Friday 13 January 2012

News, Views and Music Issue 129 (Top Ten): AAA Guitarists Part Two

Just before Christmas Rolling Stone Magazine released their updated lists of the greatest guitarists as chosen by a panel of people in the know. Considering they only did their last list in 2004 there were one heck of a lot of changes (and some surprising additions of AAA members including two Byrds which shows how their stick has risen in the past seven years) and it’s caused it’s fair share of controversy in the past month. For the record here’s where the AAA stars came:  95) Roger McGuinn 93) Paul Simon 91) Dave Davies 55) John Lennon 52) Clarence White 47) Stephen Stills 46) Jerry Garcia 44) Mark Knopfler 37) Mick Taylor 17) Neil Young 14) David Gilmour 11) George Harrison 10) Pete Townshend 4) Keith Richards You can see the full list of entrants here (and no surprise that Jimi Hendrix is #1 two polls running, with Eric Clapton close behind): Actually I think it’s a pretty decent list even with a few too many heavy metallers and modern day guitarists in there (will we really be rating Jack White this highly in a few decades time? And did Angus Young slip the editors a few fivers?!) but as ever it can improved on so here’s my attempt at listing the top 20 guitarists ever (the top ten to be featured in our next issue!) Those just bubbling under the list but still highly recommended: Lol Creme, Si Cowe, Clarence White, Steve Marriott, Jimmy McCulloch and Paul McCartney...

20) Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits)

In an alternate universe somewhere a class of students are celebrating the retirement of their favourite history teacher. After plying him with a few drinks they’re amazed to see the punctilious Mr Knopfler (who never revealed his first name) shrug off his shirt and tie and take to the school hall stage with a guitar and a bandana, stripping back the years to when he played part-time in a rock and roll band but was too afraid to go pro. The students are all amazed – quite apart from the fact that teachers are never usually this talented he just doesn’t seem like a rock legend. And yet he sounds like one, they even jig along to an old song he half-remembers called ‘Sultans of Swing’. And it’s very apt too because this guitarist does swing, a half retro, half-modern clear ringing sound that’s quietly forceful (just like Mr Knopfler was  that time they were fooling around in the cloakrooms) but quietly respectful too (just like the time Mr Knopfler caught Mary crying behind the bike sheds). Best of all, Mr Knopfler seemed to know how to get the most out of his instrument, finishing his performance with an extended finale that went on for hours and yet never got boring and never once repeated itself. The school are hoping Mr Knopfler, 62 this August, will return for the Christmas fete.

Guitar highlight: the long long fadeout on ‘Telegraph Road’ (‘Love Over Gold’ 1982)

19) Paul Simon

A surprising new entry to the Rolling Stone list, Paul himself has never considered himself anything more than a competent guitarist. And yet few guitarists have managed to make their instrument speak with more depth or emotion than Paul on the acoustic, his fragile, delicate backing the perfect accompaniment for Simon and Garfunkel’s harmonies. Like his songwriting, Paul’s guitarwork has changed over the years too, going through the folky route of the early 60s into the flowing soundscapes of ‘The Boxer’ and ‘Cecilia’, through the sparse singer-songwriter days of the early 70s and onto the African and Brazilian rhythms of his ‘world music’ albums of the 80s and 90s. Throughout, though, Paul’s playing never hits a wrong note and even when surrounded by flashier, better trained guitar players in one of his many bands he always holds his own against such distinguished company. In fact we’d like to hear more of Paul playing on his record these days, but a sore bout of calcium deposit build-up on his guitar-playing left hand in the early 1980s has understandably put him off his playing slightly. Still, his work is an influence to many and can be heard in every sensitive singer-songwriter Britain or America have ever produced.

