Music took a completely unexpected turn right in the middle of the 20th century. Well, to be more precise, it took many different turns and new genres and subgenres began emerging all throughout the coming decades, ultimately creating something for everyone’s taste. However, a vast majority of musicians of various different genres owe a huge debt to the guitar heroes that emerged during this time. No matter the type of music you’re into, everyone can appreciate the fine art of a well thought of guitar solo.
Now, the guitar took a spotlight as a lead instrument in modern music sometimes in the 1950s. The following decade saw some advancements and guitar players taking a slightly different approach. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s when things really took off and the audiences were blessed with some earth-shattering guitar solos that pretty much changed the game in the music industry. There is just something really special about guitar-oriented music of this decade. While still deeply rooted in blues, rock players began experimenting and bringing in new elements, ultimately creating a whole new world of possibilities and paving the way for the future generations of musicians. With this in mind, we’ll take some time to pay tribute to some of the best and the most influential guitar solos of the 1970s.
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain
Guitarist: Eddie Hazel
Listening to this one, you have a feeling that the guitar was soaked with acid. However, it’s just Eddie Hazel putting his instrument and a wah pedal to good use. Practically a 10-minute-long solo, “Maggot Brain” is a must for every true guitar lover.
Rush – La Villa Strangiato
Guitarist: Alex Lifeson
The thing about Alex Lifeson is that he is primarily a great songwriter. The whole purpose of a guitar solo is to serve a song and not to act exclusively as a show-off piece. With every single lead section that he did in his career, Rush guitarist proves that he really knows how to compose an appropriate solo for each song.
“La Villa Strangiato” from the band’s Hemispheres albums is a fully instrumental piece inspired by one of Alex Lifeson’s dreams. The song’s subtitle probably describes the guitar solo in it – “An Exercise in Self-Indulgence.”
AC/DC – Let There Be Rock
Guitarist: Angus Young
Barely anything comes close to the simple yet really effective formula of AC/DC. Straightforward songs with just a little bit of syncopation added to them are their recipe for success. However, the band never missed on including a solo by the almighty Angus Young, the only guitarist in the world that gets his name chanted by stadiums filled with tens of thousands of people. His solo on the title track of the 1977 album “Let There Be Rock” pretty much justifies all the praise.
Judas Priest – Beyond the Realms of Death
Guitarists: Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing
As years passed by, the guitar tone became harsher and the songs became heavier. But a band like Judas Priest proved that it is indeed possible to successfully fuse hard rock and heavy metal with more melodic and softer elements. Dealing with some melancholic and dark themes, guitar solos by Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing fit perfectly into a song like “Beyond the Realms of Death.”
Blue Öyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper
Guitarist: Buck Dharma
Interestingly enough, the story goes that Buck Dharma recorded the solo for “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” in just one take. This is one of the proofs that inspiration can come in a moment and the best thing to do is to capture it as soon as possible.
Deep Purple – Highway Star
Guitarist: Ritchie Blackmore
Ritchie Blackmore is one of the first rock musicians brave enough to push the boundaries of the genre and fuse it with some classical music elements. While at the time this idea might have seemed crazy, the results were astounding and we got the chance to hear him do a wonderful solo in “Highway Star.”
Starting off as a normal blues-inspired rock solo, it slowly moves into another direction and eventually becomes a proto-shred piece. It is just one of the examples of Blackmore’s innovativeness and virtuosity.
Black Sabbath – War Pigs
Guitarist: Tony Iommi
While the rest of the pop and rock world was busy writing material that mostly revolved around relationships and breakups, Black Sabbath took on a different approach and dived directly into topics like war, death, and the occult.
But it was also their devilish music that perfectly fit these themes as they ultimately shifted rock music into some really heavier territories, all thanks to a guitar giant like Tony Iommi. “War Pigs” from “Paranoid” comes as one of his finest works, especially all the lead sections in the song.
Al Di Meola – Race with Devil on Spanish Highway
What Al Di Meola did in the 1970s was simply out of this world. While it’s difficult to point out who exactly started the whole shred movement, it is obvious that he’s one of the pioneers. Just take a listen to “Race with Devil on Spanish Highway” and you’ll realize why that is the case.
Van Halen – Eruption
Guitarist: Eddie Van Halen
Just when everyone thought that the guitar has been pushed to its limits and that no one will ever be able to outdo the current heroes of the instrument, out came Eddie Van Halen. Playing the way no one previously thought possible, he blew everyone away with the famous “Eruption” solo guitar piece. While Al Di Meola and some other guitar players were clearly of great influence to the shred movement, it was Eddie who officially marked its beginning.
Dire Straits – Sultans of Swing
Guitarist: Mark Knopfler
“Sultans of Swing” is one of those songs that’s still as big today as it was when it came out. But this classic wouldn’t be what it is without Mark Knopfler’s impeccable lead guitar work. Aside from the numerous licks that fill up the song in every verse and chorus, Knopfler treated us with a solo mid-song and with another one towards its end. He usually plays extended and semi-improvised versions during live shows.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird
Guitarist: Allen Collins
While longer guitar solos usually tend to bore the listeners, you just can’t get enough of the one in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.” Recorded by guitarist Allen Collins, the solo takes about one half of this 9-minute-long song. The live versions went even further and extended “Free Bird” into long semi-improv sessions. Either way, this solo is so memorable that it became one of the most important pieces in rock music.
Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven
Guitarist: Jimmy Page
Although countless guitar store workers around the world are fed up with “Stairway to Heaven,” no one can deny the greatness of this song and the impact that it made in the music world. Aside from the well-known acoustic part, the song has one hell of a solo by Jimmy Page.
While Page is remembered for his extensive use of Gibson Les Pauls, it was a Fender Telecaster that he used to record the solo on “Stairway to Heaven.”
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
Guitarist: Brian May
While Queen is usually remembered by Freddie Mercury’s voice, it is also Brian May’s guitar playing that made them sound so unique. The legendary and epic song “Bohemian Rhapsody” is all over the place and is blessed by one of May’s finest lead guitar works. It’s not that usual for a rock solo to be so easily memorable, and he did a perfect job creating a lead section that both serves the song and manages to show off his technical skills.
Eagles – Hotel California
Guitarists: Don Felder and Joe Walsh
While we’re at memorable solos, another legendary piece comes from the Eagles and their biggest hit song “Hotel California.” Played by Don Felder and Joe Walsh, it is one of the early examples of dual lead solos, something that many other bands with two guitars in the band would later adopt.
There are many lists and reader votes out there that put this solo at the very top, acknowledging its greatness and impact that it made in rock music and other genres as well.
Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb
Guitarist: David Gilmour
While, at first it, seems that David Gilmour’s solos are not that difficult to learn, there is barely anyone on this planet that can play them as well as he did. Full of very precise string bends and very nuanced dynamic ups and downs, the solo in “Comfortably Numb” from “The Wall” album perfectly conveys the emotions of the song.
The guitar is a great expressive tool, and David Gilmour is pretty much the master and a true artist as every single note founds its perfect place in every solo that he recorded during his career.
You can find all the songs on one playlist on Spotify below!