Sometimes just a moment in rock and roll history means more than decades of guitar heroes.
I'm not someone who you would call a classic rock fan. Sure, I grew up in the 70's/80's and had a steady diet of Bad Company, Creedence and Kiss, but I have come to a point in my musical taste that I like a lot of what you would consider classic rock (say the stuff you would hear on the local "classic rock" radio station) despite the fact that it is legendary, and has been played ad nauseum for eternity.
Everybody knows that Jimi Hendrix was the greatest guitar player in history, dude (Eddie Van Halen a close second.) Just read Guitar Player magazine and you will come to understand that Jimi, Ed, Slash and Randy Rhodes are where it's at, and if you don't understand that, then you just don't get it.
Okay, enough tongue-in-cheek self-righteous crap.
I was listening to a "modern rock" radio station from Boston yesterday (WBCN, if you must know) and in the midst of all the sound-alike Dashboard Confessional crap they usually play, they hit me with "All Along the Watchtower." I think I've heard this song at least forty thousand times in my life, and while I like Hendrix, and I love to hear Dylan songs done by other people, I would probably never have CHOSEN to listen to this song. Hell, I just checked my Itunes library and I'm ashamed to admit that I have NO Hendrix in it. Ten versions of the Beach Boys' Smile and the entire discography of Sloan, but not one Hendrix tune.
So back to Watchtower. I was for the first time in my life, incredibly struck by the guitar solo in this song. Guitar solos are so uncool nowadays (well, before the Darkness brought them back with a vengeance.) Listening to the wankiness of the last thirty years of shredding, it's no mystery what killed the guitar solo. It was the guitar solo itself.
Anyway, I suddenly realized that this was one of the most incredible guitar solos I had ever heard. Dissecting it, it's like half a dozen of the greatest and most interesting, let alone tasteful guitar solos rolled into one song, and played by one guitar player.
You've got the "tear your head off" solo at the beginning, right after "the hour's getting late, yeah!" line. (sidenote: when I was a kid, I always misheard that lyric as "but I was getting laid" - true story.) He couldn't have picked a better note to start that solo with. Then what I think is my favorite part: the crazy acid trip slide solo. Man, where did that come from? If that was the whole song, it might be my favorite song ever. Incredibly tasteful. Notice how the feel of that solo totally takes the song in a different direction. The band just enters into this slo-motion miasmic cloud. I love the way what sounds like two tracks play against eachother. The last lick is just brilliant, and then another call out from Jim and then into the wah pedal/echo solo. I don't think I've ever heard a wah pedal sound cooler than on that solo since. Then it rips into the chordy bit at the end, whipping the band into a frenzy, finally screaming out in the final notes (which I'm sure Jimmy Page was trying to evoke with his ending solo in Stairway, which is a classic song I could go a hundred years without hearing and never miss it.) He rips back into the last verse..."all along the watchtower..." and you're like, YEAH! YEAH! I'M WITH YOU, BROTHER! Of course the song goes on, and caps it off with another great solo at the fade.
If musicians, and producers would spend three and a half minutes to really listen to this song.... not even analyze it, just listen to it.... There are so many brilliant ideas in this song and it's arrangement. I'm not sure that you can do such a short pop song, include a long guitar solo, and say so much.... not one wasted millesecond in that song. The great intro (with another genius guitar solo), the great ambient overdubs, the sounds all over the place. The great chord change in "think that life is bit a joke".... I really don't think that there are too many moments in rock and roll history that encapsulate so much power. At least that's what I thought so yesterday when I heard that song in the shower.