One of the great things about YouTube of late is the ability to hear isolated guitar tracks of music from the original multitrack tapes (or files). Hearing them soloed gives the listener and entirely new perspective on how parts are layered and combined for cumulative sonic impact and effect.
One might be surprised that there are no tracks from Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Beck. While all of their work is certainly well known, these 7 isolated guitar tracks unveiled some surprising revelations that no one would ever suspect when listening to the otherwise famous original releases.
“Whole Lotta Love” – Led Zeppelin
A wizard in the recording studio thanks to his background as an ace UK session guitarist, Jimmy Page put Led Zeppelin on the international map, with the single, “Whole Lotta Love” reaching number 4 and Led Zeppelin II reaching number 1 on the album charts in late 1969. The isolated guitar track referenced is for the rhythm guitar part that contained the iconic riff.
Unlike Led Zeppelin I, which was recorded primarily with his Telecaster, Page stated in an interview published in the Wall Street Journal in 2014 that it was one of the first times he had used his legendary Les Paul Standard sunburst, newly acquired from Joe Walsh just a few months earlier while Led Zeppelin was on tour. As the song was recorded on 8 track, it is interesting to discover that the otherworldly sounding theremin parts are also overdubbed onto the same track.
“Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straights
As punk became the new rage in 1977, the clean, unadorned Strat through a Fender amp tones of Mark Knopfler ironically propelled Dire Straits to the top of the charts in 1978. As a near polar opposite to the punk roar of the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones and the Clash’s Mick Jones, Mark Knopfler fingerpicked a dazzling display of hammer ons, slurs, tasteful bends, and articulate melodicism that appears to be almost seamlessly performed on the track from beginning to end, exactly what is heard on the album.
“Crazy Train” – Ozzy Osbourne
The late Randy Rhodes served notice to the world at large that Ozzy Osbourne still had a career after being fired from Black Sabbath in 1979. Blizzard of Ozz became a huge hit and went on to be certified quadruple platinum, much of the success being attributable to the guitar onslaught wielded by the young Rhodes.
Substituting the dark, foreboding riffs of Tony Iommi for the fleet fingered classically influenced multi tracked guitars of Randy Rhodes’ Jackson through a Marshall stack, Crazy Train served as a template for proto heavy metal shred playing that, along with Eddie Van Halen, emphasized articulate picking through multiple modes apart from pentatonics, dive bombs, and a compressed distorted tone that practically leaps out of the speakers.
“This Charming Man” – The Smiths
With a sound texture approach towards layering guitar parts similar in methodology to yet sonically different from Jimmy Page, Johnny Marr has become a guitar idol in spite of a dearth of recorded solos. Known primarily for jangle, as exemplified by his signature Fender Jaguar model, Marr generally eschews distortion for more melodic and harmonious clean tones with interesting twists.
This Charming Man was The Smiths’ 2nd single, released in 1983, and contains all of the classic elements that have made The Smiths so beloved in the UK – chimey guitars, a catchy pop melody, and Morrissey’s crooning morose lyrics.
While much has been made of Marr’s use of dangling a knife against the strings of his ‘54 Tele through a Fender Twin with the Tremolo on, and the layers of acoustic guitars on the song, the featured clip of the isolated guitar track is self contained and complete. Arpeggiated chords drive the main upbeat riff, interspersed with some strumming, and is likely the main approach Marr uses for the song when performing live.
“Walk This Way” – Aerosmith
Arguably the first combination of rock and rap to become a chart hit, Walk This Way made it to the Billboard top 10 when Aerosmith put it out a 2nd time in 1976 on the coattails of the hit album “Rocks”. It was later re-recorded as a duet with Run D.M.C. in 1986 and reached number 4. One of American rock’s greatest riff makers, Joe Perry has always been rhythmically savvy in incorporating R&B elements into distorted arena rock, and Walk This Way is one of the best examples of this approach.
Perry came up the riff while asking drummer Joey Kramer to mimic the groove style of the Meters’ Ziggy Modeliste. The isolated guitar tracks for Walk This Way in the included clip feature the riff being loosely double tracked with a 3rd guitar added for certain notes.
While engineer Jay Messina recalls Perry using a small cranked Gibson amp for most of the Toys in the Attic sessions, Perry told an interviewer that Walk This Way was cut using his late 50’s tobacco sunburst Strat through an Ampeg V4 and a Marshall 4×12 cab, augmented by a Gibson Maestro fuzz to sound like, “an electric razor.”
“Gimme Shelter” – The Rolling Stones
Possibly the Rolling Stones’ most chilling track, Keith Richards’ tremolo riff for Gimme Shelter launches a tour de force that showcases why he is such a great rock guitarist beyond the blues and Chuck Berry stylings that are his foundation.
Interestingly, this is another example that shows the limits of analog multi track recording at the time – the featured isolated guitar track appears to have been recorded simultaneously on 2 separate tracks (the other track contains Nicky Hopkins’ piano overdubs), and there appear to be punched in guitar turnarounds overdubbed on parts of the track that then revert back to the riff. This includes the overdub of the end solo at 4:10.
While he is renowned for his use of Telecasters, Les Pauls and other Fender and Gibsons throughout his half century with the Stones, Gimme Shelter was recorded with an Australian made Maton EG-240 Supreme that Keith had borrowed and claims that “on the very last note of Gimme Shelter, the whole neck came off. You can hear it on the original take.”
“Free Bird” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Although the Allman Brothers can be considered the founders of harmony guitar based Southern Rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird is the most likely song to be voted the genre’s anthem. Although the song’s hook is played on slide by Gary Rossington, the isolated guitar track referenced is the 4 minute solo by the late Allen Collins, which includes overdubbed harmony parts and counterpoint riffs that were all performed by Collins on the track on his 58 Gibson Explorer obtained from Eric Clapton.
Skynyrd’s addition of Steve Gaines gave Skynyrd a 3 guitar lineup that could successfully reproduce the multiple parts of Free Bird live in the 1970s. Collins, who co-wrote Free Bird with singer Ronnie Van Zant, survived their tragic plane crash but his injuries and subsequent substance abuse would plague him until his death in 1990.