Answers, the Second!

OK, what the heck happened? Well, here’s what: I kicked off Ask Me Anything at the worst possible time: when I was entering the toughest part of writing a novel. See, as a proud member of Team Pants when it comes to writing, the second act in any book is usually where I have the most problems. I spend a lot of sessions wondering where any of this is going, and how I’m going to make it all work, and just what it is I’m setting up. Act II is supposed to set up Act III, but if I don’t know what’s going to happen in Act III, Act II can be really difficult. So I spend an enormous amount of mental energy writing the book, and a lot less on things like blogging.

And then, sometimes, real life intrudes: days when I have to be at work extremely early, which sap even more mental energy; school concerts and training classes for the dee-oh-gee; and lately, a very busy and draining couple of weeks at work. In the great game of rock-paper-scissors that is life, “Novel” beats out “Blog post” every time. The lesson here is simple: in the future, if I’m hip-deep in a complex novel in February, I’ll probably not do Ask Me Anything! then. We’ll see.

So that’s what’s going on, and that’s why so many questions have just gone unanswered, until now. Obviously I make no promises as to how things will go, but I’ve got this opportunity, so here we go, starting with Andy, who has a question about guitar solos.

WOO HOO!!! So while pondering important stuff while acting like I am working, I want your option on something. Now I have ALWAYS a thought the guitar solo that Eddie Van Halen does in the live version in 5150 was the best ever but now as I get a little bit older, I think the one in Hotel California is pretty darn good and don’t forget David Gilmore’s in ‘Comfortably Numb’ is awesome too. What say you OBI Won??

For reference, here are the three songs he cites:

I had never actually heard the live version of “5150” until now, so that’s really cool. My stock answer to the question “Van Halen or Van Hagar?” has always been some variant of “I like both equally”, but if I’m being very honest, the simple fact is this: if I get in the mood to listen to some Van Halen, I will usually end up listening to something from the Sammy era before I listen to something from the DLR era. That’s just the way it is, and I’m not going to debate it. I just love so many of the songs from the Sammy era, and the DLR era was just fantastic. We’re talking about, oh, “Do you like burgers or pizza more?” territory here. Plus, there’s some sentiment involved: when Teenage Me was just discovering rock music (before that, I was all about movie music and classical), Sammy Hagar was just joining Van Halen. That first album, 5150, blew my mind, and I still love it dearly to this day. The song “5150” is an underrated gem, in my opinion; it wasn’t one of the album’s singles, but that album simply does not have a weak song on it.

But anyway, I’d never heard Eddie Van Halen’s live solo until now, so that’s cool. And it’s quite the solo, going off in many different directions, not all of which are entirely related to the song itself. That’s not a problem, really – live solos are usually more elaborate and go farther afield than their album versions.

As for “Hotel California”, that’s pretty classic in itself, isn’t it? That song is so iconic it’s become almost a cliché, which is kind of sad, because it really is a very good song in itself with some terrific guitar work. And then there’s “Comfortably Numb”, that deeply odd song from a typically deeply odd Pink Floyd album. The solos in the song are deservedly revered, although I have heard some grumblings in the past that they’re not quite the technical masterpieces they sound like since they were (allegedly) cobbled together for the album out of different takes. I have no idea of the truth of that, but I do remember reading a blog post years ago by someone (geez, this sounds bad, doesn’t it) whose son was teaching himself guitar solos. Apparently he scoffed at the “Comfortably Numb” solo, which doesn’t sound all that technically difficult. And no, it doesn’t; that solo isn’t full of Van Halenesque guitar pyrotechnics. It’s all about the sound: you have to really know how to make that guitar sing, if you’re going to play that solo in any way convincingly. It’s demanding in a completely different way than “5150” or even “Hotel California”.

So what is the “greatest guitar solo of all time”? Well, who knows? Any of these could qualify, surely. And many others. Who can forget “Freebird”?

Along the “singing guitar” line, there’s this terribly underheard ballad from ZZ Top, “Rough Boy”.

And frankly, this deserves mention. Listen to what Prince does here when he steps up, halfway through a live all-star performance of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

So, readers, what guitar solos do you admire? Don’t limit yourselves to rock, either! There’s some great guitar work in blues and country and folk, and even classical!

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3 Responses to Answers, the Second!

  1. Andy says:


  2. Call me Paul says:

    I remember reading an interview with Eric Clapton, about his work on Roger Waters' first solo album, The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking. One of the things he talked about was the way Waters cobbled together the songs from bits and pieces of tape. He'd have Clapton play the same two second phrase over and over again, until he got just the sound he wanted, then go on to the next bit. An arduous process.

    One of my favourite all-time guitar solos has always been by Rik Emmet, from Rock and Roll Machine.

  3. Roger Owen Green says:

    Let's Go Crazy by Prince is probably my favorite.

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