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Monday, October 3, 2011

The Six Best "Bad" Guitar Solos

Posted By on Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 8:48 AM

  • Eddie Van Halen demonstrates the exact opposite of this idea.

The guitar solo has become an integral part of the rock and roll formula, either as a melodic counterpoint to a vocal line or an excuse for showing off. But there's a different kind of solo out there. The kind that, by all technical guidelines, sucks. The kind that sucks on purpose, often as an act of rebellion against the expectations imposed on the instrument. This week, we count down the six best "bad" guitar solos. Let us know what we missed in the comments.

6. Yo La Tengo - "Little Honda" Many of Yo La Tengo's best tracks - "Sugarcube", "Cherry Chapstick", "Deeper Into Movies" - rely on guitarist Ira Kaplan freaking-the-frick out on his Stratocaster. Live, he summons demonic feedback from his amplifier as if holding a Hendrix seance, and the results fall more into the category of "noise" than that of "bad". An exception comes, oddly enough, on Yo La Tengo's Beach Boys cover "Little Honda", where Kaplan harps on a single note, bending in and out of tune for two choruses of the standardized American twelve bar blues chord progression. By ducking below and drifting above the expected pitch, tension and release are created within a single note. The effect is effective as both an abandonment of rock convention and a celebration of the physical phenomenon of sound.

5. Television - "Marquee Moon" Okay, "Marquee Moon" isn't bad. It's long. Too long, some would say, with solo upon solo that stretch the track length into double digits with nary a melody to latch onto or an attempt to display technical agility. Leads are sandwiched between verses, interludes sound more like guitar solos than the solos do. The "real" solo begins with a single bumbling string that eventually morphs into a transcendent climax four minutes later. The whole thing might contain fewer notes than Eddie Van Halen's cameo on "Beat It". Patience is a virtue usually abandoned in rock music - particularly in the fast/loud punk coming out of New York in the '70s. If you can stomach the idea of a punk rock jam band (The Mars Volta?), "Marquee Moon" is worth the wait.

4. Weezer - "El Scorcho" In an interview with Blender well after Weezer had lost its cool, Rivers Cuomo said "I can't imagine not having a guitar solo; it's just what happens after the second chorus." Looking at the band's timeline, Cuomo's solos have shifted from additional hooks (Blue) to melody restatements (Green) to half-assed shredding (Maladroit), but they were at least competent. Not on Pinkerton's Pavement-endebted single "El Scorcho", where Rivers plays stoned hopscotch on the guitar's upper frets. He (or maybe then-bassist Matt Sharp) follows with a lazy falsetto that seems to leave halfway to get snacks. It's slack rock at its most commercial. Let's hope Stephen Malkmus is at least on Cuomo's Christmas card list.

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