Life is full of tiny idiosyncrasies that amuse some and annoy others. Endless fascination can be found in almost anything if you’re willing to look.
One of those small moments that never fail to bring a smile to my face is whenever in the middle of a song a lead singer takes a moment to sing or yell or instruct the word “guitar” in the direction of a guitar player who is about to launch into a solo.
Here’s a perfect example from the excellent 1971 Faces song “Stay with Me”. At the 1:12 mark Rod Stewart slyly coos in that perfect Rod Stewart voice, “Guitar” right before lead axe man Ronnie Wood lays down a smooth lick:
There’s enough instances of singers singing “guitar” right before a solo that it most definitely is a thing but it’s also rare enough that when you find a new example you get a little jolt of surprise excitement. And strictly speaking they don’t always exactly say just “guitar” – sometimes it’s the guitar player’s name while other times it’s a generally intonation that it’s time for the axe player to get busy. The sentiment however remains the same.
U2 catches a lot of flack around these parts for being…well…at this point douchey preachy blowhards. But this wasn’t always the case. Back in the 80s they were literal music gods with truly transcendent moments. One such moment is Bono screaming “The Edge” just before Mr. Edge sets his guitar strings ablaze on the live version of Pride. Check the 2:50 mark here:
While this may have been just one of many great 80s U2 moments, for another 80s Rock icon yelling at his guitar player may just have been his greatest skill. Even by the most generous hardcore fan standards (looking at you, Cap) Poison’s Bret Michaels can not be considered a great singer. But what Michaels truly was exceptional at was yelling at Poison’s guitar player, CeCe DeVille. 2:40 into Poison’s greatest (only?) contribution to rock history, Michaels implores CeCe to “pick up that guitar and talk to me”:
Sometimes it’s not the Leader Singer but instead the oft-overlooked Bass Player who gets in on the action. Guns N Roses’ Duff McKagan shares vocals on the Use Your Illusion II album track “So Fine” and gets in one of the best “Guitars” of all-time at the 2:30 mark:
The song that most likely launched my obsession with this particular area of musical minutia was the 1992 B-Side turned classic “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam. For 20 odd years I’ve been convinced that Eddie Vedder sings, “Baby guitar” right before Mike McCready’s (or perhaps Stone) scorching midway point solo:
According to the Internet Vedder is actually saying, “Make me cry”, which works as well but I still prefer “Baby guitar”.
Why does this tiny insignificant thing fascinate me so? Music is all about feeling. Great bands talk about being so in sync (but not *NSYNC) that they can read each other’s minds. Maybe this is one instances where the musicians let us mere mortals in on the fun. And besides it’s always beyond cool to call your own shot. Yelling “Game!” as you or your teammate drills a winning shot in a pick up hoops game is one of the greatest thrills on earth. One can only imagine what it would be like to yell out to your hot shit guitar player and have him or her reply with a ripping solo right on cue.
My all-time favorite instance of this particular move comes from appropriately enough my all-time favorite band, The Replacements.
The ‘Mats big mainstream break came in the form of an SNL music guest spot after the release of their major label debut Tim in 1986. I’ll spare you the complete history of the ‘Mats but if you are unfamiliar they were a rock band that alternated between brilliance and utter disaster at all-times. Their legendary appearance on SNL was all of the above and due to some colorful language by lead singer Paul Westerberg the band was dutifully banned from network TV by SNL Head Curmudgeon in Charge Lorne Michaels. The offending words that got the band the boot was Westerberg yelling “Come on, Fucker” at eccentric genius guitarist Bob Stinson so that Stinson wouldn’t be late coming in with his kickass solo on “Bastards of Young”:
A tiny moment of magic. Enjoy them all whenever and where ever you can find them.