One of my favorite songs on Alice Cooper’s 1973 album Billion Dollar Babies is “Generation Landslide.” It’s well written, has terrific lyrics, some great guitar parts, wonderful performances by everybody, and a very cool vibe. I was definitely looking forward to playing a solo on it.
Back in those days, I believe guitar solos were approached a little differently than they seem to be today. And, for the most part, I’m still approaching solos the same way. Guitar solos were supposed to add to the song in a couple of ways: to add to the overall vibe of the song, and help move the story along based on what the lyrics were about. Whatever song I would be doing a solo to, [Alice Cooper producer] Bob Ezrin would first play it from beginning to end, so that I had a total sense of what the song was about, as well as what the musical arrangement was doing. I would listen to the lyrics, the melody, and how the track moved from section to section. Often, I would use part of the vocal melody in the solo itself. Bob and I made sure that I had a real sense of the vibe of the song before I would start playing one note. We always wanted a solo to become an integral part of the entire track, and to “speak,” rather than simply fill space.
The trick would always be to come up with a solo and a sound that did all of those things. That was the challenge, and I found it to be a lot of fun—although, it was sometimes frustrating when finding a handle on the solo proved difficult.
“Generation Landslide” was cool, because it had this rebellious yet carefree snottiness that I really loved. Bob would always cue up the tape so that I got a few bars of a lead in before the solo, and then he would let the tape roll into the next section, so we could get a sense of whether the solo was fitting or not. After a few passes, we weren’t really happy, so I asked if I could listen to the track in the control room. I also wanted to hear the song a little louder than what I was getting in my headphones out in the studio. As the song played, the Yardbirds popped into my head. Suddenly, I had an approach to the solo that I hadn’t tried. I ran back into the studio while the idea was still hot, and out came the solo that’s on the record.
It’s funny how inspiration can come from almost any place, and you have to leave yourself open to grab it when it hits. I guess the “Generation Landslide” solo was a little tip of my hat to that great ’60s band, the Yardbirds, and to Mr. Jeff Beck. I thank them for the inspiration.
In future articles, I’ll discuss more of my approach to guitar solos, as well as how the sound of the solo adds its bit. After all, I truly believe that the tone is as important as the notes you play.
Sometimes called “The Deacon,” Steve Hunter is an American guitarist best known for his collaborations with Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, and Alice Cooper. Hunter has played some of the greatest riffs in rock history, including the opening solos on Aerosmith’s version of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” and Alice Cooper’s “Cold Ethyl,” and the acoustic intro to Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill.” He also wrote the legendary “Intro” for Lou Reed’s 1973 live version of “Sweet Jane.”