Guitar highlight: the crystalline beauty of ‘For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her’ (Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’, 1966)

18) Carl Wilson (Beach Boys)

Poor Carl is always being overlooked by ‘greatest’ polls (singers, songwriters and guitarists) so I’m not surprised Rolling Stone missed him out yet again. That’s probably because of the oft-mentioned ‘fall out’ of the late 60s after ‘Smile’ when The Beach Boys just weren’t seen as ‘cool’ in their striped shirts and the knowledge that by the mid-60-s they rarely played on their albums. Rolling Stone #1 Jimi Hendrix even called them a ‘surfing barber shop quartet’, but for my money the youngest Wilson was a far more natural and less fussy guitarist, with a clean style and a background that went back to a much younger age (most books reckon Carl was 11 or 12 when he started playing). When Brian was having his own difficulties Carl was the musician in the band he could always count on, a very reliable no 2 in an often wayward and difficult band of brothers, cousins and friends. Even though Carl’s solos on Beach Boys record are few and far between, it’s usually his work you remember and his special touches that make a good song special, from the ringing chimes of ‘Dance Dance Dance’ to the opening Chuck Berry lick of breakthrough hit ‘Surfin’ USA’. Not many reviewers seem to realise just how much Carl grew with the band either, from aping the surf style of Dick Dale so professionally at 17 years of age many people in the know were fooled into thinking they were listening to the ‘real thing’ into the rockier, then folkier, then psychedelic style of the band through the 60-s and early 70s and into an almost grunge-punk playing on ’15 Big Ones’ and ‘Beach Boys Love You’. Without Carl in the band The Beach Boys would still have sounded good, but with Carl on board they sounded like a real tight band.

Guitar highlight: There are few chances to hear Carl aside from the rest of the band except for ‘Carl’s Big Chance’, a spiky surf-style rockabilly instrumental (from ‘All Summer Long’,  1964)

17) Craig Chaquico (Jefferson Starship)

What do you do when your lead guitarist has left to go figure-skating with your former bass player? You draft in a 15-year-old wunderkind of course! I’m astonished the world never heard more of this expressive player after Starship wound up it’s weary path in the late 80s – after all, unlike his 45-year-old fellow members Craig was just pushing 30 when the band finally foundered. Craig’s style was superb for the new-look Starship that Paul Kantner and Grace Slick were after in 1972, bringing a much tougher, more mainstream style to the band but one that still evoked memories of Jorma Jaukanen’s great psychedelic masterpieces (see next week for more on Jorma). One of the few members to survive the band’s sideways fall into heavy rock and AOR round about 1979, Craig became ever more integral to the band, finding a neat niche between the band’s more eccentric songs still in the setlist and the harder-edged rock the band was adding to the mix. You only have to look at the ‘Definitive Concert’ DVD (sadly the only live DVD of the Starship band available) to see how much the band rely on him as the lynchpin of their sound – and how much the camera loves him. Chaquico never had as much chance to stretch out on his solos as some, but when he did he was excellent, as noisy as any heavy metaller and yet played with much more sensitivity and emotion, channelling each song in a very believable, heart-tugging way.

Guitar highlight: ‘Awakening’, a four minute song turned into seven minute rock epic thanks to a masterful guitar solo that’s among the loudest in rock (from ‘Freedom At Point Zero’, 1979)

16) Pete Townshend (The Who)

I’m impressed that Pete made the top 10 of the Rolling Stone list because, again by his own admission, he’s much more of a rhythm player than a lead guitarist (especially in the early Who days, where John Entwistle’s bass did most of the traditional ‘flashy’ stuff). In fact, Pete’s often felt uncomfortable playing solos (he even employs an electric guitarist on stage with The Who these days and sticks to playing rhythm), which is a shame because the few he has managed – ‘The Ox’ ‘Sparks’ ‘Music Must Change’ ‘New Song’ ‘Pinball Wizard’ etc – have been jaw-dropping brilliant. Basic, primitive and noisy his solos may be, a flurry of slashing chords and mayhem, but his work is ridiculously exciting and, on a good night, Pete has the ability to push his solos out to goodness-knows-where completely unscripted (just listen to the staggering improvised playing on the ‘Live at Leeds’ version of ‘My Generation’ where he plays against the echo bouncing off the back of the concert hall). Whilst Pete got much of what he knew from watching Dave Davies play, it’s true to say that generations of players have been inspired by him since, not just for the drama and showmanship of Pete’s playing but for the way his instrument becomes such an emotive, articulate beast. In all the 30-odd Who/Townshend albums I own he never once played a solo that sounded less than committed or from the heart.

