Stuck on a desert island, you’re going to want to rock every once in a while, right? That’s where this string-bending, axe-swinging, fretboard-melting, amp-blowing list comes in.
Our panel, forced to choose before embarking on their doomed trek, split evenly in choosing guitar-focused recordings from Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Richard Thompson, Peter Green, Eric Clapton and Robert Fripp — with each of them receiving two votes.
Also mentioned across what turns out to be another crazy-diverse edition in our on-going, always-fun Desert Island Discs series were Pat Metheny, Steve Hackett, Wes Montgomery, Joe Satriani, Bill Frisell and Chuck Berry, among others …
1. PAT METHENY – BRIGHT SIZE LIFE (1975): It’s always seemed impossible to me that this was Metheny’s debut album. The interplay with Bob Moses and Jaco Pastorius is just incredible.
2. BLACK SABBATH – BLACK SABBATH (1970): Giant … slabs … of … guitar.
3. LEO KOTTKE – ONE GUITAR, NO VOCALS (1999): Kottke plays impossible acoustic guitar.
4. GRATEFUL DEAD – BLUES FOR ALLAH (1975): I really couldn’t live without Jerry’s tangled, jazzy lines.
5. RICHARD AND LINDA THOMPSON – SHOOT OUT THE LIGHTS (1982): Come for the chiming, clean-toned arpeggios, stay for the emotionally intense guitar solos.
1. TELEVISION – MARQUEE MOON (1977): From Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s tightly manic guitar frenzy on “Friction,” to the title song’s mesmerizing, lightening-striking-itself build-up — taking us from simmer to full boil — the angular, riveting guitar-work in this innovative and influential masterwork makes for a mesmerizing sonic assault.
2. RICHARD THOMPSON – MORE GUITAR (2003): Thompson’s guitar work on his studio albums is often economic yet masterful, though he does let go at times with ferocity. This live album is a great showcase for his more overt prowess — certainly on par with what I’ve seen in Thompson’s stage shows — and especially fierce and fiery on such numbers as “Can’t Win,” “Gypsy Love Songs,” “Shoot Out the Lights” and “Jerusalem on the Jukebox.”
3. CHUCK BERRY – THE GREAT 28 (1982): There are so many great Chuck Berry songs spread across several strong albums, I felt compelled to resort to a compilation — and this is the best one unburdened by “My Ding-A-Ling.” Berry is not only a seminal figure for his songwriting (tunefully and lyrically) but also for his signature guitar work, including the familiar guitar intro. His instrumental punch and proficiency also come into play in his motivatin’ showmanship: Is his iconic duck-walk even possibly conceivable to without guitar in hand?
4. THE WHO – LIVE AT LEEDS (1970): Pete Townshend, in his new autobiography Who I Am, correctly calls the group in its Live at Leeds performance “a unit, a machine, a force of nature.” Kudos are given to the superb skills of Daltrey, Entwhistle, and Moon, but it’s Townshend’s powerhouse guitar playing, the epitome of controlled chaos, that c-c-causes a big sensation and makes the album one of the best live albums ever.
5. BUDDY GUY – DJ PLAY MY BLUES (1982): Joined by his brother Phil Guy, Buddy Guy wails away with conviction and steady skill on this album, by turns brooding, fiery, and frisky — but always impassioned. It’s a solid showcase for his dexterous versatility and freewheeling fretwork.
[SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: Relive the Who’s shuddering energy — equal parts speed, raw fury and rangy emotion. Oh, and a little nudge-nudge humor here and there, too.]
1. BERT JANSCH – BEST OF BERT JANSCH (1980): Jansch was one of those guitarists who is so good, it was hard to believe there was little to no overdubbing of his instrumental parts in the studio setting: You had to see a live clip of him playing his acoustic guitar to realize he was just one guy playing, not three. This 1980 compilation draws from a wide range of his recordings going back to his first couple of solo albums in the mid-1960s, which would go on to influence many other aspiring guitarists.
