A moment in time. A split second where everything freezes, and your mind takes a snapshot of an event you’ll always keep with you—an event that forever divides your life into two groups: stuff that happened before this moment, and the stuff that will happen after. Great moments change you. The greatest ones change everything.
Most GP readers have their own list of life-changing moments, and many of those moments involve the guitar: The first guitar you ever played, the best solo you ever heard, the most transcendent tone that caressed your ears, and so on. Many of these moments will continue to give you chills for the rest of your life, and they deserve to be remembered, celebrated, and chronicled.
Which brings us to the list you have before you. These 56 events are the GP staff’s picks of the coolest, greatest, and most important musical moments in the history of the modern six-string. It wasn’t an easy list to compile, and it’s quite impossible to publish such a list without eliciting cries of protest, dismay, and disgust at what (or who) was selected or ignored. While those debates are obviously part of the fun of publishing lists, here’s an explanation of the process that directed our picks.
First and foremost, each selection had to be a moment. If we couldn’t point to a specific instance when a person, event or record took the world by storm, started a revolution, or changed the game, it didn’t make the list. Also, while there are tons of “firsts” on this list, great moments aren’t always firsts. Many of the entries indicate when a player or an album transformed the guitar-playing consciousness, rather than the earliest evidence of the guitarist’s or band’s appearance.
But if you’re still steaming over an omission, you can do something about it: state your case in the comments section below. Like most guitarists, we never get tired of debating great guitar moments.
Andres Segovia Plays First Gig, 1908
When 15-year-old Andres Segovia made his performing debut at the Centro Artistica in Grenada, Spain, no one could have known he would eventually reinvent the way the guitar is played. Segovia’s amazing technique—all the more incredible given that he was self-taught—emphasized tone and expression, and he was the first classical guitarist to explore the different timbres and range of dynamics produced by one’s fingers. He would also expand the guitar’s repertoire and single-handedly elevate the instrument to a place of respect and prominence.
Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang’s Interracial Duets, 1927
Using the pseudonym “Blind Willie Dunn,” white jazz-guitar pioneer Eddie Lang recorded a number of duets with virtuoso black blues guitarist Alonzo “Lonnie” Johnson in New York City between 1927 and 1929. Tunes such as “Have to Change Keys (to Play These Blues)” and “Guitar Blues” were some of the most widely admired recordings of the time, and they continued to affect the evolution of jazz guitar for decades, influencing Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, and nearly everyone else.
Django Reinhardt Records “Nuages,” 1940
Recorded December 13, 1940, Reinhardt’s laconic and bittersweet “Nuages” became the de facto anthem of Nazi-occupied Paris, selling more than 100,000 copies despite the extreme economic hardships of the time, and securing Reinhardt’s role in jazz history. Although he had already established himself as the world’s most innovative and important jazz guitarist six years previously with the Quintette du Hot Club de France, “Nuages” spread the handicapped guitarist’s (two of his left-hand fingers were irreparably damaged in a fire on October 26, 1928) fame worldwide.
T-Bone Walker Cuts “Mean Old World,” 1942
Many of the guitarists who came to love T-Bone Walker’s outrageous and influential stage show—which featured the crazed and sexy alpha male playing behind his back and doing the splits—got to know him first through his playing on this Columbia single. The silky, jazz-inflected blues lines on “Mean Old World” (as well as the flip side, “I Got a Break Baby”) had a major impact on B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Jimi Hendrix.
Les Paul Releases “Lover,” 1948
Les Paul’s mind-blowing cover of Rogers and Hart’s “Lover” introduced an unsuspecting world to his New Sound in February 1948. Recorded in his garage with a homemade disc-cutting lathe built from a Cadillac flywheel, “Lover” combined “delay, echo, reverb, phasing, flanging, sped-up sounds, muted picking, sound-on-sound layering, and everything else on a single recording,” according to Paul.
Muddy Waters Goes Electric, 1948
Muddy Waters had already been plugging in for five years when he went into the studio to recut “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “I Feel Like Going Home” with an electric guitar. The 78 rpm single sold out instantly (Waters even had a hard time finding a copy), and it brought the blues out of the country and into the modern age.
Elvis Records with Scotty Moore, 1954
Scotty Moore had met the young Elvis Presley the day before he carried his Gibson ES-295 into Sun Records on July 5, 1954 to cut some tracks. The first few were nothing special, but when they went into an up-tempo version of “That’s All Right (Mama),” the earth moved. The rest is history.