Guitar highlight: the spluttering feedback-drenched agony of ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’ (single, 1965) – without that daring record psychedelia might never have happened

15) Noel Gallagher (Oasis/High Flying Birds)

One of the surprising absences from the Rolling Stones lists was this (comparatively) modern-day musician, one who – rarely – seems equally at home on acoustic and electric guitars. To some extent Noel has always downplayed his abilities, to the point where latter-day Oasis saw Gem getting far more solos than our Noel and even now the elder Gallagher brother seems to prefer to play rhythm at his live shows. But when he gets going Noel is one of the most exciting players around, as tender and fragile as anyone on one of his beloved acoustic Oasis b-sides and as snarling as the most primitive punk on the songs that need it. His range, from the delicate strumming of ‘Talk Tonite’ to the demented headbanging of ‘Headshrinker’ is little short of insane. Alas Oasis tended to give up their guitar solos during the ‘big split’ of 1998, creating instead a meaner, leaner sound with less room for instrumental parts, but back in the 90s Noel remained one of the most inspiring players around, with a real feel for when to place a guitar solo in a song and choruses just built for edgy guitar riffs.

Guitar highlight: ‘Champagne Supernova’ (‘Morning Glory’, 1995) is enchanting enough anyway but the epic end, with Noel’s guitar getting more and more passionate and angry before beautifully slipping back into the calm mood of the beginning is beauty personified

14) Mike Nesmith (The Monkees)

A rather less surprising omission, sadly, is the wool-hatted one from The Monkees who, before anyone scoffs, was already regarded as one of the best guitarists around before he even got The Monkees gig at the age of 24. As you all probably know, The Monkees were simply too busy to play on their early records and Mike is miming to the work of other players on the TV show but we’re not fussed about that – instead take a peek at any one of the classy albums from ‘Headquarters’ onwards. Chances are if you hear a great solo, it’s Nesmith playing, righting the rather lopsided band that The Monkees were in 1967 (with Micky still learning how to play the drums) to the pioneering country-rock band of 1969 that created the road The Eagles and co walked down in the mid 70s. Papa Nes’ guitar style is, like many of these players, a seeming extension of himself, confident assured direct and straightforward, saying more in a few words than lesser guitarists do in hours. Listen out for any of his pedal-steel recordings from ‘Headquarters’ too, such as the chilling ghostly accompaniment to ‘Mr Webster’ to hear a really imaginative player at work, not afraid to take risks but still grounded enough to make the most of each piece in turn.

Guitar highlight: when the echo-drenched riff of ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ (‘Pisces Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd’, 1967) gets noisier and noisier and ends up drenching the whole recording in exciting atmospheric splendour   

13) Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones)

One figure I was pleased to see in the Rolling Stone list was Mick Taylor, lead guitarist on the ‘sultry six’ Stones records made between 1968 and 1973 – it’s no coincidence that many a fan reckons those six albums were the band’s best (me, I prefer the psychedelic years but then I’m weird).  Mick’s been forgotten now, to the point where he seems to be touring the clubs and pubs of the UK and making poor-selling low budget albums on a variety of labels but in his day he was the star-in-the-making above all others. His fluid, liquid style was exactly what the band needed in the sad days after Brian Jones’ death, giving the band a shot in the arm and an epic folky feel that added a whole new majesty to the Stones sound, whilst still being better able to play swamp rock than uncle Keef himself (just why is Keith so high on the original list? He’s a great writer of riffs and a superb rhythm player, but I can count on one hand the solos he’s played in 49 years of recordings!) Less grounded than Brian, but more grounded than Ronnie Wood, Mick is a natural musician, someone seemingly born with a feel for how to make an arrangement ebb and flow and reach new heights. It wasn’t just the band who were sad the day he quit and it’s notable how flat many of the Stones albums sound after his departure. 

