Top 10 Greatest Guitar Solos Of The ’60s
British musician Eric Clapton (left) performs with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones on stage during the band's 'Steel Wheels' tour, late 1989. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)
Next Level Greatness
The 1960s was a historical era in rock ‘n roll. The development of the genre in the 1950s bled into the next decade and thanks to the artists who made one iconic song after another, they managed to perfect the sound and style. Musicians like The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix pushed rock to its limits, breaking away from the creative constraints of anything conventional.
The ’60s witnessed the evolution of rock – from its pure form to eventually branching into other subgenres. And one of its many surprises is the glorious and face-melting guitar solo that became the highlight of several legendary tunes. Here are some of the greatest guitar solos the ’60s has spawned.
10. The Doors – “Light My Fire” (1967)
The Doors faced a pressing problem at the time – it was way too long and they had to cut off a few more minutes which is why the guitar solo had to be trimmed down. But in the album version, Robby Krieger’s extended guitar solo was one of the absolute highlights of the track.
“That always bothered me. We never wanted to cut it, but our first single, ‘Break On Through,’ flopped and radio stations told us that ‘Light My Fire’ would be a hit if we cut it down. We didn’t have much choice because AM radio ruled everything, and if you wanted to get on AM you had to have a short song.” – Robby Krieger
Interestingly, Krieger revealed in an interview that it wasn’t his finest piece and he had better takes.
9. The Kinks – “You Really Got Me” (1964)
It’s the song that’s way ahead of its time. It’s not the perfect solo all things considered. It’s messy and kind of all over the place but at the very core, it’s wild, electrifying, and energetic. In fact, there were rumors going around that Jimmy Page played it because he was hired as a session player by The Kinks before he joined The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin. But it has already been debunked several times.
In an interview in 1970, Page finally spoke his piece:
“I didn’t play on ‘You Really Got Me’ and that’s what pisses him [Ray Davies] off.”
8. The Rolling Stones – “Sympathy For The Devil” (1968)
Keith Richards doesn’t get enough credit for his guitar skills. He took this song to the next level with his solo. It’s one of their best songs and clearly stood out from other classic rock hits at the time. And as if that’s not enough, Richards even wrote the bassline too!
“It started as sort of a folk song with acoustics and ended up as kind of a mad samba, with me playing bass and overdubbing the guitar later. That’s why I don’t like to go into the studio with all the songs worked out and planned beforehand. Because you can write the songs, but you’ve got to give the band something to use its imagination on as well. That can make a very ordinary song come alive into something totally different. You can write down the notes being played, but you can’t put down the X Factor—so important in rock and roll—which is the feel.” – Keith Richards
7. The Beatles – “Something” (1969)
The solo in “Something” is one of George Harrison’s defining moments as a guitarist. It’s melodic and undoubtedly the work of a virtuoso. It’s not always about the speed and as Harrison proved, he could create magic with his fingers. It’s simply flawless and expressive – you could tell he was emerging from John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s shadow. It was a promise of things to come.
6. The Yardbirds – “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” (1966)
It’s the first single from The Yardbirds that featured Jimmy Page. And what could be better than one legendary guitarist? It’s when there’s two of them. And the result? A powerful, energetic, and explosive rhythm. It’s as psychedelic as it can get.
Author Brad Tolinski described it as:
“a tour de force of guitar invention and orchestration … a moody slice of psychedelia with nightmarish overtones.”
5. B.B. King – “The Thrill is Gone” (1969)
The very definition of a classic. B.B. King made it look easy to pull off that seamless solo too. There’s so much feel to this performance and it’s just one proof how otherworldly his talent was. Some guitar players just play the guitar but he made it sing – soulfully at that.
“People ask why I don’t sing and play at the same time, I’ve answered that I can’t, but the deeper answer is that Lucille is one voice and I’m another. I hear those voices as distinct. One voice is coming through my throat, while the other is coming through my fingers. When one is singing, the other wants to listen.” – B.B. King
4. The Beatles – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (1968)
We don’t normally put two songs from one artist/s in a list like this but we’d make an exception because credit goes to Eric Clapton, not George Harrison. It’s no secret that both of them were close friends and Harrison would often invite Clapton during their recording sessions. That’s what happened here even though Clapton didn’t receive formal credit for his work.
“I sang it with the acoustic guitar with Paul on piano, and Eric and Ringo. Later, Paul overdubbed bass. Then we listened back to it and Eric said, ‘Ah, there’s a problem, though; it’s not Beatlesy enough.’” – George Harrison
3. Led Zeppelin – “Heartbreaker” (1969)
Heartbreaker is one of those songs that sound so much better live – largely because of Jimmy Page’s improvised solos at every performance. He took his rightful place at the proverbial top of guitar heroes with this piece and with his guitar work, helped spawn a generation of shredders.
“I was always trying to do something different, or something no one else had thought of. But the interesting thing about that solo is that it was recorded after we had already finished “Heartbreaker”—it was an afterthought. That whole section was recorded in a different studio and was sort of slotted in the middle. If you notice, the whole sound of the guitar is different.
“The solo itself was made up on the spot.” – Jimmy Page
2. Cream – “Crossroads” (1968)
Eric Clapton pulls out all the stops with his guitar work in this masterpiece especially the solo part. Besides, ask any guitarist and they’ll likely say the same thing – that this isn’t the easiest song to play on the guitar. Unless you’re Clapton himself, it’s impossible to play this perfectly. It’s not even about the skills, it’s the feel and how he poured his heart and soul into each note.
“I’ve always had that held up as like, ‘This is one of the great landmarks of guitar playing.’ But most of that solo is on the wrong beat. Instead of playing on the two and the four, I’m playing on the one and the three and thinking, ‘That’s the off beat.’ No wonder people think it’s so good—because it’s fucking wrong.” – Eric Clapton
1. Jimi Hendrix – “All Along The Watchtower” (1968)
This needs no explanation. Speaking of guitar solos from the ’60s, we can’t pass up the opportunity to include one of the most spectacular solos we’ve ever heard from rock legend Jimi Hendrix. The man truly shined when he let himself loose on the guitar. He was highly creative and inventive – and it always showed in his guitar work.
“Once Jimi started working on his solos, the session moved very quickly. The thing that occurs to me was how completely prepared he was. One thing that people don’t realize is that Jimi always did his homework. He and producer Chas Chandler always got together to work out ideas well before he walked into the studio. Jimi knew exactly what he wanted to play.” – Engineer Eddie Kramer