“Rock Around the Clock” Opens Blackboard Jungle, 1955
Bill Haley and the Comets had released the song a year before, but it was its placement at the beginning of this shocking (for the time) teenage gang movie that shot “Rock Around the Clock” to Number One, and galvanized the tune’s position as an early rocker’s anthem. Danny Cedrone’s amazing guitar solo is the cherry on top of this landmark track.
“Maybellene” Released, 1955
On May 21, 1955, Chuck Berry plugged his Gibson ES-350T through a Fender amp, and—in his words—uncorked “a high-performance mixture of frenetic syncopation and pure adrenaline.” Berry’s rollicking guitar riffs—translated from boogie-woogie piano—pretty much invented rock guitar, and influenced everyone from the Beatles to Keith Richards to you.
“Train Kept A’Rollin” Released, 1956
When Rock ’N Roll Trio guitarist Paul Burlison dropped his amp after a gig in Philadelphia and knocked a tube loose, it lead to one of the earliest examples of distorted rock guitar. Burlison replicated the fuzzy roar by intentionally dislodging one of his amp’s tubes when the Trio entered the studio in 1956 to record its debut album. But that’s not all—Burlison’s riffing on Tiny Bradshaw’s jump blues “Train Kept A’Rollin” created an alliance of sound and fury that inspired Beck, Clapton, Page, hordes of rockabilly rebels, and even Aerosmith.
Buddy Holly Gives America a Strat Attack, 1957
Until Buddy Holly was televised on The Ed Sullivan Show in late 1957, many Americans probably still pictured guitars as either acoustics or jazz boxes. Holly’s performance on the popular variety show exposed the country to a sleek, sexy, and modern solidbody rock guitar.
Ricky Nelson Rocks The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, 1957
In the troubled early years of rock and roll, an unlikely crusader named Ricky Nelson brought rock music into the homes of middle America through his closing performances on this wholesome family sitcom starring his father and mother. Even cooler was the fact that Ricky had a young, Tele-wielding James Burton at his side, and countless Telecaster aficionados would tune in to hear Burton peel off his awesome licks on Nelson’s teen hits such as “Hello Mary Lou.”
Bo Diddley Delivers The Beat, 1957
On his eponymous 1957 debut album, Bo Diddley gave rock and roll its most-identifiable pulse—as well as a primal thump that exploded with all the sex, sweat, and swagger rock had to offer. What would come to be known as the “Bo Diddley Beat” was a standard African rhythm, but when Bo first used it to propel tunes such as “Bo Diddley” and “Who Do You Love,” America’s parents were treated to a groove that scared the holy hell out of them.
Lonnie Donegan Launches Skiffle, 1957
Lonnie Donegan’s music for the working class (based on American jug band jazz) showed scores of British teens it was possible to start a band with just an acoustic guitar, a washboard, and something resembling an upright bass. And, if you were lucky, you might sell three million records, as Donegan did with his version of Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line.” The working-class kids who emulated Donegan include the Beatles (especially John Lennon, whose first band, the Quarrymen, was a skiffle group), the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Page, Brian May, Mark Knopfler, and Albert Lee.
“Rebel Rouser” Released, 1958
This irresistible tune off Duane Eddy’s 1958 debut album popularized rock instrumentals, Gretsch guitars, and the sound known as “twang.”
“Rumble” Unleashed, 1958
“If it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I would never have picked up a guitar,” said Pete Townshend. That’s some endorsement, even though it doesn’t truly capture the pre-punk bombast that Wray’s savage distorted chords wrought on Eisenhower’s America. Wray recorded the ferocious instrumental with a ’53 Gibson Les Paul and a Premier amp, punching holes in the amp’s two 10” speakers to emulate the ragged overdrive he heard when performing the song live through a distorted P.A. system. The result was, arguably, the first recorded example of power chords.
The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery Released, 1960
When Wes Montgomery threw down the eight tracks for The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery on January 26 and 27, his sublime octaves, smooth-as-silk phrasing, and impossibly rich tone established him as the Man for post-Charlie Christian jazz guitar. In fact, the album was so influential that two Montgomery compositions, “Four on Six” and “West Coast Blues,” became instant standards.
King of the Delta Blues Singers Released, 1961
Robert Johnson cut his legendary tracks in 1936 and 1937, but it wasn’t until Columbia put out this record in 1961 that most people heard the guitar playing behind the enigmatic legend. This is the record that just about every British rock and blues player points to as the source.
