100 greatest guitar songs list from Rolling Stone

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 ├╝ber-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.

In praise of the bass guitar

bass guitarLately, I’ve been thinking about the bass – four strings that make or break a band. Yet not many people who aren’t musicians idolize the bass. It’s as if the ‘air bass’ doesn’t even exist. But, as many music fans know, the bass is the anchor, the foundation upon which some of the greatest music rests. If the bass isn’t doing it’s job, all the guitar pyrotechnics in the world won’t save the performance – unless you’re The White Stripes or the Black Keys, when the problem of a faulty bass guitar isn’t really a problem.

The first awareness of the bass I had was, perhaps predictably, The Beatles. It was McCartney’s violin shaped Hofner bass which caught my eye, but it was the Rickenbacher bass guitar he used on the instrumental break of the “Magical Mystery Tour”, that caught my ear. Even then, I knew that the sound of that break was cemented in that part he was playing, and yet it was melodic too. My dad had a couple of guitars around the house. But, not a bass. I was intrigued by this mysterious instrument – almost a guitar, but something else.

And so for many years, continuing today, the underlying support of a great bassline is always something my ear turns to. It is the unsung hero in many casesCarol Kaye - legendary bassist, as are some of the great bass players that have graced stages, playing second banana to flashy weedly-weedly-wee soloing. This also carries for the bassists themselves a good deal of the time. John Entwistle, Bill Wyman, John Paul Jones all stood in the shadows of their guitarist counterparts. And think of poor old Noel Redding (RIP), caught between Mitch Mitchell on drums and Jimi Hendrix on guitar while holding down the bottom end with the Experience. What chance did he have to shine to the untrained ear?

All of that aside, even these guys get a lot of recognition when compared to session players like Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, of Booker T. & The MGs who played on so many soul records in the 60s that it would take me too long to name them. The same goes for James Jamerson of the Funk Brothers who graced just as many classic soul-pop songs on the Motown label.

The legendary Carol Kaye is little known among ordinary citizens, but the songs Carol Kaye played bass on certainly aren’t, including:

  • “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys
  • “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel
  • “Love Child” by the Supremes
  • “Witchita Lineman” by Glen Campbell
  • “Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra
  • “Feelin’ Alright” by Joe Cocker
  • “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” by Nancy Sinatra
  • … So many others

That’s a lot of artists and a lot of immortal bass parts for a mother of three. I want to see the next big budget rock bio about her. Someone call Francis McDormand!

Think of a band like a group of friends. The bass is the sensible one, saying just enough so as to drive the enthusiasm of the others while not taking credit. He’s the dependable one, good in a crisis, and a subtle force in making every party a memorable one.

All praise the bass; a four, six, eight, or even twelve-stringed chariot to the lower registers of Heaven itself.