Guitar Highlight: When the urgent Stones rocker ‘Can You Hear Me Knocking?’ segues into an extended prog rock jam, Mick tackling both extremes with ease (‘Sticky Fingers’, 1971)

12) George Harrison (The Beatles)

One of the new list entries that’s caused the most controversy is George Harrison. Soon after his death, when Rolling Stone made their choice in 2004 he was missing entirely; now, some ten year’s after the Beatle’s death when we’ve come to terms somewhat with his passing he’s now rated no 11. To be honest, I think the truth is somewhere in between: George never played that many solos in his career and tended to stick towards his distinctive slide-guitar sound rather than experimenting like some of the others on this list; that said, Harrison deserves to make this list, if only for making guitars ‘cool’ again for a whole generation and having such good ears he could always enhance a Beatles or solo record with his guitarwork, even when hearing a song for only the second or third time. Naysayers always say that the only memorable guitar solo in The Beatles’ canon is on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (and played by George’s pal Eric Clapton), but playing an instrument well is not just about solo-ing – next time you hear any of the ‘band’ Beatle performances listen out for just how right and unobtrusive George’s guitar is in the mix – and how wrong the song would sound without him there. And when George hit his peak with his slide-guitar style (as on ‘Marwa Blues’ from last album ‘Brainwashed’), oh it’s gorgeous...

Guitar highlight: the strummed opening chord to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (1964, from LP of the same name), perhaps the greatest opening note in rock and roll

11) Eric Stewart (10cc)

One guitarist who always gets forgotten or dismissed is Eric Stewart. But few other players are as recognisable as the lead of 10cc’s three guitarists, with a scatterbrained screaming torrent of sound that  nevertheless is fully controlled and channelled. When 10cc played in concert it was nearly always Eric’s solos that got the biggest applause, giving the band’s songs a real feeling of power, anger and poise. Only the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia could control feedback in such a natural-sounding way, as a really instinctive part of a song and not just an overblown out-of-control mess. Eric is at his best on the series of mid-70s 10ccc songs that are loud, proud and all-out for your attention (including two remarkable jaw-dropping solos on the ‘Original Soundtrack’ album alone), but even the band’s songs got quieter, subtler and more emotional (after the loss of Godley/Creme in 1976 and Eric’s serious car crash in 1980) his guitar-work was as beautiful and emotional as it had always been. You had to be a pretty fine guitarist to be in the same band as Lol Creme and Graham Gouldman, two other fine guitarists, but Eric had such an instinctive and natural verve and attack he complemented the band’s sound superbly, giving the band power without sacrificing the richness of the detail. 

Guitar highlight: It’s a toss-up between the two guitar-dominated songs from ‘The Original Soundtrack’ (1974), ‘The Second Sitting For The Last Supper’ and ‘Blackmail’, a song that closes with a deliriously exciting guilt-ridden slide into mayhem and feedback.

So which guitarist made it to the upper reaches of guitarist immortality? Find out next week, when we have even more newsing, viewsing and musicing!
A NOW COMPLETE List Of Top Five/Top Ten/TOP TWENTY  Entries 2008-2019
1) Chronic Fatigue songs

2) Songs For The Face Of Bo

3) Credit Crunch Songs

4) Songs For The Autumn

5) National Wombat Week

6) AAA Box Sets

7) Virus Songs

8) Worst AAA-Related DVDs

9) Self-Punctuating Superstar Classics

10) Ways To Know You Have Turned Into A Collector

11) Political Songs

12) Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

13) Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

14) Still Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

15) AAA Existential Questions

16) Releases Of The Year 2008

17) Top AAA Xmas Songs

18) Notable AAA Gigs

19) All things '20' related for our 20th issue

20) Romantic odes for Valentine's Day

21) Hollies B sides

22) 'Other' BBC Session Albums

23) Beach Boys Rarities Still Not Available On CD

24) Songs John, Paul and George wrote for Ringo's solo albums

25) 5 of the Best Rock 'n' Roll Tracks From The Pre-Beatles Era

26) AAA Autobiographies

27) Rolling Stones B-sides

28) Beatles B-Sides

29) The lllloooonnngggeesssttt AAA songs of all time

30) Kinks B-Sides

31) Abandoned CSNY projects 'wasted on the way'