Dick Dale Invents Surf Guitar, 1962
Dick Dale invented it, and if you play it, he owns you, because you’re probably just aping what he has already done. When Dale released Surfer’s Choice in 1962, he became one of the first guitarists to really bring it with massive volume, and his intensity, attitude, machine-gun riffery, and penchant for spewing middle-eastern melodies were documented as the real secrets of surf guitar. It ain’t just about reverb-drenched notes, kids!
The Yardbirds Form, 1963
While the Yardbirds introduced the world to Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, the band was also one of the first white-blues aggregates. From there, the group became early architects of psychedelia (on the Beck-fueled “Heart Full of Soul” and “Shapes of Things”), set the standard for controlled musical chaos with its trademark rave ups, and ended up as a hitmaker.
Beatlemania Sweeps America, 1964
For 99.999 percent of today’s players who were old enough to have functioning pleasure centers in 1964, the Beatles’ February 9 performance on The Ed Sullivan Show was the defining moment of their musical lives. The combined impact of the music, the clothes, the hair, the screaming girls, the marvelous guitars and amps, and the fabulous cool that seemed to emanate from John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s every pore was all it took to transform legions of homebodies and dilettantes into committed rockers.
Pete Townshend Auto Destructs, 1964
Feedback, a low ceiling, and a tall, crazed guitarist—who was inspired by the auto-destruction techniques of performance art—kicked off an orgy of instrument smashing that has incited similarly horrific episodes of axe murder ever since. During a fall ’64 Who gig at north London’s Railway Tavern, Pete Townshend repeatedly smacked his Rickenbacker against the ceiling while trying to shake off some feedback whistles. Townshend’s art-school cronies loved the “performance,” and they dared him to abuse his guitar again for the band’s second set. “The guitar broke,” said Townshend, who readily accepted the challenge, “and the audience was waiting for me to sob over it—like, ‘Hey, that’ll teach you to jump around like a lunatic.’ I had no recourse but to look as though I meant to do it. So I smashed up the guitar even more and jumped all over the bits, which gave me a fantastic buzz.” Unfortunately, fans now expected the Who to destroy their gear at every gig—a situation that drove the group to the brink of bankruptcy until the success of Tommy made such excesses a relative non issue.
Dylan Goes Electric, 1965
Change is seldom easy. When Bob Dylan, the leading light of the post-Woody Guthrie folkies, made the bold move of plugging in at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965 (with Michael Bloomfield at his side), it didn’t go over so well with old-schoolers such as Pete Seeger—or with most of the audience, for that matter. Two years later, Simon & Garfunkel are on the same bill as Hendrix at Monterey, Jimi is playing Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and “All Along the Watchtower,” and folk rock is all the rage.
Jimmy Nolen Brings the Funk, 1965
On July 17, 1965, Soul Brother Number One, James Brown, released “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” and the style that became funk guitar was officially born. Armed with a Gibson ES-175, Brown’s guitarist, Jimmy Nolen (on his first recording date with the Godfather of Soul), took a simple E9 chord, added a dash of funky sixteenth-note spice, and the style that permeates everything from Madonna to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to U2 was hatched. According to Nolen, the original intent of those sixteenth notes was to keep “lazy” drummers locked to the groove back in the days when he was backing R&B stud, Johnny Otis.
Live at the Regal Released, 1965
Considered by many to be the defining moment for live blues, this brilliant 1964 Chicago performance showcases B.B. King’s awesome tone, attack, vibrato, dynamics, and showmanship. A must-have for anyone who plays the blues.
The Rolling Stones Get No “Satisfaction,” 1965
No one ever got as much out of three notes as Keith Richards did on “Satisfaction.” So simple any kid could learn it, the riff plays against the bass brilliantly, and it sits in the pocket like nobody’s business. One of rock’s most identifiable and classic riffs.
“Eight Miles High” Released, 1966
Roger McGuinn pretty much invented jangle on this classic Byrds track, released on July 18, 1966. Sure, Bob Dylan wrote the lyric, and George Harrison played a Rickenbacker 12-string first, but McGuinn owns the tone. McGuinn’s wildest and most unique 12-string moment comes in the Coltrane-inspired solo on this tune—a moment that set the bar so high for electric-12 mayhem that no one has topped it.
Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton Released, 1966
The July 1966 release of this John Mayall album signaled the arrival of Eric Clapton and established a tonal landmark for the Les Paul and Marshall sound. What would come to be known as the “Beano” album is also a treasure trove of amazing blues licks. Clapton worked his magic with a 1960 Les Paul Standard and a Marshall combo, and he cranked the volume so loud that the session engineers were literally freaking out. Genius!
Jimi Plays Monterey Pop, 1967
Jimi Hendrix’s first American gig with the Experience at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival on June 18, 1967 changed guitar forever. By the time Jimi set his Strat on fire, he had already set the whole world on fire.
Are You Experienced Released, 1967
Using a Strat, a Marshall, and a small collection of effects built (or modded) by Roger Mayer, Hendrix created a universe of “impossible” sounds. For rock guitar, this record is the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bible all rolled into one.
“Classical Gas” Actually Becomes a Hit, 1968
Any instrumental that reaches number one is pretty remarkable, but topping the charts with a classical guitar has happened exactly once, with Mason Williams’ epic “Classical Gas.” This little ditty has been covered by monster players such as Chet Atkins, Glen Campbell, and the California Guitar Trio, and in 1998, BMI stated “Classical Gas” has garnered more airplay than any other instrumental. Not bad for a tune Williams wrote to “have a piece to play at parties when they passed the guitar around.”
Led Zeppelin Released, 1969
A Telecaster and a Supro amp never sounded better than this. Jimmy Page wasn’t the first guitarist to do a heavy brand of blues rock, but he hit an absolute home run when he released this stunning album on January 12, 1969. Page also became one of rock’s first artist/producers, and proved himself to be a master not just of blues, but also English folk, psychedelia, proto-punk, early heavy metal, and sound.
Santana Released, 1969
It’s pretty sad to think that before Santana hit the streets in August 1969, the words Latin and rock were viewed as mutually exclusive. But when Carlos Santana juxtaposed his Latin heritage with his love of Peter Green and Jimi Hendrix, this early masterwork established Latin rock, and drew a musical line to Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, and anyone who marries world beats and Latin rhythms with soaring guitar.
Woodstock Celebrates Peace, Love, and Guitars, 1969
The legendary Woodstock Music & Art Fair—held August 15, 16, and 17, 1969—had more killer guitar moments than Wavy Gravy had acid trips. Consider proto-shredder Alvin Lee going all pentatonic on “I’m Going Home,” Carlos Santana’s transcendent “Soul Sacrifice,” the Who absolutely ruling before Pete Townsend tosses his dead SG Special into the crowd, and Richie Havens’ captivating “Freedom.” But it’s Jimi Hendrix’s legendary rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” that towers over all the rest as the defining moment—not only of the festival, but, quite possibly, the entire decade.
John McLaughlin Records with Miles Davis, 1969
McLaughlin’s mostly improvised contributions to Davis’ transitional In a Silent Way on February 18, 1969 quickly lead to numerous other Davis sessions, including the seminal Bitches Brew (featuring a song actually titled “John McLaughlin”) six months later, and 1970’s rocking Jack Johnson. McLaughlin’s Hendrix-meets-Coltrane fretboard fury on those dates—concurrently with Tony Williams’ Lifetime—established him as a revolutionary jazz-fusion guitarist. These moments also set the stage for McLaughlin’s groundbreaking Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Black Sabbath Released, 1970
The birth of heavy metal is right here. There may have been “heavy” bands before this, but those were all just blues bands compared to Sabbath. When Tony Iommi seized upon the unholiest of intervals—the tritone—and played it with such a disturbingly sinister tone on the title track, he established the blueprint for every metal band that followed.
At Fillmore East Released, 1971
This Allman Brothers tour de force delivers incredible Les Paul/Marshall tones, amazing playing from Dickey Betts, and utterly astounding slide work from Duane Allman. Duane’s sophisticated, Coltrane-influenced celebrations of bizarre harmonic sensibilities and microtonal lines ushered in the era of modern electric slide and established him as the “Hendrix” of slide guitar. It’s almost too much—especially given the added bounty of great songs, beautiful interplay between all the instruments, and jaw-dropping solo excursions. Even producer Tom Dowd’s skillful “edits” can’t reign in the overflowing genius of this seminal jam band.
