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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Opinion | Why We Can’t Quit the Guitar Solo

It’s easy to dismiss the guitar
solo as an outdated, macho institution.
The shredding lead guitar, once
ubiquitous in rock music, can now feel
like a relic of a bygone time.

It’s easy to dismiss the
guitar solo as an outdated,
macho institution. The
shredding lead guitar, once
ubiquitous in rock music,
can now feel like a relic of
a bygone time.

The musical trope has become less
of a fixture in mainstream rock. Indeed, most
of the Grammy nominees in the rock
song and performance categories* this year
did not even include guitar solos. *including Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song

The musical trope
has become less of a fixture
in mainstream rock.
Indeed, most of the Grammy
nominees in the rock song
and performance categories*
this year did not even
include guitar solos. *including Best Rock Performance
and Best Rock Song

But the emotional power of the
form endures. A guitar solo is not just a
display of musical showmanship,
technical mastery and bravado. At its
best, it’s a moment of exquisite
vulnerability, in which the player opens
up entirely to the listeners.

But the emotional
power of the form endures.
A guitar solo is not just
a display of musical
showmanship, technical
mastery and bravado.
At its best, it’s a moment
of exquisite vulnerability,
in which the player
opens up entirely to
the listeners.

The guitar solo isn’t dead. It
has evolved, and it’s showing up in some
unexpected genres and places.

The guitar solo
isn’t dead. It has evolved,
and it’s showing
up in some unexpected
genres and places.


This story includes music previews from Spotify.

When I recently saw the singer-songwriter Adrianne Lenker of the band Big Thief perform to a sold-out crowd of 1,200 people in London, her acoustic guitar solo was an emotional high point. Her percussive harmonics and string bends, on the song “Simulation Swarm,” felt as much physical as they were audible. Some members of the audience — who had sat silently and appreciatively during her set, waiting for each song to finish before applauding — could not contain themselves, cheering loudly and breaking the spell of the music for just a moment.

This wasn’t the first time I’d witnessed this phenomenon at Ms. Lenker’s shows — I’m an executive at her record company, so I’m not a disinterested observer. But I was fascinated by the otherwise reverent audience’s compulsion to interject, to be a part of the moment, to support the player as she went out on a musical limb. It wasn’t about flashy antics or the speed with which Ms. Lenker played the notes; it was about the raising of the emotional stakes that occurred when she gave more. By pulling away from the microphone, she shined a spotlight on her guitar playing. The audience felt it, and they wanted Ms. Lenker to know they felt it.

That, to me, is the power of the guitar solo. It’s a moment of risk for the player, a demonstrative attempt to connect sonically, physically and emotionally with the audience — even if only for a moment. The precariousness is part of what the audience responds to, explained Vernon Reid, the guitarist of Living Colour, when I asked him about his experience with the guitar solo. (Like many of the musicians quoted in this piece, he is a friend.)

“In all performance,” he told me, “when somebody is willing to go to an edge, and the audience is gripped by the drama of the attempt, it’s an electrifying thing.”

Since the pinnacle of its popularity in the 1980s, the guitar solo has been knocked as an arrogant, unnecessary display of prowess, most effectively ridiculed in the 1984 mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap.” Turning the amp up “to 11” was a gag from the film, but the drive to shred faster and faster, harder and harder, louder and louder was very real.

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After the excesses of 1980s guitar culture, many recoiled from the solo and everything it stood for. “I made it very clear that I hated guitar solos,” the Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago recalled telling his bandmate ​​Charles Thompson (known as Black Francis) in a recent issue of Guitar Player magazine. “I still do. You hear these guys noodling around and playing fast. It’s like listening to somebody type. That wasn’t for me, and Charles agreed we wouldn’t have it in our band.”

Mr. Santiago wasn’t alone. In the 1990s, the bravado of the cocky, virtuoso guitar solos on so many 1980s rock records started to feel out of step with the times. The spotlight shifted away from technical skills and shined instead on an artist’s emotional impact, whether through lyrics, performance, music videos or off-stage persona. Artists such as Björk, Alanis Morissette and Beck emerged as a new, openly sensitive type of rock star.

