Rolling Stone have published their list of the 100 greatest guitar songs, which you can peruse for yourself here.

Electric guitarLists are funny things. People love ’em and hate ’em all at once. But, whether you think they’re a good thing or not, at least they get people talking, don’t they? Most likely, you’ll find the usual baby-boom era-centric selections on here, which may not be a surprise. After all, this is Rolling Stone. But, it could be argued that the vocabulary of rock guitar playing was established in the rock n roll and 60s pop eras. Having said that, a few tunes like B.B King’s “How Blue Can You Get” and Paul Butterfield’s “Look Over Yonders Wall” which features the largely unsung guitar-hero Mike Bloomfield‘s scorching slide playing, represents some of the lesser known tracks that makes the era such a rich vein of guitar innovation. I would have put something by Peter Green on there. But, you can’t have everything, I guess.

Still, it would have been nice to see the Smiths crack the top ten, instead of number 90 with “How Soon is Now” (I would have chosen “Bigmouth Strikes Again”, of course). Having said that, it’s nice that The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” scored pretty high at number 20. And I guess the Nirvana entry at number 10 (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”) was also meant to address the criticism that all of the other entries are firmly “classic rock” in their alignment. But I would have liked to have seen a few more from the new wave era too, an era which is perhaps not known for flashy guitar playing. But, have you heard Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze on their song “Another Nail in My Heart“? It’s not a flashy solo, but it’s interesting, making you wonder how he’s going to bridge the verse into the chorus, and then manages to do it brilliantly. And the solo is fairly oddly placed near the beginning of the song, instead of the usual place for the solo in the middle. This adds a bit of a pleasant surprise to the ear, and makes the song a more interesting listen. This is what a great guitar solo is supposed to do – make the song stronger.

It also would have been nice to see a bit of a less electrified list – a few more acoustic guitar entries might have made for a more balanced list – Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, Davy Graham, Kelly Joe Phelps – all would have made the list if I ran the zoo. But, so would Bruce Cockburn, who is regularly left off lists like this one. I think this may have to do with the fact that the list is aimed at the American rock fan, who is generally not interested in music out of which a lot of rock music is derived, or those songs by guitarists not well-known in the States. Fair enough. Rolling Stone have to sell magazines, right?

But, what is a good sign is that a lot of über-flashy players and songs are left off in favour of a few with a more minimalist approach. So, Steve Cropper makes it with “Soul Man” (although I would have listed Booker T. and the Mgs’ “Green Onions” over that one for Cropper’s playing – but I’m quibbling). And Link Wray makes it for “Rumble”. Nice. Maybe Rolling Stone deserves the credit for some of the inclusions to the list that go beyond the regular expectations of their readership. Heck – I’m just glad that Satriani and Malmsteen aren’t on there, bless ’em.

What do you think, good people? What’s not on the list that should be? What should have scored higher? What should have been left off of the list?

Guitar image courtesy of mikelao26.

4 thoughts on “100 greatest guitar songs list from Rolling Stone

  1. I never like those Rolling Stones lists. It’s all the same stuff over and over again. I would, for once, like to see a list where unexpected songs/albums/artists receive some acclaim.
    It would be nice to have seen Aqualung up there somewhere. How about Teenage Wildlife.

  2. Hey wigsf,

    Lists are always going to be open to criticism, mostly because they’re either predictable, or entirely random and obviously from one person’s point of view. I think Rolling Stone, and the rock press, are regularly criticized for canon-building. And rightly so – what would otherwise be the point? Yet, if it gets music fans poring through their collections trying to prove them wrong, then all the better.

    Thanks as always for comments!

  3. I love any kind of list. And I love criticizing lists. So here I go: what they left out were all the great studio guitarists who were essential in building a guitar vocabulary that inspired all guitarists who came later.

    I think of jazz guitarists like Barney Kessel (Beach Boys, Phil Spector ) and Howard Roberts (Beach Boys, Larry Williams, The Electric Prunes). Or Tommy Tedesco (Phil Spector, Ventures). And last but not least great country players like Glen Campbell and Billy Strange who lent their talents to the Ventures, the Monkees, Beach Boys and hundreds more.

    But I’m happy that they put “Sweet Child O’ Mine” on the list 😉

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