Double Nickels: From Amos Garrett to Eddie Van Halen…55 Great Guitar Licks

by M.C. Antil on September 13, 2010

I do not play guitar.  I don’t even own a guitar.  I simply love the  guitar.  And on occasions I’ve even been known to recognize halfway decent guitar playing when I hear it.

So given my lack of musical chops, my total inability to read or write music, and the fact that I have some seismic gaps in my relationship with a lot of contemporary music – particularly hip hop and much of the post-millennium independent stuff that has altered the face of music – this is not intended as any definitive list of all-time great guitar songs.  It is, however, a countdown in somewhat descending order of my favorite recorded guitar moments of the past century.

Enjoy, and please feel free to comment, criticize and, if you’re so inclined, applaud any one of the following picks.

  1. Amos Garrett’s otherworldly break on Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis”

    Amos Garrett

  2. Jerry Douglas’ jaw-dropping dobro throughout Clint Black’s “No Time to Kill,” including his solo at the end that, I swear, could make paint blister
  3. Chuck Berry’s soaring power-strum that takes “No Particular Place to Go” out of fourth gear and slams it into overdrive
  4. Danny Kirwan’s stunning “Sunny Side of Heaven” on Fleetwood Mac’s now long-forgotten 1972 album “Bare Trees”
  5. Eric Clapton’s hypnotic fade on “Let it Grow”
  6. Freddy Carter, Jr.’s acoustic high wire act that closes John Anderson’s countrified version of Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”
  7. Keith Richards‘ rockabilly-ish power chords that drive the Rolling Stone’s cover of “It’s All Over Now” like a well-lubed V-8
  8. Not even sure who the guitarist is – Denny Dias, Skunk Baxter, or maybe even Walter Becker – but the tasteful jazzy fills that elevate Steely Dan’s “King of the World” to another level altogether
  9. Mark Doyle’s brash and ballsy lead on Andy Pratt’s “Treasure that Canary”
  10. George Harrison’s jingle jangle magic on the single greatest song the quiet Beatle – or possibly any Beatle – ever wrote, “If I Needed Someone”
  11. James Burton’s note-for-note twin solos in Ricky Nelson’s “Fools Rush In”
  12. Clapton’s joyous rain dance at the end of “Let it Rain”
  13. Robby Robertson’s two stinging guitar breaks in the live version of “Ophelia” on the “Last Waltz”
  14. Duane Allman’s less-is-more slide solo on the studio version of “Whipping Post”
  15. The second of Douglas’ two magnificent solos in Ricky Skaggs’ “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’”
  16. Waylon Jennings’ brawny, throbbing lead on his driving rendition of Neil Young’s “Are You Ready for the Country?”
  17. Donnie Dacus’ stunning acoustic solo on “Closer to You,” from the otherwise forgettable Stephen Stills album “Illegal Stills”
  18. Mark Knofler’s runaway freight train at the end of “Don’t You Get It?” from his “Golden Heart” disc
  19. Knofler’s elegant break in the Notting Hillbillies’ rendering of Alton and Rabon Delmore’s classic, “Blues Stay Away from Me”
  20. Marvin Tarplin’s infectious three-chord romp that instills Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t that Peculiar?” with the power to heal

    Marv Tarplin (top center)

  21. Roy Buchanan’s achingly beautiful solo on “Can I Change My Mind?” from his Town Hall concert album, “Live Stock”
  22. Jimmy McCullough’s blistering lead on Paul McCartney’s “Junior’s Farm”
  23. Lowell George’s soaring slide on “Rocket in my Pocket,” just one of many highlights from the most underrated live album of its day, Little Feat’s “Waiting for Columbus”
  24. Junior Brown’s surf medley
  25. Ronnie Montrose’s wild instrumental version of Gene Pitney’s “Town Without Pity”
  26. Joe South’s powerful, balls-to-the-wall guitar on his own version of “Hush,” a song few know he wrote
  27. The twin guitar leads by Greg Walker and Don Maracle on Duke Jupiter’s obscure 1976 instrumental, “Days Between Us”
  28. The raging harmony of former Mitch Ryder sideman Steve Hunter and former Alice Cooper guitarist Dick Wagner on the intro to “Rock and Roll” on Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll Animal”
  29. Carlos Santana’s wailing solo and piercing fills on his 1982 hit single, “Hold On”
  30. That scratchy, punchy and evocative swamp-flavored thing going on in Tony Joe White’s original “Polk Salad Annie”
  31. Clapton’s two jaw-dropping solos in his coming out party as a singer, Cream’s version of “Crossroads”
  32. John Fogarty’s unbridled and joyous romp in Creedence’s “Up Around the Bend”
  33. Joe Walsh funky chukka-chukka lead on the James Gang’s “Funk 48”
  34. Walsh’s beautifully understated slide work on the Eagles’ “In the City”
  35. George Harrison’s 12-string solo in “A Hard Day’s Night,” which may or may not have been surgically enhanced, but which you’d swear was either two guitarists in harmony or a harpsichord

    Jerry Douglas

  36. Bill Nelson’s virtuoso performance on the live version of  “Shine” on the out-of-print Be Bop Deluxe album, “Live in the Air Age”
  37. The simple yet painfully beautiful acoustic break in Don Williams’ magnificent early 80’s country hit, “Miracles”
  38. The yin and yang of pre-disco Rufus; the melodic, fetching lead in “Sweet Thing” and the talk-box funky guitar fills of “Tell Me Something Good”
  39. The driving, virtually one-note solo in the Rivieras’ surf-punk classic, “California Sun”
  40. Baxter’s slightly off-kilter but deeply moving solo in Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number”
  41. Byrd Burton’s virtuoso jazz/country lead guitar work throughout the Amazing Rhythm Ace’s minor classic, “The Cowboy Song (The End is Not in Sight)”
  42. Junior Marvin’s haunting and melodic break on Bob Marley’s timeless “Waiting in Vain”
  43. Curt Kirkwood’s full-bodied combination rhythm and lead in the Meat Puppets’ “Backwater”
  44. The driving chords of the stable of guitar players (presumably some combination of Glen Campbell, Tommy Tedesco, Alvin Casey, Bill Pittman, Barney Kessel, Dennis Budimir, Irving Rubins, Michael Deasy and/or Billy Strange) on the Ronette’s “Do I Love You?”
  45. Tony Hicks’ (I believe) 12-string Rickenbecker in the Hollies’ “Look Through Any Window”
  46. Paul Simon’s (or is it Freddy Carter, Jr’s?) stunning acoustic picking on “Scarborough Fair”
  47. Dave Davies’ spunky, attitude-driven lead on the Kinks’ “Sleepwalker”

    Waddy Wachtel

  48. Waddy Wachtel and Andrew Gold’s ringing twin guitars on Linda Ronstadt’s fabulous “You’re No Good” from her stunning “Heart Like a Wheel” LP (with honorable mention to the rip-roaring solo Wachtel dishes up near the end of her live version of “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” on the FM soundtrack)
  49. Pete Townsend’s driving solo on “Slip Kid” from “The Who by Numbers”
  50. Dave Stewart’s three-chord blitzkreig on the Eurythmics’ “Would I Lie to You?”
  51. Supposedly the last thing Jimi Hendrix ever recorded; his take-no-prisoners break on Still’s “Old Times, Good Times” from his first solo ablum
  52. The little call-and-answer thing Eddie Van Halen does with himself on “Jamie’s Crying”
  53. ????
  54. ????
  55. ????

The last three are up for debate.  The floor is yours, my friend.  Gimme three.

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