In the annals of music, the Seventies stand out as a great decade for the guitar. It was a musically diverse time, when popular music embraced a broad range of genres, including rock, country, prog, metal, funk, punk and blues. And in every one of those genres, the guitar was the featured instrument.
The increasing popularity and diversity of effects boxes at that time also gave guitarists new tools for expression. As a result, in the Seventies, guitars sounded like they never had before, and the excitement and novelty of those sounds made for diverse and cutting-edge music throughout the decade.
Here, we celebrate 25 classic guitar tracks that came out in the middle of the Seventies—1975, to be exact. Tell us what songs from that year loom large in your history, and we’ll consider them for our next list of 25 top tracks from 40 years ago.
“Fly by Night”
Rush: Fly by Night
Alex Lifeson’s piercing solo is a soulful infusion of driving blues-rock and demonstrates why he has always been one of prog-rock’s most emotive and musical players.
“In My Time of Dying”
Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti
Jimmy Page’s snarling slide work on an electric tuned to open A is full of greasy swagger. This track is a rare example of Zeppelin stretching out properly and taking their performance to the edge.
“Shame the Devil”
Robin Trower: For Earth Below
Though not as celebrated as its predecessor, Bridge of Sighs, For Earth Below is full of underappreciated gems, including this wah-and-distortion-infused hard rocker.
Kiss: Dressed to Kill
Ace Frehley shows his softer side on the interwoven classical-like opening passage before cutting loose with some bends, licks and fills that push the song into high gear.
“Saturday Night Special”
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Nuthin’ Fancy
The triple-guitar team of Allen Collins, Ed King and Gary Rossington is in fine form here, but it’s Rossington who excels with a solo that blends raw blues and twangy country riffing.
Jeff Beck: Blow by Blow
Beck’s defined jazz fusion on “Freeway Jam” as he worked his way through his deep repertoire of styles and techniques with generous use of his guitar’s whammy bar.
“Show Me the Way”
Peter Frampton: Frampton
Frampton wasn’t the first to plug into a Talk Box, but his use of one on this track (and subsequently on “Do You Feel Like We Do” from 1976’s Frampton Comes Alive!) forever associated him with the effect.
Steely Dan: Katy Lied
Walter Becker fills in masterfully for the recently departed Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (he joined the Doobie Brothers in 1974; see below), cutting loose on the solo and navigating those tricky Dan chord changes with ease and loads of bluesy musicality.
Aerosmith: Toys in the Attic
Joe Perry owns this song, from the opening Talk Box passage to the solo on the fade out. You could take away Steven Tyler’s vocals and still have a damned fine piece of music.
ZZ Top: Fandango!
Billy Gibbons’ powerful riffing and incendiary soloing on this cut are among the finest in ZZ Top’s catalog and a perfect demonstration of his talent for taking something as overdone as 12-bar boogie and making it sound fresh.
“Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)”
The Doobie Brothers: Stampede
Jeff “Skunk” Baxter turns in a moody, brief but blazing solo that quite rightly provides the climax to this Motown cover—a surprise hit for the Doobies.
“Feel Like Makin’ Love”
Bad Company: Straight Shooter
A marriage of country-western and hard rock, “Feel Like Makin’ Love” gave Mick Ralphs an opportunity to do some sweet acoustic strumming, chug on a few distorted chords and play a good-and-greasy delay-laden solo.
“One of These Nights”
Eagles: One of These Nights
Don Felder’s bluesy solo and deliciously distorted tone are the perfect complement to this slick tune’s disco-inflected rhythm and falsetto vocals.
Todd Rundgren: Initiation
Deep into his fusion phase, Rundgren cuts loose with a fiery solo around the five-minute mark that shows he was one of the best guitarists in this genre.
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: One Size Fits All
“Inca Roads” offers an early example of Zappa’s use of xenochrony, in which a guitar solo or other musical element is taken from its original context and put in a different song. The solo, originally recorded at a show in Helsinki and grafted onto this studio recording, is rightly considered among his best.
“Cut the Cake”
Average White Band: Cut the Cake
Onnie McIntyre and Alan Gorrie handle the guitar duties on this AWB hit, proving Scottish-born guitarists can play funk with the best of them.
Fleetwood Mac: Fleetwood Mac
Lindsey Buckingham’s beautifully understated playing underscores the mystery and tension underlying Stevie Nicks’ classic song.
“Shine On You Crazy Diamond”
Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here
Whether soloing on lap steel or a Fender Strat, David Gilmour plays exquisitely on this track dedicated to Floyd founder Syd Barrett.
“St. Elmo’s Fire”
Brian Eno: Another Green World
Eno asked guitarist Robert Fripp to improvise a lightning-fast solo that would imitate an electrical charge dancing between two poles on a Wimshurst electrostatic generator. Fripp complied with a solo that is soaring, breathless and fraught with emotion.
Deep Purple: Come Taste the Band
Taking over for Ritchie Blackmore, Tommy Bolin showed he was more than up to the challenge on this cut, which he co-wrote with singer David Coverdale and drummer Ian Paice.
Rory Gallagher: Against the Grain
Like an angrier version of a ZZ Top tune, “Souped-Up Ford” is a perfect vehicle for Gallagher to unleash some red-hot slide work.
“Cortez the Killer”
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Zuma
Written about the Spanish explorer who conquered Mexico, “Cortez the Killer” is a prime example of Young’s physical style of lead playing. Small wonder he called it “some of my best guitar playing ever.”
Tommy Bolin: Teaser
Bolin’s solo debut was a startlingly accomplished work that showed the former Deep Purple guitarist had the stuff to make a go of it alone. It’s hard to choose just one cut from the album, but “Marching Powder” gets the nod as a demonstration of the sheer virility and power of his playing.
Queen: A Night at the Opera
Brian May combines neoclassical melody, harmonizing and hard-rock riffing on his solos, providing a sampling of all that makes him such a singularly unique guitarist.
Angus Young builds tension throughout his solo by alternating between howling bent notes and flurries of riffing, but the high point comes at the end, as his climbing passage erupts in an explosion of guitar noise.