Listening to a single isolated track can be a strange experience. After all, how good is marinara sauce when removed from the base of a pizza? Certainly nowhere near as chomping down on a freshly baked slice. That can often be the way when listening to the isolated tracks of songs. Taking an individual component of the song can often leave the listener feeling a little malnourished. But not so in the case of these brilliant performers.
That’s the real beauty of isolating a track within a song, you get to see, up close and personal, the sheer talent that can go into making a single piece of a song. In this case, we’re taking a look at the ten best isolated guitar tracks of all time. Featuring some of the guitar world’s best and brightest, from Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton to George Harrison and back to the brilliant Jimmy Page, the collection of isolated tracks below prove the performers to be some of the greatest to have ever graced the planet.
The reason is that when you stripped away all of the other instrumentation, you get to hear the bass of the licks, the rattle of the riffs and the soaring melodies that only the best guitarists could conjure. It’s the kind of spellbinding listen that will leave you open-mouthed and without a single word.
In some of the entries below, we will likely only be showing you what you already know. After all, you don’t need an isolated guitar track to know Jimi Hendrix was a bonafide guitar genius. However, it will also give you a greater understanding of those guitarists who have somehow slipped under the radar as some of the best. It also provides a great way to hear the guile and genuine songwriting craft that often underpins a furious rock song.
Below, we’ve picked dout ten of the greatest isolated tracks of all time as a showcase for some of the greatest players to have ever walked the earth.
Best isolated guitar tracks:
Jimi Hendrix – ‘All Along the Watchtower’
“He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.” Those were the words of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ creator Bob Dylan as he referenced the brilliant Jimi Hendrix version of the song.
Written in 1967, the song, as with many Bob Dylan tracks, has had a fair few renditions from famous faces over the years. Whether it’s from Eddie Vedder’s Pearl Jam, the smoother than smooth tones of Bryan Ferry, the salt of the earth charm of Neil Young, or even the Irish pop-rock poster boys U2, but none hold a candle to Jimi’s enigmatic performance.
The difference being; while those bands all tried to match Dylan’s effort from ’67, Jimi Hendrix ingested the track, digested it, and threw it up in a special new style of splatter. He then walked away from it the way only a true artist can. No better is this seen than on the iconic isolated guitar track.
George Harrison – ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ by The Beatles
As B-sides go, they don’t get much better than ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. Most bands would make a track of such magnitude, but not The Beatles, who put it out alongside ‘Get Back’. Harrison’s unique flourish and colourful tone are unavoidable on the track, spinetingling when heard isolated.
Recorded during the band’s infamous Let It Be Sessions in 1969, the song remains a firm favourite with the band’s fans. Harrison’s critical role in conjuring up the magic is often underplayed, even though it’s hard to picture the track with anyone else playing the guitar on it.
His unique style, which didn’t rely on his counterparts’ blues riffing, saw Harrison employ technique and skill from across the world. Gathering up his inspirations within his soulful crucible, Harrison always delivered an idiosyncratic performance, and, on ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, one can hear his understated command.
Eric Clapton – ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ by The Beatles
‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is one of The Beatles‘ most famous songs and arguably one of George Harrison’s masterpieces. It was recorded in 1968 as part of the White Album sessions and was written as an exercise in ‘randomness’ where he consulted the Chinese Book of Changes. However, while it may well be one of Harrison’s defining tunes, Eric Clapton stole the show.
The Beatle was struggling to have his songs land with any real impact within the Fab Four and so, instead of turning to his bandmates, asked close friend Eric Clapton for help and, on the September 6th, 1968, Clapton turned up at Abbey Road Studio to do just that—but after a period of convincing. “Nobody ever plays on the Beatles’ records,” Clapton is thought to have said to Harrison with a moment of trepidation. “So what?” Harrison replied. “It’s my song.”
Clapton didn’t disappoint and not only did he manage to gather the attention of Lennon and McCartney to give the song its due, but he also delivered one of the finest guitar performances on record.
Jimmy Page – ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppelin
The brilliance of Led Zeppelin resided in their ability to shine at every corner of the band. Whether it was Robert Palnt’s imperious vocal or John Bonham on the drums, the band were well-equipped with serious musicians. None more so, perhaps, than Jimmy Page, the band’s legendary guitarist. While there’s plenty of solo-ing moments to salivate over, it was his iconic riff on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ that really caught our attention.
Having honed his talents in the studio as a session guitarist for some massive acts, Page displays in this isolated guitar track the understated esteem he could add to a song. Knowing that the song needs a riff that can easily lift up other sections of the music, as it can dominate the airwaves, Page developed a perfect line.
The song was written by Page on his soon to be iconic Les Paul Standard sunburst and has credited its a unique sound for the golden power of the song’s iconic riff. But whether it was old school nous or perhaps stepping back to let his bandmates shine, somehow Jimmy Page knew exactly what Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ needed.
Jack White – ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ by The White Stripes
When The White Stripes burst onto the music scene as the garage rock revivalists we’d all been waiting for — far removed from the designer ripped denim of The Strokes and far more concerned with the gunk and grime of proper blues — Jack White used one powerful weapon that had been left untouched for some years; he used his fire-breathing guitar.
For many fans, the first introduction to The White Stripes was happening upon their iconic Lego-themed video for ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ while hopelessly flicking through MTV to find a video that didn’t make you want to vomit. Seeing the block figures morph and mutate was interesting, and it certainly came as a breath of fresh air in 2001 as the world continued to battle the Nu-metal disease among many other malignant musical moments; it was Jack White’s guitar that really grabbed the attention of rock fans.