2. LED ZEPPELIN – II (1969): Yep — Jimmy Page took Jansch’s “Black Water Side,” dropped the vocal and claimed the remaining instrumental as his own composition named “Black Mountain Side.” They did that with a lot of material on the first Zeppelin album, and a few places on II as well — but “The Brown Bomber” ushered in the era of the early-to-mid 1970s: big bottom end, banshee vocal wails and the infinitely heavy James Patrick Page Orchestra, Armored Division and Guitar Army. A classic.
3. VAN HALEN – VAN HALEN (1978): Up until this album, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and a few more from the same late 60s era seemed to rise to the top in any given fan or critic poll about best guitarists. Eddie Van Halen brought a new style to the rock and roll arena built out of squeals, whammy bars, technical excellence and speed, all of which are showcased here on Van Halen’s first (and probably best) album.
4. SUGAR – COPPER BLUE (1992): Guitarist Bob Mould’s first shot at fame and fortune was with the indie band Husker Du. After that band broke up, he formed Sugar, which focused primarily on Mould and his songwriting. The sound of the album Copper Blue is the sound of Mould’s distorted guitar dragging the rhythm section along through a maze of songs and styles, all bulldozed and made over in the guitarist’s image — part punk, part pop, part metal, and part not of this world.
5. JEFF BUCKLEY – LIVE AT SIN-E (2003): After Buckley’s accidental death in a swimming accident, his live recordings would pop up occasionally on CD and/or DVD, likely in an attempt to keep the name out there and to keep interest and sales up. Live at Sin-E was originally a four-song EP that came out as a teaser for Grace, but in its 2003 Columbia Legacy edition form, this became a much more interesting document. Often remembered as a great performer and songwriter, Buckley is often overlooked as a guitarist. On Sin-E, he accompanies himself with nothing other than a Fender Telecaster through the PA system, weaving fantastic riffs and runs and chords around his own voice, which is itself a wonderful instrument.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: A 2012 reissue ‘Copper Blue’ frames the intriguing story of how Bob Mould’s short-lived band Sugar came together in the early 1990s, and then quickly unraveled.]
1. THE AVENGERS VI – REAL COOL HITS (1966): Instrumental guitar rock was pretty much a dead issue when this rare relic, which was actually a promotion ploy for the Good Humor Ice Cream Company, was recorded. Nevertheless, Real Cool Hits is caked with striking performances coaxed by a triple guitar line-up that requires no copyright date. Tight chops, combined with impressive momentum and catchy arrangements are sired in abundance throughout the collection.
2. THE YARDBIRDS – ROGER THE ENGINEER (1966): Although the Yardbirds were not the first guitar-oriented band, they remain seated firmly on the throne as the group that rocketed the instrument to realms never before explored. Flashy, freaky and ferocious, Roger The Engineer is stuffed silly with crazy and novel licks that are best heard at maximum volume. Heavy metal begins here.
3. THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE – ARE YOU EXPERIENCED (1967): Released at an hour when rock music was rapidly stretching boundaries and rules were expected to be broken, along comes Jimi Hendrix, whose guitar playing and showmanship was so wildly different that it made peers such as the Who, the Yardbirds and Cream seem rather conventional by comparison. The sky is the limit on Are You Experienced, as Sir Hendrix’s mighty axe consumes everything from blues, jazz and funk, and melts these genres into a singular set of burning acid rock beauty.
4. PSYCHEDELIC GUITARS – PSYCHEDELIC GUITARS (1968): Cobbled together by a group of nameless studio musicians, Psychedelic Guitars attempts to cash in on the flower power craze of the era, and succeeds in its own cute and cheesy way. Teeming with all the trademark trappings associated with paisley-padded perspectives, the guitar work is quite fetching and easy to access. Not exactly mind-blowing or innovative, Psychedelic Guitars still contests to be a festive slice of swinging instrumental rock, pronounced by plenty of smashing six-string escapades.
