There are very few males (for it is almost exclusively a guy thing) under the age of about 55 who haven’t played air guitar at some point in their lives. Especially those who don’t know how to play a guitar for real, because a great solo always makes you wish you could. With an air guitar in hand, you can. Yesterday, Total Guitar magazine came out with its list of the 10 greatest guitar solos in rock and roll. The list represents an air-guitarist’s dream come true.
One of my favorite air-guitar memories involves my pal (and regular commenter on this blog) Shark. One fine summer night during college, when both of us were working at the same radio station, he performed a hamstring-tearing air-guitar routine to “Borrowed Time” by Styx, in front of a streetside glass window. After he was finished, somebody called up and said, “Hey, when are you gonna do that again?”
Another favorite memory involves the time a few friends and I, fueled by cheap beer on New Year’s Eve, formed an entire air band. In that band, I was the keyboard player. And here, after a few minutes’ thought, are five great air keyboard solos I have performed.
5. “The Wish”/Eddie Money. This is a track from Money’s 1980 album Playing for Keeps, and one of the most underrated air-band tunes ever. It’s got giant guitar riffs, an ultra-ballsy rock vocal, and tough organ fills proving that the organ is a great rock and roll instrument.
4. “Blue Collar Man”/Styx. The big, bad organ riff this begins with requires the air keyboard player to attack it like Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera.
3. “Games People Play” and “One of a Kind (Love Affair)”/Spinners. You would not expect great air solo material from pop records like these, but it’s there–in both cases, joyous piano solos that melt in your mouth. (The solo on “Games People Play” is found only on the version from Pick of the Litter, not on the 45 version most often heard on the radio.)
2. “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”/Johnny Rivers. This is one of the most arresting intros in Top 40 history, thanks to that bangin’ piano coming in extra-loud. And it never stops through the whole record, thus keeping the air keyboard player busy.
1. “Roll With the Changes”/REO Speedwagon. On which Neil Doughty soars, screams, and sings through two magnificent choruses on the Hammond B3. Even now, though I’m well into my 40s, when this comes on the car stereo, I can’t stop myself from driving with one hand and air-playing with the other. What “Stairway to Heaven” is to air guitarists, “Roll With the Changes” is to air keyboardists.
If you’ve got any air-band tales, let’s hear ’em in the comments.
About the Total Guitar List: There’s sure not much to quibble with–“Stairway to Heaven” belongs at the top. Van Halen’s “Eruption,” which is actually a long intro to “You Really Got Me” from their debut album, proves the inventiveness of Eddie Van Halen. (Someday I need to write a post about how my opinion of Van Halen has changed over the years.) The solo on “Hotel California” is a two-headed monster featuring Don Felder and Joe Walsh. I might quibble a bit with picking Eric Clapton’s solo on “Crossroads”–his work on “White Room” impresses me more. “All Right Now” by Free was the entry that surprised me the most. I was also surprised that Duane Allman didn’t make the list anywhere, but then again, there were only 10. Guitar World published a list of its Top 100 solos a while back, and Allman gets his due there, as do many others.