32) Best AAA Rarities and Outtakes Sets

33) News We've Missed While We've Been Away

34) Birthday Songs for our 1st Anniversary

35) Brightest Album Covers

36) Biggest Recorded Arguments

37) Songs About Superheroes

38) AAA TV Networks That Should Exist

39) AAA Woodtsock Moments

40) Top Moments Of The Past Year As Voted For By Readers

41) Music Segues

42) AAA Foreign Language Songs

43) 'Other' Groups In Need Of Re-Mastering

44) The Kinks Preservation Rock Opera - Was It Really About The Forthcoming UK General Election?

45) Mono and Stereo Mixes - Biggest Differences

46) Weirdest Things To Do When A Band Member Leaves

47) Video Clips Exclusive To Youtube (#1)

48) Top AAA Releases Of 2009

49) Songs About Trains

50) Songs about Winter

51) Songs about astrology plus horoscopes for selected AAA members

52) The Worst Five Groups Ever!

53) The Most Over-Rated AAA Albums

54) Top AAA Rarities Exclusive To EPs

55) Random Recent Purchases (#1)

56) AAA Party Political Slogans

57) Songs To Celebrate 'Rock Sunday'

58) Strange But True (?) AAA Ghost Stories

59) AAA Artists In Song

60) Songs About Dogs

61) Sunshiney Songs

62) The AAA Staff Play Their Own Version Of Monoploy/Mornington Crescent!

63) What 'Other' British Invasion DVDs We'd Like To See

64) What We Want To Place In Our AAA Time Capsule

65) AAA Conspiracy Theroies

66) Weirdest Things To Do Before - And After - Becoming A Star

67) Songs To Tweet To

68) Greatest Ever AAA Solos

69) John Lennon Musical Tributes

70) Songs For Halloween

71) Earliest Examples Of Psychedelia

72) Purely Instrumental Albums

73) AAA Utopias

74) AAA Imaginary Bands

75) Unexpected AAA Cover Versions

76) Top Releases of 2010

77) Songs About Snow

78) Predictions For 2011

79) AAA Fugitives

80) AAA Home Towns

81) The Biggest Non-Musical Influences On The 1960s

82) AAA Groups Covering Other AAA Groups

83) Strange Censorship Decisions

84) AAA Albums Still Unreleased on CD

85) Random Recent Purchases (#2)

86) Top AAA Music Videos

87) 30 Day Facebook Music Challenge

88) AAA Documentaries

89) Unfinished and 'Lost' AAA Albums

90) Strangest AAA Album Covers

91) AAA Performers Live From Mars (!)

92) Songs Including The Number '100' for our 100th Issue

93) Most Songs Recorded In A Single Day

94) Most Revealing AAA Interviews

95) Top 10 Pre-Fame Recordings

96) The Shortest And Longest AAA Albums

97) The AAA Allstars Ultimate Band Line-Up

98) Top Songs About Sports

99) AAA Conversations With God

100) AAA Managers: The Good, The Bad and the Financially Ugly

101) Unexpected AAA Cameos

102) AAA Words You can Type Into A Caluclator

103) AAA Court Cases

104) Postmodern Songs About Songwriting

105) Biggest Stylistic Leaps Between Albums

106) 20 Reasons Why Cameron Should Go!

107) The AAA Pun-Filled Cookbook

108) Classic Debut Releases

109) Five Uses Of Bird Sound Effects

110) AAA Classic Youtube Clips Part #1

111) Part #2

112) Part #3

113) AAA Facts You Might Not Know

114) The 20 Rarest AAA Records

115) AAA Instrumental Songs

116) Musical Tarot

117) Christmas Carols

118) Top AAA Releases Of 2011

119) AAA Bands In The Beano/The Dandy

120) Top 20 Guitarists #1

121) #2

122) 'Shorty' Nomination Award Questionairre

123) Top Best-Selling AAA Albums

124) AAA Songs Featuring Bagpipes

125) A (Hopefully) Complete List Of AAA Musicians On Twitter

126) Beatles Albums That Might Have Been 1970-74 and 1980

127) DVD/Computer Games We've Just Invented

128) The AAA Albums With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

129) The AAA Singles With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

130) Lyric Competition (Questions)

131) Top Crooning Classics

132) Funeral Songs

133) AAA Songs For When Your Phone Is On Hold

134) Random Recent Purchases (#3)

135) Lyric Competition (Answers)

136) Bee Gees Songs/AAA Goes Disco!