5. MONTROSE – MONTROSE (1973): Hugely groundbreaking, Montrose ushered in the official age of heavy metal with teeth clenched, muscles flexed, chests puffed and sweat pouring forth. Mounds of megatron riffs, courtesy Ronnie Montrose, carpet the material which smacks of ear-damaging decibels. The melodies are fat and thick, while the intensity of the songs are vivid and alive. What mainly separates the record from similar efforts, particularly those by Mountain, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, is the incredible amount of heft and power continuously employed.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Former sideman Steve Smith, who later came to fame with Journey, discusses the late Montrose’s towering legacy on guitar: ‘Ronnie’s sound was huge.’]
1. VAN HALEN – VAN HALEN (1978): I’ve admitted that I’m not the world’s biggest VH fan, but you can’t really talk about guitar albums, at least in my realms of music, without mentioning this one. There’s not a single guy my age who picked up a guitar as a kid and didn’t spend hours in his room trying to cop the licks from “Eruption.”
2. OZZY OSBOURNE – DIARY OF MADMEN (1981): This is one of the records that made me want to play guitar. Though it was recorded in a rush, and there have been some reports over the years that Randy Rhoads was not completely happy with his solos, for me, they’re some of his best work. “Over the Mountain” remains one of my favorite guitar solos ever.
3. JUDAS PRIEST – SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE (1982): Though I’m firmly in the Iron Maiden camp in the age-old argument, Priest pretty much invented the metal twin-guitar attack. From a guitar standpoint, this is probably my favorite of their records. “The Hellion”/”Electric Eye” would be reason enough to put it on this list.
4. JOE SATRIANI – SURFING WITH THE ALIEN (1987): This is the one exception to my shred rule because it’s just such an awesome record. It was the first instrumental shred album I heard and remains my favorite.
5. EXTREME – II: PORNOGRAFFITI (1990): Though perhaps a bit lost in the crash of the 1980s hard rock scene, few things have taught me more about guitar than the months I spent trying to copy Nuno Bettencourt’s licks from this funk-metal fun ride. All these years later, I still suck, but I’m a little better because of this record.
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1. BILL FRISELL – GOOD DOG, HAPPY MAN (1999): More country than jazz, but who cares when the results are this beautiful? Frisell’s emphasis on the beauty of the quiet spaces between notes that makes his music so special and here the man knows exactly the notes not to play.
2. ROBERT FRIPP – 1999: SOUNDSCAPES LIVE IN ARGENTINA (1994): As harrowing as it is hauntingly beautiful, this album is not for the easily squeamish… or the easily bored. Long repeated tones and looped figures don’t seem intriguing as a description, but when I first heard this album I couldn’t escape the thought that I was hearing the embodiment of the concept “the future.” It still sounds like that today.
3. VERNON REID – MISTAKEN IDENTITY (1995): I had to reconfigure my notion of “guitar god” after first hearing this album, so unusual was it for its time. Not a showy display of technique, at least not the way one might assume coming from the wild guitarist of Living Colour, but an outlet that allowed him to be more funky, thoughtful and often fun.
4. JOE SATRIANI – JOE SATRIANI (1995): An oddball, I admit, but Satch’s weird attempt at a kinda-sorta blues album paid off for me. Featuring a new band of studio vets (key being Nathan East on bass, Manu Katche on drums, and Andy Fairweather-Low on guitar – among others) that seemed to challenge his typical approach to songs, this was a more laid-back affair, with Joe laying off so many of the effects he was known for and playing with a bit more natural feeling. Why I seem to be alone in loving this album, I may never know.
5. TREY GUNN – THE THIRD STAR (1996): Music for traversing an alien planet, provided you skip the few vocal tracks, maybe. Gunn’s intricate touchstyle lines evoke his tenure with King Crimson and alongside cohort Robert Fripp, but his approach is thoroughly more languorous and enchanting. Focus on his playing: after more than 15 years, I still hear new things every single time I listen to this one.
1. FLEETWOOD MAC – THEN PLAY ON (1970): With both the talents of Peter Green and Danny Kirwan, you have a phenomenal twin guitar attack of Fleetwood Mac at their pinnacle. Third guitarist, Jeremy Spencer unfortunately would sit this album out but, his slide guitar talents were impeccable before and after this album. “Rattle Snake Shake,” “Oh Well,” “Like Crying,” “Underway,” “Coming Your way” and, really, the album clearly demonstrates why they were one of the best blues-rock guitar bands ever.
