What Songs Were Defined by Their Solos?

Themes and variation

Themes and variation

New year, new themes!

Today we’re talking solos, but… it’s not what you think. There won’t be some high-flying Yngwie Malmsteen terror bird, and we successfully avoid all our deepest temptations to get swept up by one of Charlie Parker brass hurricanes. No, we’re asking what exactly it is that makes a certain solo memorable?

In other words, how can a great, unique, creative, and potentially “incorrect” solo help define and elevate the song it lives in?

And to help answer such a question, we’ve enlisted the services of the perfect guest, Mr. Kirk Hamilton. Kirk is a writer, musician, and the host of one of our all-time favorite podcasts, Strong Songs. Strong Songs delivers highly produced, in-depth explorations of what makes specific songs tick like clockwork — and we couldn’t be happier that he accepted our challenge.

You can listen to “Themes and Variation” Episode 11 in its entirety right here in the player above, or click over to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or anywhere else you get your podcasts to subscribe and download. *Bonus points if you want to hit us with a five star rating on Apple!

episode grid

If you’re enjoying this episode, and you’d like to learn more about some of the musical topics we touched on, go ahead and visit Soundfly’s free companion course for songwriting prompts and additional resources. From scale modes to melody-writing and even audio production tips and tricks, we’ve curated some extra resources for listeners who want to go the extra creative mile and put stuff from the episode into action.

And don’t forget to check out Kirk Hamilton’s Strong Songs podcast.

Episode 11 Highlights

1. What was going on in the Violent Femmes when “Gone Daddy Gone” was written?

Mahea: “I did do a little reading on just what they were like at this point in their career, which like, is the very early part of it. And it does sound like it was kind of mayhem, like they were figuring things out, they were not supervised to the level the probably needed to be. So there was kind of an element of chaos, maybe not as controlled as it could have been. And I think that comes through in the music in a way that might seem a little irresponsible on some level but might also be responsible for their success.”

2.  How Clare Torry ended up on “The Great Gig in the Sky”

Kirk: “This is a bananas solo. So the story behind this is they brought Clare Tory into the studio, and they were like: ‘Hey, we’ve got this one sort of jam. It’s like a G minor to C7 thing. It’s just two chords over and over and over again. They’re just rocking out. We want you to just sing something over it.’ And so she does a couple of takes. She had been like kind of singing words, but they were like: ‘We don’t want words. Just sing, you know, vocalese sort of, scatting, whatever you want to call it. Just sing sounds.’ She did a couple takes and they just cut it together from those takes and made this like legendary track.”

3.  Is there a better riff writing band than Rage?

Carter: “You mentioned riff-based, that’s like a key part of my listening to this band. I can’t think of a band like, obviously there are so many rock bands with so many riffs… This band though, in terms of iconic, heavy riffs that you can instantly recognize, I don’t think there’s a band that tops Rage when it comes to that.”

Collaborative Playlist

We need your help, we want your help, and we can’t wait to hear what song-defining solos came to mind for you! Just like we do every time we launch a new episode, we’ve created a collaborative Spotify playlist in order to share every song mentioned in this episode and explore many others that fit the topic.

Feel free to add your favorite songs with incredible solos here. 

Note: Please don’t just add your own songs that don’t match the theme. While we love hearing your music, this is not a playlist for self-promotions, and we will remove them. 

We’ll see you in two weeks with a new theme, new guests, and some new songs to break down. If you have any comments, questions, or theme suggestions, drops us a line at [email protected]!

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