The guitar solo is about much more than a demonstration of a musician’s skills. As Ms. Lenker’s show reaffirmed, there lives within a guitar solo the ability to evoke a visceral humanity in us: We recognize someone taking a risk, no matter how confident they may appear. In a live performance setting, we want to contribute to the exchange. We want to feel connected with others who appreciate the power of the moment.

“Songs and vocals might seem the same night after night, but each night I look forward to the guitar solo,” the Dinosaur Jr. singer, songwriter and guitarist J Mascis told me by email. “They are my way of communicating how I am feeling and how this night, this show, is different from all other nights. How the crowd reacts inspires me to play different things in different ways. I channel my feelings into the guitar solo, hoping to entertain myself so that others will hopefully be entertained.”

Mr. Mascis is one of a long line of guitarists, over decades and across genres, to make that connection.

The guitar solo as we
know it began as a musical interlude
by blues, jazz and country
players — showcased here by Sister
Rosetta Tharpe, playing an
intricate solo on “This Little Light of
Mine.” In the 1940s and ’50s,
Ms. Tharpe embraced the distorted
sound that contributed to the
guitar solo’s primal appeal.

The guitar solo as
we know it began as a musical
interlude by blues, jazz and
country players — showcased
here by Sister Rosetta Tharpe,
playing an intricate solo on
“This Little Light of Mine.” In
the 1940s and ’50s, Ms.
Tharpe embraced the distorted
sound that contributed to the
guitar solo’s primal appeal.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe
“This Little Light of Mine”

By the 1960s and ’70s,
the guitar solo was a mainstay of rock
music. Jimi Hendrix and others
started to play (and sometimes improvise)
long, loud, intricate solos, like this
one from “Purple Haze,” which would
radiate as a perennial touchstone for
future rock guitarists.

By the 1960s and ’70s,
the guitar solo was a mainstay of
rock music. Jimi Hendrix and
others started to play (and
sometimes improvise) long, loud,
intricate solos, like this one from
“Purple Haze,” which would
radiate as a perennial touchstone
for future rock guitarists.

Jimi Hendrix
“Purple Haze”

As punk emerged in the 1970s
and ’80s, the guitar solo was sped up and
trimmed down. Some bands de-
emphasized proficiency, playing solos that
were less about skill and musicianship,
like this two-note anti-solo in the
Buzzcocks’ “Boredom.”

As punk emerged in
the 1970s and ’80s, the guitar
solo was sped up and
trimmed down. Some bands
de-emphasized proficiency,
playing solos that were less
about skill and musicianship,
like this two-note anti-solo in
the Buzzcocks’ “Boredom.”

The Buzzcocks
“Boredom”

In the 1980s, guitarists amped
up the precision, speed, mastery and ego.
The guitar-shredding rock god is
represented here by Eddie Van Halen in
1986 with his dexterous finger-tapping
technique on the iconic solo for “Eruption,”
which raised the bar for aspiring
guitarists across the globe.

In the 1980s, guitarists
amped up the precision, speed,
mastery and ego. The guitar-
shredding rock god is represented
here by Eddie Van Halen in
1986 with his dexterous
finger-tapping technique on the
iconic solo for “Eruption,”
which raised the bar for aspiring
guitarists across the globe.

Nirvana’s 1991 album “Nevermind,”
with Kurt Cobain’s recreations of vocal
melodies
and emotional noise rants
ushered in an era of innovative, expressive
guitar solos. Here, Rage Against
the Machine’s Tom Morello’s uses a pitch-
shifting Whammy pedal to give his
guitar anotherworldly, synthesizer-like
sound on “Killing in the Name.”.

Nirvana’s 1991 album
Nevermind,” with Kurt Cobain’s
recreations of vocal melodies
and emotional noise rants ushered
in an era of innovative, expressive
guitar solos. Here, Rage Against
the Machine’s Tom Morello’s uses a
pitch-shifting Whammy pedal
to give his guitar an otherworldly,
synthesizer-like sound
on “Killing in the Name.”.