2. MAGIC SAM BLUES BAND – WEST SIDE SOUL (1967): A truly underrated blues guitarist and singer on equal terms. He died way too young from a heart attack in 1969. Sam’s version of “All Your Love” is the definitive version of this classic blues song with his dynamic approach. Even the instrumental “Lookin’ Good” cooks righteously with it’s down-home chicken-pluckin’ guitar. West Side Chicago Blues was his best and, dare I say it, equal to his Chicago contemporary, Buddy Guy.
3. TOMORROW – TOMORROW FEATURING KEITH WEST (1968): Steve Howe’s inventive, lightning guitar dominates this band’s lone album in the best of terms on such psychedelic tunes as “My White Bicycle,” The Byrds’ “Why,” “Caught in a Web” and “Revolution.” This is where Steve first started to gain his worldwide acclaim as one of the world’s best guitarists before Yes.
4. BLODWYN PIG – AHEAD RINGS OUT (1969): A dynamic new beginning for ex-Jethro Tull’s original guitarist/co-lead singer, Mick Abrahams after he exited that band in late 1968. Abrahams would show a natural ease on both electric, slide, and acoustic guitar with his fiery blues/jazz/rock playing and superb songwriting on “Dear Jill,” “Backwash,” “The Change Song,” “See My Way,” “It’s Only Love,” and the non-album single “Same Old Story.”
5. DAVID BOWIE – THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY AND THE SPIDER FROM MARS (1972): Two words: Mick Ronson! This is the album that would give Bowie’s best lead guitarist, Mick Ronson his first flash of international stardom with his Jeff Beck-like slash & burn style of guitar playing yet it’s also instantly recognizable as being Ronson’s own. Very influential guitarist. David Bowie’s timeless songs along with Mick Ronson’s uncredited arrangements should not be forgotten on this classic Bowie album.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Fleetwood Mac co-founder Jeremy Spencer talks about the band’s early days with Peter Green, the impact of Elmore James, and his thrillingly diverse new solo album.]
1. WISHBONE ASH – ARGUS (1972): Guitarists Andy Powell and Ted Turner are considered two of the pioneers of dual lead guitar harmonies. They offer up a little bit of prog-rock, some hard rock, and a dose of folk music thrown in for good measure. Underappreciated, this album should be a classic.
2. ERIC CLAPTON – 461 OCEAN BOULEVARD (1974): EC’s 2nd solo LP is a surprise gem because of its diversity. He proved he could do a whole lot more than blow the walls down with volume. “I Shot the Sheriff” was the hit but the real gem is the record’s opener, “Motherless Children.”
3. PETER GREEN – IN THE SKIES (1979): Green’s best solo work, a pop-rock LP with enough blues to make those fans happy. With help from Thin Lizzy’s Snowy White, the Fleetwood Mac founder made a great album that should have been a hit if he had only allowed it to happen.
4. JOHNNY A – SOMETIME TUESDAY MORNING (1999): A, the former musical director for Peter Wolf, issued this all instrumental debut covering everyone from The Allman Brothers, Glen Campbell, Jimi Hendrix, The Ventures, and mixed them in with a few originals. The virtuoso can play it all. His dreamy cover of The Beatles’ little known “Yes It Is” has to be heard to be believed.
5. JOYCE COOLING – GLOBAL COOLING (2009): A very nice, electric, jazz guitarist, Ms. Cooling proves with this half instrumental, half vocal album that smooth jazz is not just for elevators. The CD is flavored by a little sitar, tabla, and even a little White girl rap. She’s a fine singer too. A must hear for jazz fans.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Jeremy Spencer’s former Fleetwood Mac bandmate Peter Green has also made a remarkable 2012 comeback with the thrillingly rambunctious ‘Blues Don’t Change.’]
1. JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE – ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? (1967): Hendrix challenged our notions of what an electric guitar could accomplish. From blues (“Fire”) to psychedelia (the title track) to heavy rock (“Foxy Lady”), this album encompasses everything that made Hendrix a true guitar pioneer.
