The Beatles television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was the shot that launched 10 million guitarists into being. The cinema has had some marvelous examples that have been burned deeply into the collective consciousness as well. Below, in chronological order, are ten seminal examples of guitar done right.
1 - 1966 Jimmy Page & Jeff Beck in Blow-Up - The film itself is a poorly done mid 60's pseudo-artistic hipper than thou tripe, but it does feature a super cool rare example of The Yardbirds with two thirds of the Holy Trinity of British Rock Gods. With both Beck and Page on guitar tearing up "Train Kept a Rollin'" ( Stroll On) . Beck cannot receive any satisfaction from his hollowbody guitar and Vox amp and proceeds to smash them up whilst Jimmy smiles and keeps his Telecaster safe for the birth of Led Zeppelin a couple of years later.
2 - 1967 Jimi Hendrix at The Monterey Pop Festival - By now most people know the famous backstage negotiation between Hendrix and Pete Townsend over whom should follow Who . Jimi humping his Marshall stack before the ritual sacrificial burning of his Stratocaster truly divided 50's rockers from their musical progeny.
3 - 1970 Carlos Santana in Woodstock - (The 1970 film of the 1969 concert)
4 - 1970 Alvin Lee in Woodstock - "There can be only one" fastest guitarist in the world. Perhaps Alvin Lee was a bluesy John the Baptist heralding the coming of Swedish Neo-Classical Messiah Yngwie Malmsteen . Ten Years After's epic rendition of "Going Home" still cooks.
5 - 1970 Jimi Hendrix in Woodstock - How do you get on this list twice? By being supernaturally cool and being named James. "The Star Spangled Banner," once a bawdy English drinking song, took on multiple layers of meaning in Jimi's tortured and sublimely beautiful rendition. Who didn't want an Olympic White Strat and fringed Indian style leather after witnessing this life changing four minutes?
6 - 1974 David Gilmour in Pink Floyd Live At Pompeii - Never ones to follow the crowd Pink Floyd took the concept of a concert film in a unique and unexpected direction ; performing in an ancient Roman amphitheater for the ghosts of Romans and the film crew. Particularly noteworthy is "Echoes" . The band are in their ascendancy at this stage, Gilmour's tone, playing and singing are superb. Plenty of great close ups of that classic black Strat as Gilmour makes the cosmic whale sounds interspersed with footage of volcanic lava bubbling and the band tripping around the local landscape.
7 - 1976 Jimmy Page in The Song Remains The Same - Much to choose from here; from the dragon embroidered Magus garb, the '59 Les Paul slung low, the double neck Gibson, the violin bow solo, Theremin madness, Echoplex excursions, fearless improvisations, and of course that supernatural coolness exuded from every pore. Jimmy just embodied what it means to be a Guitar Hero.
8 - 1984 Nigel Tufnel in Spinal Tap - "I express myself in my solos" cut to an empty stage with a guitar on a stand, a violin on a stand and a possessed lunatic randomly flailing in a semi-chromatic manner with occasional blues riffs followed by a deft foot strum of the axe on the stand to induce a sonic bed of feedback upon which to play his masterpiece. Suddenly, the question of "what the hell is that violin doing there?" is answered . Mis-inspired by Jimmy Page, or maybe just trying to go over the cliff, he violates both instruments . As the faces are melting Nigel senses something is slightly off, of course that violin is a quarter tone flat... Rock and Roll !!!
9 - 1985 Michael J.Fox in Back To The Future - "Hello Chuck, this is your cousin Marvin... Marvin Berry..." A wonderfully imagined scene, how cool to blend Van Halen licks into Johnny B. Goode in front of the unsuspecting "Enchantment Under The Sea Dance" guests. Fox received assistance from GIT instructor Paul Hanson, who also made an appearance as a member of McFly's band The Pinheads.
10 - 1986 Steve Vai in Crossroads - During GuitarHD's recent chat with Steve we were warned not to inquire about the possibility of a rematch with Ralph Macchio as it's a sore subject...lol. Not really 'tho since the winning solo (Eugene's Trick Bag) actually was Mr. Vai. Steve's portrayal as Jack Butler (a.k.a. Satan's lead guitarist) was energetic, menacing, acrobatic and just plain ass-kicking. Additional credit to slide master Ry Cooder for the blues licks and the great player/educator Arlen Roth for coaching the eternally 17 year old Macchio.
- James H