Friday, 16 September 2016

The Best Guitar Solo Ever

It's late and I'm meant to be writing a script, but I'm listening to music and I'm being distracted by a song I've heard a thousand times. It contains the greatest guitar solo ever and it's called Out There by Dinosaur Jr.

Out There is on an unimpressive studio album called Where You Been.

I got into Dinosaur Jr in 1988 because I was told to by the Melody Maker. I bought Bug and loved Freak Scene.

The guitar noise was visceral and mixed to be very loud, and J Mascis' tuneless drawl was ace.

After Bug, Dinosaur Jr recorded and released a cover of The Cure's Just Like Heaven. I have no idea why, but it raised their profile.

I read a few interviews with J Mascis and got the impression he was not the greatest talker. Fine. I knew I liked Dinosaur Jr, but I didn't love them.

When Where You Been came out in 1993, I bought it. My life is plagued by albums I have bought with One Good Song on them. Where You Been is in that category, but it was that One Good Song which made me fall in love with Dinosaur Jr.

Out There is a towering piece of music. It starts with a scratchy rhythm guitar riff, which is great. Before you've come to understand how good it really is, a blistering crash bangs it out of the way and a lead guitar line takes you up to the opening vocal. It's already so loud it hurts.

Out There is in a minor key and has a sombre edge. After years of listening to it, I was made aware it was about J's departed father, but I can't find any corroboration for that on google. Nonetheless it helped me make sense of the refrain:

I know you're out there
I know you're gone
You can't say that's fair
Can't you be wrong?

... which comes in at 1m11s. It lets the song subtly change up a gear. The riff disappears, J's voice picks up the melody, the drums go into fills and the tune and the rhythm and lead guitar lines start banging against each other.

After the first chorus, the riff resets and we embark on verse 2.

So far so normal.

After chorus 2, something weird happens. The lead guitar just pings off and, seemingly at will, induces a middle eight key change, which J's voice (flat and weak at the best of times), patently can't handle. J goes for it anyway. It's strangely affecting. One of the guitar parts starts chiming sevenths, like bells. It's haunting.

The middle eight finishes. In the final bar the lead guitar climbs down into the original key. The riff returns, but now it doesn't sound so scratchy - it's bounding along, almost swinging, straight into verse 3. Verse 3 is sonically the same as verses 1 and 2, but feels different. We've gone through something together. We're now there, ready for anything.

Verse 3 finishes. At 3m38s, the Greatest Guitar Solo Ever begins.

Imagine having such supernatural control of an inanimate object you could make it come alive with your bare hands. That is what J Mascis is doing with his guitar in this solo. It is lyrical and soulful and electrifying and loud and poignant and tuneful and beautiful and clear and fuzzy and spontaneous and you can't help but think: "This is quite good."

After transporting you with its brilliance for a full minute, it remembers it has to prepare the ground for a second middle eight. And this is what makes it the Best Guitar Solo Ever. Instead of stopping at the point the second middle eight starts, the solo just ploughs on through. The chiming overdub comes back, the vocal returns - stretched, flat, but somehow triumphant, and underneath, the solo keeps going, pulling down the stars. It's dazzling. A technical skill allied to a noise very few people on the planet are capable of making.

The final 1m14s of Out There is a collision of terrible vocals, awe-inspiring technical skills and a thumping climax to an already draining near six minute epic.

Try it. You might like it.

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