Far from the noodling joy pf many of the entries on this list, White used guitar tone to make his point and, with the below in mind, most of those points were made with a buzzsaw.
John Frusciante – ‘Under The Bridge’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers
One of the latter-day guitar heroes, John Frusciante experienced a tumultuous time with Red Hot Chili Peppers. The guitarist battled with addiction for much of his early tenure with the group, recently rejoining the band for an upcoming tour. But arguably his, and the band’s finest moments came on the song ‘Under the Bridge’.
A song written by Anthony Keidis sees the singer the alienation and loneliness he felt as a sober man within the band, it allowed Frusicante his ultimate moment to shine. When the isolated guitar track is presented, it is hard to deny the volume of talent Frusciante has. At only 19 years of age, he creates a clean crunch on this song that hasn’t been replicated since—adding an idiosyncrasy to his playing style which would define the band’s output. ‘Under The Bridge’ has one of the most iconic intros of all time but it is around the one-minute mark where Frusciante’s notorious laconic yet sharp style comes to full effect.
It is only on this isolated track that you can see how Frusciante used his instrument to convey the expression he held inside of himself effectively, the genius part comes, when he can do that for somebody else—in this case, take Kiedis’ loneliness and turn it into a joint expression, both emphasising and subverting the song’s very notion.
David Gilmour – ‘Money’ by Pink Floyd
‘Money’ is the critique of the uber-capitalism that ironically made Pink Floyd millionaires. Featuring on the iconic Dark Side of The Moon, ‘Money’ was the single that broke the US for the outfit. Currently, the full-length record has sold more than 45 million copies worldwide, making it one of the biggest albums ever, but then you don’t need me to tell you that.
David Gilmour’s unique sounding guitar tones were an integral part of the Pink Floyd jigsaw, but then again you don’t need me to tell you that either. There are, however, some parts of the jigsaw, particularly with ‘Money’, that are not quite as easy to fit into the puzzle, and it is this very singular combination of a deeply complex song structure producing very palatable results that makes the band a peculiar presence amidst those successful in the commercial mainstream.
Two things that this isolated guitar recording brings to the fore; the most self-evidently unusual musicological detail is that Gilmour suddenly transitions for simple rhythm to take up the lead in a soaring solo. It is during this solo that something relatively unique within popular music occurs, as the track flips from an unusual 7/8 time signature into a more conventional 4/4 time, before reverting back once again for the post-guitar-solo section, ultimately finishing up in 4/4 for the outro.
Aside from the spellbinding results that this musicological wizardry produces, there was a method behind the madness, as David Gilmour once informed Guitar World: “It’s Roger’s riff. Roger came in with the verses and lyrics for ‘Money’ more or less completed. And we just made up middle sections, guitar solos and all that stuff.”
Tony Iommi – ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath
Few guitarists have had as big an impact on the world of music as Tony Iommi. The Black Sabbath axman isn’t only a gifted guitarist but their creative engine, powering the band toward its place at the top of the heavy metal pile. The fact that Iommi did it all while missing fingers on his playing hand, says a lot about the talent he had.
No better display of this talent can be found than on Black Sabbath’s anthemic tune, ‘Paranoid’ a song that will always stir your soul. Sabbath may have become behemoths in their field thanks to Ozzy Osbourne’s charismatic persona, but they would never have got anywhere close without Tony Iommi.
Keith Richards – ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ by The Rolling Stones
Keith Richards may not be the most talented guitarist of all time. In fact, he probably wouldn’t make the top ten when you consider the contemporaries around him. But what some musicians have in technical prowess, Richards makes up for in sheer rock and roll ‘vibe’ and a gunslinging style which nobody could match.
There’s no better showing of that idiosyncratic style than on the band’s magnetic hit ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and, when Richards’ guitar is isolated, it’s clear for all to see that he’s in fact rightly considered the poster boy of rock ‘n’ roll.
Aside from the sinister samba rhythm and the lyrical enjoyment of tragedy, the real seal of demonic approval comes from Richards’ flaming riffs. Moved away from the London blues sound which was permeating the streets of the capital in the mid-to-late-sixties, Keef attacks with intensity. The piercing solo in the middle of the pleasant samba bop adds fuel to the fire and suggests that Richards has always been a bruiser, punching somewhat above his perceived weight.
Neil Young – ‘Cinnamon Girl’
Few riffs will hit the hearts of Neil Young fans quite like the chugging masterclass on the 1969 song ‘Cinnamon Girl’. A song Neil Young “wrote this for a city girl on peeling pavement coming at me,” and it’s such a visceral track the songwriter once admitted, “It was hard to explain to my wife.”
The track debuted on 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Young’s first step into the wild with his new backing band Crazy Horse. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ would later be released as a single in 1970, peaking at 55 on the Billboard chart. Though the track was rooted in Young’s experience, it is the guitar that sets it apart.
Famed more for his use of language than notes on the fretboard, this piece saw Young exercise his guitar muscles with aplomb, providing perhaps his greatest riff of all time. It’s a big heavy riff, muddied and bruising. It chugs across the airwaves and lands with aplomb. Written and performed on Young then-newly acquired, now-legendary Gibson Les Paul “Old Black”, it is Young at his powerful best.