“Smoke on the Water” Released, 1972
Machine Head is a classic album with great rhythm lines and solos from Ritchie Blackmore on “Highway Star,” “Lazy,” and “Space Truckin’.” But when you’re talking about classic licks, you can’t top “Smoke on the Water,” which is likely the most played guitar riff of all time. And Blackmore’s magical double-stop riff was just the introduction. Players who ventured further were treated to his sublimely influential neo-Baroque approach to heavy guitar.
Robert Fripp Introduces Frippertronics, 1973
In September 1972, Brian Eno invited Robert Fripp to his apartment studio to try out a tape-looping system he’d assembled using two Revox reel-to-reel recorders. Fripp plugged in his Les Paul Custom and a fuzz pedal, and improvised what would become the 21-minute-long “The Heavenly Music Corporation” (included on the duo’s 1973 release, No Pussyfooting)—a proto-ambient work that Fripp frequently cites as one of his most significant performances. Creating harmonic structures by building up layers of sustained single-note lines, and then soloing over them, Fripp discovered, as he put it, a way “for one person to make an awful lot of noise.”
Blow by Blow Released, 1975
Some guitarists try to reinvent themselves all the time, but no one does it as artfully as Jeff Beck. When Blow by Blow was released in March 1975, Beck seemed to go overnight from a fiery, blues-based rocker who would throw in some eastern flavors, to a guy who absolutely owned jazz fusion. His tone, phrasing, taste, dynamics, and ability to veer inside and outside of changes was truly mind boggling. The album also reaffirmed the guitarist as a tonal pervert who wasn’t afraid to explore farty fuzz textures.
Alive! Released, 1975
Kiss’ image—and, more importantly, the marketing of that image—excited millions of kids worldwide about the guitar like no one had since the Beatles. And it’s not just about the makeup, either, because the band’s music crammed every last vinyl groove with guitar. But Alive!, released October 1975, transformed Kiss from cultish Creem magazine darlings to international superstars, ultimately logging more than four million in album sales. Long live the Kiss Army!
Ramones Invade England, 1976
On America’s 200th Independence Day, a U.S. band assaulted Great Britain, and helped ignite yet another discomforting revolution for the realm: punk rock. The Ramones’ July 4, 1976 U.K. debut concert gave the Sex Pistols and all the disaffected malcontents wallowing within England’s rock underbelly a raison d’être. The Ramones’ image, songs, attitude, and sound were perfect. The model was set. New bands formed, old bands got with the program. And, for a time, the world trembled over a new order. Hey! Ho!
Frampton Comes Alive! Released, 1976
Ex-Herd and Humble Pie guitarist Peter Frampton had already played on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass when he struck multi-multi-Platinum with this 1976 double-disc recorded live at San Francisco’s Winterland Arena. Frampton’s melodic jazz-influenced, non-pentatonic note flurries were thrilling, the songs were fabulously sing-along-able, and the talk box–powered “guitar vocalizations” were a wonderful gimmick. For a moment in time, Frampton represented the glory of what it meant to be a rock-guitar god.
Al Di Meola Goes Solo, 1976
Al Di Meola was already a veteran of Return to Forever when, at 22, he released Land of the Midnight Sun. His ungodly chops, flawless picking, and “Mutola” technique were all in jaw-dropping form on this record. Di Meola would go on to win the GP Readers’ Poll so many times that he had to be disqualified from consideration.
Van Halen Released, 1978
The atomic bomb of post-Hendrix guitar. The very first guitar sound on this 1978 landmark features Eddie Van Halen picking behind the nut of his “Frankenstein” Charvel. The second cut was “Eruption,” which was a frightening barrage of fretboard genius that no one had heard anything like before—or will likely experience since. Rarely has any player emerged with his tone, chops, and style so fully realized. Mr. VH would soon bring his six-string pyrotechnics to the pop world with his solo on Michael Jackson’s hit “Beat It,” reinforcing his standing as rock guitar’s reigning badass.
Randy Rhoads Auditions for Ozzy, 1979
“I just started making a few harmonics, and Ozzy said, ‘You’ve got the job.’” That’s how Randy Rhoads recalled his 1979 audition with former Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne. The fateful meeting would lead to a hugely influential, but all-too-brief career for Rhoads, who set a new standard for rock-guitar chops, theory, and layering. Rhoads sent legions of kids to the woodshed with metronomes to practice classical melodies and modal shredding.