2. AC/DC – BACK IN BLACK (1980): After original lead singer Bon Scott’s tragic death, the band came roaring back with this rock classic. As new vocalist Brian Johnson screams the title track, Angus Young’s guitar provides the song’s backbone, thus reestablishing AC/DC’s status as one of the hardest rocking groups of the time.
3. THE BEATLES – ABBEY ROAD (1969): Want to hear a virtual rock guitar symphony? Just listen to the side two medley, particularly the “Carry That Weight/The End” sequence. A trio of guitars compete with one another in a friendly manner, leading to an emotional and musical climax that remains unmatched.
4. CREAM – STRANGE BREW: THE VERY BEST OF CREAM (1983): Like Hendrix, this trio expanded our horizons as to what the rock guitar could accomplish. Mixing rock and jazz, Cream devised one of the best guitar riffs of all time in “Sunshine of Your Love.”
5. STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN – THE ESSENTIAL STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN AND DOUBLE TROUBLE (2002): Texas blues got a modern makeover with this guitar legend, and to this day no one else has equaled his fiery playing style. This collection covers his days with Double Trouble as well as his work with his brother, Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist Jimmie Vaughan.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Eric Clapton biographer Chris Welch, a longtime friend, surveys the guitarist’s life and career in the 2012 book ‘Clapton: The Ultimate Illustrated History.’]
1. STEVE HACKETT – OUT THE TUNNEL’S MOUTH (2009): There are very few albums I’d ever give a perfect 10. This is one of the very few that make that list. There are very few songs/bands/musicians that have ever given me chills. I’ve listened to several of Hackett’s solo albums, most of them are quite brilliant, but even as great as the rest of them are, I’m yet to hear one that tops this musical masterpiece.
2. STEVE LUKATHER – LUKE (1997): While not as technically proficient or polished as Lukather’s other solo albums there’s a gritty naked rawness to the album that his more polished material lacks.
3. ULI JON ROTH – METAMORPHOSIS (2004): A re-imagining of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons featuring Roth backed by a 15 pc. orchestra. And the orchestra truly does “back” him and complements him nicely. But the focus is predominantly on Roth’s masterful guitar work. To put it simply… Hair Metal meets Longhair.
4. JOHN PETRUCCI – SUSPENDED ANIMATION (2005): Some could argue that in Dream Theater the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, I wouldn’t argue with that assessment. However, I’d have to concede that this instrumental solo album shows Petrucci stretching out and cutting loose on his own in a way not always heard in his work with Dream Theater.
5. CHICAGO – CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY (1969): With the 14+ minute long “Liberation,” the 7+ minute “love song” between Terry Kath and his guitar titled simply “Free Form Guitar,” and some blistering guitar work on Poem 58.
[ONE TRACK MIND: Guitarist Steve Hackett discusses key contributions to Genesis, the short-lived supergroup GTR – and how he created the move that made Eddie Van Halen famous.]
1. WES MONTGOMERY – THE INCREDIBLE JAZZ GUITAR OF WES MONTGOMERY (1960): Montgomery fully emerged as the most important jazz guitarist after Charlie Christian with a set of great songs and performances that are truly … incredible.
2. PAT MARTINO – HEAD AND HEART (1972, 1974): A two-fer of a couple of early 1970s releases. Whether on the stage (Live!) or in the studio (Consciousness), Martino put on hard bop clinics that represents the very peak of that style on guitar.
3. JOE PASS – VIRTUOSO (1973): Solo guitar, all standards, all first or second takes. The guitar equivalent to Art Tatum’s Solo Masterpieces series.
4. SONNY SHARROCK – ASK THE AGES (1991): Not quite skronky experimental rock, not quite Coltranian modalism, it’s a Frankenstein of both worlds by a guitarist who was supremely comfortable in either. There isn’t another record remotely like this one.
5. ALLAN HOLDSWORTH – THE SIXTEEN MEN OF TAIN (2000): Holdsworth makes a balls-out advanced jazz record where nothing gets in the way of his jaw-dropping technique and his underrated, highly attenuated songcraft.