredible solo nonetheless. One of the great things about Brian May is that his guitar work is technically great, but you never get the feeling he’s just showing off. It’s always about the feeling.

    The Edge’s importance always has to be downplayed since even he has acknowledged his debt to the definitive ’80s guitarist, John McGeoch.

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