Andy Summers Brings Texture to the Masses, 1979
It wasn’t until the Police released their second album, Reggatta de Blanc, that the age of the textural guitarist dawned with Andy Summer’s combination of impressionistic chord voicings, spacey chorus and delay, and, most importantly, a sublime usage of space. The track “Walking on the Moon” made everyone realize there was more to the guitar than simple designations of rhythm and lead playing.
Shut Up ’N Play Yer Guitar Released, 1981
Frank Zappa had a passion for the guitar, and nothing showed that passion more than the release of a three-album set that contained nothing but guitar solos. And, just in case you wanted to study the polyrhythmic depravity and sheer beauty of Zappa’s playing in more detail, The Frank Zappa Guitar Book, a collection of solo transcriptions by Steve Vai, was released in tandem with Shut Up. Culled mostly from his 1979-80 tours, many of Shut Up’s solos are taken from different versions of the same song (“Inca Roads,” for example). It’s almost as if Zappa is schooling the listener, showing them how different each of his improvisations could be night after night.
SRV Gives the Blues to David Bowie, 1983
“Today, it’s totally accepted to have a blues element on any kind of record,” said Nile Rodgers, producer of David Bowie’s 1983 smash, Let’s Dance. “But in 1983, no one was claiming to be a blues fan!” That’s how bold it was for Bowie to bring in an unknown guitarist from Texas named Stevie Ray Vaughan to play on his record. The results kicked Bowie, Rodgers, the blues, and the public squarely in the ass.
This Is Spinal Tap Tells It Like It Is, 1984
When this rockumentary premiered, it took the guitar to a whole ’nother level. With brilliant song parodies that spoofed everyone from the Yardbirds to Kiss, Tap brought together everyone who had ever loved or hated guitar rock. And Christopher Guest, as the Jeff Beck-inspired Nigel Tufnel, showed off amps that went to 11. That’s one louder, innitt?
Rising Force Released, 1984
You could make a case that Yngwie Malmsteen’s moment came when he appeared in the Spotlight column in the February ’83 issue of GP. But the first time most guitarists heard him was on his solo debut the following year. And the tune that knocked them down was “Far Beyond the Sun.” Shred just doesn’t get any shreddier.
Aerial Boundaries Released, 1985
In many ways, Michael Hedges is to the acoustic guitar what Hendrix and Van Halen are to the electric. Hedges’ stunning blend of unusual tunings, rhythmic smacks, two-hand tapping, slapped harmonics, and mind-bending fingerpicking—all seamlessly integrated into his self-described “violent acoustic” style—completely redefined solo-acoustic guitar.
Surfing with the Alien Released, 1987
The only disturbing thing about the spectacular success of Surfing with the Alien—which made Joe Satriani a bona fide guitar hero overnight and put instrumental rock guitar near the top of the charts for the first time since Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow—is that no guitar album has come close to matching its success since.
Nirvana Kills Hair Metal, 1991
September 24, 1991 is the day that ’80s hair metal died, grunge reached the masses, and millions of kids began playing guitar, writing songs, and exploring the whisper/scream dynamics that still dominate rock radio. On that day, with the release of Nevermind, Niravana’s Kurt Cobain proved that you didn’t need chops if you had conviction.
Jennifer Batten Rocks Super Bowl XXVII, 1993
The moronic notion that women can’t play lead guitar still rears its ugly head, but it should have been annihilated when former GP columnist Jennifer Batten stepped in front of 1.5 billion viewers during Michael Jackson’s performance at the 1993 Super Bowl halftime telecast on January 31, 1993. As Jackson made his grand entrance, 80 countries watched Batten play a wailing cadenza that made it official: When it comes to fretboard pyrotechnics, estrogen can be just as incendiary as testosterone. “It’s a macho industry,” reflected Batten, who was later hired by Jeff Beck. “It would have been more encouraging if I had a female role model, but there was none.” There is now.
The White Stripes Storm the Airwaves, 2001
With the release of White Blood Cells on July 3, 2001, the White Stripes single-handedly put searing, raw guitar back on the radio at a time when it was sorely lacking. And this wasn’t just run-of-the-mill, radio-friendly guitar rock—this stuff was primal, proving that a bass-less duo with a chick drummer could make more wonderful racket than most five-piece bands could ever dream of. Even hipper, Jack White’s guitar style—a mélange of Yardbirds-era Beck, Wayne Kramer, and Son House—gave auto tuning, cut-and-paste editing, and nearly every other vibe-sucking digital maneuver the middle finger.