Sunday, August 19, 2007

WALKING ON WATER

Having chanced upon this amusing discussion, I began to wonder what indeed was the point of guitar solos in rock songs?

There was a time in the early 70s when only hardened hairy bloke geeks could possibly enjoy the interminable live solo sections, whether guitar, bass, drums or keyboards. In fact there were so many transgressors in those dark days that it would be totally unfair of me to name Rick Wakeman alone. They would all (perhaps unwittingly) bore the fans senseless with interminable slots of indulgence. Punk's reaction to this culture of self-indulgence was refreshing - guitar solos reduced to a few seconds long, and usually just one or two notes (despite an enduring recollection in 79 of that pitiful band The Police doing a 15 minute version of Roxanne).

My own theory is that a guitar solo in mainstream music fulfils a different kind of role to the one commonly perceived as an aspect of the dynamic, melodic and harmonic structure of a song. I see it as an example of a demonstration skill: in other words, a way of showing off your main potential through a minor technical showcase.

For instance, walking on water is a fairly pointless action, yet it demonstrates to an audience in need of say, salvation, that by implication there must be so much more to offer. Of course, in this same way, demonstration skills are extremely effective ways of influencing, impressing, and persuading in all sorts of scenarios, not just in music.

A long-time friend of mine, Alan, a talented graphic designer, once had a prospective client in his office witness him quickly finishing off some Photoshop work. Without ever touching the mouse, Alan's fingers in a Paganini-like blur of shortcuts and keypresses, would resize, open, close windows on the screen, apply filters and conversions, and magically make paper disgorge from the printer. And understandably, this awestruck customer was convinced (quite rightly) that this guy must be the man for the job - but interestingly, without ever seeing his work.

To me, guitar solos have much the same effect, in much the same way as do Bach's flamboyant free-form preludes to fugues, they give enjoyment to the listeners who feel comfortable in the knowledge that the performers are talented, thereby adding credibility to the music; and as long as they don't start to fall in love with the belief that their solos are an end in themselves, they are a worthwhile component to a traditional song. I bet you didn't expect to hear me say that.

8 comments:

LJP said...

Well I have to say that I can give or take guitar solos. Many of them are outright unlistenable -- especially really fast Eddie Van Halen wannabee solos. When someone like Tom Verlaine does a solo -- although not everyone might agree with me here -- at least it's more than just a demonstration, at least to me anyways...

Philip said...

I'm reminded of the (ahem) 'Dead Sea Scrolls' of recorded jazz, Dean Benedetti's primitive but inspired recordings of Charlie Parker. The poor and stricken Benedetti dutifully preserving Bird's unfettered solos to the absolute exclusion of all else.


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Thomas Transparent said...

Well, William, I think the 'so much more to offer' that many of these technical showcases hint at is often the promise of a lover / sexual partner as dazzling and imaginative as the note combinations suggest. Although, judging from the sheer teeming numbers of people still trying their hand at guitar solos, I really doubt that's the case.

This gallery has some tremendous visual evidence of people 'climaxing' on the rush they get from their own technicality, or, perhaps, the mere ability to be photographed holding a guitar.

Although I doubt Albini is pulling a solo in his example, you couldn't ask for a better single-shot synopsis of his relationship vis-a-vis the music world as this point ;).

Thanks4theadd said...

True: I did not expect to hear you say that!

William Bennett said...

many thanks for that wonderful gallery, Thomas! as you indeed point out, demonstration skills very often do have a sexual 'peacocking' subtext

Richo said...

Does this all mean that onanism in public is, essentially, a demonstration skill...?

smibbo conspiracy said...

no, I didn't expect to see you say that. My question would be thus "so what about people who disdain guitar soloes and feel they tread upon what would be an otherwise wonderful overall tune?" (because I am one of those people)

William Bennett said...

it's not so much about whether people subjectively like or dislike solos, or even particular types of them, than the understanding of their inherent purpose - I've got another posting about all of this coming soon with new examples