Rage Against the Machine
“Killing in the Name”

In the late 1980s and ’90s, a new narrative emerged: If you were really good, you wouldn’t need to show off so much. Satires such as “Wayne’s World” and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” started to make shredding seem like the domain of awkward teenage boys.

“Perhaps it was inevitable that the guitar solo would outlive its usefulness,” David Browne wrote in Rolling Stone in 2019. “After all these years and innovations, what can it offer? What hasn’t already been done, from Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan? But the rise of hip hop, dance music and modern pop cemented the solo’s irrelevance.”

Gone are the days when guitar solos were in almost every song on rock radio airwaves, but they’re far from extinct. It’s true that the new millennium brought a focus on other genres, but it’s also worth noting that artists in some of those genres, electronic music for example, figured out some inventive ways to include the guitar solo. Daft Punk’s 2001 song “Aerodynamic” used a guitar-like sound for its classically influenced solo, and other electronic artists such as Justice and Ratatat followed suit.

The field of renowned guitar players also broadened. Male guitarists continued to dominate the covers of guitar magazines. But women-fronted guitar bands including Bikini Kill, Blonde Redhead, Sleater-Kinney, the Breeders, 7 Year Bitch, Elastica, Hole, PJ Harvey and Babes in Toyland challenged rock’s male dominance. The Donnas, L7 and Veruca Salt did so with guitar solos.

Meanwhile, the internet and video games provided new stages to shred on. The video game “Guitar Hero,” introduced in 2005, was hugely popular, selling over 25 million copies worldwide. The rise of YouTube created a platform for thousands of home guitarists, from tweens to mom rockers, to show off their skills by replicating famous solos. The YouTube videos of the Australian guitarist Orianthi reportedly led Michael Jackson to hire her to perform the famous Eddie Van Halen solo on “Beat It.”

New generations of musicians far beyond rock music began to see places for the guitar solo to fit in, and they have reinvented it to create unexpected forms: The unnerving solo of St. Vincent’s “Rattlesnake”; the searing crescendo of Cate Le Bon’s “Remembering Me”; the understated wall of sound on Shamir’s “Cisgender”; and the digital pop-punk breakdown on 100 gecs’ “Stupid Horse”.

And in the past few years, even as other rock music fixtures — the album, the stage show — have lost ground to streaming music and Covid-era curbs on large gatherings, the guitar solo has found new ways to thrive: TikTok hosts a seemingly infinite library of guitar solo clips, from the most serious to the most ridiculous, and YouTube offers everything from tutorials on playing “Hotel California” to a double-guitar tapping version of the Super Mario Bros. video game theme song. The abstract idea, if not the reality, of the over-the-top guitar solo provides the basis for air guitar contests around the world.

The experimental musician Taja Cheek, who performs as L’Rain, sees the guitar solo as a kind of auditory touch point, but one that can be abstracted or refracted. “The way we do it in the band is more of an impression of a solo, a noise, or an effect, or something like that,” Ms. Cheek said. “Rather than: and here’s the melody again.

The guitar solo might feel less present these days. But I’m still excited by it. And I find myself fully smiling when I encounter a great guitar solo in the wild: H.E.R.’s “Saturday Night Live” performance; the skronky, clean solo in Lady Gaga’s “A-YO”; and the whammy-bar-influenced melody on Turnstile’s “Mystery.”

When I think back to that Adrianne Lenker concert, I recall the brief moment between when she stopped singing and started soloing. It felt as if the audience was finally able to breathe, to release some of the wonderful tension in the room. That’s why we cheered. A guitar solo can tear down a performer’s guard and bring them closer to us — and it can offer a license to engage. Whether we’re experiencing a master player at the top of her game or a friend playing air guitar at a karaoke bar, the guitar solo endures. If we allow it to, it can offer a visceral moment of joy.

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– Article Written By @ from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/04/02/opinion/grammys-rock-guitar-solo.html

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