137) The Best AAA Sleevenotes (And Worst)

138) A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

139) More Wacky AAA-Related Films And Their Soundtracks

140) AAA Appearances On Desert Island Discs

141) Songs Exclusive To Live Albums

142) More AAA Songs About Armageddon

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159) A (Not That) Short Guide To The 15 Best Non-AAA Bands

160) The Greatest AAA Drum Solos (Or Near Solos!)

161) AAA Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speeches

162) AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs

163) A Coalition Christmas (A Fairy Tale)

164) AAA Songs About Islands

165) The AAA Review Of The Year 2012

166) The Best AAA Concerts I Attended

167) Tributes To The 10 AAA Stars Who Died The Youngest

168) The First 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically

171) The 10 Best Songs From The Psychedelia Box-Sets ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Nuggets Two’

172) The 20 Most Common Girl’s Names In AAA Song Titles (With Definitions) 

180) First Recordings By Future AAA Stars

185) A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson Via The Five AAA Bands He Worked With

188) Surprise! Celebrating 300 Album Reviews With The Biggest 'Surprises' Of The Past Five Years Of Alan's Album Archives!

190) Comparatively Obscure First Compositions By AAA Stars

193) Evolution Of A Band: Comparing First Lyric With Last Lyric:

200) The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

202) Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain': Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?

217) AAA 'Christmas Presents' we'd most like to have next year

221) Dr Who and the AAA (Five Musical Links)

222) Five Random Recent Purchases

223) AAA Grammy Nominees

224) Ten AAA songs that are better heard unedited and in full

225) The shortest gaps between AAA albums

226) The longest gaps between AAA albums

227) Top ten AAA drummers

228) Top Ten AAA Singles (In Terms of 'A' and 'B' Sides)

229) The Stories Behind Six AAA Logos

230) AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! The Best Ten AAA Screams

231) An AAA Pack Of Horses

232) AAA Granamas - Sorry, Anagrams!

233) AAA Surnames and Their Meanings

234) 20 Erroneous AAA Album Titles

235) The Best AAA Orchestral Arrangements

236) Top 30 Hilariously Misheard Album Titles/Lyrics

237) Ten controversial AAA sackings - and whether they were right

238) A Critique On Critiquing - In Response To Brian Wilson

239) The Ten MusicianS Who've Played On The Most AAA Albums

240) Thoughts on #CameronMustGo

241) Random Recent Purchases (Kinks/Grateful Dead/Nils Lofgren/Rolling Stones/Hollies) 

242) AAA Christmas Number Ones 

243) AAA Review Of The Year 2014 (Top Releases/Re-issues/Documentaries/DVDs/Books/Songs/ Articles  plus worst releases of the year)

244) Me/CFS Awareness Week 2015

245) Why The Tory 2015 Victory Seems A Little...Suspicious

246) A Plea For Peace and Tolerance After The Attacks on Paris - and Syria

247) AAA Review Of The Year 2015

248) The Fifty Most Read AAA Articles (as of December 31st 2015)

249) The Revised AAA Crossword!

251) Half-A-Dozen Berries Plus One (An AAA Tribute To Chuck Berry)

252) Guest Post: ‘The Skids – Joy’ (1981) by Kenny Brown

254) Guest Post: ‘Supertramp – Some Things Never Change’ by Kenny Brown

255) AAA Review Of The Year 2018

256) AAA Review Of The Year 2019 plus Review Of The Decade 2010-2019

257) Tiermaker

258) #Coronastock

259) #Coronadocstock