Why do a Top Ten List of Best Guitar Albums
Top Ten lists are risky but fun. I'm bound to ignore many worthy contenders for The List, any possibly even piss you off. "What! No Van Halen?!" I'm also bound to provoke great discussion and might even make someone go out and listen to some music that is new to you. "Who is Michael Hedges, anyway?"
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So here it goes. The albums that changed my life, musically speaking. The order is random, but the Top Five would also be the Top Five (if this were a Top Five List).
This CD was a total revelation to me when I first heard it. B.B. King at his peak of mastery: impeccable phrasing, flights of melody, bellows of pure soul, all directed at a screeching, howling all-male audience of prison inmates. It makes a great contrast to King's LIVE AT THE REGAL, where B.B. wrings sweaty hormonal screams from the ladies of an uptown Harlem blues club with much of the same material. Maybe it's that I heard this one first. He's backed by Booker T Jones and the MG's too. The greatest blues record ever made. There are 1000 guitar lessons to be learned from this CD alone, and many of our blues lessons come from these performances.
This is the masterpiece of Austin's own Guitar God. A richly-layered, perfectly-produced collection of driving, rocking melodies of pure magical beauty. Vai and Satriani might be faster and flashier but they never played so beautifully as their G3 counterpart does here. "Cliffs of Dover" might be the single greatest piece of music ever produced on rock guitar. If mere guitar lessons fall short of inspiring your musical soul, buy this CD. NOW!
Eric Clapton and Duane Allman in the same band. This album came from nowhere and hit me like a ton of bricks when it was released. I'd listened to lots of Cream, knew Clapton's music well, but the synergy that happened when he teamed with Southern Guitar Messiah Duane Allman was utterly unforeseen. The rest of the band is impeccable too, especially Bobby Whitlock's keyboard work (the mid-section of Layla, remember?). And for the first time we heard Clapton unleash his soulful voice on ballads and love songs -- not just Robert Johnson covers. There are standards here, and real tear-jerkers. By the way, this is one of those rare albums that is far better on vinyl than on CD. The anniversary digital remix bla-bla-bla is over-compressed and lost some of the fiery edge that distinguished the original release. An "original mix" is also available – choose that one.
It's impossible for young guitarists to imagine the world pre-Jimi-Hendrix. No distortion, practically no wah-wah -- how did anybody get along? Fans might cite bigger hits on ELECTRIC LADYLAND or some other Hendrix classic, but this one wins for the pure shock value of hearing Jimi's style unleashed for the first time. Use Jimi as a guitar teacher too: try buying some of his concert videos and watch his hands – over and over.
It seems unfair to leave a classical guitar LP off this list, but for me to choose some Segovia CD 'cause I "had to" wouldn't fit. True classical aficionados might turn up their noses at this collection of hymns and spiritual music delivered solo, but for me it is undeniably the most beautiful and soulful classical CD I have ever heard. It came out of a tortured period when Parkening was considering abandoning his gift and spending the rest of his life off-stage and out of the studio. This is the music that brought him back.
Called "The Jimi Hendrix of the Acoustic Guitar," this late great musical alchemist surely reinvented his medium the same way the Voodoo Chile invented his. Mad tapping, weird tunings, and a driving percussive style were his trademarks. Some prefer BREAKFAST IN THE FIELD, but this is the one that blows my skirt up.
OK, my taste for wooden guitar might be showing here. But what Hedges started on acoustic guitar, Dykes finishes in terms of technique. The master of fretted harmonics and beautiful melodies started out life as the teenage prodigy in-house guitarist on the Grand Ol Opry before becoming the most mind-blowing acoustic guitarist currently on the planet (rest in peace, Chet). Dykes' COUNTRY FRIED PICKN' is a close second.
No guitarist ever ever EVER moved me emotionally like Jerry Garcia. Others are faster, more technical, they "shred" better; but no one ever reached so deep into so many American influences to create guitar music that is at once humorous, poignant, sexy, raucous, sacred, and anthemic. Some Deadheads find this live CD overproduced; indeed the vocals sound so much better than the average Dead show that many of us feel they must have been overdubbed later. But that's a good thing. They no longer detract from the cosmic musical interplay between Garcia, Bob Weir, and Phil Lesh. The jam version of TRUCKING into MORNING DEW which ends the CD is Garcia at his absolute finest.
Tony Rice is the finest bluegrass guitarist ever. But here you'll discover that he may also be the best jazz guitarist on earth as well. The father of "Newgrass" or "Spacegrass" or whatever you want to call it, Rice may have single-handedly pushed the snowball of the bluegrass revival up to the point where it became visible enough for others to join in and spawn the O BROTHER revolution of recent years. But Tony could not have played on that soundtrack. His style is too new, too unforeseen, too broad-based to fit that niche. BACKWATERS was the other choice for this list, but Rice's cover of "Shenandoah" tipped the scale for me here.
Peter Townsend claims the last spot with what I consider his finest work (TOMMY fans, stand up and argue!). Pete's power chords spawned a generation of imitators. No rocker ever (except perhaps Hendrix) had Townsend's ability to single-handedly make six strings provide the entire rhythm section AND solo at the same time. Plus, the outrage, idealism, and romance of the songs are undimmed after 30 years.
Tell me your Top Ten!
That's it. Argue away. E-Mail me (rick@VideoGuitarLessons.com). Send me your own list and justify it -- we'll reprint it here. It's fun to do, it will remind you of music you really love, and it might introduce me to something I ought to hear.