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Unlikely Solos

Unlikely Solos
The 80’s pretty much killed the solo. Heavy metal with all its decadence ensured that solos are tightly packaged into forseeable and boring instrumentals in the middle of the song. Jazz gave way to fusion, and Eric Clapton got that horrible red guitar. Next to that “No Stairway to Heaven” sign, guitar shops were contemplating adding a “No cheesy solos” plaque. For 90’s bands it was an unwritten law that you do not build your song around a solo. Indie music was battling the solo epidemic like there was no tomorrow.
And yet, some bands managed to give the ancient art of the solo some justice. Here at The Plugg we celebrate the solos that did make it through.
Dead Milkmen – “Punk Rock Girl”
This song is the epitome of the indie solo. Considering this was 1988, you cannot find a quirkier and more original solo if you tried.
Radiohead – “Just”
Uncut magazine had a “Best Guitarists” feature about a year ago. While most guitar heroes were named in their prospective bands, the guitarist for Radiohead was just listed as…”Radiohead.” Some would say that Jonny Greenwood is the driving force behind Radiohead’s guitar mayhem, but no one is really willing to give him all the credit. The solo in “Just” is not only genius, but also manages to drive the song forward rather than just being a “Look at me mom, I can play guitar” sort of instrumental break.
Pavement – “Stop Breathing”
Not exactly a solo, this perplexing guitar work at the end of the song really shows what Stephen Malkmus and co. were capable of. It starts with 2 notes being played repeatedly and slowly builds up to, er…3 notes by the end of the song.
Smashing Pumpkins – “Starla”
Here’s another argument you can never win. Which is the best Pumpkins solo? If I had to choose one (and I do), “Starla,” taken from [u]Pisces Iscariot[/u] is the definitive Corgan drone. It is a welcome surprise at the end of a beautiful tune, and if you close your eyes and listen carefully, it can really take you places.
Queens of the Stone Age – “No One Knows”
It’s not just the acid guitar, it’s the combination of the amazing bass line and Dave Grohl’s crazy drums that really make this solo special. It’s short and sweet but really leaves you wanting more.
Sonic Youth – “Washing Machine”
One can argue that Sonic Youth’s guitar work cannot be measured or compared. The sheer velocity of their work is amazing and that’s why I chose the funniest solo I could find. After Kim finishes telling her odd story, a very “straight forward” rock n’ rollish kind of solo is played. It’s strange in this context, but works very well with the story. There aren’t many so called “solos” in Sonic Youth’s body of work and it’s nice to see that they try sometimes.
Built to Spill – “Cortez the Killer”
Another one of my favorite guitarists, Doug Martsch is no stranger to the guitar. BTS’s cover of Neil Young’s classic shows exactly what these guys are capable of. Not only does it pay tribute to one of the greatest guitar heroes…(I’m kinda scared to admit), it’s almost better than the original.
Wilco – “Impossible Germany”
Wilco’s latest is packed full of tasty solos. The most impressive in my opinion is “Impossible Germany.” It’s a two-guitar kind of affair that leaves you picking your jaw off the floor.
Pearl Jam – “Alive”
Grunge bands were always, in my mind, set out to battle the indulgence of the 80’s. That’s why it’s so surprising that one of the movement’s leaders chose to keep the solos. The solo in “Alive” manages to be epic while not making a big deal of itself. A truly iconic moment in rock.
The Strokes – “Last Nite”
Along with the spirit of the 80’s, the Strokes brought back the “functional” solo. Their ability to crank out a kick ass solo in 4 bars inside a pop song is astounding. Their current album features amazing guitars, but “Last Nite” was the first I’d heard of them, and is due the full credit.
Dinosaur Jr. – “Thumb” (live)
If there is something to be said about J. Mascis, it is that he can play a mean guitar. Picking a best solo is like choosing the right white color to paint your apartment. I’ve chosen the live version of “Thumb” because it is a really bare solo without overdubs or studio trickery. It leaves Mascis naked to show why he’s truly the best indie guitarist out there.
Bloc Party – “The Prayer”
By 2007 the whole Radiohead/Muse pitch shifter solo is no longer as astonishing. The guys from Bloc Party still manage to make it their own and break away from the norm.
Squirrel Nut Zippers – “Hell”
D Thompson’s contribution to this piece proves that it’s not only about the guitar. It’s got a piano solo, a sax solo AND a trumpet solo PLUS they manage to work the spelling out of the word “damnation” into the lyrics.
Uncle Tupelo – “Effigy”
Another cover, and Jeff Tweedy again (I would’ve never figured he’d feature twice in this piece). This Creedence Clearwater Revival cover has the most amazing and loud solos you can imagine. You sit back and listen to the wonderful vocal harmonies and then all of a sudden the amp is turned up to 11 and sheer mayhem erupts.
Every piece has got to end. I know I’ve neglected many great bands like Yo La Tengo, Mogwai, Magnolia Electric Company and Kings of Leon but there are only a certain number of adjectives I know to describe guitar solos.
So what’s your favorite indie solo?

– Charbarred
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